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In the fast-moving world of online marketing

Change is the only constant, emerging technologies, tough competition and increased consumer expectations have created plenty of uncertainty. Many digital agencies are confused about how to deliver relevant ad experiences moving forward.

However, in that uncertainty there are also tremendous opportunities to leverage data and deliver the personalized ad experiences consumers prefer. Advertisers can make the most of this and position themselves for long-term success – if they’re willing to question some longstanding assumptions.

 

Executing ad campaigns today takes a different set of skills

Real-time bidding (a strategy search marketers have used for years) is now feasible for display, social, mobile, video, text, radio advertising and even TV. Executing search and display campaigns, for instance, used to require completely different skill sets. Now programmatic technologys merging them.

Search and display are uniting under a common theme: leveraging data to target consumers with the right message, in the right place, at the right time.

This creates huge opportunities (IDC estimates real-time advertising is growing 59 percent per year) only if agencies and marketers are willing to develop new skills and reassess how they’re delivering ad experiences. The media buyer and agencies that win today -and tomorrow – have started to look a lot different than successful media buyers from the past.

Here’s how:

 

An understanding (and ability) to buy in real time

Traditionally, display media buyers negotiated with sellers to run ads for a fixed number of impressions or amount of time. All the terms were worked out beforehand in a conversational, delayed executed setting.

Programmatic technologies allow advertisers to be more nimble. Instead of committing a significant chunk of their ad spend before seeing any results, advertisers can make small-scale buys, generate feedback and make adjustments in real time. Buying becomes an ongoing process. Kellogg’s used real-time targeting to increase its ROI between five and six times.

This creates enormous opportunities to maximize the ROI on every campaign. Buyers can use feedback to optimize campaigns on the fly – scaling successful ad buys and ceasing unsuccessful ones.

 

Analytical skills and a strong technical knowledge base

Analytical skills are becoming increasingly important in executing successful ad campaigns. Seventy-five percent of CMOs are already using customer analytics to mine data. Acquiring these skills might seem intimidating for some media experts, but it offers huge advantages as advertising technology evolves.

Going forward, successful media buyers will behave more like stock traders. They’ll analyze large sets of data, cross-reference them and run regression models. But they won’t stop there. It’ll be up to them to “translate” those numbers into actionable insights to best optimize ad campaigns.


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Latest News & Developments in Business Strategy Practice

Community Cloud

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Technical and fundamental analysis

The efficient market hypothesis suggests that future share prices cannot be predicted by studying past prices and as we have seen, there is extensive evidence to support this view and the right information in collaborating with your partners.

Despite the evidence, investment strategies based on the study of past share prices, or on the analysis of published information such as annual accounts, are common, and the view held by many financial analysts seems to be therefore that capital markets are inefficient.

Technical analysis involves the use of charts (Chartism) and other methods to predict future shares prices and share price trends, clearly implying that a relationship exists between past and future prices. For technical analysis to lead to abnormal returns on a regular basis, capital markets cannot even be weak form efficient.

Fundamental analysis are public information to calculate a fundamental value for a share and then offer investment advice by comparing the fundamental value with the current market price. It is not possible to make abnomal gains from fundamental analysis if capital markets are semi-strong form efficient, since all publicly available information will already be reflected in share prices.

Both technical and fundamental analysis, by seeking abnormal returns, increase the speed with which share prices absorb new information and reach equilibrium, thereby preventing abnomal returns from being achieved.


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Latest Financial Topics for Strategy & Business Developments

Corporate trajectory

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The business landscape will look dramatically different in coming decades

 

A culture change dialogs across geography, across business units and also across functions. By embracing people’s differences, we can spark innovation, better understand and serve our customers and gain competitive advantage.

Driving a successful diversity strategy begins with the senior leaders, but to be fully sustainable it needs to be lived by every one of us. If that seems challenging, think about this: many leading researchers and social scientists have proven a link between diversity and productivity. In the United States, management researchers found that when people work directly with someone with at least one diverse trait, it challenges them to prepare more and work harder. By embracing diversity in your business today, you can adopt an intrapreneurial mindset and sustainable skills that will help you succeed. Here’s how you can start:

 

Learn to think like an intrapreneur

Intrapreneurship, or disrupting internal processes or cultural norms, is at its heart about innovation. One group of innovators in particular figured out how to advance their industry through the way they approach challenges – these are open-source software engineers, and they use design thinking. It’s a good example of what intrepreneurship can be: pick a diverse team with a range of experiences and perspectives; make your mistakes early and be open about them.

Without the diverse and constant input, these engineers would be less successful in the way they solve challenges. When faced with a difficult task or situation, seek out advice from new and diverse sources, most likely you will find an improved approach.

 

Discover new places to network

As collaboration with diverse individuals provides new points of view, networking accomplishes this on a larger scale. By going to events for closely related professions, or simply connecting through social media channels such as Twitter or LinkedIn where you can virtually engage in conversations with anyone, you put yourself in a position for growth.

Inside your organization you can join or organize a powerful employee network with a diverse set of peers. While interacting with your network, look for, accept and appreciate differences. Friction leads to heat, and our heat makes the atoms move faster!

 

Focus on the strengths everybody brings to the table

We are brought up in the Western World to focus on what doesn’t work or what is different. Challenge yourself to appreciate the differences of others and see them as potential drivers of change. The more opinions, the more variety, and the more diversity we bring to the table the more we can unchain our creativity, which is hidden in every one of us.

People with different communication abilities, for instance, can be diverse. Autistic people are known for thriving in repetitive tasks, which is an especially valuable skill set in today’s data-driven work environments. These skills help uncover insights into customer behavior and business trends, and can lead to discoveries that alter how a company operates. In the future of work, diversity will not be an option, but an imperative to sustain in our global, fast paced economy, where never just one person owns and knows the truth.

 

Stand up to discrimination

Stand up if you see or experience discrimination.Raise your voice for the unheard opinion. Help others appreciate how every person has a different strength and realize that in that strength there is opportunity to grow and be more productive. For instance, if a colleague comments that a women aren’t as capable of understanding technology, remind them that CEOs Meg Whitman at HP and Marisa Mayer at Yahoo! have both outlasted their male predecessors. By being critical of someone’s weakness you miss the chance to appreciate and benefit from their strengths.

The need for new perspectives becomes especially important when we examine the future workplace. As our world gets smaller, diversity doesn’t only mean differences in gender and race, but age and geography as well. Our world has become ultra-connected – successful companies find that to harmonize these connections relates directly to how fast they innovate. The implications are key for our global workforce because innovation thrives when we are faced with the unfamiliar. Diversity is what makes business more sustainable.



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The Latest Publication On Data Surveys

 

 

 


 

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Among companies where big data, cloud, mobile, and social technologies are critical parts of the infrastructure, how technologies are, or will soon be? 

Forty-four percent of survey respondents say that mobile is now a critical part of their infrastructure. It’s especially important in some industries—51 percent of the respondents in the utilities and technology sectors indicated that mobile devices and access are critical. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents say that “anywhere access” to corporate apps and data is the biggest benefit to using mobile, followed by increased productivity (53 percent). The two are undoubtedly linked, as mobile access to systems optimizes employee time.

A majority of survey respondents indicate that putting mobile functionality in the hands of employees is now a key requirement, and leading companies are also leveraging the growing ubiquity of smartphones to innovate and drive top-line revenue growth. Management of the Detroit Lions professional football team, for example, is always looking for ways to improve the fan experience. In addition to offering wireless Internet access at Ford Field to Verizon customers and launching a digital raffle for charity on game days, the Lions released a free smartphone application that features exclusive in-stadium game day content, including instant replay from several different camera angles for every play, and concession maps. Eventually, the Lions intend to add other features to the smartphone app, including in-seat concession ordering.

 

“Mobile is a gateway to our fan base,”

says Thomas Horrom, vice president of technology for the Detroit Lions.

 

“Without it, we’re not able to get creative or innovative in our engineered touch points.”

Delta Air Lines is another company that is using mobile technologies to innovate. The airline announced it had begun equipping its 19,000 flight attendants with mobile devices, which have increased incremental revenue from in-flight purchases.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your clients receive excellent service every step of the way.

  1.  Put your customer service policy in writing. These principles should come from you, but every employee should know what the rules are and be ready to live up to them. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Something as simple as “the customer is always right” can lay the necessary groundwork, although you may want to get more detailed by saying, for instance,any employee is empowered to grant a 10 percent discount to any dissatisfied customer at any time.”
  2.  Establish support systems that give employees clear instructions for gaining and maintaining service superiority. These systems will help you outservice any competitor by giving more to customers and anticipating problems before they arise.
  3.  Develop a measurement of superb customer service. Don’t forget to reward employees who practice it consistently.
  4. Be certain that your passion for customer service runs rampant throughout your company. Employees should see how good service relates to your profits and to their futures with the company.
  5. Be genuinely committed to providing more customer service excellence than anyone else in your industry. This commitment must be so powerful that every one of your customers can sense it.
  6. Share information with people on the front lines.Meet with your employees regularly to talk about improving service. Solicit ideas from employees-they are the ones who are dealing with customers most often.
  7. Act on the knowledge that what customers value most are attention, dependability, promptness and competence. They love being treated as individuals and being referred to by name.

 

The efficient market hypothesis suggests that future share prices cannot be predicted by studying past prices and as we have seen, there is extensive evidence to support this view and the right information in collaborating with your partners. Despite the evidence, investment strategies based on the study of past share prices, or on the analysis of published information such as annual accounts, are common, and the view held by many financial analysts seems to be therefore that capital markets are inefficient.

Technical analysis involves the use of charts (Chartism) and other methods to predict future shares prices and share price trends, clearly implying that a relationship exists between past and future prices. For technical analysis to lead to abnormal returns on a regular basis, capital markets cannot even be weak form efficient.

Fundamental analysis are public information to calculate a fundamental value for a share and then offer investment advice by comparing the fundamental value with the current market price. It is not possible to make abnomal gains from fundamental analysis if capital markets are semi-strong form efficient, since all publicly available information will already be reflected in share prices.

Bolster the growing consensus among academics, consultants, and other industry experts that simply spending more on emerging technologies isn’t enough to boost business outcomes. Instead, companies that both identify which core business capabilities they need to differentiate and make a commitment to transform these core business capabilities with the right digital technology will greatly outperform competitors who don’t.

For example, a new study by George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee found that firms with a strong vision and mature processes for digital transformation were more profitable on average, had higher revenues, and achieved a bigger market valuation than competitors without a strong vision.  As with any emerging technology, however, there are significant challenges associated with cloud, mobile, social, and big data initiatives.  The survey suggests that the primary risks preventing their wider adoption are data security issues, lack of interoperability with existing IT systems, and lack of control.

However, executives from leading organizations—several of whom were interviewed for this report— are overcoming those hurdles to achieve top-line and customer-facing business benefits. Strategic options involve the options for strategy in terms of both the directions in which strategy might move and the methods by which strategy might be pursued.

For example, an organisation might have to choose between alternative diversification moves, for example entering into new products and markets. As it diversification moves, it has different methods available to it for example, developing a new product itself or acquiring an organisation already active in the area.



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Latest News for Strategy Business Developments

Financial Goals

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In the new case of the industries you  should be proactive in helping achieving and creating your goals.

When you’re a start-up with few employees and few customers, it’s easy to stay on top of what customers want and what they’re getting. But as you add more customers and employees, you add links to the customer service chain. That creates the potential for growth and the potential for poor service along the way. That’s why creating a customer service policy and adhering to it is so important. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your clients receive excellent service every step of the way.

  1. Put your customer service policy in writing. These principles should come from you, but every employee should know what the rules are and be ready to live up to them. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Something as simple as “the customer is always right” can lay the necessary groundwork, although you may want to get more detailed by saying, for instance, “any employee is empowered to grant a 10 percent discount to any dissatisfied customer at any time.”
  2. Establish support systems that give employees clear instructions for gaining and maintaining service superiority. These systems will help you outservice any competitor by giving more to customers and anticipating problems before they arise.
  3. Develop a measurement of superb customer service. Don’t forget to reward employees who practice it consistently.
  4. Be certain that your passion for customer service runs rampant throughout your company. Employees should see how good service relates to your profits and to their futures with the company.
  5. Be genuinely committed to providing more customer service excellence than anyone else in your industry. This commitment must be so powerful that every one of your customers can sense it.
  6. Share information with people on the front lines.Meet with your employees regularly to talk about improving service. Solicit ideas from employees-they are the ones who are dealing with customers most often.
  7. Act on the knowledge that what customers value most are attention, dependability, promptness and competence. They love being treated as individuals and being referred to by name.

 

It has been about trust and it has been about getting there faster than anybody else,as we are driving innovation and bring ideas from other industries through our success.

 

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” 

 Howard Stevenson 

 

This is one of the first definitions of entrepreneurism.It perfectly captures the nature of entrepreneurship and highlights some key qualities that successful entrepreneursshare. Entrepreneurs are confident in their abilities and they are able to recognize opportunities where many others don’t see them.




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The Latest Business News  On Strategy Practise

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Create differentiation and leadership digital engagement, alignment, innovation persistency connectivity, mobile and cloud lead into market efficiency. This initiatives are driving manufacturers to move at the speed of thought. Leverage this transformation is important.

 

However, market efficiency – championed in the efficient market hypothesis (EMH)”

 

Formulated by Eugene Fama in 1970, suggests that at any given time, prices fully reflect all available information on a particular stock and/or market. Fama was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences jointly with Robert Shiller and Lars Peter Hansen in 2013. According to the EMH, no investor has an advantage in predicting a return on a stock price because no one has access to information not already available to everyone else.

 

The Effect of Efficiency: Non-Predictability

The nature of information does not have to be limited to financial news and research alone; indeed, information about political, economic and social events, combined with how investors perceive such information, whether true or rumored, will be reflected in the stock price.

According to the EMH, as prices respond only to information available in the market, and because all market participants are privy to the same information, no one will have the ability to out-profit anyone else.

In efficient markets, prices become not predictable but random, so no investment pattern can be discerned. A planned approach to investment, therefore, cannot be successful.

 

“This random walk of prices”

 

Commonly spoken about in the EMH school of thought, results in the failure of any investment strategy that aims to beat the market consistently. In fact, the EMH suggests that given the transaction costs involved in portfolio management, it would be more profitable for an investor to put his or her money into an index fund.

 

Anomalies: The Challenge to Efficiency

In the real world of investment, however, there are obvious arguments against the EMH. There are investors who have beaten the market – Warren Buffett, whose investment strategy focuses on undervalued stocks, made billions and set an example for numerous followers.

There are portfolio managers who have better track records than others, and there are investment houses with more renowned research analysis than others. So how can performance be random when people are clearly profiting from and beating the market?

Counter arguments to the EMH state that consistent patterns are present. For example, the January effect is a pattern that shows higher returns tend to be earned in the first month of the year; and the weekend effect is the tendency for stock returns on Monday to be lower than those of the immediately preceding Friday.


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Latest News & Developments in Business Strategy Practice

Drive Digital


How Marketers Can Connect Profit and Purpose

It takes time for a big idea to make its way into business practice. Six years ago, Harvard’s Michael Porter and FSG’s Mark Kramer made the bold statement that shared value —the idea that the purpose of a company is to achieve both shareholder profit and social purpose — 

 

To  reinvent capitalism.

 

They encouraged companies to go beyond CSR (corporate social responsibility) and integrate social impact into companies’ competitive strategy. And, Nathaniel Foote and Russ Eisenstat proposed 

 

“ A better way to manage in the 21st century.

 

They found “higher-ambition” leaders achieved superior performance by doing well and doing good. For the last six years, they have worked with a group of top marketing executives and business leaders in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area from companies large and small. Each year they assess the issues that are most top-of-mind. From digital platforms to customer experience to crisis management, these priorities have been a bellwether for what would soon dominate boardroom discussions and headline business publications.

This year the issue of profit and propose came to the fore, echoing the earlier manifestos. To understand the connections and applications, interviews with over 20 CMOs and CEOs, finding a remarkably similar pattern across a highly diverse set of companies. To find widespread agreement that having great products and services and being a “good corporate citizen” are table stakes in a world of empowered citizens and consumers.

Melissa Waters, CMO of Lyft, says,

Any customer these days is asking for transparency on what a company stands for and why they operate. But you can’t exist just to make the world a better place.

Purpose today goes well beyond corporate social responsibility. According to Alicia Tillman, CMO of SAP,

Purpose can’t be viewed as a department or initiative. It must be woven into a company’s operational fabric. Purpose is a lodestar guiding and inspiring everyone to create economic and societal value together.”

In a sense, purpose is following the path that digital has taken in the enterprise.


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News & Economic Trends

 

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A chance to catch up on much-needed reading to refresh and recharge your standards and leadership style scoured this lists of books that helped to look at life and work in a whole new way. While these books are not your typical newest releases, they have timeless value and are best read together to rejuvenate yourself and, by extension, your team.

The review by Rebecca Talbot, Content Marketing & Research Manager & Leadership Story Lab sais:

Feeling comfortable in our workplace can have its downsides. It’s easy to fall into patterns and make assumptions about the people we spend our days with.”

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier offers a way to get beyond our assumptions about our coworkers’ behavior and learn their stories instead. Stanier’s short book explores seven questions managers can use to get people talking, and to train themselves to avoid thinking they “already know” what’s motivating people. His first question is simply:

What’s on your mind?

When we are willing to start our conversations with an open-ended question, the answers might surprise us!And that’s Stanier’s whole point-that we need to approach each other with far more curiosity.

The “what’s on your mind” question resonated with me because it is a question my dad used to ask me often when I was a teenager. The respect and curiosity implied in the question worked well to encourage a teenager to talk.

Likewise, family, friends and colleagues generally need an invitation before they will share what’s been important to them lately. Now that Stanier has reminded of that, I’ll be using this question more frequently.

 


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Latest Financial Topics for Strategy & Business Developments

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By the end of the century, a third of the workforce will be “knowledge workers”, or people whose productivity is marked by adding value to information, whether as market analyst, writers, or computer programmers.

Peter Druker, the eminent business maven who coined the term “knowledge worker“, points out that such workers’ expertise is highly specialized, and that their productivity depends on their efforts being coordinated as part of an organisational team: writers are not publishers; computer programmers are not software distributors. While people have always worked in tandem, Druker notes that with knowledge work,

” Teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself.”

Perhaps the most rudimental form of organisational team-work is the meeting, that inescapable part of an executive’s office in a boardroom, on a conference call, in someone’s office.

Meetings bodies in the same room are but the most obvious, and at the somewhat antiquated, example of the sense in which work is shared.

Electronic networks, email, teleconferences, work teams, informal networks and the like are emerging as new functional entities in organisations. To the degree that explicit hierarchy as mapped on an organisational chart is the skeleton of an organisation, these human touch points are its central nervous system.

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The total the talents and skills involved, whatever people come together to collaborate, whether it be in an executive planning meeting or as a team-working toward a shared product, there are in a very real sense on which they have been included in a group of IQ.

In maximizing the excellence of a group’s product, the degree to which the members were able to create a state of internal harmony, lets them take the advantage of the full talent of their members.


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Latest News Section Sources Including Companies and Bank Reviews

Exploring Corporate Strategy

1. Human resource management and global business strategy

Challenges position, choices and action that should be seen as closely related. In practise none has priority over another, this sequence is not meant to suggest that the process of strategic management must follow a neat and tidy path. Indeed, the evidence on how strategic management happens in practice suggest that it usually does not occur in tidy ways.
Elements of strategic management in linear sequence is characterised first by understanding the strategic position, than strategic choices and finally putting strategy in action. Indeed, many texts on the subject to just this. However, in practise, the elements of strategic management do not follow this linear sequence, they are interlinked and feed back on each other.

The inter-connected circles of the above exhibit are designed to emphasise this non-linear nature of strategy.

Corporate social responsibility is among the top challenges. Companies face when expanding into new markets, especially in developing regions.

Business practices that are acceptable locally are frequently at odds with the values of the company and the laws of its regulatory agencies. This creates a tug-of-war between social responsibility and the need to be successful in those markets, which can turn into significant risk.
Guiding corporate strategic decision-making challenge incorporating the human capital opportunities and risks from operating abroad into corporate strategic decision-making workforce opportunities that are marked both by steady improvements through the political machinations that open trade across borders and enable cross-border migrations, and by sudden and often unexpected changes such as the relaxation in relations between the United States and Cuba; conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine; and dramatic swings in oil prices.
The challenge for companies is to remain nimble to take advantage of the opportunities while avoiding the risks. HR’s challenge is to gather, assess and understand all the cultural, labor and market complexities of operating in each market so that the company can predict opportunities and risks, know when to enter or exit a market, and integrate successfully into new local markets.
The success of a company’s global growth hinges on HR integrating the workforce. HR-led teams need to assess the complexities of bringing together workforces with often dissimilar societal and corporate cultures. HR can, for example, identify potential roadblocks early and plan interventions before problems arise. The food facilities management company Sodexo identified a need for diversity and inclusion across its 355,000 employees from North American to China. It developed training programs that resulted in significant numbers of women, youths, people with disabilities and indigenous workers productively joining its workforce across the globe.

2.Making the business case for CSR

The challenge for HR is to gain a detailed understanding of local environments and their accepted business practices. It then needs to establish protocols that are customized for each region and communicate these protocols throughout the organization and across its supply chain.
When local labor laws or practices conflict with the organization’s CSR policies, HR needs to be the voice of the individual and ensure that the company maintains its integrity, even when this goes against the potential economic value.

HR faces the additional challenge of demonstrating to the company how good CSR policies strengthen the brand, increase customer loyalty and boost shareholder value.

3.Balancing corporate and societal cultures while promoting diversity

Some cultural attributes, such as a command-and-control management style, can be modified to fit local cultures, while others, such as integrity and human rights policies, cannot be compromised. HR needs to understand and deal with the complexities, deciding which corporate culture elements can change and which are essential to protecting the organization’s values and ethics. The company cannot change anti-bribery policies, but it may choose to change its dress-down-Fridays rule.

Management may also choose to impose cultural elements, such as giving back to the community consistently across the global organization. The challenge becomes even more complex when dealing with new workers, those engaged through means such as crowdsourcing, as well as remote and temporary workers.

HR also needs to develop programs to assist executives to adapt when they move from the head office to regions with different societal and cultural norms.



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The Latest News on Business & Development Strategy Practise

Systems of Record

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Money all spent in systematization, as you all know more than I do, it is not easy with all that data that you have collected. 

Until recently mainly used to expedite manufacturing, robots are increasingly appearing outside factory floors, in hospitals, labs and offices. To meet the requirements of these varying situations, developers have designed new models, such as soft robots and software robots. This creates 

 

“a digital workforce”

 

which represents a whole new operational, highly scalable, reliable and auditable work capability for businesses.

The use of software robots in this context has been called robotic process automation, or RPA.  While many people have fantasized about a day when they can delegate chores to robots and let them take the reins when it comes to innovation, the rise of these new breeds has left some observers wondering about their value to the workforce.

Many have expressed concern that by taking on core processes in factories, labs, hospitals, offices, robots will make people irrelevant and unemployed. But instead what’s resulting with early adoption of these machines is that there’s room for both robots and people – and the combination is enabling an unparalleled level of efficiency, customer service and innovation. Take Telefonica, for instance.

Under the direction of its head of digital service and transformation Wayne Butterfield, the telecom provider turned to software robotics made by my company, Blue Prism, after fully exhausting other methods of reducing costs while increasing efficiency of the back-office transactions it completes for customers. While software robots were an obvious choice in terms of speeding up processes and slashing corporate spending, members of the IT department were skeptical. They doubted whether the software robots were capable of accurately completing complex procedures like transferring customers’ SIM card data from old phones to new devices. But as software robots repeatedly demonstrated their value automating thousands of monthly transactions, the IT department could no longer dispute the advantages of a digital workforce.

 

What’s important to understand is that people are still involved in the process.

 

Not only do managers train robots much like how they do for new employees – teaching them rules and the ins and outs of particular procedures – but processes can be triggered by a customer or an employee. Many of you are doing this for over 30 years but now it’s not about being focused in improving your process, but also being focused in connecting it with your customer and now mobilising that information to be out in the field. It’s a study made by McKinsey that said that digital transformation is very important to us but we are 13% ready. So how do you get ready?

 



 

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The Latest Business Strategy Practise & Contemporary DevelopmentsNews

 

 

Differentiation Strategy

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Executives of young companies are constantly questioning how to build a differentiated identity in a saturated industry. Even pioneers in uncharted territory will, before too long, need to find their voice.”
Intense competition means you’re onto something good. It also means your industry will shape you if you are not tenacious about defining yourself. There are three fundamental strategies that are instrumental in distinguishing a company from its peers:

1. Cultivate a work environment that enables you to hire exceptional people
The prospect of achieving true value-driven business hinges on your ability to recruit the best talent in the industry. “A” players want to work alongside “A” players, so there is nothing more important than building a strong nucleus of talent. Hiring hastily during an inflection point of your growth can be the kiss of death in creating a culture of excellence.
Nothing gets top-tier employees more excited than being challenged to take on outsized responsibility, yet most work environments still adhere to a stripes-earning, teeth-cutting, dues-paying mentality that stifles growth.
One of the ways you’ll be able to succeed in attracting exceptional talent is by showing that you strive to be a perfect meritocracy, unfettered by the requirements around age or experience.

2. Question everything but challenge selectively

Adhering solely to industry standards and best practices is a surefire way to camouflage a company in the market. Businesses strongly positioned for long-term success tend to believe adamantly that their industry’s best practices have yet to be discovered. There is an important distinction between questioning every industry assumption and assuming that every industry practice is flawed – it is a thin line between curiosity and arrogance. In the quest to innovate, leave no stone unturned. If the industry got it right, turn that stone back over.


3. Focus relentlessly on value
Proclaiming the need to focus on value may sound like a truism, but it is remarkably easy to forsake the path of substance. Businessman and author Ben Horowitz aptly said in order for a customer to switch to your product, it needs to be 10 times better than the product they are currently using. The only way to ensure this is by employing a laser focus on value and eliminating all distractions.
This demands not only discernment between value and distraction, but requires the discipline not to pursue the distraction. As a young company, you’ll face this challenge every day, and sometimes the choice is between less engaging tasks to create value or more interesting tasks destroying value. Making the choice to select substance over splash is critical in building a deep, unique product.


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Latest News for Strategy Business Developments

Excellence Overview

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A case management on collaboration is fixing the problem right at the first time.  So, whats next?

Believe it or not, a full quarter of employees don’t trust their employer, according to a American Association survey of 1,562 U.S. workers. What’s more, the survey also found that only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them.

This lack of trust is likely due to a lack of transparency in the workplace. Transparent leadership is the key to fostering a culture of trust between leaders and their employees. Employees who are kept in the loop and understand their role in the overarching purpose and goals of the company are, understandably, more likely to put their trust in their employer.

By now, most of us have heard a thing or two about how to achieve and sustain transparency in the workplace. Here are four reasons why that transparency and culture of trust is necessary:

 

Better relationships

Employees don’t just quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. In fact, CareerBuilder survey revealed that 37 percent of the 3,008 employees surveyed were likely to leave their jobs due to a poor opinion about their boss’s performance.

When it comes to building solid workplace relationships, trust takes center stage. Take Unbounce, for example. It took transparency to another level with its “Inside Unbounce” blog, a staff-authored, un-curated window in the organization. Not only does this demonstrate transparency to potential job seekers, customers, etc., it also keeps employees involved and up to date on company happenings, successes and feedback.

 

Better alignment

Employee alignment, for transparency’s sake, means taking a look at the big picture and seeking to understand everyone’s role within it. This is easily done when employers practice transparency in the workplace. Transparent leadership results in employees who understand the company vision and how their efforts help achieve company-wide goals.

Transparency is at the top of HubSpot’s Culture Code. Its internal wiki includes financials (cash balances, burn-rate, profits and losses, etc.), board meeting decks, management meeting decks, “strategic” topics, HubSpot Lore & Mythology — basically anything and everything employees need to stay informed and aligned with the company vision.

 

Better solutions

When leaders are transparent, problems are solved faster. By being open and honest about company problems, employees can help find solutions. And two heads (or however many heads make up the company) are better than one.

Social sharing app Buffer makes company performance public with progress reports on customer support, blog performance, business performance and more. Not only does doing so increase accountability, it also highlights issues and encourages employees to find solutions.

 

Better engagement

A culture that values transparency in the workplace breeds engaged employees. In fact, Harvard Business Review’s employee engagement survey revealed that 70 percent of those surveyed say they’re most engaged when senior leadership continually updates and communicates company strategy.

When it comes to engaging employees, it’s best to be open about company matters. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner fosters an organization built on transparency. He even takes the time to hold bi-weekly meetings, during which he updates employees on company matters and listens to their suggestions.

What do you think? What are some results you’ve experienced from workplace transparency? Please share in the comments section below.


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New Happenings

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  • Its all about the survival of the those who can adapt. Its a mass of changes.

When you’re a start-up with few employees and few customers, it’s easy to stay on top of what customers want and what they’re getting. But as you add more customers and employees, you add links to the customer service chain.”

That creates the potential for growth and the potential for poor service along the way. That’s why creating a customer service policy and adhering to it is so important. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your clients receive excellent service every step of the way.

  1. Put your customer service policy in writing.These principles should come from you, but every employee should know what the rules are and be ready to live up to them. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Something as simple as “the customer is always right” can lay the necessary groundwork, although you may want to get more detailed by saying, for instance, “any employee is empowered to grant a 10 percent discount to any dissatisfied customer at any time.”
  2. Establish support systems that give employees clear instructions for gaining and maintaining service superiority.These systems will help you outservice any competitor by giving more to customers and anticipating problems before they arise.
  3. Develop a measurement of superb customer service.Don’t forget to reward employees who practice it consistently.
  4. Be certain that your passion for customer service runs rampant throughout your company.Employees should see how good service relates to your profits and to their futures with the company.
  5. Be genuinely committed to providing more customer service excellence than anyone else in your industry.This commitment must be so powerful that every one of your customers can sense it.
  6. Share information with people on the front lines.Meet with your employees regularly to talk about improving service. Solicit ideas from employees-they are the ones who are dealing with customers most often.
  7. Act on the knowledge that what customers value most are attention, dependability, promptness and competence.They love being treated as individuals and being referred to by name.

 

Phrases That’ll Make Your Customers Happy

Principles of customer service are all very well, but you need to put those principles into action with everything you do and say.

 

There are certain “magic words” customers want to hear from you and your staff. Make sure all your employees understand the importance of these key phrases:

 

  • How can I help?”Customers want the opportunity to explain in detail what they want and need. Too often, business owners feel the desire or the obligation to guess what customers need rather than carefully listening first. By asking how you can help, you begin the dialogue on a positive note (you are “helping,” not “selling”). And by using an open-ended question, you invite discussion.
  • “I can solve that problem.”Most customers, especially business-to-business customers, are looking to buy solutions. They appreciate direct answers in a language they can understand.
  • I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”When confronted with a truly difficult question that requires research on your part, admit that you don’t know the answer. Few things ruin your credibility faster than trying to answer a question when you are unsure of all the facts. Savvy buyers may test you with a question they know you can’t answer and then just sit quietly while you struggle to fake an intelligent reply. An honest answer enhances your integrity.
  • “I will take responsibility.”Tell your customer you realize it’s your responsibility to ensure a satisfactory outcome to the transaction. Assure the customer you know what he or she expects and will deliver the product or service at the agreed-upon price. There will be no unexpected changes or expenses required to solve the problem.
  • “I will keep you updated.”Even if your business is a cash-and-carry operation, it probably requires scheduling and coordinating numerous events. Assure your customers they will be advised of the status of these events. The longer your lead time, the more important this is. The vendors customers trust the most are those that keep them apprised of the situation, whether the news is good or bad.
  • I will deliver on time.”A due date that has been agreed upon is a promise that must be kept. “Close” doesn’t count.
  • Monday means Monday.”The first week in July means the first week in July, even though it contains a national holiday. Your clients are waiting to hear you say “I deliver on time.” The supplier who consistently does so is a rarity and will be remembered.
  • It’ll be just what you ordered.”It will not be “similar to,” and it will not be “better than” what was ordered. It will be exactly what was ordered. Even if you believe a substitute would be in the client’s best interests, that’s a topic for discussion, not something you decide on your own. Your customer may not know (or be at liberty to explain) all the ramifications of the purchase.
  • The job will be complete.”Assure the customer there will be no waiting for a final piece or a last document. Never say you are finished “except for….”
  • “I appreciate your business.“This means more than a simple “Thanks for the order.” Genuine appreciation involves follow-up calls, offering to answer questions, making sure everything is performing satisfactorily, and ascertaining that the original problem has been solved.

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Neglecting any of these steps conveys the impression that you were interested in the person only until the sale was made. This leaves the buyer feeling deceived and used, and creates ill will and negative advertising for your company. Sincerely proving you care about your customers leads to recommendations and repeat sales.

 

Never Let Your Customers Forget You


One important tool for generating repeat business is following up. Effective follow-up begins immediately after the sale when you call the customer to say “thank you” and find out if he or she is pleased with your product or service. Beyond this, there are several effective ways to follow up that ensure your business is always in the customer’s mind.

  • Let customers know what you are doing for them. This can be in the form of a newsletter mailed to existing customers, or it can be more informal, such as a phone call. Whatever method you use, the key is to dramatically point out to customers the excellent service you are giving them. If you never mention all the things you are doing for them, customers may not notice. You aren’t being cocky when you talk to customers about all the work you have done to please them. Just make a phone call and let them know they don’t have to worry because you handled the paperwork, called the attorney or double-checked on the shipment-one less thing they have to do.
  • Write old customers personal, handwritten notes frequently.“I was just sitting at my desk and your name popped into my head. Are you still having a great time flying all over the country? Let me know if you need another set of luggage. I can stop by with our latest models any time.” Or if you run into an old customer at an event, follow up with a note: “It was great seeing you at the CDC Christmas party. I’ll call you early in the New Year to schedule a lunch.”
  • Keep it personal.Voice mail and e-mail make it easy to communicate, but the personal touch is often lost. If you’re having trouble getting through to someone whose problem requires that personal touch, leave a voice-mail message that you want to talk to the person directly or will stop by his or her office at a designated time.
  • Remember special occasions.Send regular customers birthday cards, anniversary cards, holiday cards…you name it. Gifts are excellent follow-up tools, too. You don’t have to spend a fortune to show you care; use your creativity to come up with interesting gift ideas that tie into your business, the customer’s business or his or her recent purchase.
  • Pass on information.If you read an article, see a new book, or hear about an organization a customer might be interested in, drop a note or make a quick call to let them know.
  • Consider follow-up calls as business development calls.When you talk to or visit old clients or customers, you’ll often find they have referrals to give you, which can lead to new business.

With all your existing customers can do for you, there’s simply no reason not to stay in regular contact with them. Use your imagination, and you’ll think of plenty of other ideas that can help you develop a lasting relationship.

 

Dealing With Unsatisfied Customers

Studies show that the vast majority of unsatisfied customers will never come right out and tell you they’re unsatisfied. They simply leave quietly, later telling everyone they know not to do business with you. So when a customer complains, don’t think of it as a nuisance-think of it as a golden opportunity to change that customer’s mind and retain his or her business.

Even the best product or service receives complaints now and then. Here’s how to handle them for positive results:

 

  • Let customers vent their feelings. Encourage them to get their frustrations out in the open.
  • Never argue with a customer.
  • Never tell a customer “You do not have a problem.” Those are fighting words.
  • Share your point of view as politely as you can.
  • Take responsibility for the problem. Don’t make excuses. If an employee was sick or a supplier let you down, that’s not the customer’s concern.
  • Immediately take action to remedy the situation. Promising a solution and then delaying it only makes matters worse.
  • Empower your front-line employees to be flexible in resolving complaints. Give employees some leeway in deciding when to bend the rules. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, make sure they have you or another manager handle the situation.

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Businesses existed before there were computers, fax machines, telephones and copiers, but few entrepreneurs these days would want to try to grow a company without the advantages modern information technology can bring.”

Merely having access to the internet–with its myriad opportunities for finding customers, building brands, researching suppliers and communicating with employees and others–can easily justify updating the technology in your office. For many companies, having the appropriate office technology can mean the difference between a successful expansion and one that falls flat on its face.

Managing technology and taking advantage of the opportunities it provides can prove daunting–particularly for small-business owners who lack an extensive budget and a dedicated IT department.

After all, achieving success in this technology-dominant era is far more complicated than putting a personal computer and a printer on a desk. You now have to understand how to take advantage of an IT infrastructure, including a robust network, to compete more effectively. Ultimately, it’s as much about vision-and developing a viable strategy-as it is about actual computing.

Too often, companies jump from one system or application to another but never realize the full benefit of their technology. Without a defined strategy, they make poor buying decisions, adopt ineffective tools, and often experience a high level of frustration. Businesses that excel typically establish technology strategies that help them gain a competitive advantage through cost savings, process improvements, faster time to market, and improved quality and service levels. These firms often exceed the expectations of customers, business partners and employees.

 

Developing a Tech Strategy


The smartest companies embrace a process for evaluating their technology goals and requirements before implementation. Your first step is to conduct an IT/network audit to document the technologies you already have in place and how they match your goals. You’ll want to determine the strengths and shortcomings of your current systems and their relative importance to your business objectives. The audit should cover the following areas:

  • Your company’s business requirements paired with the corresponding technology hardware/software/services solutions that address them.
  • A timeline for investment and deployment, showing how the timeline tracks to the priorities in the overall company business plan.
  • A design for a robust network architecture, which should include a network map of where your company is today technically–and how you plan to build your network in an evolutionary way.
  • Metrics and ways to measure the success of the IT investments.

Technology is vital to your business, but that doesn’t mean you always have to have the latest, greatest piece of equipment or software. Here’s how to evaluate your current technology to see whether it’s time to upgrade:

Computers are most likely to need upgrading as a result of a software update. If you’ve recently begun using a new version of an important software package and your computers’ performance seems unsatisfactorily slow, it may be time to buy new hardware. Otherwise, you can-and probably should-make do with what you have. Don’t delay buying new computers just because the ones you have are only a few years old, though. During that span of time, performance of the models on the market typically doubles. Forcing customers and employees to wait on slow computers can cost you far more than a new system would.

Telephone systems should be upgraded quickly if a problem develops because they’re your lifeline to customers and suppliers. If customers complain about being kept on hold, about phones not ringing or calls not being answered, you may need to add lines, improve your answering system, or perhaps hire more telephone operators. If you expect your call volume to surge sharply-perhaps because of an upcoming new product launch or seasonal buying-you may want to upgrade your phone system before trouble starts, making sure you have enough time to implement a new system, train employees and work out all the bugs.

High-end copiers can cost more than a whole office full of computers. Today’s models are increasingly interchangeable with printers, thanks to the new generation of digital, network-ready copiers. Some late-model digital copiers will also scan documents and send faxes. But fancy features don’t mean you need one of these costly machines. Upgrade your copiers when you experience or foresee a significant increase in the volume of copies you produce. Adding extras such as automatic document feeders and staplers are nice but probably don’t justify an upgrade.

The great thing about the march of technology is not so much that the equipment keeps getting cheaper, it’s that it keeps getting better. And while you don’t want to be on the bleeding edge of technology adoption, one exception is when you absolutely need a specific technology that has been introduced very recently. Most new gadgets go through a steep price decline after an initial phase of high pricing. If you need something that’s currently the latest thing but you can live without it for a while, you can save significant amounts of money by waiting to purchase until several months after it debuts.

 

What About Upgrading?

Even when you can’t justify purchasing new equipment, that doesn’t mean your old tech has to languish. You can always improve your office computers by making upgrades–adding memory or purchasing external storage devices or faster processors. Many people would rather prolong the lives of their computers than get rid of them, and upgrading piece by piece can also eliminate the learning curve needed to adjust to a new machine. You’ll need to be somewhat tech-savvy to take care of these upgrades yourself–or have access to a tech savvy employee or friend.

Here are some of the most effective and least expensive items you may want to buy to bring your older computers back up to speed:

  • Hard Drives. One of the most important features of any computer is its ability to store large amounts of data. Many systems today come standard with 20 to 40 gigabytes (GB) of storage, but with the growing interest in digital music and digital video, even 40GB may not be enough.
  • Whether you need desktop drives to back up your primary hard drives or store your digital video files, or a portable large-capacity drive to carry a hefty business presentation, there are several solutions that may help meet your needs. Consumer hard drives, such as FireWire and FireWire/USB combo hard drives, offer anywhere from an extra 20GB to upwards of more than 300GB of storage capacity. Such external drives allow for quick transfer rates between systems and other drives. Most come with accessories and are easy to install, making the upgrade process quick and painless. And when you’re ready to invest in new computers for the office, you’ll always have the extra digital storage space on hand should you need it.
  • CD-ROM/R/RW and DVD-ROM/R/RW Drives. If you regularly use your computer’s original CD drive to install or run software, listen to music and so on, you’ve probably noticed that it isn’t as fast as it used to be. You’ll find that CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RW drives are a good option because they allow you to burn large amounts of data, making them an ideal storage solution.
  • Processor Upgrades and Accelerators.Perhaps you’re simply looking for a little more “zoom.” Processor upgrades and accelerators allow you to increase the overall performance of a computer by allowing it to process information faster. Accelerators do this by shifting operational functionality and providing additional cache memory, thereby freeing up the computer’s main processor so it can do its real job–running software applications. And with recently released processor upgrades available at great values that enable older computers to perform at faster clock speeds, anyone planning to replace office computers simply because “new ones are faster” should seriously reconsider.
  • MemoryWhile everything that’s already been mentioned can help increase the usability of your current computers, one of the most tried-and-true ways to improve performance is to simply install more random access memory (RAM). If your office is running applications that require large portions of system resources, upgrading the amount and/or type of memory can speed up those applications and allow you to run more programs with less strain on your hardware. And with memory prices currently near bargain-basement levels, upgrading a computer’s RAM is one of the most affordable options you have to prolong its life.

The bottom line is that even with computer prices dropping, the more you can do to upgrade your existing machines, the more money you’re going to save until you’re ready to purchase the new machines. In the long run, upgrading one piece at a time allows you to further extend the effective lives of your computers without cutting out chunks of your bottom line.

 

Purchasing New Technology

If you’ve absolutely decided that you need to do more than upgrade your current equipment and software, however, it’s important to answer a few questions when considering making a new technology purchase:

  • Can my business achieve an immediate gain from the technology?
  • What benefits are possible and how long will it take us to achieve success?
  • What resources are required to implement and manage the technology?
  • Does the hardware or application support a foundation for future growth?

Once you know what you really need, you can start shopping around. One of the most common tech products entrepreneurs consider purchasing is new software. But before you rush off to buy any new programs, keep in mind that you have several factors to consider other than just the capabilities and costs of the software. Your selections should be based on your company’s size, industry, internal organization, computing environment, technical expertise and, of course, the ever-important user interface. Even a great product can end up being a nuisance if it’s not intuitive to you as a user.

Before you go shopping, be sure to evaluate your company’s staple software. For each program, draw up a wish list of features or enhancements that would make using the package easier. Often, the solution may be as simple as an upgrade to the latest version available. Consider hiring an IT professional to examine your system and business needs and tell you whether you even need to upgrade. Getting an expert opinion can be a money-saving move for small-business owners who would prefer to spend time keeping up on the latest developments in their industries than on the latest in software.

Once you decide you need something new, try it before you buy it:

Check out software company websites for downloadable demos that can help you better gauge how easy their products are to use. If a demo version isn’t available, there’s usually a detailed online tour that gives you a lot more information than a paper brochure. And before you buy the package outright, check with the software company to see if it’s bundled with other software or equipment that you might be in the market to buy anyway. If you’re shopping for a new accounting package or other critical software, consider doing a “scripted demo,” where you enter your data and run through test scenarios specific to your business’s transactions. It may be time-consuming, but if you buy the wrong software, it will be more costly later.

Take a good look at your business and pinpoint those activities that take more time than you’d like-the ones that make you mutter to yourself “There must be something out there that can do this quicker than I can.” No doubt, there probably is. For that matter, think about those activities you never seem to have time to do. From tools for creating websites to time-billing software, new products could provide brilliant solutions to problems you haven’t yet resolved. Make sure, though, that the solutions are worth the money and time you’ll have to spend to implement them successfully.

A customer relationship management (CRM) solution can help you streamline customer service, simplify sales and marketing efforts, find new customers and generate more revenue from existing customers. You can record customer interactions with sales and customer service personnel and keep a centralized database with current customer information that everyone in your company can access. This will allow your entire organization to understand what each customer wants and needs and give you a 360-degree view of your business 24/7, which will help you keep customers happy and boost your bottom line.

Improving Your Network

While setting up a traditional wired network for your computers and peripherals is still a viable option, wireless networks are becoming faster, more affordable and easier to adopt than ever. Growing small businesses that have adopted a wireless solution are already reporting immediate paybacks in higher productivity, flexible application mobility and greater worker satisfaction.

A wireless infrastructure can make it easier to reconfigure your office space as your company grows and changes. Also, the total cost of a wireless local area network (LAN) is relatively inexpensive–it’s become very affordable in the past few years and prices are continuing to drop. And a wireless network can help you improve your productivity:

Multiple computers can share printers and a single broadband internet connection without the hassle of running cables through walls. You can access your customer database whether you’re in your office or meeting clients in a conference room. Employees in the stockroom can update your inventory database in real-time using wireless PDAs. When you take into account productivity gains, both inside the office and at public “hot spots,” going wireless is an obvious choice, especially when compared to the cost of running a Cat 5 network LAN cable throughout a building.

However, since wireless networks transmit data over radio waves, which can potentially be intercepted, it’s important to have a security strategy for your wireless network. An unprotected wireless network is like an unlocked door–and too many small businesses are leaving their doors wide open.

Below are some steps small businesses can take to make their wireless connection more secure:

  • Change your device’s default password. Wireless access points/routers come with default passwords set by the factory. Once entered, the password gives you access to change the device’s settings. Hackers know these default passwords and can use them to access your wireless access point/router and change its settings, for instance, turning off security features. To prevent unauthorized access to your wireless network equipment, change the device’s password to something difficult to guess. This password should preferably be an alphanumeric combination longer than 10 characters.
  • Change the default SSID
  • A service set identifier (SSID) is the name used to identify your wireless network. Your wireless access point/router came with a default, preset SSID. Hackers often look specifically for these preset SSIDs when scanning for networks, because they’re considered easy targets. As soon as possible, change the default SSID to something unique and, for extra security, change it regularly.
  • Don’t broadcast the SSIDBy default, wireless access points/routers broadcast SSIDs, making it easy for legitimate users–as well as hackers–to find and join a wireless network. However, you can choose not to broadcast your network’s SSID. Devices such as wireless computers and PDAs that require access to the network can be configured to automatically connect to your network’s SSID, so they don’t need the SSID to be broadcast to hook up.
  • Keep your wireless hardware’s firmware updatedThe software that enables access points/routers to operate properly, called firmware, is frequently updated by the device manufacturer. Often, updates include enhanced security. Updated firmware is available for free downloading online. Check your device manufacturer’s website support area regularly to ensure you have the most current firmware version installed.
  • Enable MAC address filteringA media access control (MAC) address is a unique series of numbers and letters assigned to every network device. You can configure your wireless access point/router to only allow access to specified MAC addresses (such as the addresses of each wireless computer on your network). MAC address filtering makes it much more difficult for hackers to access your network. The downside: It’s also more difficult to give wireless network access to clients, partners or others visiting your offices or locations. But protecting your system may be worth it.
  • Set a wireless policyCreate a clear but simple wireless network usage policy for all your employees to follow. The policy should include guidelines on the use of passwords, personal devices, such as wireless PDAs, and public Wi-Fi hot spots.

 

Disposing of Old Tech

Old PCs don’t die, and they don’t fade away, either. The average PC will run almost forever, and the harmful chemicals inside it will survive in your local landfill for even longer. How many long-lived-but-obsolete computers is your company moving around among staffers? There’s definitely a point of diminishing returns in holding on to PCs past their prime, as well as hidden costs in just about any disposal method you choose. Recycling, selling them to employees or giving them to charity are all viable options, but they all have costs attached–many of which may surprise you. It’s a good idea to have an exit strategy for your old hardware–and it should be in place long before the intrinsic value of your PCs hits zero.

Complete depreciation is often here before you know it, but there’s good news in that respect: The average middle-of-the-road PC now has a useful life of about three years; a high-end desktop, about four years. But be careful: Nurse an old PC along for too long, and productivity suffers–for low-level staffers as well as managers. Worker efficiency declines along with equipment efficiency, so when software takes longer to load, screens take longer to redraw and incompatibilities start to occur, memory upgrades need to be deployed. Most old PCs have years of utility left in them–just not for you. There are tons of schools, community groups, senior homes and other needy institutions that would be happy to take them off your hands. Unfortunately, donation is another of the more costly disposal options. By the time you get done with moving, temporarily storing, shipping, tax record-keeping, making contractual arrangements with the beneficiary, possible testing and repair, and, of course, facing the ever-present legal exposure, IDC figures it will cost you $344 for each PC donated.

And the legal exposure is real. You could get sued for donating a defective or virus-infected computer, or you may be asked to defend the tax deduction. On the upside, the infrastructure for charitable donations is well-advanced, making this option less time-consuming.

One popular option for PC disposal is selling them. IDC says your net out-of-pocket per PC is $272 if you can sell it to an employee for $100, and $119 if you sell it to a third-party broker for $200. (Remember, costs vary among disposal options and you’ll still need to scrub the machines of company information.) The good news is, the PC is gone. But in both cases, you have to sell the PC before its value reaches zero. And those three years for a mid-range PC and four years for a high-end box go by quickly. Of course, brands vary. You can look up the residual value of your PC in the Orion Computer Blue Book. You can purchase the latest version of the Blue Book with the most recent prices from the Orion Research website. You also can look up prices for individual PCs online at $3.99 per shot.

In general, a lot of PC disposal costs are realized in soft dollars, and a certain amount of those are fixed. IDC says it will cost companies at least $150 for every PC taken out of service. First, there’s the labor involved in physically removing a system and its network components, disconnecting peripherals and scrubbing the hard drive of software, passwords and sensitive company files. Then there’s the downtime for employees during the move. After that, your costs will vary depending on how you choose to dispose of the old PC and may include payment for things like testing and repair or, in many cases, contractual or other legal costs.

And don’t even think about tossing them in the trash. Old PCs have chlorinated and brominated substances, Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC), heavy metals, gases, acids and plastic additives–and that’s just for starters. All those chemicals have incredibly long half-lives. You want your new house sitting on top of this stuff? Not to mention, the EPA will be all over you if you’re discovered throwing PCs in the trash.

 

Training


Buying new technology is usually just the beginning. If employees aren’t trained on how to use the new equipment, your business won’t get the full benefit of your investment. You can get employees trained in almost any technology, at any level and any subject. Even highly experienced users may need training to use the latest programming and networking tools.

Start your search for training by quizzing the company that sold you the technology. Many vendors have on-staff professional trainers who can come to your site to train employees on using new technologies. If not, they can probably refer you to a local firm that offers appropriate training. You can also look in the business Yellow Pages under “Training Programs” and “Training Consultants.” You can choose from various types of training: Classroom training with a live instructor can be done at your business or off-site, in the form of a short tutorial or continuing series of classroom lessons. Having an instructor on hand helps learners get questions answered.

If you can do without a live teacher, check out video-based training. Class starts when you insert a pre-recorded tape or DVD into a VCR or DVD player. Students take notes and follow along in workbooks, just like with live teachers. Video courses can be repeated any time and are low in cost. Computerized training can be delivered in a classroom with PCs, or via the web. Internet classes let students choose the time, place and pace of learning. Some are taught by an instructor who communicates over the internet. Students can mix, mingle and discuss lessons in online chat rooms.

 

Managing Your Technology Costs

Many business owners today tend to set their tech budgets without having done adequate research–and therefore have unrealistic expectations about how much technology really costs. In fact, many businesses don’t have a good understanding of the total cost of ownership of their technology. When making decisions about technology budgets, businesses should focus less on the technology itself and make decisions about how technology complements other areas of the business. Figure out what you need to do to run your business better, and then go find the tools to support it.

Steps you can take to lower technology cost include timely purchases, clever negotiation and internal controls can help businesses save megabucks. You can renegotiate existing contracts for services such as network support and consulting. Telecom is especially ripe for bargains. You can start by setting bench marks for rates and auditing bills to ensure you’re not overpaying. And instead of buying all long-distance, local phone and other telecom services from one vendor, dual-source it.

You should also make sure you need whatever new technology you do buy. Inventory all PCs, printers and software. Look for opportunities to consolidate purchases, standardize configurations and root out duplication. Set up a system to keep doing it. Pick a team of people from IT and other departments, and meet with them regularly to discuss what they need and how to save on it.

Another way to save money on tech purchases is buying refurbished hardware. Many online manufacturers and retailers have sections of their websites devoted to clearance outlets. You may have to poke around the site to find them, but it’s worth checking into when you’re on a tight budget. Refurbished items are usually returns that have been looked over and checked for functionality. As with auctions, check to see if all documentation and software is included. Compare prices to what is normally charged to see if the savings is worthwhile. Often warranties are shortened. What might have originally come with a one-year warranty may only include a 90-day warranty when it’s sold as refurbished. If you’re comfortable with that, go ahead and save some money.

Looking online for deals is also a great way to save money on your tech budget. And bargain hunting over the Internet doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Web sites such as PriceGrabber.com, PriceSCAN.com and MySimon.comare hubs for price comparisons. They’re especially handy if you already know what you want and are just looking for the lowest price. Don’t be blinded by what seem to be incredible bargains. Always check into an online retailer’s reputation if you’re not already familiar with it. You probably know this already, but always use a credit card for your purchases in case you have to dispute charges later.

Another great resource for hardware is eBay. You can pick up a wide array of products-from extra cell phone batteries to monitors and ink cartridges-at prices that would make some retailers blush. But eBay is no utopia. You still have to check into the seller’s reputation. Also check to see if the product you’re buying is refurbished, if it comes with an original warranty or tech support, and if all documentation and pieces are included. Some entrepreneurs may decide that the savings are worth living without some or all of those things. It’s not good or bad, it’s just a matter of deciding what you feel comfortable with.

If you’re the type of person who likes to “handle the merchandise” before you buy, find a local retailer you can visit in person. Prices may be a little higher when you just walk into a store, but you also have the security of having a physical location to return the product to in case of a problem. The Sunday ads are a good place to compare prices, and you should keep an eye out for specials and rebates at your local stores.

Buy or Lease?

As quickly as technology becomes obsolete, it sometimes makes sense to rent instead of buy your next round of upgrades. You can rent or lease most kinds of office technology, including computers, printers, copiers and phone systems. Here’s how your options stack up:

 

Leasing


If you’re like many small businesses, you’re willing to lease costly technology that’s likely to become quickly outdated. Leasing lets you get higher-end, more costly gear while reducing upfront outlays. Monthly payments will also usually be lower than those for credit-purchased equipment. Maybe most important, however, you’re transferring the risk of obsolescence to somebody else. If that high-end PC is a clunker by lease’s end, just hand it back to the owner and get a new model. Check the terms of your lease carefully. Scrutinize your options for the end of the lease. You may be able to buy the equipment for a small additional fee if you want to.

The ability to have the latest equipment is leasing’s number-one perceived benefit and you’ll have predictable monthly expenses. With a lease, you have a pre-determined monthly line item, which can help you budget more effectively. Many small businesses struggle with cash flow and must keep their coffers as full as possible, and leasing means you won’t have to invest cash up front. Because leases rarely require a down payment, you can acquire new equipment without tapping much-needed funds.

The downside of leasing is that you’ll pay more in the long run. Ultimately, leasing is almost always more expensive than purchasing. For example, a $4,000 computer would cost a total of $5,760 if leased for three years at $160 per month, but only $4,000 (plus sales tax) if purchased outright.

And you’re obligated to keep paying even if you stop using the equipment. Depending on the lease terms, you may have to make payments for the entire lease period, even if you no longer need the equipment, which can happen if your business changes.

 

Buying


Buying your equipment costs more upfront. If you’re buying on an installment plan rather than paying cash, monthly payments are usually higher. It may be comforting to know you own your equipment rather than rent it, but you may find yourself with an out-of-date machine right as you put the last check in the mail. One of the benefits of buying is that it’s easier than leasing. Buying equipment is easy–you decide what you need, then go out and buy it. Taking out a lease, however, involves at least some paperwork, as leasing companies often ask for detailed, updated financial information. They may also ask how and where the leased equipment will be used. Also, lease terms can be complicated to negotiate. And if you don’t negotiate properly, you could end up paying more than you should or receive unfavorable terms.

When you purchase equipment, you call the shots regarding maintenance. Equipment leases often require you to maintain equipment according to the leasing company’s specifications, and that can get expensive. When you buy the equipment outright, you determine the maintenance schedule yourself. Buying equipment is also tax deductible. Section 179 of the IRS code lets you deduct the full cost of newly purchased assets, such as computer equipment, in the first year. With most leases favored by small businesses–called operating leases–you can only deduct the monthly payment.

The disadvantages of buying equipment is that the initial outlay may be too much. Your business may have to tie up lines of credit or cough up a hefty sum to acquire the equipment it needs. Those lines of credit and funds could be used elsewhere for marketing, advertising or other functions that can help grow your business.

And eventually, you’re stuck with outdated equipment. As mentioned earlier, computer technology becomes outdated quickly. A growing small business may need to refresh its technology in some areas every 18 months. That means you’re eventually stuck with outdated equipment that you must donate, sell or recycle.

 

Contingency Plan


You never know how much you depend on technology until you don’t have access to it anymore. If a disaster strikes, you may not only suffer direct losses of data and hardware, but indirect losses due to downtime. But with some foresight and planning, you can avoid sustained downtime–and lost profits.

First, create a broad, holistic plan to ensure business continuity, not just disaster recovery. This plan should involve every part of your business, such as processes, operations, assets, employees and so on. Your overall goal: to prevent business disruption–then minimize it if it does occur. To this end, you should:

  • Conduct an impact analysis. How much downtime, loss of productivity, loss of data, loss of revenues and so on can your company sustain? For how long?
  • Develop a plan for dealing with mission-critical (revenue-impacting, customer-facing) functions and business-critical (back office, supply chain, e-mail) functions under various disruptive scenarios. Determine which business technologies to employ.
  • Educate your workers about the plan before a crisis occurs.
  • From time to time, revisit the plan to make sure it remains practicable and viable.

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