Archive for February, 2005

Bankers following business: open source for business technology process improvement

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

A bunch of financial organizations, including J.P. Morgan, have decided to pursue an open-source version of AMQ message queuing (which just means your server knows how to hold onto data when it can’t get where it’s supposed to go and then release it when the road is clear) instead of the proprietary programs they’re currently using. IBM looks like it’s built something similar for Linux, MQ Websphere for Linux for Intel (long name).

We’re getting pretty deep into technology here, but the significant point seems to be that this new stuff is changing the role of an important component in computer systems: “It starts to move Sentry – which is available as software, a dedicated appliance or embedded on a PCI-card, – from pure traffic acceleration to a hub for process workflow.”

So the techno geeks are doing in computer systems exactly what companies are doing to their internal workings–big-time business process improvement. Where can we cut out steps? Where can we tighten? Where can we accomplish more in the same space with the same resources?

Oh, well, isn’t that the name of the game today? Gone are the days of excess–uncontrolled spending and inefficient processes. Hardly anyone can afford to be that wasteful anymore–even banks and insurance companies… ” )

Software that "knows" you

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Sixty people–all with different roles–using a single tool but with a version designed just for their responsibilities? Sounds like a lot of work, but Borland Software did it anyway. The VP of Software Engineering at Conformia Software in California is using their Core Software Delivery Platform to track the work of his team that produces software to manage the development of new drugs for pharmaceutical companies.

Business analysts, architects, programmers and testers all share a common tool but get a version appropriate to their task. The tool, says this InformationWeek article, helps automate each stage of the development, but users must still set the workflow process.

You don’t get methodology along with the tool, so you have to have a good process in place and follow it. But when you think about how much more efficient your staff could conceivably be with this (especially new employees and those offshore folks who are lacking in knowledge of the company culture), maybe the $5,900-a-seat price tag makes sense.

Ah, spam. Getting people to sign up for your newsletter

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Don’t we all love it? I know I relish my ten minutes every morning of deleting multiple screensful of offers to finance my mortgage (fronted with totally unrelated subject lines like “Want a kiss?”) Honestly, I pride myself on finding faster and more efficient ways of deleting it all.

I’ve tried a couple of spam filter programs and found them less than satisfactory. And it’s always surprising and a little scary when Outlook, which I set to mark potential spam by graying out the headline) indicates to me that this message (say, the third email that day from the same person–generally my client or colleague) is suddenly “recognized” as potential spam. Imagine if such messages were deleted by a spam program…

Anyway, supposedly spam is costing business “$50 billion worldwide in lost productivity, information technology and help-desk costs in 2005, and the U.S. accounts for $17 billion of that total,” according to a recent report from Ferris Research.

Nice BtoB story on how important it is to be careful about how you invite people to sign up for your newsletter. To get people to give you their e-mail addresses, make sure you’re doing the following:

1. Tell ‘em what you’ll be sending. “The words next to the sign-up box matter more than any other factor,” according to the article. Say how often they’ll get it and demonstrate clear reasons why they’ll benefit. “Get tips for making people want to read your e-mail newsletter–plus coupons in every issue.”

2, Tell ‘em why they’ll value the content. You should always provide real substance, interesting or at least entertaining material. Don’t just push sales.

3. Tell ‘em why they can trust you. Spam has murdered some people’s trust. I’m not gonna put my e-mail address there–I’ll only get more spam. State your privacy policy or link to it. Even that may not be enough, though. You won’t be able to get everyone who’s interested to sign up.

But take heart. Eventually spam filters will lower the ROI on spamming. I don’t think people are ever going to NOT value email, so just be patient, offer solid value, don’t do it too often, respect your readers’ time–and write well!

RANKING 99 – Small and midsize businesses can’t afford not to take advantage of the power of a newsletter–spam problems notwithstanding. The payoffs are increased customer loyalty, continuing interest from trade publications, vendors, and–most importantly–prospects. Set up a program you know you can sustain–don’t stretch your resources too far. If you think you can’t consistently get the goods out, hire a writer and give that person access to the people and the information necessary to make it happen. Yes! A newsletter is important enough to invest money in.

Politics of blogging–Iran jails the outspoken

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

If you blog, you might want to participate in this effort today. Iran has apparently imprisoned a couple of prominent bloggers who said too much the government didn’t like. This BBC story says the global blogger community is being called into action to lend support to “Free Mojtaba and Arash Day.”

I like the idea that someone has put forth the effort to create an International Bloggers’ Bill of Rights, a global petition to protect bloggers at work. I particularly like that phrase, “bloggers at work,” because it surely is work.

A good blog takes patience, persistence, analytical thought, and commitment as well as good writing skills. Nobody does one of these for long if they don’t have all those qualities–thus the millions of blogs around the world that are abandoned. And while they are cluttering up cyberspace, they’re probably a lot more interesting, as garbage goes, than most of the stuff we fill our landfills and junk up our roads with.

Let’s face it. Most of us enjoy peeking, at least momentarily, into someone else’s mind. And some of us have the courage to write things that powerful others don’t want to have aired.

So paste this phrase in your blog today: “Free Mojtaba and Arash Day.”

French cuisine at risk?

Monday, February 14th, 2005

So speculates the new science of molecular gastronomy. Okay, okay. All it means is that a guy with education and training in hard science is applying his skills to the processes of cooking. Why? Because in France, the very cradle of profoundly delicious food, many of the ordinary restaurants that have always provided extraordinary cooking can no longer afford to pay enough employees to do all the things they once did. This means shortcuts. This means lost flavor. This means, if you believe this Gourmet magazine article writing about scientists at the College of France, the potential crumbling of the very foundations of superb French food–and even, by virtue of its national identity being so completely tied up with its food, France itself.

This (pronounced tees) experiments until he can disprove the need for a traditional technique and thus shave precious minutes from the labor time for preparing a classical dish. Voila…(if you’re not a devoted cook, you may want to skip this next bit):

“The paradox of the veloute, for example, is in fact just that. Traditionally, it has been maintained that the foam rising to the surface of a flour-thickened sauce is an impurity. However, This has made clinically sterile veloutes from which the foam still rises. Such a discovery might sound inconsequential, but it certainly is not to the kitchen apprentice who has to spend the break between lunch and dinner doing the skimming.”

Just one of the many reasons why food in France tastes incredibly good.

The happy part of this is that science is becoming an ally to tradition. These researchers are applying the newest scientific discoveries to finding ways to preserve the most exquisite parts of the past–and keeping a ton of small business owners of France from going out business.

This, as Martha would say, is a good thing.

A new rule to live by?

Sunday, February 13th, 2005

You’ve heard, probably in many different ways, of the 80/20 rule. Basically it means you’ll get 80% of return on your efforts from only 20% of your customers. Or that only 20% of what you do will really pay off; 80% will just “be there.” And you’ve probably found that this applies pretty well to most of what you do.

Now comes Google–the new Microsoft, the young-people-in-college-starting-a-business-that-becomes-a-megastar–with a new rule. Here’s a direct quote, so see what you think:

“Google is striving to split its product investments three ways, following a formula of ’70-20-10′” according to this interview in eWeek.

Core search and advertising products would be 70%, and 20% would focus on adjacent products, such as its newer desktop and product search services.

The final 10% would center on the most experimental products, those “things that are truly interesting to us”–for example, where the company isn’t sure how users will react to the service or if it would make money. And here’s the critical point: “…such experiments are critical for the long term.”

“Every company that has forgotten to remain innovative has ultimately lost in the next technology change,” the article says. So the 70-20-10 turns out to be roughly the right answer for Google.

And here’s what I think. I think this “new” rule represents a recognition and a statement of what actually goes on for many of today’s entrepreneurs anyway. Those who intend to survive in the superheated, globally competitive virtual marketplace of today are the people who are always thinking. The people who are always learning. The people who are always dreaming up new ideas–even if they don’t end up implementing them.

So let’s call this new 70-20-10 rule a good way to give yourself permission to “waste” time on dreaming. You already do it anyway, right? But you might get little pangs of guilt sometimes because you’re not “focusing on your core competencies” etc. Well, consider yourself absolved of guilt. ‘Cuz the guys at Google (and you know Microsoft has been doing this forever, too) are doing it, so why shouldn’t you?

Dream on, people. You never know when one of ‘em will hit big.

Turning the customer service worm–Too funny to pass up

Saturday, February 12th, 2005

You know how emails are. People make crazy statements as if they were the truth–and sometimes they are. But in this case, it really doesn’t matter. Below (thanks to Dee from Florida) is supposedly an actual letter sent to a bank by a 96 year-old woman. The email claims the New York Times thought it was amusing enough to publish. Well, whether they did or not, I certainly find it sufficiently amusing to do so.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his depositing the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly transfer of funds from my modest
savings account, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only thirty-one years. You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.

My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has recently become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate. Be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope.

Please find attached an Application Contact Status form which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof. In due course, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Please allow me to level the playing field even further. When you call me, you will now have a menu of options on my new voice mail system to choose from.

Please press the buttons as follows:

1. To make an appointment to see me.
2. To query a missing payment.
3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
4. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.
5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am…attending to nature.
6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.
7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated to you at a later date to the Authorized Contact.
8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 7.
9. To make a general complaint or inquiry. The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.

While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee of $50 to cover the setting up of this new arrangement. Please credit my account after each occasion.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous, New Year.

Your Humble Client,(supposedly) the 96-year-old woman

Copyrighting blogs?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2005

Well, it was bound to happen. As more marketing people and business professionals of all stripes are recognizing the great power and reach of blogging, the argument has begun over who owns what you write.

Some common sense is in order on this issue. If you’re writing on your company’s website, you might expect that they will have something to say about what you write–that only seems fair. However, if you host your blog on an independent blog site (like Blogger or Blog-City) and you use only your own name on it (that is, you don’t claim to represent any company), how could your boss claim to have editing rights?

The courts will undoubtedly prove the battleground for individual instances. If your company sues you for something you wrote (we already have plenty of laws in place that deal with defamation, libel, slander and the like), you’ll have to answer for it. Naturally, your boss has the right to fire you if he/she doesn’t like something you wrote about him/her/the company.

You can read this long-winded article about blog-content-ownership options sent in by friend Jan Limpach (of SEO fame), or you can just use your head.

Folks, blogging is about real people and about relationships. If we start making legal fodder out of this, too, we’re just helping make our society even more of a choked-up, sue-crazy environment than it already is. You might want to read my last newsletter about what IBM’s CEO did to open the lines of communication between him and his managers and their employees in 160 countries around the world. It’s an impressive display of trust that’s making a huge difference to that company’s success. Can you imagine an employee who’s been through that bothering to write negative stuff about the company?

Why lie?

Friday, February 4th, 2005

What’s the driving force that makes corporate executives lie about how much money the company’s making? Former HealthSouth president admits to conspiring to launder money and misrepresent company earnings by $2.7 billion.

Good grief. Was he bucking for bonuses? And now he’s claiming subordinates duped him. Oh, come on. Audiotape evidence is to be presented. I guess the prize had to be money, like bonuses paid on earnings. But there’s also the incredible chutzpah, the sense of invulnerability that many corporate execs develop in their highly paid positions of power. Perhaps the gamble seems worth the risk, on the chance the payoff may last beyond the penalty.

I learned not to lie when I was a kid–because if I got caught the consequences weren’t pleasant at all. For decades now in America, fewer parents are willing to enforce such consequences on their children for lying. It sure makes sense, then, that the prohibition would remain not very strong all the way into one’s corporate career when the potential rewards are so alluring–even though the stakes are higher.

Google search capabilities expanded

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

Just got word that Google has expanded the number of words (to 32) that you can enter into the search box–which is only a big deal if you’ve trained yourself to become a power searcher and you have creative ideas about what to do with all this extra leeway. One thing you can do is put in a very long string of copy from a specific page of your site and find out whether Google has properly spidered your page–and/or whether anyone else might be copying your material. Duplicate pages will show up in the search. And to give you a few additional ideas for how to search creatively, here’s the link to the Google search guru’s cheat sheet.

RANKING 95 – Small and midsize businesses that maintain a strong communications program (including a blog) should also learn to use Google search as a powerful market intelligence tool. Discover important things about what your competitors are doing on the web and learn more about your customers and prospects. Call us at 440.646.0041 if you’d like to get started using Google search to hone your marketing strategies.