Unless you’ve had your head in the sand the past year, you’ve probably heard of cloud computing and like most business owners or managers, you’re either looking up at the sky for answers or simply choosing to ignore it.
Even if cloud computing seems confusing and/or daunting, don’t ignore it, says Mark Swanson, the CEO of Telovations Inc.
“It is vitally important to not only understand what cloud computing is, but also to tap into its far-reaching and strategic ‘hidden’ benefits,” says Swanson.
Smart Business spoke with Swanson about cloud computing and how a business can be and should be benefiting from it.
What exactly is cloud computing?
The term ‘cloud computing’ refers to a computing paradigm that has been around for more than 10 years. Still, communication disjoints and confusion over the term ‘cloud’ is almost certainly getting in the way of its acceptance, by making it more difficult to understand what it means for your business.
Generally, ‘cloud’ means three things:
- Its flexible/scalable/virtual applications infrastructure is available on-demand.
- It’s pay as you go you only pay for resources used in a shared environment.
- There’s no ongoing obligation.
What are the benefits of cloud computing?
Take hosted e-mail, for example. Most users don’t have their own servers; they rent their mailboxes from Google, AOL or some other provider. The benefits of not running an e-mail server yourself are obvious: you don’t have to spend the time to do it, you don’t have to add more capacity and you can add mailboxes on demand. An added bonus is the fact that these firms all have redundant infrastructures that keep your system up and running no matter what ‘disaster’ occurs.
However, despite all the obvious benefits, it is easy to create a business case that does not justify moving to the cloud. The common excuses I hear are: ‘My applications are unique.’ ‘The cloud is not secure.’ ‘I have too much of an investment in my people.’ or, my favorite, ‘I have to see my server!’
What are the consequences of ignoring cloud computing?
There are ramifications to this new computing paradigm that go beyond the obvious. Choosing to not adopt a new technology has strategic implications to your business that you should not ignore. For example, the American automobile industry failed to adopt factory automation and ‘Just-in-Time’ inventory systems and fell behind Japanese manufacturers in the 1980s. If you choose to ignore cloud computing technology today, your business could suffer the same fate while your competitors soar ahead.
If a business wants to implement cloud computing, what’s involved with the process?
There are many factors to consider in evaluating cloud-based technology, but here are three that are often overlooked:
- Using cloud computing allows your business to be more adaptable. Just look to Charles Darwin and his observation on survival of the species for inspiration. Darwin’s quote, ‘It is not the strongest species that survive … but those most adaptable to change,’ can be directly applied to any organization. Applications in the cloud are ready to deploy and can be ramped up or down very quickly. For example, you can deploy a complete phone system inside of a day.
However, less obvious is that outsourcing to the cloud helps your IT staff be more adaptable. Apple, for instance, is the most valuable technology company in the world because it has adapted. They have taken technology design and applied it to a variety of industries, including education, music and books. Likewise, using a cloud-based infrastructure and applications helps you be more adaptable by allowing your IT employees to focus on things that have more impact on your business. Your IT team can’t afford to be messing around with e-mail, financial systems or phone systems. They need to be focused on using their skills to help make what you do better and supporting the company’s strategic initiatives, not spending time on technologies that are chore versus core.
- Using the cloud helps your IT staff be more efficient. If you are not in the technology business, it is very hard to hire the best technology employees into your company. You might be able to attract very good applications developers, but what it comes down to is that good engineers want to be around the latest technology, not work for a company who is still using outdated equipment and technologies. The best and the brightest IT technicians would never leave a company to go work on a six-year-old premise-based switch if they are engaged working in the cloud. And it’s not just because it is the trend of the decade, but because it allows them to accomplish more.
- The cloud affects your ability to participate in innovation. Most of today’s most innovative business applications are being delivered via the cloud. Salesforce.com, NetSuite and J2-Fax are but a few of the companies that are driving innovation in the market. In addition, cloud applications are all starting to talk to each other in what is becoming known as a ‘cloud-based ecosystem.’ Sales automation systems are talking to phone systems, which are connected to customer management systems, which are linked to billing systems all in the cloud. What once took hundreds of thousands of dollars to integrate is now literally available out of the box. If you are not participating where the innovation is happening and your competitors are, you will fall behind.
A dozen years ago, Sun Microsystems came up with the marketing slogan, ‘The network is the computer.’ That vision is becoming a reality today. Ignoring the cloud today is almost the same as ignoring the Internet twelve years ago. You owe it to your business to make your IT department come up with a cloud strategy and leverage the apparent and hidden benefits before your competitors do.
MARK SWANSON is CEO of Telovations Inc. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The business of health care is always changing, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for large providers of health care services to maintain their competitive advantage. So, how do they do it? More than ever before, hospitals are finding the monetary value in continuously evolving to meet changing community health needs.
“Innovation is key,” said Mark Nosacka, CEO of Good Samaritan Medical Center, a part of the Tenet Healthcare Corporation. “We have to constantly be reinventing ourselves and the processes we use to deliver high quality health care.”
And while innovation may not be a novel concept, Nosacka has taken a unique approach to managing change in his hospital.
Smart Business spoke with Nosacka about organizational change and how to become a successful competitor in the highly competitive health care service delivery market.
What is your philosophy on organizational change?
When I came to Good Samaritan Medical Center, I was personally dedicated to living in and becoming a part of the local community. Becoming involved in the hospital’s community helped me to understand the community’s needs. I also looked within our organization to the physicians, nurses and employees we had to increase our employee morale and pride.
I wanted to ensure that our physicians and staff could communicate their needs to the administration. What did they need from the hospital to do their jobs better? I also looked to the physicians to inform us about what the patients needed. We created routine meetings with our physicians and developed a physician advisory group. We did the same for our nurses and other staff members.
Then, we were able to determine what people, supplies and processes were needed to enhance the quality of the medical services we provide. In my experience, when employees have more influence on what goes on at the organizational level, they are better able to provide services reflective of community needs and demands.
How has your hospital’s organizational change influenced its business model and service lines?
After looking within our staff and consulting with them, we understood where we needed to improve as a hospital. Our mission statement changed to reflect our dedication to deliver safe, cost-effective care. We distinguished our hospital as a leader in providing quality, innovative care to the patients it serves.
The hospital environment shifted to administration becoming partners with the providers of care. Our organization was more cohesive, communicating and delivering services more efficiently. The hospital now operates with two ‘jobs’ there are those who take care of patients and those who take care of the people who take care of patients. Our priority is always focused on patient care.
From a business perspective, we have the ability to invest in new technologies and programs that our physicians and health care providers need to meet the demands of patients and to stay competitive.
How have you been able to maintain an upward trajectory of profitability while investing in new programs and services?
As in any business, profitability of a hospital relies on the ability to properly use resources and reinvest capital. Being part of the Tenet network helps us access best practices within our service lines, which allows us to be informed of innovative research-supported technologies and services. Furthermore, we have the purchasing power to adopt the new technologies, train our medical staff and employees and offer the services to the community. With these resources, we can be better at the bedside; we can provide evidence-based care with some of the latest technology at a competitive price.
Tenet has also assisted Good Samaritan with administrative leadership, including people who are specifically trained in health care finance and economics. Corporate leadership instills business processes into the local hospital. Businesses can struggle with financial management, and our hospital is able to leverage expertise at our corporate level to be best informed and manage our fiscal processes closely.
How has Good Samaritan Medical Center been able to overcome barriers to change and innovation?
At Good Samaritan, everything we do is reflective of our organization as a whole. Our physicians, nurses and employees have input; they help us align our hospital services with the medical community and our patients’ needs. Our ultimate goal is to continue to expand the legacy of Good Samaritan Medical Center. We will remain innovative and look from within to determine how we will expand our level of services to meet our community’s future needs.
We’ve also engaged in conversations with our doctors, nurses and employees to define how we will respond better to complex situations. Our hospital continuously reviews processes to revise and reinvent the ways that it provides care. This helps us foresee challenges and barriers and respond to them proactively.
While health care is a complicated business, I am confident that Good Samaritan will remain a strong competitor. We are unique in our ability to discern some of the latest technology in medicine while providing the best care using our resources efficiently. Health care is an art and a science; finding this delicate balance has allowed us to engage our staff, leverage our connection to Tenet, remain a viable business and, most importantly, please our patients. And at our core, we are people who take care of people.
Mark Nosacka is the CEO of Good Samaritan Medical Center. Reach him at email@example.com.
Miami, long a gateway to Latin America, is hoping to parlay that access into a cozier business relationship with the Far East. In particular, business leaders here have China in their sights.
That was the predominant buzz at this June’s annual Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce goals conference, where the prospects were laid out for more trade and investment with China, Taiwan and Japan. But while there are hopeful signs that the local economy is rebounding and infrastructure projects are underway to help Miami compete for Asian business and investment, most here agree that there is a long way to go before a new “silk road” is created.
“The opportunity for Miami will mostly be to play the role of an aggregator for Latin American businesses that want to do business in China,” says Ray Ruga, principal at the marketing firm CVOX Group LLC, which focuses on helping Latin American and Miami-based companies promote their businesses in China. “That role isn’t assured yet because Miami’s relationship with China is still new.”
To put this in perspective: Trade between China and Miami-Dade County is estimated to have been $3.9 billion in 2009, according to research by WorldCity comparable to the level of trade the region did with the Dominican Republic, a country whose economy is roughly 100 times smaller but is only 900 miles away from Miami.
But China trade will get a boost once dredging is completed that will allow larger ships, carrying roughly five times the cargo of current vessels, to dock at the Port of Miami. That move and construction of new gates now underway at the Panama Canal will make it more cost-effective for Chinese businesses to use Miami as a distribution hub for goods and materials.
“China has been here for years, kicking the tires,” says Frank R. Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic development organization.
But, only recently, there have been concrete moves to invest in the area including the June signing of an agreement to open a logistics center in the city of Opa-locka, which will serve as a “linkage to Chinese manufacturers in Latin America.” Nero added that the center is expected to house 50 companies and create 3,000 jobs, and that an estimated 500 Chinese nationals will relocate to Miami because of the facility.
The influx of Chinese immigrants into the Miami area is of particular interest to those in the real estate industry, which was hard hit during the recession.
“They’re here and they’re buying, but nobody knows how to connect with them,” said a frustrated Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches, during one of the chamber’s planning sessions.
According to Kinney and others at the session, language barriers and an overall unfamiliarity with the landscape of Chinese business interests are making it difficult for Miami business to leverage the growing interest that China and other Asian countries have in investing and doing business here.
“What Miami lacks is leadership, particularly among elected officials,” says CVOX’s Ruga, adding that local governments need to step up or risk losing the opportunity to other cities competing for Chinese investment. “Latin America feels so comfortable doing business with South Florida that this could be a one-stop shop for Chinese businesses.”
William Plasencia is a longtime business journalist and president of WPA Works, a communications and media consulting company based in Miami. Reach him at www.wpaworks.com.
Robb Gomez has been with Paradigm Learning Inc., which uses a
discovery learning approach to corporate training, since its inception in 1994.
Prior to his current position as president, Gomez was executive vice president
of sales. He worked with large clients such as McKesson, Tenneco Automotive and
HCA on strategic communications initiatives.
Q. What should companies train employees in as the economy
Anything from a training perspective that further engages the
employee in the understanding of how your organization makes money is probably
going to be valuable training. Even as the economy starts to come out of a
rather dismal year and a half, it’s still going to be important to focus in on
making the business better. We’re always going to have another downturn, and
when we have that downturn, we need to really ratchet down on how we look at
our business, how we spend the money to improve our business and all of those
other things that improve margins.
Q. How can companies determine what training to provide
It’s really just doing a survey of the organization to see
where there are gaps. That’s as easy as going out with a 10-question survey and
asking your employee base where they feel their development gap is in relation
to what the organization asks of them.
Q. How can companies monitor training?
One of the things that we profess in any of our programs is
making sure the participants in a program are truly walking away with some sort
of action plan that gets them committed to doing something different based upon
what they’ve learned. Walking away with one, two or three key behavioral things
that I’m going to do differently now that I’ve been exposed to this content
that’s the first thing. The second thing is making sure as an organization you
then are doing constant follow-up. You want them making commitments that have
some sort of quantifiable results. At that point it becomes very, very easy to
track some sort of ROI on the training effort that you’ve put in place.
Unfortunately, many organizations don’t do a good job of it.
Robb Gomez has been with Paradigm Learning Inc., which uses a discovery learning approach to corporate training, since its inception in 1994. Prior to his current position as president, Gomez was executive vice president of sales. He worked with large clients such as McKesson, Tenneco Automotive and HCA on strategic communications initiatives.
Q. What should companies train employees in as the economy improves?
Anything from a training perspective that further engages the employee in the understanding of how your organization makes money is probably going to be valuable training. Even as the economy starts to come out of a rather dismal year and a half, it’s still going to be important to focus in on making the business better. We’re always going to have another downturn, and when we have that downturn, we need to really ratchet down on how we look at our business, how we spend the money to improve our business and all of those other things that improve margins.
Q. How can companies determine what training to provide employees?
It’s really just doing a survey of the organization to see where there are gaps. That’s as easy as going out with a 10-question survey and asking your employee base where they feel their development gap is in relation to what the organization asks of them.
Q. How can companies monitor training?
One of the things that we profess in any of our programs is making sure the participants in a program are truly walking away with some sort of action plan that gets them committed to doing something different based upon what they’ve learned. Walking away with one, two or three key behavioral things that I’m going to do differently now that I’ve been exposed to this content that’s the first thing. The second thing is making sure as an organization you then are doing constant follow-up. You want them making commitments that have some sort of quantifiable results. At that point, it becomes very, very easy to track some sort of ROI on the training effort that you’ve put in place. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t do a good job of it.
Think you have a hard time seeing the results of all your hard work? Next time you want to complain, just think about Chad W. Dudeck and his employees at Geo-Logical Inc. They repair sinkholes on properties across Florida. All of their hard work is buried quite literally beneath the surface of the earth.
Not that Dudeck, the president and CEO of the company, and his employees will ever complain about that. They pride themselves on a job well done on a job most folks might not even notice after they get in their truck and drive away. If you see any trace of them after they leave from a trampled flowerbed in the garden to a crushed sprinkler head in the backyard to, yes, a sinkhole that somehow returns then Dudeck and his employees have failed.
Six years ago, Dudeck worked for a pier systems manufacturer in Kansas City. He traveled across the nation and trained personnel on the functions and uses of the products churned out by his company. He was good at his job. He had a stable future for his wife and children. And then, as is so often the case in business, he received an opportunity too good to refuse and uprooted everything to Florida. Granted, that first foray into sinkhole repair and management ultimately failed after about a year. But the second effort, Geo-Logical, turned out to be pretty darn good.
The key for Dudeck and his company? Two millimeters. That represents the margin of victory in an average 100-meter dash, but it also represents the little things. The company can do a good job with the technical aspects of the job but botch the little things like trampling that flowerbed and the customer will remember only the negative. So Geo-Logical treads lightly, then leaves without a trace.
How to reach: Geo-Logical Inc., (727) 232-8000 or www.geo-logical.com
Distribution, Manufacturing and Defense
David Hernandez and Alberto Daire each had a dream when they arrived in the U.S. from Cuba. They didn’t know each other yet, but their paths were on a course to meet and form Liberty Power Corp.
Hernandez came to the United States and became the first member of his immediate family to earn a college degree. After which, he went on to work at Enron. Unfortunately, as anyone in business knows, Enron collapsed in late 2001 and Hernandez had to find a new path.
Daire also came to the United States in search of a better future and he landed a good job. But his family’s tradition of entrepreneurship was strong. Daire had watched his grandfather operate an electronics store back in Cuba and had seen the success his father had in business and knew he had to follow.
So co-founders Hernandez and Daire met and formed Liberty Power along with one other co-founder. They maxed out their credit cards, mortgaged their homes and sacrificed their savings in pursuit of their dream, and the electricity retailer is now an unquestioned success.
The duo takes pride in finding people who are humble, hungry and smart and developing those people into great employees. The company pays for 100 percent of its employees’ health care premiums and also has a matching 401(k) plan with immediate vesting.
There are also subsidized lunches and periodic complimentary massage therapy sessions to show appreciation for hard work and commitment to the company’s success.
Both Hernandez, Liberty’s CEO, and Daire, the president and chief operating officer, are now looking to their employees to help Liberty Power find even greater success as it enters its second decade of operation. The company seeks to continue importing its successful business model into foreign countries, bringing the same level of great service that it has always provided.
How to reach: Liberty Power Corp., (866) 769-3799 or www.libertypowercorp.com
In one of his first major communications with NextEra Energy Inc. after being elected chairman in 2002, Lewis Hay III encouraged his team to take prudent risks.
While being risk-averse had kept the company from making some big mistakes, he told employees that the strategy had also affected the company’s growth. He challenged employees to be more entrepreneurial, and the company has not been the same since.
Under Hay’s direction, employees drive continuous improvement at NextEra Energy, and the pursuit of tactical perfection is relentless. Early in his tenure, Hay convinced the executive team and board of directors to become a major player in the wind business, and today, the company is No. 1 in wind energy in the United States by a large margin. As of 2009, the company had more than $11 billion invested in the business. In 2008, Hay took the company’s wind business international for the first time, approving the acquisition of 85 megawatts in Canada.
Hay continues to be an innovator. NextEra is bringing Florida the solar energy expertise it developed in California, while operating the world’s largest solar fields. Included among the three utility-scale solar energy centers that the company has built or is currently building in Florida is the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the U.S., completed in 2009, and an innovative hybrid power plant combining solar energy with combined-cycle natural gas technology.
Under Hay’s direction, NextEra’s renewable energy business has been built virtually from scratch to Fortune 500 size and the No. 1 position in North America today. NextEra bears little resemblance to the company that Hay took over as CEO in 2001. Hay has set the standard for everyone at the company by investing heavily in a disciplined way in clean energy on a national basis, leading NextEra Energy to the top of the industry in a decade’s time.
How to reach: NextEra Energy Inc., (561) 691-7171 or www.nexteraenergyresources.com
Michael K. Ferris spent most of his early 20s working odd jobs and playing semi-pro football while hopping from one apartment complex to the next. In the early 1990s, most multifamily housing developments switched to a centralized trash collecting service, using large trash compactors for residents to discard their trash. This made it a bigger inconvenience for residents to throw away trash, as they now had to haul it to a central location. Ferris learned this the hard way he received many fines from his property management for leaving his trash outside his door rather than hauling it down three flights of stairs and then across the complex to the trash compactors.
In 1995, tired of hauling his trash to the compactors, he thought that there had to be an easier way to do this. He decided to start a service for the residents in his complex where he would haul their trash to the compactors and save them the inconvenience. He got approval from the property management to haul any willing resident’s trash as long as it was done at night and he could find a way for the trash to not leak into the breezeways. He got 90 percent of the residents on board with his proposal and began picking up trash five nights a week in large cloth bags.
Over the next six years, Ferris spent many late nights hauling trash and trying to figure out a way to better build his business, which he clearly saw a need for. He knew his service would help keep residents happy and would then create less turnover in the complex. Throughout the years, he mastered the service and sold the image of valet trash service to property owners. He eventually built it into the Valet Waste it is today and became a full waste and recycling provider.
How to reach: Valet Waste, (813) 248-1327 or www.valetwaste.com
Retail, Consumer Products and Hospitality
The restaurant industry was not kind during recent years. The hours were as long as ever, the food was more expensive than at any time in memory, and to compound those problems, many customers started to eat at home more often to cut back on discretionary spending during the recession. Just about every industry suffered, of course, but restaurants were near the top of the list.
So how did Brian Wheeler and Tijuana Flats Burrito Co. come out of the mess not just all right but better than ever?
Wheeler founded Tijuana Flats in 1995, shortly after he graduated from college. He had never worked a day in the industry and had barely washed a dish at home. But he convinced his parents to lend him $20,000 to start his creation. During the course of a decade and a half, Wheeler worked and worked, and Tijuana Flats grew and grew now to more than 70 locations, primarily in Florida, though the company has also expanded to Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the fact that Wheeler has managed to help the company increase its annual revenue significantly during each of the last three years. Today, it is almost double what it was near the end of 2007.
Wheeler’s formula for Tijuana Flats’ success is simple. He wants fresh Tex-Mex food, nothing ever frozen or blasted in a microwave. He wants restaurants unique to their location and that never feel like a chain. And he wants happy employees, so he treats them fairly. He spends most of his time in the restaurants, working with employees, seeing the company at the ground level.
Wheeler has seen the failures. But recently, he has seen all of the successes.
How to reach: Tijuana Flats Burrito Co., (407) 339-2222 or www.tijuanaflats.com