Todd Shryock

Friday, 31 May 2002 13:10

Net casting

Need to communicate a message to many people spread across the country? Webcasting might be the answer.

Webcasting can either be interactive or just a TV-like broadcast if two-way communication isn't important.

"Webcasting will almost assuredly save you money on your communications budget," says Ray Harris, president and CEO of The Webcast Group, a Cleveland-based Webcasting firm. "It allows you to deliver a message to a geographically diverse audience."

Typical uses include new product launch, press conferences for a select group of editors, product announcements to distributors, sales staff presentations and internal announcements to employees.

"Another good use is for a presentation at a seminar, conference or roadshow," says Harris. "If you augment these events with a single live Webcast, you have something that hit a live audience, but also can be archived on your Web site and can work for you 24 hours a day."

One of the most common areas where you'll find Webcasting is at stockholder meetings for public corporations. These allow investors from across the globe to hear and see firsthand company officials present their results.

"Webcasting does not replace getting out and meeting people face-to-face and shaking their hands," says Harris. "It augments it. All communication efforts can be enhanced with an interactive Webcast."

The cost of a single Webcast is cheaper than a cross-country business trip. A typical one-hour live event costs between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on the size of the audience, but for an archived 15-minute on-demand message, the cost drops to as low as $500.

"You can make the Webcast a private viewing for your salespeople by issuing a password," says Harris.

When users click on the Webcast link, a customized pop-up player launches to play the messages. The player is designed to look like the rest of the site, but The Webcast Group hosts the actual message.

Polling questions can be inserted into the video to get instant feedback from customers, employees or suppliers so you can refine your message or services.

Says Harris: "Webcasting allows you to not only inform your audience, but also engage them and gather data simultaneously." How to reach: The Webcast Group, www.webcastgroup.com

Tuesday, 30 April 2002 07:40

Net payments

Leveraging the Internet to benefit your business doesn't have to be in the form of an impress-the-world Web site.

In fact, the easiest road to cost savings may not require a site at all.

"Online billing and payment comes in many forms, and at some level, is beneficial to just about any company that doesn't receive payment immediately," says Joe Muttillo, sales director for the Intersoft Group, a Cleveland-based e-commerce solutions provider. "It doesn't matter whether your customer is a consumer or a business customer. Where companies receive benefits is that it helps them streamline their accounts receivable, increase their cash flow, minimize billing costs and expedite payments."

The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates the cost to send out a paper invoice or statement is 85 cents when you add in all related expenses. Sending them electronically can cost as little as 15 cents.

"One thing you have to ask yourself is whether or not you have or can get your customers' e-mail addresses," says Muttillo. "If it's a business-to-business customer, it's probably no problem. For consumers, nearly half the country still doesn't have Internet access."

Muttillo says it's important not to be misled on what an online billing system can actually do.

"This is not a product where you hit a switch and all your billing will be done online," he says.

Because you probably won't have everyone's e-mail address, you'll still have to run most of your bills the old way.

"Offer some incentive to pay online, if you can," says Muttillo. "It might be a discount or something free after so many payments. Once you are able to run people off the old system onto the online one, that's where your true savings will take place."

Smaller companies may not see huge savings because of smaller mailing costs, but they still benefit from improved cash flow. Transactions are set up as bank-to-bank transfers, saving time and money on banking fees. Bills or statements are sent out as HTML attachments in the e-mail, allowing you to customize them to look like your company Web site. For added security, the documents can also be stored on the Web, with the e-mail just stating where the bill can be viewed.

"Make sure any company you use for online billing understands your business processes and not just the Internet side," says Muttillo. "There's some upfront work to do this right, but in the long run, it saves you money." How to reach: Intersoft Group, www.intersoftgroup.com

Wednesday, 24 April 2002 06:42

Message in a handset

Your wireless phone might be good for more than just talking to people.

For instance, Verizon's Mobile Messenger, allows customers to send or receive text messages from their handset up to 160 characters long.

There is no monthly fee, and it costs just a few cents per message to use, with bundles of 100 to 600 messages available for flat rates for heavy users.

"With the mobile messenger, there is no roaming no matter where you are in the country," says Carlos Beccar, marketing manager for wireless data products for Verizon. "The price is always the same."

A companion to the mobile messenger is the Web site www.vtext.com. From that site, anyone can send a message to a Verizon customer with Mobile Messenger. The person's mobile number is their messaging address. Users can also enter reminders on the site, and when it's time for an appointment, for example, the message reminder will be sent to the phone.

"We're getting great feedback from small companies," says Beccar. "The office can set up a distribution list and can send a message to service truck one or service truck two, for example. They can send one message to 10 sales people or service trucks and only have to compose the message once."

The office also knows when the message was received and verification, so no one can claim they never received the message. Companies are essentially using the phones as a sort of low cost dispatcher system.

"Sales managers have really found the benefits, because if they have to get a message to everyone, they can just use Mobile Messenger and not have to worry about interrupting someone in a sales presentation," says Beccar.Messenges are managed on the phone just like an e-mail account on your computer.

There are some basic "canned" responses available to save you time, and each handset now has predictive word typing to help speed up the process of typing out a message using the number pad on the handset. Ninety-seven percent of all messages are delivered within 30 seconds nationwide.

Verizon Mobile Messenger companion site

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 12:19

Leveraging technology

When the executives and key decision-makers in the Information Systems department of Cleveland-based Danly IEM evaluated the company's Web site in mid-2000 for e-business opportunities, they realized some areas needed upgrading.

Officials at Danly, a multimillion dollar die manufacturer, recognized three key areas of opportunity:

* Utilize e-commerce to expand the reach of Danly's products and market over the Internet.

* Make it easier for customers to do business with the company.

* Reduce the transaction cost of processing an order.

"The end solution was a business-to-business e-commerce site that is completely integrated into our back office," says Sarp Uzkan, director of information systems at Danly. "The customer doesn't need a catalog or to even talk to a salesperson. They can go find the product they need on the Internet and place an order."

Today, the site, www.danly.com, lists 95 percent of the 8,000 parts the company sells, and that number continues to grow. Five percent of orders originate through the Web.

Uzkan says that early last year, after the site relaunched, it received more sales than anyone had imagined.

"It's given us the opportunity to take orders from countries where we have no sales reps," says Uzkan. "We've gotten leads from new customers in areas we hadn't tapped into."

Information taken from the Web site is sent to the sales department for follow-up. As the economy worsened, these leads became more valuable, and selling online has opened up new geographic areas and industries for the company.

Danly also added tools to the site to provide customers with as much information as possible, making it easier to do business with the company. A study in 1999 showed that 30 percent of all calls to the company concerned order status and tracking numbers. As a result, it made this information available online, along with product pricing, availability and CAD drawings.

"We know the way our customers buy products," says Uzkan. "Many of them like to shop around and find the right price. This fits those customers' needs because all the information they need is online."

The e-commerce applications have also minimized costs. Orders generated from the Web are transmitted directly into the company's back office system without human intervention. The product is taken off the shelf and shipped immediately.

Danly also got more value out of its EDI technology by applying the same processes to the e-commerce platform.

"We're not adding value to our customers while we are transacting or processing their orders," says Uzkan. "The more we can automate, the more we can take out costs or waste in the chain."

When a manufacturer emphasize direct sales, distributors typically start to worry, seeing it as a threat to their income. But Danly, which makes about one-third of its sales through its distributors, has invited them to join the e-commerce party.

"We have created a Web site for our distributors to sell our products or any others over the Web without going through a lengthy implementation," says Uzkan. "We are actually hosting some of our distributors' sites and making a little money on it."

As a result, distributors can quickly set up a site to sell their products over a system that's ready to go without investing in hardware, software or consulting. Better yet, Danly helps them sell more of their products. How to reach: Danley IEM, (440) 239-7600

Tuesday, 22 January 2002 05:48

Rules of the game

Today's rules of etiquette focus more on how well the function goes than on which fork you're using.

"The most talked about etiquette is which silverware to use, but most people will never know if you use the wrong fork," says Todd Thompson, service manager at Pier W restaurant in Lakewood. "Things have really mellowed out in terms of classic dining. It's more difficult to even find that kind of table service anymore. More and more places won't put out all the silverware, but instead replace it as needed."

More important is the overall impression your client gets from your function.

"When you're hosting a dinner for a client, the more important the meeting is, the more important it is to develop a relationship with wherever it is you are having dinner," says Thompson. "Most of what goes wrong is because of a lack of communication with the restaurant. People have expectations that don't get carried out."

When making a reservation, make sure the restaurant understands it's a business dinner so the staff can put you at an appropriate table.

"I've seen it countless times where someone doesn't communicate that fact and the table they really wanted isn't ready, so they have to wait 10 to 15 minutes while it's fixed -- and the dinner has already started on a bad note," says Thompson.

Take charge of your party if you have more than one person. Lead the others when being taken to your table and direct people to where they should sit, giving the most important person the seat with the best view.

"You don't need eight people milling about the table trying to figure out where to sit," says Thompson. "It gives the impression you don't know what you're doing."

Another way to keep things running smoothly is to arrange in advance for the bill to be paid. Either provide the restaurant with your credit card information before hand, or make impromptu arrangements during a trip to the restroom.

"Make sure the waiter takes care of it, and make sure the gratuity is put on it as well," says Thompson. "When a bill is subtly handed to you to sign, it makes you look classy and on top of your game."

It also eliminates any arguments over who will pay for dinner.

Developing a relationship with a restaurant can pay off big in making a good impression with your client.

"You can't overestimate the effect of the restaurant knowing who you are and recognizing you by sight," says Thompson. "When someone greets you by name, it really makes a difference."

Join Pier W and SBN at Business Entertaining Etiquette on Feb. 19 and March 19, 2002, at Pier W to learn the rules of the game.

Business Entertaining Etiquette 101

Tuesday, 22 January 2002 05:39

Device merger

The arsenal of any mobile businessperson includes a mobile phone and a Palm handheld device. The phone keeps you in contact with the office and the rest of the world and the Palm keeps your relevant data close at hand.

But what if there was a merger between the two devices? The result is a smart phone featuring all the advantages of both rolled into one device.

The two most well-known smart phones with Palm functionality are the Kyocera QCP 6035 and the Samsung SPH-I300. The Samsung model was developed for Sprint, while the Kyocera is available from several wireless providers.

The Kyocera has a flip down keypad that exposes the full Palm screen, while the Samsung resembles a normal Palm device with a keypad showing on the full-color display screen.

"Mine is working out very well," says Andy Birol, a business consultant who spends most of his time out of the office. "I can now directly dial any number that's in my Palm Pilot, which is about 2,400 different numbers."

Birol, who has the Kyocera model, says you can also receive faxes and e-mails into the phone, but doesn't use that function much because of the memory limitations of the device.

When you need to access data while talking on the phone, you can activate the speakerphone function, allowing you to look up an address while still talking to your party. You can also record short voice memos, browse the Web, use voice activated-dialing and do about anything else you could do with your phone or Palm device separately.

"It's not for everyone," says Birol. "I'm a power user. For me, it takes the place of a lot of people and technology. It's expensive and requires some investment of time in learning how to use it."

The Kyocera phone has a suggested retail of $179.99, while the full-color Samsung model retails at $499.99. Both have battery lives of 3-4 hours of talk time and about 100 hours in standby mode.

Kyocera

Tuesday, 22 January 2002 05:35

Mail watch

Most companies have a policy outlining the acceptable uses of e-mail while at work along with a warning that the employer reserves the right to read any mail sent or received by the employee.

Employers often choose not to bother doing so, but there are some legal reasons to keep an eye on what's going on.

"From a legal standpoint, many discrimination or sexual harassment claims state that someone used insensitive or inappropriate jokes in an e-mail," says Tom Simmons, partner and chair of the labor and employment practice group for the Cleveland office of Arter & Hadden. "These were forwarded on to other people, and they end up being used as evidence."

In harassment claims, pornographic e-mails are often the root cause.

"There are people that never in a million years would they walk down the hallway at work carrying a Penthouse Magazine, but they'll send pornographic e-mails to 20 co-workers," says Simmons. "I'll never understand why someone does that."

The other primary reason is to make sure employees aren't sending trade secrets or other confidential information to competitors. This is especially true when someone might be leaving the company.

Having an e-mail monitoring policy in place can help prevent all these potential problems. A strong policy may not necessarily lead to people being caught, but will probably have a preventative effect.

"You do have to be careful if you monitor e-mail," says Simmons. "The most common claims you get out of monitoring are either from the Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act or an invasion of privacy."

To eliminate those violations, Simmons says you need to remove the expectation of privacy with a policy that:

  • States e-mails will be monitored by the company.
  • Explains that computer systems are company property and should only be used for business purposes.
  • The employee signs, showing he or she understands the policy.

"There should also be some periodic reminder about the policy, at least every quarter or every month," says Simmons. "If you do your monitoring legally, you'll be less likely to be sued. If you do get sued, you'll be in a good position to win. If you have a policy and the employee signed off on it, they'll be in a difficult position to say they had an expectation of privacy."

Arter & Hadden

Wednesday, 02 January 2002 05:02

Documented savings

Document management would be great if you could afford it, right? Odds are, you might already have the needed equipment in place, you just need to connect them together.

"Most of the time, companies have what they need to improve document management," says David Fazekas, vice president of the Great Lakes region for Xerox Connect. Many of today's copiers are multi-functional devices that can print, fax, scan and store documents.

"Once a device gets hooked into a network, you have a device that can do the job of what 10 to 12 printers can do," says Fazekas.

Printers are cheap because companies are making money on the supplies -- money that comes out of your pocket. If you can consolidate multiple printers into one device, supply expenses should drop.

"Some companies never budgeted a line item for printer supplies," says Fazekas. "It was just lumped into office supplies, so they didn't realize how much they were spending."

Savings can reach $5,000 per person in some environments, which means that even if you don't have the necessary equipment in place, leasing or buying it may prove cost effective if you have high print volumes.

Using a few multifunctional devices rather than a combination of copiers, fax machines, printers and scanners also allows your maintenance costs to be consolidated to one vendor.

"About 90 percent of the companies we work with have found that they would benefit from document management," says Fazekas. "A CFO can see real cost savings. If we remove five printers that cost $6,000 in supplies annually and aren't being used to their capacity and route documents through one machine that has the capacity, the savings become apparent."

With document management, the need to print many documents is completely eliminated. Expense reports, for example, can be scanned in along with any necessary documentation and signed electronically. Those files are then sent through the network to the administrator who processes them. The documents are stored in case of the need of an audit or if additional changes are needed.

"You simply use technology that's available to be more efficient," says Fazekas. "Just look at your specific business processes and teach people they don't need to be making all those copies."

The other advantage to document management is that it sets the table for knowledge management -- a process where a company is essentially storing all its data in one central database.

"It gets what's in people's heads and what's in the file drawers and creates a culture where everyone opens up and shares information," says Fazekas. "It will be the next big technology migration. It's coming slower to market because of the economy right now.

"The key to this is, in an economy where cost savings is important, everyone should be looking at document management. It saves money and sets the table for knowledge management later on."

Wednesday, 05 December 2001 05:16

Too fast

The Internet has driven the speed of business to somewhere on the far side of turbo.

The hectic pace of the silicon gold rush has also caused some spectacular crashes, all because of a lack of fundamental business sense.

""There's a lot of things coming together that is creating an environment where we're all moving fast,"" says Dorothy Langer, president of Langer and Co., a Boston-based strategy consulting firm. ""When you move fast, you don't have time for planning, and planning is among one of the more important things that companies aren't doing.

""If you're not planning, you're not thinking long term.""

The speed of business may not allow you plan in the traditional sense, but you can still plan to some degree, even if it means not dotting every i and crossing every t.

"You need to plan, or else you're not thinking through your decision process -- you're not forecasting events that could change your business," says Langer. "You'll have no contingency plans, you could hire too many people and suddenly realize you don't need them. There is a lot of poor execution going on."

Some of the problems come from the relatively young management teams that companies -- especially Internet companies -- have leading them. The labor shortage also means there's not a lot of talent to be found when building a team.

Because of this, the customer isn't being served well, and people aren't being put in place to handle problems. Internet businesses are currently trying to find a business model that works. Smaller companies used to have the Internet to themselves, but now all the large corporations have jumped into it with their resources. These old economy companies have made mistakes, as well.

"They're not making the same mistakes," says Langer. "If anything, they make mistakes on the side of being too conservative. Their problem is they don't understand the Internet or the people using it."

Langer's bottom line: You have to have long-term financial, product and marketing strategies that are constantly revisited. When you have a plan and a framework, when something changes externally, you'll understand where you're at and where you have to change.

Langer and Co. website

Thursday, 29 November 2001 18:26

Over the limit

In the old days, there was a clear distinction between management and labor.

A small number of managers dealt with a larger number of workers who worked on the shop floor or assembly line. But as the economy has moved more people behind desks, the line between who is eligible for overtime pay and who isn't has blurred.

"The Fair Labor Standards Act is very simple in its rules, but deceptively complex in its application," says Jonathan Segal, a partner in the Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen employment services group. "What the law generally says is that you are eligible for overtime unless you are exempt. You are exempt only if your are paid on a salaried basis and perform exempt responsibilities."

Exempt duties include executive responsibilities, professional responsibilities such as those of a physician and administrative responsibilities.

"The principles of the law make sense, but the framework doesn't fit the information economy," says Segal.

This means there are a lot of gray areas surrounding who's exempt and who isn't.

* To prove executive duties, an employer must show the employee supervises two full-time employees and that supervision constitutes at least 50 percent of his or her time. "If supervising is only 10 percent of what they do, that won't make it," says Segal.

* For a professional exemption, you just need to show some sort of degree upon which the job rests. This could be a doctor, nurse or psychologist, for example. This exemption is relatively narrow.

* Administrative exemptions are where most employers get into trouble. "It's fraught with ambiguity," says Segal. "To meet the exemption, the person must generally have substantial judgment and independent discretion and the ability to bind the organization. They should have the ability to develop and implement standards."

A computer programmer with extensive skills who works within an existing program may qualify for overtime pay. A programmer who has a more limited skill set but creates programs for the company to use may be exempt.

An executive secretary could be exempt if he or she has a lot of authority.

"If you want a position to be exempt, then you better give it real judgment and discretion," says Segal. "You need to show examples within the organization how they established and enforced protocol."

A title is relevant but isn't the determining factor. A custodial worker may be called a plant sanitation manager, but it doesn't change the job that's done.

Employers must also never give the impression that an exempt employee is anything but salaried, which carries special rules. Salaried workers cannot be docked pay for anything less than a full work week. If it's for sick or personal time, the minimum deduction is a day.

If you give exempt employees money for working extra hours, don't pay based on an hourly basis.

"Give them a flat amount so it looks like extra compensation," says Segal.