Time Management in the Information Age

Time is the limiting factor of all people, rich or poor.  No matter how successful you are, there will always be 24 hours in a day.  However, it seems that as our technology takes leaps and bounds the amount of time we have shifts.  We can accomplish things more quickly, accessing and assessing information.  We also seem to have less time.  We are reachable all the time and more is expected of us because of the gadgets we have.

Then the real question is: What is the best way to manage our time in the Information Age?

Some people like Lewis Cardin believe that the day should be partitioned into to address different groups.  For example, 30% of your spent dealing with external obligations like clients and vendors.  Then, 30% should be dealt handling with internal matters such as payroll, and employee matters.  The next 30% could be used to handle production. Finally, the last 10% should be spent on yourself.  Lunch anyone?

Of course these percentages are flexible and will vary day-to-day.  However, the general proportions are sound.  So now you have an overarching theme to your business day.  Do we have any tips for the specifics of time management?  Of course we do.

One issue that I’ve personally had are calls that go on too long.  To deal with this, I take a minute before dialing and decide my goal.  Is it to network or get certain information?  It’ll help to know when to terminate the call.  If you have multiple objectives, perhaps you can find a way to group similar ones together and space out your calls.  If you get into the habit of this, people on the other end might actually be more apt to help you since they know you aren’t call with a dozen different issues. This tip works best when dealing with another small business.

E-mails are fast becoming the more preferred form of communication.  It’s instant and leaves a record of what was said.  The tendency is the usually to answer them as quickly as possible.  For internal e-mails, setting up a system of priority is essential.  That way, you can deal with low-mid priority e-mails in one concentrated sitting.  It’s more efficient and you’ll be dragged away from work less.  To learn more about getting a company e-mail server set up click here.

A final word on time management in the Information Age is to accept limits.  All this wonderful technology won’t add more hours to the day.  In the end, you have to succumb to the knowledge that you can’t get everything done today.

The Long Telecommute to Work

A recent survey down by Florida based company Protech showed that 28% of IT professionals listed flex time as their number one perk.  The study goes on to suggest that some employees with take a cut in pay or even their health insurance in order to telecommute.

The thinking is that if workers don’t have to spend time in traffic, they can spend more time doing the things they want to do like spending time with their families.  That in turn would lead to less stress and increased productivity. Yet most companies would consider telecommuting a benefit to be earned after trust is established. It all boils down to a situation of here vs. there.  Where are your IT professionals needed, here in office or there offsite?

One company, Oil States International has decided that thisis more important.  All of their IT staff telecommunicates.  Their business deals in oil and gas which is geographically dispersed.  In this instance, it makes more sense for workers to deal with IT problems in the field, then return home to log reports.

Furthermore, most IT industry observers predict the complete takeover of lights-out facilities, or data centers without any on-site staff.  The decrease in cost is believed to outweigh the problems of having nobody there.

One of the largest problems to surmount is continuity.  If something breaks on the factory floor, then it’s probably best that someone be there in person to handle it.  Security is another problem.  How do you ensure that your employees have a secure remote access to your network?  How do you make sure that your employees are on task?  Will this even work for your business?

There are some easy steps to help optimize a telecommuting employee.  One is to ensure that they have a separate room devoted to work.  It should be a more sterile environment that isn’t cluttered with personal effects.

These employees should also have adequate bandwidth for videoconferencing, uploading, and accepting large files.  And finally, there should be a plan in place if telecommuting is not possible.

For example, if the power goes down, what is this employee supposed to do?  There should be a place they can relocate to in order to get back to work.  Or, if that is not possible, they should have devices at hand to securely store data.


IT and the Customer Experience

In the world of free enterprise being better than your the competition is the name of the game.  However, how do you measure better?  Price is a major factor, but that’s often out of your control.  Quality of goods is another facet; however, you and competition have access to the same manufactures so that’s wash.  What can you do?

You could provide a superior customer experience.  What’s that you ask?  Well according to Adam Richardson of the Harvard Business Review, customer experience is essentially the interaction between you and your customers.

This includes everything from face-to-face meetings, ad views and when a customer pursues your website.  All these areas of interaction are call touchpoints and they are an element that you have control over.

Well, how can an IT consultant help you with that?  A simple example within your brick-and-mortar store is setting up an Easypay account so people can pay with their smartphones.

Another simple example is logging onto a social networking site and seeing what everyone is talking about.  If everyone is talking about the big game, it might be time push certain merchandise.

A little more forward thinking and investor heavy is seeking out new in-store technology.  Walmart has been planning on deploying new near field communication technology.  The idea is giving their customers more ready access to information about the products they are viewing.

Though I believe they may be developing this convenience so they control what information their shoppers first see. Caveat Emptor!

RIM Circling the Drain?

Research in Motion over the past decade has become a household name with their iconic product, the Blackberry. The company essentially created the first mass market smart phone. They have 19 billion units out there. However, this past darling of the market is now facing trouble, possibly destruction. RIM made several missteps creating their first revenue shortfall in nine years. The first of which was that their last few models of smart phones were less than impressive. RIM’s Playbook tablet was dead on release and a complete waste of money and talent. Finally, the death blow may come from an impending law suit from Dutch chip maker NXP Semiconductor.

From a business perspective, accessibility to information is key for a smart phone. This is both about quickly getting the information and displaying it. That translates to processing power and screen size. For this we should compare the Blackberry Torch to the iPhone 4. The iPhone screen has the Blackberry beat by .3 inches and nearly double the resolution. And in processing power the Torch CPU has a speed of 624 MHz while the iPhone pulls ahead again with 1 GHz (1000 MHz). Apple also has the advantage compared to the Blackberry in terms of multi-use. The sheer number applications for iPhone makes it seem like the land of milk and honey compared to Blackberry’s desolate wasteland. Blackberry does have an advantage. It has the greater business prestige. Apple products have a more niche appeal and sometimes have the connotation of being a shiny toy. But that all went away when they tried to enter the tablet arena against the iPad.

RIM’s Playbook is something I’ve only read about. That’s not a good sign. I’ve never held a Playbook or even seen one. According the Canadian Research and Development Intelligence, RIM spent 1.4 billion dollars in R&D in 2010. And with that, they came up with the Playbook. It was originally priced at 499 dollars, matching the price of Apple’s iPad 2. Like the Torch against the iPhone, the Playbook was less powerful, smaller and had weaker a battery life against its opponents. Sales didn’t pick up until RIM decided lowering the price to $199. RIM has cited weak Playbook sales as the reason for the fiscal troubles. If that’s true, then they have only themselves to blame. They rolled out an inferior product to their competitors and priced it the same. That initial mistake soured the market for the Playbook. There is one silver lining: Playbook is doing well in India, but that will not be enough. RIM’s problems don’t stop there. The threats are not only internal.

On top of all their other issues, Dutch chip maker NXP Semiconductor is suing RIM over six patent infringements. Should they win the case, they will add to the already 125 million dollar quarterly loss for RIM. It might be a death blow to the smart phone company. It’s difficult to shake bad press, especially when sales are down. The two CEOs of RIM have even vowed to take salaries of one dollar a year until the company is back in good financial straits. That can be taken as a sign that company leadership will do what it takes to solve their major problems, but that also proclaims that there are major problems to be solves. The press is filled with CEOs paying themselves massive bonuses while their companies post record losses. What does that say about RIM when their CEOs won’t even take a paycheck?

Research in Motion is in trouble, but they’re not dead. There are things the company can do to remedy or at least mitigate the situation. One idea is that they shelve the Blackberry OS and switch to the less costly Android. It would allow them access to Android’s stable market. The down side is that it would put them in contest with larger phone manufactures like Samsung and HTC. However, retooling themselves for a broader, lower end market, maybe what they need. They could go the Nokia route and partner with someone, anyone who can bring in a fresh infusion of capital and new ideas. A third and less appealing option would be to die gracefully: Sell what’s left, lease out patents, and ensure that their talent secure jobs elsewhere before fading away. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they do something. Staying the course will only bring a chaotic and spasmodic end.

The Drawbacks of BYOD

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device practices have been on the rise. This is the policy where employees are required to bring their own devices to work. It ranges from buying your own mobile phone to replacing a traditional workstation with a personal laptop. At first, the policy may be attractive to employers. There is cost cutting because it places the burden on employees to purchase their own devices as well as lowering IT support costs because employees can maintain their own equipment. It also allows employees to personalize their work style, using devices that they enjoy. However, there are disadvantages to adopting a BYOD policy. Security is a greater concern. A BYOD policy might actually lower productivity. Finally, IT costs may actually increase to support such a myriad of devices.

With smart phones and laptops replacing traditional desktop workstations, data can easily move in and out of the company. It’s simple to see how this is a security concern. Some devices are more secure than others. Companies need to think ahead and create procedures for how, when and where employees can access proprietary data and applications. This may cause a greater demand for thin client machines, devices that have all their application run off the cloud rather than kept on their hard drives. It may be cheaper to have a standard secure cloud that everyone accesses rather than have a dozen security protocols for as many devices, however appealing having a personal device is.

Employees usually like BYOD because they feel more comfortable with their own devices. These personal devices afford them more freedom because they can work at home and at the office. That blending might not be the most healthy. We’ve all heard of the Blackberry addiction, where employees are constantly connected to work. The bleeding between work and personal lives can work in the reverse direction too. Personal devices have not just work but leisure applications as well. It’d be easy to switch between different the aspects of our lives. A lack of focus is a problem that many people deal with, and it may get worse as our mobile devices distract us from the task at hand be it work or at home.

BYOD, at first named the consumeration of enterprise, started at the higher level. Executives wanted to use their own devices when with clients. These executives are demanding that their IT departments manage the maintenance of their devices and as BYOD spreads to a company’s rank and file, everyone else will as well. It’s one of the few instances where trickle down has been observed. Today, there are literally dozens of brands of smart phones and laptops. They have thousands of combinations of features. IT departments are often tasked with servicing them all while in the workplace. That’s a daunting task. A different set of tools and skills are needed to fix an iPad as opposed to an tablet that runs on Android. IT staffs may need to be augmented in order accommodate, increasing costs.

The American office job used to invoke images of hundreds of a gray cubicles with workers tapping away on identical computers. Now, there is a little more variety. Every company is handling it differently. To some it’s a headache and to others it’s a boon. It all comes down to company philosophy. Is it conformity or solidarity? Is it personalization or lack of focus?

The Value of VOIP for Small Business – Part Two.

In today’s blog, we continue our look at VOIP, and how it can help Small Business.

The cost of VOIP:

Third party cost analysis has proven that VOIP is easily the most cost-effective phone solution for small business.  The reasons are simple: rather than a complex infrastructure, all phones run over the Internet, and are easily scaled up or down.  The ease of VOIP solutions also means there are not big personnel costs during the installation, maintenance or upgrades of the phone systems.

ShoreTel, in their marketing materials, report that most of their customers see return on investment in the first year of the purchase.

VOIP and reliability:

Many small business owners who don’t utilize VOIP cite reliability as a factor: If the Internet goes down, their perception is that your phones go down too – which would be catastrophic for any business.

While it’s true that Internet software solutions like Skype are vulnerable to outages, we’re glad to report that this perception is not reality with many VOIP providers.

For instance, ShoreTel’s systems offer 99.999% availability.  Furthermore, in the case of Internet failure, the phone system simply switches over to a regular Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) – the transfer is seamless, and business does not suffer.

In Conclusion:

VOIP has come a long way since its roots in the early 2000s.  Adoption is becoming very broad, and modern VOIP solutions are lauded by businesses for their flexibility, power, reliability – and impact on the bottom line.