Todd Shryock

Sunday, 21 July 2002 20:00

Money in the bank

Every business has its good months and its bad months, regardless of whether it is retail, service or industrial. Part of the secret to business success is managing the excess money from the good months to cover shortfalls in the bad months.

“Any business, no matter what industry, the first thing they should do is get a line of credit, even when things are good,” says Martin D’Amico, author of “How to Predict Year-End Cash.” “You never know when you are going to need it, and the easiest time to get it is when you are doing well, as opposed to when you are in trouble. Get a line of credit, even if you don’t have to use it.”

To properly manage money, a business owner needs to understand cash inflows and cash outflows. Inflows include cash collected from sales, collections on accounts receivable and any loans from banks. Outflows include paying expenses, purchasing property or equipment and making loan payments.

Accelerating your inflows will improve your overall cash flow, because the quicker you can collect, the quicker you can spend. The more money you have in hand, the better you are able to pay your bills on time or early to take advantage of early-pay discounts. At the same time, controlling or delaying outflows improves your overall situation. CCH, a business consulting firm, recommends paying your bills on time, but never paying them before they are due.

To better understand these factors, set up a six-month cash flow budget. This will give you an indication of your business’s ability to create the resources necessary for expansion and can help predict periods when cash outflows exceed cash inflows when combined with your cash reserves. You can then take steps to close or fill the gaps.

Here are quick methods to improve your cash flow, as recommended by the Mining Co. (www.miningco.com):

 

  • Take advantage of early payment or prepayment discounts if you have available cash.

     

  • Consider leasing equipment instead of buying.

     

  • Offer discounts for prepayment.

     

  • Use trade credits or deferred payment plans when feasible. Get the longest payment terms possible.

     

  • Keep inventory as low as possible, and only buy discounted large amounts when you are sure you can use the entire amount.

     

  • Get rid of slow-moving items and donate or write off unsellable items.

     

  • Don’t overpay estimated taxes, and wait as long as you can without incurring penalties.

     

  • File for refunds as soon as possible.

     

  • Be cheap when buying office equipment or machinery. Determine what you can afford and see what you can get for that amount. Look for used equipment and furnishings from auctions, liquidators and used office furniture stores.

 

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

Windows 2000

The technology rat race has added another milepost, measuring where everyone ranks in the effort to have the latest products. Microsoft is expected to release Windows 2000 some time late this year, adding another dilemma to the technology budget: Upgrade to the new operating system or stay put?

New software can be one of the most difficult issues, because the results of implementing it are hard to measure. Will there be productivity gains? How do you know? Will it cause problems with other software and hardware? If the current system isn’t broken, should we fix it?

With Windows 2000, some of these questions are easily answered, based mainly on which version of Windows you are currently using.

“Windows 2000 is the same as Windows NT 5.0,” says John Ruley, senior technology editor with Windows Magazine (which isn’t affiliated with Microsoft). Ruley has been testing the beta version of the software for some time. “All that’s changed is the name. For those businesses that want to jump to NT, the logical upgrade path is Windows 2000. Those using NT 4.0 should considering going to this also.”

The new operating system has better hardware support, will run on notebook computers, and has some new features, such as encryption, multimedia support and active directories. But a lot of the new features are more appealing to large enterprise customers; a small network won’t see a lot of difference.

“The reasons why you wouldn’t go to NT also apply to Windows 2000,” says Ruley. “For anyone who isn’t already running NT, you’ll need hardware upgrades and memory upgrades. You’ll need 64 megs or better on the desktops, and don’t even think about a server with less than 128 megs of memory, and if it’s busy, the demands go up from there rapidly. It’s also not compatible with everything in the universe, and there’s no bet whether it will run even if you upgrade your memory.

“Unless you have a good reason, Windows 2000 isn’t something you want to upgrade to just so you can have the latest, greatest thing.”

Todd Shryock(tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s> special reports editor.


The name game

Microsoft’s planned release of Windows 2000 later this year may confuse a lot of software buyers.

Up until this point, Windows was differentiated between network users and desktop users by name: Windows NT products were for network users and Windows 95 and 98 were for the desktop. NT products had version numbers, such as 3.0, so you knew how current your software was compared to what Microsoft was releasing.

The problem is, Windows 2000 seems like the logical upgrade for Windows 98, but it’s actually the equivalent of Windows NT 5.0, and is intended as an upgrade for Windows NT 4.0. It’s meant for network users, not for the average person.

The only current upgrade for Windows 98 available, is Windows 98 SE, which is basically the same thing as 98, with the inclusion of bug fixes, Explorer 5.0 and the ability for several computers to use the same Internet connection through a single Windows 98 machine.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Palm power

Ever been out meeting with clients and felt the need to check your e-mail back at the office? Did you just put all your retirement money into an Internet IPO and want to know how it’s doing, but you’re stuck in a downtown traffic jam?

Ok, it’s true that not everyone needs access to the Internet when they’re out of the office for a few hours, but for those who do, there’s a solution: the Minstrel from Novatel Wireless.

If you’re the type who feels the need to have information at all times, it’s a given that you already have a Palm III, the personal digital assistant made by 3Com.

The Minstrel is a cradle that the Palm plugs into, giving you wireless access to the Internet. The modem is only 5.5 inches long, which adds about an inch to the length of the Palm, and weighs 5.4 ounces. The unit comes with an HTML Web browser that automatically eliminates graphics to make sites manageable for the Palm.

You can use any ISP and e-mail POP account, but you do have to use Novatel’s cellular network to communicate. The Minstrel transmits small packets of data, and users are billed for the amount of data sent, not the length of time connected to the Internet. The download speed is 19.2 kbps.

“We are going after the business customer and the mobile professional who needs to tie into the corporate intranet to stay in touch with e-mail,” says Mona Thomas, manager of marketing for Novatel.

The cellular network the Minstrel uses is available to about 70 percent of the business population, plus some Canadian provinces, parts of China and New Zealand. The Minstrel retails for $369, but is available through some cellular resellers for less when bundled with an airtime contract. Airtime starts at $15 per month.

How to reach: Novatel Wireless www.novatelwireless.com or (888) 888-9231

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.


Personal Digital Assistants, such as the 3Com Palm III, have become standard issue for the corporate executive. But are these important business tools, or just gadgets with a lot of “gee whiz” factored in? Consider the results from this recent CNN poll:

What do you think about PDAs? Are they:

  • Useful productivity enhancers — 44 percent.

  • Status symbols for the geek elite — 17 percent.

  • Overpriced gadget-of-the-moment — 21 percent.

  • The wave of the future — 18 percent.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Digital death

The analog cell phone could be put on the endangered species list, and there’s little hope for any sort of recovery. In all likelihood, it will follow the same path as the 8-track tape and the 5 1/4 inch floppy — hot technology one day, forgotten gizmo the next.

When cellular phones first came out, the only choice was analog. The quality wasn’t always great, but they did the job without complaint. Then digital came along, greatly improving call quality and adding extra features such as voice mail. Analog has been in a tailspin ever since. As digital prices continue to drop, analog phones fade into yesterday’s news.

“In the business market, we are predicting analog phones will basically disappear,” says Kelly Quinn, senior industry analyst of mobile communications service for Strategy Analytics Inc. “By 2004 or 2005, analog phones will be completely phased out of business use. There are a lot more options with digital phones — voice mail, caller ID, they’re easier to use for three-party calling and they have messaging. They are simply a lot more versatile and have better call quality.”

Users can roam and not lose calls the way they did with analog phones. As prices decrease, the decision becomes easy.

“People go for what’s new,” says Quinn. “Analog phones are being given away with service plans. With many digital services, you don’t have to have a contract, and that’s a real advantage. Digital providers have really moved away from the analog business model — people don’t want a 12-month contract.”

There will be some analog phones left over, mainly the ones people buy to keep in their cars in case of emergencies, but the majority of users will be on digital phones.

In 1998, analog accounted for 74 percent of all wireless phones. That’s expected to fall to 52 percent in 1999, and 4 percent in 2002. “It’s a pretty dramatic rampdown,” notes Quinn.

Providers push the digital advantage because it uses much less bandwidth to place a call. They can use the same amount of bandwidth for multiple digital calls as it would take for a single analog call. This means more users on the same infrastructure and less cost.

“People are giving away analog phones,” says Quinn. “That’s a big indicator they’ve become a basic commodity. They were such a hot product when they first came out, people were paying an arm and a leg for them. Now they can be had for a penny.”

Basic digital phones may be seeing their own demise . The third generation of phones has Internet capabilities with a small display screen and gobs of features crammed into one device. Whether this will be enough to displace the standard digital phone remains to be seen.

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Checkups

One of the biggest problems with managed care is the constant changing of physicians because of plan changes.

Once your company switches plans to save money, you and your employees are often faced with the task of picking a new doctor from a thick book of area physicians. What was once considered the sacred doctor-patient relationship has been reduced to randomly picking names from a managed care phone book.

But before you pick a doctor to turn your family’s health over to, you might want to do a little research. Everyone would like to know more about their doctor, but until now, about the only way to do it was to ask friends and associates who they liked.

PatientWatch, a service created to fill this information void in choosing a physician, can provide a detailed report on a doctor, hospital or even a particular medication.

“It’s the only place where people can get a full background on a physician,” says PatientWatch founder and CEO Steve Finando. “The report will show any discipline and malpractice claims.”

An attorney reviews all malpractice claims and translates them into plain English to make sure the potential patient has a full understanding of what actually happened. The report also contains information about the physician’s education, his or her board certification, residency and state licenses.

The information comes from about 150 databases, some of which PatientWatch created. There is also research on disease conditions, procedures and medications. All information is updated weekly.

“It’s common for someone going in for surgery to order a report on the physician, the hospital and the procedure,” says Finando. “People want the information so they can be informed and ask the right kinds of questions and ask about alternatives. They want to have confidence in the physician that will be working on them. It makes the patients more comfortable and makes them a more empowered consumer.”

When a request is filed, a report generally takes about two to five days, because researchers compile them — they’re not just pulled off the database. PatientWatch is a national service, and covers every physician and hospital in the United States.

“We envision ourselves as looking to become part of the whole concept of the patient advocate,” says Finando. “The information services were started as a means of providing information to advocates. I see this as a larger movement of patients becoming more responsible for their own health care. This begins with information. It is the key to survival and getting good care. Managed care can’t just put you in the hands of a physician and expect you to be passive.

“Physicians are looking for more informed patients, but they just can’t take the time to inform them.”

Report fees start at $35 and can be obtained either through the Web site www.patientwatch.com or by calling (800) 877-449-2824.

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:50

Kaboom!

CR Technology, like most companies, had a business plan.

It had been crafted by people with experience, and reviewed and approved by venture capitalists — you know, the guys in the dark suits who want to know how many times you brush your teeth each day before they’ll even think about opening their checkbooks. The i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed and the plan was laid out in a boardroom, not on a cocktail napkin, but in the end, it didn’t matter.

The company started out roaring in 1983 with its optical inspection systems, landing customers such as Motorola, General Electric and Delco. Within three months the phones stopped ringing and sales dried up.

“We won a lot of initial business, but they were customers who were likely to not be repeat business,” says Richard Amtower, president and CEO of the company. The problem was the product was geared for a very specialized client who needed a lot of engineering resources to make it work.

CR sold the cameras, processors and computers, and left it up to the manufacturer to integrate the inspection device into its complex manufacturing processes. After the first few early adopters signed up, there weren’t a lot of other companies willing to invest so much of their own resources into a product, or they simply didn’t have the resources to even consider it.

“It wasn’t that hard to figure out the plan wasn’t working,” says Amtower. “The surprising thing is someone hadn’t picked up on it before. But it quickly became apparent it wasn’t going to work.

“Most of the market didn’t have the kind of engineering support needed to use our product. We were quickly running out of business. Most of the market wanted turnkey solutions.”

With the company running out of money, Amtower steered it toward the turnkey products the market was asking for. This took it out of survival mode, but created problems of its own. Every order was basically a custom one. They were labor intensive, had little chance for repeat business and had low margins.

CR Technology eventually sold the entire product line, using the money to finance a generalized visual inspection product, which is what it is successfully selling today.

“You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out something needed to change,” says Amtower. “In stark numbers, our plan called for $1 million or $2 million worth of business to be booked in the near term. Of that number, next to nothing came in.

“It was so clear and obvious that it was failing, but why hadn’t it been obvious before? I checked things out, talked to customers — everyone was pretty positive. That’s the deception. The early adopters are all enthusiasts, and that enthusiasm can carry over.

“We made up a number of plans. It seemed we were tearing up plans twice a year and writing new ones. This is becoming common for technology companies.”

Amtower offers the following advice:

  • Anticipate that your plan might fail, especially if you are a technology company. Don’t get carried away by the initial burst of sales. “It’s easy to overcommit on personnel and inventory that will leave you in a severe financial bind. The initial sales are seductive.”

  • Cash is king. If you fall into this situation, quickly take control. Look to your employees as key resources. If you have to downsize, the employees who are left are your key to survival. Make a commitment to them.

How to reach: CR Technology, www.crtechnology.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

Stamp of approval

A sure sign that the Internet has officially changed every aspect of the economy is the U.S. Postal Service, that great bastion of regulations and conservatism, has agreed to sell postage online and allow you to print it out.

OK, it’s actually selling it to contractors, who then resell it to you, but it’s still letting you print it on your computer. This is the first new form of postage since the advent of the postage meter 80 years ago. Two providers were approved, Stamps.com and E-Stamp.com.

Here’s how it works for Stamps.com:

  • Download the software from the site.

  • Register.

  • Print your postage.

The service costs between $1.99 and $19.99 per month, depending on how much postage you use. The cost of the postage itself is not included. Users purchase a minimum of $10 in postage to place in their account via credit card. Postage can be printed at any time using an Internet connection. (E-Stamp uses a small device attached to your PC instead of an Internet connection to keep track of postage used.)

Postage can be printed for first class, priority and express mail.

“The digital revolution will change the postage industry forever,” says John Payne, CEO of Stamps.com. “By using the Internet to deliver postage, we have transformed a centuries-old product requiring proprietary machines into a simple service, available 24 hours a day from any PC.”

Business customers pay 10 percent of total postage used as the monthly fee, with a maximum fee of $19.99, regardless of usage. You are only charged the convenience fee when you actually use the postage in your account. There are no contracts, so service can be cancelled at any time.

The program is set up to work in conjunction with various word processing, office suites and address book programs, so mass mailings can be addressed and stamped in one step. The site also features automatic address correction and the addition of ZIP+4 codes to each letter.

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Stop, thief

Your company started small, and there were never any problems keeping track of computers and software.

But then the business grew, and so did the number of employees and computers. Software was transferred between machines, busy sales managers took programs home to install on their laptops, and who knows what’s on a few of the old terminals that no one uses anymore.

Therein lies the problem: You should know. All it takes is one disgruntled employee to call a hotline, and presto: a $10,000 fine for each copyright infringement. You never meant to have illegal copies of Microsoft Word, you just had sloppy bookkeeping, but the end result is the same. You get fined.

The Business Software Alliance has developed the following steps to help you determine what you have installed compared to what you have licenses for:

  • Take a physical inventory of the computers in your company. Count all computers (Macs and PCs), including servers, laptops and any that are not in use. If employees have loaded company-purchased software on their home computers, this should also be included. Gather information such as serial number, model, location and regular users.

  • Take inventory of all the software on all of the computers you identified in the physical inventory, including those not in use. (The BSA has a free program available on its Web site to assist in this process). Collect the following information for each copy of software installed on each computer: product name, version number and serial number. Make sure employees understand they should not add, delete or move any software from their machines during the audit.

  • Take inventory of all software documentation, including all disks and CDs used to install the software on the computers; all original manuals and reference documentation; all license documentation; and invoices or other proofs of purchase for software, including invoices for computers delivered with software already loaded.

  • Compare. At this point, you should have a complete picture of the software installed at your company and of the documentation demonstrating what software is legitimate. Carefully compare these two and determine how much of your software is actually licensed. Take into account whether there are multiple users of a single product and whether any associated license permits such use. Delete all copies of software for which you were unable to locate a license or other documentation supporting its legitimacy.

Once this is completed, set up a policy or procedure to make sure your company remains in compliance. One person should be in charge of this function, and after the initial inventory, should keep all data up to date for new purchases or licenses.

How to reach: Business Software Alliance, www.bsa.org

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

The future of health care

By 2010, 16 percent of all spending in the United States is projected to be for health care. In 1997, it was 13.6 percent.

With this upward trend, along with an aging population, health care companies must do more than they are today, because the demands won’t simply be for more volume of care, but better quality and speedier delivery.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently commissioned a worldwide study on the future of health care. The findings illustrate several implications health care companies need to consider if they are to survive in this future world:

  • Health care organizations that are consumer friendly will be winners. Organizations must change their processes, technology and organizational structure with an emphasis on delivery systems, attitudes and self-training. They must integrate eligibility, claims, referrals and authorizations into a customer-friendly process.

    Consumers will be stratified between e-health and traditional patients. Companies must have systems to deal with both of these groups.

  • Organizations must distinguish themselves through branding. Consumerism will blur the lines between wellness, acute care, chronic care and long-term care.

    All health care companies will need to brand both at the corporate and sub-brand levels to attract capital, customers and market share.

  • Service and speed will be keys to consumer satisfaction. The Internet has fostered the notion of I-time. To compete in I-time, health care organizations must develop virtual brains — also known as knowledge management — so workers and management can learn from each other in a fast-changing industry.

    Through knowledge management, they must collect, consolidate and analyze information to better understand their consumers, decision-making processes and perceptions of services relative to competitors.

  • New e-business models will emerge and challenge present-day medicine delivery vehicles. The Internet gives the advantage to speed over size.

    Bureaucratic health care organizations will fail in this race to smaller, adaptive entrepreneurial ventures.

  • The race for capital will hinge on the ability to demonstrate quality, efficiency and customer focus. Organizations will compete for capital on the basis of current, quantifiable and competitive data.

    Their investors, whether they are government or private sources, will demand prudent expenditures in facilities, technology and organizational relationships. Losing the information race will mean losing the capital race.

  • Functional silos in health care must be eliminated and replaced with seamless service. Professionals may impede change as they cling to traditional frameworks. Physicians are becoming more coherently organized, which benefits purchasers who are trying to work toward efficient models of quality care.

    But as physicians form larger networks, health networks are often destabilized and consumers are unsure about who their providers are.

  • Resources must be reallocated to retrain the work force to deal with empowered consumers and technology.

  • Payers must stress prevention, because early detection and intervention will increase costs. As a result of the Human Genome Project, consumers may begin getting their own individual genetic maps by 2010.

    Their risks for different diseases will be clearer, and they’ll want to do something about those risks.

  • Consumers will want more and won’t want to pay for it. There will be increasing demand on health care providers and purchasers to spend more on information technology and skilled workers to serve demanding consumers.

  • New opportunities for private health insurers outside the U.S. will expand rapidly.

  • Medical professionals need to work toward global standards of medical treatment.

  • Ethical dilemmas will proliferate for consumers, providers and purchasers. The Human Genome Project will push the envelope in terms of how medical information is collected, disseminated and organized.

    In addition, new waves of medical devices and drugs will elevate questions of medical necessity, personal responsibility and rationing.

How to reach: PricewaterhouseCoopers, www.pwcglobal.com/health

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Solving dependency

Chemical dependency of any kind, whether on drugs or alcohol, can be one of the most difficult things to change in your life.

The constant cravings make it easy to fall back into old habits, and relapses mean starting the recovery process over again.

But one clinic is finding success through nontraditional means.

“What separates us from others is the way we put a variety of therapeutic methods together in a unique way,” says William Steiniger, managing director of Desert Canyon Treatment Center in Sedona, Ariz. “Our approach is a whole-body approach, encompassing the body, mind and spirit. This is more than a program that helps people stop drinking or using drugs. It’s about people getting their lives back.

“We try to get them to radically shift their whole perception of what life is about.”

The system is radically different than traditional 12-step programs. Desert Canyon’s philosophy is that the addiction can be ended permanently.

Patients are taught to understand why they are abusing drugs and that they can control these urges. They are treated with a combination of counseling, meditation, dietary changes and exercise.

“As a result of the exercise, they start to get their strength back,” says Steiniger. “The physical body affects the emotions and vice versa.”

People feel better about themselves and realize how low they were, and make a conscious choice to not use drugs and drag themselves back down to where they were before.

While a small number of people lapse after leaving treatment, the effects are short-lived.

“Instead of lapsing again, they do the reverse,” says Steiniger. “They remember how awful it is and end the addiction permanently.”

Steiniger compares the variety of treatments to assembling a toolbox. Once patients are taught to use these healing tools, they can use them to help “fix” themselves. Different tools work for different people, and each person can draw on what is most effective for him or her.

“You are either doing one of two things: reacting to life or creating,” says Steiniger. “When you are in the creative process, you are the master of manifesting what you want in life. People with addictions, they have lost their ability to create, and spend their life pushing up against something.”

The therapy process takes four consecutive weeks to complete. Patients have access to a call-in support system for as long as they need it, but Steiniger notes that few people use it more than once or twice immediately after leaving, because they simply don’t need the help anymore.

They have the tools to help themselves.

How to reach: Desert Canyon Treatment Center, (888) 811-8371, or www.desert-canyon.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.