Personally? I don’t think so. But lets back up for one second.

There are arguments that if your business is relying on frameworks of Best Practices, that it is too late for you – you are a dead business walking.

The argument is a valid one too. By definition best practices are practices that others have already done, practices that someone else has already codified. So the argument is;  if you are only doing what everyone else has already done, by definition you are not making any leap to Next Practices, meaning improvement, innovation or ideas that change the game and bring competitive advantage and growth.

One Mistake?

I believe that there is one mistake in that argument. Because I believe that both best practices and next practices are required.

Ask your self some questions. In your business;

How do you generate revenue? What is your core competency? What is the expertise that people or businesses pay you for? And what are your strategic goals?

In my opinion these questions will drive where best practices are applicable, and where next practices should be looked at.

Next Practices

Innovation, improvements or these  Next Practices should be looked at in all facets of your business value proposition, or your core. As one example; if you are a manufacturing organization, innovation in your core could include new and improved materials, new techniques, novel approaches to supply chain management etc.

Successful next practice innovation in these areas could lead to new lines of business, lower material or manufacturing costs that allow entry into new markets – any one of a number of strategic options.

Best Practices

For our manufacturing organization mentioned above – tell me, what value is there in pursuing next practice innovation in their payroll process? That compilation of tasks that go from time sheet to paycheck?

I would argue; Not much.

This payroll process may be performed in house, through an outsourced partner, or combination of the two. But for this process, best practice to reduce cost and increase efficiency is the way to go.

If your organization is a payroll processing supplier? Then that is your core – for you, looking at next practice innovation makes sense.

A Real Example?

Look at Apple! (AAPL) the iPod, iPad & iPhone are cherished as innovative and beautiful products. But guess what? Apple does not manufacture them! Their core is the design and the idea, and the operating system, plus the network environment such as iTunes. Apple defines next practice in all of these areas.

But manufacturing?

Best practice for them is to outsource to manufacturing partners who can do the job.

So the next practice for these outsource partners is too keep up with new materials, techniques and processes that allow them to say; “sure we can do that!” when Apple comes calling with the next big idea.

The Takeaway

In your core revenue generating processes – standing still is no longer an option. Next practices that move the strategic bar are absolutely necessary.

But for reducing friction costs and improving efficiencies in those non core processes?

Can you think of a good reason to reinvent the wheel?

Why Reinvent The Wheel?

Photo Credit Lady AnnDerground via flickr

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Over my vacation a week or so ago, I read Behind The Cloud The untold story of salesforce.com by Marc Benioff & Carlye Adler.Behind the Cloud - salesforce.com

(published by Josey-Bass –  ISBN978-0-470-52116-8)

It was an interesting read following at a high level how Mr. Benioff and team formed Salesforce.com, got it started, and how it exploded into the poster child for Software as a Service (Saas) or a piece of what we call ‘cloud computing’.

Each chapter describes the issues, decisions and actions that were taken along their road to growth. Call it a road map of what worked for them.

There are two really key points in the text that we all should be thinking about.

First, in selling the product, Salesforce.com did not sell the features 0f what their product could do, they  evangelized the concept of Saas, selling the experience & advantage,  not the product. In fact in their book The Power Of  Pull, Hagell, Seely Brown & Davisson state that 80% of Marc Benioff’s communication was educating – not selling the product.

There was also a huge second  recurring theme threaded throughout the text;

People People People

‘Nuff Said

Words Are Not Enough

This is the next post in my intermittent series on doing more with less; having existing staff (in my case an IT Manager) help out in improving marketing, specifically starting with Web Site optimization. It also has come faster than I intended (the previous one was just last week)

First post is here .

But first, I want to tell you a story….

Our Story

A number of years ago we contracted out a web site re-design, then there were some some meetings with a marketing pro who then took our ideas and put some words on all of our newly redesigned web pages.

But I didn’t like them; they were only words.

What do I mean by only words?

Sure, we use words to explain concepts, or to describe things. But words can also be powerful containers that express more than the sum of their letters.

Chip & Dan Heath in their seminal text; Made To Stick demonstrated the concept that single words, phrases, or sentences can be triggers that expand to full volumes of concepts, emotions and understanding.

As an example, there are probably millions of books, texts, articles, images and information about a large United States based organization. I could use words to describe (which would be a  lengthy process ) this organization to you.

Or I can just say; NASA

Depending on your region or age, the simple term NASA will paint a picture of Apollo, Armstrong, Challenger, Atlantis, Voyageur and more. Entire volumes of your awareness are linked to those four simple letters (and heck it is only an acronym!)

In Your Business?

You probably have the same.

Sure, your B2B widget has some great features and specifications, but perhaps your experience has shown you that have successfully sold your Widgets to engineering teams at companies because one simple thing about it that removes a major hot button for the engineers. (ie maybe the one part can replace two)

That hot button – that is Ah-Ha! moment, those words just told your prospects; hey – these folks understand my issues!

The SMB Takeaway

Keep your fingers on the pulse of your web site content

You may outsource some of the work, but keep looking for those words or phrases that resonate, that explode into understanding.

Because those words, are more than words.

Photo Credit Feuillu via flickr

From CIOZone: Smaller Businesses Embracing SaaS

30 percent are planning to implement SaaS offerings in 2010, a sizable jump from the 22 percent saying they would do so in 2009, and the 14 percent reported in 2008.

The statistic is from the US, but I am sure similar else where

And I am not surprised. One of the benefits of Software ans a service (SaaS) is that fact that you don’t need to buy servers, databases and the associated plumbing. Along with the associated bodies to keep it running.

Do continue your due diligence though.

You can get updates to this blog by clicking the RSS icon on the Home Page!

Let me tell you about a problem that most smaller businesses have!

You pay boat loads of money, either on retainer, or time & materials services for IT support – But, well, you wonder – what are you getting for all of that money?

Have you ever fit that description?

For small businesses that said yes to the above, I bet I can guess how your IT support processes currently operate too!

If a problem occurs, someone telephones or e-mails Your IT support supplier. Simply enough, that supplier tells you that they will fix it. I would also bet that if your supplier needs to physically visit your facility -they probably get hit with comments such as; “while you are here, Bill over here has not been able to print all week!”

Sound familiar?

And know with a huge inductive leap of logic, I can also guess that if you asked yourself (or your staff) about their perception of your IT support vendor, the perception will be at least neutral, and possibly even quite negative.

And perception is key!

Your IT support provider may be doing a great job – but if you cannot see it, if it is not regularly communicated, that negative perception will not go away.

In your business, who owns that IT relationship?

Right now? If you are like most smaller businesses, probably no one owns that relationship. And when I state owning that relationship, I don’t mean who is assigned to sending the e-mail or making the phone call when something needs to be fixed.

Owning that relationship means that along with sending that e-mail, that follow up information is updated and documented.

Owning that relationship means being able to see that you called for IT support 5 times last week, and that all 5 issues were either taken care of quickly and effectively, or maybe they were not. (but then you will know!)

And How?

It can be as easy as an Excel spreadsheet.

The negative part about documents such as a spreadsheet is that emailing that document around can grow to be a nightmare. And the goal is visibility!

There are also simple, hosted tools that for a couple of hundred dollars per year will provide on-line dashboards of your tech services.

The SMB Takeaway

There is that tired old adage; Is everybody on the same page?

We can truly say that it has never been easier to keep everybody on that same page when true collaboration and communication exists with your technology services supplier.

You can get updates to this blog by clicking the RSS icon on the Home Page!

Photo Credit Ennor via flickr

Standards or Wild West?

Gary Hamel writing on the Wall Street Journal blog blasts corporate IT departments for enforcing technology standards with a post titled; Why Don’t IT Departments Give Employees More Freedom? The premise is that if the best tool for the job is something that an employee provides themselves, or downloads from the Internet, so what? In Mr. Hamel’s words;

How is it that employees can be trusted to take care of important customers, safeguard expensive equipment and stay within their budgets, but can’t be trusted to use the Web at work, choose their own IT tools, or download programs onto the workplace PCs? Do IT staffers really believe that conscientious, committed employees turn into crazed, malicious hackers when you give them a bit of freedom over their IT environment?

Sounds Great In Theory -But Tell Me, Who Pays?

When it comes to business computers, the actual total cost of ownership of an IT asset can be as high as five times the purchase price, no not one time – annually! And a significant portion of that cost is supporting that IT Asset. Support is defined as direct, an example being technical services staff paying a visit to fix something, as well as indirect support. This latter support is when you spend your time helping a neighbor (or they help you) trying to figure out why that mail merge is not working properly.

Now, in my smaller business, we are pretty relaxed about people utilizing their own tools of choice as stated by Mr. Hamel. But in the past three or four months – that choice has cost me over 10 grand to do it. (more on that later)

Who Fixes What? (Or When I Just Go Home!)

Just in the past few weeks, I recall reading  about a larger organization (if I find it again I will update with a link) that has allowed its employees to provide their own computers or laptops. With the caveat that corporate support would not be able to help them if they chose the non-standard devices. In other words – you are responsible for getting it fixed if it breaks.

OK, So what happens when it does break?

In larger organizations, if a notebook or PC software or hardware dies, it will be either re-imaged with clean versions of the software, or new PC dropped into place with the corporate tools pre-loaded. Job done. In fact this type of computer support can often be done remotely.

So if I chose to forgo the corporate supplied PC, and provide my own Mac, and it dies. Lets see, I unplug it and trek off to my repair outlet of choice. They tell me it will be back to me by Wednesday.

OK. Do I sit twiddling my thumbs until Wednesday?

Maybe call my my clients and say; “Hey – can’t help ya until next week, will call you back then!”

Somehow I don’t see that going over well with your clients. So the question is;

If staff supplies their own IT assets, and they are responsible for repairing them, what productivity loss do you face when they don’t have their machine until next Wednesday?

Next: How About The Cost of Security?

Leaving hardware failure out of the picture, lets assume we allow everybody to install their software of choice on business computers. Read the following quote from an Information Week article by Avi Baumstein after  audits found peer to peer file sharing software on PC’s;

The results were shocking and scary–loads of confidential business documents and enough personal information to ruin any number of lives and create PR nightmares for quite a few companies. Among the business documents were spreadsheets, billing data, health records, RFPs, internal audits, product specs, and meeting notes

As smaller businesses, we are not immune to this either!

In this previous post, I wrote about a small business owner that was fired by three network support vendors.

And why did three IT Services companies fire this customer?

After every abusive , screaming support call, the service providers found the affected PC to be riddled with viruses and spy ware from the kids playing on business PC’s. His attitude was that he should never have problems in spite of his own irresponsibility.

My Personal Experience

At the beginning of this post I mentioned above the 10 grand dollar value.

As an organization, we are pretty liberal on what people do with their PC’s. And of a staff of about 20, three of them use that advantage more than others.

And yes. I have to rebuild or fix those three users computers every couple of months. In fact I just finished fixing one again that took a few days to repair. But lets leave out those softer productivity and labour costs for a minute. After all, maybe you don’t consider these type of things as costs. (but you should!)

How about hard dollar accounts payable costs? Does that strike a nerve?

One of these three individuals configured a three way data synchronization with our email server, his iPhone, and his Google calendar.

Immediately after he did this, I started getting errors on our e-mail server, all coming from his account!

Even after removing the e-mail server part of this synchronization, the errors rapidly escalated in severity and number.

Articles and support notes suggested completely deleting this individuals email account, taking the server off-line and running certain database repair & diagnostic tools.

To avoid bringing critical e-mail to a halt during business hours, I planned that work for late on the next Sunday.

Unfortunately – my e-mail server did not last until the next Sunday.

That Friday morning was nothing but a complete nightmare of error messages and failures that completely crashed the server. The crash completely corrupted all message stores, the file system, the works. At one point we could not even get that e-mail server to actually run the operating system.

After a few hours of work, I contacted one of my preferred vendors who specialize in this type of disaster recovery. It still took myself and two of their experts 3 days to get a complete rebuild of that server, a restore of all that data from backup tapes, and then use the database tools to clean up the corruption.

Three days and a 10 grand service bill

The SMB Takeaway

It is easy to say; let everybody use what they want.

But you better be willing to pay for the excess costs! Because somebody has to pay them.

You can get updates to this blog by clicking the RSS icon on the Home Page!

Photo Credit peppergrass via flickr

Lets try this little story on for size!

You want to hire a plumber to replace your kitchen sink. So out you go and you get a couple of quotations, here they are;

Vendor number one’s quote states; Replace sink

Vendor number two’s quote states; Replace sink, Re-install existing faucet hardware, modify plumbing to fit new sink

Now which of those above quotations make you feel most comfortable that all contingencies are met?

Which one makes you comfortable that there will not be surprises on the scope of work or billing?

Maybe Number Two??

Unless you have a long history of service and trust with the vendor of quote number one, you can understand that that quotation number two covers the bases in a lot more detail.

Now, How About IT?

For smaller businesses it can be fairly common to use outside contractors and suppliers to perform installation or maintenance of your IT assets. Maybe you don’t have full time IT staff, or perhaps you just have a small IT staff that needs outside help in performing a larger task.

But like the example above, don’t forget that there can be a problem here!

It is a natural, but often invisible problem that exists because your contractor, supplier or VAR (Value Added Reseller) and yourself can be looking at the same event or work, but through different lenses.

Freebies vs. Being Nickled & Dimed

For yourself as a manager in the small business space, you are thinking;  “Well since they are here installing that server anyway, I am sure that they can take a few minutes and do this upgrade to our MS Office applications while they are here….”

But for the Management of that vendor or contractor, they need to have their staff into, and then out of your office in the time frame that they quoted you to install that server, and adding what could be an hour or more of time to upgrade those MS Office installations was not part of their plan.

This type of disconnect can lead to frustration and distrust on both sides.

Your supplier feels that you are trying to drive them out of business supporting you with freebies, while you think that they are being unreasonable and doing a nickle and dime routine because you think that the little thing should only take a couple of minutes.

Get Rid of the Disconnect With Proper Scope

To remove this disconnect when sourcing IT contract work, ensure that your vendor and yourself have an itemized list, or breakdown  of each and every task that are to be performed for any particular contract. This will be the scope of your contract engagement.

This point is also the time to discuss those little extra’s.

You think that a few minutes will upgrade your MS Office applications, and they can respond that with 17 workstations at 10 minutes per workstation (assuming nothing goes wrong!) you are looking at almost another three hours of labor.

The SMB Takeaway

When dealing with IT service providers of any kind, ensure that you have an itemized list of the work that is being contracted for. And ensure that it is broken down to as granular a level as is possible.

It takes a bit more time up front, but it is time well spent.

Because both parties can develop the trust that what was contracted for is reasonable, and mutually beneficial.

You can get updates to this blog by clicking the RSS icon on the Home Page!

Photo Credit using neighbo.com via flickr