Monday, August 30, 2010

6 Questions to Ask When Shopping for a Remittance Solution

By Mark Brousseau

Buying a remittance processing solution has never been easy. But the combination of emerging payment and clearing channels, expanding systems integration requirements, and new customer service demands has made the process more confusing than ever.

To add some clarity, Wally Vogel (, founder and CEO of Creditron, Inc. (www.creditron) offers the following six questions to ask a prospective remittance solutions vendors.

1. How much opening and pre-sorting is required before scanning incoming remittance work?
Bearing in mind that there are often several steps required to move from unopened mail to stacks of clean sorted documents, which some remittance solutions require, Vogel suggests looking at the remittance solution in the context of the end-to-end operation. "Look for a vendor that can integrate with an efficient mail opening system and handle a variety of transaction type without requiring pre-sorting," Vogel advises.

2. What about payments that are made in person or over the web?
The mix of payments has changed and will continue to change, and spending money on a solution that only handles mail payments no longer makes sense, Vogel says. "A remittance platform worth investing in should have fully integrated cashiering, web payments, and credit card payments, with consolidated deposits, accounting updates, and reports," Vogel says.

3. Have you successfully interfaced with our ERP/accounting system/billing system/content management software before?
This is an area of potential hidden costs and problems if not addressed upfront, Vogel warns. "You have a significant investment in your information systems, and front end capture points such as remittance processing need to work seamlessly or the result will be unexpected integration work by your IS group, or worse, unforeseen problems with your data down the road," Vogel says.

4. Have you successfully implemented Check 21 Image Cash Letter with our bank before?
This is another potential problem if your remittance vendor and bank are not on the same page, Vogel says. "Don’t get caught in between. Use a vendor that has already proven that they can work with your bank, or if your bank does not have a process and certification in place for working with third party vendors consider using another bank for image cash letter services and having the funds swept to your main bank on a daily basis," Vogel recommends.

5. Is this a fully proven and tested solution or will there be any customized code?
Unless you want to be a beta tester, you should choose a vendor that has completely standardized and proven code that can be configured to your needs through parameters. "Even a small block of customized code can cause problems with reliability or integrity, and make later updates problematic and expensive," Vogel explains. "Choose a vendor with a standard codebase and an easy method to upgrade to the latest revision."

6. Are you a Microsoft Certified partner?
"If you are putting wiring in your house, you insist on a licensed electrician. If you want legal advice, you look for a lawyer that has passed the bar. Similarly, if you are choosing a remittance software provider to work in the Microsoft Windows environment, you should insist in a Microsoft Certified Partner," Vogel says. "This ensures that you are dealing with a professional and qualified organization which has made the investment in certifying their people and products before asking you to make an investment in their solutions."

Do you have any tips you can share?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

World of work is changing fast

Posted by Mark Brousseau

The world of today is dramatically different from 20 years ago and with the lines between work and non-work already badly frayed, Gartner predicts that the nature of work will witness 10 key changes through 2020. Organizations will need to plan for increasingly chaotic environments that are out of their direct control, and adaptation must involve adjusting to all 10 of the trends.

“Work will become less routine, characterized by increased volatility, hyperconnectedness, 'swarming' and more,” said Tom Austin, vice president and Gartner fellow. By 2015, 40 percent or more of an organization’s work will be ‘non-routine’, up from 25 percent in 2010. “People will swarm more often and work solo less. They’ll work with others with whom they have few links, and teams will include people outside the control of the organization,” he added. “In addition, simulation, visualisation and unification technologies, working across yottabytes of data per second, will demand an emphasis on new perceptual skills.”

Organizations will need to determine which of the 10 key changes in the nature of work will affect them, and consider whether radically different technology governance models will be required.

1. De-routinization of Work
The core value that people add is not in the processes that can be automated, but in non-routine processes, uniquely human, analytical or interactive contributions that result in words such as discovery, innovation, teaming, leading, selling and learning. Non-routine skills are those we cannot automate. For example, we cannot automate the process of selling a life insurance policy to a skeptical buyer, but we can use automation tools to augment the selling process.

2. Work Swarms
Swarming is a work style characterized by a flurry of collective activity by anyone and everyone conceivably available and able to add value. Gartner identifies two phenomena within the collective activity; Teaming (instead of solo performances) will be valued and rewarded more and occur more frequently and a new form of teaming, which Gartner calls swarming, to distinguish it from more historical teaming models, is emerging. Teams have historically consisted of people who have worked together before and who know each other reasonably well, often working in the same organization and for the same manager. Swarms form quickly, attacking a problem or opportunity and then quickly dissipating. Swarming is an agile response to an observed increase in ad hoc action requirements, as ad hoc activities continue to displace structured, bureaucratic situations.

3. Weak Links
In swarms, if individuals know each other at all, it may be just barely, via weak links. Weak links are the cues people can pick up from people who know the people they have to work with. They are indirect indicators and rely, in part, on the confidence others have in their knowledge of people. Navigating one's own personal, professional and social networks helps people develop and exploit both strong and weak links and that, in turn, will be crucial to surviving and exploiting swarms for business benefit.

4. Working With the Collective
There are informal groups of people, outside the direct control of the organization, who can impact the success or failure of the organization. These informal groups are bound together by a common interest, a fad or a historical accident, as described by Gartner as “the collective.” Smart business executives discern how to live in a business ecosystem they cannot control; one they can only influence. The influence process requires understanding the collectives that potentially influence their organization, as well as the key people in those external groups. Gathering market intelligence via the collective is crucial. Equally important is figuring out how to use the collective to define segments, markets, products and various business strategies.

5. Work Sketch-Ups
Most non-routine processes will also be highly informal. It is very important that organizations try to capture the criteria used in making decisions but, at least for now, Gartner does not expect most non-routine processes to follow meaningful standard patterns. Over time, we believe that work patterns for more non-routine work will emerge, justifying a light-handed approach to collecting activity information, but it will take years before a real return on investment for this effort is visible. In the meantime, the process models for most non-routine processes will remain simple "sketch-ups," created on the fly.

6. Spontaneous Work
This property is also implied in Gartner’s description of work swarms. Spontaneity implies more than reactive activity, for example, to the emergence of new patterns. It also contains proactive work such as seeking out new opportunities and creating new designs and models.

7. Simulation and Experimentation
Active engagement with simulated environments (virtual environments), which are similar to technologies depicted in the film Minority Report, will come to replace drilling into cells in spreadsheets. This suggests the use of n-dimensional virtual representations of all different sorts of data. The contents of the simulated environment will be assembled by agent technologies that determine what materials go together based on watching people work with this content. People will interact with the data and actively manipulate various parameters reshaping the world they’re looking at.

8. Pattern Sensitivity
Gartner has published a major line of research on Pattern-Based Strategy. The business world is becoming more volatile, affording people working off of linear models based on past performance far less visibility into the future than ever before. Gartner expects to see a significant growth in the number of organizations that create groups specifically charged with detecting divergent emerging patterns, evaluating those patterns, developing various scenarios for how the disruption might play out and proposing to senior executives new ways of exploiting (or protecting the organization from) the changes to which they are now more sensitive.

9. Hyperconnected
Hyperconnectedness is a property of most organizations, existing within networks of networks, unable to completely control any of them. While key supply chain elements, for example, may be "under contract," there is no guarantee it will perform properly, not even if the supply chain is in-house. Hyperconnectedness will lead to a push for more work to occur in both formal and informal relationships across enterprise boundaries, and that has implications for how people work and how IT supports or augments that work.

10. My Place
The workplace is becoming more and more virtual, with meetings occurring across time zones and organizations and with participants who barely know each other, working on swarms attacking rapidly emerging problems. But the employee will still have a "place" where they work. Many will have neither a company-provided physical office nor a desk, and their work will increasingly happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In this work environment, the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear. Individuals, of course, need to manage the complexity created by overlapping demands, whether from the new world of work or from external (non-work-related) phenomena. Those that cannot manage the underlying "expectation and interrupt overloads" will suffer performance deficits as these overloads force individuals to operate in an over-stimulated (information-overload) state.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Optimizing document scanning

Posted by Mark Brousseau

In spite of the tremendous growth of document imaging over the past decade, half of the companies that responded to a recent TAWPI Question of the Week ( admit that their organization images 30 percent or less of their documents and forms that could be usefully scanned.

Based on the survey results, these organizations are badly lagging their peers that have adopted document imaging in a big way: 17 percent of survey respondents indicated that they scan 75 percent of their documents and forms while 33 percent of respondents said they scan all of their documents.

Overall, the survey results illustrate that there is plenty of potential growth for document imaging, explains Derrick Murphy (, president and CEO of ibml (

Murphy attributes the slow adoption of scanning by some companies to the perceived (or actual) complications of deploying an integrated document imaging solution, and the change management associated with it. "Process change scares some people more than new technology," he explains.

But Murphy believes that more companies will take a fresh look at their document imaging initiatives as the economy emerges from the recession. "They'll re-evaluate imaging for all of the reasons vendors like ibml have talked about over the years: accelerating access to critical information, re-balancing their labor force, improving customer service, and lowering operating costs," Murphy says.

"Now is a good time to invest in capital assets that better position your organization to take advantage of the inevitable economic turnaround," Murphy concludes. "Companies that aren't prepared to take advantage of the turnaround risk falling behind their forward-thinking competitors."

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The power of social media

Posted by Mark Brousseau

There’s a lot of buzz around the power of social media as a tool companies can use for demonstrating their thought leadership, and engaging – and potentially empowering – their target audiences.

To be sure, effectively using social media can help companies:

… Generate visibility, name recognition and credibility for their business
… Boost Google Search Engine results and increase Web traffic
… Strengthen business partnerships
… Generate qualified leads

But what’s the most effective ways to use social media?

Broadly speaking, there are 5 key steps for successfully using social media:

1. Develop a strategy
2. Establish a presence (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.)
3. Look for ways to expand the reach of your message
4. Look for ways to nurture existing and new relationships
5. Properly maintain your social media presence

For instance, Twitter, with its 140-character limit, can help drive prospects to your company (in fact, many companies think of Twitter as a search engine like Google). With Twitter, companies can promote contests, share timely information, distribute useful (read: educational) links, personify their brand, build credibility and influence, and even follow their competitors (it does work both ways!).

The key to successfully leveraging Twitter is for the user to sound more like someone who just happens to work at your company, rather than someone whose sole purpose is to push your company. You can accomplish this by personifying your company, answering and posting questions/issues, announcing sales, deals and corporate updates, and generally building buzz around your company.

What you don’t want to do is sound like a press release, or “spam” followers with links to your company website (don’t worry: with the right buzz, followers will seek out the site on their own!).

These are some ideas to get companies started.

So, which social media strategies are working – or not working – for your company?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Connecting through conflict

Posted by Mark Brousseau

It happens to the best of us. An upset client calls to complain about a product or service, and you’re completely caught off guard. How do you react? Do you fly off the handle right along with him? Or do you respond in a calm, thoughtful way that salvages and even strengthens your relationship? Author Maribeth Kuzmeski says that a high-pressure scenario doesn’t have to blow your client relationship sky-high—in fact, you can use it as an opportunity to truly connect with your client and keep him around for the long haul.

“Conflict is a normal part of business, and we all need to learn how to deal with it in the right way,” says Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life. “Some clients are just plain difficult. And yes, ‘easy’ clients can also become dissatisfied for a variety of reasons. The good news is that there are effective ways to handle conflict and resolve issues—and these methods will actually strengthen your relationship.

“Remember that quite often, unhappy clients will not even tell you that they have a problem,” she adds. “They simply move their business elsewhere. So, if a client thinks enough of you to give you the chance to repair a bad situation, take it. Play an active role in making your customer happy so that you can be sure to keep him or her on board with you.”

Creating clients for life is all about building relationships based on real human connections, and that’s the message found in Kuzmeski’s book. The Connectors describes how some of the world’s most successful professionals develop better, more profitable connections. And a big part of the way they do it is changing the way they think about conflict.

As much as we all hope for smooth sailing in our interactions with clients, conflicts are bound to occur. If they never happened, anyone could be a great connector. It’s what you do when there’s a problem that separates the (proverbial) men from the boys. Here are a few tips that will help you keep your business relationships from going bad...and rescue those that have started to sour.

Extend a peace offering. It’s easy to reach out to clients when things are going well. However, it’s all too easy to avoid them when hard feelings are present. Don’t succumb to the temptation. Proactively reaching out to your clients can squash any negativity they may feel for you. Even the simplest of gestures can be effective: Offer an apology when you’ve made a mistake. Then, make things right by extending a peace offering. It doesn’t need to be anything extravagant. It can be as simple as a hand-written note, a refund, or a coupon.

“I know the peace offering works on clients, because it has worked on me,” says Kuzmeski. “At one point the relationship my firm and I had with a technology consulting group had turned sour. They had missed numerous project deadlines and just weren’t satisfying my expectations. I stuck with them, though, in hopes of repairing the relationship. Then one day, my contact Jeremy and I discovered we had something in common—a love for hockey! In fact, one day I mentioned that my son’s favorite team was the Pittsburgh Penguins, and that he and I would be watching them play in the Stanley Cup later that evening.

“Well, the Penguins ended up winning, and much to my surprise, Jeremy sent my son copies of magazines featuring their big win, a copy of the actual Pittsburgh newspaper from the day they won, and a few other items,” she adds. “None of what he sent cost very much, but the impact of his gesture was significant. My son was beyond thrilled. He couldn’t believe that one of my contacts had sent something for him! As for me, it immediately changed the way I felt about the company. My feeling was, ‘Really, they can’t be all that bad. I mean, they are hockey fans, and they were nice to my son.’ Jeremy may not have known it, but he extended a peace offering that helped preserve my company’s relationship with his.”

Don’t follow your “strike back” instincts. If an angry client calls you fuming mad, your knee-jerk reaction might be to argue. Remember, though, fighting anger with anger seldom works. No matter how tough it is, do the opposite of what you feel like doing. Take a deep breath and remain calm. And most of all, diffuse your client’s anger by immediately assuring her that you will make it right.

“When faced with difficult situations with clients, instead of giving a reactionary, defensive response, offer solutions,” says Kuzmeski. “Your first reaction may be to explain why you are right, why the client is overreacting, or to give her additional information so she can better see the situation from your point of view. However, if you check those reactions and instead start working toward a resolution, your chances of keeping that customer are much greater.”

When confronted with an angry client, say something like, “I know we did not satisfy your needs, and I assure you that we will do better in the future. Can I offer you a free gift the next time you stop in, or a discount off your next service?” Your client may still want to fight, but you are dispelling her anger by staying calm and offering a helpful response. Just smile, take responsibility (even if you feel you haven’t done anything wrong), and offer solutions. You can’t control the way your client is going to act, but you can control your own actions. If you are reasonable, your client will eventually come around.

The solutions you offer may not be exactly what the client wants, but you are trying to smooth things over instead of arguing; therefore, the results will no doubt be better. The legendary retailing genius Marshall Field once overheard a clerk in his store having a discussion with a customer. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m settling a complaint,” the clerk answered. “No, you’re not,” said Field. “Give the lady what she wants.” We can all learn a thing or two from that.

Get them to listen to you by…listening to them. Customers will listen to what you have to say if you respectfully listen to what they have to say first. Knowing that you are truly listening to their concerns can cause your customers to agree to your suggestions much more quickly.

“Very few people in this world take the time to practice ‘Curious Listening,’” says Kuzmeski. “We instead partially listen, get ready to respond, and let our minds drift. But if you can practice Curious Listening, which is a form of active listening, you will differentiate yourself as someone who really cares.”

Have a standard service protocol at the ready. Creating standards, procedures, and methods of dealing with clients and servicing their needs can really help when it comes to resolving conflicts or handling a dissatisfied customer. By creating a service protocol in advance, you provide a way to “enforce” how client conflict situations are handled. This allows you and your employees to more easily resolve issues and deal with those impossibly and consistently difficult clients.

“When developing a service protocol, start by recalling past situations,” says Kuzmeski. “Consider how and when a difficult client became difficult. Was a resolution reached? If so, when and how? By examining how difficult clients were handled in the past, taking into account both good and bad examples, you and your staff can begin to set boundaries regarding what is and isn’t a proper way to react. Creating a protocol allows you to chart your path to resolution and figure out what you’re going to say before a problem arises.

“Your service protocol empowers your employees to become connectors,” she adds. “Often, they might think offering a discount or a coupon is the right way to handle a situation, but they may be worried that you, their leader, won’t approve. With the protocol, they know exactly what they can immediately offer to the client. You’ll find that effectively resolving problems with clients actually makes them more loyal to you because they see that you care about their business.”

Ask for feedback. Obviously, you don’t have to sit around, anxiously wondering when a problem is going to arise. There is a way for you to avoid some (unfortunately, not all!) client conflicts. You can do it by ensuring that customers aren’t suppressing problems. And you do that by constantly asking for feedback. (It’s amazing how rarely businesspeople do this—they’re usually just keeping their fingers crossed that all is well—but a sincere inquiry about a client’s satisfaction is a true pathway to making a connection.)

“Don’t be afraid to engage your clients,” says Kuzmeski. “Ask them what you can do better, how you can improve. Supply them with feedback surveys so that they can anonymously share their thoughts, ensuring that they are as honest as possible. And when a problem has been solved, ask them if you handled it to their satisfaction and find out if there is anything they would like for you to have done differently. Asking for feedback is a great way for you to rectify any possible or growing problems before they become so great that they sour a client relationship.”

“Clients who feel a connection with you are loyal and will stay with you—sometimes forever. Dissatisfied clients not only go elsewhere, but they also tell others of their dissatisfaction,” says Kuzmeski. “Actually, for every one complaint you receive, an average of nine others remain unspoken. What’s even worse is that all 10 of those dissatisfied clients will each tell an average of five other people about their displeasure with you. That means for every complaint, you could have up to 60 people who are walking around with a negative image of you and your company—and are talking about it!

“By actively and sincerely playing a part in resolving conflicts with your clients, you’re showing them that you are willing to do what it takes to make them happy,” she concludes. “You are not just fixing a problem for them. You are also turning those dissatisfied clients into delighted ones who may even become evangelists for your company! And we all know there is no marketing force more powerful than a customer who shares her delight with others.”

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bridging the business/IT gap

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Business and IT collaboration is critical to the success of a data warehousing project, Alison Torres, director, Teradata Warehouse Consulting told attendees during a presentation at the FTA Technology Conference and Exposition at the Grand Hyatt Buckhead in Atlanta. “The most successful data warehouses have a team of IT and business representatives with an executive sponsor,” Torres said.

A data warehouse is a place that brings together data from disparate systems, which enables timely, accurate decision-making in support of strategic and tactical business initiatives, Torres explained.

“The only relevant measures of data warehousing success are business impact and value,” she added.

Torres said the keys to business and IT working together on a data warehousing project are:

… Building/evolving the vision together
… Appreciating IT’s challenges
… Building the business/data model together
… Championing the data warehouse together
… Creating overlapping organizations
… Establishing meaningful accountabilities and service level agreements

So how do you get started? Torres offered several suggestions:

… Assemble a cross-functional team with representation across all business units, corporate departments and IT services
… Hold weekly business data modeling sessions
… Develop consistent business definitions across all levels of the business
… Map data requirements generated from business modeling sessions
… Store the data model in a tool
… Produce detailed documentation

Additionally, IT must understand the business impact of data problems, Torres said.

“When data is unavailable, business opportunities are lost, perhaps forever,” Torres explained. “Late information is, in most cases, as good as no information. It is imperative that IT understands this.”

It’s through this type of collaboration that organizations can increase the odds of success of their data warehouse project.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

State Government IT: Version 2010

Posted by Mark Brousseau

As with every arm of government in today’s environment, state government chief information officers (CIOs) must do more with less. A search for lower costs will drive the agendas of many state CIOs for the next few years, as they look for ways to enhance IT performance. According to the 2010 State CIO Survey, conducted by Grant Thornton LLP, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and TechAmerica, two-thirds of state and territorial CIOs face budget decreases in 2011 through 2013. However, some state CIOs see a silver lining — public sector IT departments are increasing the use of shared services, reassessing contracts and leveraging economies of scale when purchasing.

Three out of four CIOs say their offices receive some form of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funding. Eighty percent say other state agencies have also benefitted from ARRA money. Although additional funding undoubtedly helps cash-strapped IT departments, it’s not always easy to determine the impact on performance — one-third of CIOs say they do not formally measure how IT contributes to agency missions and strategies.
At a time when government and citizens are demanding increased transparency, CIOs must find ways to demonstrate the efficiency and value of IT, Grant Thornton concludes.

What do you think?