Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Getting kids interested in Software Development

One of the things I worry about is the lack of talented young people going into software development. I know when I’ve been looking for junior engineers, it’s been almost impossible to find them, so I’m always on the lookout for ways I can help promote Software Development, Engineering or other STEM careers among young people. I think it’s critically important to the future success of our country.

That’s why I was so intrigued when I read about Kodu Game Lab, then I remembered something about this in Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (if you’re one of the very few people that have not seen this – it is a MUST SEE. Yes, it’s long, but years later, just thinking about it still brings tears to my eyes) - a tool, or game, or learning environment invented at Carnegie Mellon called Alice. Two seconds on Google, revealed that there were quite a few of these tools, (or games, or environments, or whatever you call them)

I think these tools (or games, or environments, or whatever you call them) are brilliant ideas, but I don’t hear about them being used too much. Has anyone out there had any experience or first hand knowledge with any of these?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When you’re done with product development

….you’re not really done. Let me explain what I mean.

We meet with lots of people and companies that would like us to develop products for and with them. They are sometimes under the impression that when we’re done creating the product, they won’t need any technical, engineering, or software development. After all, that phase is done, right? Well, yes, but the next phase is just beginning, and faltering here can be deadly to your product’s success.

Even if your product works perfectly, customers are going to have questions. Some sort of support will be needed. Not planning for this can be fatal to your product’s success. Often times, customers will be highly engaged and wanting more features and add-ons, creating opportunities and the need for enhancements. Ideally, more customers will want your product – maybe from an adjacent market or with needs not exactly targeted by your product, perhaps creating a need for other products.

All of these scenarios require additional support and/or continued development. Hopefully your product will be so successful, you’ll never be done!

Friday, November 5, 2010

40 years of Innovation at PARC

As many of you know, Advanced Decisions turned 40 this year, but this post is not about us. I recently came across this article about Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which also turned 40 this year. I don’t know if you realize, but many of the things we’re calling innovative in 2010 found their roots decades ago. I think many of us have heard the stories about Xerox’s initial Graphical User Interface that later became the Mac interface and is the basis of how we use computers today (anyone remember using DOS? Wow – that was a different experience!). What I did not know was that in the 80’s they invented the PARCPad – a precursor to the iPad, and the PARCTab – the first PDA.

Another area they innovated in was culture. Work and play mixed, beanbag chairs were scattered throughout and shoes were optional. Sounds like the roots of the 90’s dotcom startup culture to me.

Having worked in a pure research environment early in my career, I know first hand that the most exciting aspect of an environment like this is the minds that surround you - not only the most technically elite, but wildly creative as well. The diversity is amazing, lunchtime conversations are completely engrossing, and in every lab, something is going on that could change the world. A great book about the early years at PARC is Dealers of Lightning. Full disclosure - it gets mixed reviews for technical and historical accuracy, but I found it extremely inspiring. If you have a budding engineer, scientist or inventor in your life, this might make a great holiday gift.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Qualities of Top Developers

We’ve often heard about the two fold (or five fold or ten fold) productivity increase between the top developer and the average developer. I’m sure we’ve often (ok, always) wished for a team full of these folks, but somehow we rarely get that. We tell ourselves that top developers are hard to find, they’re one-in-a-million, or that it’s just luck to hire them. There may be some truth to that, but there are certain characteristics that software experts share, and if you recognize these characteristics, you are more likely to either find them or cultivate them on your team.

First, and most obviously, top developers are among the most technically competent on your team. The have a wealth of tools in their toolbox, and the ability to use the right one for the right job. Both the breadth and the depth of their expertise are usually built over time and a variety of project challenges.

In addition to skills and experience, the best technicians tend to have great natural ability. Their brains just work in a way that makes designing programs easy. This has enabled them to build up their toolbox by allowing them to learn tools and techniques easily, and determine which ones are valuable and which are not.

A third characteristic is attention to detail. Whether it is in the requirements, design, coding, or testing phase, attention to detail will help ensure the work product is high quality. In their own personal growth, attention to detail is also important as it helps them develop new techniques and avoid old mistakes.

Fourth is the desire for continuous learning. Top software professionals are always “sharpening the saw”. They are learning new languages, processes, tools, or just simple techniques to build more good code faster. They are always up on the latest trends and eager to work with new technologies.

A final characteristic that is found in many of the most effective developers is teamwork. In most companies these days, interpersonal relationship building is a necessary skill. Most developers are not people oriented to start with, and those that can develop this essential skill have a huge benefit over those that do not.

Every top developer may not have all of these qualities, but be assured that they have most. Screening for, interviewing for, selecting, and nurturing these qualities will go a long way towards improving the effectiveness of your teams and your software development efforts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

DroidX is a Mighty iPhone Competitor

Tired of waiting for the iPhone to be available on the Verizon network I decided to jump onto the Android bandwagon and abandon my Blackberry Storm. The rumor mill continues to heat up with stories of an impending CDMA iPhone available in 2011. I am happy to report that after only two weeks of using the new Verizon 3G Motorola DroidX I really think Apple has very serious competition.

A couple of my concerns about the Droid-type phones were the quality of the user interface and the availability of business oriented Apps (iPhone set the bar very high). Both of these concerns were totally unwarranted. The DroidX’s gesture based user interface works well and is very intuitive. The new Swype technology allowing one to trace out a word on a displayed keyboard is truly amazing. At first I thought it might be gimmicky or even a throwback to Palm’s Graffiti language. However, it is neither of these. I find it to be a major productivity enhancement in creating messages, documents or emails over the multi-tap on-screen keyboard.

What can I say about Apps, there is simply no shortage. Like the iPhone there are tens of thousands of Apps from which to choose. Some are free and some may be purchased. Unlike the iPhone, where there is one central location for Apps, the Android world provides several alternative websites to choose Apps. I am just beginning to discover them; more on this in a later post. The phone came with about 2-dozen Apps. Many of which are very useful. My favorite is Navigator, a voice activated and turn-by-turn spoken navigation system. It is based upon the built-in GPS system and provides a real-time traffic overlay. Well almost real-time.

The first App I needed to find was one to link the DroidX to my company’s Microsoft Exchange Server for email, contacts, calendar and tasks. There were several to choose from in the Android Market and I selected TouchDown (NitroDesk). I downloaded a free and fully functional trial of the App. After spending a few minutes to enter login and server information I was connected to my company’s server. Within 15 minutes I had all my Exchange emails, contacts, events, and tasks on my new DroidX. No more local synchronizing! All updates between the phone and the Server are via the 3G-network or WiFi the updates are immediate.

Of course the Android syncs with the entire Google eco-system of Gmail and its associated apps. You need to enter a Gmail address and you all your Google data is now available on the phone. Other email accounts work well and are easy to setup with the built-in mail application. In future posts I will talk more about some of the business oriented Apps and yes, fun Apps, I am now discovering. If anyone out there has any specific MUST HAVE apps please speak up.

Oh, one other thing, it is a pretty darn good phone!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to Be a Successful Woman in a Technical Field

I’m on the workforce development committee for one of the professional organizations I’m involved with. Recently there was a conversation about how the girls that were being recruited for a technical program (with the expectation they would take technical jobs in a field that’s predominantly male) were not the right girls. My knee-jerk reaction was to take offence to this comment, but when I thought about my early career for just a second, I realized the speaker was absolutely right. It’s not for everyone.

Back (20+ years ago – yikes!) when I was starting out as an Electrical Engineer, there were pictures, cartoons, and calendars in the labs that you’d get fired for today, the older engineers called you “honey”, and the VP in my organization was well known for feeling up all the “girls” he could get near. We all learned real quick to stay an arms length away.

The focus on sexual harassment has changed the most overt issues, but it still takes a special kind of young woman to be successful in a predominately male field.

I think my initial visceral reaction came from a sense of justice – it shouldn’t be this way, but you know what, it is.

Until we reach that state of utopia, what’s a young woman to do? My feminist friends may take issue with some of this, and I’d love to have a discussion about it, but here are my thoughts:
1) Have a sense of humor - Running to HR every time you overhear a raunchy joke is going to do nothing for your career, or your relationships at work. Am I saying women should put up with harassment – NO, absolutely not, but not everything is harassment.
2) Have a thick skin – Men (and women) can be rough. It’s usually not personal. Men don’t usually have an issue with this, but young women sometimes take things too personally.
3) Stand up for yourself – If you’re going to be intimidated by a big gruff crusty old engineer who yells and swears, it might not be the right field for you. If you are going to back down to the young male engineer who’s threatened because you’re smarter and work harder than him, then maybe it’s not the right field for you. Believe me, it’s not always easy to do, but it’s the only way to earn respect.
4) Work is work – Men get this. Watch them. They can argue like crazy about business issues, then go out, and have a beer together.

Remember, one of the big keys to professional success are the relationships you form, and if you’re working in a male dominated field like engineering you MUST be able to form healthy, professional relationships with those in your field – men. I’m curious to hear what other women think of this.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Making ethical decision making easy

When I was joining my firm, I spent a lot to time talking with my future partners about a wide variety of topics – compensation, benefits, division of responsibilities, growth strategies, future personal plans, and values – many, many conversations about values. I thought this was odd at first, not that we talked about it, only how much we talked about it. I don’t know why I thought it was odd, considering I had left my prior position in part because of a mismatch of values.

Five years later, I am still in awe of what a strong foundation we’ve been able to build because we share the same values.

I was listening to a speaker recently talk about when leaders have to make tough decisions, and how sometimes they make those decisions consistent with their values and sometimes they do not. He made me feel so grateful about my situation. When we’ve had to make those “tough” decisions, it’s actually been fairly easy. When one of us wavers, and it happens, the other is always there to be steady. I can’t think of a single instance where we’ve made a decision that went against our values.

In fact, we were participating in an RFP and the purchasing agent suggested we do something we weren’t comfortable with. It was not so egregious as to be called unethical, but it was not consistent with the way we wanted to run our business. He subtlety suggested we’d get more business if we did it. This was about a year ago and getting more business was a HUGE challenge! We talked a lot about that decision and in the end, we decided to stick to our guns, and if we lost the business, so be it. Turns out that was one of the best tough decisions we ever made. We did not lose any business, and MUCH more importantly did not lose any self-respect. Shared values are critical to making ethical decision making easier.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to tell your customers they’re wrong

We often find ourselves telling our clients they’re wrong. Of course, we don’t say it like that – “You’re Wrong! Mr. Client!” No.

Sometimes they have a problem and already have a solution in mind. Our engineers can often tell very quickly their solution is not going to fix their problem. These discussions are usually easy. The engineers can come up with better solutions and it’s obvious we’re working in our customers’ best interests.

But what if you think they’re solving the wrong problem? This is a much more difficult conversation. Especially, if they are passionate about solving a problem that you don’t think is a problem. Maybe you’re not the one having this problem, but other’s are. Maybe they’d appreciate the solution. Who’s to know?

I heard a great suggestion on how to handle this just the other day (Thanks CS!). I love it because it’s open, and honest, and all about starting the relationship off right. Just ask – at the beginning of the relationship, or conversation, or wherever you happen to find yourself, just ask if they’re open to questions about their assumptions if you hear something that does not make sense. It might sound something like this “You know, Mr. Customer, sometimes I’m talking with other CEOs and they say things that just don’t make sense, they find it very helpful when I question these statements. Is that something you would find valuable?” I’d be shocked to get a no, but whether they say yes, or no, at least you know where you stand. And who know, you may just learn something.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Soul Searching in Saudi Arabia

In mid May, I was offered the amazing opportunity to be part of the inaugural Global Women’s Leadership Institute, held in Saudi Arabia. The purpose of the institute was to develop women leaders and create a cross-cultural network of those women leaders.

Once I was accepted into the program, reality set in. Two weeks in a very conservative Muslim country - What would I wear? What local customs are important to know and follow? Would I be able to run outside, or would I have to resort to the dreaded treadmill? Could I learn enough Arabic to be polite (Hello, Please, Thank you, etc.) before I go? We had an orientation, which answered most of my questions, but the most notable thing was the caliber of the women – CEOs from a variety of industries, Heads of Non-Profits and NGOs, women from State and National Government as well as academics. This was going to be an interesting trip!

After 24 hours of travel, we finally arrived at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) where the program was being held. A good night’s sleep and our adventure began with a tour of the amazing campus. KAUST was designed to rival the worlds’ elite technology universities, and from my point of view, they are off to an amazing start. Some of the highlights included the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Laboratory with ten of the largest electromagnets in the world and the Visualization lab, where we were able to see a picture of El Capitan at a resolution high enough that we were able to zoom in far enough to see license plates on the cars. Perhaps the highlight of the visualization lab was the 3D chamber, where we put on a set of goggles and a hat with motion and position sensors had the sensation of entering an atom. I could see it all around me, and as I moved my head, it moved too – amazing!

During this tour, we began to get to know each other. I have to confess – initially their outer clothing made me feel like we were different, but it wasn’t long before that feeling went away. Just like us, some of them were more outgoing, some more thoughtful, some quietly funny, and even a poet in the group.

The syllabus was chocked full, so the interesting conversations took place offline. I had so many misconceptions, like, how do you marry if you can’t talk with men you’re not related to? Answer, they actually do talk with men. Another – how can you run a business if you can’t handle money – Answer – they can and do handle money. I had so much misinformation about Saudi culture, but they set me straight. One of the most amazing things about the trip is how fast Saudi society is changing. The Saudi women come from a culture where women in the recent past have had very few rights and opportunities, now they instrumental making changes. One of the women is an executive at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce where previously women had not even been involved. Many Saudi women own and run businesses, including doing business with men, One is the head of the Saudi National Dialog, one of King Abdullah’s pet projects whose aim is to get people talking, in a constructive way, about the contentious issues of the day.

Another example of rapid change is in voting. Women currently can’t vote, even in municipal elections. The women I met all fully expect that to change by the next election in 2011. In fact, some of them are even working on projects to prepare women to run!

One of my favorite parts of the trip was learning more about Islam. Unlike the United States, where we work hard to separate religion from government and business, religion is their culture. The Quran is their law, and religion permeates everything they do. Five times a day the Adhan sounds, a beautiful soulful call to prayer coming from every Mosque. Without even knowing what it was, I immediately found it connecting me with that spiritual place in my center, like the sound of Om. The absolute highlight of the trip, was sitting on a rooftop of a building in Old Jeddah at sunset, hearing the Adhan sound across the city, each Mosque on a slightly different timeline, spiritual, spooky, amazing!

Their religious ties were also interesting in other aspects of the program. During a discussion on environmentalism, I learned that Islam teaches that we are all custodians of our planet, that God gave us, and it is a moral obligation to take care of the planet, as if it was a temple. Hmmm, not a bad way to look at things, if you ask me.

The last bit of religion I found interesting is the liberal use of the phrase Insha'Allah (God willing) in a business context. As in, “We hope to have 30 women registered for this program, Insha'Allah.” We may think something like that, but we hardly ever say it!

There’s so much I take for granted. That I can vote, run a business, and for the most part, be judged on merit vs. gender. Although I can’t imagine what it’s like to walk in the Saudi women’s shoes, the closest I can come is the civil rights and women’s movements of the 60’s in the US. The big difference I see is that the changes in Saudi Arabia are happening over a matter of years instead of over a decade or two. I feel truly blessed to have had this opportunity, to meet such amazing women, and gain such clear perspective about both their culture and my own.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

KAUST: An Amazing Example of Project Management

As part of my experience with the Global Women's Leadership Institute, we were treated to a presentation on the creation of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) by Nadhmi Nasr, the Executive Vice President of KAUST. What an amazing story!

This incredible, 9000 acre, state-of-the-art University was built and operational in approximately 1000 days. Mr. Nasr was asked to take on the leadership of this important project by the King in July of 2006. He assumed that he was responsible for building something that had already been designed, but within a week, discovered that it was just a concept. He quickly brought in partners, consulting firms with various specialties to help with the planning, which he attributes as one of the keys to his success.

Mr. Nasr is very humble. It was apparent in his presentation that his unwavering focus on the vision was, in my opinion, by far the most important reason for the success of the project. I know software companies that have not been able to build a product in 3 years. This man was able to create a magnificent oasis in the desert, taking it from an idea to a thriving high tech community. On September 5, 2009, the first day of classes were held on schedule. Having managed many projects myself, and being here and seeing how incredible this place is, I’m in awe of what he’s accomplished.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Life of a Consultant

I had lunch today with one of the smartest people I know (no, I didn’t have lunch alone!).

He’s a software architect for a large global financial services firm and has found himself with an interesting job – he’s the “go to” guy for all of their most difficult software challenges. He referred to these projects as simultaneously repulsive and fascinating. He and his small team of equally brilliant people move from project to project – usually the ones that no one else want to take on, and unsurprisingly (to me at least) they are successful at solving these seemingly impossible problems.

The thing I found most interesting, is that the things he likes about his job are exactly what our consultants like about consulting: New challenges all the time; staying up to date on cutting edge technologies; and focusing on new design as opposed to maintenance.

I know this kind of group, (architecture, special projects, internal professional services, etc) exists within many big companies. This could be an alternative for engineers and programmers that crave the challenges and variety of the consulting life. Anyone have any experiences working in this kind of a group? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

One Of My Favorite Innovative CT Companies

I had the pleasure of crossing paths with the Dr. Moinuddin Sarker of Natural State Resources a few years ago at a Connecticut Technology Council event. For those of you that are not familiar with this company, they have discovered a method to make fuel from recyclable plastic. You can read about them here.

Dr. Sarker was gracious and generous enough to give me a tour of his lab, and I was blown away! First of all, what a brilliant idea – talk about killing multiple birds.

As noted in the article, the EPA estimates that Americans produce about 31 million metric tons of waste plastics annually and only about 10% of this is recycled. I can believe this. The “tree hugger” in me wants to recycle everything, but until just last month my garbage company took very little – only 1s and 2s, and I think this is very common. What a great solution as to what to do with all that extra plastic.

On the output side of the equation is the fuel, and at the point that I first met Dr. Sarker gas was still hovering around $4 per gallon. Natural State Resources is currently estimating they can produce fuel for as little as $0.75 per gallon. With gas prices getting ready to do their annual summer-time rise, this sounds mighty attractive!

I’m thrilled to see Natural State Resources, Inc. getting so much press and recognition. I wish them all the best. This is the kind of ingenuity that America needs! Kudos to you and your team, Dr. Sarker!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Proposal Writing: What Do Clients Really Want? (Learning from our Failures)

OK, “failure” is kind of a strong word in this case. But here’s the story: We recently had the opportunity to do a “post mortem” kind of meeting on a deal we didn’t get (hey, you can’t win them all, right?) We thought we knew why, or had some ideas at least, but we wanted to find out for sure.

The client was generous enough to give us an hour of his time, and honest enough to give us really candid and open feedback. So what did we learn? Some of the things we had assumed were true, but there were others. The one that resonated most for me is the Business version of the grammar school advice to “Show your work”.

Our team had spent hours discussing this project, formulating an approach, and really drilling down into the details. In an effort (and it did take some effort) to make a clear proposal, we eliminated all the details behind our recommendations. Unfortunately the client interpreted that as a lack of analysis, and why not – he didn’t see it, so in his world it didn’t exist.

This really hit home for me. I was always a proponent of the short, sweet, clear proposal. I don’t’ know about others but I typically don’t want to read 20 pages of what someone thinks, but (ha – fortunately :-) ) not everyone is like me. Looking back it seems obvious that we should have included all the “sausage making details”, perhaps as an appendix or perhaps in the main proposal with an executive summary. I’m curious, what do others do?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Advanced Decisions is 40!

Advanced Decisions is turning 40 this year. That’s amazing to me. I’ve been spending some time thinking about what’s lead to this longevity and the one thing I keep coming back to is relationships.

We have customers we’ve been doing business with for 20+ years. In such a crowded marketplace, they have many choices, but have formed bonds with us and trust us. Even when the individuals change companies, they still remember and call us. We recently got introduced to a brand new company in just this manner.

We also have employees that we’ve known for close to 20 years. They’re our “go to” people. When we have a tough challenge we immediately think of Brad, or Jose, or Linda, or Dave, or many of the others we’ve worked with “forever”.

We even have service providers that we’ve known for that long. In fact, the company that does our internal IT troubleshooting is owned by one of my very first mentors, way back when I was a Northeastern co-op student working at Pitney Bowes.

The continuity of these relationships is comforting and stable, but would be boring if not for the new – the new employees like Zach, Jovin and Joanne, the new clients like ClearView Edge and Wilkes, the new vendors like Response and many others who keep us growing and evolving even as we retain our “roots”.

I’m incredibly grateful for the presence of those that have been part of Advanced Decisions’ success, whether for 20 years or 2 months. I hope you all can come and celebrate with us on Thursday May 13th here at our offices. To another 40!!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

CT Small Business Climate

I recently attended the 2010 Connecticut Gubernatorial Forum on Jobs, Innovation & Technology sponsored by the CT Technology Council. The event was held at GE’s edgelab (edgelab.ge.com) at the UCONN campus in Stamford. Both Democratic and Republican candidates (11 in all) participated. The format was a question and answer panel discussion. It was not a debate.

The audience was composed of representatives from the technology and business community. The intent of the forum was to hear each candidate’s position on the issues facing CT technology business. Specifically job growth, transportation, energy costs and in general, simply improving the business climate in CT via innovation and technology.

First a few stark quotes about the current state of CT business from various candidates:
1. CT is last (50 out of 50 states) in job retention
2. CT is 46 out of 50 states in small business growth
3. CT has the most expensive energy costs (76% above the National average)
4. CT is losing more young people than any other state
5. Only CT and Michigan have had 20 years of negative growth

The picture painted was bleak, especially considering that CT has a $3-$4 billion deficit looming in the coming years. All candidates were in agreement that the same-old way of doing business has failed and MUST change. They recognize that small companies are the engine of job growth in CT and that CT MUST get better at attracting and keeping business. It must create an environment where small business and innovation can flourish.

How can CT redefine itself? Few specifics offered, but some general themes emerged.

Create an atmosphere of consistency. Frequent legislation and tax code changes in CT has created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Candidates stated that CT companies do not feel they can not place any credibility in a 5 or 10 year-plan. One example was the favorable tax climate to attract and grow media and movie business in CT. Unfortunately this was followed in just a few years by a turn-around in policy.

Many candidates stressed the need for the Governor to be more open and proactive in attracting business. Become an effective partner with the business company. One way of accomplishing this is to combine the more than 220 State Agencies and then streamline their operations. This was considered essential however due to its disruptive nature in displacing workers very difficult to achieve.

Leverage the many Universities in the state to create a culture of innovation. The success of the Yale and biopharma industry or the GE edgelab and UCONN relationship were cited as success stories. All except one candidate wanted to expand the funding of the very successful Connecticut Innovations quasi-state agency to start-up new tech businesses.

So whoever is elected as the next Governor of CT will face a huge set of challenges but could really make a difference.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Next Generation of Techies Part 2

When can a fourth grader kick the butt of a seventh grader? At the New Haven Science Fair!

As I mentioned last week, I had the privilege of judging the first round of the New Haven Science fair on Tuesday. Many of the entries were great but there was one in particular that just blew me away. A fourth grade team did their project on which crop would produce the best bio-fuel. An admirable project to be sure, and one that was of particular interest to me since I’ve been following the Alternative Energy market. But what really impressed me was the way that they went about it.

For any of you that have not been involved in a science fair – it’s really not about making the correct hypothesis, it’s about the process, and the process that these kids came up with was quite impressive. They only had a short time to work these projects so what they did was break it into two phases. First they grew three different “crops”, soybeans, sunflowers, and radishes. They measured the output – quantity of bio-matter – grown in a specific length of time. Then, because they did not have the ability to convert it into bio-fuel, they took already prepared oils, sunflower and soybean, and measured the heat output. Now I realize that there could be a lot of factors in the conversion process, but remember – these are fourth graders.

Not only was the way they designed the experiment impressive, but their analysis was thorough and their explanation clear and complete. If this is our future, I’m a little less worried!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Next Generation of Techies

One of the issues near and dear to me is the lack of engineering talent, especially at the entry levels. Without these young people going into engineering, sciences and other technical fields I just don’t see how we can compete in the world economy. So when I have the opportunity to do something to support this goal, I jump on it. Next week I’ll be judging my first Science Fair for the City of New Haven. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’ve judged events like this before – most recently the Invention Convention up at UCONN last year, and boy was it fun! I can’t wait to see what these bright young people have come up with.

For more information, or to become a judge yourself, here’s the link:

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Doubts About Social Media

I know that seems like an odd title for a blog post, but for the longest time, I’ve been hesitant about the value of social media for growing a business like ours. I can see why it works for retail or B-to-C business but for some reason I had doubts about using social media for growing a B-to-B service business. Personally, I would engage a firm like ours after getting to know the people in it or based on a referral from someone I trust, but I know not everyone does everything exactly as I do ;-).

That said, I’m putting my skepticism aside and jumping in with both feet! Those of you that got one of the 70-something LinkedIn invites I sent this morning probably know what I mean. (I just figured out how to import my contacts into LinkedIn).

We have dabbled in social media before, and even that may be a generous characterization. We realized that to be successful at this we needed help so we hired Response Marketing and have been very pleased. We’ve been reconnecting with old friends, clients, and acquaintances. I’ve already had multiple requests for conversations about how we could work with various firms. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that we’re still around!

It’s certainly fun, and I truly enjoy connecting with people. As far as growing our business - I sincerely hope to be proven wrong!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Referral Karma

I give and get a lot of referrals. In fact, just this week I referred a company I had just met to my business banker, who has been a great resource for us. I was happy to do it, happy to be able to help my new contact, and certainly happy to give my banker the opportunity. Now in the interest of full disclosure, the new company is a prospect, but I have done the same, many times before, for companies and individuals that were not prospects.

Recently we’ve had three different people ask about compensation for referrals that lead to business. I have to confess, I was a bit surprised – I had never thought of doing that before.

I’m happy to give referrals without any expectation of getting something in return. Especially, in the kind of economy we’ve had for the past year or so, I feel like anything any I can do to help a good business prosper is a positive contribution, and besides, it just feels good! We’ve gotten so many referrals over the years, so I also feel a bit like I’m paying it forward. I also like to refer business in which I have confidence.

I wonder, is there a “conflict of interest” if you are receiving payment? I can’t help but wonder, what do others do? Do you pay for referrals? Do you expect something in return?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Stop Trying so Hard

Last year one of our big initiatives was to find strategic partners – companies we could work with, offer more to both of our clients, and help both business grow. We really did look hard and didn’t have much success.

When doing our business planning this year we decided to try other things. After all, that did not work out so well.

Well funny thing is happening – all those valuable strategic partnerships we were dreaming of seem to be falling into place. Who knows where they will lead, but it sure is funny that they’re happening now. Maybe there’s something to the theory of relaxing and letting things happen. Sure seem to be working for us!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can the iPad help to usher in a new age in medical record keeping?

Now that the dust is settling and millions of words have spewed forth over the eventual “success” of the yet to be sold iPad, I would like to weigh in. Most of what I have read about the product and its potential has to do with the consumer. I am confident that Apple’s marketing clout will make the iPad a hit among consumers even considering the relatively high initial price. I feel I am in good company here, since many analysts are predicting millions of units sold in 2010 alone!

However I am more interested in the use of the iPad as a business application device. This is the first hand-held “tablet” which in my opinion could really facilitate the transition from a paper based medical community to a digital one. There are many reasons why I think this product may be a game changer.

PC based tablets have been around for a number of years. They are typically small notebook computers with a touch screen that can be inverted and lay closed over the keyboard. A typical weight is about 3+ pounds. Kind of heavy to carry throughout the day up and down the halls of a typical hospital while making rounds. They are typically pen or keyboard based. A bit clumsy to use when on the go.

On the other hand the iPad addresses several of the negatives preventing widespread adoption of the PC tablet. Here are some of the major ones. It is a relatively light-weight (1.6 lbs) device with an amazing display. User interaction leverages the multi-touch iPhone/iTouch gestures that are familiar to millions of users. When needed a virtual keyboard facilitates data entry. The 9.7 inch screen with 132 pixels per inch resolution screen (1024 by 768 pixels) is sufficient for viewing medium resolution medical images along with patient information. WiFi and 3G connectivity allow access to medical data from anywhere.

With the creation of novel medical software applications, the iPad may just accelerate the change over to the digital age replacing the medical profession’s clipboard and paper based systems

Friday, January 29, 2010

Is the buying cycle different for services vs. goods?

I’m a shopper. It’s not that I like to shop, but when I do, I tend to shop around, read reviews, decide what I want then try to find the best price. But – that’s only for goods – computers, printers, cell phones, cars, an oven, etc. I recently noticed when shopping for services (or hiring which is kind of like shopping for services) I tend to make decisions MUCH differently. The funny thing is that I make those decisions much more quickly with much less comparison shopping, even when the dollar value is higher.

One example – we recently hired a marketing agency (Response Marketing – check them out they’re awesome!) and although my business partner and I had not intended on hiring them, or any other marketing agency, we had made our decision before our contact had gotten into the elevator. Now, we both know of many other agencies and sole practitioners, so why didn’t we shop around? Easy – we like and trusted the owner of this firm, we were comfortable with the price, and we believed that they could help us.

I find comparison shopping for services to be somewhat problematic. After all, you can’t assume that a $100/hour service provider is better, worse, or the same than a $150/hour service provider. It has everything to do with the person or company and their process, and if you feel comfortable with them. On the other hand, an iPhone 3Gs with 16 GB is an iPhone 3Gs w/ 16 GB (not that you’re going to get a deal on that). When shopping for a service provider, I want someone I am confident is going to do an excellent job. On goods – I still love a good deal!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Is Contingent Staffing a trend?

I read an article today that talked about Contingent Staffing, which they defined as the use of temporary or freelance labor, as a trend. I don’t agree with this. This is nothing new; companies have been doing this forever. I think what we’re seeing is a cycle. We have noticed in our business when the economy is booming companies want to hire full time people, to minimize the “brain drain” when the contingent folks leave, and impacts in internal morale from hiring them in the first place. In 2004-2006, we were seeing far more opportunities for full time placements than consulting engagements. Conversely, when the economy struggles, companies still want to complete their projects so they hire temporary or contract labor, as their doing now. I suspect in the coming years, we’ll see the pendulum move back towards a more balanced approach of full time people and contract, temporary or contingent workers.

What do you think?