Managed IT services that deliver ROI

Zach Schuler, founder and CEO, Cal Net Technology Group

Zach Schuler, founder and CEO, Cal Net Technology Group

Over the past few years, the term “managed services” has become more prevalent in the IT services community. It’s how many companies these days are consuming IT services, especially companies without the need or the budget for a full-time IT department. In its most basic sense, managed service delivery is the utilization of remote tools in which an IT service company can remotely manage and support a client’s IT environment.

These tools allow the remote monitoring, patching, upgrading and support of a client’s servers, workstations, and network devices. These services are usually priced on a “per device or user/per month” model, with the idea that a network can be maintained for a “fixed fee” per month.

“There are distinct advantages to this IT service delivery model, both to the IT company as well as to the client,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “First, from the IT company’s perspective, they can automate most of the routine tasks that are associated with maintaining a computing environment. These remote management tools have many automated processes that can be turned on, thus saving the IT company time and money.”

Smart Business spoke to Schuler about how to get the most from managed IT services.

How do businesses benefit from managed services?

First, this service delivery model helps clients manage their IT budgets a bit more closely, as many of the services are delivered on a fixed fee. This adds predictability to the ongoing cost of IT. Next, if the IT company has perfected its own processes around these tools, the ‘human error’ factor of manual maintenance goes away.

With all of the benefits to managed services, if a company looks at it as its only answer to IT services, it is doing itself a huge disservice. While managed services might be the answer to basic maintenance of the system, it neglects helping companies to truly drive value out of their IT resources. Managed services, when pitched as the solution, put consumers in a highly commoditized mindset. IT services should not be viewed as commodity services since, if delivered correctly, they can add serious bottom line advantages to the business.

How can businesses ensure these services are effective?

A less known term in the industry is ‘blended services.’ Blended services are a strategic combination of managed services and professional services that are packaged together to deliver the ultimate amount of value to the customer. This consists of looking hard at those services that can take advantage of remote tool sets and automation, and subsequently injecting intellectual capital into every other facet of IT that cannot be automated.

Part of blended services consist of pre-scheduled on-site consulting time. The face-to-face interaction that occurs during this time is invaluable to the business. It is during this time that questions like, ‘What is the best way to do such and such on my computer?’ or ‘What application can solve this business process issue that we have?’ are more likely to get answered. It is this face-to-face interaction that leads to new efficiencies being discovered, and people at the company ultimately being more productive.

If services are delivered 100 percent remotely, the chances are slim that a person will pick up the phone and call a relative stranger to ask about the best way to do something.

How can executives be sure they derive value from managed services?

They need to see the value in IT and its effectiveness as a bottom line tool. Too many executives at companies have traditionally been ‘technophobes’ and view IT strictly as overhead, a necessary evil, as opposed to a bottom-line boosting critical part of the business. In short, when consuming IT services, make sure that you are as equally engaged as your service provider.

Make sure that you see past the commoditized services being sold to you, and that you ask your IT company to do more and to prove its real value. Assuming you are paired up with the right organization, they will help you take your company to the next level. This might cost more in the very short run, but in the not too distant future, the ROI will be there.

Zack Schuler is the founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

How centralized data centers can decrease costs and improve enterprise efficiency

Pervez Delawalla, President and CEO, Net2EZ

Pervez Delawalla, President and CEO, Net2EZ

Businesses with multiple locations or branches, in many cases, are not leveraging computer network efficiencies by taking advantage of existing technologies to limit equipment deployment and enhance cost efficiencies.

“Branch offices are too often set up with unique data centers instead of having centrally located servers,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.

Deploying a great deal of equipment at each office diminishes the computing power of servers at the individual branches.

“Their capacity isn’t being utilized completely at a branch and is unavailable enterprise-wide,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about leveraging data centers for maximum efficiency in cost and use.

What are some keys to centralizing a data source?

One important element is connectivity. If an enterprise sits in a major metropolitan area, then connectivity infrastructure should be reliable and readily available. However, when outsourcing to a data center, the connectivity piece is the least of a company’s challenges because data centers offer higher-capacity connections through multiple technologies, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching, point-to-point connection or bandwidth compression. This enables an enterprise to limit the amount of equipment it needs to deploy.

In what way does connectivity affect a business?

How a company sets itself up to utilize a data center hinges in part on the number of user accounts at that location. A smaller office with 10 or fewer employees could be well served by multiple 10-megabit connections that link to centralized hardware at a data center. Consider using an authentication server at each location. Employees log in through this server so passwords and usernames don’t travel outside of the building. Once a user is authenticated, he or she has access to all of the company’s data, enterprise-wide, housed in the data center.

Bandwidth capacity can always be added through a local provider as a company grows. From a technology perspective, it’s simply an upgrade to the connection and not a deployment of new equipment. Operationally, it amounts to simplifying that connection so it’s easier to support, monitor and track. The increased capacity of that connection helps facilitate the centralization of hardware, which allows the hardware burden to be decreased.

What savings can be realized through centralizing hardware?

A multi-branch enterprise is often using applications that are common across offices. Centralizing those common applications in a data center helps improve application management, which eliminates the need to employ IT personnel at individual locations because support can be provided at one site. It also means not having to deploy multiple servers for multiple sites, so cost savings can be realized by not buying as many server boxes.

Maintenance and upgrades also are made easier with a central data center because those don’t need to be accomplished on an individual basis. And if a security patch comes in it can be handled from one location. Further, having fewer servers means purchasing fewer licenses for software. Updates become easier, and license fees are less of an expense because software doesn’t have to be deployed in all locations.

However, just because hardware is centralized doesn’t mean everything is housed on a single server. The number of physical servers needed depends on capacity and redundancy needs of the company.

What can companies expect after centralizing their hardware?

The main benefits of centralizing are that the efficiency for support to the end user improves, deployment of upgrades becomes simpler and cost savings can be realized from reducing physical hardware. Having centrally located hardware also provides better security, management and handling of company assets. Security is improved because hardware can be physically monitored from a single location and server access can be better controlled. With less equipment to manage, limiting access becomes easier, meaning there’s less chance a costly mistake is made.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or [email protected]

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

How client records, software and the Internet have intertwined

Todd Jolicoeur, Tax Senior, Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC

Todd Jolicoeur, Tax Senior, Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC

In a world where electronic data transfer is becoming the accepted norm, the definitions of such terms as “books of original entry” and “data set” are constantly changing. Check ledgers are being replaced by backup files and seven-column pads by accounting software. Some remote accounting and data storage systems, often referred to as cloud accounting, are virtual in nature.

Smart Business spoke with Todd Jolicoeur, tax senior at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC, to learn more about how technology has affected age-old accounting tools.

What are books of original entry?

When it comes to accounting that still utilizes column paper and a 10-key calculator, the accounting journals kept manually where any financial transaction are recorded for the first time, or originally, are the books of original entry that compile all of the information.

How has this changed with the use of accounting software?

Software has increased the efficiency of most accounting and tax services. Electronic books of entry are different because most data is entered only once. There is no longer the need to make sure each transaction is manually posted to each applicable journal. Because of the nature of software, this procedure is systematically performed and entries are automatically reflected in different accounting ledgers as pre-established by the software.

What is a data set when applied to accounting records?

The data set is essentially all of the information that supports an accounting statement, whether it is a balance sheet, bank reconciliation or general ledger. It is also the documentation that is often used by accountants to prepare other financial statements such as a Statement of Financial Condition or by tax professionals who perform tax services for individuals, fiduciaries and business entities.

One important note related to data sets is that the information contained within the data set is subject to subpoena when legal action is brought under suspicion of wrongdoing regarding finance and financial records.

How is the information stored for these data sets?

The oldest method is paper format. This includes things like checkbooks, receipts and other documentation. The prevailing new method is maintaining the records electronically. Firms are often digitizing and electronically storing any original documents required to perform accounting and tax services. Regarding electronic books of entry, firms have been transitioning for years to accounting software. The use of software not only expedites the work flow by requiring single entry of information, which flows to all appropriate journals and reports, but also when corrections are required you only need to make one correction, as opposed to making that same correction on several ledgers. Accounting records that are kept utilizing software are also easier to backup and create a copy of the data set for transfer to any parties that are authorized to receive such records.

What is cloud accounting?

The term simply refers to the remote storage of this information, as if it were stored in a cloud in the sky that can always be accessed. This is a relatively new concept that it is becoming more popular with the proliferation of technological gadgets. The use of electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets in business has increased the need for information to be stored on servers that allow for remote use. Whether this means using apps and remote connection to financial reports or accessing archived data and documentation, the need to use the Internet and these cloud resources is growing.

How can these changes in the process help my business?

You may want to speak with an accounting professional to determine the most advantageous way to perform your accounting function and store information as it relates to your needs for information recall and use.

Todd Jolicoeur is a tax senior at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC. Reach him at (248) 540-5760 or [email protected]

 

Cendrowski Corporate Advisors blog: Learn more from the experts on business accounting topics.

 

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC

How big data is changing the way business decisions are made

Satyendra Rana, Ph.D., vice president, HTC Global

Satyendra Rana, Ph.D., vice president, HTC Global

More information leads to better decisions, and big data is providing companies with enough background to take much of the guesswork out of decision making.

“The larger the data set, the greater the context. Big data promises the tools to make observations much sharper and guide decisions based on facts or highly likely predictions, as opposed to intuition or sheer courage,” says Satyendra Rana, vice president at HTC Global.

Smart Business spoke with Rana about how companies can take advantage of big data and its potential for improvement and innovation.

What is big data?

Big data is a paradigm shift in the way businesses view and use data. For a long time, businesses focused on people, process and technology; data was considered a pain rather than an asset or an opportunity. Companies need to innovate and can no longer do so with the old approach. The new triangle is people, process and data, with technology as a substratum enabling all of those.

The first step to using big data is to look at what business outcomes are desired, then work backward and determine what data needs to be captured to glean those insights. A lot of that data might be internal, but business is not conducted in a vacuum — it needs to be understood in the context of markets, customers and suppliers. So there may be a need to gather external data to be correlated with the internal data. People have conceptions that big data initiatives have to necessarily use outside data, or that it’s only about outside data such as social media. It’s really more about what is done with the data than the source.

There are opportunities to collect data through various applications and sensors. Historically, it was a problem to collect data because it wasn’t readily available. For example, surveys were the main mechanism for collecting market data; you would need to approach 100 people to get 10 to respond. Now, people are volunteering information through mobile platforms and social media. Data is also being collected through instruments such as sensors on cars. Technology has made it cheaper to collect and store data, but businesses still have to take another step and leverage that data.

What are some of the applications?

The applications are everywhere, even though the most frequent uses are seen in marketing. Understanding customers better leads to improved relationships and more cross-selling and upselling. But big data insights can also improve operational efficiencies. For example, supply chain decisions about what products to stock in the warehouse can be influenced by big data. Insights could also lead to entering into new lines of business that weren’t considered. Further, a consumer using his or her credit card at a large retailer might be sent an alert offering a coupon for lunch at a partnering restaurant. The credit card company knows from its data that the customer eats lunch at this time and one of its restaurant partners is nearby, so it tries to predict behavior in real time. When the person uses the coupon, the credit card company gets a share. That’s a new line of business based on information the company had and was not utilizing.

How can companies get started on big data initiatives?

That’s an issue companies are struggling with. A data governance strategy is needed to deal with the amount of data that is received. You have to understand what is coming in and how it can be used. The most important step is to realize that big data is not just a technology issue, which can be a difficult task internally. Big data requires the business and IT sides to work together more closely than in the past. If big data is approached as an IT issue, its full benefit will not be realized. If it’s a business process and IT is involved only in terms of what storage to buy or application to install, companies may not quite understand what is possible.

Big data is changing the way businesses approach the fundamental need to innovate and create differentiation. For the past 20 years, innovation was about streamlining processes such as supply chains. Big data provides a new field for innovation by providing insights quickly and in more creative ways. Eventually, businesses will not have a choice; they will have to deal with big data in order to innovate and survive.

Satyendra Rana, Ph.D. is vice president at HTC Global. Reach him at (512) 773-0357 or [email protected]

Insights Technology is brought to you by HTC Global Services

How to get the most out of your office equipment

Edward Kromar, Director of Service, Blue Technologies

Edward Kromar, Director of Service, Blue Technologies

When office equipment goes down or doesn’t work properly, it can disrupt the entire business. And as the industry consolidates functions into one device, it’s critical to have the correct equipment that meets your business’s needs.

“It truly is a lifeline in an office,” says Edward Kromar, director of service at Blue Technologies. “If it’s a small office, it can almost stop the processes internally, as opposed to 20 years go when it was just one facet of many. Understanding your vendor’s service protocol is absolutely vital.”

Smart Business spoke with Kromar about how to maximize your office equipment.

What should business owners know before investing in office equipment?

Take time to understand your business and processes. Knowing the volume you use ensures the equipment is big enough. But if printing is most important, you may need a multifunction device that allows you to categorize your priorities in the workflow, so all printing comes before copying or faxing.

If the function is mission critical, you may want a second unit. This is mechanical equipment — failures are going to happen — so you may need backup equipment and data storage. If scanning is imperative but you have an all-in-one device, then you need to consider having another unit to provide back-up scanning. Look for an alternative that doesn’t break the bank but gives the necessary insurance, which could be a desktop device. In trying to understand your needs and priorities, develop and use your relationship with your office technology salesperson, which also helps you get the right product(s).

How does the technology life cycle work?

Technology is changing monthly, so a best practice is having the flexibility to move into different products with your vendor. Look for a product line with options and versatility as well as a history of improvements. Not only are your business needs changing, but a feature that wasn’t out six months ago could add efficiency.

While there’s no rule about how often equipment needs to be upgraded, make sure the technology still meets your needs. The faster your business is growing, the faster you’ll need to update. And, if you come across a broken process, don’t forget to consider that your office hardware could be part of the solution.

What’s problematic about switching to digital phones?

Digital phone lines are very practical for businesses that want to save money. Unfortunately, fax technology has not kept up with digital phone technology, so they don’t fit reliability together, and the industry is not spending research and development funds on merging these two. So, if you are changing phone systems and your organization has a high demand for faxing, you need to keep an analog phone line for your immediate needs and begin converting your clients to email communication.

What’s important to know about color?

Color has helped businesses present, at a more affordable cost, their marketing message to customers. But some business owners have misconceptions about their device’s color and the difference between business and production color. Production color, which is often outsourced to print production facilities, handles high-end color, where a red will always print the exact same shade. Business color is an acceptable quality that can be used internally and sometimes for outside marketing pieces. You can buy devices of either type, but there’s a cost difference. With help from your salesperson, you can discover what color needs to be used and when, including whether the volume justifies the cost of bringing it in-house.

How can your company maximize use?

First, your equipment salesperson should understand your IT support. Additional services and training may be needed to help make the transition seamless. An established equipment dealer can even provide support for more than just your hardware needs, the dealer might also provide various network support before and after installation.

You also need to fully understand the capabilities of the equipment you’ve purchased and how it fits with your business. If you don’t know what your equipment can do, find out. Also, as your business changes, you could take advantage of a feature you never thought you would.

Edward Kromar is the director of service at Blue Technologies. Reach him at (216) 271-4800 or [email protected]

 

Blog: For useful tips on improving office efficiencies, visit our blog at www.btohio.com/news-resources.

 

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies

 

How to prepare for the worst by assessing your technology and vulnerabilities

Mike Maloney, Vice president, Comcast Business Services

In the aftermath of major disasters like Hurricane Sandy, renewed focus on planning for catastrophic incidents can actually undermine effective preparedness for more likely events and distort perception of risk in a way that makes businesses more vulnerable.

In a spectrum of risks, high-severity, low-frequency events are major natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes. On the other hand, there are high-frequency, low-severity disasters, such as human errors, computer crashes and power outages. Disasters such as fires and floods fall somewhere in between.

“We often focus on the catastrophic risks, those at the far right end of the spectrum,” says Mike Maloney, vice president, Comcast Business Services. “We assume that preparing for the worst-case scenario automatically includes preparation for all lesser risks. But, it hardly makes sense to initiate a full-blown disaster recovery plan every time the business experiences a minor deviation in operations. That is too expensive and cumbersome.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how preparing for everyday disasters can keep your company — and its technology — on track.

Why is it especially important to prepare for everyday disasters?

If you prepare for the everyday disaster,  you will also be ready to address the more serious and less likely threats. For example, power outages commonly occur on a standalone basis, such as brownouts during the summer months with peak air conditioning usage, but power outages also follow more serious threats like hurricanes.

How can you guard against human error?

Human error is the most common form of disaster. Of course, the best way to address this is to ensure proper staff training and good management practices. But, you will also need a strategy to mitigate cost when error does occur, such as on-demand, user-generated data backups and clear recovery procedures.

What’s the best strategy for preparing for equipment or third-party failures?

By making good vendor selections and following proper equipment maintenance procedures, you reduce the frequency of occurrence. Also, build in redundancy for when those failures will occur and have extra equipment in inventory.

Third-party failures are the failures of service providers needed to deliver products and services like telecommunications. The basic strategy is to invest in due diligence to make wise choices for third-party vendors to entrust with your critical services, negotiate appropriate service guarantees and support, and build in redundancy to cope with failure when it occurs.

How is planning for environmental hazards extended to more severe threats?

Environmental hazards are conditions that displace staff and could be as trivial as a water pipe bursting and flooding the office. So, plan for human safety and assure the technology is in place to enable temporary remote operations. This concept is extended for fire, natural hazards and sabotage, which pose more severe threats to safety and longer periods of remote operations.

Once you’ve established your planning framework, what’s next?

The next step is to identify the business’s key assets, which may sound simplistic but is not necessarily obvious. For example, a small software development company insured its property, so after a fire, it was fully reimbursed for the replacement costs of office furnishings. But its critical asset was its intellectual property, embedded in hundreds of thousands of lines of software code. The company had failed to back up the software and subsequently went out of business. If it had a severe budget constraint, as start-ups often do, it would have been better served to forfeit insurance on physical assets and invest in off-site secure data backup.

In addition to determining how best to protect the business, this provides insights as to how to better manage the course of normal operations. Several years ago, a disgruntled systems administrator of the city of San Francisco refused to relinquish key passwords to computer systems controlling, among other functions, employee payroll. A little due diligence to understand the key processes, assets and functions of operations might have revealed this vulnerability.

Mike Maloney is a vice president at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

How to determine when to use a third party to uncover inefficiencies

Nano Zegarra, Director, Imaging Solutions Division, Blue Technologies

In order to eliminate or mitigate inefficiencies, businesses must take a close look at current processes. This enables employers to uncover pains, such as the amount of paper being routed throughout the enterprise or the time it takes to process an invoice. Being able to recognize these inefficiencies is great, but many times, quantifying the end result is much simpler than isolating the source of the inefficiencies.

“The problem can be anything — accounting, human resources, policies, leasing documents,” says Nano Zegarra, director, Imaging Solutions Division at Blue Technologies. “It also could be a simple fix, but perhaps the company doesn’t recognize an issue because it’s accustomed to doing things the way they’ve always been done.”

Smart Business spoke with Zegarra about the role of a business analyst and how an outsider’s assessment could uncover problems you weren’t aware you had.

How can inefficiencies be uncovered?

It’s tough. These may be hidden from the CEO or COO, who doesn’t realize parts of the process can be more efficient, especially if monetary values aren’t apparent.

The people who catch most inefficiencies are those who hear the griping, such as a manager who handles the time of individuals working in a particular area. CEOs have the vision, but those in the organization who get their hands dirty, or their direct managers, often discover inefficiencies. Pay attention to the negative feedback from employees, then dig deeper to understand the true pain.

It might take a specific problem to start to unmask these inefficiencies. Perhaps an employee has plenty of downtime, and you feel that he or she might be used more effectively elsewhere but are not sure where. Or you missed a large number of early pay discounts in comparison to the previous year, but where was the ball dropped? If a manager can understand the entire process and quantify the roles of each individual, it is much easier to identify the bottlenecks.

What is a good way to begin the process? 

Internal communication is key. Pay attention to the feedback from the process owners. If you identify an area that has more work than another, hold a meeting for open feedback. This is when you should bring in an analyst.

An external analyst can objectively look at the whole business process from beginning to end, using expertise in multiple industries to ask pointed questions about particular processes. A good business analyst will look for inefficiencies anywhere when mapping out work flows and showing where there’s room for improvement. Then, employers can do what they like with the assessment.

How can you accomplish more with less? 

Utilize technological resources. The greatest business expenditure is an individual, so ensure your people are as efficient as possible. Even the smallest solution can help existing employees do more in less time.

Saving time can be as simple as having a centralized multifunction printer with the ability to digitally send documents throughout an enterprise. Or take a look at what is being outsourced and understand what investment would need to be made to eliminate that expenditure. Many times, the ROI can outweigh the initial investment to save time and ultimately money.

Is it always about efficiency?

Not always. There are industries where it is critical for multiple individuals to look at a particular document. An experienced business analyst has industry expertise and knows best practices. This understanding may lead to an additional step in a process that may not make it more efficient, but will improve revenue or customer service ratings. This could ultimately give your company added value and a competitive advantage.

How can an analyst improve processes? 

Business analysts must understand current processes before making recommendations. This entails in-depth digging and information gathering in order to map out on paper what a company is currently doing. Throughout this process, he or she should be identifying and documenting the greatest pains and largest bottlenecks for every process. With a complete understanding, the discussion on potential changes can take place from an objective point of view.

The analysis’s most important part is the written assessment, which maps a more streamlined process and the steps a company must take to reach its ideal efficiency level.

 WHITE PAPERS: For more ideas on how to increase business efficiency.

Nano Zegarra is a director, Imaging Solutions Division, at Blue Technologies. Reach him at (216) 271-4800, ext. 2260 or [email protected]

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies

How Phil Libin is building a 100-year start-up at Evernote Corp.

Having employees who tolerate stupidity is literally Phil Libin’s worst nightmare.

“I’ll wake up from a dream in which somewhere, someone at Evernote is working on something right now and they don’t understand why they are doing it — they think it’s stupid. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. It’s dumb. I’m just doing it because somebody told me,’” says Libin, CEO of Evernote Corp., the company responsible for popular Evernote and Skitch applications.

“As soon as you have someone who is doing some work and they don’t understand why they are doing it, then you’re not a start-up anymore. You’re something worse.”

Considering the noteworthy changes that Evernote has gone through over the last two years, it’s no surprise that culture is ingrained in Libin’s mind. Since launching the Evernote product public in 2008, Evernote’s apps have gained fast traction with users who rely on them to organize personal data and information on mobile devices and platforms.

Since 2010, the company has tripled revenue annually while increasing head count from 30 to 250 employees. It also plans to reach a level of 500 employees by the end of 2013.

Taking notes yet?

While Evernote’s success is undeniable, Libin’s permanent challenge is creating what he calls a “100-year start-up” — i.e., maintaining the entrepreneurial culture that makes Evernote great while continuing to grow.

“I want everyone at Evernote, no matter how big we get, to understand why it is that they’re doing something and to see the impact of their work,” Libin says. “If we can maintain that, then we have a good shot of scaling the company in the future.”

Here’s how Libin keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive at Evernote.

Eliminate obstacles

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Evernote offers employees a number of unique perks, including unlimited vacation time and catered lunches. Yet Libin knows enhancing employee productivity isn’t just about add-ons; it’s about removing the obstacles that inhibit people’s success.

“All of our benefits and our office life are structured around this idea that people who are here want to do excellent work, and it’s our job to eliminate any obstacles that get in the way of that,” Libin says. “Whenever we find things that impede people’s natural desire to be productive, we ask if we can eliminate that.”

Libin and his leadership team actively look for ways to make people’s jobs easier on a day-to-day basis, especially when it involves enhancing productivity. It’s why Libin played an active role in designing the company’s new 90,000-square-foot Redwood City, Calif. headquarters, which employees moved into last summer to incorporate features that improve workflow, such as an open work plan to facilitate open communication.

“It’s the first time that we’ve been in a space that we’ve actually designed,” Libin says. “Our previous two offices have been little start-up things — whatever we could afford at the time. This is the first time we’ve had a chance to think about our surroundings a little bit.

“There are a lot of small things. A lot of times you need something from IT. You need a power cord or an adapter or a keyboard or a mouse or a network cable … so you have to track down an IT person and ask them for it, and then they go into the supply closet and get it. Now you’ve tied up two people: the person who wants it and the IT person. It’s a small waste of time, but it’s a waste of time.”

Evernote solved this problem by stocking a vending machine in the cafeteria full of equipment such as headsets, power cords, mics and keyboards, which employees can freely access by swiping a card.

“You decide when you want something, you can go down and get it, but now it takes one person two minutes to do what two people took 20 minutes to do,” Libin says. “So there’s a lot of stuff like that, where it’s something that’s not a huge thing in itself, but it adds up.”

Ideas to improve a culture don’t need to be radical to make an impact on productivity. Removing a small obstacle can actually have huge benefits, especially if it affects a lot of people.

For example, Evernote’s open work plan makes talking on the phone the biggest source of noise for employees throughout the office. So instead of having everyone work around that, Libin and his team decided to do away with desk phones entirely. If someone needs to make a call, they are encouraged to use one of the company’s numerous conference rooms or meeting spaces.

“We find an obstacle and we try to get rid of it,” Libin says. “You can find 100 things like this and it adds up to a culture where people feel like they are trusted and respected. We don’t have to explain to people that you’re only allowed to take one mouse every six months. We don’t have a policy. Take as many as you want.”

Bring on the best

Evernote isn’t Libin’s first time leading a start-up business. Before founding the company in 2007, his career as a successful engineer led him to serve as president and CEO of the software companies Corestreet Ltd. and Engine 5, respectively. In both cases, Libin found that his programming background played a direct role in his leadership style — and not in a good way.

“At my first company, I had this weird idea about people who work for me,” he says. “I thought, well, I can do their job better than they can, but I’m too important. I don’t have enough time.

“So I’d walk around and look at some programmer writing database code, and I would think to myself, I’m a programmer, too. I could write that better than he could, but I don’t have time so we can let him do it. And I’d look at a sales guy working and I’d think, well I could sell the product better, but I don’t have time so let him do it. I’d listen to the receptionist and I would think my phone voice is so much nicer than hers. But I don’t have time to answer the phone so let her do it.”

What Libin realized is that this superior mentality is self-fulfilling, breeding a culture where leaders are always second-guessing and micromanaging their people and where talented people don’t want to work. But if you’re trying to build a 100-year company, this kind of thinking just won’t fly.

“A lot of people instinctively are afraid of hiring people better than them,” Libin says. “So they tend to surround themselves with people who are mediocre. That’s the thing that kills a lot of companies.”

Finding and keeping the right is critical in fulfilling the vision of a 100-year start-up, which is why Libin encourages his direct reports and managers to follow the “hire better than you” philosophy for any position,

“I have to hire people who are so good that they can wind up running the company, and that’s true all the way down the ranks,” Libin says.

“Really embracing that philosophy is the only way I think you can scale and manage and really reduce stress, because anything I’m worried about, I know that there’s a person who’s much smarter than I am in that function, who’s also worried about it but actually in charge of dealing with it.”

Stay connected

Evernote may have a start-up culture, but the company has also come a long way from its start-up roots. In addition to its employees on five floors of its Redwood City office, Libin now leads an organization with offices in Austin, Texas, to Tokyo, Zurich, Moscow and Beijing.

“As we grow to be a bigger company, we’re not 10 nerds anymore,” Libin says. “We have designers. We have marketing people. We have people from all sorts of demographics. We are really broadened, and that broadens the products that we want to work on.”

It also broadens the scope of any given project, which can create a disconnect between a company’s departments, offices or teams.

“Very often in companies, and especially a big company, if you ask an average employee at the company, they kind of feel, ‘Well, I’m doing a job, the five or 10 people that I’m working with and I understand what they’re doing — they’re doing a good job,’” Libin says. “‘But those other guys two floors above me, I have no idea what they do. They’re probably just dumb.’”

One way that Evernote avoids communication and innovation breakdown is through cross-training. Taking a lesson from a friend who is a submarine officer, Libin implemented Evernote’s Officer Training Program, which mimics the idea of officers who must be trained in many different roles.

Each week, employees who sign up for the program are assigned to several random meetings outside of their department where they are encouraged to act as full participants. While the company is currently tweaking the program for simpler execution, the idea is that both the trainee and the group will benefit from the exchange.

“So if you are in IT and you sit in a marketing meeting, you see that the marketing guys do a lot of work, and they have difficult questions and problems,” he says. “It also works the other way, having a person in the room who hasn’t mastered the jargon. You wind up having to speak differently. You wind up having to think about things that you may not have thought about if you’ve been doing this job for 10 years.”

Other ways that Evernote promotes connectivity are using remote-controlled Anybots for telecommunication and video walls and “windows” to connect Evernote’s domestic and international offices. Set up near the coffee machines, the video walls are synced up to mirror Evernote’s different offices at the same time of day.

“When it’s 9 a.m. here and you’re getting coffee, you’re going to see 9 a.m. in Tokyo as somebody is getting coffee,” Libin says. “The point is you can connect with people. You can see who is there. You can see what they are wearing. You can have this ambient feeling because you know that you’re not the only person there. There are people all over the world working at Evernote that are also getting coffee.”

Experimenting with cultural perks, programs and policies should be an ongoing process, and leaders need to be willing to try and fail.

“The basic idea is we want people to be able to connect in as many different ways as possible,” he says. “When I’m traveling out of the office, and I connect to the Anybots, and I drive it around, and point the laser pointer at people, and yell at them to get back to work, everyone loves it.

“There’s no silver bullet. You say the core value is communication, and then you just find ways to make it a really magical experience.” ●

How to reach: Evernote Corp., www.evernote.com

 

The Libin file

Phil Libin
CEO
Evernote

Born: St. Petersburg, Russia
Education: Boston University

Why there’s never been a better time to be in business: I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to have a company, to be in business. This is the best time in the history of the world actually to be trying to build something because it’s much of a meritocracy than it’s ever been. If you build something great and you really focus on building something great then you get massive leverage in everything else because of app stores, smartphones and social media. If you make something great, then everyone is going to know about it. And everyone is going to be able to get it. … All I really want is to make great stuff. And that’s what all the people who work for me want, and it’s enough. It’s enough now to just make great stuff.

Why stress helps: As a CEO, it’s good to have a balanced diet of stress. You stress out about the product. You stress out about the finances. You stress out about improving about the office space. It’s good to have multiple completely different things to worry about and sort of balance those things.

Libin’s best business mantra: I think the most important phrase is ‘simple is hard.’ That says a lot of stuff. In all ways it’s better to be simple than complicated, in terms of your product, your benefits, everything you do. You’re much better off being simple; and it’s the hardest thing to do. Always strive for simplicity, but also realize that it’s far harder to make something simple than to make something complicated.

 

How to use technology trends to foster business growth

Jerry Justice, MCSA, MCSE, director of internal technology, SS&G

“We all know technology changes very rapidly. We also know that keeping your organization in step with these changes is directly tied to your business’ success,” says Jerry Justice, MCSA, MCSE, director of internal technology at SS&G.

For example, U.S. online shoppers are projected to spend $327 billion in 2016, up 45 percent from 2012, according to Forrester Research Inc. At the same time, enterprise tablet adoption is expected to grow almost 50 percent per year, according to Digital Ad Agency Vertic.

Smart Business spoke with Justice about the top technology trends — and how to maintain your sanity while working at technology’s pace — as your company heads into 2013.

What are some top trends for businesses?

Consumerization takes success of technology in the consumer world — i.e., iPad, Google Apps, Facebook — and applies that model, or perhaps product, in business. There is real value in understanding how consumerization affects your business and clients, as people want to be provided information seamlessly. Two examples are leveraging YouTube to deliver business and training content, which has roots in the consumer world, and providing seamless mobile access to your website from a client’s smartphone. Keep in mind, consumer success doesn’t always guarantee success in the business environment due to additional variables such as scope, scale, compliance, security, costs, benefits, etc.

Cloud computing has become a transitioning force, driving new value points like scalability, elasticity and on-demand resourcing. This paradigm shift takes time and vendor/consumer adaptations. Not all cloud services are created equal or deliver the same value/features. You still must analyze costs, benefits and how it fits your targets. Technology delivery continues to transition to a more cloud-centric model, allowing technology to shift from ‘keeping the lights on’ to innovation targets, for instance, from simply accessing your checking account and storing personal files on Dropbox to fully hosted email and file-sharing services.

With mobile/social convergence, there is a demand for real-time access to information across a variety of devices and platforms. This continues to blur the lines between social, personal, business and technology, as technology evolves to allow you to do more with your time. For example, the Windows Surface device is a blend of a tablet and PC that converges all contacts in one place — LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. In business, this provides timely, relevant information about the business ecosystem.

So, how can your business model address technology’s rapid change?

There are number of steps to follow when implementing new technology:

• Create an atmosphere of change; set an expectation that things should evolve over time, so change becomes the norm.

• Keep open, ongoing communication, the key to success, or failure awareness. Leaders should work together, meet often, be honest,and discuss challenges or roadblocks.

• Make projects change-oriented by focusing on successful steps and being prepared to change course several times.

• Leverage area IT experts who can enhance your technology delivery.

• Train adaptively, contextually in smaller groups, based on job function. This allows focus on specific product features.

• Consider trends/hype as barometers and inquiry points, not as targets.

• Context is everything. Learn why something didn’t work, who actually did the work, what happens ‘behind the scenes’ or when the process was last reviewed.

• Process change, communication gaps or cultural shifts could be challenging the technology implementation. Often, the technology delivery is the easy part.

• Technology delivery is about evolution. Look at paths for six months, 12 months, 18 months and 24 months for products/services and then review how they intersect with each other and emerging trends. Many technologies cannot stand on their own, i.e., SAN storage, but provide huge cost/benefits when combined. You cannot just look at this product costs X dollars.

• Have patience, as technology is complex and change takes time. When things appear challenging, it’s probably a good sign.

Jerry Justice, MCSA, MCSE, is director of internal technology at SS&G. Reach him at (330) 668-9696 or [email protected]

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by SS&G


How to use SIP to change your phone service quickly and cost-effectively

Anton Loon, Director of Enterprise Sales, PowerNet Global

If your business is looking for a better way to communicate, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) may be the answer. SIP, a signaling protocol, can improve voice and video over Internet Protocol, video conferencing and file transfers. And best of all, it can spell substantial savings for a business compared to traditional phone lines, says Anton Loon, director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global.

“When a company uses SIP technology instead of traditional phone lines, it can move much more quickly and at a lower cost,” Loon says. “SIP solutions are available for businesses of all sizes, from a small company that needs only one line with local and long distance for about $20 per month, all the way to corporations that have large call centers that operate 24/7.”

Smart Business spoke with Loon about how companies might benefit from implementing a SIP solution.

What is the primary difference between a SIP solution and traditional call routing?

A traditional time-division multiplexing (TDM) system uses physical switches to route calls. SIP uses IP routing, which provides a company’s employees with a much easier way to connect with each other, as well as the outside world.

SIP is not a new technology, so why have companies only recently begun to adopt it? 

In 1994, IT managers knew that ‘AT&T worked’ in the telecom industry. If a business switched to another company and there were mistakes as a result, that IT manager’s head was on the line.

It’s been the same with SIP over the last few years. IT directors and managers have been leery about making the switch to this technology because, as with most things in life, change is scary. However, the technology has now progressed to the point that the cost savings are just too good for a business to pass up.

How can SIP improve a corporation’s flexibility and efficiency?

In terms of flexibility, a business can have the service up and running within 24 hours of requesting it. For example, a construction company can add trailers to various job sites and have phone service at those sites within a day.

The same holds true if a business moves to a new location. With a traditional system, you would typically have to wait 30 to 45 days for the new phone lines to be operational.

With a SIP solution, you can move around and operate anywhere in the world. SIP also provides flexibility for call center operations, because you can launch a new operation within days. For businesses like telemarketing centers, this means you can start selling more quickly.

In terms of efficiency, choosing a SIP solution will eliminate the 30- to 45-day waiting period required to implement a TDM system, as well as all the time that is required to coordinate the effort between all parties.

What are the three most important things that companies need to know about SIP technology?

First, that it works. There is no reason to fear this technology.

Second, it’s scalable. This is important because it allows you to start small to test the waters in order to get comfortable with the technology. It also allows you to ramp up for a larger call volume at any given time without having to add equipment to handle the increase. For example, if you want to launch a new outbound calling campaign tomorrow, you can do that. It also goes the other way, in that you can cut back on the number of phone lines servicing your company if business slows down. There’s a misperception that SIP is fraught with quality issues, but that is not the case. In our experience, there are no more service tickets with SIP than there are with traditional TDM systems.

Finally, the technology is here to stay, and it will only get better and more robust as time goes on. Another common misconception about SIP is that it’s the future, but it’s not. It’s here now, and it’s not going anywhere.

How is SIP being used practically in businesses?

A good example is a company in the health care industry. Their patients have to call in to confirm appointments and get verification of their medications. Obviously, this is a critical operation. One company had a TDM system and was dealing with high costs and quality issues. Then it switched to a more cost-effective SIP solution with a redundant platform. Now if it has problems with one of its carriers, it can signal to another platform. In total, it can toggle back and forth among three platforms to avoid outages.

How can a SIP solution help companies better manage remote employees?

Remote employees have become more commonplace today — not just salespeople, but call center employees, as well. SIP solutions improve productivity by enabling remote workers to quickly and easily access the company network.

In addition, sophisticated reporting tools such as hosted PBX solutions are available that can help managers monitor the number of sales calls being made, to whom they are being made, when and at what cost per call.

Anton Loon is director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global