Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Protecting Yourself from Escalating Network Threats

Posted by Mark Brousseau

While firms are cutting costs anyway they can, security professionals running IT departments are unwilling to let budgets compromise their ability to fend off malware, spam and denial of service attacks with good reason.

The volume, severity and sophistication of attacks have never been greater, and an integrated security suite that includes a firewall, intrusion detection system, network access control and spam filtering has never been more important.

As much as 85 percent of malicious computer code reaching companies’ computers is now coming from Websites, according to research. Google recently found that the number of infected pages returned by web searches increased from 0.3 per cent to 1.3 per cent within just 12 months.

Yet IT departments are being pressured in the down economy to trim cost yet maintain network integrity, essentially, doing more with less.

And while most organizations have web filtering, most have not set it up to cope with fast-moving content. Websites and online services, including social networking sites and user generated content, have now overtaken both spam e-mail and removable media, such as disks or USB drives, as the main way malware is spread to PCs.

The threat is made more serious still, because conventional IT security measures are not well placed to protect against web-based “attack vectors“. The vast majority of businesses have yet to take any steps to protect themselves against web-based malware. Standard desktop anti-malware scanners are only a partial answer as they are generally too slow to prevent malicious code reaching the host PC.

And Gartner estimates that just 15 percent of U.S. and European Union companies run malware filtering of any kind for web content, although as many as 70 percent run URL (address) filtering, to block access to sites containing unsuitable content. As a solution, Secpoint offers Secpoint Protector 5.5 UTM with Anti Spam, Grey Listing, Antivirus, Web Filter and Intrusion Prevention. The solution is designed to operate independently from an end-user’s network, without putting any additional processor strain on it. In fact, you can even link two units or more to protect data centers and larger networks in real-time.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Improving Business Processes in a Challenging Economy

Posted by Mark Brousseau

In the midst of deepening budget and staffing cuts, the critical importance of effective enterprise information management has never been greater.

"Now more than ever, organizations need to find ways to automate business processes, connect people and ideas more economically, reduce legal and regulatory exposure, and improve information access and business performance transparency," said Tom Bliss, Group Conference Director, Questex Media, producers of the AIIM International Exposition + Conference.

During a presentation at the event, Whitney Tidmarsh, vice president of EMC, said, "In 2009, IT will face even more increasing pressures and CIOs will be scrutinized for their ability to deliver better business efficiency, risk reduction and more rapid ROI. At the same time, employees, partners and customers are demanding transparency and a more open flow of information enabled by social networks and collaborative Web 2.0 applications. Faced with an explosion of user-generated data and increased information sharing, organizations are challenged to protect and retain this information and somehow generate value from it."

Notwithstanding the challenges businesses are facing, this is a unique environment to make competitive gains by harnessing the value of IT investments, knowledge management tools, and people, Kurt Delbene, vice president, Office Business Platform Group for Microsoft said during another presentation. Delbene said a company’s ability to streamline and increase efficiencies, keep know-how within a company, retain and attract customers, and keep top talent in this highly competitive environment will determine how it will fair through this tough economic period.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Reduce Risk, Focus on Compliance

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Complying with an eDiscovery request can be an expensive and time consuming exercise.

"The ever-increasing volume of information and records created and stored in electronic form creates a growing need for automated and flexible systems designed to improve litigation defensibility and response," said Tom Bliss, Group Conference Director, Questex Media, producers of the AIIM Expo + Conference.

In his annual state of the industry address at the AIIM Expo + Conference, AIIM President John Mancini noted the intersection between collaboration and security concerns within organizations. As core document, content, and records management technologies move to the mainstream, there are many new collaborative tools to empower employees to create, publish, and distribute information. Colliding with this trend are increasing compliance and legal demands to control critical and sensitive content and information.

"No organization wants or can afford to be caught unprepared. The costs and risks are simply too high," Bliss said, noting IT and business professionals must learn how to build bullet-proof records and information

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Friday, March 27, 2009

95% of Utility Bills Still Sent Through Mail

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Utilities continue to incur high costs due to distributing 95 percent of their bills through the mail, according to Chartwell's survey of 94 utilities. Bills sent through the mail are more expensive than bills delivered electronically.

Some utilities have seen success in decreasing the percent of customers receiving paper bills. One utility with more than 300,000 customers enrolled about 20 percent of its customers in paperless billing through promotions on almost all of the material produced by the utility. This utility also incentivized employees to enroll customers. Another utility company, Arizona Public Service, donated $1 to the Tree Research and Educational Endowment every time one of their customers signed up for paperless billing over a three month time span. Arizona Public Service was able to switch almost 17,000 customers from high-cost paper bills to low-cost electronic bills.

While consumer marketing has been successful in decreasing paper bills mailed out, many utilities are looking to cut costs by delivering bills through secure email. In an effort to reduce the costs of distributing bills, 40 percent of utilities are planning to offer or are considering delivering bills through secure email, Chartwell says.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fraud Hits Financial Services Hardest

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Banks and financial services companies were the most commonly victimized industry by fraud (15 percent), according to the 2008 Report to the Nation on Occupational Fraud and Abuse prepared by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Banks and financial services companies are followed by government (12 percent) and healthcare (8 percent). The median loss for banks was $250,000 per case, according to the report.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Consumers Want Electronic Health Information

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Deloitte’s 2009 Survey of Healthcare Consumers includes some interesting data regarding consumer interest in electronic health records:

… 9 percent of respondents have a computerized personal health record (PHR) compared to 8 percent in 2008

… 57 percent want a secure Internet site that would enable them to access their medical records and pay medical bills, among other things

… 42 percent want access to an online personal health record connected to their doctor’s office

… privacy and security of health information is an issue: 38 percent are very concerned versus 24 percent who are not at all concerned

… 60 percent believe that the government should set standards for how medical information is collected, stored, exchanged and protected, while other view this as a role for health plans (21 percent) and employers (5 percent); 14 percent say no entity should set standards

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Healthcare Spending Plans

Posted by Mark Brousseau

The tight credit markets are challenging healthcare providers' ability to access capital, according to the first survey in HFMA's Healthcare Financial Pulse project. More than 70 percent of all survey respondents forecast at least some cutbacks in such capital expenditures as IT systems, medical technology, and facilities construction.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Treasurers Moving to Electronic Banking

Posted by Mark Brousseau

An Aite Group, LLC study finds that many corporate treasurers are anticipating a move toward expanded use of electronic banking, with more than half of the treasurers surveyed saying they expect to see electronic payments expanded, and more than a third saying they expect to make greater use of online banking services.

A third also foresees a move to real-time balancing reporting.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Few Americans Using PHRs

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Consumer demand for accessing personal health records (PHR) online is now at more than 70 million Americans, according to Cybercitizen Health v8.0, the latest consumer study and strategic advisory service from pharmaceutical and healthcare market research company Manhattan Research.

Despite significant interest in this type of service, only 7 million U.S. adults actually use PHRs.

Compelling offerings from vendors ranging from Google, WebMD, and Microsoft to multiple insurers and employers have sparked buzz around PHR in the past year. But for average consumers not motivated by a serious illness, significant barriers such as privacy concerns, lack of understanding, and doubts to PHR efficiency hinder adoption.

“Despite the rapidly increasing supply of PHR platforms, consumer adoption of PHRs is unlikely to show significant growth in the absence of major physician participation,” said Erika S. Fishman, Director of Research at Manhattan Research. "Education and awareness building will be critical in establishing the need for a PHR in the mind of American consumers. In a time when our country has not made health IT and electronic medical records a priority, it is understandable why consumers may not see the value in putting in the effort to keep a PHR on their own, unless they are highly motivated to do so because of an illness."

What do you think? Post your comments below.

The Credit Crisis and Medical Banking

By Mark Brousseau

How has the global credit crisis impacted the healthcare automation space?

“All companies are re-evaluating how much they can invest and where they can invest,” Paula Fryland, senior vice president and managing director, Corporate Banking, PNC Bank, said today at the Seventh National Medical Banking Summit in Nashville, TN. “At PNC Bank, we have made a conscious decision to identify a couple of investments in the space of innovation that we think are critical to the bank, and healthcare is one of those. We have a commitment to invest tens of millions of dollars in the healthcare space. There is no sense that there is any retreat from that investment.”

“There are no numbers coming out to suggest you should stop investing in healthcare,” she added.

Fyland told the crowd of 48 attendees that healthcare is a tremendous opportunity for financial institutions. “The potential was significant to begin with, it is growing, and healthcare is ripe with opportunity because it is very inefficient. If your bank has been ignoring healthcare, shame on you,” she said.

“There isn’t a company or institution that hasn’t been effected by the economic crisis over the past six months,” said Al Briand, division head, BNY Mellon Treasury Services, product management and strategic development. “Some of the organic volumes that drive business growth are not there. So what we need to do as an institution is become more diligent about preparing for the future and identifying those areas where the investment will pay off. We can’t count on the increases in revenues like we did in the past. Healthcare is firmly in our growth area and we continue to invest.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Banks See Healthcare Opportunity

By Mark Brousseau

Why do banks want to be at the table in the discussion about healthcare automation? Because it’s a good business to be in, Al Briand, division head, BNY Mellon Treasury Services, said today at the Seventh National Medical Banking Summit in Nashville, TN. “The reality is that it boils down to the business case being there for the healthcare transaction model,” Briand told attendees. “Now, we’re going to investigate whether we can play an even bigger role beyond transaction processing.”

Briand noted that BNY Mellon has deemed healthcare as a growth market from a business and strategy perspective. “The opportunity is there to invest,” he said, noting common elements of need underlie the traditional bank cash and payments business and that of healthcare transaction support. “The synergies of healthcare and treasury management element provide servicing efficiencies.”

Briand said standardization is the key to unlocking the power of technologies such as those for medical banking. “Standards allow technology to be leveraged in a very valuable way,” he said. “Standardization is really the key to accelerating the progress of medical banking and addressing the complexity in the healthcare and banking areas. A lot of different parties need to be involved.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Stimulus Sparks High-Tech Opportunities

By Mark Brousseau

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), recently signed into law by President Obama, provides welcome news to technology suppliers who are facing a 0.1% 2009 U.S. growth rate, new research from IDC's Industry Insights Companies, reveals.

"With all the uncertainty surrounding the specifics of the new economic stimulus package, one thing is certain – there will be a large amount of government money flowing towards technology spending," said Meredith Whalen, Group Vice President and General Manager of IDC's Vertical Market Business Units. "This new government money will flow to both the private sector and directly to federal, state, and local government."

Included in the $787 billion ARRA package is approximately $20 billion in funding for healthcare IT, including incentive payments to physicians who implement and use eligible electronic medical records systems under the conditions laid out in the law.

"The approximately $20 billion in ARRA funding allocated to healthcare IT investment will have a positive impact and will begin the transformational process the U.S. healthcare industry so desperately needs to remain viable and competitive," said Health Industry Insights' Program Directors for Healthcare Provider IT research, Lynne A. Dunbrack and Marc Holland. "That said, even if implementation proceeds as intended, a number of issues still loom."

Health Industry Insights believes the combination of near-term stimulus funding for patient care, coupled with significant long term incentives and investments in new core health IT infrastructure will accelerate the move toward digital patient information. New Medicare and Medicaid stimulus money will ease cost pressures for many providers, while direct incentives to physicians and hospitals should ensure aggressive implementation of new patient information systems starting in 2011. Between now and 2011, expect significant new spending on standards development and core federal infrastructure.

Industry Insights analysts believe it will be imperative for the vendor community to be both aggressive and agile in their strategy to capture this newly addressable market. This once-in-a-lifetime flood of new technology money requires a new way of finding and following opportunities. Success will not come from traditional business development via relationships and RFPs. While some of these new monies will be allocated via grants and accelerated acquisitions contracts, there will be new ways of engaging with the Government.

"Technology monies will not necessarily be identified as such, but as an element of new and urgent government initiatives," said Teresa Bozzelli, COO and Managing Director, Government Insights. She added, "Vendors must understand when and how to upsell existing contracts when expediency is critical. The vendors must also offer new engagement models to the government, where reward is directly tied to the results achieved against the promise of the economic recovery designed within the stimulus package."

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Healthcare Privacy Concerns

By Mark Brousseau

Health IT and electronic health information exchange have tremendous potential to improve health care quality, reduce costs, and empower consumers, Deven McGraw, executive director, Health Privacy Project/Center for Democracy & Technology, said today during a presentation at the Seventh National Medical Banking Summit in Nashville, TN.

“The public wants health IT, but the public also has significant privacy concerns,” McGraw told attendees. “Failure to build a foundation of trust is an obstacle to achieving greater health IT adoption. For years, there was no progress on resolving the privacy and security issues related to health IT. But the recent stimulus plan bulldozes those obstacles.”

McGraw said the stimulus plan addresses health IT privacy and security issues in several ways:

… Substantive changes to HIPAA statutory provisions and privacy and security regulations
… Enhanced enforcement of HIPAA
… Provisions to address health information by some entities not covered by HIPAA

What do you think? Post your comments below.

The Stimulus Plan and Medical Banking

By Mark Brousseau

Will the stimulus plan, which includes $19 billion for health IT, bring more widespread adoption and interest in medical banking platforms? Charlie Myers, director of operations, special programs and support, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, based in Baltimore, MD, doesn’t think so.

“Unfortunately, when Washington talks about health information technology, they are talking about electronic medical records,” Myers said during a panel discussion at the Seventh National Medical Banking Summit in Nashville, TN. “Without some effort to go to Washington, D.C. and do some education on Capitol Hill, I don’t think a lot the stimulus plan dollars are going to come this way.”

Another panelist, Christine Smith, product manager-Remittance Solutions, WAUSAU Financial Systems, said, “While the stimulus package may not lead to more widespread adoption and interest in medical banking, I think that consumer-directed healthcare will. Physicians, particularly small ones, will need to become more competitive. And one of the big ways to reduce cost is to take some of the administrative cost out. That’s going to be the big driver of medical banking, not the stimulus plan.”

Laurie Holtsford, director of business office support, Community Healthcare Systems, Franklin, TN, said the stimulus plan could trigger partnerships between healthcare and banking organizations in that some providers may see medical banking as a way to meet rules and regulations without having to build out infrastructure: “I don’t see how providers can build this infrastructure themselves.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Healthcare Feels Revenue Pressure

By Mark Brousseau

Efforts to cut healthcare costs and do more with less continue to deliver bottom line results, Doug Bilbrey, executive vice president, sales & marketing, The SSI Group, said this afternoon during a presentation at the Seventh National Medical Banking Summit in Nashville, TN. But the next phase of the industry’s evolution will see more pressure to maintain and drive revenue growth to survive.

“With the unprecedented wave of new regulations, heightened awareness of corporate governance standards, and greater investor expectations, the need to make decisive value-producing technology investments will impact long-term healthcare strategies,” Bilbrey said. “These trends already are impacting the industry today, but they are going to have a more profound impact in the future.”

Against this backdrop, Bilbrey said medical banking platforms can help free up specific measureable and currently unrealized potential that can immediately support revenue and asset growth.

“The medical banking industry’s role is to provide visionary leadership,” Bilbrey said.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

The Case for Medical Banking

By Mark Brousseau

The healthcare industry could eliminate some $30 to $50 billion a year in cost if it could find a more efficient way to process information, Robert Broadway, vice president, Bethesda Healthcare System in Boynton Beach, FL, said today during a presentation at the Seventh National Medical Banking Institute in Nashville, TN. And Broadway thinks medical banking is key to achieving these savings.

“Banks are in a unique position to help hospitals like us,” Broadway told the crowd of 100 attendees. “It is something that should happen. Will it happen? I believe that it will. Our institution is looking to the banking industry to see how we can partner on real tools to benefit for our mutual benefit.”

He added that, “the banking platform is universally accepted, it has earned great trust and confidence, and it has a strong emphasis on security.” What do you think? Post your comments below.

The CDH Paradigm Shift

By Mark Brousseau

The move to Consumer Directed Healthcare (CDH) plans is a game-changing event in medical banking, Stuart Hanson (stuart.hanson@53.com), vice president, Healthcare Solutions, Fifth Third Bank, said this afternoon during a presentation at the Seventh National Medical Banking Institute.

Hanson noted that CDH plans grew by 43 percent in 2008, with consumers spending an eye-popping $250 billion on out of pocket healthcare expenses (cash, check, credit, debit and automated clearing house). As a result of these trends, more than 20 percent of healthcare providers’ revenue will come directly from patients, Hanson said. Moreover, the impact of consumer-directed healthcare is only starting to be felt, and there is a building wave of demand behind it, he added.

“This turns the revenue collection model on its side,” Hanson said. “To manage this paradigm shift, and minimize the negative financial impact of CDH growth, processors will need new technologies, tools and processes. In a CDH world, providers must re-engineer their processes to more effectively capture, track and manage patient debt,” Hanson said, noting that most provides are challenged by outdated systems and limited electronic and paper connections for real-time reporting and processing.

Against this backdrop, Hanson believes that banks are well-positioned to help providers deal with the shift to CDH plans through retail lockbox, wholesale lockbox, and remote deposit capture services.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Saving Healthcare Dollars Through IT

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Approximately 64 percent of physicians say healthcare technology does save their patients money, according to a recent survey of 705 U.S. physicians by Epocrates. The areas of technology where the most savings occur include: electronic formulary reference tools, e-health records, and e-prescribing.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Stimulating EHR Usage

Posted by Mark Brousseau

President Barack Obama has pushed hard for healthcare IT and would like every American to have an electronic medical record by 2014. To that end, the recently passed economic stimulus package provides temporary bonus payments ranging from $44,000 to $64,000 for physicans and up to $11 million for hospitals that meaningfully use electronic health records. In all, the stimulus package has more than $100 billion allotted to healthcare.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Identity Theft in Healthcare

By Mark Brousseau

As we move closer to the effective date of the FTC’s new Red Flag Rules, identity theft is still a problem in the healthcare industry, Nancy Vickroy, director, healthcare product development and management, TransUnion, LLC, said today at the Seventh National Medical Banking Institute.

Vickroy cited a survey that found medical identity theft accounts for 3 percent of all U.S. identity theft cases each year, and represents an estimated cost of $468,000 annually. She also pointed to a recent study from the Identity Theft Resource Center finding that 13 of the 100 breaches reported this year involved a medical provider or insurance company, and could have impacted 98,000 people.

Vickroy offered attendees some tips for developing an identity theft prevention program:

… Choose red flags that make sense in your environment
… Identify departments that interact with individuals with covered accounts
… Determine types of information gathered and how it is verified
… Develop procedures to detect red flags during the life of the account
… Implement identity verification at every step
… Integrate automate solutions to ensure standardized verification processes
… Train staff in policies, procedures and responses to ensure consistent patient experience
… Develop procedures for triggered red flag accounts for exception handling
… Periodically evaluate for effectiveness and modify as needed
… Track down known incidents of identity theft that occurred despite the program and monitor trends
… Use data to make meaningful modifications over time

What do you think? Post your comments below.

It's All About The Data

By Mark Brousseau

Why all the fuss about automating the processing of explanation of benefits (EOB) documents? Foster North, vice president, CareMedic Systems, thinks it’s because the ANSI 835 information set – the electronic counterpart of EOBs – is one of the industry’s most important information sets.

“It’s important because of the information that it provides hospitals on how well their revenue cycle management processes are running,” North said today during a presentation at the Seventh National Medical Banking Institute in Nashville, TN. “For instance, if you are not able to capture denial information and analyze it in a meaningful way, your hospital likely won’t be able to get paid.”

North thinks there is an opportunity for bank lockboxes to take both the electronic remittances and paper EOBs that come from payers, and put them together in a common repository so providers can review them electronically, post them easily, report the data more effectively, and analyze the data.

In the past, a hospital might have needed 100 people to manually post payments from paper EOBs, North said. “It is a laborious process to post that information,” he said. “But the real return on investment and value in automating this process is the value that bank lockbox providers are able to give their customers from their data-rich remittances on how to improve their revenue cycle.”

North thinks remittance reporting will become prevalent in the future. Other services he sees as key:

… Secondary billing
… Statement fulfillment
… Denial management
… Contract management
… Remote deposit services for independent physicians

“All of these are fair game when you are considering a strategy for the future,” he said.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Medical Banking Alive and Healthy

By Mark Brousseau

“Medical banking is alive and very healthy,” John English, professor, Vanderbilt University, said today during the Seventh National Medical Banking Institute in Nashville, TN. “In fact, medical banking has come further in the three years that I have been exposed to it than I thought it would.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

The Changing Medical Banking Landscape

By Mark Brousseau

The banking landscape has fundamentally changed over the last year – and the medical banking market has changed along with it, June St. John, senior vice president, healthcare product manager, Wachovia Treasury Services, said today during the Seventh National Medical Banking Institute in Nashville, TN. As evidence of the market turmoil, St. John pointed to accelerating bank consolidation and the dwindled market capitalization of the remaining banks.

“The medical banking participants have changed, the players have changed, and the capital available for medical banking projects has been reduced,” St. John told attendees. “We have reduced capital to spend, and we really need to be coalesced as group to what is important in medical banking.”

St. John said it is all about, “how we continue to transform the medical banking products and services we offer. We need to continue to do the good work of migrating from paper to electronic, and bridge the divide between what banks can offer their constituents in healthcare, and what their constituents can do with those products and services to positively impact their organizations.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

BI Supports the Army

By Mark Brousseau

Faced with low customer satisfaction for its reports and financial data, and no common user interface across its systems, the Army Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) turned to business intelligence, Mark Sauvageau, chief, financial operations, Financial Management Office, RDECOM, said yesterday during a presentation at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009.

As a result of implementing business intelligence, RDECOM has better aligned its resources and processes, he said during the presentation at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

Today, all desktops at RDECOM have reporting capabilities (encompassing 100 senior leaders, 150 financial analysts and 400 engineers). The organization uses data analysis for a variety of financial tasks, Sauvageau told attendees, including funding applications, cost accounting, budgeting and presentations.

Using its business intelligence programs, RDECOM has been able streamline its information flow, helping it avoid $270,000 a year in costs, while increasing productivity 146 percent. RDECOM has also seen a dramatic increase in customer satisfaction with its reports and financial data. Moreover, business intelligence has created a foundation for RDECOM’s strategic decision-making, he added. “Our business intelligence efforts have enables our engineers and analysts to spend less time on non-core tasks and more time on activities that support our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Sauvageau concluded.

Based on this success, RDECOM plans to extend business intelligence to all of its 3,500 users.

Business Intelligence at SSA

By Mark Brousseau

Business intelligence has transformed the way the Social Security Administration (SSA) does business, John Simermeyer, associate commissioner, Office of Earnings, Enumeration and Administrative Services, for the SSA said yesterday during a presentation at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009 in Washington, D.C.

“Our business intelligence efforts are an integral component of the agency’s planning process,” Simermeyer told attendees. “Business intelligence empowers SSA to accomplish our mission.”

Each year, SSA issues more than 18 million Social Security cards, posts $4 trillion in earnings to worker records, processes over 23 million status-changes, pays out more than $650 billion, and fulfills more than 1 billion requests for Social Security Number verification from other agencies and organizations).

The challenge for SSA is that its workload is increasing as its staff is decreasing. “The retirement rate has hit SSA very hard,” Simermeyer explained. “Retiring baby boomers are driving up the workload at SSA. At the same time, we are losing many of our knowledge workers to the same phenomenon.”

SSA also was challenged by information silos across the organization. “We have many legacy systems dispersed throughout the agency,” Simermeyer said. “This creates problems in terms of cost and data reconciliation. We spent a lot of unnecessary effort trying to find out why numbers don’t match.”

To help with its mission, SSA deployed its SSA Unified Measurement System (SUMS) to provide critical information across its workflows and systems. “It’s all about the data, and that was perhaps our greatest challenge,” Simermeyer said, recalling SSA’s inflexible reports and lack of infrastructure across the organization. “So, we created a business intelligence repository and focused on data integration.”

Business intelligence helps “inform SSA’s strategic decisions affecting American taxpayers,” he said.

“We are using business intelligence to transform data to information to knowledge to action, and it’s having a positive impact on our business outcomes,” he said. “We’ve improved decision-making and transparency, and drastically reduced the amount of data reconciliation efforts we go through.” He noted that with business intelligence, SSA has gone from multiple sources of data to a single source.

Simermeyer said that business intelligence also, “improved the timeliness, accuracy and measurement of work. Prior to business intelligence adoption, we were reactive by nature. Now we are proactive.”

So what’s next for SSA’s business intelligence initiatives? Simermeyer said the agency plans to integrate its remaining work into the system to retire legacy systems and enhance its information infrastructure.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Business Intelligence Trends for 2009

By Mark Brousseau

Even in a weak economy, demand continues for enterprise business intelligence, Vickie Farrell (vickie.farrell@hp.com), manager, Neoview market strategy & development, software division, at HP said today during a presentation at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009 in Washington, D.C.

“IT spending has dropped precipitously in this economy,” Farrell noted. “But studies show business intelligence should grow by 7 percent this year, off from 8.6 percent growth in 2008. Business intelligence remains strong.”

Farrell thinks businesses will be well served by their business intelligence investments. “Businesses that maintain and build analytic capability will survive and thrive when the economy improves,” she said.

Farrell made her comments during an afternoon presentation in the HP Solutions Theater on the emerging macro and business intelligence trends for 2009. Among the trends she presented:

… The consumerization of IT. IT technology innovation is shifting from the enterprise and the military to consumer technology, spawning a new wave of IT adoption, Farrell said. The impact on business intelligence is increased visualization, greater collaboration, and new sources of data. Farrell believes that social networking will increasingly dictate information delivery and use.

… Business intelligence is increasing in importance. Farrell cited a Computerworld survey finding that 42 percent of respondents expected overall expenditures for business intelligence tools and solutions to increase from 2008 to 2009. And the economic crisis may actually drive some of this growth as more organizations realize that analyzing data can help them better deal with new government regulations, understand and manage their business, decrease their risks, and enhance their ability to compete.

… Business intelligence buyers are much more scrutinizing. Farrell said organizations are dealing with stricter requirements for clearly-defined business objectives and quantified value. Farrell also is seeing requirements for shorter payback periods and self-funding business intelligence initiatives.

… The market is demanding lower business intelligence complexity.

… Analytics are moving to the front office. Advanced analytics are top initiatives at many companies, Farrell said, noting that organizations with a culture and infrastructure for analytics and fact-based decision-making are better poised to compete and grow.

… Data integration is gaining momentum. Surveys show this to be a top business intelligence project challenge and key IT initiative, Farrell said. “As enterprises recognize data as a corporate asset, data management becomes a strategy corporate capability,” she explained.

… Structured and unstructured data are converging. “Integration of unstructured data increases the accuracy of business intelligence analysis,” Farrell said, noting that recent technology advances enable text mining and queries.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

The Case for Business Intelligence

By Mark Brousseau

Wondering about the cost justification for business intelligence initiatives? Brian Ng, field enablement leader in the business intelligence solutions group at HP (www.hp.com), told attendees at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009 that business intelligence provides several key benefits:

… Enhanced decision making
… Improved insight
… Reduced risk
… Lower costs
… Improved efficiency

Ng noted that many companies already are using business intelligence to help monitor and measure their business and to make key decisions (e.g. driving supply chain management or CRM systems).

What do you think? Post your comment below.

Know Your Customer, Grow Your Business

By Mark Brousseau

The business intelligence that used to be confined to marketing is now spreading as organizations align themselves around a common vision, John Santaferraro, director, industry solutions, HP said during a presentation today at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009 in Washington, D.C.

“Customers are so bombarded by messages that what worked to attract them seven or 10 years ago, no longer is effective,” Santaferraro told attendees. “How we are getting customers’ attention is very different. And it changes the way that we look at business intelligence, and the way that we look at customers. Historically, most business intelligence has been in marketing. But the strategies and product plans that companies put together must also leverage business intelligence. Companies need to figure out how to harness everything they know to differentiate themselves from the competition.”

The challenge, Santaferraro said, is that both customer data and customer business intelligence exist in silos at most companies. To solve this, a lot of companies are launching customer data integration projects that unify information across the boundaries of an organization. “They are looking at using unified business intelligence across all departments to drive performance,” Santaferraro said. “This is completely different from the way that most corporate systems are architected today.”

“This connected intelligence opens the door for new customer innovation. It also connects front-office decisions with back-office operations. And it connects a business to new opportunities,” Santaferraro said. Leveraging business intelligence in this way will have far greater impact on a company, he added.

What do you think? Post your comment below.

How BI Should Work

By Mark Brousseau

Kevin Quinn, vice president of product marketing at Information Builders (www.informationbuilders.com), says that there are three levels of business intelligence: strategic, analytical and operational.

The strategic level helps companies monitor performance and communicate strategy. The analytical level isolates information to identify the good and the bad and provide historical trends, as well as forecasts. And the operational level helps automate and accelerate business processes.

These three levels of business work in conjunction with one another to drive business improvements. The trouble is that most organizations implement them as completely separate initiatives, Quinn said today during a presentation at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009 in Washington, D.C.

For instance, many organizations implement performance management and scorecards at the highest level of the organization, but never bring them down, Quinn said. In fact, Quinn cited a survey showing that most organizations have deployed business intelligence capabilities to fewer than 20 percent of their internal users. That’s a problem since 80 percent of the world’s data resides outside of the data warehouse, Quinn said. “This means that there is no direction at the middle levels of the company. People have to shoot blind and hope for the best,” he said. “Operations will never know if it is working on the right things if it isn’t getting direction from analytical business intelligence.”

“This isn’t how business intelligence should work,” Quinn said. “Companies are neglecting what they can do at the bottom levels of their organizations or the front lines, which is where they can get the highest return on investment. It’s only when you take action at the operational level that you get the largest benefits. Companies should have the three levels of business intelligence work together.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mastering Data Management

Posted by Mark Brousseau

An interesting article from SearchSAP.com on successful master data management:

Successful MDM strategy starts with finding broken processes, not technology

By Courtney Bjorlin, News Editor
24 Feb 2009 | SearchSAP.com

Developing a successful master data management (MDM) strategy starts with identifying broken business processes that can be fixed with improved data management, according to analysts.

MDM tends to come across like an infrastructure project or middleware -- something that IT would sponsor, according to Dan Power, president of Hub Solution Designs Inc., an MDM consulting firm. But placing sponsorship with IT misses the point, he said.

The line of business needs to sponsor the project because it can identify the business value the data holds and how a single view of that data can affect the bottom line.

"IT should be involved, but it shouldn't drive this," Power said. "It's really a business paradigm -- changing the way the business thinks about data."

Master data is all the data elements that are broadly used and shared across departmental boundaries. MDM is the discipline for ensuring the consistency of an organization's data, enabling a single view of product or customer data.

"For us, it is definitely not a piece of software," said Ted Friedman, vice president, distinguished analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "It is a holistic discipline -- process, architecture and people."

In contrast, an ERP system isn't designed to master data -- it's designed to fulfill processes, according to Rob Karel, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

Also, different SAP applications have their own set of data models, and ways of managing customers, according to Ravi Shankar, senior director of product marketing for Siperian, an MDM software vendor. In turn, data warehouses are used more for reporting purposes, Shankar said.

Finding the people whose jobs are affected by the data is the best way to identify those broken processes and thus get started with an MDM project.

"Find the business pain, and find out what their problems are, and what better, more accessible, more secure customer information and product information would do for them," Power said.

He added that organizations should start building the MDM business case with involvement from the three different levels of the organization -- the C-suite, the business owners (such as the vice president of marketing), and the line-of-business people.

Ideally, companies should try to recruit people who have a good balance of the process and data views, Friedman said. Those individuals should be high enough in the organization to have the ability to make changes, yet low enough to be intimately familiar with the problems that poor master data can cause in the organization, he added.

If the company has already invested in a data governance organization -- people from business and IT who represent the business needs and the technology that supports organizational data -- use those stewards to do the analysis, Karel said. Ask such questions as: What are the processes most in need of the data? What are the systems providing that data? Does assessment of the quality of that data improve consistency?

If the company doesn't have a formal data governance organization -- for instance, if a project manager or enterprise architect is trying to evangelize the project -- it should start by defining the priorities. If a line of business can't articulate a negative business impact around the data, Karel said, there probably isn't a reason to pursue MDM there.

"MDM is a great place where the squeaky wheel should really get the grease," he said.

In reality, what people want is a single view of the data, and that can't be completed until there is a strong foundation of clean, accurate data, according to Power. Getting different parts of the business to agree on definitions of the data can be one of the hardest parts of the project.

Because it's unlikely that a company will ever get the entire business to agree on such a broad question as what a customer is, a better strategy is to put out a definition and have people respond with those aspects that work for them and those that don't.

The scope of the project -- which master data domains a company will tackle -- is one of the most important pieces to start with, Friedman said.

Instead of looking at MDM as a holistic, cross-enterprise strategy, look at it from the bottom up and take a multi-step, multi-phased approach, Karel said. Identify specific business processes and functions for the most-improved opportunities around data management, he advised, and quantify or qualify the value of improving that particular process.

Fulfilling compliance initiatives, as well as reducing costs, is a common business driver for MDM projects. For instance, rectifying duplicate customer data can reduce the amount of money spent on mailings.

The company also gets a true understanding of lifetime customer value, according to Aaron Zornes, founder and chief research officer of the MDM Institute. For example, an insurance company could have three different stores of customer information, depending on what the customer purchased. MDM can increase cross-sell opportunities.

Depending on the scope of the project, an organization can derive benefits in as little as six months, Friedman said.

Organizations should not assume going in that the right answer is going to be consolidating all master data into a single repository at one end of the spectrum, Friedman said. There are other ways to integrate and synchronize data.

In turn, because MDM is a cross-organizational effort, there has to be some funding model associated with it that engages the different parts of the organization and makes them feel that they have some skin in the game, he said. Make sure one individual doesn't hold much more political clout or power in the initiative than any other individual.

Above all, remember, don't lead with the technology.

"There's some great technology out there that can really help support and deliver," Karel said. "But it's not going to be the main [catalyst] of MDM."

The Case for Going Green

By Mark Brousseau

Some interesting data points from Information Management magazine on the case for going green:

… Eighty-eight percent of financial services executives told IBT Enterprises that green initiatives are important to their financial institution; 68 percent are converts because of lower operational costs.

… Datamonitor reports that tighter regulatory measures and advances in technology are feeding renewed interest in green IT.

… McKinsey & Company says data center energy use doubled between 2000 and 2006, and by 2012 is expected to double again.

… BPM Forum found that nearly 20 percent of those polled spend more than $1 million per year on IT energy consumption, and 8 percent spend more than $10 million.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Top Priorities of CIOs

By Mark Brousseau

Linking business and IT strategies is the top priority of CIOs in 2009, up from the second-highest priority in 2008, Colleen Graham said today at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009 in Washington, D.C. “Here’s where you can really see the impact of the economy coming out; it’s forcing CIOs to be more strategic and more focused,” Graham said, explaining the findings of Gartner’s survey of 1,500 CIOs.

Reducing cost is the second-highest priority of CIOs – up from the tenth most important priority last year, Graham said. The other key priorities of CIOs: projects that deliver growth; and attracting, developing and retaining IT personnel.

As for technology spending, business intelligence is the No. 1 priority. Conversely, a lot of organizations are looking particularly at hardware as an area where they can reduce cost in 2009, Graham said. “Organizations have to make some very tough choices about where budgets are going to be. They are not going up. They are going to be flat, at least for 2009 and maybe beyond.”

Out of the top 10 spending priorities identified by CIOs, document management comes in last, having dropped in priority ranking each of the past four years that Gartner has done the study.

Graham noted that the budget situation is very different today than it was 7 or 8 years ago. “We’re seeing more and more of the IT budget getting eaten up by nondiscretionary projects such as maintenance.

What do you think? Post your comment below.

The Business Intelligence Market

By Mark Brousseau

When Colleen Graham, research director at Gartner, looks at trends in the business intelligence market, she sees two 800 pound gorillas for organizations to consider: business intelligence mega-vendors (the result of vendor consolidation over the past few years) and the weakening economy.

“Besides figuring out how to deal with the mega-vendors, you also have to figure out how your organization is going to deal with the economy. Organizations had to turn on a dime as a result of the economy,” Graham told attendees at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009 in Washington, D.C. The good news: “We’re seeing more organizations looking at business intelligence as a life line; a way to run the business smarter, to use existing resources better, to do more marketing, to gain market share and beat their competition. There is a growing realization that information is an asset that organizations need to leverage,” she said.

“For many organizations, business intelligence is like a lot of new projects: it is under pressure,” Graham told attendees. “But the market is still growing. Business intelligence is not a commodity yet. Business intelligence can make every dollar count. It can help organizations drive toward strategic goals while meeting near-term needs.”

Graham expects business intelligence to enjoy continued growth as a result of lower technology prices and the fact that business intelligence functionality such as reporting and analytics is being embedded in other products, such as predictive modeling, workflow and virtualization. “Business intelligence is becoming more available. It used to be only in the hands of mega users. Now, business intelligence is spreading to more users in the organization and reaching beyond the firewall to partners and customers.” Graham sees the highest growth rates for business intelligence in operations; users are becoming more sophisticated and more accustomed to using analytics in their day-to-day lives, Graham said. She expects business intelligence usage to double by 2013.

Against this backdrop, Graham thinks there are few things to watch for from vendors:

... Creative financing deals
... Maintenance revenue becoming increasingly important for vendors
... Pricing pressures and bundling
... Infrastructure-light business intelligence
... Users looking to leverage what they already have
... Open source and SaaS solutions getting a push
... More departmental-level business intelligence

What do you think? Post your comments below.

The BIg Discrepancy

By Mark Brousseau

Despite the wide range of skills and technology available to support business intelligence and performance management, many organizations still struggle to deliver success in this area, John van Decker, research vice president at Gartner said today during a keynote presentation at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2009 in Washington, D.C.

“For years, organizations have been saying that business intelligence is a high initiative, but the business areas have not seen the value,” van Decker told the standing-room only crowd. “We don’t want to downplay that many organizations have had great success with business intelligence and performance management. We want to point out that there is an opportunity here.”

Kurt Schlegal, also a research vice president at Gartner, and co-presenter of the keynote address, said there are five key reasons for this discrepancy:

... No IT/ business partnership
... No link to corporate strategy
... No connection to the process
... No governance or too much
... No skills

Van Decker warned attendees that simply buying more business intelligence technology is not always the answer. The answer has to center around business process management and how organizations leverage technology to improve the business process. “Many companies have tried hard to establish architectural standards for business intelligence strategy, but in many cases, they are trying to retrofit business intelligence strategy where they had already bought tools. That is difficult. To drive the business case is to drive business intelligence strategy forward.”

In spite of the cost-cutting necessitated by the recession, van Decker said organizations also must ensure their competitive position. And business intelligence can help. “Unfortunately, organizations are being forced to cut head count,” van Decker said. “But organizations can’t take an axe to cost-cutting. They need to be more strategic and more surgical. Business intelligence needs to be a top strategic initiative, well supported and well funded.”

Mounting regulations will also force organizations to take a harder look at business intelligence initiatives. “You need to do it internally, but you will be forced to do it externally [in response to anticipated new regulations],” van Decker said. “It is good to be ahead of the game.”

Schlegal concluded: “Now, more than ever, we need business intelligence. We need systems that bring information together.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Future of Payments

By Mark Brousseau

When NCR Corp. considers the future of payments, it envisions the evolution of multi-channel payments optimization, Stephen Reade, vice president and general manager of global software and technology services, told attendees of TAWPI’s Payments Automation Conference this week in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

“Ultimately, our goal is to enable faster, easier customer interactions, across multiple channels. Many financial institutions consider this business process optimization,” Reade said during a keynote presentation. To enable these multi-channel opportunities, financial institutions will have to enhance their operations infrastructure. But the effort can pay big dividends, Reade said.

“Multi-channel consumers spend more, and they spend more consistently,” he said. “Our clients are starting to recognize this.” Reade pointed to an Aberdeen Group study that found 38.3 percent of multi-channel consumers are significantly more profitable than single-channel consumers. “They’ll spend more on a single transaction,” Reade said, “and they’ll use multiple payment types.”

The broadening mix of payments channels also is forcing financial institutions to address multi-channel optimization. “Once a financial institution begins to establish a relationship with a customer via a particular channel, it’s almost impossible to turn it off,” Reade said, noting that despite the growth of mobile banking, financial institutions are still seeing strong interest in ATM-based channels.

“Consumers will always assume and expect self-service,” Reade said.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Leadership in Chaotic Times

Posted by Mark Brousseau

An interesting article from Monday's USA TODAY:

Chaotic economic times call for CEOs to show optimism

Management consultant Ram Charan has had the ear of dozens of Fortune 500 CEOs. A native of India, Charan received a Harvard MBA after getting an engineering degree from Banaras Hindu University. He is known for living in hotel rooms and without an apartment for much of his career, traveling from meeting to meeting with top executives. Charan, 67, spoke last week to USA TODAY corporate leadership reporter Del Jones. Following are excerpts, edited for clarity and space.

Q: Publicly, CEOs seem worried about the economy. Privately, are they frightened to death?

A: When somebody (such as Moody's or Standard & Poor's) calls the CEO and tells them their bond rating is on watch, it causes a huge anxiety. Most companies cannot escape a warning, and so they are anxious. They worry if their customers will pay, if their suppliers will go bust. They are watching accounts receivables daily and with intensity.

Q: Should they be expressing their fear to employees and shareholders, or is it best to put on an optimistic face?

A: Leadership is judged in times of crisis. They must be optimistic about weathering the storm, that solutions will be found. But don't sugarcoat. Figure out what the reality is, and communicate that reality. Give everyone the facts. Engage employees in defining problems and solutions.

Q: What steps are you telling them to take?

A: It's largely out of their hands. About 10 people in Washington need to come up with a coordinated plan. Everything is being done piecemeal. Unless these Washington guys deal with it, there's not much companies can do.

I just came back from India, and government action there is much more coordinated.

Q: There's nothing corporate leaders can do?

A: They must manage cash. Cash is king, and corporate boards should build in the incentives of cash and financial safety. Companies must raise cash so that when it's time to do refinancing they don't get shut out of the commercial markets. Companies that can't raise cash need to merge, and they need to do it before the 11th hour.

Q: Some companies, such as Intel, are well known for expanding into past downturns and being better positioned than competitors when the economy turned. Isn't this one of those moments in history to take a chance?

A: Under certain circumstances, but do not take risks with cash.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

17 Credibility Busters

By Mark Brousseau

Do you have what it takes to be a viable member of the 21st century business community? Are you sure? Globalization, virtual collaboration, and the rise of the project-based workforce have changed all the rules. These days you must be able to influence others, communicate clearly, and—most important of all—elicit trust. If people don’t trust you, they won’t work with you. It’s really that simple. But according to Sandy Allgeier, there is one sure way to gain the trustworthiness you need to succeed: Improve your personal credibility factor.

“Whether you’re an employee, a leader, or an entrepreneur, personal credibility is truly a ‘magic bullet’ for success,” says Allgeier, author of The Personal Credibility Factor: How to Get It, Keep It, and Get It Back. “It forms other people’s opinions of you, shapes their interactions with you, and helps them decide whether to trust and respect you. In other words, it leads to healthy, productive relationships—and relationships are the vehicles through which business happens.”

It’s like this: If you have no credibility, people won’t trust you. If they don’t trust you, you won’t persuade them. And if you can’t persuade, you’ll never be able to problem solve, innovate, or lead. You’ll become increasingly irrelevant—and vulnerable to the staggering numbers of others, worldwide, who are vying for your spot.

All of which begs the question: What is personal credibility, anyway? Admittedly, it’s one of those concepts that people struggle to define. They know it when they encounter it, but they’re not sure why. Allgeier explains that personal credibility is “about respect, trust, and being believable.”

In short, personal credibility is judged by your actions. What you do—and don’t do—determines other people’s perceptions of whether you have it. And personal credibility may be best understood by its absence. People may not look at you and say, “Wow, there’s a person with lots of credibility”—but if you display a lack of it, they will most definitely notice.

To make it simpler to understand, Allgeier says we should aim to avoid what she calls “credibility busters.” Here are some of the most common:

• Failing to do what you say you will do. The number one way to bust your personal credibility? Just fail to deliver on the promises or commitments you make. We’re all guilty of committing this sin from time to time, but when we do it more often than not, we’ve got a credibility problem.

“How often do you say, ‘I’ll get that to you today’…and then you don’t?” asks Allgeier. “Or ‘I’ll call you back in a few minutes’…and then you don’t? Most people are forgiving when this happens—to a point. But when you make a regular habit of this, well, you quickly become labeled as a promise-breaker. If you’re not sure you can follow through on your promises, don’t make them. Period!”

• Breaking appointments (or frequently rescheduling them). When you make meetings and appointments, other people expect you to keep those commitments. Have you ever dealt with someone who regularly needed to break or reschedule appointments with you? It’s annoying, at best. And after it happens more than once or twice, you stop trusting them. Don’t be this person. When you make an appointment, keep it, if at all possible.

“Yes, life can be hectic and sometimes you have no choice but to reschedule,” says Allgeier. “That’s precisely why you must do everything in your power to keep your appointments most of the time. Then, when you have to make an exception, it will be just that—an exception.”

• Constantly showing up late. You say you will meet a client at 11:30. You call her on your cell phone and say, “I’ll be right there—I’m caught in traffic,” and then you arrive at 11:45. It’s bad enough to do this to a friend. But in the business arena, where people tend to be less forgiving, it can be the kiss of death. And if lateness becomes the norm, you have taken a virtual hammer to your personal credibility and it is busted.

“Plan ahead and arrive a little early—consistently,” suggests Allgeier. “Not only is your credibility protected, your stress level is reduced by avoiding that last-minute rush!”

• Being messy and/or disorganized. Is your desk overflowing with papers that should have been filed (or trashed) months ago? Are you always losing documents or leaving them at home? Do you go to meetings looking disheveled and bearing wrinkled, dog-eared reports? If so, your credibility is almost certainly called into question—and with good reason, says Allgeier.

“Sometimes creative people, in particular, think they’re exempt from the ‘neatness counts’ rule,” she notes. “They’re not. When you’re disorganized, important things will fall through the cracks. And if you’re sloppily dressed, people assume you’re equally sloppy in your work. Allow enough time at both ends of the day to look neatly put together and to file away your papers. It makes a world of difference!”

• Bringing too much “personal life” into your workday. Do you get lots of personal calls at work? Is your e-mail inbox cluttered with letters from friends and receipts from Internet shopping you’ve done on company time? If so, you’re losing credibility.

“Rest assured, your boss notices when your friends, spouse, and kids call 10 times a day,” says Allgeier. “And even if you think she never looks at your inbox, the day may come when she does. What if you’re out of the office and your boss needs to access an e-mail a client sent you? When she can’t find what she needs in the deluge of ‘forwards,’ she’ll assume you’re barely working at all!

“We all take the random personal call or order the occasional birthday gift for our spouse during working hours,” she adds. “That’s fine. But when personal matters start to interfere with your job—or even appear to do so—you’ve got a credibility problem.”

• Speaking first, thinking second. Consider this scenari On Monday, your boss asks you if you can have a project done by Thursday. Wanting to please him, you immediately answer “yes.” But as you get into the project, you realize there’s a lot more involved than you had originally thought. You toil on it for a couple of days, then late on Wednesday, you sheepishly approach your boss and tell him, “Sorry, I didn’t know it was going to be this complicated. I’m not going to be able to have it done tomorrow after all.”

“Always, always do your research before you make a promise,” advises Allgeier. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Let me think about it and get back to you.’ It’s far better than undermining your own credibility.”

• Making decisions while keeping others in the dark. Trust and credibility are built when others feel valued. It is broken when others feel like they don’t matter to us. Let’s say you head a project team, and after gathering the team’s input you have reached a consensus agreement about a key decision. Then you learn additional information and change your decision. As the leader you have the authority to do that, right? Yes—but the team needs to understand your thought process. Otherwise, they won’t believe you really ever wanted their input, and your credibility as a leader is busted.

“It really doesn’t matter whether others have the authority to impact the final decision or not,” says Allgeier. “What matters is keeping them informed of your thoughts as you work through the process.”

• Telling little white lies that morph into Big Hairy Lies. You’re supposed to be preparing an important presentation for a client, but hit an internal snag and miss your deadline. Rather than admit you dropped the ball, you blame your tardiness on a vendor: “Sorry, the printer had trouble getting the color exactly right on the cover and made us a day late!” It turns out that your client had built a few extra days into her deadline, so she’s not upset at all (in fact, you get kudos for being such a perfectionist about the color). No harm done, right? Wrong!

Over the weekend, your client runs into the owner of the print shop at a party and mentions how nice the cover looks, adding, “…so even though it took a day to get the problem straightened out, the end result was worth it!” Puzzled, the printer asks, “What do you mean? We turned that job around in record time!” With that single chance encounter, your credibility is busted—not only with your client but also with the printer who now knows you sold him down the river.

“It would have been so much better to take the blame for the missed deadline, apologize, and possibly offer a discount on the project,” says Allgeier. “Admitting to a mistake is far better than being forever branded a liar and backstabber. When you lose someone’s trust in this way, you can never get it back.”

• Trying to do everything—but ending up doing it all in a half-a**ed way. Let’s say your manager asks you to help him write a critical marketing proposal. Then, a few hours later, an outside client asks you to do an “emergency” project. You agree to both. Problem is, you are also trying to prepare for a speaking engagement just a few short days away. You don’t want to let anyone down, so you cross your fingers, vow to go without sleep for the next 48 hours, and try to do it all. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that at least one of these commitments is going to suffer—and probably all of them.

“Overextend yourself like this and you’re sure to make mistakes,” says Allgeier. “You’ll let down your boss, your outside client, and the audience you’re speaking to. It’s far better to say no to some things than do a poor job at everything.”

• Putting others down to pull yourself up. Suppose one of your coworkers has recently received a promotion to a position that you wanted. You congratulate this person, but then proceed to have a few “private” conversations with other employees about how unqualified the promoted person is. As you enumerate the areas the promoted employee is “deficient” in (from your perspective), you are also enumerating your own qualifications. Do you convince them? Not a bit, says Allgeier.

“With each put-down you are actually demonstrating your own lack of credibility,” she says. “Everyone who hears you talk about this thinks ‘hmmm…sour grapes’—and this forms doubts about your ability to be believable and trustworthy.”

• Putting yourself down rather than learning from mistakes. Surprising as it may seem, self-deprecation is a credibility buster. We’re not talking about true humility, but rather the tendency to continually beat ourselves up over past mistakes. We increase our personal credibility when we acknowledge and admit mistakes, both to ourselves and others. We derail it when we continue to rake ourselves over the coals—either mentally or verbally—and fail to learn the lesson and just move on.

“It’s important to accept ourselves as the real, fallible, and imperfect human beings that we all are,” says Allgeier. “Others just respond better to people who cheerfully admit that they’re not perfect, but are trying to learn and grow from their mistakes.”

• Making too many excuses—even if they’re legit. Maybe the dog actually did eat the expense report. Or maybe the check really is in the mail. Perhaps you really cannot finish the project due to someone else failing to do her part on time. All of these things can happen and can be legitimate excuses. We destroy our personal credibility, however, when we frequently offer the same excuses to the same people. It doesn’t matter how real these excuses are—when repeated, our personal credibility is down the drain.

So what’s the remedy? Simple, says Allgeier: Don’t focus on the excuse part—rather, focus on what it will take to keep the problem from occurring in the first place!

“Ask yourself, What should I do to keep the expense report away from the dog?” she advises. “Or, How can I ensure that payments get made early? In the first case, it’s probably just a matter of keeping your work papers out of Rover’s reach. In the second, electronic check paying may be the key. Avoid those situations that create excuses—even those that are legit!”

• Being a rigid rule enforcer rather than a flexible problem solver. (Think Dwight on The Office.) Rules and policies are helpful; they set guidelines and boundaries so things can get done in an orderly way. However, our personal credibility suffers when we rely only on rules and policies—instead of trying to be flexible enough to help others solve problems.

“It’s easy to say, ‘That’s against the rules!’” says Allgeier. “But it’s no way to win friends and influence people. It’s usually better to say, ‘Let’s figure out what the problem is and see if there is a way to solve it!’ People trust problem solvers. They don’t trust rule mongers and bureaucrats—people who are hung up on following procedure at the expense of common sense.”

• Losing the balance between accomplishing tasks and maintaining constructive relationships. Yes, delivering on results is critical for personal credibility—but nothing is more critical than keeping relationships positive while also delivering on results. If you force an employee to cancel her honeymoon in order to meet a deadline for a client, you’re probably damaging that relationship beyond repair.

“If you must choose between meeting your commitments and damaging your relationships with valuable people in your life, it’s probably better to break the commitment and keep the relationship,” says Allgeier.

• Casting blame when you should be solving problems. Let’s say your sales department makes commitments to customers that your operations department can’t realistically meet. Operations works long and hard to try to deliver on Sales’ commitments and tempers begin to flare. What happens next? Often a power struggle ensues, whereby Sales blames Operations for being rigid and failing to meet customer needs, and Operations blames Sales for sacrificing them on the altar of incentive bonuses. Meanwhile, no one is solving the problem. Everyone loses credibility with each other—and the company loses credibility with its customers.

“In situations like this, someone must care enough to stop the squabbling, determine the cause of the problem, and work toward developing the solutions,” says Allgeier. “Ending the blame game is the only way to restore credibility.”

• Coming across as “all knowing” when you’re really just thinking out loud. Allgeier points out that many of us are extroverts, which means we tend to express ourselves verbally as we are thinking. (If you’re one, you know what she means.) But other people, some of whom may be introverts who like to ponder ideas carefully before they speak, assume your “thinking out loud” moments represent firm and definite conclusions. Then, when you do make a final decision, they think, Well, here he is flaking out on what he said yesterday—again!…and you lose credibility.

“If you have a tendency to think out loud, be sure to tell others that’s what you’re doing,” advises Allgeier. “When they realize that this verbal mulling is just part of your decision making process, they won’t assume you’re constantly changing your mind.”

• Exhibiting body language and vocal tone that doesn’t match your words. Are you guilty of this? You become a little bored or distracted when someone is talking to you…and your eyes wander around the room. Or, maybe you stifle a yawn while you are attempting to look interested and engaged. Maybe you say “nice things” to someone, but your vocal tone is flat or disinterested. Your credibility is dramatically reduced when your body and tone are not in sync with the words you’re saying.

“As humans, we react much more quickly to tone and body language than we do to words,” notes Allgeier. “Be conscious of your body language and your tone and make sure you’re sending the message you mean to send. Work on genuinely staying in the moment when you talk to someone. This way you won’t have to ‘give the impression’ that you’re engaged—because you really will be.”

Does this list seem overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. Allgeier suggests you focus on one “credibility buster” at a time and work to eliminate it from your life. The results you see will spur you on to keep improving yourself.

“Make a conscious effort to stop committing these sins and your life will change in ways you could never have foreseen,” she says. “When people feel they can trust you, a seismic shift happens in your relationships. Everything improves: your marriage, your relationship with your kids, your relationship with colleagues and coworkers.

“Yes, some of these changes may seem small—for instance, showing up on time instead of always being late—but they all work together organically,” she adds. “You’re removing roadblocks, one by one, and once they’re gone, you’ll be amazed at the abundance that flows into your life.”