Category Archives: Technology

Teach me how to fail – we need the money!

We only learn by our failures. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard that before. And your cheque is in the mail.

We all repeat this by rote like a demented parrot. How many actually believe it? And if we do, why don’t we act like it?

The cynic would say that the reason we don’t actually allow people to fail is that companies lie. They say they want to encourage taking chances but they really don’t. They simply do not want to pay the price. I suggest that it’s not hypocracy, that gets in the way. The problem is we don’t know HOW to fail. The good news is that you can learn to embrace failure – and reap the rewards. Continue reading

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Filed under Change, Marketing, Sales, Strategy, Technology

A pen is just a pen…or is it?

A pen isn’t just a pen. Not when Mark Graham holds it up. He looks at, studies it and holds it up in the air for the audience to see.

“This is exciting!” he says. Tonight, everything Mark talks about is exciting. Pens are not just a product. They are his product. And a pen isn’t just a product — it’s a story — a story about what it takes to produce it and customize it for his customers. If he’s passionate about his products, he’s really excited when he talks about his customers.

At 34 years old Mark, the president of Rightsleeve.com, he has a wisdom beyond his years — and he’s discovered the the real secret to success. It’s this. “Love what you do.”

If you lived through the 90’s where greed was good, or the tech bubble when things were “built to flip” or if you’ve thought about those whose greed and stupidity dragged us into this recession, Mark is a breath of fresh air.

Like people who love what they do, he’s not just playing the game. He’s changing the game.

He’s doing it using technology to advance his strategy. So that’s why he was here tonight, speaking to a group of strategy consultants in CMC Canada’s Strategy special interest group. In addition to my duties as chair of the Toronto chapter, I also chair this group, which I helped found. I love it. It’s where you can meet people who are changing the game.

But back to Mark — and how he’s using technology so well. Because he is using it very well.

There’s a lot of hype about social networking, open source, web 2.0 — the technology industry has never met a buzzword it didn’t over-hype. What’s rare are good examples of how these buzzwords can be used practically to advance your business in new and exciting ways. That’s where Mark comes in.

I met him at a seminar weeks ago. He was there, on a panel with representatives of the big vendors who were spouting the usual blah, blah, blah — buy our products you’ll be the next internet sensation, we love small business, blah, blah, blah. Sorry guys, but my business isn’t going to be energized because I buy your server versus somebody else’s. And it was also a breath of fresh air to hear someone who could say open source without being condescending. It’s hard to take people seriously when everything is a sales pitch for their product.

Mark wasn’t selling us his solution. He simply explained what he’d done, the challenges he’d faced and the results that he’d achieved. No hype. Just a guy who loves what he does.

That sort of thing has real credibility. So when Mark talks, you have to listen. And I did. Along with the rest of the room tonight. In fact, I made notes. Here’s some of the tips that picked up from Mark:

Use technology to foster conversations about important things:

Mark’s open source systems allow him flexibility to dream and adapt — and he’s used that ability to facilitate conversations about things that are important. He has taken a page (literally) from social networking applications like facebook and twitter. He’s uses these to keep people in his company up to date on key activities.

The important words here are key activities. Mark was smart enough to take the essence of social networking, not just adding some features from another application. What makes it work is that they made a conscious choice of what things were most valuable and these are selected and displayed as part of their own in house news feed. By focusing on the information that has the most value — people in his company watch it. Contrast that with what appears on most social networking sites.

There is a law called Sturgeon’s Law and it says that 90% of everything is crap. So if you cut through that and go to what is really valuable, you provide a real service — especially in these days when everybody is overloaded.

Activities, events — new clients, orders and prospects — all of these conveniently packaged, shared and used to make sure everyone knows what is going on and can contribute. I immediately thought of virtual enterprises, like our own company. We have people all over the country, sometimes all over the world. We could use this to keep everyone up to date — even though they aren’t in the office.

Hmmm.

Here’s another great idea that Mark talked about which is close to my heart. Jim Collins, the renowned business writer says there are three things that go into a strategy. You need passion and you need to know what you can do better than anyone else in the world. Mark’s got those covered. But Collins says there’s a third thing — you need to really understand the metrics that drive your business. Sounds easy, but even if they get it (which I doubt) few companies understand it. They publish reams of data or none at all. They don’t give the vital few pieces of information that guide their employees to understand what they have to do on a day by day basis to help fulfill the company’s strategy.

Mark’s company has a great approach to this as well. For example, he has a great little application which shows a sales person what their commission is going to be on each and every sale. So they can see how they are doing constantly. Motivation 101. But Mark’s company goes a step further and guides them with costs so that they can see the profitability of the sale. Sales people know what they can and can’t do. And….there’s more. Operations people are also plugged in with data they need. They can see the orders that are coming in — again in real time. They can sort it by supplier to make sure they can cover multiple orders at one time. Everyone is up to date. The old “sales/operations” feuds are reduced, if not eliminated.

I do a lot of process transformation work using something called Lean. It’s a way to radically improve customer satisfaction, quality and efficiency (yes, you can have all three).

Lean is customer centric. It says that any process that doesn’t generate value to the customer is a waste. It also says that you find ways see all inefficiency and waste. One way to avoid waste is to eliminate mistakes before they happen instead of trying to catch them in the “quality control” steps.

So picture this. Some of Mark’s customers can have their own web-site to order goods. Their standards for orders are place on the each order page — right down to the exact description of the company colours in technical terms. This is important. Companies spend an enormous amount of money on their branding. They want consistency, quality and above all — accuracy. By making all of this visible and having a preset group of items for a company on their own web store, Mark’s company eliminates the potential for error AND increases the efficiency of the process. It’s not rocket science, it’s just damn good process design — enabled by a very friendly, customer focused technology.

But Mark’s approach, like Lean, is not just about efficiency. It’s about a relentless focus on what is of value to the customer. It’s a way to really engage your customer. Once again, Mark is using technology to help. He opens up his site to allow customers to participate. For instance, his customers can comment directly on products they have bought.

That’s where this is about more than technology. It’s about courage. If you only ask questions where you know that you’ll like the answer, you are not really listening. But if you take a chance and ask — people will tell you what they really think. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes its not.

Many companies shy away from real discussions with their customers because they don’t want to face the reality of dealing with issues. How many times have you heard those programmed words, “is there anything else I can do to help you?” when the “customer service” person you are talking to in some far distant land hasn’t helped you at all?

Mark’s people pounce on customer problems and address them. Why not? They are on the customer’s side. If the products tare substandard, they want them fixed or they want them off the list. When you really feel this way, you will have the courage to ask — in public — “what do you think?”

The added bonus is that your customers trust each other more than they will any sales person. Getting that real information adds value to the shopping experience.

This honest is the best way to engage your customers. My favourite saying about customers is from a book called “The Cluetrain Revolution” and it’s as fresh now as it was almost 10 years ago when I read it. It says that “Elvis was right. We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.” In so many companies today, Elvis has truly left the building.

As a strategic consultant, I think one of the best questions that I like to ask is “what do you want people to say about you when you leave the room?” Then I set out to help the client make that happen. Hey, did I say strategy was hard? It’s not — it’s doing it that’s hard.

Conversations in the age of social networking are no longer person to person. They are one to many, thanks to networks like twitter, facebook, Linked In and a host of others. If you can get people to say good things about the company you can get incredible coverage. How do you do that? Easy — well not exactly easy. If you want people to say great things about you or your company, you have to do things that they value. If you have an event, you have to make it a great one so that if someone is on twitter, and followed by thousands of people, their twitter message will say — having a great time @ Rightsleeve.com party. In fact, that has happened.

Doing the small things right. Relentlessly pursuing a dynamite customer experience. Having the creativity and flair to make your message distinct and worth telling. Those are the real tools of using social networks effectively — not just technology. And whether it’s giving out Rightsleeve.com underwear or his hysterical YouTube video with the tag line “friends don’t let friends buy bad promo” — everything is aimed at the customer experience.

To paraphrase my earlier question, the issue is to understand “what do you want people to say about you when they are engaging their social networks?” Then make it possible for them to say that in a way that’s fun and interesting.

Right down to his blog, Mark takes that approach. As a blogger myself, I wish his three rules which he shared were universal:

– write it yourself
– be authentic
– have fun

Notice that “mention your product” is not on the list. Be yourself. Be authentic. Have fun.

And when you do that, even a pen becomes exciting. And it’s rewarding for everyone. And I’ve always maintained that this is good for the bottom line. I won’t tell any tales out of school, but Mark’s company appears to be defying any of the trends that you are seeing in the papers. Sales are up and the company is growing profitably. And that, too, is exciting.

What can I say? Sometimes the good guys win.

I had a great time.

Thanks Mark.

Mark Graham’s company is called Rightsleeve.com and they go in to my “mission statement hall of fame” because you can actually tell what they do from what they say they do. RIGHTSLEEVE.COM uses design, promotional media and technology to deliver outstanding marketing results.

Check them out! I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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Filed under Social Media, Social Networking, Strategy, Technology

Is this a relationship?

My sister Chris is on Facebook. No, it’s not the sign of the Apocalypse. It’s a sign that social media is moving to a new phase.

I’m sure Seinfeld had a show about this — how to tell when something was no longer cool. I’m sure Jerry and the gang had some secret sign that told them when something had left the edge and simply become mainstream.

I remember when I knew that email had reached that point. It was when my parents got an email address. That was it — it was over. The rollout was complete. Global domination was achieved. Sure there might be a few left over folks who wouldn’t get with the program. Heck I’m sure there’s somebody out there with a black and white tv. But outside of a few hold-outs, the job was done.

I wrote a column once called the “dot customer” that predicted when consumer oriented e-commerce would reach that bellwether of success. It was when my wife started shopping on-line.

What I was amazed at then was the acceleration. For those of us who used it in its early primitive form, primarily as a business communication tool and occasionally as a way of keeping in touch with folks around the world — the rise of email took a long time. Years.

The move to e-commerce took a noticeably shorter period of time.

But social networking — wow. It seems like months ago that Facebook hit the scene and now — everyone is on the bandwagon. Even my sister Chris. The last Luddite. She sent me a “friend request” the other day.

Somebody told me in conversation that the biggest growth in Facebook ranks was now, as he so delicately put it, “people in your age range.”

Now on one hand, this is the triumph of Metcalfe’s Law. For those of you who don’t know Metcalfe’s Law, it’s a way of calculating the value of a network. For those who think this way, a network’s value is the square of it’s nodes.

For those who can’t quite grasp that, let me explain it the way it was explained to me. What is the value of one fax machine? Nothing. There’s nobody to send a fax to. Add one more and what is the value? It just went up — because there is someone to send and receive your fax. And there might be mutual value for them. Start adding people and the value of the network grows by doubling and redoubling — until it starts to grow at exponential rates, gathering speed like a snowball rolling down hill.

A guy named Metcalfe predicted that. Smart guy.

What I don’t think he anticipated that was that this growth of network value would itself increase in speed each time. Hence the rapid rise of social networking from uber-cool to ubiquitous.

But here’s the point where I want to ask the question. Has the network really grown in value? This isn’t me being simply a contrarian. In fact, I don’t have an answer. I simply raise the question.

Not everything that gets mass acceptance increases in value. Fads burn out, trends die. And when they die — or crash, the seeds of that destruction are hidden by the initial success. Think back to our Seinfeld model and think of a restaurant that had amazing popularity, but was on it’s way downhill while still drawing record crowds. As Yogi Berra was reputed to say, “nobody goes there, it’s too crowded.”

Or if you are astute, think of the dot-com crash. Or the recent financial meltdown. From “top of game” to “down in flames.”

Now this isn’t a big deal for my sister Chris. She might not even notice the bubble bursting — if it does. It might be a problem for a corporate sponsor who invested heavily in social networking only to see it go down in flames — if it does.

The good news is that rarely are these permanent crashes. Many times the sequence is that something hits a success track, gets over hyped, crashes and burns — and then resurfaces months or even years later under a different name. Yesterday’s Application Service Providers were replaced by today’s Software as a Service. I’m sure you can think of a few more.

But the life of some companies, people’s investments and a few careers can take some hard knocks — and they have.

So what are you to do? If you don’t get on board, then you miss the boat. If you jump in, you could go down in flames or waste your money and efforts on something that won’t pay off.

I don’t have all the answers on this one. I can offer a couple of observations. First, there are some worrying items in social networking as we see it. One thing that bothers me is that it appears to be built on a house of cards. Everyone is trying to be the new Facebook, but I’m not sure that’s sustainable. Facebook grew out of the student market and tapped into a phenomenon associated with a younger demographic. From the time when you saw how many kids you could put in a Volkswagen, to sit ins and marches — there has always been an attraction to trying to draw the largest crowd of friends together.

It’s not that this has no attraction to an older segment — but it has it’s roots and it’s big appeal to the younger demographic. Indeed, I would maintain that when this phenomenon hits an older demographic, there has to be more than simply the joy of attendance. Crowds require causes or some additional value.

I haven’t really seen that in the social networking arena yet. Not that I’ve given up. I’m a twitterer, I’m Linked-In, I “Plaxo” and — although I use it less and less, I’m on Facebook. I have contacts. I have seen some value in tracking people I haven’t seen for some time. But I work at it. I can’t afford to invest hours upon hours with no value coming from it.

Much of what happens isn’t relationships. Relationships are about mutual exchanges of value My friend Ray Mackenzie and his co-authors made that point in the book The Relationship Based Enterprise. It’s that word mutual that holds my attention. I’m struggling to see that in this new explosion of social networking.

I don’t poke very much. I tweet a little. I never throw a sheep. And if you find me on a friend finder, and I don’t know you, I probably won’t respond to your invite to become a friend. In fact, I joined Plaxo as an experiment because they seemed to be aiming at those who wanted more exclusive — and more valuable networks.

And if I said I wasn’t worried about the “Hotel California” syndrome I’d be lying. For those of you who don’t follow the reference, Hotel California was a song by the Eagles with the famous line, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” When I see Linked-In’s top end price of $499 per month (that’s right – per month) I wonder what the end of this game looks like.

But I don’t know where this is really going. I’m watching carefully. I’m building my network based on value and I’m finding ways to use these tools. But I’m not betting the store on them. Not without a clear indication of value. Because investing in value — whether it be stocks or technology — has a way of paying off in the long run. I’m looking for things that enhance that mutual exchange of value that defines a relationship.

How about you? I’m really interested in your comments.

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Filed under People, Social Networking, Strategy, Technology

Immigrants on the Internet

I heard a quote the day that people of my generation would always be immigrants on the internet. No matter how well we adapted, we would always be “strangers in a strange land”. Our children would be citizens.

Coming from a city that has truly blossomed as a multi-cultural mecca, I am familiar with immigrants. I’ve just never been one.

The observation started me thinking. I do a lot of work on high performance team building and one of the things that I stress is our need to embrace diversity. In order to do that, we have to examine our own behaviours. I’ve learned a lot by doing this.

One example I use all the time is the way we tend to treat people who don’t speak English well as less intelligent. How did I learn about this? I did observe others, certainly. But I also observed myself — what I thought and how I acted.

I’ve been a bid proponent of being self aware — even when the picture isn’t flattering. And I like to have honest discussions about it. And I know that’s not the norm. I know that confronting these things openly makes some people uncomfortable.

I wonder sometimes if this has cost me in terms of consulting work. I remember one interview where I was shortlisted on a strategy job for a major university. When we didn’t get the job, I replayed the final interview in my head, searching for moments where we might have done a better job.

One area where I remembered a shocking reaction from the potential client was when I mentioned this example of how so many of us regard people who don’t speak English as less intelligent. I clearly stated that almost everyone that I had ever talked to struggled with that reaction, even those (like myself) who had overcome it. The reaction from one of the people was immediate, visceral and I suspect — politically correct. “I’ve never felt that way,” he said. I did the only thing I could do. I congratulated him on being a better person than me and much of the rest of that group that was once referred to as WASPs.

I hoped that the fact that I didn’t believe him didn’t come through in my voice. Perhaps it did. Because I think that almost everyone struggles with this more than we want to admit (and a wee bit of psychological research supports me on this one).

There is a study that I read recently that said that we tend to attribute motives to behaviours. Moreover, we were always more unkind to others in our attribution than we were to ourselves.

When we are late, there’s good reason. Traffic. Subway. Whatever.

But when someone ELSE is late? Don’t you think (even for a second) that they didn’t plan well? Or that maybe they don’t think your time is as important? Or a host of other negative thoughts? Doesn’t it cross your mind for a second? If it doesn’t, you really are out of the norm.

I know. Not just because of the studies, but from the reaction I get from audiences I speak to. I tell the story of “that person” in the checkout line. You know the one? They always catch you when you are in a hurry. Then they have to question the bill or be picky about some minor flaw in the product or just be annoying by talking too much — whatever. You know what I mean? Doesn’t it drive you crazy too?

Then I ask who that person is. And I tell the audience. That person is me and you. But when we are up there, it’s important. We demand our time. Those b**ds in line can wait.

I haven’t seen an audience yet that wasn’t with me totally on the first description. Nor have I seen one that didn’t react with surprise and realization when I mentioned that we were the person.

So I know this “attribution” thing is real. Again if you, denial is only a river in Egypt, stop reading now. But if you are with the rest of the human race, read on — I’ll get to the point.

The point is that as immigrants to the internet, we come with a lot of baggage. This attribution thing fills our lives. We take our dark side with us. The road rage that we exhibit on our highways becomes the flame wars over comments and emails.

I’ve taken these behaviours as examples because they are so common and extreme enough to make good examples. There are a raft of others that you can become aware of if you just pay attention to them. Time lags in instant messaging are another one. I always wonder what the other person is doing — until I caught on that sometimes the send and receive isn’t instantaneous. I found this out by accident. There’s more. Watch for them. Better still — add them as a comment or send me a note. I’d like to hear your favourite.

My point is that these get in the way. In particular, this happens on the internet because we don’t have any context to work with. No smiling face. Or sad face. No body language. Nothing. Just an font on a screen. An pale echo of reality.

The good news is that in many of these things, our kids can be citizens. My eldest (at age eighteen) is one of the founders of one of the largest wikis around today. I remember asking her — who is in charge of this thing? I got a blank stare. So I repeated the question with a little more explanation. “Like, when you disagree?”

Her answer was, “we talk it out”.

“But,” I said, frustratedly, “when push comes to shove. When you HAVE to decide. Who make the call?”

More blank stares. Then she repeated herself slowly — “we just work it out…”

And she gave me that look. Like she was looking at an immigrant. And I didn’t speak the language that well.

It’s a learning lesson for all of us — of that generation that Pete Townsend called, “My Generation”. With knowledge work, virtual work, collaboration and social networking becoming the norm, we are always playing catch up. Someone told me yesterday that the biggest group moving into Facebook were people of my age (over 50). The citizens (our children) have been there for years. Now, the boomers are in. And a massive immigration is in place.

We come to this new world with all our baggage. I hope we will realize that this time we are the immigrants. And I hope that the citizens of this new land are much more forgiving than we have been.

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Going virtual for competitive advantage

For me, necessity was the mother of invention. But it wasn’t an easy birth.

I took over a global consulting practice at the same time as somebody in our company discovered cost controls. Where my predecessors had smaller areas, they also had larger budgets. That was a real challenge that was imposed on me. Another wound was self-inflicted. Even though I had taken this job to head up a global practice, I’m insane enough to have thought that I didn’t want to totally give up on being a working consultant. I knew I would have to scale back radically, but I couldn’t totally give it up.

When I became a consultant I knew what it was like to sit on the other side of the desk. I could put myself in the client’s shoes. I swore when I couldn’t do that anymore, I’d give it up. I felt the same way as I went into the “executive ranks”. When I could no longer keep in touch with the real day to day realities of serving our clients, I’d give that up too (but that’s another story).

So I had big area. A small budget. Did I mention that we were in a real crisis? It was a time when we were losing our focus — sometimes even our value proposition.

I knew I couldn’t turn this thing around. I needed a team. And that team had to come from all around the world. It had to bring in the best we had. We had to be able to share what we knew and leverage that effectively. We had to bring in new ideas from everywhere. We had to work more cohesively than we had done for years.

So we needed to work together more effectively than ever before. And to be fair to our CFO, even when we had money, flying in people in was always tough. Days in the air. Jet lag. Leaving the office for a week at a time. Getting calendars in synch? To plan a meeting of 12 representatives from around the world could take 3 months of negotiations and planning. And I’m not sure we always got the results that matched the investment of time or money.

At that time we had was email, Lotus Notes and conference calls. We also had some emerging web enabled tools – primarily the early web conferencing tools. Placeware was the tool (later Live Meeting) and it was primitive, but better than nothing.

I picked up the phone — and I began to learn. Boy did I learn. I got bruised and battered. I made a lot of mistakes. That’s what I did. WE — the team. That’s another story. WE did amazing things. WE proved that large virtual teams could deliver incredible results effectively, quickly and at an enormous cost/time savings.

Years later, when we founded this new company, I took all of that learning with me. I was determined to take it to the next level. Even though I’d gone from big firm to boutique — we were truly a global firm very rapidly. I negotiated deals, set up alliances, conferred with my network, all in a virtual space.

Tools were developing. The idea of virtual teams was no longer such a radical idea. HBR had published a study which claimed that virtual teams were MORE productive than collocated teams. It claimed gains of 25% in productivity, 90% reductions in absenteeism — delivery times that we 1/10th of the time that a traditional team would take. It claimed budgets that were 1/8th of those of a traditional collocated team. Incredibly, it also laid claim to improved results.

I didn’t have any trouble with believing this. I knew that it was possible. Today, we live and breath it. Our clients and consultants come literally from around the world.

But that’s not the most interesting thing. The thing is in how its changed for us. I have people working for me that I have hired, worked with, gotten to know, struggle through challenges with — and whom I have never seen or physically met. I interact with them every day. I’ve facilitated meetings of people across the country through difficulties, through crisis, through incredible achievements — and never seen some of them.

Last year, I closed the downtown office. There was just no need for it. I guess there is somebody who might need to see bricks and mortar to work with us — I had a sales rep who felt this was essential. But you know, I’ve met a lot of people in our offices that have given us zero in the way of business. Besides, I did the math. When we stopped paying rent on a downtown office, if we really wanted to impress people, we could take them out for lunch or dinner at the best restaurant in the city — and we’d still be saving money.

It has it’s challenges. We’ve had to learn – we are continually learning. But I’m absolutely amazed as I look at it about how far we’ve come from the days when I heard that to have a team, you had to be able to “shake their hands and look them in the eyes.”

It’s not that I don’t meet with people. But I don’t need to do it. I know that this is still disconcerting to some. Even when people live near me, I have found that their need to have physical meetings is — curious. I can hear it in their voice when I propose that the day is too packed to meet them for coffee, but we can have coffee in our offices while we talk. I still remember one of our consultants saying to me as he was about to start an assignment — “don’t you think we should meet?”

I thought we had. I had checked references. I had tested, prodded and probed. I had reviewed prior work. If anything, someone I hire virtually may get a better vetting than some hires I’ve made in my career. But I’ve learned. I met him in person. It was pleasant. It didn’t change anything for me.

Woody Allen may have been right when he said that “90% of life is just showing up.” If he was, I can tell you that the last 10% may be the most valuable. The HBR study proved what my experience had taught me.

And the world is catching up. I read an article in July that said that 10 percent of Canada’s labour force — 2.5 million people — work outside the office at least one day a week. (Robert Fox, Canadian Telework Association) Teletrips, a Vancouver based company, claims a company can save $6,000 to $9,000 per flexible worker. They go on to say that a worker can save 160 hours in commute time each year — four working weeks! Plus you save 3,000 kilos of carbon dioxide.

The same article by Michelle MacLeod goes on to list other benefits. Reduced attrition. Ability to attract great people who wouldn’t face the commute to get to your office. It goes on. And that HBR article keeps coming back to me. Faster delivery. Better results.

Virtual aren’t second best anymore. And I have a feeling that we are just scratching the surface. We have build the tools and the processes. We know how to live, work, network and even facilitate in this space. More and more of our consulting finds its way into tools. processes, strategy and ongoing coaching and development of virtual teams.

When the internet was just starting up, Ayelet Baron (now at Cisco) and I collaborated on building one of the first websites. Years later it would seem so primitive that it would be embarrassing to show now. Then, it was leading edge and won some international acclaim for our firm. That was good, because although we’d begged some investment from partners in our firm, if we hadn’t printed the pages they would have never seen what we had done.

The other day I heard a radio host say that “no matter how comfortable we had become with the new virtual world, people of my generation would always be immigrants on the internet.” Our children were citizens. So no matter how far I’ve come, I realize that this has a long way to go yet.

I hate hype. I don’t want to say — if your company isn’t doing this then you are losing money. But I’m not sure its hype anymore. What was leading edge is now every day. And if you’re not maximizing the benefits from virtual teams, I’d love to know why not.

Gotta go. I have that 30 second commute.

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Not Using Open Source Software? Must be nice to have money to burn!

If your manager of HR came up to you and said, “I’d like to send every employee out for a $500.00 to $1,000.00 training program in the coming year,” as a business owner you would probably wince. After all, times are tough.

What if the HR Manager said to you — “by the way, there’s an free training alternative that may be just as good. But I still want to spend this money.”

I’m not sure what you would do? Fire him/her on the spot? Call for a paramedic? Or would you just throw him/her out of your office.

In those terms, it sounds like you’d have to be nuts to be that HR Manager, right?

So if that’s true, why aren’t people up in arms about software? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doing Microsoft bashing here. But I still don’t get why companies will spend a small fortune on “name brand” software when the “generic” (Open Source) is often free.

And if people are telling you that its because Open Source isn’t ready to run a “real business” — let me be the first to say it. That’s nonsense.

As I pointed out on someone else’s blog — I’m a power user of Office. I do things that 90% of your employees wouldn’t even know how to do. And I use Open Office almost all the time. But 99% of your employees aren’t “power users”. The last time I checked, the average worker was using less than 10% of the functions of office software.

Now do the math. Microsoft Office costs how much? Open Office is free. Yes. Free. Free as in “can you save more money than free?”

Why pay a premium price for functionality nobody even uses? Even if you factor in the cost of switching over — and some training, can you really lose out?

I want to say it’s funny, but it’s really sad. The objections are, as my kids would say – lame. Take the question of training. Did you do any training on Office? How about when it made it’s big shift to 2007, which baffled the hell out of me. Did companies do training? Or did it just arrive on the desk? So what is the big worry about shifting to Open Office? I still recommend training – but it’s not a barrier.

Or the one I hear all the time. Open Office — there might be bugs. Who will fix them? Are you serious? Do you really think MS Office has no bugs? And who fixes those? Personally, if I had to bet on fixes, I’d stick with the Open Source community. Although its funny that somehow that community is not seen as serious by some. Newsflash. For those who must have a corporate involvement, Sun Microsystems is a big sponsor of Open Office. IBM and others are big players in the Open Source arena in general.

Or the big final one. The world is Microsoft, you say? Guess what. I save my Open Office documents as Microsoft docs before I send them out to all my friends who have money to burn. In fact, I have less problems going between Open Office and Microsoft Office than I have in going between versions of Microsoft Office. Try sending a 2007 document to a 2003 Office user. Now that’s a pain.

If it were only office. I use an open source (free) anti-virus, not because it’s cheaper, but because I can’t stand the paid alternative. My list goes on and on.

In fact, I started this journey not because of Office, but because of Sharepoint. We needed a document management type of system in our office and since we had access to a Sharepoint license, we installed it. Now we are IT consultants. But within a week the technology consultant who implemented the Sharepoint system was in my office telling me we had to hire an administrator to take care of the system. It needed specialized skills to get it up and running. We would have spent thousands.

I threw it out and went Open Source and never looked back. I (or any other reasonably intelligent techie) figured out Drupal (the Open Source CMS) in a weekend. It cost us nothing in licenses, was a dream to install and a year later, we do everything ourselves.

I could go on and on. Scalix replaces Microsoft Exchange. Our CRM is SugarCRM and even though we do pay for a license (we use the Enterprise Version) it’s still a gift in terms of price compared with the much more expensive Salesforce.com (just so I’m not picking on Microsoft)

Mind mapping? I use Freemind. As in free.

Even this blog? Word Press. Not costing me a cent.

Don’t get me wrong. We will pay, when there’s value. We have a secure email system that does cost a few shekels, but it’s remarkably reasonable. We pay for our conferencing platform, but that still saves us a ton of money and time. It allows us to do business all around the world.

The one barrier for most companies is that they just don’t know. But there is no reason for that anymore. We’re offering a license review where we’ll do a review of all your software licenses. This isn’t just individual licenses. We go into the corporate licenses as well. You would be surprised what we find. We’ve found duplication, over purchasing, maintenance programs that are way more than the company needs — sometimes you’d be shocked at what these are costs. Heck, we’ve found software that nobody is using that is still being paid for with maintenance charges every year. Hey, a few thousand here, a few thousand there — soon, you are talking about real money.

Now we’re adding an Open Source audit as well. We don’t expect our clients to just jump and replace all their software with Open Source. There are learning curves, due diligence, training and all of that. But we do expect that they will do a business case and have a strategy to migrate over time — or a damned good reason why not.

We offer this service to companies around the world. Our Open Source VOIP phone system allows us to reach anywhere and do this type of work. We offer — not everyone takes us up on it. But then, some companies have money to burn.

If you DON’T – give us a call. We’ll even pick up the tab for the call. With the money we save on phones, I don’t sweat what we pay for our 1-800 line — it’s VOIP anyway.  So call us at 1-800-741-9375 ext 1000

You have nothing to lose — and a lot to gain.

Update: March 5, 2009 Here’s a link to an article that someone sent me. It deals with some of the wrong headed ideas about open source and some hope about how our federal government in Canada might be waking up.

Jim Love, Managing Partner, Performance Advantage

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