Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Distributed Scanning in HR

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Distributed scanning solutions can provide big benefits for human resources (HR) departments. Marketing consultant Shannon Lappin explains:

In most organizations, the average human resources (HR) professional can expect to oversee the benefits, payroll and training for more than 100 employees. At CTB, an Indiana-based designer, manufacturer and marketer of systems and solutions for the poultry, pig, egg production and grain industries, a team of five staff members oversees more than 800 employees in five locations across the United States.

Confronted with multiple forms for processing benefit enrollments, tax and retirement, CTB’s HR professionals faced an ongoing challenge of managing thousands of paper documents each year.

For more than nine years, the CTB HR department used a Laserfiche document management system and a centralized scanning model to digitize a multitude of employee records, both past and current. The Laserfiche document management system allows authorized employees to easily locate and retrieve stored content with the click of a mouse.

Like many large- to mid-sized organizations CTB enjoyed the high level of reliability, flexibility and ease-of-use of their Laserfiche document management system. However, it became necessary for the department to become more efficient with the growing paper load. The HR group needed to rethink the process in which document capture was performed.

The CTB team decided that the only way to stay current with day-forward scanning would be to transition to a distributed scanning model that would allocate the scanning amongst the HR department personnel. But while the distributed load would solve certain problems, the original centralized document scanning method required repetitive document indexing, naming, and routing that would be difficult to train and implement to a larger group of users. In addition, users still needed to manually populate metadata fields in Laserfiche. This repeated manual entry of information was also a very inefficient and time-consuming process.

Distributed capture has numerous benefits for large-and-mid-sized organizations like CTB, including:

• Cost effectiveness
• Ergonomic design
• Minimal desktop usage
• Abilities for multiple users to capture and route files

CTB worked with Laserfiche reseller and professional development partner (PDP) BOLT Document Management to implement a new distributed capture solution for their system. The solution features KODAK ScanMate i1120 Scanners, Kodak’s Smart Touch Technology feature, and BOLT Bridge Connector Software, which connects the capture platform directly into Laserfiche. Kodak’s Smart Touch Technology enables users to simplify and expedite the scanning process into common business applications like Laserfiche with the touch of a single button.

Using the BOLT Bridge Software with Kodak’s technology enabled CTB to establish a distributed capture process where users could define and store document ‘profiles’ for commonly scanned documents. The profiles helped the HR team create a set of specific attributes including document naming, routing, indexing and even virtual sticky notes. In more advanced mode settings, users even had the ability to input document specific information on-the-fly while scanning.

As a result, CTB’s HR team has increased productivity and improved their document management efficiency. Each staff member in the HR group can now digitize and convert critical, paper-based employee records into the Laserfiche system and the task no longer falls on one team member alone. The CTB HR team now describes their Kodak SmartTouch / BOLT Bridge scanning solution as their “Speed Dial for Laserfiche.”

In HR management, it’s critical to index every piece of information quickly and accurately into a document management system. Multiple forms with unique pieces of information need to remain current, relevant and accurate, particularly when other departments like payroll and accounting call for fast, accurate retrieval of employee information for regulatory compliance and auditing requests. The use of simple, scalable and standardized distributed capture solutions helps HR departments keep their information up-to-date, at faster speeds and in less time. Through these solutions, companies can remain more compliant, transparent and have greater accountability as a business overall, even in the face of outside change.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Growth for Online Retail

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Despite entering a more mature phase in its evolution, online retail in both the United States and Western Europe remains poised for a robust period of double-digit growth over the next five years, according to two new forecasts by Forrester Research Inc.

U.S. online retail will grow at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next five years to reach nearly $249 billion by 2014, Forrester predicts. Online retail within the largest European Union nations in Western Europe will grow at an 11 percent CAGR over the same period, hitting €114 billion by 2014.

"Much of the overall retail sector's growth in both the US and the EU over the next five years will come from the Internet," said Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. "To maximize that growth, eBusiness professionals will have to help enable a multichannel strategy that responds to consumers' increased desire to hop between the offline and online worlds and their increasing mobile and social behaviors. The retail innovators over the next five years will demonstrate customer enablement across all touchpoints, not just via a PC-based Web browser."

Despite consumers' increasing use of the Web to research products before purchasing, most retailers fall short on offering a seamless cross-channel experience. According to Forrester's data, while 82 percent of US online consumers are satisfied with buying experiences that began and ended in a store, satisfaction drops to 61 percent for consumers who began their research online and purchased in a store.

The Forrester online retail forecasts for the US and the EU include business-to-consumer sales excluding auto, travel, and prescription drugs. The European Union forecast encompasses 17 Western European nations.

Highlights of the study include:

... In the United States, Web shopping will account for 8 percent of total retail sales by 2014.

...Three product categories dominate online retail: apparel, footwear, and accessories; consumer electronics; and consumer hardware, software, and peripherals. Together, those categories represent more than 40 percent of total online retail sales in the US.

... By 2014, 53 percent of total retail sales in the United States will be influenced by eCommerce as consumers increasingly use the Internet to research products before purchasing.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Control is Overrated

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Out of control? When it comes to management, “Out of Control” is a compliment. Siamak Farah, director and CEO of InfoStreet ( explains:

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more you control, the less you will succeed. In other words, unless you let go, you won’t grow.

Especially in small business environments, there is a general feeling that if management does not keep it all in check, the business will fall apart. For a moment, let’s assume that this theory is true. By this definition, the more management controls, the better work gets done.

Expanding further, it then behooves us to give management control of everything to ensure it is done the best it can be done. Now, we have just bound the growth of the company to the availability of management. Since the hours of the day are limited, the growth of the company is now limited. Therein lies the fundamental flaw in “control by management”.

If management liberates itself from control it can then be free to think of larger plans. After all, presumably the reason you are in a management position is that you have experience.

Experience can not only create competitive advantages, but it can also avoid costly mistakes. In business, as in sports, wins often come from not making mistakes. Yet, when in the trenches, even the most experienced can make mistakes since they are not sufficiently removed from the process to clearly see the obstacles. This is precisely why even the best players in the world have coaches.

Be a Coach, Not a Player
Throughout our business lives, we have all heard the advice: “delegate, delegate, delegate”. But often this great advice is shrugged off with “I wish I could”, “Don’t have the talent”, “We are under-resourced”, “It’s too risky at our size”, and similar rationalization. Yet, the truth is that by delegation you will get more done with better quality, have a happier team, and the quality of your business and your business life will increase at least ten-fold.

Some are fortunate enough that they can afford great talent, therefore delegation seems like a no-brainer. However, delegation is an acquired skill for most. Those who don’t have it will try to micromanage even the best talent, rendering it virtually ineffective.

On the other hand, some may overcompensate for previous micromanagement and completely wash their hands off of the tasks at hand. That, in the words of my friend Allen Hargreaves, is abdication and not delegation.

Delegation is about letting the person closest to the problem solve the problem, and you, the management, being there in support of them, not to monitor them. You have to be there, side-by-side and close enough to share your experience, but far enough that the work is done by the delegatee and they receive ALL the credit for it.

Developing Delegatees
A great psychiatrist friend of mine once told me that counseling is ineffective. It amounts to giving advice, in one ear and out the other. By contrast, with therapy, the psychiatrists often know the answers, but never share it with the patient. They just ask questions leading the patient down the path so they themselves can reach the right conclusions. That experience will never be forgotten, and thereafter, the patient will always take the right steps.

Management coaching should also be very similar to the therapy approach. Using this model, you can empower the best talent to be better. You can also take even the least experienced, and turn them into the most valuable team members. This approach can allow you to hire out of college, and in no time compete very effectively with those who are paying much higher salaries.

Control has its place
As you may have seen in my other posts, patience is running thin in today’s work environment. Impatient people are often short with others, especially with those that are in the learning phase, or simply did not see a problem the way others viewed it.

This is where control has its value. Regardless of how frustrated, outraged, or peeved you are, you need to be in control of your emotions. This is even more important for leaders who are coaching, teaching, and sharing their experience on a daily basis.

Remember the rule on controlling emotions: In any given exchange, regardless of the position one holds, the one who loses their temper has lost. The damage might seem temporary, but I can assure you it is not.

People often don’t remember details of events, but they do remember how they felt at the event. Therefore an event in which you have shown frustration – or worse yet, anger – will be forever be remembered in a negative light, diminishing your value as a leader or a team player.

Manage Processes Not People
In the 1930s, when talking about black empowerment, Marian Andreson was credited with a quote which truly applies to today’s business environment. She said:

“As long as you keep a person down,
some part of you has to be down there to hold him down,
so it means that you cannot soar as you otherwise might.”

So let go of controlling people today, and focus on creating processes, strategies, and competitive advantages. When you create processes, people can follow them with minimal guidance. As a result, you get controlled quality without having to control people.

This is the formula for growth. Let go, so you can grow.

What do you think?

What Every Business Can Learn from Toyota

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Toyota is having a very bad year. In a matter of months, its once sparkling reputation for quality and dependability and its status as a respected leader in the auto industry were zapped. Replacing those accolades were a recall of over eight million automobiles, over 60 class action lawsuits filed against the company, and company president Akio Toyoda admitting that the company may have grown too quickly. What can every business—small or large, privately or publicly owned—learn from Toyota's problems? The answer is simple says author Ed Hess: If you aren't careful, you can grow your company to death.

"Bigger is not always better," says Hess, a professor at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business and author of the new book Smart Growth: Building an Enduring Business by Managing the Risks of Growth. "For decades, growth has been a determining factor for success—but the truth is growth can be bad. It can create serious business risks that if not properly managed can dilute a company's brand and destroy its value."

In his new book, Hess provides advice that Toyota executives could have used. In it, he debunks the three big myths about business growth:

Myth 1: All growth is good.

Myth 2: Bigger is always better.

Myth 3: All companies must "grow or die."

He replaces those myths with the "3 Ps" for proper growth:

1: Plan for growth.

2: Prioritize the processes and controls needed to accommodate the growth.

3: Pace growth so as not to outstrip capabilities, processes, and controls.

"Contrary to popular opinion, there is no scientific or business basis for the belief that growth is always good," says Hess. "Clearly, it isn't. That belief is actually one that is perpetuated by Wall Street. Shareholders demand short-term growth, so that's what companies deliver, even if what they're doing is unsustainable in the long term.

"My research shows that too much growth can stress a business's culture, controls, processes, and people, eventually destroying its value and even leading the company to 'grow and die,'" he adds.

In Toyota's case, it made a major strategy change in 2002 when it set out to be the largest automobile sales company. To accomplish that goal quickly, it had to open new plants globally, hire many new employees, expand its outsourcing suppliers, and design its automobiles for faster, cheaper production. The result? The quality of Toyota products began to decline.

"Not only did Toyota products suffer, but its ability to fix those problems suffered," says Hess. "We see just how true that is through the conflicting reports from company executives over what exactly is causing the gas pedal problems and reports indicating communication issues between Japan and its U.S. and European operations. Bottom line: The company outgrew its quality controls and diluted its processes for effectively responding to customer complaints. "Regardless of size, companies should assess the risks of growth using a Growth Risks Audit found in my new book prior to undertaking a major growth initiative and to develop a plan to manage those risks," he adds. "Since managing risks requires a completely different mindset from managing growth, companies need to devise early warning systems to alert them to potential problems."

With Toyota, the cumulative effect of lots of small changes added together to create big consequences. In the heat of growth and in the heat of the battle to be Number 1, no one was able to "pull the cord and stop the Toyota line." Being the biggest is a different goal from being the best in quality and dependability. When conflicts between speed, growth, and quality arise, no one wins in a "be the biggest" environment.

Hess suggests that large public companies like Toyota could learn a few lessons about growth from the private companies he has researched. He recently conducted a study of 54 high-growth private companies located in 23 different states. Through it, he found that CEOs with prior high-growth experiences acquired a healthy respect for the risks of growth and espoused the (ironically named) "gas pedal" approach to growth—letting up on the growth pedal to allow processes, controls, and people to catch up. They learned that a business, like an engine, can run at a red-line pace for only so long.

"Many businesses strive for continuous high growth," says Hess. "Unfortunately, the research shows that sustained high growth is the exception, not the rule. Fewer than 10 percent of public companies are able to grow above industry or GDP averages for five years or more."

The moral of the story? Be realistic about growth—and understand that it is a complex change process dependent on human behavior.

"Humans, like markets, are not efficient or rational actors all the time," says Hess. "Growth can be good and it can be bad. You can increase the probability of a good outcome if you assess the risks of growth and proactively manage those risks simultaneously as you grow. Grow for the right reasons and grow smart."

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The 6 Levels of Customer Engagement

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Is your company a great innovator? It's a tricky question. If you interrogate your sales team a couple of times a year, then bombard the marketplace with new "solutions" to customer problems, you might assume the answer is yes. After all, you are giving your company's product developers a real workout. But if you're merely practicing the R&D equivalent of what the military calls "spray and pray," you're wasting time and money. (Can you afford either right now?) According to product development guru Dan Adams, the true litmus test is customer engagement.

"Too many companies fail to factor the customer into their innovation efforts," says Dan Adams, the author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth. "Oh, they may half-heartedly solicit customer input—in a 'You do need this product, right?' kind of way—but they don't really listen to it. They don't let customers drive the process. And that's too bad, because if they don't engage customers directly, aggressively, and objectively, they're going to get sluggish results."

Adams cites a massive study, "The Global Innovation 1000," undertaken by Booz Allen Hamilton. Through it, they studied 84 percent of the planet's corporate R&D spending. The researchers identified several distinct innovation strategies, but uncovered one universal factor that led to success: "Companies that directly engage their customers had superior results regardless of innovation strategy."

And not just a little bit superior, notes Adams. A lot superior. Those companies that used direct customer engagement while innovating—vs. indirect customer insight—enjoyed the following financial gains:

1) Profit Growth: Operating income growth rate that was three times higher.

2) Shareholder Return: Total shareholder return that was 65 percent higher.

3) Return on Assets: Return on assets that was two times higher.

So what do you do with this information? For starters, says Adams, if you're in a conversation about your company's innovation and nobody's talking about the customer, realize something might be very wrong.

"To put it in terms of this study, your company might be practicing 'indirect customer insight' instead of 'direct customer engagement,'" he explains. "This is a kind way of saying, 'We've lost track of who our innovation is supposed to help.'"

Adams says he's spent the better part of a decade helping B2B suppliers engage their customers in the innovation process. During this time he's observed six distinct levels of customer engagement during product development:

Level 1: The Conference Roomers: If you're innovating at the lowest level, you decide what customers want around your conference room table. Internal opinions determine the design of your next new product. As you might guess, this isn't very effective.

Level 2: The Expert Askers: At the next level, you poll your sales force, tech service dept., and other internal experts to determine customer needs. This is better than Level 1—because more voices are heard—but still too "internal."

Level 3: The Customer Surveyors: Companies at this level use surveys and polls to ask customers what they want. This begins to shake out internal biases... but doesn't deliver much in the way of deep insight.

Level 4: The Qualitative VOC-ers: If you're at this level, you send out interview teams that meet with customers to learn what they want. This is a quantum leap from VOO (voice of ourselves) to VOC (voice of the customer).

Level 5: The Quantitative VOC-ers: The problem with just qualitative VOC is that people hear what they want to hear. Companies that move beyond it to Level 5 get far more objective customer input. Yes, quantitative feedback drives out assumptions, bias, and wishful thinking.

Level 6: The B2B VOC-ers: Companies at this level really, truly get it. They know that unlike end-consumers, B2B customers are knowledgeable, rational, and interested. B2B-optimized interview methodology fully engages them to take advantage of this reality.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Critical Actions for HIE

By Mark Brousseau

There are five critical actions that healthcare organizations need to take to ensure the success of their information sharing initiatives, Jamie Welch, CIO, Louisiana Rural Health Information Exchange (LARHX) told attendees this morning at HIMSS10 at the Georgia World Congress, in Atlanta.

LARHX’s information sharing initiative includes telemedicine, distance learning, physician learning, physician rotation, patient information sharing, electronic medical records, and mobile mammograms.

These are the five critical actions Welch outlined:

Work at the grassroots level to articulate your business case.
“If you start to boil the ocean before you boil the pond, it’s not going to work,” Welch said. “We know the lingo and we know the vendors – it’s what we do. For the general public, it’s not. The majority of what they hear about health IT is about a Congress that can’t decide if it’s good or bad, and about information breaches.”

“From Day 1, we made sure that everyone understood what the benefits of our project would be over time. We had to convince people that if you let us do this, then these would be the benefits you will see,” Welch said. “Once we got people to see this, then a lot of our challenges solved themselves.”

Link your objectives to measurable outcomes
“You need to present something that is tangible. Everybody likes the cold, hard data, not theoretical information,” Welch said. “We keep track of everything: money saved, days saved, travel time saved, waiting room time saved, duplicate tests saved – you name it.”

Define the governance strategy that works best for your participants
“One model isn’t going to work for everybody,” Welch said.

Mix and match best practices
“We all know what the best practices are. But we can’t all pattern ourselves after each other, because each part of the country is different, and each patient population is different,” Welch said. “Take the best of all worlds and make it work for you.”

Remember that this is not an IT project – it’s a patient project
“Keep patients and physicians involved, and remember it is all about the patient and the physician and better health outcomes,” Welch said. “The health IT element is frosting.”

What do you think?

Using Bank Rails for Healthcare Payments

By Mark Brousseau

Banks can leverage their core competencies and existing infrastructure to more easily connect healthcare consumers, providers, and payers, Ralph Bernstein, senior vice president, healthcare strategy, US Bank, told attendees Monday at the Medical Banking Project Institute at HIMSS10 in Atlanta.

“There has to be a willingness to ride down the same set of tracks, and to create a cost model that works,” Bernstein told attendees. “But I absolutely think that we can do it. We already have the ability to take transactions out of your account in real-time; that’s the easy part. The hard part is when to move the money, and how much to take out. We need healthcare customers to tell us that.”

“As much money moves through the healthcare system, many more times that moves through the banking system around the world,” Bernstein noted.

“Banks need to participate,” said Ernie Clevenger, CEO, CareHere! “The banks can contribute to the process because ACH and EFTs are very simple transactions, and that concept needs to be forced.”

What do you think?

Streamlining Healthcare Payments

By Mark Brousseau

There’s no question that the healthcare payments system is inefficient – with the cost of those inefficiencies pegged at $35 billion a year – but any plans to reengineer the system cannot add new complexities, speakers at the Medical Banking Project Institute said at HIMSS10 on Monday in Atlanta.

“We’re locked in a paper morass. As quickly as possible, we need to liberate data so people can use it at the point of care,” John Casillas, executive director, Medical Banking Project, told attendees.

But Zahoor Elahi, vice president and general manager, Health and Financial Network, FIS Government, Education and Healthcare Solutions had a warning for industry stakeholders.“We’re all aware of the economy we’re in, and the spotlight on healthcare costs. As we move to creating the healthcare financial network of the future, it is important that all of the stakeholders are focused on brining value to it and taking costs out. They can’t be adding more variables and burden,” he said.

What do you think?

Turn Off WiFi To Help Prevent Laptop Theft

Posted by Mark Brousseau

From the UK, Credant Technologies is warning laptop users to turn off their WiFi signals before stowing their laptop in the trunk of their car or stashing their laptop in an office file cabinet or desk drawer, apparently out of sight of thieves.

"BT Openzone recently announced it had passed the million WiFi access point mark in the UK and cellular carriers are also boosting their WiFi coverage areas to take the load off their hard-pressed 3G networks, which all adds up to something of a WiFi explosion in the UK," said Sean Glynn, Credant's vice president of marketing.

"This in turn has triggered the widespread availability of low-cost keyfob WiFi detectors for under a fiver, and quite sophisticated directional detectors for around the 30 pounds mark, both of which can be used by thieves to detect the presence of an out of sight laptop," he added.

Glynn's warning comes after a warning from a security analyst in Jamaica has reported that a large number of laptops are being stolen using WiFi detection techniques for later criminal use.

And, he says, with auction sites selling WiFi detection kit for pocket money prices, it is only a matter of time before this type of laptop detection technique finds its way to the UK.

Credant's observations, he went on to say, suggest that the real focus of identity thieves is the company laptop, which, as well as being a saleable item in its own right, can also contain valuable company data that can potentially be sold to thehighest bidder online.

Identity theft is now big business, he noted.

Glynn went on to say that, because the latest laptops have a set time - sometimes up to 30 minutes - before they go into sleep mode when the laptop lid is shut, it doesn't take a genius to realize that shopping malls around 6 p.m. on weekdays can be a prime source of potential notebook computers, just waiting to be stolen from cars.

"You may not be able to totally prevent your laptop being stolen, but only switching on your WiFi when you really need it, and, of course, encrypting your data on the notebook drive, will go a long way to preventing your computer becoming just another statistic," he added.