Does Every Organization Need To Be A Best Place to Work?

Does Every Organization Need To Be A Best Place to Work?

Do you have a great IT group that is helping to make your company a better place to work?  Here comes the survey so you can sign up your company as the greatest place in the world to work.  Every organization is on a quest to hire and retain the best people, wouldn't you agree?  So how do you get the people you want interested in working for your organization, and, once on board, how do you keep them?

While there are many answers to these questions, to be answered by groups across the organization, let's focus on how the IT group can contribute to the employee experience.  After all, the first step in becoming a Best Place to Work has got to be becoming a good place to work.

IT Group Contributions

  • Have a help desk that quickly and promptly resolves user problems.  Consider a self-service portal so that help is available 24/7 if your help desk is not staffed 24/7
  • Support continuous process improvement through employee surveying
  • Make the on-boarding process not only painless but flawless and impressive
  • Automate the processes supporting your performance management system (employee reviews)
  • Create a system for information that employees need on a regular basis, whether HR policies and procedures, departmental information, or how-to-guides
  • Enable a culture of transparency by making key information available to employees, based on their roles and responsibilities

While the IT department is not in charge of corporate culture, there are significant contributions that IT can make to an organization's goal of becoming a great place to work.

Conclusion

What do you think?  Other ideas?  We would love to hear your thoughts.


Next Steps

Review our case studies and engagements where we helped companies just like yours solve a variety of business needs.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.


Every Person Affects the Bottom Line

Every Person Affects the Bottom Line

“Undercover Boss,” if you haven't seen it, is a TV show where the head of a big organization goes undercover as a worker, learning from his own unknowing employees and discovering where “corporate” may have missed the mark.  It's a cool show, but I wish it were longer than one hour, so we could really see how corporate changes and how employees change in response to what corporate has learned about them.  Some of the stories have been rather poignant, and some have been rather pointed, and the themes of “corporate don't care” or “corporate doesn't know what it's like out here” have been recurring in nearly every episode.

The Bottom Line

What would it be like if every person in your company knew exactly how their work affects the bottom line?  What if everyone understood how his or her contribution matters.  And how a lack of execution ripples all through the organization?  Would the workplace be more energized?  Do you think team members would encourage other team members to meet or exceed their personal goals?  how about more ideas flowing, more creativity, more accountability?  You bet.

Watch Undercover Boss

If you haven't watched “Undercover Boss,” you can find episodes here at CBS online.  Check out the looks on the people's faces in the final scenes and you might get some ideas for your own organization.

If you haven't read “Gung Ho” by Ken Blanchard, you'll probably enjoy it.  It's a pretty candid and easy-to-read look at what power to the people can do for an organization.

It's something to think about.


Next Steps

Review our case studies and engagements where we helped companies just like yours solve a variety of business needs.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

Employee Portal | What Drives Strategy for Success?

Employee Portal | What Drives Strategy for Success?

Are you considering a revamp of your existing Employee Portal? First of all, the concept of an Employee Portal aligns well with SharePoint, especially 2013. Aside from being simply the “landing page” for an organization, a well-architected portal can drive strategic engagement, and finally, ultimately resulting in a stronger ROI.

It is important to identify the needs prior to entering into any kind of portal discussion. Wouldn't you agree?  There are several main categories that portal architecture can fall into, and as a result, all have different architectural and tool requirements.

Thinking of Creating an Employee Portal?

 

Is there a need to drive a different culture? Is a shift required to produce different results for the company? Perhaps your company recently experienced a large resource rollover; how do you attract and retain the ‘right’ talent? How do you engage the right resource, for the right purpose, at the right time? SharePoint can offer a targeted look and feel experiences to your user base, provide collaborative tools both intra and inter-team. In addition, a cultural portal can not only surface corporate trending but drive it as well.

A great example would be a company that customizes the look and feel of the landing page based on the department that the associate works in. This helps build a team mentality and can set the tone based on needs and the strategic value. The web parts would be more aligned with divisional strategy (news, projects, tasks, etc.) in order to provide a focused message to the reader. Providing a team driven mentality and membership perception can set focus on common goals, better results and ultimately, increased ROI.  Lastly, we know that is important to you.

Productivity Efficiency

Does the organization need improvement in the tools that are required for the associates to do their job? Is too much time being wasted on the method rather than the result? SharePoint offers tremendous value gain in terms of workflow streamlining, reporting, and task management; getting the right information to the right person so they can make the right decision for the business. Again, the design and tools are different for this type of rollout than the others.

The web parts should be targeting the individual in a case like this. Most of all consider tasks, projects, issues, have all surfaced for the associate. Deliver what the associate needs on a daily basis.  As a result, you'll see better job performance. Task aggregation provides a one-stop location for all assigned tasks, across the SharePoint farm, including SP2013 integration with Exchange, and Office co-authoring.  Again, these tools that can be incorporated for a marked increase in productivity.

Communication

This is probably the most common driver for an employee portal. Getting the message to the masses, but more importantly – getting the masses to communicate both up and across. Is executive management detached from the middle? Is the message accurate going down, as well as up and across? SharePoint provides a wide variety of communication tools, as well as great integration with Microsoft’s messaging suite. Finally, communication could be delivered at the enterprise level, as well as divisional and departmental through filtering, providing the right communication to the right level.

Rollup Tools

The new Content Search rollup tools provide great flexibility in delivering information to the target audience, delivering communication to those that need it, as well as those who consume it.  Especially relevant is the enhanced social experience improves on not only the ability to communicate within the enterprise but finding and retaining the information that is shared to allow for organizational learning.

Conclusion

First of all, SharePoint 2013 provides new and refined tools to provide for a better portal experience. Depending on the overall strategy and design, these tools can address the specific needs and challenges the organization faces. Simple associate task aggregation, all the way up to enterprise-wide BI tools, can be incorporated into the portal.  As a result, you will increase corporate awareness, productivity, and communication.


Next Steps

Review our case studies and engagements where we helped companies just like yours solve a variety of business needs.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

Organizational Change Management Facilitated by SharePoint

Organizational Change Management Facilitated by SharePoint

Oakwood has long-standing expertise with affecting and facilitating organizational change management (OCM), primarily around significant IT initiatives within large organizations with many business units involved.  Oakwood has also worked with several organizations who did not understand the need to invest in OCM and have had less-than-desired results from project implementations.   In our experience, any substantial technology initiative will benefit from a pre-defined OCM approach.

History of Organizational Change Management

While OCM is not new, the evolution of technology platforms allows us to support OCM in new ways that are more compatible with the current ways in which people learn and adopt change.  Specifically, the collaborative power of SharePoint can be leveraged as a change agent to communicate and sustain the OCM processes within the organization.

Adopting an OCM methodology like the one below will increase user adoption of the new system so that required business goals can be realized.

The specific implementation of the methodology steps vary slightly based on the specific organization for which this approach is being utilized, and the methodology implementation is refined during each phase so that the end results (Execute and Sustain) are one hundred percent on-point and specific to the client organization.

Helpful Examples

  • Utilize decision support tools to perform analysis of the organization as a whole, teams, and individuals to assess the readiness for change
    • Identify information gaps and change gaps
    • Draw conclusions as to business and team readiness
    • Evaluate potential points and pockets of resistance
    • Determine if cultural changes are needed to support the change
  • Ensure that key user community members are asked to be part of the solution.  Studies prove those end users who feel a sense of ownership over a new process will not only quickly adopt that process, they will also become process evangelists

Change Agent Identification

  • Identify change agents early, based on the analysis done in the first phase.  Change agents can be people, teams, and technologies that will accelerate the change process.
  • Design a communications plan that leverages the identified change agents:
    • Create an intranet portal site where on-going communications, announcements, metrics, and scorecards are kept current and visible to all constituents
    • Utilize a formal internal marketing program; consider slogans, themes, posters, internal email campaigns, and newsletters as communication mechanisms on importance, priority, and progress
    • Leverage social networking to communicate achievements, foster and reinforce awareness and understanding among constituents

User Adoption

Create a user adoption program that drives usage of the various components of the solution, including the SharePoint platform itself as well as the ECM/RIM initiative

  • Short training videos on how to get more out of the standard SharePoint features (similar to the SharePoint Pass-along Tips videos developed by Oakwood)
  • On-portal exercises like a scavenger hunt with a prize drawing at the end
  • Tips and Tricks – ask a question and award prizes to the users who come up with the best answer as rated by their peers
  • Lunch ‘n’ Learn sessions on specific topics, scheduled at regular intervals throughout teams
  • Utilizing a dashboard to communicate metrics being measured, such as “documents in system” or “users on board”

Leveraging Social Networking

  • Build a community of subject matter experts who are a “click for help” away
  • Establish a reliable and non-threatening forum where peer assistance can be requested
  • create a blog where tips and tricks, successes, and lessons learned can be shared, commented on, and discussed

Conclusion

The reason for the change is so that specific business goals can be realized.  Utilizing an appropriate OCM Methodology, incorporating tactical initiatives, and leveraging currently available technology will position the organization to achieve the business goals it has identified.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

How We Reduced A Client’s Operating Costs

How We Reduced A Client’s Operating Costs

Everyone wants to reduce operating costs.  All over the web, TV, & social media, we see companies touting the savings that can be had from a few minutes of your time. Seldom are these statements viable, but their darn catchy slogans.  However, in some cases adding a little bit of time back to peoples’ day can have serious financial impacts. This is most clear in the cases of large-scale, widespread corporate growth.

A Success Story

One of our customers experienced 300% growth last year. This year, it looked like their internal software would limit continued growth.

To help them overcome this unacceptable barrier, our team & theirs invested significant time evaluating their second largest cost center & biggest growth inhibitor: Customer Service Representatives.

In consumer services organizations, Customer Care is vital – yet due to size & number of interactions, they can be a very expensive group. Additionally, when processes are not finely tuned they tend to grow in proportion to your overall corporate growth. For anyone in the medical, education, or services markets growing your business with a scalable customer facing team can be a daunting challenge. A challenge that can spell the difference between success and failure.

Often times, these large groups can also be the source of significant savings. With a bit of effort, the development & user experience team was able to help this customer identify a few processes that were very costly. As a result, the following was occurring:

  1. The intake of new service requests required re-keying
  2. Long conversations between CSRs & customers, and most importantly
  3. A large, expensive staff.

Action Plan

To help this customer overcome their growth barriers we focused very tightly in this area. Their Product Owner evaluated ever action, every step, & even every keystroke. Together we crafted ways of getting data from the customer to the system faster. None of the suggestions were rocket science, but all had value. For instance:

  • Automatically copying key customer data from screen to screen as opposed to retyping it allowed the CSRs to spend less time touching a keyboard.
  • Re-structuring lists of data to minimize the amount of data on a single screen to only that which is needed 80%+ of the time, reduced the time it takes to understand the customer's core needs.
  • Allowing the CSR to review & quickly update/correct data reduced time wasted on processing errors & re-work.

To many of us, this may not sound like much. However, for an organization that is dependent on the people serving their customers (Their CSRs), this is life changing stuff (or at least more efficient).

In the case of this customer, these changes above saved their CSR's a recorded 2 minutes per inbound phone call. Based on their call volume, this reduced the need for additional staff in many areas. If they were flat-lined, this may have resulted in a few terminations. However, since this company had clear growth plans in mind, it simply leads to efficient growth.

This year alone, these changes to their growth trajectory are on track to save them over $900,000 PER YEAR. As they grow their business, these savings will grow in line with their corporate growth.

Reduce Operating Costs Summary

In about 3 clicks and two minutes, these types of simple changes enabled growth & saved over a million dollars in real monetary value. It’s amazing how little changes can have big impacts.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

Rethinking the Creative Process to Solve Problems and Spark a Revolution

Rethinking the Creative Process to Solve Problems and Spark a Revolution

Whether you identify yourself as a technical evangelist, a business entrepreneur or as the next Michelangelo – we all use the same creative process to guide us in our decision making. However, our different life experiences can dictate how efficiently we utilize the creative process and can shape how we make important decisions and form perceptions. The benefit of this oftentimes results in team building and creative solutions. On the other hand, it can result in deeply divided individuals and a lack of empathy. By understanding the stages of the creative process and how each one is uniquely intertwined with our overall brain function, we can begin to understand how to relate to each other and collectively solve the world's most challenging problems.

Just Thinking…

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster and the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought because it is his. In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.  

— Ralph Waldo Emerson / Self-Reliance.

The Creative Process

The creative process involves two very opposite ways of thinking.

  • Right brain means intuitive, metaphorical, nonverbal, big picture
  • Left brain means logical, rational, verbal, deductive

We have been taught to choose between two different ways of thinking. In some cases, it's been taught that a person is naturally inclined to utilize one side of the brain over the other, or rather an inherited trait (you are an artist, and therefore strictly right-brained). This has resulted in the inability to move freely between them and has created a major disadvantage. After all, two sides make up one brain, and utilizing your brain to its fullest potential can change your life.

Rethinking Thinking

Learning how to use both hemispheres of the brain can not only help you get more creative in your thinking, but it can help you understand how others think.

The breakdown of the creative process:

  • First insight: the first stage of the creative process is defining the problem.  The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution. Before we can find an answer, we must know the question.
  • Saturation: the second stage involves research and the process of gathering information. It primarily involves the left brain and is a stage often undervalued and overlooked. However, it is critical to the process. Understanding the knowledge that came before is crucial to forming a plan of action. Has the problem occurred before? What conclusions were drawn? Was there a beneficial outcome? Why am I revisiting this problem? This stage pushes the thinker to recognize patterns, utilize intuition and problem solve.
  • Incubation: Also known as “thinking aside”. This happens when you can't solve a problem, you get frustrated, and walk away. At this time, a shift occurs and you move completely from left to right brain. You enter a restful, peaceful state. You're not pressed for time, you've mentally moved on.  This is when the idea hits you, sometimes during a long drive, a walk outside or in the shower. This is where the best ideas come from, a relaxed state. After all, when you're pushing your brain to think of your best ideas, you typically don't think of your best ideas (if you do, please share your secret).
  • Illumination: or the Ah Ha! moment. There wasn't just one answer to be found, there wasn't one answer to the exclusion of others. To reach this stage it is important to remember that the capacity to embrace paradox, to hold opposites equals true wisdom. F. Scott Fitzgerald said himself, “The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
  • Verification is the process of bringing this enlightenment to fruition. Translating the insight into something that's accessible, practical, and understandable (shifting back into the left hemisphere).

The verification stage allows not only for you to be successful in implementing a solution, but it also adds value to other people at the same time. By taking advantage of the verification process and truly understanding its value – you avoid a zero-sum game otherwise known as the “I win, you lose” mindset.

I Am Right, So You're Wrong

So, what do you do when you think your value is at risk? Adopting the dog-eat-methodology can make you lose the capacity to value and retain other worldviews. In short, you're skipping the Saturation step and losing the ability to value what is truly valuable. You form perceptions and everything else becomes ignorant or reactionary.

How can this be prevented? By taking a more flexible approach in the way you view different people, ideas and perspectives – Substituting curiosity for certainty, resisting stereotypes and realizing we are all in this together.

So, Who's Right?

Therein lies the creative process: knowledge=thinking, thinking=ideas, ideas=action, action=perspective, perspective=leadership, leadership=creativity, and creativity=knowledge. A perfect example of this is the actions of Martin Luther King, who preached nonviolence to his followers as adversaries inflicted violence on them. This is leadership that reflects a consciousness shift. King chose to address a problem on a different level than the level that it was created on.

Conclusion

The world is full of intractable problems that require new thinking. How can we use the creative process to its fullest and take on some of the obstacles in your organization and the world? By fully understanding each counter-intuitive stage, we can begin to see more deeply, widely and inclusively. Instead of focusing on a revolution, which sweeps away what has come before it, concentrate on a revolution – which transcends existing limitations and includes the value of all the stages that came before.

Post inspired by bestselling author Tony Schwartz. View his talk here.


Next Steps

Review our case studies and engagements where we helped companies just like yours solve a variety of business needs.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

Mobile Commerce Revenue Increases Over Digital

Mobile Commerce Revenue Increases Over Digital

Gartner, Inc predicts that by 2017, US customers' mobile engagement behavior will drive mobile commerce revenue in the US to 50 percent of US digital commerce revenue. A recent Gartner survey found that mobile commerce currently generates 22 percent of digital commerce revenue.

What's Going On?

“Some sectors will migrate more quickly than others to accepting mobile payments and promoting mobile commerce,” said Jennifer Polk, research director at Gartner. “For example, big-box retailers may not need to move as quickly as other industries because the in-store experience is still a critical part of their value proposition and the customer experience, making digital and mobile commerce a smaller portion of their overall revenue.”

However, Polk also explained that new credit card standards will cause a shift in liability for fraudulent transactions in 2015, requiring retailers to update their POS systems for safer credit card transactions. This opens the door for point-of-updates to accept mobile payment.

Mobile Commerce Predictions

  • By year-end 2016, more than $2 billion in online shopping will be performed exclusively by mobile digital assistants
  • By 2017, 50 percent of consumer product investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations

Mobile Payments

Read the full release.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

Ready for iGen or Gen Z?

Ready for iGen or Gen Z?

Goodbye Gen-Y.  Hello Gen-Z and iGen?  While I’m not sure all the talk on Millennials did much to change the world of business, even though it should in many regards, it appears that everyone is tired of hearing about this generation already.  While many of the things you hear about Millennials/Gen-Y simply aren’t true, people are ready to move on. But move onto what? Be careful what you wish for. I’ll introduce you to Gen-Z, but…first, let’s recap Gen-Y:

The New World of Gen Y

  • Largest generation in history – 34% of workforce
  • Will comprise 50% of workforce/economic dollar in 2020
  • By 2025, three out of 4 workers globally will be 18-34 – Adobe
  • $41 trillion transfer of wealth to this generation from older generations

Gen Y Values

  • Openness & transparency
  • Entrepreneurial mindset
  • Appreciation for diversity
  • Collaborative leadership
  • Opposition to hierarchy

How They Work

Today’s digitally empowered Gen-Y work, shop, play everywhere — at home, strolling through the park, or while standing in line at the coffee shop. The old way of thinking sees these as separate physical places for separate functions. But for Millennials, these are just touchpoints that all aid in their work-life integration. The web, mobile, tablet, in-office and wearable technology all need to enable them to get their personal and work tasks done. There is no work-life balance. It’s all about integration.

Lost Productivity?

Studies show that people check their mobile devices up to 150 times every day. Yet despite employees being always on and constantly connected, most companies have not figured out how to make information easy to find. In fact, according to Deloitte’s 2014 Human Capital study, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of employees say they still cannot find the information they need within their company’s information systems.

Ignoring internal employee experience costs money too – perhaps $10 million a year for mid-size companies. According to one study, 57 percent of interruptions at work resulted from switching among disparate standalone applications.

Changes?

Do we think things are going to change? I’m here to tell you that, yes, some things will change. In fact, we’ll see some old things become new such as family values, conservative principles on money, education and home ownership, but we’re also going to see sacred cows destroyed such as Television norms, business norms, and social norms.

The digital world of social, mobile, instant everything, personalization, IoT and the consumerization of IT are simply going to magnify x 100.


Organizations must undergo shifts in their structures to align themselves with how employees (and customers) act in a new world obsessed with digital experiences.
– Forrester


The iGen Audience | Gen Z

The iGen (or generation Z) is right now and there is a disruption of similar impact coming. iGen is a generation born with consumer-driven capitalism at its core and altruism at its heart. Never before has there been a generation so globally plugged in and so informed.

We need to recognize that their patterns and behaviors are opposed to anything that came before them and that they basically ignore what we know about previous generations and how they interact with marketing, social circle, and work.

iGen literally has digital appendages that give them, in real time, anything they want. It no longer takes time to earn knowledge and work, life, entertainment is no longer confined to particular times or places.

According to a great article from Ryan Jenkins, here are:

iGen Facts

  • Only 6% of Generation Z use email to communicate and 39% say the never use email.
  • 0% of Generation Z call Twitter their top social network, which is only slightly behind the 33% who chose Facebook.
  • Generation Z girls are more likely than boys to be tweeting (31% vs. 19%).
  • 75% own a cell phone.
  • Online socializing will continue to collapse geography, as Generation Z continues to make global connections.
  • It’s estimated that Generation Z will have 15 homes during their lifetime and 17 different jobs in different industries.
  • More than 90% use the Internet at home and 75% at school.
  • 3 out of 4 use social media everyday.
  • Generation Z has a bottom-up nature where most of their heroes are their peers on Vine, YouTube, and Instagram.
  • On average, they spend 7.4 hours a day using technology. (No wonder, 75% think they are “good” or “great” with technology.)

And There’s More!

  • Girls spend on average 1.2 hours per day longer than boys using technology. Yet, only 13% of girls claim to be technology “geeks” compared to 33% of boys.
  • Girls lead the way as the early adopters of technology, with a much wider use of different tech and higher usage.
  • Generation Z sends about 60 texts a day.
  • Generation Z places a premium on doing something they love for a living because 76% said they wish they had a hobby that would turn into a full-time job.
  • Big salaries?  Not that important.  Firm in their need for flexibility.
  • 63% still prefer to socialize in person with friends. But they still wish to seamlessly blend their online and offline connections.
  • Many will occupy jobs that don’t exist today.
  • 1 in 4 are “cell mostly” Internet users, forgoing desktops, and laptops for the convenience of their phone.
  • 95% are online, a percentage that has been consistent since 2006.
  • Growing up in the worst recession in 70 years has caused them to think more short-term, transactional, and like a free-agent which could make them more business-savvy and entrepreneurial than the Millennials.

iGen Facts and Figures

When you talk to the up and coming iGens, one thing becomes clear.  Generation Z is optimistic about the world and excited to create in it. This generation is bound both by immense technology potential and tough socio-economic environment.  Most of all, this is a generation who wants to create and innovate.  They believe they can hack the world around them for the better.

The negativity that plagued reports of Millennials so far hasn’t made its way to Gen Z, and that’s a great thing. All signs are pointing to a generation where creativity will explode and innovation will soar. Gen-Z is a powerhouse waiting to happen!  Brand collaborators.  Innovators.  Prepared to hack the world.

Conclusion

So, goodbye Millennials and hello iGen. Employers and marketers who didn’t realize that a shift was on for their corporate culture, their technology and their tools are in for a huge shock.


Next Steps

Review our case studies and engagements where we helped companies just like yours solve a variety of business needs.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.


Is Outdated Technology Holding Your Business Back?

Is Outdated Technology Holding Your Business Back?


A local commercial banking and financial services firm realized the use of outdated software was having a detrimental effect on the way they did business.  The firm used the outdated software everyday, and it was the only technology they had ever used on the job. They had been exhausted by this program for years, but they didn’t know what a possible solution would look like.

Outdated Technology Challenge


The outdated software program was being used to generate financial review packets for clients. The review packets were extensively long and pulled information from many other different documents. The problem was that this software program took 15 to 20 minutes to complete one packet and it rendered the user's personal computer unusable until the packet was complete. Some analysts would spend weeks getting these packets together, and sometimes needed to prepare multiple packets a day. If a client needed an updated packet, the firm was unable to provide it in a reasonable amount of time.

Another problem with the software was that they had no oversight of the created content. In order to oversee the content, they literally would have to open hundreds of Word files. Not only did this cause an operational problem, but it also created a credibility problem in the eyes of clients.

All in all, the older software functioned, but it didn’t work well or efficiently enough to keep up with the demand of the wealth management firm.

Execution

When the firm partnered with Oakwood Systems Group, they realized Oakwood could provide new possibilities for them to do business in a better, more effective way.

Oakwood started by offloading all of the information the firm had onto a SQL server database, so when client information was needed, it was easily accessible, which was not possible before. A web application was written that gave them the option to provide style guidelines with each packet and ensured that everything looked visually correct, and shortened the time to create packets from 15 to 20 minutes to just seconds. The new software application also kept the user's personal computer fully functional while the packets prepared.

Oakwood built a new system designed around template and packet creation that will make each deliverable look more uniform and professional. Another advantage of the application is the ability to keep the generated packets consistent by having added the ability to make updates to all packets, old and new, with a single click. This was impossible with the old software.

Results.  Delivered.

In addition to all of these immediate advantages of the custom web application, the firm is also finding new ways to use the application internally, and it is saving them an extraordinary amount of time. They now have more time to effectively manage their current client base and they even have time to focus on generating new business.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

My Customers Are Wasting Their Data

My Customers Are Wasting Their Data

Reports that leverage data that is days or weeks old doesn't cut it anymore and many aren't considering real-time data.  If you aren't looking at real-time data and using it to make quick business decisions, you're behind the curve.

Real-Time Data | Making Informed Decisions

Forget SSRS, SSIS, Crystal Reports, Business Intelligence, Analytics, and all of those IT terms. Just imagine the value of making informed decisions based on relevant (near) real-time data. Manufacturers and distributors could tune factory production as products roll off the line and as customers' orders are processed rather than looking at daily or weekly (or longer!) reports. Utilities could react more quickly to power demands and deploy smarter grids through the use of Internet of Things (IoT) data from smart meters.

I'm not talking about simple dashboards based off of Excel spreadsheets and single SQL database tables. I'm talking about gaining real insights based on the relationships between longer-term and (near) real-time data.

The Value Proposition | Real-Time Data

But, before I go any further let me explain “(near) real-time data.” Your senses provide you real-time data about your surroundings – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. If you were to tell someone what you were seeing as you were seeing it, however, that would be “near” real-time data. Similarly, any data generated by your business is being processed by computer systems and transmitted across the wire so it is only “near” real-time. It's still VERY valuable, it's just important to make that distinction. In the interest of simplicity, however, I'm going to just refer to this type of data as real-time data from here out.


Also Read: 7 Breathtaking Examples of Amazing Data Visualization

So, back to gaining real insights from real-time data (see what I did? no “near” that time…). If you want access to more recent and relevant tools, you need different tools to present the data in a meaningful way. The problem with real-time data is that it is often more, well, raw. Try making sense of raw numbers coming out of an assembly line without any analysis. What is the relevance of a smart reader reading for a power utility company unless there is historical data with which to compare and contrast it? How much more useful is that data if you could put it in perspective with all other readings from the same neighborhood? Or for all other buildings of a similar square footage and age?

Your Challenge

This is the challenge with most existing analysis tools – they're designed to connect to and report on big databases. Even if you run this type of report daily, the data is hours old. More likely, you'll wait until the end of the week or after the end of the month to get enough data to give you a good report. This gives you enough time to clean the data and analyze it for trends and to surface interesting or important information. What it is not, however, is recent. Much could change between when you read a report and when the data was generated. That lag is understandable but annoying.

How much better, then, if you could blend existing data and real-time data in dashboards that presented the best of both worlds? With tools available now, you can leverage data from a SQL database or data warehouse, access real-time log data from a text file or CSV, and connect to an ERP system and provide insights that tie all of those various bits together in a way that you could not do just a year or two ago.

Here's another challenge in dealing with data. You have to store it somewhere. That requires infrastructure… hardware and software that you purchase. Oh, and you'll need somewhere to put the hardware… a data center. That requires power and cooling. And… you'll need staff to install and support the hardware and software. Your quest to realize value from your data is rapidly becoming very complex and expensive. Data warehouse projects often take months or years to complete. And, by the time you're done with it, the requirements have changed and it's time to start over again!

Your final challenge is the data scientists and Business Intelligence consultants… you're going to need some really smart people with an expensive skillset to pull relevant information and insights out of that data. It's even harder with more recent data unless you have the right tools…

What if I told you that you could leverage your real-time data in a matter of days or weeks? And what if you could give a console to your average business analyst and make it useful to them without sending them off for IT training? With just a bit of help at the beginning, you could be realizing the true value of your data without expensive outside help in short order.

But what about the complex and expensive infrastructure I talked about above? Do you need to invest in a new data warehouse and in building cubes? Maybe, in some cases, but it's entirely possible you could deploy your solution in the cloud, without purchasing a dime of new hardware. Oh, and you could pay as you go, only paying for the computer and storage you use, as you use it.


You Might Enjoy: 3 Surefire Signs You're Ready for the Cloud

Imagine turning a few knobs, pushing a couple buttons, installing an app and a template and having a fully functioning BI dashboard without purchasing any new infrastructure or perhaps even without talking to your IT department! All your IT people need to do is publish some data sources and provide access and then you can do the rest.

Real-time data, available without a heavy investment in infrastructure and staff is available now. You might need a little bit of help to get started, consultants, like we have at Oakwood, are good for that. When we're done, you're going to be asking us for more, though, because it's so easy.

All of that and I didn't mention a single product! I'll tell you now though. Last week I delivered a presentation at a Business Intelligence event in Kansas City that we put together called BrainstormKC. It was a great success and we showed our attendees, live, how Microsoft PowerBI could provide instant data insights through real-time analytics. And we used various Microsoft Azure services instead of powering up a physical or virtual server. The data was sourced from a combination of Azure SQL DB and through Azure Stream Analytics. Stream Analytics allowed the audience to see their live data updates presented on the screen as they watched. The software and services are all available on pay-as-you-go subscriptions.

Oakwood built the system used in our demo last week in less than 4 weeks, on the side of our regular work, without any physical infrastructure. The costs for the “cloud” computing services on Azure were less than $100 for the event.

Conclusion

Imagine what you could do with your data… if you only freed yourselves to do it. Don't waste your data, and don't blame inaction on the cost of infrastructure. If you want IT to become a value-producing partner to your business rather than a cost-center, create real value with new solutions!

If you don't say “yes” to trying new things… working with the cloud… using real-time data… your business is ignoring powerful tools that your competitors are likely looking at. Don't get left behind.


Next Steps

Review our case studies and engagements where we helped companies just like yours solve a variety of business needs.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

Top 7 Email Tips and Tricks from my Time at Microsoft

Top 7 Email Tips and Tricks from my Time at Microsoft

Need our top e-mail tricks?  We have you covered.  Working at a company with over 100,000 of your best friends teaches you NOT to Reply All to e-mails. Here are those e-mail tips and tricks. If you have your top email tricks, please share them with your neighbor!

Be Polite and Professional

You never know who your e-mail will be forwarded to and you might not ever know if it does get forwarded. Whenever you write an e-mail, you should assume your boss, the CEO, and your mother might eventually get a copy. If there is ANY question about the content, leave it out. E-mails are easy to track, copy and print out.

Being polite and professional does not require you to use big words and complex language. As a matter of fact, you should write e-mails using language that is easy to digest – say at a 10th-grade level or so. If you use Microsoft Outlook or Word, there's actually a grammar checker that will tell you how complex your language is! Don't use language that will make your recipients feel stupid because they don't understand the words, it's a great way to alienate them. Use only abbreviations and acronyms that are common in your business… and you should still spell them out the first time around. Here's an example:

“Terry, could you please sign and return the attached SOW (scope of work) to me by the end of the day today? The customer needs the SOW tomorrow and I will need to revise and get it approved in the morning.

Thanks!
John”

Notice how the acronym for SOW was spelled out in the parenthesis () the first time? After the first time, you can assume that people will remember the definition. This is especially important when your audience might not be familiar with the terms. In some cases, terms are so common this doesn't make sense to do, but it certainly cannot hurt.

Don't Store and Send Large Attachments In E-mail

Putting large attachments in an e-mail makes a copy of the attachment. The more recipients you send to, the more copies are made and the more storage is required. You lose your “single version of the truth”… that is, all the sudden there are many un-linked versions of your file floating around.

Especially if you're collaborating on a document, you want to use something like SharePoint for sharing files. SharePoint allows you to track versions of documents, restore earlier versions easily and you sync a local version or send a link to the file rather than the file itself, so you track everyone's changes in a single place rather than having to merge multiple documents manually.

Services like OneDrive for Business, Dropbox, Box.net can also help with file sharing, allowing you to send links instead of actual files. If you need to send something securely use an encrypted file sharing service instead. Here's how those services generally work:

a. The attachment is uploaded to a service or removed from your e-mail automatically in some cases and then hosted on a secure server
b. The recipient receives an e-mail with a link to the secure, hosted file
c. Credentials to access the secure, hosted file are provided to the recipient separately from the file-sharing link
d. The recipient securely logs in and downloads the file

Don't Reply All

As I mentioned at the top, you do NOT want to be the one that e-mails the whole company the large file that crashes the e-mail system… keep an eye on who your recipients are and remove any that really don't need to receive the e-mail.

The side effect is that people are more likely to open e-mails addressed to only them or to just a few people in a small team than they are too large group e-mails.

How To Notify Your Manager And Co-workers About Vacation Time

Many companies have a vacation calendar you can access through Outlook. The problem with vacation calendars though is that people have to go look at them for them to be useful. Here's how you can put your vacation on the calendar and notify those you work within a meaningful but non-intrusive way:

a. Highlight the vacation time on your calendar, right-click on it and choose New Meeting Request.

b. Add your co-workers and vacation calendar to the recipient list and type in a subject that includes what it is (vacation) and your name. In the location box indicate that you'll be OOO (out of office).

c. Change the Free/Busy status to Free. This will ensure that when your coworkers accept the invitation it doesn't block off THEIR calendars. They'll see that you are out of the office but it won't affect their ability to schedule items during that time.

d. Click the Response Options button and uncheck Request Responses. This way the recipients of your invitation don't need to click to accept the invite and you don't receive back a response from them.

e. Click the Send button to send the invite. It should look like this on your calendar and theirs.

You just notified your coworkers and the vacation calendar that you would be on vacation and out of the office with minimal interruption to them and without affecting their own calendar availability.

*Update suggested by a reader – create another regular meeting entry on your personal calendar for the same period and select an option such as Busy or Out of Office so that others see that you are unavailable when inviting you to meetings!*

Highlight Important Information

One of the problems with e-mails is that people include too much information and don't properly call out what is important and what is not. If you have 3 long paragraphs of introduction and then at the bottom of your e-mail there is an action required, you may not get your reader to scroll their screen down and see the action at the bottom of the e-mail.

Here are three guidelines that'll help you keep your e-mails to the point:
– Keep your e-mails to 6-8 sentences if possible.
– Get to the point in the first two sentences.
– Place important content at the top of your e-mail – where it's more likely to be read.
– Use bullet points or numbered lists to highlight action items and important facts.

I'm going to get on my soapbox for a minute regarding bulleted and numbered lists – all items in your list should be full sentences or they should all NOT be sentences… don't mix sentences with list items composed of individual words or short phrases. And end all sentences with proper punctuation. If it's not a sentence, don't include punctuation at the end.

For example, here is a list of fruits and their attributes:
– Apple – usually red or green, hard
– Pear – usually green, hard
– Peach – light orange to pink, soft
– Grape – green or purple, hard

This list is composed of short phrases and not sentences. It has no completing punctuation and the list is consistent and looks good. Notice that my previous list (the guidelines for keeping e-mails to the point) includes properly formatted full sentences that are completed with proper punctuation.

The Shorter, The Better

Long e-mails get ignored. It doesn't matter how well written they are. People don't have time to read a book… they want to get in, deal with your e-mail, and move on. Keep e-mails short, to the point, highlight important information, and as I mention in #3, call out required actions.

Here's an example of a good e-mail where important information has been highlighted well:

Subject:
“*Action Required Today* – Signature Needed on ACME Brick Accounting Report”

Body:
“Bob, the ACME Brick Accounting Report ran successfully this morning and requires your signature by 3:00 PM so we can send it to the customer by the end of the day, today.

*Required Actions*
a. Your Signature
b. Scan & send signed doc to Processing by 3:00 PM

Thanks,
Jim”

Evaluation – this e-mail is good because it's short, to the point, and clearly states what actions are required, why, and when. Even if someone didn't read the introductory paragraph, they could look at the required actions and understand at a glance what actions are necessary.

Use the Subject Line Well

E-mail subject lines serve three purposes:

a. Provide information about the contents of the e-mail so that recipients can understand its relevance to them.

b. Help recipients prioritize reading your e-mail among all of their other competing activities.

c. Act as a teaser to encourage others to actually open and read your e-mail.

First of all, you should only send e-mails to those for whom the content is relevant. As I suggested in Don't Reply All above, this will make it more likely that your e-mails actually get read when you send them. Don't cry wolf!

Second, when you include the right language in the subject line, your recipients will understand how important your e-mail is, whether it requires an action on their behalf, and whether they need to address it sooner or can wait until later.

Third, you WANT people to open your e-mails. If you can make the subject interesting in addition to being informative you'll increase your “Open” rate.

Finally, as I mentioned above, the subject should be short… under 35 characters.

Here are a few examples – I'll give you a sample and then tell you why it's good or bad:

Subject: “Spotlight on the options for dealing with problems in company systems due to environmental conditions that I have found.”

Good / Bad: BAD – it's not specific, it's too long, there's no teaser, even as long as it is the wording is too general and I can't tell what it's about, how important it is or whether it would be relevant to me – nobody will want to read that e-mail.

Subject: “*Requires Action Today* – Need your signature on ACME brick contract

Good / Bad: GOOD – it's short, to the point, you can judge how important it is to you and that an action is required and when. You should be careful with punctuation in subject lines, however… don't overdo it. Be especially careful with exclamation points – they can be considered rude or as shouting. Asterisks can highlight something important or call additional attention to something particular if you don't overuse and overdo it… don't use them in every e-mail or they become less effective and you're back to crying “Wolf!”

Subject: “ACME Brick Company Schedule”

Good / Bad: BAD – while it's short and clear on what the contents are about, it doesn't give you any information about how important the e-mail is, whether there is an action required and in what time frame it needs to be dealt with. If there's anything important in this e-mail, you couldn't tell at first glance.


Next Steps

Review our case studies and engagements where we helped companies just like yours solve a variety of business needs.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.

The 5 Best Tech TED Talks

The 5 Best Tech TED Talks

We all have a favorite TED Talk that makes us feel ready to take over the world after 18 minutes.  The mission of the TED organization is spreading ideas in the form of these inspirational talks, and the TED YouTube channel has a total of 81,304 videos to choose from. A business-savvy IT professional such as yourself has too much on your plate to sift through this endless array of videos. So we did it for you, and before long we identified the top 5 Ted Talks that every tech enthusiast must watch.

TED Talks


#1 Ray Kurzweil: The Accelerating Power of Technology

In this riveting Ted Talk, inventor, entrepreneur and visionary Ray Kuzweil explains why, by the 2020s, we will have reverse-engineered the human brain and nanobots will be operating your consciousness.

These things are possible because, Kusweil says, our technology expands in an exponential pattern, rather than a linear pattern like commonly thought.

Scary cool, right? We thought so too.


#2 Jason Pontin: Can Technology Solve Our Big Problems?

When Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon in 1969, it seemed like the opportunities available with technology were endless. But what has happened to our future?

“It feels as if technologists have diverted us and enriched themselves with trivial toys like iPhones and apps, and social media,” said Pontin in this intriguing Ted Talk.

Learn why technology isn’t effectively solving the big problems we have today…and what that could mean for our future.


#3 Kenneth Cukier: Big Data is Better Data

Big data: we’ve all heard it, and we are probably all sick of hearing it. But what is the big deal about big data?

“Big data is going to transform how we live, how we work and how we think. It is going to help us manage our careers and lead lives of satisfaction and hope and happiness and health.”

In this thrilling talk, Cukier looks at what’s next for machine learning – and human knowledge.


#4 David McCandless: The Beauty of Data Visualization

“If you ask the right kind of question in the right kind of way, interesting things can emerge.”

We are all suffering from information overload, but when we come across a beautiful graphics or lovely visualization, it is a relief, says data-journalist-turned-designer David McCandless.

See how McCandless turns complex data sheets into beautiful, simple diagrams in this TED Talk.

#5 Margaret Gould Stewart: How Giant Websites Design For You

“What do you think of when I say design?” asks Margaret Gould Stewart, Director of Product Design at Facebook.

Learn what it means to design for such a large scale audience, and how the smallest difference can cause global outrage or create a positive improvement in this fascinating talk.

 


Next Steps

Review our case studies and engagements where we helped companies just like yours solve a variety of business needs.


About Oakwood

Since 1981, Oakwood has been helping companies of all sizes, across all industries, solve their business problems.  We bring world-class consultants to architect, design and deploy technology solutions to move your company forward.   Our proven approach guarantees better business outcomes.  With flexible engagement options, your project is delivered on-time and on budget.  11,000 satisfied clients can’t be wrong.