Thursday, September 29, 2011

ERP: The Solution Every Business Needs But No One Wants -- Or Do They?

One of the most important focus areas of business collaboration is on key business processes. Herewith, a suggestion for enabling more and better collaboration on one such process, and why enterprise resource planning (ERP) isn't more popular at more companies -- yet.

I recently had a great introductory briefing with members of the leadership team at Fishbowl, makers of Fishbowl Inventory, a very nifty inventory management solution that integrates pretty seamlessly and is pretty darned popular among users of QuickBooks.

The stimulating conversation reminded me of something Yankee Group founder Howard Anderson used to say in presentations about business technology adoption trends. To paraphrase, hundreds of thousands of drill bits are sold each year, but no one who buys one wants a drill bit. What those buyers want are holes.

No one wants ERP. Especially no one who works for a resource-constrained smaller or mid-sized business (SMB). But every smart leader and decision maker at every company shares two characteristics.
  1. They work someplace that sells something.
  2. That something represents an inventory that need management.
In short, where "ERP" is concerned in the real life lived by most decision makers, especially at SMBs, inventory is the primary "R" that needs "P" by the "E." Which means that inventory management is a critical, foundational element of what are, should be and will become sound ERP policies and practices.

The folks at Fishbowl understand this, and more. Which is why Fishbowl Inventory and Fishbowl Enterprise are designed in ways that make them easy to use and rapid to deliver measurable, scalable and sustainable business benefit.

It's a premise-based solution, something I don't recommend frequently. But I think this one is worth considering, especially if you're already running QuickBooks on computers that reside on your company's premises. (Fishbowl pricing starts at $4,195 and free trials are available.)

If your company makes and sells physical goods, you already know that inventory management is a drag on your colleagues and your company. Even if you don't, you have pools of assets that matter to your business, from the things you do sell to the people who sell and buy them. Each of these represents an inventory that requires management. Accurate, agile and responsive management, if you expect your company to compete effectively as more commerce moves online and under the control of buyers. So good inventory management buys your business a lot.

Take a good look at Fishbowl Inventory and Fishbowl Enterprise as potential solutions for your business. Then look at them as indicators of how your business might learn to collaborate on and love the resource management processes it needs to succeed and thrive.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Business Knowledge Optimization: The "Next Big Idea" in Collaboration

What does your business know? About itself, its competitors, the forces shaping its key markets, what its customers think of it and its competitors, or how its customers make purchase decisions?

How well does your business use what it knows to improve how it does business? How prepared is your business to turn what it knows into business benefit, today and tomorrow?

Many business decision makers have no idea how to begin answering the questions above, but it's not their fault. Business knowledge – information framed in a relevant, actionable business context – is often undervalued and poorly managed, if it's managed at all. At the smartest companies, the business knows what it knows and how best to use that knowledge.

Those two things define everything significant about every modern business. So taking a holistic approach to the collection, curation and leverage of business knowledge can maximize the agility, responsiveness and competitiveness of any business. Such an approach is what I mean when I say business knowledge optimization (BKO).

Does your business need BKO? Here are some signs that it does.
  1. Your competition is consistently "eating your lunch." 
  2. Your customers are upset, and you're not sure why, or how many are upset, or what to do about it. 
  3. Your partners are wary or confused about your road map for the future of your relationships with them. 
  4. There are no clearly defined or well-enforced policies, practices, or processes in place for collecting and leveraging knowledge consistently across the organization. 
  5. There are no clearly defined or well-enforced policies, practices, or processes in place for ensuring that business-critical knowledge is retained when those who know it leaves the business. (You might know this as "institutional memory.")

What are the key elements of BKO? They include but are not limited to the following.
  • Any and all collaboration and information-sharing tools your business uses today. 
  • Any and all information repositories (such as databases) and the tools used to manage them, both premise- and cloud-based. 
  • Any and all solutions used by your business for backup, recovery or remote storage of business-critical information. 
  • Any and all tools and services used to capture, document or manage business processes. 
  • Any and all information collected or provided by any and all tools that "touch" or are "touched" by any colleagues, customers, partners, prospects or others who matter to your business. (Examples include tools and services for customer care, support incident management and employee feedback collection. Additional examples include Web site analytics and social media monitoring and reporting tools, which also happen to be critical to a related big idea, online experience optimization (OEO).) 
BKO also requires a level of process consistency and enforcement that is ubiquitous yet unobtrusive to succeed. This is because your business needs to capture as much information as it can about and from as many sources as it can to ensure that its knowledge is accurate, timely and actionable. At some companies this will mean revisiting almost everything about the processes that drive the business. At some companies, it will mean visiting these operational areas for the first time.

I'll have lots more to say about BKO here and elsewhere, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, you can help my research into this critical area by taking my brief BKO survey, anonymously if you prefer. You can take the survey and request summary findings at You can also take two equally brief surveys on OEO at and Thanks for your help – please tell everyone you know!

Unified Threat Management Solutions Now: Chatting with Lisa Phifer

As more and more business collaboration takes place online, threats to online security become greater threats to business agility and efficiency – and continuity. Herewith, some key take-aways from an online audio discussion and chat about unified threat management or UTM devices. These are basically computer-hardware-and-software "appliances" that automatically protect business computing and networking facilities from multiple threats, such as viruses, spam and unauthorized network intrusions. Their all-in-one design makes them affordable, manageable options even for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) and small or remote facilities of larger enterprises.

This online chat featured Lisa Phifer, president of security and networking consultancy Core Competence. She has been involved in the design, implementation, and evaluation of networking, security, and management products for more than 25 years. She was formerly a member of the technical staff at Bell Communications Research and senior staff architect at Unisys. She teaches about IT and security, has written extensively for numerous publications, and is a featured speaker at leading conferences.

The event, "Choosing the Unified Threat Management Product That's Right for Your SMB," was part of the Online Audio Series at, which is open to everyone with complementary registration. An archive of the audio portion of chat with Lisa is available at Many thanks to The Secure SMB team and all of the chat participants for their great questions, some of which generated Lisa's guidance as summarized below.

UTM, the cloud and new network client options: One chat participant asked how UTM appliances can help companies to deal with the growth of "the mobile, social cloud," remote working and "BYOC" ("Bring Your Own Computer") initiatives. Such initiatives create an even greater role for network security solutions and their management, because business can't necessarily put security measures on every authorized device, Lisa replied.

However, "[UTM appliances] that do have the ability to fit into some type of NAC [network access control] architecture can leverage endpoint health and integrity inspection [features] to protect the net from infected devices," Lisa said. Some of those UTM appliances also offer intrusion protection features that can detect and help to "quarantine" infected device activities, she added.

Business and technology decision makers should strive to ensure close integration of the management of their chosen UTM and security solutions. Those decision makers should then invoke all of the available features of those solutions that make business sense and maximize protection against infection, Lisa affirmed.

UTM appliances vs. point solutions: Another chat participant asked, "Is it better than to have multiple devices than one device? This way you can upgrade pieces as they become the slower devices on the network [and] the costs can be managed over time," especially for cash-strapped smaller businesses.

"Multiple devices add latency and points of failure. They are also costly to replace," Lisa replied. "The idea behind UTM is to give you one device to reduce latency, management complexity, and points of failure. However, you do create a potential bottleneck – one that you can manage by upgrading the UTM [appliance] or replacing it with a larger model." Another option is to use load balancing, a feature included with some UTM appliances, to divide threat management across multiple UTM solutions.