Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Peering Into the Crystal Ball

"Predicting the future – or, at least anticipating it – is never easy, even in the best of times. For businesses, this task has become an even greater challenge over the past several years. At the same time, any organization that wants to position itself for survival must look ahead with this question in mind: How will things play out for 2012?"

Is 3D Flat?

"...As Hollywood studios and video game developers continue to push 3D projection into the home, the technology is starting to be adopted by commercial and government organizations as well. With the advent of numerous professional "pro-sumer" and consumer products available, the benefits of 3D projection technology applies to any company that works in design, marketing, styling, scientific visualization and even training..."

Evaluations Promote Peak Performance

"...It’s an exercise that many professionals tend to dread: the annual employee performance evaluation. Without them, however, it’s difficult for employees to ascertain what’s expected of them, in what areas they are performing well – and what they need to improve upon. For branch managers, employee evaluations are arguably the most effective vehicle through which they can work toward the goals they have set out for their specific locations, and the objectives that the company’s headquarters has established as well..."

Steady Does It

"...There was much talk of an economic ‘comeback’ during the first few months of 2011, but as the year moved on, holding steady was the best that many businesses could hope for. That said, there remain a number of promising opportunities for systems contractors, provided that they’re willing to position themselves to benefit from them..."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pursuing Innovation as an SMB Business

"It’s a familiar story. You created your business filled with bold new ideas, but before long you found yourself doing the same things in the same way as the competition passed you by. So how do you jump-start — and maintain — a culture of continual innovation in everything from what you sell and how you sell it to how you support your customers?"

Projection Perfection

"...Predicting the future has never been easy, and in this economy, forecasting how much business your branch will do has become increasingly difficult. The trick? Remain optimistic, but be realistic – and give incentives to customers who are willing to commit..."

A Plan for the Worst

"Question: What would happen to your branch in the event of a flood, a hurricane, or a fire? The media images that all of us have been exposed to just this year alone demonstrate the fatal danger and crippling effects that disasters large and small have on people and companies. If you aren’t proactive in devising a plan on how you would react in the face of an emergency, you risk losing not only your business, but the people who make it possible..."

What They Think

"...You’re stiff. A little too serious. Not really interested in negotiating with people - you’d prefer to bark orders and boss them around. When it comes to what civilians think of those that have been in the military, we’ve heard it all before. But what about civilian employers? Are employers’ perceptions of veterans just as narrow...?"

Labor for Hire

"...We can all conjure up images of the classic temporary workers: the agency-provided souls who arrive at a company and pick up the slack before silently slinking away, often forgotten shortly after the door closes behind them. For businesses, this temporary labor is a relatively cost-effective way to deal with momentarily excessive workloads or special projects. For the temps themselves, it’s a way to supplement their income while they search for a full-time job. For the agencies — well, there are those fees..."

Power Trip

"...It would be difficult to find an entrepreneur that wasn’t, at some point, guilty of micro-managing. However, the reality is that if business leaders don’t empower their employees, chances are the organization won’t excel to its fullest potential.

But what is an 'empowered employee'? For Donald Guzauckas Jr., general manager of HB Group in North Haven, CT, empowered employees are those who understand the image, culture, goals, and objectives of the company. 'Simply offering a goal does not provide enough guidance for staff to act in a manner consistent with the image that we wish to present to our clients and potential clients,' he noted. While people may say that empowered employees can make autonomous decisions, he added, this is only true if they can act consistently individually, and as a group..."

Pulling It All Together

"...The term 'convergence' as it applies to AV and IT is by no means a new one. However, this doesn’t mean that during AV integration projects Information Technology specialists and their audiovisual counterparts always see eye-to-eye. In many cases, these undertakings feature unfamiliar territory for both camps, necessitating two elements that are arguably crucial in any venture: communication and planning..."

Young and (Already) Retired

"...It’s a common scenario: A young veteran is released from the service and it’s on to the hunt for a civilian job. Every employer wants to know about their prior work experience, but because the veteran joined the military straight out of secondary school, they haven't had the opportunity to gain any. Not only does this make the ‘work experience’ section of one’s resume difficult to fill out, the space under ‘education’ isn’t that easy to write, either - not for those who did, indeed, enlist right after high school graduation. An impossible challenge? Not at all - it just depends on how you examine your situation and your military experience..."

Computers Retire Too

"...How do you beat built-in obsolescence and wear and tear on your technology? You can’t – at least, not for long. However, what IT managers can do is plan effectively, and, in working with the financial department, get the most out of servers, networking equipment and PCs as cost effectively as possible..."

Getting to the Green

"...One would be hard-pressed to find a company that isn’t in business to make a profit. But what, at the branch level, affects profitability? In this economy, boosting – or even maintaining – profit levels requires good, old-fashioned common sense, and even a willingness to kiss some business goodbye…if, in the end, it’s not as earning you as much money as it may seem..."

Optimizing Your Office Lease Agreement

"...Next to payroll, rent is probably your largest bill, if not larger. While it’s unlikely that real estate will ever be cheap, there are ways you can optimize your lease agreement and physical office space to keep costs down..."

Design Matters

"... As conferencing technologies have become a standard feature of facility design, the focus on seamless integration of AV systems is no longer secondary. Coupled with this is the demand, in many cases, to implement systems in rooms designed for multiple applications — space and budgetary restrictions have put real estate at a premium, dictating the need for flexibility. And then there’s the ever-present issues concerning network infrastructure: As AV goes IT, its technology competes for bandwidth..."

Are Resumes Trendy?

"...As silly as it sounds, resumes are a bit like fashion: There are many different styles, many different designers, and even more opinions on what’s in and what’s out. While there is no secret format that guarantees landing a position (or even just an interview), there are a number of elements that job seekers should consider if they want their resume to be placed at the top of the pile..."

Safety Net: How to Add Revenue and Save Clients with Service Contracts

"...One is hard-pressed to find a business owner that isn’t interested in generating recurring revenue. In the systems integration industry, one of the ways of achieving this is through the sale of service agreements, contracts that bind clients to a fixed cost for maintenance, repair, and even emergency response. While those that have seen success with these swear by them, the reality is that few systems contracting companies have any kind of formal service agreement in place.

Why? For one thing, they’re not an easy sell, said Chuck Wilson, executive director of the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA). 'The value proposition is that you are selling the finest product in the world and it’s superior in every fashion,' he said. 'When you turn around and say, ‘For this dollar amount, when it breaks, we’ll fix it,’ it’s difficult to rationalize...'"

Knowledge is Power

"...It’s ironic that those in the business of selling products complain that there are too many to sell, but the reality is that the number of items that have been made available over the years has grown so much that it’s impossible for salespeople to know everything about…well, everything. Coupled with this is the increased sophistication of technology, rendering the salesperson’s job even more difficult..."

Putting Good Data To Good Use

"...Thanks to technology and its related acronyms – ERP, CRM and WMS – branch managers have real-time access to how their organizations are performing in any given area. But putting all of that data on activities, expenses, budgets, operations and forecasts to good use requires more than just glancing at a report..."

Warehouse Layout Determines Outlay

"...Ever walked into an empty new house – your empty new house – and thought: Look at all of this potential! And then: Where should I put my stuff so that it all makes sense? When you think about it, laying out a warehouse facility is quite similar.

At the core, designing an efficient, safe warehouse comes down to common sense, but as we all know, being sensible is often more difficult than it sounds. While electrical distributors are similar in many ways, each organization is different…as is each branch and, therefore, every warehouse. There are, however, a few basic principles that apply to all operations, and as sales increase or decrease, or as product lines are added or eliminated, it’s necessary for branch managers to review them..."

Their Money, Your Life

"...Theoretically, they should be a last resort: After making the effort to separate your business assets from your personal ones – through operating as a corporation or an LLC, for example – personal guarantees don’t make much sense. Some lenders, however, require them; and if you are trying to find financing, you may find yourself signing on the dotted line..."

Are Employees Following Your Lead? Why Your Leadership Matters

"...You have the right staff, but they seem to be doing everything wrong. Consider this: Perhaps it’s not your employees. Maybe the problem is you. Leadership is a complex skill, and just because you may have already developed as a leader, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue honing your abilities..."

You're In...For What?

"...Change is positive. Change is necessary. Change is difficult. All of this is true - it's the 'difficult' part that is, well... difficult.

At the same time, transitioning into civilian life unlocks an endless supply of opportunities. If you're to take advantage of them, however, it's wise to be prepared for some of the things that veterans go through on the road to building a new life..."

The Safe Choice

"...It’s not pleasant to think about, but recent events at college campuses and in public venues are driving technologists to consider how systems can contribute to improving safety in the event of an emergency. In these situations, the crucial factor is communicating with the masses clearly, expediently, and efficiently, in an effort to minimize — rather than maximize — panic..."

Learn To (Really) Meet Customers' Needs

"...It seems almost too simple: A customer arrives at the counter, requests a product, the counterperson provides the item and – voilà ! – that customer’s needs have been met. Sustaining a branch culture that wins the reputation for being customer-friendly, however, is a bit more complex: With today’s technology growing increasingly sophisticated, contractors require guidance through the myriad of product specifications and application prospects to enable them to execute projects as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible..."

Why Go PCI?

"...Rare is the businessperson who enjoys thinking about – and investing in – insurance. Rarer still is the businessperson who likes to consider what could happen if something went wrong and they had no insurance in place. Along with the increased sophistication of payment processing comes the potential for challenge-hungry hackers to break into the system – for fun, or for profit, or both – leaving any company that accepts credit card payments at risk to the ramifications of a security breach. This is where PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance plays a role in protecting both merchants and their customers..."

Working With Your Credit Manager

"...Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant has experienced the natural – and necessary – tension that exists between servers and cooks: The former wants to keep all customers fed, and fed well, in a reasonable amount of time. The latter will often attest that preparing anything of quality takes time, and if the customer wants the food to be any good, they’re going to have to wait.

There is also a necessary, natural tension between salespeople and credit managers: The salesperson’s goal is to – obviously – make sales, often leaning toward flexibility in order to persuade the customer to sign on the dotted line. Credit managers, then, are often viewed as killjoys: With all of their upfront terms and demands for references and background checks, it sometimes seems – to salespeople at least – that they’re not interested in the company’s growth at all..."

Signing In: Digital Signage Advances in Mobile, 3D, and HD in Schools

"...In an effort to address the ways in which today’s youth connect with one another, K-12 institutions and universities alike are bringing their communications into the digital realm. As a result, standard digital signage networks are expanding to accommodate increasingly sophisticated intranet, internet, and video technologies, as well as mobile phone communications such as text messaging..."

Scaling Up: How Network Operations Centers Influence Mainstream AV Integration

"...In a way, they are this industry’s version of a Formula One racecar: Boasting the highest-quality audio and video systems on the market, today’s network operations centers (NOCs) feature the ultimate in command and control. And, much like Formula One, the systems designed for NOCs have a significant influence on those we see in other spaces, such as conferencing facilities..."

Culture Clash: Preparing for Surprises in Your First Civilian Job

"...Here’s an unoriginal observation: The civilian workplace differs greatly from the military. We all know this, of course, but that doesn’t stop one’s first professional foray into civilian life from being an original experience, if only for the person involved. It’s a bit like expatriating to a foreign country: The people may look the same as you do, but if you want to adapt to the culture, you’ll need to learn the language..."

Choosing Partner Programs: How Many? Which Ones?

"...How many calls a week do you receive soliciting your firm to join a new partner program — three, five, 15? With so many vendors in the IT community, it’s inevitable you will receive numerous partnership offers. And with start-ups popping up like daisies, the volume of invitations can be overwhelming. But there are benefits to partnering up, as long as you make your commitments wisely..."

Control Counts: Managing Inventory Requires Ongoing Vigilance

"...Here’s something you already know: The primary function a branch serves is to provide product to customers when they need it. Here’s something you also know: Striking the balance between avoiding out-of-stocks while controlling inventory costs is a tough job..."

Me and My Shadow

"...One could argue that the economic crisis produced an employers’ market: The decrease in available positions resulted in less movement between companies on behalf of employees. While the economy remains challenging, things are gradually starting to turn around, forcing employers to reinforce their recruiting and retention practices.

A common issue that companies face is that job candidates – or even employees moving either horizontally or vertically within an organization – aren’t always sure of what they’re getting into. Or, they may have preconceived notions about what their job really involves, and are then disappointed to discover that reality is quite different. Then there is the issue of training: Seminars, workshops and manufacturer programs are great, but it’s also necessary for employees to learn on the job. Hence, the appeal of job shadowing, whereby seasoned staff can teach newcomers what a specific position is all about..."

Relationship Talk

"...It may be cliché to state that companies are built on relationships, but clichés exist for a reason. When it comes to customers and suppliers, branches must make it a priority to maintain relations that are strong enough to weather the challenges that surface throughout the daily course of business..."

Smooth Operator: Healthcare Facilities Adopt Video Streaming Technologies

"...As streaming video grows increasingly prevalent as a training and communications tool, the healthcare market’s adoption of this technology is on the rise. Not only are hospitals utilizing video as a means of connecting medical professionals, it’s proving to be practical for patient education as well..."

Temp Talk: How Temporary Labor Can Boost Your Business

"...Recruiting full-time, permanent employees is difficult enough; for many employers, the prospect of bringing temps into the fold may seem like too much work for little result. The nature of the systems integration business, however, often lends itself well to bringing temporary labor into the fold — especially when it comes to crunch time..."

“Cloud”-y Days Are Here: Managed services offer flexibility at a predictable price. But are they right for your facility?

"...With IT managers under ever-increased pressure to squeeze more out of their systems at a lower cost, managed services have risen dramatically in popularity. Not only do they drastically minimize — and in many cases, completely eliminate — large up-front investments, they enable companies to access the number of services they need, when they need them, at a recurring, predictable price..."