Tag Archives: business

The Shiny Penny Syndrome

We recently finished our AIM innovations course and are starting the information management course. As I transition between the two, I can’t help but think of the shiny penny syndrome. A new shiny penny is perceived to be more valuable and sought after than an old tarnished penny, even though the two have the same value. This metaphor has been used in dating to describe a new love interest versus an old one but is also applicable to business and technology. In this blog I want to talk about the pitfalls of chasing after shiny pennies when perhaps the old penny just needs cleaning and polishing.

New Technologies

Often there are good reasons to implement new technologies, like the end of support for a legacy system or the need to interface with other updated programs or systems. The new technology can also result in efficiency gains and long term cost savings. When developing an innovation or technology plan it is important to ask whether this technology is a shiny penny or will it improve your throughput and create real revenue gains or cost savings. Acknowledging this early on will save time and resources that can be spent on improving the existing technology or choosing a new solution that really will deliver benefits.

Business Improvement

Businesses often chase after shiny pennies when they choose to acquire other companies to augment or enhance their own offerings. The wisdom is that it is easier to buy existing capabilities as opposed to trying to develop them from the ground up. This strategy often works, but sometimes it is a case of chasing a shiny penny. I have been involved in IT integration of acquisitions in the past and after a deep dive it is apparent that there was more flash than substance in the purchase. While it would have taken longer, the organization could have developed the same capability for less money and gained valuable experience in the process.

Leadership Changes

New leadership sometimes resembles a shiny penny. It’s tempting to think a new CEO or CIO will bring fresh ideas that will help get us turned around or get us back on track. While it sometimes works, there may be deeper systemic issues that can’t be solved with a new manager or a new team. After the honeymoon period, the old problems surface and the new leader can’t get any better traction than the previous executive, and then the new leader is sometimes replaced by even a newer, shinier penny. We can stop this rotating door by honestly acknowledging that we are trying to compensate for unresolved deep-seated issues with the organization or processes. It is admittedly hard to recognize and fix the real issues but doing so leaves us in a better position to succeed in the future.

Thoughts

Next time you face a major change such as new leadership or a new technology or adding new capabilities through a merger or acquisition, take just a second to acknowledge whether this is a new shiny penny or will it truly leave the organization in a better position to be competitive and successful.

Have you ever chased after a shiny penny? Did it work out? Let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear about your experience.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Facing Digital Disruption

Image of airplanes in formation, one plane climbing straight up. In a recent Accenture report, 24% of surveyed CFOs believe that their company will cease to exist in its current form due to disruptive competition. Fifty-eight percent think their industry will be disrupted and 41% believe more than half of their competitors will disappear. The telling statistic, however, is that only 6% are preparing for the anticipated changes.

As I prepare to teach the summer AIM course Creating Business Solutions with Technology, I have been thinking a lot about disruption, particularly digital disruption. I define this as the forces of change, either within or outside the organization, which cause us to operate differently. Sometimes these are slight process changes or adjustments, but sometimes they completely change the way we do business and the way we serve customers. If only 6% of CFOs are preparing for these changes, I hope more CIOs and CEOs are planning ahead.

That’s Not How We Used To Do Things

Particularly for the IT department, technology changes are coming at a rapid pace. We need to become more efficient and deploy our resources and talents differently than ever before. No longer do we have a room full of hardware that we keep locked away from mere mortals. Our hardware and applications are now in the cloud and we are tasked with being service managers instead of systems or software managers. Because of the advances in networking, security, storage, and processing, our jobs have changed dramatically. At least they should have changed. If we are still doing our jobs the way we were 10 years ago, then there is a software or infrastructure service provider that would love to take our business.

Business Changes

Think about some of the things that you do differently as a consumer and you can begin to understand what businesses are facing in the way of new and different competition. The last time I went downtown to visit a travel agent was 10 years ago. I can’t think of the last time I phoned a hotel call center or front desk to make a room reservation. I do it all online. Sometimes I don’t even stay in traditional hotels but prefer a service like Airbnb. Taxi and even rental car services have been disrupted by new business models from companies such as Uber or Lyft. Tesla is threatening to disrupt the traditional dealership model by selling cars in small retail storefronts instead of huge showrooms with massive inventories supplied by the manufacturer. Not surprising, in a number of these disruptions, state legislators are trying to protect business as usual. That’s not how we do things around here, they say.

I send fewer letters than I did even a year ago. It is much easier to write and pay bills online. Mobile and online banking has disrupted the traditional bank downtown. I am sure that you can think of a lot more changes in your own lives due to advances in technology. These are the changes businesses need to grapple with or they risk becoming obsolete.

What To Do

Here are three steps that Accenture recommends to prepare for digital disruption:

  1. Conduct scenario planning to highlight areas of the operating model or current cost structure that need to be transformed.
  2. Create and implement an action plan to redefine your cost base with digital at the core. This is specific advice to the CFO, but applicable to all.
  3. Live and breathe customer obsession. Create strategies throughout the entire organization that focus on the customer first. What would make their lives easier and their transactions more efficient?

These strategies will help to ensure that you will be a viable competitor for the foreseeable future.

Thoughts

Let me know your thoughts. How has technology changed the way that you do business? How do you think things will be different five year from now? Are you ready?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Information Umbrella’s Best Blogs of 2014

Happy New Year from the AIM faculty and staff!

Our blog writers’ curiosity took some surprising turns in 2014, which sparked us to ask what resonated with you readers. Below is our list of most popular blogs of the year, with a special challenge to astrologers to make sense of the odd coincidence involving publication dates.

Hand holds the world#5 Our Shrinking World

AIM blogger Kelly Brown ponders the question “With everything we have in place, are we really tapping the potential of a shrinking world or still limiting ourselves to the familiar surroundings and friends to supply us with answers and advice?” From April 15, 2014.

parade
#4 So We Had a Parade

Guest blogger Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate, an adjunct instructor for the AIM Program, and COO of Sesame Communications, shares his thoughts on his experience in organizational culture and team building. From July 15, 2014.

digital vortex#3 The Dark Side of the Deep Web

Kelly Brown’s curiosity takes him deep into the layers of the Web. Think onions and murky depths. From April 8, 2014.

overstuffed garage#2 A Terabyte of Storage Space: How Much is Too Much?

How much storage is enough? Kelly Brown calculates just what will fit into 1,000 gigabytes. From July 8, 2014.

 

child using computer#1 Too Many Coders?

Are there too many coders to meet the needs of the future? Not enough? That question resonated with more Information Umbrella readers than any other in 2014, rocketing this blog post to top spot for the year. From February 18, 2014.

 

What do you want to read about in 2015? Send us a message with your ideas.

Don’t miss The Information Umbrella next week when Kelly Brown scores a touchdown with a timely topic!

How My Graduate Education Opened Unexpected Doors For Me

2010 AIM Program graduatesI have been pondering how a graduate education has helped me in my life and career. The catalyst was an article I read recently titled “In Defense of the Master’s Degree.” To be fair, the article was written by the chief strategy officer at Northeastern University, so it may have been a bit biased. His thoughts, however, echo my own experience and the benefits I have enjoyed since completing my master’s degree.

Background

As the article points out, up until recently the master’s degree was primarily a stepping stone to a PhD, though it sometimes became a final stopping place for those who did not make it to the finish. In the 1970s the trend shifted towards specialized graduate degrees in business, science, engineering, and computer science. The master’s degree became not a step to the PhD, but a destination in and of itself. At the same time, the number of advanced degrees in liberal arts has trended down.

Is it worth it?

With rising student debt and a proliferation of professional certificate programs, some are asking whether a graduate degree is still valuable. It is obviously important in medicine and law and in sciences such as chemistry, but is it important in computer science or information systems or business? Are employers looking for evidence of hands-on experience via certifications, or are they looking for evidence of the reasoning skills, critical thinking, and specialized knowledge that can only be developed through graduate-level study?  I believe that the answer is both.

Benefits

Beyond the obvious advantages of education and knowledge, there are benefits I did not expect:

–       The opportunity to do focused research. I was able to dive into the area of using computer simulation to solve business problems. This helped me to focus my interests and had real-world applications for my employer.

–       Increased confidence. Not only was I able to apply for positions that required an advanced degree, but I was confident that I could compete for and excel in these jobs.

–       Increased networking opportunities. A graduate cohort is generally small enough to give you the opportunity to engage the fellow students, and the faculty, both personally and professionally. This expanded network has helped me immensely in my career.

–       Becoming qualified to teach. When I pursued my master’s degree, it was strictly for the increased knowledge and professional opportunities. To my surprise it also opened doors for me in the academic world. This was unexpected and has been a great source of personal growth for me.

Thoughts

When weighing the costs and benefits of an advanced degree, I encourage you to look not only at the extrinsic values of professional advancement but also at the intrinsic value of increased knowledge, confidence, and peripheral opportunities. My degree has opened doors for me and allowed me to network with talented individuals who took me to places that I never would have considered.

If you have an advanced degree or if you are contemplating starting one, I would love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Is It Time to Start Your Own Business?

shutterstock_137403869_ConvertedHow do you know when the time is right to start your own business? Surely you have had one of those days in your job where you want to jump ship and start fresh on your own. In this blog, I will explore the three key areas I think need to be addressed before you become serious about pursuing your dream.

The Idea

Before you give up your day job, make sure that you have a winning plan that will carry you through a period without a regular paycheck. What is it that you do better than anyone else? Do you have an idea for a new product or service that is better than anything available now? It is not enough just to compete, you need to know that you are the best and have the best idea.

The Passion

Understand that you will most likely work harder than you do at your current job, at least at the outset. A forty-hour workweek will be a luxury that you cannot afford as you get your new business off the ground. Ask yourself whether you are ready and willing to put in the time and effort to start a successful business. Perhaps even more important is this question: Is your family ready for you to start your own business? They will have to sacrifice along side you as you work to make your idea successful. They may even be involved in the business in some respect. Growing up, my father always had a steady job but was a serial entrepreneur when it came to side jobs. I clearly remember sitting around the kitchen table filling, bagging, weighing, and labeling pistachio nuts that my father sold around town. I also remember dragging rebuilt transmissions out of our basement on cold winter nights as part of another business. It is not unusual for some or all of your family to be involved. Are they ready? Are you ready to see it through?

The Capital

It is a romantic notion to start a wildly successful multibillion dollar business on a shoestring budget, but the reality is you will need some sort of start-up capital to tide you over until you start generating revenue. At first income will go toward offsetting expenses, so you will need to have enough to operate until you become profitable. This could come in the form of personal savings, family savings, loans from angel investors such as family members, or even from venture capitalists if your business is solid enough. Any or all of these potential investors will want to see a business plan. What is your product or service? Who are your potential customers? How large is your target market? How are you going to price your product? When do you expect to be profitable? When will you see a return on your investment? These are all questions that you are going to have to answer in a business plan before they take a chance on you. Passion and an idea only go so far.

Thoughts

There are many other considerations to factor in when deciding whether to start a business but I believe that these are the three most important. Make sure that you can answer these three questions honestly before starting on the journey. Do you have an idea and passion for a new business? Let me know. You may find some supporters or customers among my blog readers.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh

So We Held a Parade: How Shared Experiences Strengthen Organizations

Today’s post is written by Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate, an adjunct instructor for the AIM Program, and COO of Sesame Communications. We asked Tim to share his thoughts on his experience on organizational culture and team building.

Like many organizations, we at Sesame Communications can sometimes find ourselves interpreting the best path to common goals differently depending upon the lens we have inherited based on our position in the organization. Usually a quick meeting with clarifying questions, scenarios, and use cases can align everyone and get us on the path towards a successful project.

Sometimes, though, it’s important to ensure an alignment of spirit as well as intellect. No matter how tight knit the group, a little time to connect as people and come together around shared experiences can be a foundational element in forming and building an organization’s culture.

New Orleans parade

Photo credit: Anthony Ricci / Shutterstock.com

This year, our company’s biggest sales event was in New Orleans. After a long day of training and preparation for the upcoming show, we needed to get our team of thirty-four people to a restaurant for a team dinner. We could have all made our way there separately and had the dinner be the shared experience, but that’s a memory that would fade quickly. Trying to create an enduring memory and a strong shared experience, we looked to take advantage of the unique opportunities presented by the venue of New Orleans…so, naturally, we held a parade.

Yes, a parade. Complete with motorcycle police escort, a band, Mardi Gras revelers, and beads. Oh, and me starting the parade as a surprise by riding the escalator into the hotel lobby while drumming out some marching cadences.

No one remembers the dinner, but everyone is still buzzing about the parade and the unifying, galvanizing effect it had on the team. We began the show the next day and delivered our best performance ever from that event—including a few new customers who stopped by because they had seen us marching down the street and figured that’s a company they want to work with.

When it comes to inspiring an organization and achieving stretch goals, clarity of expectations and quality tools are obviously critical, but never underestimate the cultural impact. A little dash of creativity mixed with equal parts spontaneity, fun, and participation can work wonders on anorganization’s psyche, approach, and results.

About Tim Williams

Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate and adjunct professor in the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program, is COO of Sesame Communications. He combines his passion for technology with his love of organizational culture to lead Sesame to innovative patient management solutions in the dental space and to teach AIM courses touching on organizational development and business process engineering… all while maintaining the ability to lead a mean parade.

Anatomy of a Startup–Part 1

I have been thinking recently about startups and the technology and information strategy around startups. This blog post will cover the basics of a startup and my next blog post will cover the information technology structure needed to accompany a successful startup. Technology needs change constantly, and I believe that it is easier than ever to start a new enterprise.

The Three Most Important Components

I believe that the three most important components of a startup are:

  • An insanely great idea
  • Awesome people
  • Enough money to get your idea off the ground

And, of course, a solid business plan, to pull all three of these together.

Great Ideas Are Out There

This is the most important component. Your product or service must be something that customers actually want. There are at least two different types of great ideas. There are those that are disruptive, or completely change the way that we live or do business and those that are innovations and improvements of existing products. An example of a disruption is the smart phone which is several devices all built into one mobile unit. You can talk, chat, e-mail, or browse the web while walking down the street. How cool is that? An example of an innovation is Google. Search engines existed before Google but they improved the process.

The Best People

Surround yourself with smart people who share a passion for your product or service. Involve them from the very start and let them help you formulate the startup plan. Look through your social media contacts to find people that have the time, talent, passion, and energy to help you succeed. After all, you have all those Facebook friends for a reason, right?

Funding

There are several ways that you can fund your new endeavor. One way is self- funding which means digging into savings, or by funding the second unit from the first unit’s profit, and so on. This can be a slow process and can deplete your own reserves quickly. The second approach is to use angel investors who can be family members or others willing to put up money in exchange for a share of your success. The third approach is a venture capitalist that can be persuaded to lend you large sums of money to go big. In return for venture capital, however, you often turn over portions of your rights to the idea and to the company.

Thoughts

In my next blog post I will talk about the information technology strategy needed for a startup. What infrastructure do you really need to start a new company and what is the most efficient and cost effective way to get your name, your idea, and your product out in the public eye?

Do you have an insanely great idea that you think others would want? Have you ever thought of going big enough to be able to put that idea into production? What is your biggest obstacle? Let me know your thoughts and ideas.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.