Tag Archives: technology

The Product Pivot: The Gift That Keeps On Ticking

By Steve Blue

Steve BlueWhether you know it or not, your business is a time bomb. The seconds are counting down until it explodes into a million pieces, littering the marketplace like a war-zone.

And it’s not just you. Every company is on a going-out-of-business curve unless it constantly reinvents itself. Examples abound of businesses that clung wistfully their old products and decried anything new. Kodak failed to reinvent itself even though it clearly saw the move toward digital film. Netflix assassinated Blockbuster. Uber is destroying the entire taxi business. And what is the taxi industry’s response? Cling to the old model and ask the government to protect it. These are all examples of companies that chose to cling to the tried-and-true but destined-to-fail old ways. All because of a failure to execute what is called “the product pivot.”

The product pivot is shedding the old skin of dying product lines and weathered technology and reinventing new ones to fit the times and the changing market conditions. It’s taking an old-line company and transforming it to a digital dynamo.

If you haven’t solidly positioned your company for the digital world, you soon will. Or you’ll soon be joining Kodak. Beware the transition from not digital to digital is as tricky and perilous as careening off an icy highway. It’s a high wire juggling act that requires the CEO’s constant attention to make mid-course corrections along the way. Many mid-course corrections.

But imagine this. You have picked a new technology with high margins. It has a solid market need and very little competition. You’ve retained a killer product development company that delivers the product to you on time and on budget. What a dream! But then it fails miserably. In fact, it never gets off the ground. Why? Your “new idea assassins killed it.”

Launching a new technology is never about the technology. That’s easy. Launching a new technology is all about the organization. That’s the hard part. Arguably, in the case of Kodak or Blockbuster, the impossible part. Kodak and Blockbuster had, or certainly could have procured the technology, but the organization refused to use it. Their “new idea assassins” killed it before it even gets started. And the CEO’s never even knew what happened.

Choosing the technology or product will be simple, compared to the organizational challenges you will face. Choosing the technology is just an exercise in good old-fashioned product marketing and development. But, do not underestimate the resistance you will encounter when you start your product pivot. Spend all your time and attention on how the organization is reacting to the change. Here are seven things you should do:

  1. Do an Organization Checkup: How ready is it to accept a new technology? In large organizations, conduct an online survey to determine the comfort level of your employees with the technology you have chosen.
  2. Address Concerns Directly: The most important issue will be to deal with employee’s fears about what the new technology will mean to them. When people don’t understand something, they will resist it and sabotage it. People will naturally be fearful that the new technology will displace them. Make a commitment that this won’t happen. Put a plan in place to train people on the new technology, and communicate it widely.
  3. Communication is the Key: Remember the Cs of effective communication: Clear, convincing, and compelling. Clearly communicate the importance of the new technology. Paint a convincing picture of what will happen to the company if it is not successful in the endeavor. That means lost jobs so don’t sugar coat it. At the same time talk about the compelling and exciting future everyone will have if it is successful.
  4. Make it Clear This is Not an Optional Transformation: Anyone who doesn’t support it can’t stay. It’s just that simple. And then you need to back that up with personnel changes, including termination if necessary. Don’t hesitate to make these changes because employees who are against it will find nefarious ways to scuttle it. And you won’t even know it until it is too late.
  5. Stay Close to the Project: Don’t delegate it. If you delegate it, you will soon discover it is stuck in the mud and no one knows why. Hold the team accountable to commit to action plans and dates. And question them intensely when they miss them. Expect missed commitments, after all it is all new to the organization. Just be sure the misses aren’t because of resistance. When you do discover the reason for the misses you will find they were caused by a lack of talent (which you can fix with new hires), a lack of resources (which you should also fix), or a lack of a clear product development plan.
  6. Celebrate Small Successes: Recognize, reward, and promote the people who are making it happen. These people are your new technology heroes.
  7. Don’t Forget to Pay Attention to the Rest of the Business: You still have to maintain the old while you are creating the new. Don’t let the people in the old products feel like they are not important. You need them to keep performing well.

A product pivot is essential to ensure the prosperity of the company. The challenge of a product pivot is never in deciding what product to develop or the technology in developing it. The challenge is always organizational. Remember that the organization is likely to be against it because it represents a threat. Stay close to the project and communicate constantly with the employees affected. And always remember to mind the store in the meantime.

Steve Blue is president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity and author of American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right. As a nationally recognized business transformation expert and speaker, Steve has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and The Wall Street Journal. He is founder and contributor to American City Business Journal’s “League of Extraordinary CEOs” series. To learn more about Steve Blue, please visit www.milleringenuity.com.

Why Open Space Offices Didn’t Have To Happen

By Barbara Hemphill

Barbara HemphillEstimates on time wasted by executives on searching for data ranges from 150 hours to six weeks per year. That means if an executive makes $200,000 per year, the company is spending anywhere from $16,600 to $25,000 per year, per executive, looking for lost information. Not only does it represent a dollar loss, but a time loss as that executive spends 8% to 12.5% of their time just finding what they need to work.

The figures for employees underneath the executives are even more astounding (probably because they’re looking for what their bosses need!). Studies show the average office workers spends anywhere between 25% and 35% of their time every day finding the information they need to do their job.

In a hypothetical organization with 1,000 workers, each drawing salary and benefits that together average $80,000 per year, the organization will spend $6 million on looking for information that should be readily available.

Research also shows that 80% of what we keep we never use, and the more we keep the less we use—because we don’t know we even have it, or we simply can’t find it.

Clutter is postponed decisions.

Prior to personal computers, organizations had a personnel structure that ensured decisions were made about what need to be kept. Executives had private secretaries. Departments had file clerks. Companies had file rooms, and file rooms had “Mabel” – a records manager who was the keeper of the records retention program for the organization.

The Pile-Up Begins: When computers showed up on everyone’s desks, support staff were deemed no longer necessary. When they left, so did the decision-making mechanism and the clutter began piling up. An administrator in a large Manhattan company shared that her company had ten floors with 1,000 file cabinets on each floor. In addition, there were banker’s boxes of full of files, and loose papers piled on desks and file cabinets. An evaluation of the problem quickly demonstrated unnecessary duplication of papers being filed. This same company was spending money to eliminate private offices and add filing cabinets, when the problem could have been avoided by simply eliminating the unnecessary files.

By nature, entrepreneurs and executives are not attuned to the issue of clutter. It seems a minor issue and employees being paid to organize their workspaces is not an efficient use of time and money. As a result, for the past several decades, clutter has been accumulating on desks, in file cabinets, in storage closets, and off-site. One IT manager said she used to look at her boss’s office and wonder how he could manage a company if he couldn’t even manage his own office.

Avoiding the Issue: When a major banking institution moves into its new multi-story building in Manhattan, their employees certainly won’t have any clutter. They also won’t have a door in their office, and most of them won’t have a desk. If they want to have a photo of their family in the office, they’ll have to lock it up every night, since they won’t have the same desk every day.

Company management says the setup will connect people face-to-face, raise energy levels and save money—by fitting more people into one space. People will learn to use headphones and talk more softly to enable privacy.

Other companies are doing the same. While researchers disagree about whether open offices foster communication or encourage distraction, the truth is the entire issue could have been avoided if executives would have started paying attention to the clutter that began accumulating in offices when Bill Gates put computers on everyone’s desk.

What Can We Learn? If companies had paid attention to the paper accumulation decades ago, perhaps today we could still have offices with desks and doors, because there wouldn’t be millions of files stored that no one needs or uses.

While it’s true that open offices solve the problem of paper clutter, the clutter problem has merely been transferred from physical to digital. For decades, companies have spent millions of dollars on software for their employees, but refused to invest in any training on how to organize the millions of files that are created daily. Now our computers and the cloud are filling up with clutter as surely as our desks and file cabinets have in the past.

As the familiar saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to relive it.”

What We Must Do Now: While we can’t undo the past, we can certainly take steps to avoid repeating in the digital world the mistakes we made in the paper world. Here are five steps your organization can take now:

  1. Identify someone in your organization to take ownership for effectively managing information.
  2. Take a serious look in your office to see if there is a clutter problem you are ignoring.
  3. Create a user-friendly records retention program for your organization.
  4. Implement a training program to teach employees how to make decisions about what information they need to keep.
  5. Empower employees to eliminate unnecessary clutter by designating specific times for that purpose.

Barbara Hemphill is the Founder of Productive Environment Institute, in Raleigh, N.C., and author of Less Clutter More Life. As one of the country’s leading organizational experts she has helped many corporations, such as Staples, Hallmark and 3M increase their productivity and efficiency.

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Automation Doesn’t Solve Everything

Six Things You Should Know About Machine Translation

By Caitilin Walsh

Caitilin WalshTaco Bell’s return to Japan in 2015 was widely anticipated, but the company’s launch of its Japanese-language website spawned a media frenzy—not because of the food. With machine-translated menu items that turned “Cheesy Fries” into “Low Quality Fleece” and “Crunchwrap Supreme – Beef” into “Supreme Court Beef,” the company had to rush to take down the site to mitigate the damage to its image.

Translating your materials professionally is a smart business move. Translation may be required for your market, it makes people more likely to buy your product or service, and support costs go down as people can access information in their own language. But where to begin?

Sure, professional translators will get you exactly what you want, but you’ve probably heard some buzz about machine translation (MT) and are wondering if it might save you money and time. Before you take the plunge, here are some things you should know about MT.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch: Free online translators are very popular—Google alone serves up more than a billion translations a day. It’s important, though, to understand what you get when you use any free machine translation service:

  • They can only give you an idea of what the foreign text says. Since they have to translate everything from love letters to shopping catalogs, they are designed to generalize rather than specialize. They don’t “know” what your text is about, so they “guess.” Often they guess right. Sometimes they don’t.
  • MT systems leverage big data, and are programmed to give preference to the most popular words and phrases. Predictably, problems emerge: in some language combinations “US President” was translated as “Bush” well into the Obama administration.
  • They store and use your data to learn. That’s fine for a public webpage for your family trip, but not for your company’s confidential material.

Free translators are fine for the casual user, but their reliance on statistics, errors from incorrect data and lack of confidentiality make them unsuitable for serious business translation.

The machine can only do so much: Most serious MT users invest in training proprietary machine translation engines for specific kinds of text. If trained well, the resulting output should get words right, though it might not sound particularly elegant or even be grammatically correct. For some kinds of texts this might be acceptable, but for most it isn’t.

It won’t work for all texts and languages: Machine translation almost always involves translators or editors to refine the output. Even MT vendors agree it would be counter-productive to use MT for creative materials such as marketing copy or literature, and that it’s best used for drafting large sets of documentation or short-lived or otherwise untranslated materials.

It’s also important to note that machine translation does not handle all languages equally well. Languages with a similar structure may produce fairly good results, but if they differ greatly or there isn’t enough data, it might be more costly or impossible to develop a solution—making it more cost-effective to use a professional translator.

In short, there is no easy formula that can be applied to all text types and languages. Most companies that use machine translation agree that there is a lot of work involved in finding out whether it makes sense for their text types and language combinations.

Machine translation is an ongoing process: Long before the first word is ever translated, consultants, outside vendors, or in-house specialists need to determine an appropriate approach. You will need to budget for an ongoing process of:

  • Establishing why you want to use machine translation in the first place (as opposed to professional translators)
  • Determining which types of text and languages you want to translate using MT or professionals
  • Evaluating what data and expertise you have available or need to acquire or to configure and customize your machine translation solution
  • Assessing how your professional translators and editors can support the process
  • Training your machine translation solution with new materials you produce
  • Fine-tuning your process and re-evaluating your approach as technology continues to evolve

You may not save time or money: Your machine translation process will change as your technical team and your translators and editors get better at working with MT.

Costs will likely shift. Once you’ve settled on an approach, your higher initial investment in systems and training costs might level off to a lower but ongoing constant—like any other IT investment. Engineering costs could be relatively stable, but translation and editing costs might eventually drop as systems improve and translators and editors refine their strategies.

You may have noticed frequent use of the words “likely” and “might” above. That’s because there are many variables that can affect machine translation cost and time savings. Those same variables might also prevent the desired savings or make it actually more costly than professional translation.

Machine translation uses humans; human translators use MT: MT and translation professionals interact: An editor may correct machine translation output and—depending on the system—simultaneously “teach” the system so the same error does not occur the next time.

In a more integrated process, professionals use machine translation to support their work in combination with their high-end software. By interweaving several tools, translators often achieve a significant productivity and quality boost.

There is a time and a place for every technology: If qualified consultants determine that the cost and time of introducing machine translation would help you, you will still need professional translators and editors on your side to help you on this journey.

On the other hand, if the effort to introduce machine translation into your process is too costly or risky, you can benefit from professional translators who already use sophisticated translation technology to streamline their work and translate your materials with high and consistent quality.

At the end of the day, accurate information is key as you decide whether to invest in automating your translation processes. Consulting with experts will help you make a wise decision that gets your message across clearly and effectively without tarnishing your image.

Caitilin Walsh is the past President of the American Translators Association. She has also worked at Bellevue College in Washington for 20 years, training the next generation of translators and interpreters. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.

Less is More: The 7 Information Management Questions Every Organization Must Address to Thrive in the Digital Age

By Barbara Hemphill

Barbara HemphillMany companies continue to experience cutbacks in workforce, but not in workload. For the remaining employees, accessing valuable company information becomes increasingly complex, whether it’s a password, an email from a vendor documenting price agreements, or crucial information about a client contract. The computer has allowed us to generate information as never before, thus increasing our ability to create a mess. Poor information management creates inefficiency. Inefficiency costs money, causes unnecessary stress, precipitates poor customer service, and directly costs untold thousands of dollars.

Michael Dell says that by 2020 the world will generate 35 times as much data annually as in 2010. Unfortunately, many companies never learned to manage paper, and most are not doing any better with electronic documents. Particularly frightening is that if you have 1000 pieces of paper, you can hire someone to sort through them looking for specific words, and eventually they will find them. If you have 1000 electronic documents stored in a variety of places from employees desktops (not backed up!) to external drives, they may never be found — and when they are, the company may no longer has the capability of reading the data!

It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN the information management meltdown will take place, unless you address the issue now. The following are seven essential questions to address about the information in your business.

What Information Do We Need To Keep? Start with your company’s mission and goals. What business are you in? What information do you need to reach those goals? And, of course, what information do regulators require? You can jokingly state that the word “archives” should be spelled “our-chives” since so many companies keep information that actually belongs to other organizations.

In What Form? Most information today is already in digital form. In many organizations, that information can be stored in more than one program. Consistency is the key.

Only a small portion of the information that exists on paper today is worth converting to a digital format. As the quantity of information received and generated by business increases, electronic storage options become essential. It is simply not cost effective to use paper for long-term storage of business information.

For How Long? Employees are scared to throw anything away, because the boss may ask for it, and many bosses won’t take the time to make a plan for records retention. When they do, the decision often breaks down in the implementation. The advantages of electronic storage can become disadvantages, as companies painfully learn when called to account for e-mail messages sent years previously. Regardless of the reasons, the results are the same: overstuffed filing cabinets and hard drives.

Many companies hold file clean-out days, and but often fail miserably. Why? Because management has failed to create the methodology, mechanics, and maintenance to enable and empower its employees to make the decisions required to eliminate unnecessary information.

Who is Responsible for Filing It? One client was spending thousands of dollars annually on file storage. When they looked into the situation, they identified that one big source of the problem was that multiple members of the team were filing the same information for the same project. The problem was quickly resolved by identifying a specific member of each team to be responsible for filing the appropriate information.

Every large company has an information systems person. While some large companies have a person in charge of records retention, they are often brought into the picture only after the files are full or the information is no longer used on a regular basis. Small businesses often ignore the issue entirely. Why not put someone in charge of making and implementing decisions about current information? It is essential to create a system so if a person leaves suddenly, the company is not left in jeopardy.

Who Needs Access to It? A major challenge in information management relates to the liability created if/when unauthorized people access private data. An advantage of an electronic filing system is the ability to determine who has access to what documents. It is unnerving to walk into offices and see paper and electronic documents accessible to people who have no reason to access them!

How Can We Find It? The three components to an effective filing system are:

  1. File methodology – what documents are to be filed
  2. File mechanics – how documents are filed
  3. File maintenance – when documents are eliminated

If any of the components are weak, your filing system will be an ongoing frustration instead of the resource it can and should be.

How Is It Backed Up? A client lost 30 years of research because of a miscommunication with the IT department. A survey by Adobe of 5000+ professionals found that 43% have lost important electronic documents, and 70% of those losses were caused by a computer or hard drive failure. Having a backup plan that is checked on a consistent basis is an important part of an information management system.

Clutter is postponed decisions. Countless companies are faced with the problem of hundreds, even thousands, of boxes of “archives” in storage rooms or off-site locations. Unfortunately, when management realizes the cost and the risk involved, and finally decides to do something, the people who created the paper are long gone, and current employees have little energy or motivation for making decisions about something that doesn’t affect their ability to leave work on time.

While there is no quick fix for years of postponed decisions, avoiding the problem in the future is easy. Today’s mail is tomorrow’s pile, so to get results, ignore the mistakes of the past. Create a system today to enable employees to make good decisions about the information they receive.

Barbara Hemphill is the Founder of Productive Environment Institute, in Raleigh, N.C., and author of Less Clutter More Life. As one of the country’s leading organizational experts she has helped many corporations, such as Staples, Hallmark and 3M increase their productivity and efficiency.

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False Alarms and Other Considerations

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Regardless of where you work, false alarms have likely caused frustration. I remembered this one day as I searched for the source of an electronic alarm, warning me that something was awry in my house. Since the beeping was intermittent, finding the source was comedic.

With each alert I would move in the direction I thought it was originating from, come to a stop, cock my head, and attentively wait, scarcely breathing so that I could take in its next iteration. I darted around the house in a haphazard zigzag pattern, often overshooting my mark. It was as though I was playing the childhood game of “hot or cold” with the electronic gizmo taunting me with “you’re getting colder.”

Eventually, I found the culprit: a carbon monoxide detector. In addition to the beeping, the power light was flashing red – even though the only documented options were solid green and solid amber. Pressing reset didn’t help, so I unplugged it for a few minutes; that always worked in the past. After an hour of futile troubleshooting, I began to consider that maybe it was working correctly and there were actually unsafe carbon monoxide levels in my home.

What a novel thought. I never experienced a smoke, fire, or carbon monoxide alarm that signaled an actual problem. In fact, I was conditioned to assume that any alarm was the result of a malfunction. Smoke detectors were high on that list, with their low battery beeps and false alarms. When I would test them, no one ever left their office to evacuate the building; no one ever asked if there was a fire. The response was always one of irritation: “Make it stop so we can hear our callers.”

Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs) also seemed to do more harm than good. It’s confounding for a malfunctioning UPS to take down servers when perfectly good utility power is available. Yet it happens. For a while I kept track. The UPSs were actually causing more downtime then they prevented. Generators also fit that category. Regardless if there was an automatic transfer switch or a manual bypass – that is, initiated by technology or by people –inevitably something would go wrong. Despite employee training and trial runs, nothing seemed to prepared staff to deal with an actual power outage.

Spare parts and backup Internet connections were another cause for frustration. You have them in case of an emergency, periodically testing them to make sure they are functional. Unfortunately, it seems that efforts to do so invariably result in unexpected side effects and problems, including system crashes.

All these areas give one pause to consider if such efforts actually accomplish a net benefit or do more harm than good. Regardless, it would be irresponsible not to do all that can be done to keep staff safe and systems functioning. The frustrations and false alarms are merely a side effect that one must accept in the process.

As far as my issue at home, I ended up buying a new detector. The replacement unit did not alert; apparently it was a false alarm after all.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.