Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

What do you stand for?

In the book, “Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls,” Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis state that “Judgment is the essential genome of leadership.” They add that “While misjudgments in any domain can be fatal, the one where a misstep is most damaging is poor judgment about the people on your team.”

Tichy and Bennis have articulated what many of us know from experience. We’ve demonstrated poor judgment or seen poor judgment in action when it comes to building an effective team. So how do we maximize the opportunities we have to build effective teams? Here are a few suggestions that provide a foundation for building a leadership team before you even address whom to put on your team.

Clearly define your value

One of the first considerations in building a leadership team is being clear about the value you’re trying to create. In last month’s column, we discussed the importance of knowing your primary organizational strength. The roles that need to be represented on your team need to support the value you’re creating.

Let’s use UPS as an example. Its primary organizational strength is operational efficiency. The value to the customer is dependable, cost-effective delivery. When thinking about building a leadership team for an organization like UPS, it seems logical that one team member needs to have operations as his or her sole focus.

If, however, you are leading a social service organization, while your processes need to be efficient, it probably won’t be your primary organizational strength. Your operations may fall under another function such as finance. However, talent management is critical. You may want to consider having someone outside of your transactional HR function serving on your senior team since your value is so critically linked to the attraction, retention and development of your people.

Of course, everyone on your leadership team is critical to your success. Each team member has different roles that will depend on your organizational strength. The key question is, “What functional leadership do you need to ensure that you’re building the value you’ve agreed on?”

 

Clearly define your role as CEO

As leader of your team, you serve two broad functions: One is to ensure the organization’s goals are met. The other is to ensure that your team has the resources it needs to meet those goals.

In order to do the first, you need to lead the team in defining who you are as organization. This includes, but isn’t limited to, your organizational purpose, direction, how you’re different or better than your competition and the behaviors that are key to your success.

You also need to lead the team in creating shared goals that support your identity. What will you do to make the identity come alive and how will you measure your progress over time? You need to ensure that the team has resources to meet your goals. This includes having the necessary talent, setting the right measures and ensuring the commitment to measurement and adaptation when you’re not meeting your goals.

Clearly define the purpose of your team

Other than being your direct reports, why does your team exist? What purpose does it serve? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Your team exists to be stewards of your identity and shared goals.
  2. Individual leadership team members lead and serve their teams by ensuring they have set goals that support the entire organization and that resources are available to meet those goals.
  3. Leaders need to model the behavior outlined in your organizational identity. You need to live and demonstrate what you expect from others.
  4. Leadership team members hold each other accountable for the goals you co-create.

Unless you address these three steps first, even the best leaders can flounder in helping your organization create the future you long for.

 Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO's Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. Andy can be reached at (314) 863-4400 and andy@dialect.com.

Published in St. Louis

How much of your day is spent persuading people? Persuading prospects to become clients, employees to step up, customers to buy?

In all aspects of life, nearly every conversation involves some type of persuasion. Politicians, whose careers depend upon their ability to persuade, know that there are three magic words when it comes to convincing people: choice, fairness and accountability. If you know how to use those words, you too can tap their power.

To get a sense of just how potent those words are, consider any political message you’ve been exposed to. There are “pro-choice” campaigns for reproductive rights and “school choice” initiatives for school vouchers. There are countless organizations based on “fairness”: Citizens for a Fair Share, Fair Vote Count, Fair Trash Contract (really!) and many more. There are myriad legislative acts promising “accountability” in everything from leadership to education to presidential pardons.

The typical response to the words “choice,” “fairness” or “accountability” is almost Pavlovian. No matter what the topic, you can say, “I just want to make sure you have choices, and that in the end someone is held accountable so that we ensure the fairest result,” and the whole room will nod in agreement. Obviously, you’ll want to wield these words (and the concepts they stand for) with a bit more finesse than that. Here’s how:

Choice

Choice always evokes a positive response — we think of it as free choice, almost synonymous with freedom. For that reason, offering your clients a choice is an excellent way to present a plan. Give them two or three options, making sure you could live with any they choose. It’s fine to state your own preference while emphasizing that ultimately the choice is theirs. When I’m hired as a consultant, I always say,I work for you, so this is your decision. Here’s my recommendation.” Nine times out of 10, they take my advice.

The same strategy works with employees. Instead of simply passing out work assignments, offer several viable options. Does this mean you should convert every task to a multiple choice question? No, but for important jobs you stand a better chance of enthusiastic buy-in if you ask, “We could do A or we could do B. Which do you think would be most effective?”

Fairness

People’s definition of what is fair may vary, but everyone instinctively grasps the concept. We all passionately believe that things should be fair. Stating upfront that fairness is one of your top priorities will immediately get your listeners’ attention and make them more receptive to your ideas. You can also use words such as balance to suggest fairness. If you say, “It’s important to me that this is a balanced proposal,” you’re inviting other people to contribute their opinions — an equitable approach. Perhaps most important, talking about fairness builds trust, an essential element of any strong business relationship.

Accountability

Accountability is a way to ensure fairness. It strikes the same emotional chord, but it’s more tangible. In a business setting, the most effective way to use accountability is to start with yourself: “The plan I’m proposing will have built-in checks and balances, so you can hold me accountable and we’ll all be working together.” Then you can take suggestions from the group about how to construct the checks and balances. The end result: everyone has agreed in public to take responsibility.

Choice, fairness and accountability are concepts you probably incorporate into your workplace without consciously thinking about it — and that’s why saying the words out loud is so powerful. You’re giving voice to basic human values, and by doing so, you’re creating unity.

The most effective leaders not only persuade, they also unite.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies” (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians. He is the founder, president and CEO of both Jury Impact and M4 Strategies consulting firms. Reach him at csthilaire@m4strategies.com.

Published in Orange County
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

People vs. profit

In this hyper-competitive economy, everything is about speed. How quickly can you get a new product out the door? How fast can you deliver a service to a client? How long until that report is done? No one needs anything now; they needed it 30 minutes ago.

The result is an environment that demands ultra efficiency at every level. Companies of every size have been turned into machines, with senior managers tasked with fine-tuning them to the specifications set by the CEOs. If a particular part of the machine is slowing it down, that part needs to be changed out for a better, more efficient one. The moral dilemma comes when you start looking at the parts — they are people, not pieces of metal. Too many CEOs are looking at people as a means to an end, rather than human beings.

It’s a danger of our capitalist society that some leaders look at just the numbers, forgetting that there are many names and faces behind each line on the budget. You can be torn between building a cash reserve or achieving maximum profitability to please investors and being fair to the people who may not be performing up to the standards you would like to see. The question is, what do you do about it?

The easiest solution is to simply get rid of the people who you think are holding you back. This was Jack Welch’s philosophy — chuck the bottom 10 percent each year and your machine will continue to get better. There’s no room in business for having a soft spot for underachievers and there is no time to bother with them, so out they go.

While this model may be best for the short-term finances, is it really the best way to go? How many of those people had potential, but didn’t understand what they were supposed to be doing? How many of them simply needed clear goals they could strive for? And was productivity hurt as people in the middle continually fretted about where they ranked within the organization? Also, at some point, your organization would be as efficient as it could be, meaning those in the bottom 10 percent might be pretty good employees — and you might be hard-pressed to do better when you go to replace them.

The tougher solution, at least from a straight business perspective because of the cost in time and money, is to invest in the people who aren’t allowing you to reach peak efficiency. This could range from making sure they understand their goals and the company objectives to investing in training and development so they have the right skill set to do their job in the best way.

If given the time and the opportunity to improve, many of the people on the low end of the performance scale will improve, and a select few will even blossom into full-blown superstars.

The new economy isn’t just a rat race; it’s a digital rat race with speeds increasing exponentially each year. You may want to invest in people, but your competitive environment may simply not allow you the time to do so.

Each business is unique, and there are pros and cons to both strategies. But what’s most important is that, regardless of which direction you choose, you never lose sight of the fact that there are people behind the numbers, and people are what matter most.

Published in Akron/Canton

In any endeavor, before anything can be successful, the people involved need to know what it is they are trying to achieve and what efforts and resources are directed toward achieving it.

The company vision is the manifestation of its purpose and its values. From it emanates the strategy by which its goals will be attained, the leadership approach of its executives, the motivation for its members and the inspiration for its customers. A clear, well-thought-out, inspirational and easily communicated vision is the wellspring from which everything else flows.

And yet for the vast majority of companies, their vision is created in isolation by the marketing department and relegated to become mere corporate wallpaper in employee manuals and annual reports.

Even when it is well thought out and inspirational and communicated to employees and customers, all too often the direction of the company and the values demonstrated by its leadership are at odds with the company’s vision that it renders the vision meaningless. For the vision to resonate, company leaders must be seen working toward fulfilling it and genuinely conducting themselves in accordance with the stated ethics of the company.

But before the vision can be bought in to, it has to be developed. Ideally, that should be a managed process throughout which the staff is consulted, instilling a sense of ownership — although that is a luxury that many companies, particularly larger companies, do not have. At the very least, the heads of departments and senior management should set aside enough time together to discuss the strategic vision of their company, to create one if they’re running a new company, or in light of changing markets and products, to assess the relevance of the vision they already have.

Inevitably, many will see this as a waste of their time. They’re good at their job, they know what needs to be achieved, and they resent the implication that any touchy-feely, marketing-gobbledygook corporate retreat is going to make them better at it. But it is often the skeptical ones who stand to benefit the most from the exercise.

To make it work, it therefore needs the wholehearted support from the very top of the company. Ideally, it should be conducted by an experienced third party who can bring a dispassionate objectivity to the process. Money is well spent on hiring a training or consultancy firm for this. Putting all the senior executives in the same place — those who by nature of their positions are likely to be strong characters — and giving them free rein to voice and defend their opinions almost guarantees a relevant and important exchange of ideas. Even people who have worked together at the same company for a long time and who might be expected to have a similar vision will discover that they all have differing views of what the company is all about, where it is going, how it should get there and what it will look like when it does.

Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company’s hotel management and distressed asset management operations, drawing on 20 years experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry.

Published in Philadelphia

Just as every action sparks a reaction, I can clearly remember the moment that spurred our decision to add a new brand and expand our company. Or, perhaps I should say that we recognized the undeniable need for change, and adding a new brand was the ultimate solution.

In another instance, adding an additional service line was the right answer.

How might your need for change bring you to one of these conclusions? In my experience, there are some key points to consider.

• What are the synergies? Consider whether the new service or brand will complement your core business or detract from it.

• How well can you support it operationally/administratively? Carefully consider the additional time and manpower this new service would require.

• How will it impact the branding or industry positioning of your core business? This is where marketing comes into play and, in my opinion, can play a large part in determining whether you expand your existing service offering or add a new brand.

• What is the long-term viability of the service or brand — is it sustainable? Are you dealing with something that is hot today but could become a passing fad?

• Is there a market for the product or service? An amount of new R&D will be required.

• What will your point of differential be? Again, is it different enough to warrant a new brand or will it better serve as a complement to your current service offering?

• If acquiring a business, how does it fit culturally? If the addition may compromise your culture, you may want to reassess.

After years of explosive growth within our DUCTZ air duct cleaning franchise, we saw revenue begin to level off in specific markets, particularly when the recession hit. We identified a synergistic service in kitchen hood cleaning, which fit many criteria including technical expertise and administrative support.

However, adding the new service would present a challenge in positioning, as the customer base was exclusively commercial and geared toward fire prevention, whereas DUCTZ services commercial and residential focused on indoor air quality. We decided to launch HOODZ as a separate brand, giving franchisees the option to represent both brands. HOODZ actually lent itself to the existing marketing treatment of DUCTZ and, although complementary, it was different enough to warrant its own brand.

We revisited the DUCTZ service offerings to establish a comprehensive solution for our customers. Because a significant benefit of duct cleaning is improved indoor air quality, we sought other services that would do the same.

We found that, second to ductwork, carpet and upholstery cleaning greatly improves indoor air quality. Carpet cleaning alone is a competitive field so it wouldn’t have made sense to launch a new brand, plus we needed to establish a point of differentiation. As the nation’s largest indoor air quality company, we added the service as the DUCTZ Total Care offering, adopting the marketing position, “Improving indoor air quality from the ground up.”

Once you’ve gone through a similar checklist and process and identified parallels and strategic marketing initiatives, ask yourself one more thing, ‘Is it going to be strategic?’ In this case, I would define strategic as accomplishing at least one of the following: increasing your customer base, increasing value-added services to your existing customer base or increasing purchasing frequency from your existing customer base.

John Rotche is the president of Ann Arbor-based BELFOR Franchise Group Inc., a multiconcept franchise system. The company’s two franchise concepts, DUCTZ and HOODZ, center on the compliance and proper maintenance of commercial kitchen hoods and residential and commercial air duct, carpet and upholstery cleaning services. For more information, visit www.belforfranchisegroup.com.

Published in Detroit
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

Leslie Braksick on rewarding leaders

I once gave a scintillating talk to 500 company leaders on the power of feedback. Scientifically, feedback is the most powerful motivator of performance, I explained — even more powerful than money. I shared case examples of productivity increases in diverse settings — from chemical plants to railroads to insurance claim processing centers — achieved and sustained simply via supervisors giving their direct reports feedback on their performance. Supervisors gave praise for performance that met or exceeded goals and constructive dialogue when performance was off-target.

I underscored the key features of effective feedback — immediacy, specificity and sincerity — so every leader there could be even more effective with their teams going forward. To cap my remarks, I said, “Recall the impact you felt when your boss took time to share about your performance of something important to the business — and how powerful it was to get praise from someone you respected.” I wanted to make sure these leaders never underestimated the power behind their greatest leadership weapon: feedback to their people.

After my talk, a distinguished gentleman approached the podium — the company chairman. He must have left his smile at his seat; I vividly recall that it was nowhere nearby.

“Leslie,” he said in a scolding tone. “I enjoyed your talk very much — in fact, I agree with just about every point you made.” He went on: “It’s clear that what you shared is backed by the science of behavior and decades of experience and success. But I have one question for you: Who pumps the pumper?”

Huh? I looked at him quizzically. He repeated: “I want to know who pumps the pumper?”

That one took me a minute. Then it clicked. He meant, “Who motivates the leader? Who tells the boss when he or she does a great job?” From the look on his face, this was not just a philosophical question. Here was a man who sat at the top of his organization’s pyramid, and I guessed that he had probably gone a long, long time without hearing much praise for his efforts. His question seemed to come from a deep place of personal experience.

So, who does pump the pumper?

We can say it’s the board’s role to encourage and motivate the CEO/president. But in this case, he was chairman — so there was no one higher.

Again: Who pumps the pumper?

The answer is quite simple, actually: We pump the pumper. Or we should. It’s up to you and me, regardless of our role or level in the company. But it doesn’t happen often enough.

Time and again, my CEO clients have shared powerful stories of how much it meant to them to get an e-mail, voice mail, phone call or handwritten note from an employee, co-worker or direct report, thanking them — telling them of the positive impact of something they said or did. And I can tell you these CEOs never qualify their exuberance because the “praiser” was lower in the organization. Actually, their puffed chests were bigger because the praise came from a junior person in the company.

The top leaders and executives of companies, “the pumpers,” go for long periods without any feedback or praise for all they do. And when they do get it, they are deeply touched and highly motivated. We expect them to have the energy and motivation to pump everyone else — but we need to be better at doing our job of pumping them.

So, who pumps the pumper?

We all do. Don’t assume that senior leaders in your company know how much you appreciate all that they do. Tell them. Tell them often.

About: Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com) and author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010) and “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2006). Braksick coaches and consults with top executives and their boards on issues of strategy execution, leadership effectiveness and executive succession. Reach her at lbraksick@clg.com.

Published in Pittsburgh
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

John Allen on HR goals

Any time is a good time to practice smart, strategic human resources habits. Below is a list of five things your company’s HR department should be doing or resolve to do better. There is no better time to start than right now.

Align HR with your company’s business strategy.

HR is responsible for acquiring and optimizing one of your company’s most vital assets — its employees — so shouldn’t the group understand and be aligned with the organization’s business goals and objectives? Include your HR department in your strategic planning process so it can proactively recruit for a growing business unit or redeploy the right talent to a new venture. If your HR organization isn’t capable of thinking or acting strategically, think about how the department may need to change to better serve the company.

Develop a sustainable process for evaluating and rewarding performance.

If aligning HR to the organization’s goals and objectives seems difficult at times, try to align individual employees to move the company in the direction management wants to take it. One way to ensure employees are working toward a common goal is to establish a performance evaluation process that measures performance based on a set of criteria tied to that goal. A consistent and objective evaluation process can also help to ensure that your organization is rewarding employees based on merit rather than favoritism.

Employ technology to track productivity and minimize costs.

Web-based time and labor management technology is making time cards and manual time entry systems obsolete. Advance time and labor systems provide business owners and managers practical tools to plan, direct and oversee their staffs. Imagine being able to tap into real-time labor data online anytime or anywhere to assess current staff coverage, identify immediate staffing needs and make changes accordingly. Even details such as potential cost overruns caused by excessive overtime can be red-flagged and calculated so managers can make quick, cost-saving decisions.

Alleviate common risk factors associated with the HR function.

People aren’t perfect, so it is critical that HR maintains practices to mitigate the risks associated with human imperfection. During the hiring process, faithfully conduct background checks and drug testing. Insist on professional references, not merely family or friends. To prevent litigation, conduct annual diversity training, harassment training and salary surveys, and ensure that policies and standards are applied equally to all employees. To protect employees’ safety, implement a workplace security policy with photo ID cards, a receptionist and a visitor sign-in sheet and always remember to lock up sensitive personnel information.

Create an employment brand that attracts exceptional talent and enhances employee engagement.

“Basic Branding 101” teaches that a strong brand helps attract buyers and build consumer loyalty. The same is true of a company’s “employment brand.” Human resources plays a pivotal role in helping a company establish a first-class employment brand. By promoting an attractive corporate culture and offering competitive compensation and flexible benefits, HR can help ensure that your company is perceived as an employer of choice in the markets where you operate.

These five goals won’t transform your company, but just one can begin to change how your HR department functions, and since HR touches every single employee in your organization, there is no better time or place to start.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.

Published in Houston
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

Tom Nies on keeping your company private

One of the most celebrated events in American business is the initial public offering or IPO. Many see it as a transforming event that ensures a company’s long-term survival and signifies an arrival into the business big leagues. Currently, in the U.S., there are more than 19,000 public companies. So, why would a company actually choose to remain private?

Believe it or not, there are many good reasons not to go public, and I offer for consideration some insights that may cause one to reconsider why being private can be advantageous.

Many people question whether or not a private company can compete against a public company. We have been doing so for decades.

My company, Cincom Systems, is a privately held software company founded in 1968. It has thousands of customers on six continents and specializes in providing software and services to simplify the management of complex business processes. Cincom regularly competes with mega-companies like Oracle and SAP.

Not accepting financing from venture capitalists can often hurt a private company when competing against well-branded and publicly funded competitors. But, it can help you develop innovative, flexible and adaptive ways of thinking along with well-articulated value propositions. We have continued to pioneer software innovation in a rapidly changing business environment, focusing upon delivering outstanding value and competitive advantages for Cincom customers.

When compiling reasons not to go public, one stands out above all the others: freedom.

Remaining a private company can give you the freedom to make decisions based on the needs of your clients and interests of your staff, rather than upon the demands of shareholders. It helps you make business decisions that best serve the interests of clients, staff and the company itself. Remaining private will keep you free from excessive regulatory burdens and free to adjust to the changes in the business environment as you see fit.

You will have the freedom to run your business without a rigid timetable for an ROI and have more freedom to think long term.

By avoiding public financing, you are freer to control your own destiny. You will never be forced to merge out of existence or acquire other companies at excessive prices just to meet revenue or growth expectations. Because of this, you do not face the issues that mergers and acquisitions create, such as disparate product lines, product and employee redundancies, integration and employee layoffs.

Private companies are also freer to share their success as they choose. Public companies must share their successes with outsiders, whereas private companies are able to invest in R&D, better customer service and job creation.

Another clear advantage of remaining a private company is that it is much easier to create a corporate culture. At Cincom, we have created a unique, family-oriented atmosphere that encourages a sense of participation in the organization. For this reason, we have attracted a loyal and committed team.

Additionally, by being privately held, your customers will remain loyal because you base your decisions on their needs, rather than those of shareholders. Ultimately, what has made Cincom successful is being a customer-driven organization. As a result, we have an extremely high average tenure among our clients, some for more than 35 years.

The flexibility and freedom of remaining a private company is ingrained into a corporate character, culture and commitment. It is seen as a greater benefit for customers, employees and the communities in which they live all around the world.

For more than 42 years, we have shown that it is possible to progress as a private company, and we intend to continue to innovate in the software business for decades to come. For now, it is clear that an IPO is a “no-go” for us.

About: Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. For more information, visit tomnies.cincom.com/about.

Published in Cincinnati
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:10

Getting the word out

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Another way to position the general topic of the riddle is: Can something exist without being perceived? For the sake of argument, and this article, let’s just say that the answer to the riddle is no.

If sound is only sound when a person hears it, in order for an organization, company or individual to “exist” in the eyes of others, it has to make a sound. In other words, you need to get the word out about who you are, what you are doing, what your benefit is and where you can be found. Otherwise, no one is going to hear you.

You may have the best deal in town or be an expert in a particular field or offer a superb service, but if you don’t publicize it, then how will others know about it?

The first thing that comes to mind to most is to advertise, but that may not be appropriate for your line of business or may be cost-prohibitive to carry out effectively. So, how do you make a sound? The old-fashioned way: You walk, talk and announce.

Here are a few ways to let people know about your product — be it your organization, company or profession:

  • Develop a simple website that provides information about your company, your qualifications and areas of expertise. Write articles that are related to your line of business and submit them for publication or post them on your website or blog.

  • Start an e-newsletter and send it to clients and prospects on a regular basis. Provide them with useful tips and updates on your business.

  • Create an identifiable logo and/or stationery that represent your business.

  • Get involved in various business and civic organizations and get on at least one committee. Get to know the people in the organization. Position yourself as an expert in your area of business by seeking speaking engagements through business/civic/trade associations and organizations that may be interested in what you have to say.

  • Network, network, network. Every person you meet — whether it is at a business or social event — is a potential client. Your business can’t grow if you don’t network. Let people know what you do and “talk shop” with anyone willing to listen. Make sure that you always have a business card handy. Also, follow up with the people you network with by e-mail or using a handwritten note.

  • Finally, don’t be shy about what you’ve achieved. Publicize your accomplishments, including speaking engagements, appointments, awards and honors, new products and services, and so on.

Unlike traditional advertising, these public relations steps will help you build relationships that will either turn into direct business or referrals. Though each item may seem obvious, it is the synergy and consistency of “walking, talking and announcing” that will help you make a sound. While an ad in the paper can gain you instant recognition, it can’t substitute for third-party verification and it can’t build a reputable reputation. Only you can do that by making a sound and leaving an impression. Do these things on a regular basis and you can ensure a steady flow of business for your company.

Janice B. Gonzalez is the president and CEO of JBG Communications, a full-service marketing advertising and public relations firm that specializes in strategic marketing. In 2010, she honored by the Coral Gables chamber of commerce as a Business Woman of the Year finalist. Reach her at jbgonzalez@jbgcommunications.com.

Published in Florida
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

Sheng Liang

There has been a growing amount of buzz around the cloud and its benefits such as improved productivity, greater cost savings and increased efficiencies. Your company may already have deployed its own cloud. However, if you are like most, you are still considering the cloud from afar and unsure exactly how to turn a seemingly amorphous concept into a real business advantage. The trick is in figuring out how the cloud can work for your specific organization and how to best implement it.

For me, the cloud has become the “HP Garage,” the famed and humble birthplace of what is now the world’s largest IT company, Hewlett-Packard, and of Silicon Valley itself.

The cloud is the reason my company exists.

As evidenced by the company’s name, Cloud.com, the cloud is an integral part of the business: providing an open source software platform to enable enterprises to launch their own public or private clouds. But the cloud is not only important because of our value proposition and product; it’s played a crucial role in several aspects.

By using the cloud to manage our communications, e-mail, financial systems and development environments, we have kept the need for costly physical resources very low, something crucial for any growing company. As a result, we have been able to invest in the development of our intellectual property instead of worrying about expensive infrastructure. The cloud has helped us grow our business and spend money on smart services and other value-added resources.

Now make the cloud work for you.

If you are uncertain about using the cloud, begin with a pilot program. Start small, and along the way, you can pinpoint areas where you might extend your existing strategy with new technologies. The reality is that most business environments will be a mix of the physical and virtual, so here are four key points to consider when evaluating the cloud model that best suits your company:

Understand the cloud and its benefits to your business. Don’t force-fit your business strategy to suit technical capabilities. Instead, consider what type of cloud would best fit your current operations and enhance your IT strategy. The cloud comes in many shapes and sizes, such as hosted applications, hosted infrastructure, Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), on-premise or off, and more.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Build off your existing operational choices and be application-specific. The last thing you want to do is create confusion by transitioning something to the cloud that is already functioning well, whether it’s your CRM system or e-mail. The cloud can be ideal if you are implementing a service for the first time and can take advantage of the cloud’s cost savings and other benefits.

Evaluate all options, and stay agile. When determining whether to deploy a public or private cloud, consider your unique requirements for cost, security, availability and control, and weigh each deployment model’s pros and cons against each of these. Select a solution that works within your existing system but does not lock you into a specific environment; portability and flexibility are other important considerations. It will prove valuable to have a solution that allows you to migrate to public clouds in the future.

Recognize the cloud’s immaturity, and move forward any way. Despite the cloud’s relative newness in enterprise IT, advancements are constantly being made that push it to new levels of sophistication and reliability. More companies and developers are focused on advancing this segment than many traditional enterprise applications; therefore, moving now will ensure you don’t miss the wave of innovation and opportunity.

Sheng Liang is the CEO and founder of Cloud.com and is a recognized expert in virtualization technologies as the lead developer on the original Java Virtual Machine team at Sun Microsystems. He also was co-founder and CTO of Teros (acquired by Citrix) and has held technology leadership roles at SEVEN Networks and Openwave systems where he developed software products for leading service providers and operators around the globe. Reach him at (877) 349-7564 or info@cloud.com.

Published in Northern California