Great advice for CIO’s on Twitter

Twitter_bird_logo_2012.svgOver on the Enterprisers Project, David A. Bray, the CIO of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was recently interviewed about his use of Twitter.  The interview is a very nice read about how one CIO uses Twitter to engage and share information.

What I found most intriguing about Bray’s use of Twitter is that he’s not following an agenda set by his marketing or PR group. He’s using Twitter to truly engage with others and share information about what the FCC is doing within their IT operations. When setting up his Twitter account, Bray says that he “wanted to be able to engage, listen, and learn from the public and IT peers as we worked to modernize FCC’s legacy IT systems.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people talk about creating a twitter account for the purposes of ‘building the brand’.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with using  Twitter for brand management and improvement, but there absolutely must be a human face and voice behind that account. Without that human voice, the account can quickly be relegated to the ‘noise’ on Twitter.  From what I can see, David Bray has built his Twitter account and following by being nothing but personable and engaging with his own voice rather than the stuffy, buttoned up voice of the government and/or a PR machine.

From the interview, Bray shared these thoughts on advice for other CIO’s on Twitter:

When it comes to social media, pick a few channels to invest in, learn from, and monitor. You don’t have to be everywhere, because your hours are limited and you need to focus on your primary job foremost. Be open to inputs and ideas from the public, your peers, and other stakeholders. Social media is much more than “broadcast” – it’s about being open to ideas, learning, and listening.

Great advice….and advice that I’ve decided to remember on a daily basis when I use Twitter.  For various reasons, I’ve gotten into the habit of ‘broadcasting’ on Twitter rather than engaging. I’m looking to change that in the coming days/weeks.

How about you. Are you broadcasting on Twitter or are you actually engaging?

Reinventing a Small Business with Simple Technology

reinventLast year I helped a friend of mine reinvent his business. The funny thing about this “reinvention” is that we didn’t really do much more than change his approach to using technology.

My friend owns a plumbing company that has been in business since the 1940s and has been passed down to him from his father and grandfather. Needless to say, the company has been successful enough to stay in business for over 65 years.

By all measures, this “little” plumbing company, which is what my friend calls his business, is doing quite well. He has ten employees. and they have multiple generations of customers who continue to come to them for all of their plumbing needs. While profitable, the business had only seen single-digit growth in revenue over the past few years, and my friend was looking for ways to jump-start growth.

The only real complaint that anyone could ever make against my friend’s business was that it was stuck in “old” ways of doing business when it came to technology. Employees carried around their “order books” which contained their schedules, work logs, invoices, and payments for the day’s activities. These “order books” had been in use in one form or another since the founding of the company. There was no question that the approach worked, but by using pen and paper, the business was stuck in an outdated and inefficient approach to operations.

My buddy called me up one day and asked for help. He wanted to replace the order book with technology. I’m a fan of technology so I happily helped him kick off a project to replace his business’ pen and paper approach with a technology solution.

The solution was a fairly straightforward one. We built a custom app that connected the business’ Quickbooks accounting software with a custom scheduling application that allowed everyone in the company to have a complete view of each employee’s schedule and activity for each day. Using iPads and/or iPhones each technician could then access their order book via a custom-developed app.

The driving force behind the success of this approach was the ability of employees to access and use the order book application in real time, regardless of their location. For their hardware, wireless and data access needs, we turned to Verizon Wireless to provide the connection and the iPads/iPhones. My friend and I have both been long-time clients of Verizon and felt it was in the best position to help his business the most.

With this new order-book application, the technicians can see at a glance what their days look like, even as their days change due to customer cancellations or new appointments being set. The technicians no longer need to call into the office after each appointment, they can now just refresh their order books to see what the rest of their day looks like. Additionally, all technicians have the ability to enter payments into their iPads or iPhones while with clients rather than taking checks or asking clients to call into the office with credit card information.

The new order-book system has led to much more efficient service from each technician, more timely payments from clients, and much faster and effective service. The business has seen a rise in revenue from service calls that can be attributed to the more efficient use of technicians’ time while in the field.

My friend no longer has to worry about whether his technicians will get all their paperwork turned in at the end of their shifts. He no longer has to worry about making sure invoices and service calls are logged into the accounting system at the end of the day. He no longer has to worry that he’s missing out on clients because the business can’t respond to their needs fast enough.

Now my friend only has to worry about where he’s going to find another technician or two. His business has grown about 30% over the last year, and it looks like he’s going to need to expand fairly soon. It is amazing what some simple technology can do to help reinvent a business.

This is brought to you by Verizon – helping simplify the realities so you can keep dreaming big.

Mobile Connectivity and Your Business

mobile-connectivityI’d like you to do a little experiment with me. I’ve got a little thought experiment that I’d like to run past you

Imagine being a small business owner today. Maybe some of you are small business owners so it’ll be very easy to imagine.

Now, imagine that you are looking to expand your business. You have a few employees and a great group of clients but you think there’s more opportunity for you out there in your field. For the purposes of this little thought experiment, let’s imagine that your business is one that requires constant mobility and client interaction in the field.   Your employees are constantly in their vehicles, at client locations and regularly moving around town.

In the mobile centric world of today, you’ve probably already spent some money on mobility initiatives. Your employees might have a smartphone that they can use to check in with the office or maybe you’ve even gone so far as to give laptops to your team so they can keep up with paperwork between jobs.

With everything you’ve done, you still don’t feel like you’ve taken full advantage of the benefits that mobility offers. You employees still do paperwork, fill out invoices and take payments in the ‘old’ way with checks or using billing statements to the client. You’ve not really taken that leap into the world of full-time mobile connectivity for your business.

You aren’t quite sure why. You know the systems are in place today to allow full-time connectivity. Your employee’s smartphones are always connected to the wireless network and you never have any issue using them for voice or data and they always ‘just work’. Your laptops that your employees use aren’t always connected but when they are connected to a wi-fi network, they give your team the ability to catch up on email, invoicing, billing or other necessary work that keeps a small business running.

You’re almost there though. You really are. Your team may not be connected full-time, but it won’t take much to get there. So why not make the jump?

Mobile Connectivity and Your Business

It is interesting to ponder thought experiments like this. In fact, this is much more than just a thought experiment, it is a reality of many small businesses. Most don’t think they have the technical knowledge to be able to put together an end-to-end solution to allow full-time mobility and connectivity.

While many small business owners aren’t terribly technical, they don’t really need to be. The mobile world of today is so much different than the one that confronted businesses just five years ago. Today, a business owner can walk into just about wireless carrier or electronics/computer store and pick up a tablet, smartphone or wireless device to add to their laptop and be completely mobile.

The infrastructure to be a full-time mobile business is in place today. The backbone is available and reliable to allow your employees to work from anywhere they are.

This is brought to you by Verizon – helping simplify the realities so you can keep dreaming big.

Trends in the SMB Technology Space

132493-tech-trends-240I just finished reading a report from SMB Group titled “Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs”. The report is a pay-per-access report but I received a copy from IBM to review and I’m happy I got to see it.

The report describes research performed by SMB Group into how small and medium businesses (SMB) are viewing and using technology in their business. A few of the interesting tidbits from the report are:

  • SMBs that view technology as a business enabler and invest more in technology are much more likely to anticipate revenue growth than other SMBs
  • The majority of SMBs indicate that mobile solutions are now critical for their business,
  • SMBs need to proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience
  • SMBs are willing and even eager to benefit from IT, but they are under-resourced and under pressure.

There are many more good pieces of information in the report, but the above were the ones that I wanted to point out. I don’t think any of these are a surprise to anyone.

The small and midsize market has always looked to technology to help level the playing field but there’s always been a challenge to the SMB. The challenges come into play around budget and people, which the last bullet point above points out. SMB’s are understaffed and under-funded but with the many tools, vendors and capabilities around today, SMB’s have more opportunity to bring in the right technology and the right vendors.

While the technology playing field is being leveled, the challenge still exists with being able to hire the right people. That said, even with the people challenge existing today, SMB’s are in a much better place than they were a few years ago.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Tapping into the power of others

watson_computerLast week, I read with interest the announcement that IBM was opening up their Watson computing platform to outside organizations and developers to use to build upon the cognitive computing and natural language processing of the platform.

This is a big step for organizations of all sizes, but especially those in the small and midmarkets. The type of computing power offered by Watson is something that small and medium sized organizations could never hope to have access to on their own.

Along with the announcement, IBM released the names of three companies using Watson’s powerful computing capabilities. These three companies are all smaller organizations who would struggle to find access to a fraction of the computing power they now have access to with Watson.

I’ve argued in the past that big data can level the playing field for the small and medium business (SMB). SMB’s have been able to take advantage of the various resources available in the cloud for computing and storage, but they’ve rarely had access to computing power like Watson.

Imagine being a small business with an idea for a new product or service that requires an enormous amount of computing power to model the new service. Currently, you’d have to invest a great deal of money in hardware and/or cloud services to get started. Even with this investment, you may not have the full computing environment required to build your business.

That is where the power of the opening of Watson comes in. With a few API calls, you can access one of the most powerful computing platforms in the world. Imagine what that power can do for your business.

As a small or medium sized organization, you have to take every advantage that you can find to keep up with or surpass your larger competitors. The opening up of Watson adds just one more advantage to the SMB.
IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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The Future of Managed Services Providers (MSP’s)

Managed Services Providers (MSP’s) have been around the IT space for years. Most small and medium organizations have experience have experience working with MSP’s in IT, finance, HR and other areas of the business.

The role of the MSP is an important one in the small and medium business (SMB) space. An MSP provides the ability for a small or medium business to offload those pieces of their business that aren’t driving value or competitive advantage. For example, a non-profit that focuses on delivering meals to the elderly should – in most cases – hire a managed services provider to manage the IT for the organization. IT isn’t a key driver of value of this organization and should be outsourced to an MSP.

In order to continue to drive value as a trusted business partner, MSP’s have needed to stay on the forefront of technologies.  Over the last few years, the MSP’s that have thrived have been those that have adopted the cloud as a way to deliver more value to their clients. The next generation MSP understand the cloud, social and mobile to help clients run and grow their business.

Additionally, those MSP’s that have been most successful have moved away from solely focusing on delivering “IT” to their clients and have begun helping drive business solutions. This is, in fact, the same thing that the good internal IT groups have done over the years – they’ve stopped focusing on delivering “technology” and started delivering solutions that the business needs.

Timothy Tsao hits this pretty well in an article titled What does a “next generation” MSP look like? How does it act? where he writes on this exact topic.  In that article, Timothy writes:

The next-generation MSP is business-focused, not IT focused. This means: in order to counter MSP commoditization, a next-gen MSP differentiates itself and understands how to sell the front office: the CMO, CFO, the procurement officer, the supply-chain officer. These are people who have traditionally dabbled in ERP. They’re increasingly becoming part of the conversation, so the successful next-gen MSP must have a business mindset in terms of how it sells. In other words, it’s about numbers: translating the benefits of what the customer gains into specific dollar amounts.

Emphasis mine.

Whether an MSP, an internal IT group or a consultant, the way to differentiate yourself today and in the future is to be able to talk about how your services can help the business rather than simply that you can ‘manage IT’ for their clients.

The future of the MSP looks great if they can move away from providing just IT services and move toward providing provide business value.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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