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2013

It dawned on me today as I was thinking about another topic that there is a continuous thread throughout the majority of my discussions and that thread is a focus on continuous improvement.  Then as I thought a little more I started to realize just how pervasive the continuous improvement practice or framework  is across the vast majority of my activities, I realized that continuous improvement is a lifestyle or a way of life.  The really interesting aspect of this epiphany is that its such a natural process or practice that I’m surprised that I didn’t think about this before.  So its time to embrace and accept the fact and all its benefits.


I’ve talked so much lately about including a continuous improvement program, or framework in all of the initiatives I’ve been promoting; from the extended supply chain community to a skills training program that I fell a little like Mojo Nixon when he wrote the song ‘Elvis is Everywhere’!  I’ve been feeling a little simple lately in my discussions; thinking that I’m sounding like a broken record always bringing up continuous improvement.  Then I participated in a ISO / IEC 20000 certification training program and that’s when I realized that its not just me!  Throughout this training essentially each industry framework we discussed included a continuous improvement program.


From Deming's lowly beginning quality framework of ‘Plan Do Check Act’ we've progressed to a virtually  unlimited thesaurus of words and phrases that redefine the ‘Plan Do Check Act’ framework into the same basic concepts.   The results of these ‘new’ frameworks is that whole new industries have been created to teach, provide certification programs and develop global standards, standards organizations, certification organizations that require regular re-certification  


Now for my counter argument, or response to my cynical comments.  This is not all one sided, there are benefits to the market that are realized from these efforts; an accepted method to measure and assure business partners and clients of the capabilities.  The critical benefit realized is that these frameworks provide a means to ensure your customers that you have embraced a method to deliver standard and repeatable processes in an effective and efficient manner to your business clients.  This can provide a differentiating factor to your services and reputation and a certification for one of the highly recognized standards can bring a level of confidence and prestige to your brand. 


There is a virtual alphabet soup of standards and frameworks, each with its own language and acronyms that on the surface would seem like the conflict but in reality they all support each other.  Here is what I see as the critical point to this; in order to succeed and prosper we have reached the point where you must practice repeatable processes that effectively and efficiently deliver services to your customers.  The industry certifications provide a means to confirm that you have implemented a set of standards to manage and deliver your services.  This is something like a college degree, when you think about it; the certification provides a level of comfort and confirmation in the beginning of your business relationship development with new customers, just like your college degree provides confirmation of your personal education.  It assures your customers that you have a recognized and audited standards and procedures to deliver your services, which allows you to focus on how your services catalog can support your new customers more effectively and efficiently than your competition.


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


How many different industry frameworks can you list that deliver a continuous improvement program?

I will wrap up my discussion on the skills gap with this entry, so let me recap briefly my proposals and then I will discuss the repercussions of doing nothing.  My proposal, or more accurately, theory is that we are reaching a point in labor management software and forecasting capabilities which will allow more precise labor forecasting and planning.  This is not news, in fact it has been written about for a while now.  The challenge comes about when you identify the gap in the current skill levels  of your staff and the skill levels necessary to efficiently support the improved forecasting capabilities the labor management software provides.


I think the coming challenge will drive a paradigm shift in the way that your staff is managed and developed.  Playing into this paradigm shift, and actually pushing it along is the improvements in the economy and reductions in the unemployment rates.  The high unemployment since the recession has provided companies with a workforce with higher skills and more plentiful than will be available as the economy, and the employment, improves.  Companies must plan for these changes now to give them a chance of maintaining their staff and retaining the best people, in other words I think that companies must start treating their staff as the important assets they are.  This should be treated as the cost savings initiative that it is.  To be blunt, it is cheaper to retain your current staff than it is to recruit new staff. 


It is important to start changing now because you must build the needs evaluation and the training programs to develop your staff.  You must also start now so that you can establish the positive aspects and relationships with your staff.  Staff turnover does not occur because of a single event, staff turnover occurs based on a series of negative events that occur over time.  Without a focused effort to improve your work environment you could experience serious loss of staff along with the skills necessary to support your business.  I think you would agree that the last thing you want happen is a loss of capabilities at the time when the economy and your business are beginning to turn around.You must show your staff that you are serious about the program and that can only be done over time.  Of course in order to show your staff that you are serious you will need the time to prove yourself.  The time and effort will provide a very positive return on your investment.


This can provide early positive returns by involving your staff in the initiative which will show you value their input.  You can start on the initiative by surveying your staff to identify the current base level and from there you can you can begin to identify the gap between current skill levels and the desired state.  You should also enlist the input and guidance from your top performers from each work function.  You can currently identify your top performers using the metrics available in your current labor management software or practices.  Start this effort to identify and enlist your top performers in each work function today.  You should also think about assigning your top performers to this initiative full time; while you would lose their performance during their assignment, just think what the impact to your operation would be if these top performers could each train four of their colleagues to perform and that same high level?  In addition to the improved performance in the operation you would gain a great deal of staff good will by showing you value their abilities so much that you want to teach others the same skills. 


You can see, I hope, that while this is by no means a tactical approach, the potential benefits could have a dramatic and long lasting effect on both your operational performance and your staff retention levels. 


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have you identified your top performers in each work function?

In my last entry I discussed the skills gap between your staff’s current skills and the skills necessary to  take the next steps in your distribution center productivity improvements efforts.  This is the gap that can materialize with the introduction of improvements in labor management software that will allow you to forecast your labor needs in addition to tracking the actual performance of your staff.  In that entry I focused on the positive aspects and benefits you will gain through implementation of these capabilities that are coming.  The point I was trying to convey in the entry is that you must prepare for the improvements in forecasting and planning your staff so that you can achieve the benefits because its the right thing to do and investing in your staff should be viewed in the same way as capital hardware and software investments.


I received a response to the post from a reader that reminded me that I only focused on the positive aspects in that post.  The reader went on to provide some very good risks or challenges the the initiative that highlight the care you must take in promoting the initiative and I want to that her for thoughtful comments.  The following list of challenges were provided and I want to share;

  • Some people do not like or want change.
  • Some people will struggle even with training to do another role.
  • Less commitment/ownership to roles.
  • Reduced quality/performance.
  • Increased staff turnover.
  • Potential increase in sick time taken by staff.
  • Positive working atmosphere diminishes.


As you can see these are very valid risks that can be encountered in most major change initiatives, but just because they are concerns for any major change initiative does not mean they are not serious and the signs must be monitored to address and resolve quickly.  Any one of these issues could poison and doom your initiative and the challenge is that these issues have a tendency to multiply and snowball once they start.


So, it comes down to the necessity to treat this staff training program as you would any other change initiative. 


Now let me bring up one more point, or reason, why you should plan, and even start, this initiative now rather than later.  I guess you can say its a ‘good news / bad news’ kind of a story because there are factors influencing this opportunity.  So, let me jump into the factors;

  • The economy is improving and this includes improving employment and reductions in unemployment.
  • Your easy access to staffing will start to dry up due to the improving economy and reductions in unemployment.  This will take a while to materialize, of course, but it will materialize.


I think you can see what I mean about ‘good news / bad news’; with the economy improving (‘good news’) you will have a harder time staffing (‘bad news’).  The reason for my suggestions to focus on improving your staff skills is because I believe that focusing on improving your staff’s skills can be the first step in developing a strong staffing retention program and becoming an employer of choice.  This will protect you from the challenges that will be materializing as the economy continues to improve.  This will also protect the investments you have already made in your staff.


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have your identified the skills gap of your staff to the skills need of your operation?

I’ve been thinking more about staff flexibility and the needs or desires of organizations to improve productivity.  Software and improvements in data handling capabilities and big data have converged with the drive to improve productivity to provide the information to efficiently and effectively forecast and plan the staffing and optimize the throughput of the product in the distribution center.  With the improvements in forecasting and planning along with improvements in labor management software combined with the ability to capture and manipulate the large amount of data the new and improved labor management software can optimize your staffing needs by activity easily down to the hour.  just imagine the increase in productivity right?


The challenge to achieving these improvements is your staff skills gap.  The skills gap is the difference between the skills needed to optimize your distribution center to its fullest extent and the current skills of your staff.  Only so much of this gap can be closed with technology or material handling equipment, however.  The challenge, and the decision you must make, is how can you efficiently and effectively train your staff to provide the flexibility required to allow you to increase your productivity and throughput?  In order to meet this challenge you must invest in your staff by way of training, and in order to maintain and grow the staff expertise  you must maintain and continue your investment and plan for it as a cost of doing business, like utilities.


There are many benefits that can be achieved from your investment including;

  • Increased staffing flexibility and capabilities that will allow you to increase productivity and workload throughput.
  • Improved staff retention and  a reduction in hiring and on-boarding costs.
  • Ability to flex lower skill activities and even develop an entry level new hire program to develop a staff pipeline and career path.


This type of training and staffing program is not magic and does not require special skills to begin with, however, it does require continuity and consistency and focus in order to be successful.  I suggest you treat this as you would any other improvement program.  Its kind of funny, in a sad way, that companies will invest in capital hardware and software and then continue with regular maintenance and support costs to ensure the longevity of their investment, but they hesitate when it comes to investments in their staff.  This is a shortsighted view and will only end up costing more in the long run. 


I would have suggested just a few years ago that the investment in a training staff would be a cost efficient long term investment.  Now though I’ve come to realize that this is a better opportunity for an outsourcing arrangement.  This would provide you with the ability to cost effectively provide your staff with the training required to support the changing needs of your business without the cost of maintaining your own internal training staff.  Think about the benefits and the improved efficiencies for your business model; you can schedule and pay for only the training that you need, you won’t have to maintain the overhead of training staff and maintenance of training material and skills evaluations to measure your staff’s abilities and identify the specific training needs.


Now you just need to go out and find a training partner to help you get started!


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have your identified the skills gap of your staff to the skills need of your operation?

I’ve been writing a lot recently about tools and methods to develop, nurture and grow your extended supply chain collaborative community and I thought it would be appropriate to discuss potential short cuts to achieving these goals.  First of all let me say that I firmly believe that the best and most beneficial option to developing a robust collaborative community is to ‘grow your own’.  This strategy allows you to develop a highly focused and robust distributed community that is for all intents and purposes self healing.  This strategy allows you take full advantage of your partners capabilities, strengths and research.  However there is another option that should be evaluated; using a third party such as freight forwarder, or large carrier to provide a portal to begin building your collaborative community.


Why would I suggest evaluating an option that does not provide the optimum solution?  Simply because of speed to market.  There can be a lot of benefits to putting something into place as quickly as possible so that you can begin to build the community and collect information to support your community.  There’s also something to be said for starting with a generic, or vendor solution that provides you benefits early on while you continue to experiment with tools and partner connectivity.  It allows you to begin to validate the mutual benefits that can be achieved with your collaborative community.  This approach also gives you the opportunity to benefit from the experience of your third party community portal provider. 


In order for this approach to work for your long term objectives you must take a couple of steps first;

  • Define an initial and quick implementation schedule for your portal.
  • Define a short evaluation cycle to allow you to quickly evaluate the processes, identify improvement and implement the improvements.
  • Define your transition period to your own extended supply chain collaborative community. 


In order to succeed you must define what success means to you and in this case you must collaborate with your supply chain community to define the success.  Implementing the steps I outlined above will help you to  instill a process and measurements to increase the opportunity for your success.  In addition, implementing the steps I outlined above will help you contain your engagement with your third party portal provider and help to ensure that you are focused on developing your distributed collaborative community (I need to think of a term for this obviously!).


This approach is also an especially fitting match for the social eco-system.  This eco-system is immature and continuously changing and improving.  This type of eco-system lends itself especially well to an approach that embraces the potential throw-away, or complete replacement of the solution.  This eco-system and the opportunities that develop from it can be very invigorating to your community and you should embrace the changes rather than isolating or ignoring the changes.  In fact, I think you should plan on completing reevaluating your tools utilization every 6 months to ensure that your community does not stagnate.


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have you evaluated your carriers, freight forward partners or freight expeditors for their potential community solutions?  Many of these partners will provide the capabilities for no charge as an added value to the services they already provide.  There is a common belief among service providers that bundling services increases the likelihood you will remain a customer.

tbrouill

Thoughts at Large 

Posted by tbrouill Jan 20, 2013

I have been thinking about a few different things and concepts recently that may not warrant a long discussion and I want to cover them in a group with the potential, and hope, to extend the conversation based on level of interest.  These cover many things from labor management to market trends with very little relationship to each other.  This is a new feature for me that I will continue based on opportunity.  In other words, as I either come across an interesting idea or as I think of points in my meanders I will jot them down and come back periodically to briefly discuss.  So my inaugural entry I will cover labor management and new market trends in industry literature.


Let me start with labor management thoughts based on measurement and productivity improvements.  We’ve reached a point where between technology and software tools along with productivity improvements that your workforce labor activities can be tracked and planned to fractions of hours.  This is really a marriage of the improvements in forecast planning and improvements in labor tracking that brings about dramatic improvements in labor forecasting and planning.  A contributing factor to the success of this marriage is the improvements in technology that allow for analysis of large amounts of information from many different places in very short time frames.  What you do with this information is the challenge; since you will have the ability to forecast labor needs at a much more granular level than in the past.  I see a couple of choices in this regard;

  • Develop a more flexible staff that can support the multiple activities within your facility in order to shift across activities during the day to meet the forecasted volumes.
  • Depend on a very flexible part time staff that can be scheduled on a daily basis to support your forecast capacity needs.


I think the most successful long term choice is the first choice because it develops your staff and develops the commitment of your staff.  These are two things that can be differentiating factors in your market.  The choice, obviously is not so simple and there are many factors that you must take into account in your decision, along with any seasonal types of labor requirements.  As happens most often there will probably be a combination of the two choices that are right for your situation and the choices will change as your forecasts change.


On to the next topic, recently I’ve noticed an uptick in the discussion topics of the social supply chain in the industry literature and even webinars on the topic.  I find this interesting for two reasons;

  • It means that the social supply chain community concept and practice is gaining acceptance in the market. 
  • It is a validation and acceptance of the topics that I’ve been discussing in may blog now for over a year.


The most interesting articles that I’ve seen cover the benefits aspects that I have also been discussing.  The key point that these researchers and industry writers highlight is that your supply chain social community activities should not require hard benefits at least while you are developing the capabilities.  Now, I guess, its should not be too much longer before the industry starts to discuss the extended supply chain social community and how to develop.  Its nice to receive the validation!

 

In this discussion I want to expand on my thoughts that I started earlier regarding taking advantage of your extended supply chain partners research and their improvement programs.  The concept that I discussed was related to a major ‘soft’ benefit of the extended supply chain community - the opportunity to learn from your extended partners in your community the benefits and capabilities of tools they use to support collaboration and their business processes.  I believe that this can be one of the greatest benefits to developing a collaborative community; the opportunity to share in the experiences, research and extended capabilities to expand the reach of your extended supply chain community.


I call the concept that I am contemplating a ‘Three Dimensional Community Improvement Program’ and the reason why I came to this conclusion is that there are three distinct stakeholders:

  • Internal partners that are within your own organization.  These are your internal business partners that have both a relationship with you as the internal supply chain and IT organization and they also have in many cases a direct relationship with your external partners in th collaborative community.
  • External partners outside your organization.  These are your external business or technology partners that have a relationship with you as the internal supply chain and IT organization and they too would have direct relationships with your internal business partners.
  • Last,but certainly not least, is yourself (the combination of the supply chain and IT organization).  I’ve combined these two organizations into one stakeholder because I think of the supply chain organization as the ‘owners’ of the collaborative community and the IT organization supports these activities.


The critical factor, or the secret sauce, to the success of your collaborative community is the commitment of the members of the community to the success of the community, over any petty fears or suspicions of the commitment of all of the members of the community.  In order for the Three Dimensional Improvement Program to be successful for your extended supply chain community each member must be committed to the mutually beneficial capabilities and opportunities that can be achieved.  This is so important that I strongly believe that it can mean the long term success to all members and the community or a painful spiral for the members to a failure of the community at large.


This requires accepting the concept that benefits and opportunities should be encouraged and supported across the entire membership of your extended supply chain community.  Remember the history of the Internet and the social community explosion - ideas, concepts and tools are constantly brought together and destroyed in the social community eco-system and you can never tell where, or when the next breakthrough concept will come from.  One of the strengths of your extended supply chain community is the diversity it represents, remember to take advantage and even encourage the diversity, take a leap of faith in trusting your partners both outwardly and inwardly and you may be surprised at the opportunities that ‘materialize’.


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have you identified a method to incorporate your partners continuous improvement programs into your own program?   If you have, what kind of benefits to expect to achieve?


Do you have a method, or a supported objective to research new tools and capabilities on the market?

In my last discussion I spoke of the importance of maintaining the pieces of your puzzle which are the software tools.  I consider this a very important topic because of the continuous changes in your business, your extended supply chain collaborative community and your software tools.  In this juncture of the collaborative and communication tools available you can no longer implement the tool and forget about it until you replace it some years down the road.  The reasons for this a many but a couple key reasons are the cost of doing nothing and the technical proficiency of both your internal and external partners.


I’ve been thinking about these challenges and I’ve come to the conclusion that your tools should be included in your continuous improvements process.  This will allow you to evaluate the capabilities of your current toolset while you are evaluating your processes in order to ensure that you are utilizing your tools capabilities for your changing processes.  It only makes sense that as your business processes change you may need to utilize new features and functionality of your tools.  In addition, even if your business process does not change, the tool capabilities may change to meet your business needs more efficiently. 


As I mentioned, another factor or force driving your tools and capabilities are your internal and external partner capabilities.  In this case your partners are the ones that will be driving your changes to the tools and way you utilize these tools.  This is an interesting concept, that your partners can be the factors that cause you to re-evaluate your tools.  You should embrace this concept because it extends your research capabilities at least twofold by allowing you to take advantage of the continuous improvement programs from your internal and external partners.  Think about it, in these times you must not close the door to the technical understanding and experience from any partners, do not let your unconfirmed beliefs or assumptions that your partners cannot provide the valued input to your continuous improvement program limit your opportunities to move your capabilities forward.


What could be one of the critical benefits provided by your extended supply chain collaborative community is the ability to take advantage of the research and continuous improvement programs of your partners.  This provides another opportunity to take advantage of the strengths that can be delivered through your collaborative community.  As business needs, or community needs change you will find that your partners can provide you methods and valuable input to meeting the needs of the community.  It only makes sense that there is a very strong possibility that one of your partners has already encountered and overcome one of your challenges, or one of your partners is already utilizing either new feature of one of your current software tools, or identified and new software tool that meets the need more efficiently. 


This is one of the features that provides a surprise benefit that would have taken you a lot of additional effort to identify and embrace on your own.


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have you identified a method to incorporate your partners continuous improvement programs into your own program?   If you have, what kind of benefits to expect to achieve?


Do you have a method, or a supported objective to research new tools and capabilities on the market?

tbrouill

Puzzle Pieces 

Posted by tbrouill Jan 13, 2013

I’ve discussed now the convergence of hardware, software and social connectivity over many different entries and in many different ways.  I’ve discussed some of the tools that you can utilize to build your extended supply chain collaborative community.  I’ve also discussed the pitfalls of getting lost in the technical social communities of Facebook, YouTube and Google + and losing the human interaction that is so important to developing a collaborative community and your business and social relationships.  I am a firm believer in developing personal relationships because ‘everything is personal’.  In fact, I think as the technology and human interaction converges more and as the capabilities and tools (smart phones, tablets, laptops) converge you must be very careful and even more deliberate in maintaining the personal, or human, relationships. 


I saw a very interesting presentation recently regarding the benefits and opportunities to extended the legacy ERP capabilities with a tool, or tools, to provide additional features and functionality and even collaborative capabilities and this started my thinking down the path of selecting and fitting the tools available together based on their capabilities and the business, or collaborative community, needs.  I started thinking about this like a 1,000 piece puzzle; in other words how do you go about putting a puzzle together? 


So I started thinking about the tools; software and hardware, along with the methods of connecting; the social connectivity tools, like putting together a puzzle.  The puzzle picture is the overall objectives and business mission and requirements.  The puzzle pieces are the features and functionality provided by the software and hardware tools and the communication and connectivity tools are the puzzle piece shapes that allow you to put the pieces together to make the picture.  There is one major difference between putting together a picture puzzle and putting together a business, or collaborative community puzzle, and that is that the picture puzzles pieces fit together in one and only one way, where the business puzzle pieces can be put together in many ways.  I suppose you can also say a major difference between a picture puzzle and a business puzzle is that the business puzzle is never finished, you will find yourself continuously moving pieces around and revising the puzzle as your business, or collaborative community, or the tools change.


In all of my business mapping and design I try to follow one guiding principle; all processes and functionality should be loosely coupled so that is can be connected and reconnected to other functionality with limited additional work.  Now, this can make your development rather complicated, but it allows you the freedom of modifications without impacting surrounding functionality.  This is also a guiding principle for the new tools and capabilities that do not depend on the hardware and can be easily configured to support your business or collaborative community requirements.  The trick, and this is a critical factor, is to not fall into what I call ‘the hammer and the nail’ syndrome (if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail).  This is a very easy habit to fall into and you must work at understanding all of your software tools, investigating new tools that come on the market and also the new capabilities that are added to your current tools’ capabilities.  The most important two words you can remember to help you get past ‘the hammer and the nail’ syndrome is ‘what if’.  ‘What if’ I tried this new feature in Google + called Hangouts for my video conferencing needs?  ‘What if’ I added Yammer to my email capabilities for conversation and idea tracking?


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have you developed your business process map to help you understand your current capabilities and how they match up with your objectives?


Along the same lines as your BPM, have you identified an inventory of your system functions and the tools that you use to deliver these functions? 


Do you have a method, or a supported objective to research new tools and capabilities on the market?

tbrouill

The Path To The Future 

Posted by tbrouill Jan 12, 2013

As I’ve discussed in previous entries every indication based on technology, hardware and social networks would suggest that we are moving towards a more connected world where the lines of personal and professional worlds are blurring to the point of disappearing.  These are exciting times we are living in and are the results of a progression technical and social capabilities along with an acceptance of these capabilities in every aspect of our lives.  Think about it, now it is normal to see home security commercials and hawking the capabilities to the ‘common man’, it is normal to see commercials for technology that was only seen in Star Trek - The Next Generation!


Like I said, these are interesting times we are living in, these are democratic and times we are living in and the individual is gaining power in an almost geometric manner.  Businesses have been attempting to leverage the social network capabilities especially in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  Google + has not been commercialized in the same manner as Facebook, or Twitter and I don’t know if that was a conscious decision or just the manner in which it is currently growing, but I must say that I personally like the Google + environment because it is more professional and less commercialized.  All of these tools however could provide the framework for the individual to make their demands in a manner that is forceful and compelling for both the commercial entities and the political entities.  These social network tools provide the framework and is simply waiting for the individual to realize and turn the social networks on their ear.


This brings me to my second point of my discussion - and I find this an especially interesting topic.  With the growth of social networks people and companies are able to maintain a relationship from a distance and are not dependent on the face-to-face interaction to encourage this ability.  This is what I find especially interesting, as we become more social through technology, we become less social in the personal interaction.  This is something that we have to be very careful to manage, humans are a social animal and requires interaction with other humans.  When you eliminate the one-one social interaction we begin to lose our humanity.


OK, now I’ll get off my high horse, the main reason why I bring up this topic is that as technology, professional and personal aspects of of lives I see a similar trajectory that we must be careful of in our professional relationships in our extended supply chain.  We must not forget that our professional relationships with our extended supply chain partners started with a personal relationship.  You must remember that when you are developing your extended supply chain community and use the technology to provide the added ability to develop your personal relationships more fully and developing a mutually beneficial personal and well as technical relationship.  This will be the success formula of the future. 


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


How many professional and personal social networks to you belong to and more importantly, how may are you actively participating in?


How are you utilizing your personal devices along with your business devises to improve your capabilities?  The important question is - is this really improving your capabilities or encroaching more in your personal life?

Today I will be focusing on the benefits of embracing the cloud based eco-system, some call this web services, for your day-to-day computing activities.  Achieving these benefits requires a paradigm shift to overcome a deep rooted psychological factor that derives comfort in holding your belonging in your hand.  I think you must upgrade your sense of ownership to match the digital age.  When I think about it I realize that we have carried this ownership concept over into the digital age through the ownership of physical hardware; laptop, smartphone, iPod, etc.  I have come to realize that we must change our sense of ownership to only include the digital intellectual property and break the connection to the physical hardware. 


This break from the past ownership model lays the framework for my benefits discussion today.  Over the years I have experienced various and sundry types of hardware issues and failures as I’m sure everyone has in their lifetime.  In addition, I have also been guilty of ‘failure to backup’ syndrome, I always understood the importance and there were times when I actually did backup my data, but I was regularly guilty of losing interest and eventually it always just fell by the wayside.  This would lead to a high priority challenge when experiencing a hardware failure; I would need to spend an additional $100 to backup my data prior to starting the repair to ensure I would not lose any important data.  Then when my laptop was in repair I would need to use another computer and the backup data for my work.  I’m sure that many people have experienced the same challenges at one time or another.


After one of these cycles I started to move my data to the cloud for two reasons;

  • Most importantly, the ability to easily share documents and information with remote team members.
  • The safety of remote storage in case of future hardware failures.


Eventually, I had another hardware failure; the death of my laptop, and I was looking at not only replacing the hardware but also replacing and upgrading the software (Office, virus protection, etc.).  This is when I analyzed the costs and decided to make the leap to the Google eco-system in full.  Now I am reaping the benefits of anytime, anywhere and any device computing.  I made a very meager initial investment in the Google Chrome and I utilize the Google eco-system for all of the software and services that I was paying for in the Microsoft or Apple model!  This is not for everyone, I will admit, but for me it is a great solution and just as important provides a safe eco-system for managing your digital libraries.


In a telling confirmation to my recent discussions I saw this morning in the Business Insider blog called ‘Here’s The Exact Moment (And Reason) Apple Investors Panicked’ stating that the crack in the armor became visible and highly apparent with the failure of Apple Maps in the iPhone 5 roll-out.  They go on to say that this showed a key vulnerability in Apple’s ability to take advantage of, and utilize, web services, or what I am calling the cloud eco-system.  This article goes on to call out the various aspects of the cloud eco-system that will be driving factors and key differentiators to the winning technology breakthrough.  This is why i first called out that Google is poised as the giant killer of both Microsoft and Apple, because of Google’s focus on the services and community needs and objectives rather than how the hardware.   


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


How many times have you experienced the chilling hardware failure that I describe above?  How much important data have you lost and what was your cost to replace the data?


Have you experiment with the Google cloud based collaboration tools?

My recent discussions have been focused on the capabilities and the benefits of what I have been referring as the Google eco-system.  As I have stated in many different ways, I see a great deal of capabilities and a more business centered focus offered by the Google eco-system that can provide a great many benefits in the adoption and embracement of these capabilities across your extended supply chain community.  I do realize, however that there are some hurdles to fully embracing the Google, or any cloud based eco-system; including legacy integration and some potentially business critical capabilities that are not supported in the current Google eco-system offerings.  These limitations and hurdles can come from both internal and external partners within your extended supply chain community. 


Another challenge to adoption of the Google eco-system in your extended supply chain is a natural hesitation to this type of outsourcing of your services and capabilities to an outside provider.  This hesitation will come from both the business partners and technology partners and this hesitation must be addressed if you are to progress down this highly beneficial path.  This validation is critical to the success of any effort to utilize these robust tools and capabilities, so my advice is to address these challenges head on. You must acknowledge the fact that this effort can be a dramatic change from your current practices and then you must execute a ‘discovery’ activity with the objective of defining the challenges, or hesitation points, and then defining how you can validate or prove that the new eco-system can address and overcome these concerns.  This activity should be performed not only with your internal partners, but also, and just as importantly, with your external partners.


I would suggest that you start this activity small and identify a proof of concept that is contained and you can control both the outcome and the points of contact along with to tasks.  Like any other new initiative, it is important to start small so you can effectively manage and contain any potential failure, starting small in a contained environment will allow you to focus on ensuring you can quickly, effectively and efficiently address challenges and issues as they occur.  Remember the analogy of the elephant; How do you eat and elephant? One bit at a time.  This proof of concept is not meant to address and resolve all concerns and challenges; it is meant more simply to start that process and show that there is a very real potential.  Another warning, or hurdle, to your discovery and validation efforts is that you must be vigilant and hyper alert to potential issues, especially in your initial proof of concept, because any failure will give yor detractors the ammunition to potentially tear down all of the proof that you have developed to date.  Until you have developed a foundation of consistent and regular success for these tools and concepts any failure could destroy all of your progress.


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have you begun to identify the potential challenges and validation points that you must overcome in your initiative to begin your transition from your legacy collaboration tools to the cloud based framework and toolset? 


How can you relate the challenges you have encountered with your personal collaboration efforts to the potential challenges and benefits to your business, or professional, collaboration?  Think about any challenges you have encountered with Facebook, You Tube or Twitter that you have overcome, or that has limited your utilization.  For instance, your personal identify security concerns can be directly related back to the business security concerns for instance.


Have you experiment with the Google cloud based collaboration tools?

I thought I would follow-up my last discussion with an expansion on some of the points I mentioned in my last discussion and especially the benefits that I consider as giant killers to Microsoft and Apple.  I know that in my last discussion I started by saying I would not be writing predictions and while technically I will be discussing potentials of the Google eco-system.  Let me just digress for a moment to say that I’m very gratified for a response from another reader.  This reader explained that he ‘stumbled’ into the Google eco-system through a series of unfortunate events and was very happen with the results.  Mine is a similar experience with the same results and I must say that its nice when you get some confirmation that you’re not the only one.


Now back to my discussion regarding the potentials of the Google eco-system.  I’ve been mulling some ideas regarding this and I come back to how Google has taken advantage of the inherent infrastructure available with the Internet framework!  In addition, Google also is more free to take advantage of these capabilities because they are not saddled with legacy software supporting various hardware requirements.  This, I think, is a key difference and leading success factor in a comparison between Apple and Google which allow Google to focus on the features and capabilities and then letting the Internet framework take care of the ‘plumbing’.

Google+ strengths:

  • More ‘professional’ or business related and business ready framework and culture.  While there are many members that are focused on entertainment and the wacky, my experience is that there is a much higher percentage of professional participants.
  • The ‘Circles’ relationship organization method is in my opinion a fantastic leap forward in community development methods and capabilities!


Think about this, 3 years ago you would have never heard a serious conversation about the opportunity to shift to a non-Microsoft office suite of tools, 3 years ago you would not have heard people discussing a laptop that requires Internet access to function in a serious manner!  I think that Google has come a long way and the impressive thing in my opinion is that they have defined a cohesive and comprehensive vision and strategy to meet that vision and now they are following through and delivering their strategy.  As an example of the flexibility of the Google eco-system, I wrote this discussion on two different devices at two different times with this document ‘open’ on both devices and the updates were seamlessly available from either device simultaneously

 


In comparison, I believe that Microsoft, and even Apple, seem focused on a hardware platform strategy that includes a supporting software strategy and these conflicting strategies are colliding and impacting their ability to meet the future needs of their customers.  Where I believe that Google has focused on the objectives of their target audience and customers without regard to any specific hardware and this has allowed Google to focus on the path to meeting these objectives and because they were born of the Internet they are not encumbered by legacy and cumbersome hardware requirements. 


We are coming to a crossroad in the  technology enterprise and these will be interesting times as these methods struggle with the dominance of the market.  We are at the beginning of some major shifts in technical utilization and capabilities and it will be very interesting how this progresses over the next few years.

 


Now for the audience participation portion of this program…….


Have you ventured outside of your eco-system recently?  I think most people are utilizing two of the three eco-systems I’ve mentioned and I am interested in your feedback on the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.


How many different devices to you own and how difficult is it for you to synchronize, especially across eco-systems?