Is it time for you to optimize? Check out these strategies to help you maximize your firm’s patents

Michelle Rakiec, managing director, AdValum Consulting

Michelle Rakiec, managing director, AdValum Consulting

 

Stevan Porter, managing director, AdValum Consulting

Stevan Porter, managing director, AdValum Consulting

How can your company improve its business results? One way is by optimizing your firm’s use of patents. The right strategies for leveraging patent properties can provide long-term advantages and a leg up on the competition.

The following strategies are useful starting points for enhancing business outcomes through patents:

Consider patents’ financial qualities

The same analytical constructs that apply to financial asset management can be applied to patent management. When managing financial assets, it is prudent to consider things like expected future cash flows, return on investment and relative risk profile. Understanding this information helps businesses with limited resources to select the most profitable investments and manage risk.

Likewise, expected cash flows from internal commercialization of a patent or out-licensing royalties can be forecast, returns on patent research and development investments measured, and relative risk profiles of patents assessed. By considering these financial characteristics associated with their patents, companies can make better decisions and optimize value.

Understanding patents’ financial qualities, for instance, can shed light on which monetization route — commercialization, licensing or sale — is most desirable for a given patent or group of patents. It can also help a company strategically leverage its operations to support patent value and vice versa.

Recognize the risk profile of patents

All assets, including patents, carry risk. Importantly, the type and level of risks in patents vary according to a patents’ economic life, the technology it discloses and the industries touched by the technology. For example, certain patents in fast-moving industries may carry the risk of rapid technological obsolescence, while other patents’ technologies may face uncertain or very slow market adoption.

Holding several patents that relate to a steadily selling product may suggest financial stability but also may imply a high level of risk concentration since several patents’ values may be impacted by a single product’s market performance.

Evaluating risks associated with patents can lay the foundation for comparative risk analysis and superior strategy planning. By understanding the relative risk levels of patents in a given portfolio and how those risks align or differ from broader business risks, companies can efficiently diversify.

Effective diversification of a patent portfolio can be achieved by holding the right mix of patents and by utilizing the proper combination of monetization techniques for those patents. Notably, effective patent risk management can be done without straying from a firm’s core competencies since even patents with similar technological profiles may have substantially dissimilar risk profiles.

Execute strategic patent transactions with care

Due diligence in executing patent deals should be analytics-based, and care should be given to the broader business implications of any transaction. In this regard, appropriate qualitative and quantitative analysis should be deployed. Proper evaluation can help parties maximize value obtained through a transaction and ensure any deal comports with prevailing strategic initiatives, financial goals and desired competitive positioning.

Factors that should be considered in executing any patent deal include the following:

■  Values paid or received by others for comparable technologies.

■  Alternatives to reaching an agreement, including design-around cost/benefit analysis and assessment of the risk-adjusted outcomes of not executing a transaction.

■  Immediate and subsequent financial benefits, such as cash flow, “option” value and defensive patent aggregation security.

■  Possibilities for using the patent deal to foster broader strategic relationships or forestall undesirable competitor activity.

■  Value and risk implications of the contemplated deal on other patents in a portfolio.

When managed carefully and used cleverly, patents can be especially powerful tools for a business to enhance its bottom line. The right patent strategy can offer an excellent path to improved business results.

Michelle Rakiec and Stevan Porter are managing directors at AdValum Consulting, a premier provider of expert economic consulting services located in Chicago. They specialize in strategy, valuation and damages analysis in intellectual property matters. Rakiec and Porter can be contacted at (312) 623-3351 or [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.

Deborah Sweeney – Three things to keep in mind before you try to raise business capital

Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation Business Services Inc.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation Business Services Inc.

Your ability to attract investments can make or break your business. Extra capital allows companies to expand their operations and find new customers. Most business owners do eventually reach the point where they need some sort of outside investment — whether it’s from family, a bank or an actual investor — to help them make major purchases and grow.

One of the most common ways for a business to get extra money is by incorporating and then selling stocks. Unlike a loan, issuing stock allows you to raise money without taking on additional debt.

But there are a few things you need to know before you look at raising capital for your business:

You will have to give up some control of your business.

Incorporating a business turns it into its own, separate legal entity. Your ownership of that entity is dependent on how much corporate stock you own. As you sell off that stock, you dilute the ownership of the company. Furthermore, when you incorporate, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the stockholders and the corporation.

The interests and desires of the stockholders likely coincide with your own — both parties want to see the business succeed and make money. Just remember that when you do begin to sell stock, you are empowering the holders of that stock to influence major business decisions. Before you begin selling stock, make sure you’re ready to take the opinions of your investors into serious consideration when you are running the company.

You will need actual data to back up your pitches to investors.

If you are at the stage where you are ready to start looking for investors to help you expand, chances are that your business has done pretty well. It’s not enough to point and say, ‘Look, we survived and made money!’ You need hard numbers and data — how much revenue is your business generating? What is your current revenue-to-debt ratio? How will this investment impact your future earnings?

Buying stock in a company is already a gamble because if the company doesn’t do well, the investment could be lost. So be ready to show potential investors that your company is in a position where it can create a good return on their investment.

You will have to pitch yourself, in addition to your company.

Everyone is “passionate” and “committed” about what they do when they run a business — investors have heard those buzzwords plenty of times already. Investors want to know who you are, what your credentials are, and why they should trust you with their money. Sell them on your experience, and the experience of anyone else helping to run the company.

If they are confident in you, they will be confident in your business and be much more willing to invest. Issuing stock and finding investors can be a jarring experience. Once you start selling that stock, you lose some control of your business, and suddenly the needs and demands of your investors must be taken into account when you make major business decisions.

You also have to be ready to prove the worth of both your company, and of yourself as one of the company’s directors. If you are ready to let go, and are prepared to pitch the heck out of your business, your employees and your own career history, you will find investors willing to roll the dice and put some of their own money into your business.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.

Paul Witkay: Building breakthroughs

Paul Witkay, founder and CEO, Alliance of Chief Executives

Paul Witkay, founder and CEO, Alliance of Chief Executives

When thinking about innovation, most people immediately think about new products like the next iPhone or electric vehicle. I, however, have always believed that business innovation comes in many different flavors. For example, Dell re-engineered the way we buy computers, Apple revolutionized the way we buy music and Zappos.com provided a service never before seen online.

I recently read “Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs” by Larry Keeley and found it to be a great way to think about all the ways we might innovate within our own companies. All companies must continually improve or they will eventually die. According to Keeley, the most powerful strategies typically consist of several of the following types of innovation:

Profit Model — Gillette pioneered one of the classic business model innovations by creating the razor/razor blade system. The company taught consumers that razor blades could be discarded rather than sharpened for reuse.

Network — Network innovations enable companies to focus on their core strengths while leveraging the strengths of partners. Franchisors license their proprietary systems to franchisees to achieve much faster growth than they could do on their own capital.

Structure — Southwest Airlines was able to achieve faster turnarounds, lower maintenance costs and achieve more efficient operations by standardizing its fleet of Boeing 737s. The company’s unique structure resulted in much lower costs than its full-service competitors and increased profits.

Process — Toyota became the leading car company in the 1980s by creating the lean production system, which reduced waste, improved quality and lowered costs.

Product Performance — Before the launch of the iPhone, Corning Glass created Gorilla Glass at the request of Steve Jobs. This tough, scratch-resistant glass is now used in more than a billion devices worldwide.

Product System — Oscar Meyer wanted to do more than just sell cold cuts, so it created Lunchables — a lunch system that includes crackers, meats, cheese and dessert in a single fun package.

Service — Men’s Wearhouse promises free lifetime pressing of any purchased suit, sport coat or slacks at any of its stores, a service that is valued by business travelers who hate ironing.

Channel — Amazon created a closed wireless network that is free for Kindle customers so they can purchase and download e-books in less than 60 seconds.

Brand — Intel created the Intel Inside campaign to increase the perceived value of computers that use Intel processors.

Customer Engagement — Blizzard Entertainment created the most profitable online game in history, World of Warcraft, by designing the game to encourage and provide incentives to players to connect and collaborate, which increases their engagement and loyalty.

According to Keeley, the “heart of innovation is understanding when a broad shift is called for and driving it forward with courage and conviction.” Low-risk innovations improve existing products or systems by providing higher quality, improving speed or creating better service. The next level of innovation is to “change the boundaries” by bringing new products or services to an adjacent market.

The highest level of innovation is the rare occasion when you attempt to radically change an entire industry structure. Keeley says, “Transformational innovations erase the boundaries between once distinct markets and irrevocably change what is expected from competitors and consumers alike.”

So how can you decide which type of innovation will work for you? Opportunities are often discovered when observing how customers are either delighted or disappointed by current offerings. Keeley discusses how most innovation strategies focus on changes in three primary areas: 1) business models 2) platforms 3) customer experience.

The most radical and transformational strategies employ more than just one strategy at a time. It’s the CEO’s responsibility to determine when the opportunity for strategic innovation exists, and whether the organization is capable of making the necessary changes to succeed.

 

Paul Witkay is the founder and CEO of the Alliance of Chief Executives. The Alliance of CEOs is the most strategically valuable and innovative organization for leaders anywhere. The Alliance strives to provide the creative environments where breakthrough ideas happen. Paul can be reached at [email protected]

G.A. Taylor Fernley – Why your people need to be reminded of your core values at every turn

G.A. Taylor Fernley

G.A. Taylor Fernley, president and CEO, Fernley & Fernley

It is all well and good to have organizational values. That’s the easy part. How do you keep them alive? How do you position them to be a living, breathing part of your company’s DNA? That’s the hard part.

Organizational values can provide a moral foundation for taking the high ground in tough times or when temptation comes knocking. They reflect and reinforce organizational culture. Put another way, they are the anchors of your business.

Many organizational leaders spend countless hours coming up with an explicit set of values that reflect the beliefs and aspirations of their company. Often, they are inspirational, professing integrity, leadership, teamwork and collaboration. When asked about organizational values, it is often determined that the executives are enthusiastic and supportive of them. Why? Because they were instrumental in their creation.

Although there may be a lot of energy put into selecting the perfect set of values for your organization, don’t get trapped into thinking that once they are communicated everyone will remember and abide by them. Simply put, they won’t. Mistakes and misinterpretations will be made, but as an organizational leader, you can increase your chances of having your values front and center by adopting four basic principles:

Principle No. 1: Keep them memorable

Long drawn-out lists containing complex descriptions are a thing of the past.

In today’s world, people don’t read and are even less likely to remember. Make the list brief, two to four values max, and make the descriptions simple so they are memorable, aim for six to 10 words max. Print them on business cards and post them around the office in strategic locations. Keep them front and center in the eyes of your associates.

Principle No. 2: Lead by example

Make sure that you personally keep your organizational values in the forefront of the decisions and actions you take. Refer to them liberally at company meetings and acknowledge your associates who have “lived” them.

Don’t be reluctant to ask for regular feedback on whether your firm is in proper alignment.

Principle No. 3: Build your values into every message

At the expense of being redundant, when you are speaking with others in your organization, refer to those values to make your case. Give examples of how you’ve observed employees embodying those values. Tell stories about how they are being followed in other areas of your company.

Connect the dots for employees about how following the values make your workplace and your company better.

Principle No. 4: Observe when values aren’t being followed

Provide timely feedback to those who have strayed and remind them of the specific value(s) they’ve strayed from. Let them know what impact this has on you, others and the organization.

Keep your organizational values alive and in the forefront of each and every one of your actions. Make sure you are modeling them and expect the same from your associates by infusing them into your communication, recognition and feedback process. And then, sit back and relax. Watch them bring energy and commitment to your organization’s culture and future success.

G.A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at [email protected], or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Andy Kanefield: Lou Gerstner was right — vision isn’t the answer

Andy Kanefield, founder, Dialect Inc.

Andy Kanefield, Founder, Dialect Inc.

“There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.” 

— Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM from 1993 to 2002

My experience has led me to believe that many leaders think that just having a new mission statement, vision statement or articulation of their values is sufficient to engage their people. And after they have restated these organizational imperatives, many of these same leaders wonder why people don’t respond in ways they hope.

Gerstner’s experience at IBM gives us a clue to one of the reasons. He believed he had good reasons to avoid a new vision statement. The first reason was his observation that IBM had “file drawers full of vision statements.” The second reason was that the problem was paralysis — IBM wasn’t executing.

Gerstner knew that while IBM hadn’t created a new vision, it had already made strategic decisions about the future of IBM — which included being focused externally on the customer rather than an “internally focused, process-driven” organization.

So what was Gerstner right about? In order to be successful in the short term and sustainable for the long term, businesses have to be clear on a key set of questions, and vision is just one of those questions.

Whatever model for building a corporate strategy you choose to use, ensure that it addresses the following questions as a starting point:

What business are you in?

First, you need to know whom you’re competing against. Think about being in the restaurant business. That could mean anything from a place that serves pizza slices to the finest sit-down restaurant in Manhattan. Secondly, consumers like categories such as fast casual or fast food. It helps us set our expectations for our experience with you.

Who are your customers? 

If your primary customers don’t perceive value in what you offer, you won’t have a business. What do these customers care about? What difference do you make for those customers? This question is often expressed as a mission or purpose. It helps express the value that you deliver.

How are you different from your peers?

One layer is, “How are you unique or better than your peers?” The answer to this question must be something that engenders customer loyalty over the long-term.

A second layer is, “What quality, that is central to the DNA of your organization, enables you to be unique or the best within your category?” If you are the fastest of the fast food category, what trait have you built within your company that drives that speed? Is it uniformity or an unrelenting focus on continuous improvement?

What are your core capabilities that deliver your strength? 

These end up being your strategic priorities. If you’re the least expensive fast food restaurant, your core capabilities may include expert ability to manage your capital, superior logistics, consumer insights and aggressive vendor negotiation.

What behaviors are important  for success? 

Often called values, these are the beliefs that you and your organization have that manifest themselves into organizational and individual behavior.

What future do you want to create? 

Finally, we get to the vision. It is important that you have a direction that people, especially employees, can clearly see. If they don’t know where you’re going, they won’t know how to help you get there.

Building the answers to the questions above is not a discrete process — the answers are linked. This is the primary reason that just having an expression of your mission, vision and values isn’t enough. Without answers to all these questions, you won’t be able to outrun the competition over the long-term.

 

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. To explore how to align your mission, vision, values and other aspects of your strategy, reach him at (314) 863-4400 or [email protected]

Joe Takash: Four tips on how to have a productive confrontation with your boss

Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting

Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting

Art was 58 when he realized that his company might have passed him by. He had been with the same employer for 35 years. He still loved the business, enjoyed the young up-and-comers and genuinely respected his boss. Yet, he did not feel like as valuable of a contributor to his company as he was in years past, and it bothered him.

Finally, Art’s friend Peter asked him what bothered him most. Art replied, “The thought of being viewed as obsolete. It scares me from a career standpoint and hurts me personally. I don’t know how to say this to my boss.”

Peter’s response was spot-on — “You just said it, but I’m not your boss.”

Perhaps the deepest need in corporate America that even senior executives and CEOs experience on a regular basis is a toolbox for being productively confrontational. Most employees don’t know how to manage their boss and often work from a place of fear of resentment.

Many managers will not confront administrative assistants who are short and even rude to clients. Talk about underachievement! What does this do for individual performance, organizational results and professional reputations?

The following are important steps necessary for confronting others in a manner that creates stronger relationships and increased productivity:

Change the name and your attitude

Too many people look at difficult conversations as negative and counterproductive; hence, they avoid and dance around them as often as possible.

Instead of difficult conversation, use productive confrontation. The words you choose create the path you use. Knowing that the intended result is to help, not hurt, may make it easier to find the courage to step-up and approach others. Frame it appropriately.

Put it on paper

Before the meeting, prepare a bullet-point structure (not script!) in writing. Be sure that it allows you to communicate your viewpoint in a logical order that is easy to understand and follow for the other person.

Clarifying your points with concrete examples builds momentum and makes a stronger case for being heard with respect.

Be as clinical as possible

Whether you’re intimidated, angered, hurt or resentful, try to consider the impact of how both parties will feel and focus on how everyone can benefit. This will allow you to assume a third-party, objective perspective and maturely manage the confrontation.

Agree on a resolution

At the conclusion of the meeting, discuss what the next step should be for follow-up. This agreement serves as a strategic road map for a stronger working relationship going forward.

Art did approach his boss honestly with concerns and after his boss listened attentively, Art learned that he was not only valued more than he thought, but he was in line for a promotion. Remember, even bosses can’t fix what they can’t see.

Not all corporate stories have a fairy tale ending, but think of how many people wallow in negative emotions from holding back in confronting others. The key is to prepare, be confident and behave with courage.

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based sales and leadership development firm. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales conferences and management meetings and has appeared in many national media outlets. His firm, Victory Consulting, coaches executive teams and individual leaders with a client list that includes American Express, MIT, Prudential and Turner Construction.  Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com

 

Make it count — There are more than a few good reasons to write and publish your own book

Dustin S. Klein, Publisher and Executive Editor, Smart Business

Dustin S. Klein, Publisher and Executive Editor, Smart Business

A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.

“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.

Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.

Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.

As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.

Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.

Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.

Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.

This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”

That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.

So why write a book?

One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”

As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?

Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.

And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.

Doug Clark – How using outside experts can allow you to better focus on growing your business

Doug Clark, president, CEO and director, AmeriQuest Business Services

Doug Clark, president, CEO and director, AmeriQuest Business Services

There’s a good reason why the old adage, “a jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” has remained in our lexicon hundreds of years after it was coined. It’s because we recognize that almost no one — especially those of us in the world of business — can maintain an equal level of excellence across every single business function without some outside help.

That’s why the world’s leading corporations, even those with hundreds of thousands of employees, have embraced the concept of outsourcing many of their key business processes to cut costs, reduce overhead, conserve capital resources and focus on their core activities.

The good news is there’s no reason why midsized companies can’t enjoy the same benefits that larger corporations have in recent years.

Let’s look at the three platforms that are common to nearly any type of business and why they lend themselves in particular to outsourcing:

Supply management

This can comprise both procurement of goods and services and spend management, which focuses on when you buy and how much you buy. Unless you run one of those leading corporations I referred to above, you’re on your own. And even with your toughest negotiators, you’ll find it nearly impossible to get the same prices for supplies that those companies do.

By aligning your organization with the right business process outsourcing company (BPO), your firm and the other customers of the BPO can leverage your combined purchasing power, thus enjoying pricing consistent with national or global companies.

It’s important to look for a BPO that cannot only deliver the best prices, but also provide information on making smart purchasing decisions. Spend management tools can enable midsize companies to take a fresh look at strategically managing purchasing decisions that may have been previously based on the simple assumption, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”

Managed services

There are a number of non-core services that can usually be outsourced quite effectively while enabling your company to continue focusing its resources on its core activities. These include asset financing, remarketing and transportation. In each instance, the partnership with the BPO will elevate the level of activity to that of a much larger corporation.

For example, the right BPO often has access to flexible and multiple financing solutions that a smaller company on its own might not be able to capture. When it comes time to divest your company of inventory or outmoded company equipment, the same BPO should be able to handle the planning, marketing and execution of the sale, freeing up your employees to pursue core functions.

Financial process automation

Finally, by outsourcing time consuming back-office functions like accounts payable, accounts receivable and credit and collections, midsize companies can stay on the leading edge of technology without investing heavily in IT resources and talent, cutting down on labor, improving accuracy and dramatically improving customer service.

Cash flow is the lifeblood of businesses. The faster your payments, the healthier your business can remain.

Here is one final bit of advice to midsize companies considering outsourcing. Choose a BPO that takes the word “partner” seriously. Look for a BPO with a culture that aligns with yours. Look for one that can prove it can deliver exactly what it promises to do — reduce costs.

Doug Clark has served as president, CEO and a director of AmeriQuest Business Services, a business-process outsourcing company, since founding it in 1997. His professional experience includes stints in public accounting, investment banking and as a transportation entrepreneur. AmeriQuest Business Services assists more than 1,500 customers throughout North America. For more information, visit ameriquestcorp.com.

Robert Castles: Business first, technology second — How to take better care of the customer

Robert-CastlesWeb

Robert Castles

In business, the customer is always right — true or false? Well, it’s not always that clear cut. Sometimes the customer knows what he wants to achieve, but fails to share that business knowledge with you. This insight gap can prevent you from delivering a relevant product that meets his needs.

This type of situation, unfortunately, happens quite often, especially for software companies like PMG. Often our customers request a certain product that may not be the optimal solution for what they are really trying to accomplish. Our philosophy is putting our customer’s business needs first, rather than leading with our technology solution.

“Business First, Technology Second” has proven to be the winning ticket for both our customers and our business. At first glance, letting non-technical customers define our technology road map may seem counterintuitive, but it has enabled PMG to grow and thrive, even through the recent economic downturn.

Get in step with your customer

Not understanding the business issue behind the product request can lead to long development cycles, changes in direction, delays, and a possible solution that doesn’t quite meet customer expectations — leaving both parties frustrated.

Before embarking on developing the solution, you must first define the problem in business terms. The key is to engage customers to understand the underlying business issue. The information uncovered will help you deliver a more relevant solution and ultimately more value, which results in a satisfied customer. And satisfied customers lead to more business with additional referrals.

 Walking the talk

At PMG, we walk the talk. Last year, a major customer was insistent that we offer a native iPhone app for our service catalog solution. The customer wanted the app so that users could request items from the field. This was a major developmental undertaking that was not currently slated on our short-term technology road map.

In time, we discovered the real business issue was the significant delay in the approval process when executives and managers were away from the office, without access to the catalog. So the actual need was not the ability to submit requests from a mobile device, but to approve them.

This information dramatically narrowed the scope of the project, allowing us to almost immediately deliver a more relevant solution. Now executives are able to process approvals on their mobile devices, driving down the request processing time, which was the major issue from the beginning.

Had we proceeded to develop the solution that was originally requested, it would have taken much longer to deliver and cost more. Additionally, the solution would have been much more complex, which would have risked low user adoption altogether.

Crawl before you walk. Then run with it.

Investing the time and energy to form a true partnership with your customer will ensure success for both parties. Too often our customers are in a hurry to get a project completed. As a result, they skip steps and move ahead too quickly, instead of taking the time to have additional conversations to ensure that you fully understand the nature of their business and the scope of the issue at hand.

Taking the time to help your customer assess intended goals is critical to achieving success. But, even more important, is to ensure that the goal is tied to a business outcome. Unless decisions are made in the context of driving a business outcome, you may spend a lot of time deploying a solution that does not provide substantial value.

Robert Castles is principal of PMG, a provider of enterprise service catalog and business process automation software. Reach him with your comments at [email protected] or (770) 837-2301.

 

Ohio Chamber of Commerce: HR Academy expands products

Beau Euton, vice president of membership, Ohio Chamber of Commerce

Beau Euton, vice president of membership, Ohio Chamber of Commerce

It’s an unfortunate fact of business — over the last 20 years, lawsuits brought on by a company’s employees are up 400 percent. Businesses are constantly striving to stay ahead of the game as it relates to employer-employee relations, seeking information and tools to protect the business from getting into long, expensive legal battles with employees.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce is answering the needs of the Ohio business community through the expanded HR Academy. Launched last year by providing HR Academy webinars, the program has expanded this year to provide even more human resource services. Businesses often don’t have the means to employ an HR professional or navigate the complicated HR laws themselves. So the Ohio Chamber’s HR Academy gives employers the tools to help them stay compliant.

Knowing your rights as an employer is essential to protecting your business. Business owners need someone on the inside with a broad understanding of the legal issues that can affect employer-employee relations. The HR Academy is the perfect tool for business owners to make sure their HR staff is well-informed.

In addition, the HR Academy helps human resource professionals and employment lawyers stay up-to-date on the issues that can affect employer-employee relations. The HR Academy curriculum is accredited by the Society of Human Resource Management and is delivered through a series of online webinars and in-person symposiums. Participants of the program receive HR Certification Institute credits (for human resource professionals) and Continuing Legal Education credits (for lawyers).

Other products offered through the HR Academy include the following:

HR Symposiums: Held in cooperation with local chambers throughout the state, these monthly symposiums offer a variety of topics from social media in the workplace to the latest in employment law. The symposiums are presented by sponsoring HR Academy law firms.

Ohio HR Manual: Produced in conjunction with Squire Sanders, an Ohio-based law firm with employment law expertise, we now offer a comprehensive HR Manual packed with information about employment law and human resource-related matters, all presented in an easy-to-understand manner.

Employment Law Posters: Ohio law says that every employer must have its NLRA Employment posters displayed in an easily accessible area in a place of business. Failure to do so can result in a fine by the state. Business owners can make sure they are in compliance by purchasing posters from us.

Also, for the first time, we will be offering businesses an opportunity to brand the NLRA posters. A perfect “thank you” gift for anyone you do business with — clients, vendors, distributors, etc. — the posters can be branded with your company name and logo.

The HR Academy can be purchased as a yearly subscription for $1,200 that can be billed monthly and includes webinars, human resource symposiums, employment law posters, HR Books and access to HR legal experts. Items can also be purchased individually by visiting www.hracademyohio.com.

The HR Academy webinars and symposiums are presented by sponsoring law firms with employment law expertise from around the state. The current HR Academy sponsors include Squire Sanders (Presenting Sponsor) and Baker Hostetler (Cornerstone Sponsor). Innovator Sponsors include Dinsmore & Shohl, Eastman & Smith, Jones Day, Roetzel & Andress, and Steptoe & Johnson. Fishel, Hass, Kim and Albrecht is a Partner Sponsor.

 

Beau Euton is vice president of membership for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. For more information on the Ohio Chamber’s HR Academy, contact Michelle Donovan at [email protected]