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ASHA 2014

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My wife and I recently attended the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) Convention in Orlando.  She gave a talk on Aligning Practices between Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Speech Language Pathology. The speech language therapists (SLPs) ever increasing role within intensive therapy for children on the Autism Spectrum. It does appear that the SLP must understand their responsibilities and their value proposition while working together with the ABA therapist. The conversation was well received and I am quite proud of her.

I too submitted a proposal and was granted a poster presentation for the Topic Area:  Business, Management, Telepractice, and Professional Issues. My poster was entitled, "Simple Cost-Effective Strategies for Securing Documents in Your Therapy Practice". I will likely store the poster on my blog and also distribute it through slideshare.  It was rather interesting experience for me on a couple levels, as it was the first time I had spoken with a largely non-technical audience. I suppose that I should use the non-technical description with some caution as my wife constantly reminds me that SLPs take physics :-)

Nonetheless, it was refreshing to be the only mechanical engineer giving a poster presentation. In fact this was the first time I had ever delivered a poster presentation. During my undergraduate research days with National Science Foundation - REU (NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates) I was never afforded an opportunity to present a poster.  So to say I was amped was an understatement. The material went over well, I was happy to explain Free Software and Open Source as well as the importance of data management, and data encryption. Most people understood that so-called cloud computing did not provide HIPAA compliance by default.  What I found most interesting was that there really were not many vendors providing managed information technology services for this niche audience.  Clearly there is a business opportunity on the horizon.



Surmising the Quality Definition

TypesOfNewProducts

TypesOfNewProducts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some weeks ago, a colleague posed a question to me. Since it had been awhile I can only paraphrase the conversation. We were discussing metrics and how they might be used within Product Development to determine the success or failure of a particular project campaign.

We pontificated on what seems to be a common question. How does one relate the voice of the customer and the expectation of quality. Before proceeding any further it is important to understand some fundamental concepts.

Product Development is the art of creating a good that has intrinsic value to a customer.  In this context a customer would be the end-user who has previously articulated some level of "want" or requirements for this particular good or service.  It is important to note that customers do not always know what good or service best suits their need.  Which explains why some companies are very interested in being first to market with some abstract product which is supposed to solve some fundamental set of customer problems.  Often times first to market products are clearly not technically superior, but if the company has a legacy of recognizable and generally successful products (aka cash cow product which provides profit to company) they have the best opportunity to consume market share while using the customer as a beta tester

So back to the conversation I was having with a colleague.  In most cases, there is great value in understanding the customer expectation or what is commonly described as the voice of the customer.  There are several ways in which customer input can be obtained. Note that this list is not by any means exhaustive

If the above strategies have been deployed, you have a better opportunity to understand the voice of the customer. After you have a handle on the customer want there are any number of ways to leverage this knowledge to deliver the best product for potentially the highest profit margin for your business. If the customer considers your product to be of excellent quality, you can be certain that the average customer would be willing to pay a premium in most cases.  What is quality and how is it measured? Depending upon the industry, there are any number of ways to measure quality. It is important to note that what ever metric is used, that it should translate to a tangible attribute that is recognizable by the customer.

For instance, one quality measure could be product warranty or the promise that the goods or property are as represented or advertised. Some in manufacturing use repairs or defects per thousand units as one such quality measure.  One could also use the Deming definition of Results of Work Efforts / Total Costs, as a more succinct means of understanding quality.

Minimizing repetitive non-value added work from your process can benefit not only manufacturing but also social services, allied health, and any transactional based effort. Recalling the voice of the customer can present the added benefit of helping a business establish targets which subsequently develops value streams for a product model.  If you can accurately measure status to these customer centric targets, you have the potential of delivering a quality product that a customer will value. 

In summary, the ability to correctly assess status to delivering the specific tangible voice of the customer attributes will directly impact the perceived quality of a product, good or service. Companies that are able to surmise the quality definition generally enjoy good financial profit and reasonably good public relations.





SugarCon 2013

Most of you realize that I have a keen interest in supporting customers as a technology solutions integrator.  At the root of this is passion is Free Software and Open Source. Lately, I have begun to experience the commercial aspects of delivering value to clients and understanding the relationship that comes through cultivation.

Today I took the next step in understanding customer relationship management (CRM) by attending SugarCon in NYC.  SugarCRM is a pseudo open source product. Pseudo from the standpoint that their company supports a community edition, but much of the development work goes into the enterprise and professional editions.  The model that I've loosely described here is called "open core" and it generally provokes much passion when you converse with people who really embrace Open Source.  For those who are interested in this sort of debate, I encourage you to check out SugarCRM community manager, John Mertric's conversation on Floss Weekly
Image representing SugarCRM as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase




While I realize that this isn't a very sexy conversation for most hackers, I thought it would be noteworthy to mention some of my thoughts on this conference. First I must begin with the elected conference hotel, Waldorf-Astoria. Very classical hotel that looks to have been built at the turn of the century. The Waldorf has undergone substantial renovations and a generous facelift, but its classical decor, while remarkable presents serious challenges for patrons attending a conference. For instance, the conference rooms were rather small and many had pillars which obstructed your view of the presentation. It did not help that the seating layout of the rooms were too spread out. The projector images were inadequate, as they could not easily move the backdrop to accommodate all the participants.

The one notable bright spot was what I would classify as an opera hall, that the organizers used for all of the keynotes. The hall was massive and the acoustics were excellent. The only problem was the attendance was notably sparse and was rather discouraging considering the sizable investment.  Last words on hotel. As a native NYer, I can count on two fingers the number of times I have stayed in hotel in the city. As stated earlier the Waldorf is massive indeed, but the novelty wears off rather quickly. Oddly, the rooms were not equipped with free Wi-Fi, and the pay model was a gaudy $18/day.  So most conference attendees spent their time in main lobby areas and also near the 3rd FL conference registration areas which were free to the attendees. I'm not sure what sort of feedback the organizers received, but I would be surprised if Waldorf hosts another SugarCon. I'm happy to have checked off the Waldorf-Astoria on my bucket list ;-)

Now onto the notable keynotes, Uncon, and the people who we met.  I attended the conference with a fellow hacker. We're both interested in telephony and had a keen interest in sugarcrm integration with asterisk PBX. We met Blake Robertson, lead developer of the YAAI Project. I believe the project will be re-branded "Callinize".  The package supports screen pops and ties the CRM product to Asterisk PBX.  It allows you to capture inbound calls as records which could then be turned into leads or contacts.  The Sugar module seems not be bothered by self-signed certificates and works well with Sugar instances that are protected by a firewall.

The best aspect of these conferences is the interaction you get with the developers. Many of them are ecstatic that you are using their code and really want the feedback.

Regarding the keynotes.  There were several, but one seemed to resonate with me.  Steve Laughlin, appeared to be the consummate salesperson. Laughlin's keynote was entitled, "The Empowered Consumer Era".  His conversation reminded me somewhat of the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) discussion that Doc Searls of the Cluetrain Manifesto fame, described in great detail. However, I do not believe Laughlin's talk went far enough in that direction. Nonetheless, Laughlin understands that markets are simply conversations.  He offered the following marketing tenets.
 
  • Know Me
  • Interact with Me
  • Offer to Me
  • Support Me 

I won't begin to try to break down each tenet, but suffice to say.  The consumer of the digital era is empowered with several information channels. As Chris Anderson of Wired and Long Tail stated, if your company sucks, even the ants have megaphones and will scream on you. 

If your company cannot or will not correctly engage with consumers, they will instantly become terrorists and often will not give you a second chance.  Of course the social media network emboldens people to new levels, but typically the message is not a contrived or artificial.  People generally experience a problem and are often not very interested in helping you fix the issue, but instead would rather tell others about their painful experience.

Terry Jones, former CEO of Travelocity and chairman of Kayak.com also shared some compelling information, but for whatever he believes his content has copywritten information and cannot be shared without extracting marketing information from interested persons. I'm certainly not a salesman apparently he knows what he is doing and I cannot knock the hustle.

Overall the conference afforded me the opportunity to have a better appreciation for CRM (and a hunger for VRM).  I understand SugarCRM to be a framework for enabling organizations to extract business intelligence to be leveraged to surprise and delight customers. Meanwhile it is painfully obvious that the Larry Augustin and the other SugarCRM leaders are determined to fully embrace the SaaS model and force people to look at Sugar with same lens that SalesForce enjoys now, which in my mind is wrongheaded. Instead, I would offer that since Sugar already differentiates on price and customer reach (well mostly if they do not totally abandon the Community Edition), Sugar would be better served showing people that they _are_ not  interested in resembling SalesForce at all.  

I spent time installing YAAI and also thought about leveraging ODBC to further empower our clients to search our records to know whether they have been scheduled for an evaluation or therapy appointment.  More on this later.

 

Lame Marketing

I suppose that I should begin with the ubiquitous disclaimer - "The thoughts expressed here are mine and do not represent those of my employer"

Some weeks ago, I received an email from one of the internal marketing firms for my employer. What was most curious about the communication was it came a few days prior to office wide shutdown period. I would venture to guess that many of the desired recipients never received the information or simply deleted it upon returning to the office, along with the other 350 or so messages.  The only reason I gave it a second glance was that it contained the name of another colleague that I had worked with recently.  Another odd tidbit was that a 3rd party marketing firm was also cc'd. 

Perhaps most intriguing was the message alluded to some mystery forthcoming USBE magazine which highlighted myself and several other employees of color. I paraphrase the message to set the theme, "Were you aware that the you were being recognized in a forthcoming magazine article... Please be sure to list the STEM efforts that you are currently fostering?"  At this point I'm thinking that this smells rotten, but my curiosity was peeked so I do a bit of research to confirm my suspicions. I could find no such article. So I could only surmise that we have the classic bait and switch effort at work here.  What does an intelligent individual do at this point? Blow it off? 

Well the tone of the message clearly suggested that they really were not interested in the helping the employee shine. It was all about finding some individuals that are involved in STEM efforts and let the employer gain credit for the unsanctioned volunteer work of the employee.  I should state that this is the way of the world so to speak. Not uncommon, but in my humble opinion still disingenuous nonetheless.

I decided to cut to the chase and contact the 3rd party marketing firm that was curiously cc'd in the message. Maybe the 3rd party marketing firm added "validity" to the correspondence? 

Based upon the manner in which the message was orchestrated, I did not bother contacting the internal marketing firm that specialized in "African-American" matters.

After talking to the individual I told them I was unable to find the USBE article.  I also asked about the goal and intent of the marketing campaign. They basically stated that my company wanted to showcase its STEM efforts by highlighting the various African-American engineers who were engaged with such volunteer efforts. I explained the I was not currently active, but had supported such efforts in the past. He asked my name and said thank you. I suppose he crossed me off his list. C'est la vie.

Lame Marketing Lessons Learned:

  • It is never about showcasing the employee
  • If it sounds too good to be true...
  • My company is still struggling to leverage its African Ancestry talent
Lame indeed..

Death of a Brand

Mercury Logo

Image via Wikipedia

Ok.. The ubiquitous disclaimer - The following are my words only and not at all affiliated or endorsed by my employer.

Some have asked about the scuttling of the Mercury brand. If you care about the North American auto industry, you probably know that a few years ago, GM ended production of its Oldsmobile line. Earlier this year Ford Motor decided to do the same and officially end its longstanding Mercury product lineup.


I say officially, because it could be said that the Mercury brand was dead for several years prior to the official announcement. Why did Mercury die a slow death?


  • Product Differentiation
  • Complexity
  • Poor Demand

Perhaps the most obvious was the lack of differentiation between blue oval products. Arguably, this differentiation problem was a marketing decision and not an engineering one.

Complexity is always problematic when you are running a lean shop. The product development factory has drastically shrunk in size since downturn in the economy. The number of vehicles sold in North America has reduced considerably. Vehicle sales in North America have dropped to roughly 9 - 11 million over the past three years.  Since the demand for products have drastically decreased it only makes sense that brands that are not profitable be dropped.

Now lets look at some engineering challenges. Commonization is a term that is tossed around a great deal in PD factory. In layman's terms it means eliminate redundant parts. Utilize a common architecture whenever feasible. That is a common sense way of mandating that product development and manufacturing work from a common platform. Additionally, re-use the same fasteners, Powertrain components, stuff the customer will not see.  Though it sounds logical, execution of this concept is not quite that simple.  When you are trying to support the vision of three distinct brands, ie Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, people assume that there really must be a tremendous different between the brands.  Marketing sells this vision daily in its advertising campaigns, as a result engineering must deliver on that promise.  So you end up with unnecessary replicates of parts which serve the same functions, ie mirrors, visors, seat trim, etc.  Basically it really becomes waste when the customer is not getting additional value.  If customer are not willing to pay more for this differentiation, then you're wasting money. Who can afford waste in an ultra competitive landscape?  Besides the cost of managing multiple part numbers, you also have to store and sequence these parts. 

Because assembly plants have a finite amount of space on its manufacturing floor, OEMs typically outsource the handling of the parts to a third party.  This off-line handling is called sequencing. Once this third party handles the parts they are sent into the assembly plant for installation. All of this adds cost to the parts used to assemble a vehicle.

Now that "organic" demand for vehicles are down due to a very soft economy. We cannot consider "cash for clunker" sales because that generally distorts the real picture for demand. Consumers generally want a compelling value proposition when making a huge expenditure. If the perception is that Mercury looks and feels very much like the blue oval product you cannot expect incremental sales. Particularly in a down economy.

Lastly, there is the Lincoln brand that frankly needed attention.  Mercury essentially diverted resources that were sorely needed in the revitalization of the Lincoln brand. There are probably other reasons, but these appear to be the most obvious.  As the OEM attempts to absorb market share it cannot afford waste in any capacity.  Thus far, it seems to be making the more prudent moves when compared to its closest competitors. Time will tell..


AT&T payphone signage

Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps that most meaningful request to originate from the so-called leaner AT&T. I would venture to guess many people across the country no longer use phone books. I have witnessed the real-time shrinkage of the Yellow Pages content in S.E Mich. The once monstrous Yellow Pages and White Pages are now condensed into one publication, roughly 1/3 of the size.

Moreover, it would seem that the overwhelming popularity of cellular phones, online phone directories, and search engines have marginalized the utility of hard copy phone listings. Hell, I have not used a POTS line in my home since 2002. Strictly cellular and VoIP in my household.

If AT&T wishes to be truly lean, it should probably stop printing these books. However, it appears that they are mandated local Public Service Commissions.

Bob Frankston has a very interesting assessment of the pickle AT&T has found themselves. He isn't all too sympathetic either :-) See his excerpt below.

This sounds like a great deal. If ATT wants to hand over their copper physical plant to communities to use as a resource I would take them up on their offer immediately.

The communities can then hire companies to "light" it up as DSL using 2010 electronics (100Mbps per pair or higher). This is divestiture II done right.

And without being shackled by the 19th century telegraphy idea of charging services we'd be able to achieve Ambient Connectivity (http://rmf.vc/?n=IAC) with or without wires!

He raises some valid points about the greed associated with PSTN and the general disdain that AT&T now has for all of its copper networks. What are they to do with the millions of copper lines running across the US?
Allowing municipalities to purchase the copper lines would be one method of disrupting the stranglehold that wireless carriers have on consumers. Imagine what would happen if there was added competition? True free market model at its best, not a simple oligarchy of a few dominant wireless carriers as we have today.

Though I often worry about the new GOOG, they seem to looking off into the future and strongly considering muni-fiber networks.
*Aside* - AT&T also owns its fair share of dark fiber too, perhaps they'll suffocate on the vast stretches of fiber before they figure out how to really benefit from it. It does appear that the venerable MaBell wants to get out of the telephony infrastructure business and leap into the VoIP service arena. It would seem that there is much more profits to be made offering services for the next growth market. POTS is dying a slow death, and any left holding onto a service level agreement that is laden with PSTN is plain foolish. IP vs. Dark Fiber is another topic for another

I have long been a proponent of muni-fiber (citizen owned fiber networks) efforts. Sadly, there just are not enough viable muni-fiber projects in this country.

I long for the day that FTTH is commonplace and de-regulated so that people could have choice.
At this point, greed and arrogance is very pervasive in the leadership ranks of the wireless carriers, that innovation is essentially stifled in this country. The other issue is that most Americans are not really familiar with the technology or their rights for access. So-called developing nations (ie China and South Africa) have more infrastructure problems but have far better connectivity (albeit prohibitively expensive in certain areas). The point here is that the US must figure out a means to totally disrupt the existing data delivery model paradigm. It really takes courage and money.

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Palm Pre shot from Mobile World Congress.

Image via Wikipedia

Though, I am not a Crackberry aficionado, I do find it interesting that RIM is now fighting for relevancy in the smartphone market. Palm continues to disappoint despite it use of Open Source Software. The LIMO and ALP projects are very interesting, but I can't seem to understand why there aren't more devices in the mainstream. Perhaps the mind share of the average developer is becoming more Android and iPhone.

Though I have never owned a RIM product, I did notice that it took quite awhile for them to market a device where you could actually use "touch" to manipulate the GUI. Palm devices have had this feature for at least 6yrs. Additionally the proprietary enterprise server that had been a something of a cash cow, competitive advantage (albeit ridiculously expensive) for corporate users is now being given away. When you have free software tools (ie IMAPD and OpenLDAP) it really does not make much sense to continue spending a huge monthly fees to support always on email. Besides methinks the huge corporate accounts are dwindling in this economic downturn. If RIM is to grow inside the SMB market, they will need to deliver more malleable tools to the end-user.

I'm not going to berate Palm anymore in this space, as I continue to use my trusty Treo650. Eventually, I'm going to have to migrate to a more robust platform that provides me with a somewhat real-time network (3G perhaps) and a few more social networking options. I do not need my entire smartphone experience to be laden with Twitter and Facebook. I'm more interested in running ssh, VNC and openvpn or irc client when the time arises.

RIM Surprises the Street - Battles Opens Source Offerings from Palm and Google

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The Widget Dilemma

I am often fascinated when I have conversations with professionals in other industries as they try to make sense out of the engineering profession. Particularly when I mention that engineering skills are transferable to other industries. Inevitably, I am then told that engineers build 'widgets', "How can this be relevant to Health Care"? It boggles to mind that people do not understand that problem solving is not monolithic talent that avails itself to only manufacturing or product development. Disciplined thought is clearly advantageous and would be beneficial to any activity. Why would you limit this sort of critical thinking to an industrial environment?

It would appear that most of this misinformation is propagated by the mass media. I would assert that simply aren't enough engineers in our population who are willing to educate people about the truth. If I may digress for a moment, I do know there are many people calling themselves engineers, much like folks who call themselves web developers but only design web sites using content management tools or blog publishing engines. Classical engineers are people that studied thermodynamics, statics, basic circuits theory, linear algebra, etc. Of course this list is not exhaustive. The basic premise is that engineers are taught problem solving and critical thinking skills. Obviously, there are many engineers that push paper for a living, but that was the subject of an earlier blog entry :-)

Now why is this issue so 'widget dilemma' so intriguing? The so-called widget builder is generally understood to be someone that is a monolithic thinker who only functions within well-defined framework. Often widget building becomes a pejorative term when used to describe engineers, as it suggest that we are robots. You can always throw that exaggerated over-bite into the description for good measure too. Obviously, these perceptions are totally inaccurate. To their credit widget building is quite complicated. Think of the number and precise nature of the widgets used to build a jetliner or automobile? It is clear that any sort of malpractice or improper judgment can cost hundreds of lives.

It is not uncommon to find engineers in business, law or medical fields. So clearly, we are not just widget builders. It does irk me when when people believe stereotypes and misinformation as the gospel. There are some good examples of engineers helping to improve the level of quality provided primary care physicians.

Well, I suppose the rant is complete. I'll provide more examples of engineers providing value outside of the proverbial 'widget' factory as time progresses.

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30 Days with Tiki Wiki

Now that I have been using Tiki Wiki for slightly over 1 month, it probably makes sense to offer a critique at this juncture.

*From a social perspective -
I must say that I am impressed that most members of the team have eagerly challenged this pseudo new technology. Methinks learning by doing is always the key to success, particularly when the learning curve is steep. There will always be bugs or nuances that cannot quite be explained, nonetheless you have to be willing to stick your toe in the pool and then gradually wade to the deeper water.

*From a technical perspective -
I chose to hide the wiki syntax from all of the users because it can be somewhat confusing, even for those that are familiar with HTML syntax. I have also noticed that RSS modules do not seem to be working as desired. In an effort to reduce the amount of time that our team spends trudging over to Facebook and Y! Groups, I spent an inordinate amount of time playing with Y! Pipes to help syndicate the content in both areas. The result has not been very good. While the Y! pipe seems to work, when I place the resulting feed in my Bloglines news reader, I receive a weird "access denied" message. It appears to be some sort of permissions issue, but I have not been able to narrow it down. I'll keep hacking.

The wiki is indeed feature rich, it will even post on the fly email messages destined for a particular forum thread provided that you point it to a POP server. Clearly we will never make use of all its features (ie newsletter, polls, team member blogs, etc), but it is great to have the tools.

Perhaps the feature I enjoy best is that the wiki admin feature gives you a choice of saving files to the filesystem or simply writing changes back to the database. I chose the latter, thus I can save precious disk space on my web server.

Overall the response has been favorable and the experiment could be described as positive.
I suppose the next step will be making regular back-ups to the database and wiki subdirectory, so that I will not run the risk of losing our hard work.

If after 120 days we deliver a quality Silver Anniversary, I will rate the experiment a success.

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Fiduciary Responsibility

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 06:  House Financial Ser...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The effect of the Recession or Depression depending upon which region of the US that you reside has been well documented. Many of my friends and colleagues have been directly impacted by job loss and an imploding housing market. The sad reality is that many people have lost 30-50% of the value on their homes. No fault of their own, they followed the so-called American dream. As responsible homeowners, they paid their mortgages dutifully and made sure that they did not purchase more home than they could afford. That is the unspoken rule that your monthly mortgage should be no more than 1/3rd of monthly income.

After doing what was correct, many folks are conflicted.

Some have resorted to just walking away from their mortgages, after all these loans are secured instruments which use only the property as collateral. Moreover, some folks believe that due to a failing economy, lenders will later 'overlook' their indiscretions. Perhaps the conversation would go, "So you're claiming bankruptcy and you've foreclosed on your home?" , the reply , "Yes I have. " The credit lender would reply, "Oh yeah 2009 CY, everybody was doing that then. Special circumstances, we'll forgive you." How likely is that scenario? Heh, don't believe the hype. That sort of stuff never works out the way you might envision it. Particularly for people of color. Unfortunately, in a Capitalist society, good credit is your only saving grace. Business deals are best done leveraging other folks money in a strategic and smart fashion.

There are a few ways to combat the depressed housing market. I might add that these strategies are not full proof, but they are options. If you own a Fannie Mac property, you can take advantage of the gov't led program. You can also request that your mortgage be modified; particularly if you have been paying on time.

One more word on some of these programs which help people avoid foreclosure.
The Obama campaign has created the making homeAffordable effort. While is quite noble and probably helpful, I have learned that it may not be totally enforceable. As an investor, it does appear that the banks appraising properties that they suspect do not meet the 125% Loan-to-Value. This is a very foul policy as it defeats the spirit of the Obama program. So once again, the banks win? Well, maybe not. My approach is to be aggressive and empower myself with knowledge. Lastly, I will continue to live a frugal lifestyle and live below my means whenever possible. Coupons and receipt reconciliations are my favorite past times.

Hold your head up and be encouraged.

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Penny-Less Prosperity Redux

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These three assholes just get more and more pa...

Image by Roscoe Van Damme via Flickr

*Disclaimer* - The thoughts expressed here do not represent those of my employer
Some of asked me about my opinion regarding some unprecedented times in the auto industry. Both Chrysler and GM have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past 2 months. Clearly, the North American market and manufacturing base is undergoing drastic changes.
There is a substantial amount of acrimony surrounding the tough love stance the US government leadership has delivered to the industry. Perhaps at the eye of the storm are the deep haircuts the bond holders have taken and the scorched earth policy which will significantly reduce the number of auto dealerships.

As mentioned previously in this space, I often watch C-Span in an effort to gain a different perspective. Typically their coverage is not your average talking head. What I have found most interesting is the special hour for the Republican Party. Many of these representatives attacked President Obama for the so-called spending spree. There was also talk of 'gangsta' politics. In that, the gov't just bumrushed dealerships and shut them down for no reason.


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The New Middle - Gov'ts Guiding Hands

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*Disclaimer - The thoughts expressed here do not represent those of my employer*
I have been watching the Wall Street and Auto industry bailout proceedings with keen interest. Obviously, I have witnessed many friends suffer as their jobs vanished and I have personally been pre-occupied with what amounts to nearly quarterly head count reductions.
It does seem that everyone has opinions about the mess that is the North American auto industry.

Heated debates have sprung up in a few social networks that I frequent. With the ouster of GM CEO Waggoner, some folks have used this as fodder for the cries of dictatorship, socialism, communism. It all seems pretty ludicrous to me.
People must realize that inaction is not going to solve any of the current problems. Yes, it is true that Japan and Europe suffered through disastrous economic downturns and their governments also infused cash with very little positive effect. However, the US is dealing with effects of a constant erosion of its manufacturing base. As I have stated numerous times previously, America is in the midst of transforming itself into a service based economy. I don't believe the current leadership is willing to allow this transformation to occur.

Returning to the auto-industry.. Much of what I have heard is that the auto industry is largely responsible for creating the middle-class in this country. While this is a fact, we must also consider that those jobs were likely first generation middle-class and largely located in middle-America. I'm certain that my pops did not benefit from those jobs. Unfortunately, most of those beneficiaries are nearing retirement. Moreover, the jobs which were created by a healthy auto industry are now being replaced as the manufacturing base shrinks in this country.

So the gov't has two choices: (a) Stand-By and follow the same laissez-faire practices as the previous administration or (b) Infuse capital and help guide the economy in a proper direction.

If this involvement means firing warning shots at CEOs whose companies are squandering taxpayer dollars so be it. Waggoner took a spear for his peers on Wall Street too. Methinks it was more a show of force than anything else. Wall Street does seem to be handling business with an air of impunity.

Eradication of Poverty

During the Abe Lincoln love fest that was broadcasted on C-span. I was captivated with the conversation of Jesse Jackson Jr. The concept of Public Private Partnerships was quite interesting to me. Jackson kept stressing that he was not requesting any money from taxpayers. In fact, he would be helping the local and state governments raise capital and also spark entrepreneurship. Essentially PPP is sometimes called PPA. The example he used was the construction of an airport, and the ability for municipal projects of this sort to create jobs and provide an avenue for people to begin to escape the shackles of poverty. As I began studying this business model I immediately began to see value in this approach.

When you begin to realize that one strategy for stimulating the economy is through creating short-term infrastructure revitalization projects, PPA makes a great deal of sense. No building an airport is probably not the best example of a short term stimulus project; however, you could utilize this approach for building a learning academy or media centers in urban and rural areas.

Obviously, another means of stimulating the economy is be certain that _everyone_ is employed and nobody is impoverished. How do you accomplish this daunting task?
Well the concept of microloans have been discussed in some detail. Perhaps I may have heard smatterings of it here, but I have never heard about someone creating a social business around micro loans. Muhammad Yunus, Economist, Nobel Laureate and largely responsible for making the term microloan mainstream. Although some would argue that micro payments to the poor do little to solve the macro problem of poverty, I would assert that it certainly is better than ignoring impoverished. Moreover, I believe Yunus is more interested in helping the poor understand how to leverage their innate talents and ultimately break the cycle of generational poverty.

Hmmm. What if we could deploy Public Private Partnerships and link them to a social business concept. In my mind, this is exactly what Yunus has done with companies like Dannon, Nike, and others. I would think that if this approach can scale well in Bangladesh and other developing nations, we could do something similar here stateside.

Lastly, we have a struggling economy and many people are witnessing an increasing growing gap amongst the working poor and the 'so-called' middle-class. I would hope that new ideas are being considered in earnest.

Declaration and CBP musings

As a quick business trip nears an end. I have to chuckle about border patrol. Probably spent a couple weeks preparing for a visit to Ontario. Not that I've not been previously, but this time I would be transporting a great deal of gear. I had planned to capture strain data for an experiment. Everyone schooled my on the appropriate paperwork and the meticulous detailed required for entry. I probably spent roughly 2-3 days recording all of the serial numbers of my test equipment and the test specimens. Clearly I was bummed when I arrived at the border expecting to be interrogated, when I was asked, "Why do you have these declaration papers?" Umm. I have stuff to declare.. Wow.. How funny is that..

The toughest question I answered was my rank. I haven't been asked this question since my military days.

I suppose that had not even bothered to fill out the paperwork, I would have been waved through without hesitation. Gotta luv that homeland security. I can see why we spend billions.

Regression to the Mean

*Disclaimer* - The thoughts expressed here are not those of my employer, but my own -

I have discussed these matters previously in earlier posts. Nonetheless, I thought it necessary to emphasize a point. Sometimes when talking about social-political problems, I often utilize mathematics to help provide clarity in an unbiased fashion. When we talk about labor compensation and the so-called "race to the bottom" it is important to understand an objective viewpoint.

Developing nations, which historically have trailed the U.S are closing the technology and manufacturing gap in a very methodical way. Obviously this phenomenon did not occur overnight. Essentially, these developing nations, particularly China and India, understood that they would have to begin to provide goods and services if they were to improve their quality of life. They seized an opportunity to get a leg up as it were due largely to America's huge shift to being a consumer nation. Some might ask, "Wasn't the US always a consumer nation?" Well not always, I would venture to guess that since Industrial Revolution, the US shifted from producing to consuming. If my historical reference is incorrect, someone please educate me.

The Symbolic Gesture

*Disclaimer - The thoughts and opinions shared here do not reflect those of my employer*

There you have it, the obligatory indemnification statement. These past few weeks many people have asked for my comments regarding the auto industry bailout and the very difficult circumstances that have beset the American automakers.

To be clear, there is much blame to go around. I don't think there would be much argument that US auto industry has its work cut out. It will not be an easy task to remove the perception that greed and lack of foresight were major contributors in its demise.

I would probably need to write a novel to chronicle the rise and fall. However, that isn't the purpose of this entry. Methinks the recurring theme of executive compensation is the subject that seems to rub most people. Obviously this applies to many industries not simply US automakers.

When Chrysler was nearly bankrupt circa 1970's, Iaccoca made the symbolic gesture of accepting a $1.00 for his annual salary. While I have no idea what sort of compensation package Iaccoca landed as CEO of Chrysler, I would venture to guess he would be fine with a buck for 1yr salary. The gesture sent a message to Congress that he was confident that his company would survive.

The irony is that nearly 40yrs later the big 3, err I mean Big 2.5 find themselves in a similar pickle. All 3 CEOs were asked the same question. Take a buck, save your industry, show a bit of humility. There is no doubt that all 3 are well paid, so it truly would be a symbolic gesture at best. The former Boeing exec was the only CEO that was reluctant to accept the $1.00. It does appear that he has changed his tune recently.
Clearly, I was miffed by his statement of, "I'm good".. Indeed, the symbolic gesture would've have sent a clear message to the troops, but he failed miserably.

Now there are caravans heading to DC, combined with a more strategic plan for recovery. Let's hope its not three weeks too late and a dollar short. More on this later.

Brand Yu (Revisited)

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a discussion about branding self. If any of you have a marketing sense, you'll note that branding is normally attributed to inanimate objects. Products which can be purchased or sold. Apply this concept to the value of human capital, you then of something called Brand Yu. It does seem that this sort of conversation has gained huge momentum over the past 5-10 years. Why is that? I really don't have an answer to this question, but I would imagine it could possibly be related slumping economy, and the disproportionate numbers of people not taking advantage of life offerings.

One item that confuses me. What is the difference between a Brand Yu proponent and Life Coach? At the surface, it would seem that both would propose similar strategies of realizing the vast potential in self. Perhaps Hajj, could help me answer this question.

Regarding the talk, it was compelling. Many of the strategies that were recommended were common sense methodologies of helping to push your cream to the top. In other words, discovering the main adjectives which define your personal brand. Once you've identified your personal life statement, develop a strategy to help manifest that vision. You'll likely see an escape from that dead-end job. I'm not going to regurgitate all of the key points of this discussion; however, there was one interesting workshop.

Two volunteers were called to the front of the auditorium. Both were tasked with passionately describing some product. One person was given a Crackberry the other some Aquafina.
They had to convince the audience in 10min or less, the value of that product. Why must you have that addictive electronic device or that $1.50 bottle of water. Afterwards, they were tasked with providing the same passionate sales pitch about themselves. Why must you hire me? What is my value proposition? This was rather interesting. People typically fumble when tasked with this sort of question. Especially an impromptu challenge.

Lastly, I thought it odd that the speaker did not have a website. Methinks that your virtual brand is at least as important as your physical one. Secondly, the speaker did not wish to share their presentation. No hard copy or digital copy. Perhaps she was worried that her brand would be threatened? Odd indeed.. If your brand is strong it is also distinct and cannot be duplicated. Am I wrong?

What will become of the OLPC Project?

Nicholas Negroponte is an engaging figure. I still recall reading his foreword in the text "Unleashing The Killer App Digital Strategies for Market Dominance"
This particular passage in the foreword caught my attention, "Sometimes, looking straight ahead - even with the most dedicated attention and seasoned experience -- just misses both the big picture and the new ideas, because they often come at you from those outlying areas affectionately called "left field."

Given Negroponte's business savvy, I'm somewhat surprised that he appears to have been naive in the face of hostile competition in the form of the Intel and ASUS sub-level notebook computers.
At first glance it appears that it did not occur to him that these companies would seek to compete against a very small, privately funded non-profit project.

Let me preface my critique with the following: I am a staunch advocate of the OLPC. I believe that Negroponte provided the XO as means of leveling the playing field for developing nations. It was obvious that he did not believe that anyone really cared about the providing computing power for needy countries and the millions of children in those areas. Methinks that he could have garnered even more support by providing a comparable effort stateside, as we have children at risk in urban centers across this country. More on this later.

As stated earlier, there were some fatal flaws in the OLPC strategy, was under estimation of greed and perhaps an understanding of how difficult it is to truly achieve economies of scale in manufacturing a product. Let us discuss greed for a moment. Intel was very bitter that Negroponte opted to use AMD CPU. Perhaps even larger was it obvious omission of that Redmond OS. We know the WinTel model is predominant in the industry, but has little uptake in the sub-$400 notebook/laptop market.

It would appear that Intel secretly or maybe not so-secretly wanted to crush the OLPC campaign because they dared not to use their hardware or even consult their engineering team prior to building out the XO prototypes. Negroponte thought wrongly that Intel would not use its experienced manufacturing might to undercut the OLPC pricing structure. To make matters worse, I would also venture to guess that Intel, ASUS, and OLPC are sharing suppliers because the laptop computing space is a highly marginalized business. Not exactly dog food, but you get the idea.

Who are the Millennials?

People seem to come up with most interesting labels generations of people. My peer group has been classified as Generation X. Actually, I happen to like that term, as the memory of the magnificent Malcolm X re-emerged during the early 90's. In reality, that is not what Gen X actually represents to marketing types. The chart below compares some of the attributes of GenX with the Millennials (aka Gen Y).

Millennials and Gen X

It also appears that the marketing community has not settled into the exact year these Millenials would have been born. I have also seen 1977-1992 (courtesy of Brody Communications, Ltd.) During a recent trip to my alma mater, our recruiting team was briefed about the specific differences in this new generation group.

The idea was to make sure we knew what made these potential prospects tick.
Much of this humored me, as the Generation X (my generation) was said to be lost and unlikely to change the world.
Not by the marketing giants, but the media conglomerates and some disgruntled educators. Methinks it's too early to tell. Besides according to the book, Millionaire Mind, the best ideas typically come at 50. I am far from 50..

Anyway, getting back to this group called the Millennials. Curiously, I would not have met many of them without the help of the Internet and Social Networking. I suppose that this is not unusual, as I am no longer in school or living in area which is in close proximity to a university. Most of Gen Y people I have met have been very sharp and quite engaging. Are they as technically acute as the marketers suggest, I am not so sure. Suffice to say that they are very fortunate to have an abundance of computing power that simply did not exist when I was coming up. All we had was real Hip-Hop and crack rock :)

Since the marketers have made their assertions about what Millennials prefer. I figure that I should be entitled to my own.

  • Digg over Slashdot
  • Social over Anti-Social
  • Virtual over Physical

I am sure that I have got this totally wrong, but it was worth a shot..

Product features lost in the translation..

Recently a friend in my LinkedIn professional network quizzed me about spurious messages which landed in his LinkedIn inbox. The natural reaction to spurious, unsolicited mail is to treat it as spam. I explained to my friend (with great detail) that these messages were not spam, but instead a new feature offered by LinkedIn called Answers. Unfortunately, this confusion could have been mitigated if LinkedIn marketing or product team would have advised its users of new features in the pipeline.

I am not picking on LinkedIn, as many companies are challenged to provide clear communication, especially in the social networking community. Features seem to be added each day (ie Facebook), and if you do not use the application regularly, it is easy to miss something. Having said this, what recommendations could be offered to prevent this problem in the future?

Well it appears that LinkedIn has a product blog and the LinkedIn application does make use of RSS feeds. Perhaps there could be a method to push down news to its end-users? This sort of strategy is common in Open Source space. For instance, Last.fm, 6-Apart, and Facebook offer inline widgets that include upcoming product feature enhancements. This information would clue people into the new changes coming on the horizon. Maybe the end-user could be given the chance to opt-out if they did not wish to participate?

I happen to like the Answer feature because it allows me to leverage my network to resolve concerns or technical problems. It essentially gives you access to subject matter experts within your network or outside your immediate network. I suppose if you did not know about the feature, one could easily misconstrue the information as spam. Dunno... Perhaps the message collection design should not be named 'inbox' as it immediately reminds people of email. These are good use cases for LinkedIn developers to explore. Hopefully they re-evaluate these issues before they go public with their forthcoming IPO.

Bottom line, though it is commonplace for end-users to discover new features on their own. Methinks companies should bear the burden of educating and informing the user community about feature enhancements and possible repercussions. It may not be advantageous for people to discover by accident. Especially if their first introduction to an application is not a favorable one. Not sure but it is possible, that my friend may never appreciate the LinkedIn Answers utility due his first impression.

Perhaps the broader question is how many other people in my LinkedIn network thought I was sending out unsolicited spam??

Outstanding questions for James McGovern

I am totally immersed in a very thought provoking text, entitled the "The World is Flat", written by Thomas L. Friedman. Why have I been captivated with the burgeoning global economy and the perceived aftermath? I suppose that as a technical person, who has a background in classical engineering, I take great interest in matters which directly involve the technical community. In particular, if Friedman's claims are accurate, these global changes or 'levelers' will have a great affect on the middle class. Yes, I consider myself part of the new middle.

Regarding Mr. McGovern, he had recently presented me with a round of questioning, I thought it only appropriate that I continue the dialogue with a question of my own.
How are you preparing yourself for the "new middle" ? In fact, it does seem that McGovern is uniquely qualified to address such a question, considering that his industry is especially challenged with the flattening as described by Friedman. This site Backsourcing and these: article I and article II were excellent sources.

Close Followers and the proverbial cash cow

BCG_Matrix_with_products-small_png.png

Thought provoking dialogue on Dare's space. I suppose you can find meaningful bits there on a occasion. It appears that the common "Innovators Dilemma" argument is even more pervasive and can be easily applied to the digital realm. In fact, we have several contemporary examples from which to choose.

  • USPS vs. Email
  • Napster vs. Recording Industry
  • Microsoft vs. FOSS

You could also add the US auto industry to that mix as well. At its premise, most would agree that you innovate only when necessary. At least this what I have studied in all of my product development text books. The conundrum is that the longer you milk that cash cow or the product which your business owns tremendous market share, eventually you run the risk of losing a competitive advantage in other scarce markets. Although, the sector which your cash cow dominates has limited competition, it is unlikely that your edge will be eternal. The moment innovators enter that space, they will eat your lunch.

There are many reasons for limited competitors in a particular market space:

a) Minimal growth opportunities
b) Technology cruft
c) Monopolistic practices

Although, I discovered the Napster phenomenon quite late, it was arguably the most disruptive technology to surface in quite sometime. It essentially, spawned several other P2P networks and destroyed a very flawed music industry cost and distribution model. The whole copyright argument annoys me. There is more discussion here.
Regarding digital media and copyright. I would highly recommend Dr. Lessig's, "Free Culture" text to anyone who wants to understand the impact of P2P filesharing and it relationship or lack thereof to decreased CD music sales.

Clearly, software patents and copyright have the potential to stifle technology innovation. Worse yet, it can be used a FUD tool to coerce. It seems that Redmond has been rattling their patent sabre a great deal lately. I am still waiting to see the source code. I'll save that discussion for another time.

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