Informative Articles to Grow Your Business
Call today 800.525.1315
0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on June 13, 2012 | Categories:
Charles Kanavel founded The Kanavel Group one year ago; his consulting company implements IT systems and virtualization for government and educational organizations. Kanavel speaks with such passion about his work—and how technology is changing education—that you can’t help wishing you were a student in one of his client districts. “You’re seeing good for communities, good for the organizations,” he says. “To make something work for kids and change the way they learn, that’s fun. It’s got to be fun. If it’s not fun, why do it?”
What challenges do you face, implementing cloud-based solutions for the government/ education sectors?
Education is its own culture. I came originally from finance; I worked on Wall Street for 12 years before starting several software companies. My wife worked in education, and after we had a daughter, I went into education for about three years as Director of Technology at Campbell Union High School District. That was an interesting, eye-opening experience: While you can look on the outside of education and say “Well, they should do this” and “They should do this,” it doesn’t work that way.
School districts, as opposed to businesses, are largely consensus-driven organizations, so you have to navigate political and technical challenges. The smallest school districts in the Bay Area is as large or larger in total system users than those in Silicon Valley. At Campbell, we had 10,000 students and 700 staff. We calculated that 35,000 people each day touched the system we operated. Every kid a has two parents, and they’re emailing teachers, getting on School Loop, looking at our website, applying online—there’s a ton of things going on on any given day, and we had 500 programs that we maintained with a staff of six IT people.
From there, I started this company with the mindset of helping state and local government organizations, and large-scale private organizations, implement this technology. If you’re trying to do this, it’s difficult if you don’t know how. You can see the need there.
What concerns do you frequently address with your clients?
Most of their concerns revolve around the proper use of technology. That’s the big one.
If I were to sit down and tell you “This is how the world’s going to work 65 years from now,” you’d laugh at me. You’d say, “You’re making that up. You’re purely guessing.” But if you think of the professional life of an educator, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to predict what’ll happen 5, 10 years down the line and educate our kids based on that. They’re trying to find out the best way to give kids the best educational experience possible. They know they have to integrate all this technology into their teaching, yet they don’t know the best way to do it. They’re educators. Consider the average lifestyle of a teacher or a public official—everybody in an organization has multiple degrees. They went to K-12, then college, then teaching college; then out of college, they went to work at a school district. When did they stop to learn how IT works?
Getting them to understand “I see your problem and what you need,” and then letting us address that need, you have to understand their language before you can recommend anything that they should do. That’s how my time working with school districts has been invaluable.
What kind of security concerns do many of your education clients have?
A lot of school districts are moving to Google Docs. But there’ve been articles saying that Google’s security has been penetrated multiple times. Do you really want your kids’ stuff—or your students’ stuff—out there on the Internet for all the world to see? What if it’s a personal essay? What if they’re a special needs student? Now all their information is on the web because your IT guy wanted to use Google Docs. You have to think through the ramifications—what if that IT guy’s laptop gets lost at Starbucks?—and then build the appropriate technological barriers around that.
Part of your Philosophy statement says “With the rate at which the world is changing daily, it is often difficult to know where the boundaries lie.” What boundaries do you mean?
If you go back seven years ago, and I showed you an iPad, you’d freak out. Nobody predicted it. If you go back five years ago, who could’ve predicted the iPhone would change the entire world? Now it’s a commodity, not a luxury.
Think of technology as a process. You can watch it and look at it, and you can predict long-terms patterns. Moving from smartphone to iPad to laptop, it’s easy to see that the laptop won’t be around much longer. Everyone over 25 likes the laptop. Everyone under 25 likes smartphones and tablets. The laptop trend will end.
Whatever will displace that divide, that displacement will create more need. …With the cloud, you can work anywhere in the world you want. Physical boundaries don’t matter anymore. What needs will be driven out of that? Does that mean, eventually, that schools will start changing their [educational] model? Is there a reason to be at school at 7:00 in the morning if a teacher can teach at 8:00 at night? If the expectation is to “get students to prepare for college,” you can’t ignore that you have to get beyond teaching. You have to immerse students and get them functionally ready to operate in a college environment.
I do a lot of that; 50% of my job is getting people’s minds around that. We do technical consulting. We offer solutions, but before offering a solution, you’ve got to articulate how their vision matches your solution. We have three- to five-year contracts. It’s like building a car. You can’t say “We’ve got the parts. We’re going to build it in a day.” You have to build structural waypoints into the plan. To help our customers execute that vision, we have to break it down backwards. Some of that is a funding challenge; maybe they don’t have all the money. Some is a political challenge, getting people’s minds around it.
In 2009, we were the first district in the U.S. to offer our students e-readers in place of textbooks. Some teachers fought me. Others said “This makes sense.” People inherently resist change, especially when they have to change their behavior. You have to say “I can show you how this affects you.” When I’m putting in a piece of technology that changes how you operate on a daily basis, I’d better explain to you.
And that’s where it gets hard. That’s what we excel at.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
It would be really easy to say “I love money” or “I love helping people,” but that’s glib answer.
Part of it is, if you’re an entrepreneur, is building. It’s the challenge of building something. You can’t ignore that as an answer. That’s almost a separate desire than whatever it is your business is a whole. True entrepreneurs are serial entrepreneurs. The challenge of building is palpable. But that’s one part of the answer.
The other part of why I like what I do is because it’s challenging. I like seeing my clients succeed, because I know what we do, they don’t do inherently. Every organization struggles with technology. Is that a fair expectation, especially with schools? The point of schools is to educate kids, and they do that exceedingly well. All these kids graduate knowing how to read and work with numbers and become functioning members of society. But now they’re saddled with the expectations that they have to do that while preparing students with the best technology, the best classes, and “My kid better go off and become the President.” How do you do that? Educators can get sucked into technology like it’s quicksand, and they’ll never really succeed because they’re not of the IT world.
That’s what I love. We say “We’ll handle that for you.” That’s fun. That’s challenging. You’re seeing good for communities, good for the organizations. To make something work for kids and change the way they learn, that’s fun.
It’s got to be fun. If it’s not fun, why do it?
0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on June 1, 2012 | Categories:
Ken Elliott worked in the security industry for 25 years before joining Security 101 as owner of their New York office. Here, Ken shares (with pride) his new company, the cutting-edge services they provide, how security services are moving to the cloud and how he helps his clients’ bottom lines. As owner of Security101 New York, “when I’m with a customer, I always want to give them something and know I’ve done a good job. It’s all about building customers.”
Do you come from a security background?
I was involved in high-end retail, bodyguard work, internal investigations and asset protection. I’ve done that for 25 years. It was time for me to open up to something new and work directly for myself.
How did you discover Security101′s franchise?
I just happened to come across their website and I liked what I saw. It clicked immediately. They’re technology based, and they’re on the cutting edge. I wanted to be also. I flew down and met with their CEO. We had a great meeting and got along well.
Who are Security101′s main clients?
It is a national company, so we deal with many different clients. The New York office increases our service coverage in the New York area, adding to our New Jersey and Connecticut offices. We’re just expanding. One great thing about being with Security101 is that we’re national. Many of our clients have a base in New York City, but they also have branches in Atlanta, or Florida and other states. We can service them there with the same detail as in New York.
Our niche is really medium to large businesses. We do a lot of work in health care, property management, and even the transportation industry.
What services do you provide?
We do access control, surveillance networks, and cloud-based solutions. IT is really big.
What distinguishes your service from your competition’s?
Definitely our service. We believe in customer service, 100%. That’s what we really try to shine on. We have access to all the current technology, but really, our customer service is head and shoulders above the rest.
Another thing that makes us different than other companies is that we’re a national company, but we have local ownership. If you’re in New York and you call me, you’re speaking with the owner. When you need to speak to the guy with the last decision, that would be me. The other national companies, you don’t have that with them. No one has more vested interest in what happens [with a company] than the owner. That’s one of the strengths of Security101: A local person owns the company, and he wants to make you happy.
Can you elaborate on that?
Sure. After you put in a security system, what happens then? If there’s problem or you need further training, that’s where we show ourselves to be different. We back up our installs. We offer a five-year warranty. That’s huge. So that way, if you have a budget, you know that you won’t need to spend anything else on your system to service it. If anything breaks, we’ll be there.
How does Security 101 stay current with technology?
We provide both single-site systems and enterprise-level solutions. To do this well, we work closely with the major manufacturers in the industry, continuously training our employees and serving on advisory boards.
We have great relationships with the people who produce our technology. We’re right there when they’re developing it; we’re partners with them. They need qualified people to put their products in the market. Right now, the products that are out there really help us—being IT- and cloud-based, it improves on the former generation. The customer’s not relying on a computer from a set location. They can access it from anywhere. They don’t have to worry about anything crashing. Everything’s right there with them.
How is security technology evolving?
The things we have now are amazing. We have cameras that are located very far away but can detect motion in a very small area. But cloud-based technology is really where it’s innovative. In the cloud, you’re not tied down to a specific machine. So even if someone can access your company’s physical location, they can’t get your information. You can control it from wherever you are. If you can be across the world and access all your information, that helps you work smarter.
Things I didn’t even comprehend five years ago, we’re widely doing now. We have intelligent cameras, for example: If I’m in a room full of people, and I walk over and pick up a cup, the camera notices that I picked up that cup, even with a thousand people in the room. The technology is getting smarter and smarter, but there ideally isn’t a limit. In fact, the security world and the IT world—they’re getting blended these days. Before, I was usually talking to the head of security. Now I’m talking more and more to the IT director. That shows you where the technology is going.
Will the general public need to address being more heavily monitored?
I’m looking at it as spaces becoming more monitored, not people. In a park and such, it’s not the person, it’s the space being monitored. The world we live in today, it’s becoming more and more of a necessity. Especially in places like schools and universities, where you have to know where people are going in and out.
As to where the security industry is going, today, we have IT-based networks and cloud-based solutions, and I find that more companies are wanting these services. When you do business on the cloud, you actually reduce costs. That’s a big deal. Being on the cloud, you don’t have to buy a computer from me. There’s no software from me. It improves your bottom line and productivity. Your machine can’t crash. It can’t be stolen. You can access it from anywhere in the world. Today’s technology is really making things more cost-effective and improving performance a great deal.
That’s some of the things I’m happy to provide, knowing my services can cut costs. When I get in to build a system, my objective is to give the customer what they really need. That’s one of the things that makes us different. When I’m with a customer, I don’t want to make a lot of money here, while later on, they won’t be happy. I always want to give them something, know I’ve done a good job. It’s all about building customers. I want to be that person that they can always go back to for solutions. If they have questions, I can help them with it. I’m not just there to sell them something. I’m there to consult with them.
What do you love most about the work you’re doing?
The work is technology based, so it’s constantly changing. What we were doing five years ago—we’re a lot more advanced now. Constant evolution keeps it exciting.
0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on May 23, 2012 | Categories:
Steve Thomson, founder of Sweetwater Logistics, likens his business to that of an old-school neighborhood grocer, someone who knew your family and their needs. Sweetwater provides logistics and shipping services for start-ups, small businesses and entrepreneurs—their North Carolina-based warehouse lets them ship to 80% of the contiguous United States’ population within two days—but their underlying service, ultimately, is scalability. “If you have a great idea, you need someone on your operations side,” Thomson says. “I’d love to be known as the entrepreneurs’ secret to success to selling products on the Web.”
Which industries do Sweetwater Logistics primarily work with?
We provide services to really anything nonperishable that gets sold on the Internet. From an industry perspective, we’re open to everything. What I do—my niche, so to speak—would be start-ups, small-business owners and entrepreneurs. They recognize the value of outsourcing so they can focus on marketing. We focus on warehousing, setting up space, working with vendors, et cetera, so they don’t have to worry about it.
Our clients are start-ups and entrepreneurs. We’ve gotten into a really good niche; we’ve gotten well-known in subscription-based services. One of our clients has a subscription-based product for men, where every three months, you get a pack of new t-shirt, socks, and underwear. We’re a leader in setting up that type of service. We just had a client come to us, wanting to do that for pet food.
Before founding Sweetwater Logistics, you worked in international shipping. What did that teach you?
Logistics is a very simple thing: You move product from point A to point B. Many times, logistics providers try to make it as complicated as possible to prove their worth. But in reality, it’s pretty simple. It’s just a matter of knowing where you go to find the right answers. I don’t have to know everything about shipping. I just have to have the belief that something’s possible, and then find a provider to do that. That’s key to what I’ve learned in international shipping. It doesn’t matter what the language or the customs in the country are. The underlying principles are the same everywhere. It’s just identifying those processes and finding global nuances.
Honestly, I’ve gained a deep understanding and belief that there is an answer and solution for every problem out there. No matter where I’ve been in the world, you can find the answer. And it’s usually not as difficult as everybody wants to make it out to be.
Why would logistics companies make shipping appear more difficult than it is?
Transportation has turned into a commodity. Going way back, the original industry involved moving something from the farm to the marketplace. That’s the very first thing, as a society, that we’ve done, and every economy requires it.
What I learned in international transportation is that it’s the knowledge of moving that’s important. You have to convince [your clients] that you’re the go-to person to do it. Your competitor has the same-sized shipping vessel and containers, and it takes them about the same time. So there’s perceived value in creating this veil of insecurity around your customers’ knowledge. You’re able to create a differentiator. And that made me sick to my stomach, knowing that was out there. There are so many other ways to differentiate in the market without creating that deceptive veil.
How does Sweetwater Logistics scale its services to work with home-based businesses and more mature, larger companies?
All of our clients are fantastic at making products that are unique and creating demand for those products. We help them focus on that. It doesn’t matter their size.
I have a client—she has one pallet. In between Thanksgiving and today, she sold five items. That’s perfectly fine. It can sit there until an order comes in, and when it does, it just goes through the flow. And we notice; everybody cheers.
Then we have other clients, they’ll move a hundred pallets in a day. Because of automation, we can scale dramatically. We can scale to any size.
My growth strategy is, if I can take away one or two constraints that are hurting expansion of small business in the U.S., I should be able to grow on that. My strategy is helping these guys thrive. They’re able to focus on growth by letting us handle all the other little stuff.
How do you cross-promote your clients?
Here’s a good example: We have one client that does skin care and body care products for men. We also have another client—Manpacks.com. They have a similar demographic. We introduced Anna from Raw Materials for Men to Ken at Manpacks. Ken actually sells Raw Materials products in his subscriptions. Anna could put a note into her orders, saying “Thank you. As a token of my appreciation, here’s your first month free at Manpacks.” Ken can do the same thing. Or Ken has a blog going out twice a week, and he mentions her stuff in his blog.
That’s something we actively do, making those connections. My success comes down to my clients’ growth. I get paid when my clients’ products get out the door. Cross-branding and introductions is part of it. Everybody wins. Ken or Anna can thank their clients and give them value that they otherwise couldn’t, and they get eyeballs in a new segment of the market that they wouldn’t otherwise.
Have you found it challenging to build a clearly focused brand?
When we created our logo, we actually did this exercise. We went out to our client base and crowd-sourced our logo from artists around the world. We got 150 images, all different. We asked our clients, “Which one of these matches your image of Sweetwater, and why?” I got great feedback. The underlying message was, as somebody summed it up, “That sign looks like a sign for a neighborhood grocery store in the ’50s, where the owner knows what you need and knows your family.” That’s exactly the brand I want.
Doug, one of our clients—he’ll call on a Friday afternoon to chitchat, talk about his business, his challenges, his big wins. He sincerely wants to share. Another client, Anna—I love the fact that when something big happens, I’m one of the first three phone calls she makes. She wants to share. I love being in that position. I love knowing that we’re considered a partner. And all the guys here want to hear that. They see products every day, going out the door. We packaged that DVD, that underwear, those socks, these boots. The guys here are the last ones to touch it before the customer. So they take great pride in that.
What direction is Sweetwater Logistics headed?
I’d like to continue with the same focus. Five years from now, I’d like to have 20 of our clients hit it and and be huge.
The nitty-gritty of it? We’re really selling scalability. The ability of an entrepreneur to entrust us, if we’re working with them. Say, right now, they’re selling 2-3 items per week. If they get to more than 15 per hour, that’s great. That’s what I sell: The ability to expand dramatically.
It’s maybe a wish, but if there’s somebody taking an entrepreneur course in school, I want a professor to say, “That’s a great idea. You should talk to Sweetwater. They can help you.”
We’re not peddling get-rich-quick schemes. If you have a great idea, if it’s sound, you need someone on the operations side while you focus on growing this idea and getting it out. You’re always going to be your idea’s biggest advocate. I’d love to be known as the entrepreneurs’ secret to hitting success to selling products on the Web.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the energy of entrepreneurs. I love their optimism. If I can surround myself with that every day, that brings me pleasure.
0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on May 17, 2012 | Categories:
Jonathan Leavitt is Chief Marketing Officer for WayPart, an industrial parts search engine with 11 million parts in its database. If you’re amazed that manufacturing doesn’t already employ a search engine for finding parts, you’ve identified WayPart’s genius and challenge of disrupting a conservative market—and how their model could inject that market with some healthy competition. Industrial parts distribution “is a big part of our world that we don’t see on a daily basis,” says Leavitt. “Bridges, school, hospitals—all are built with parts. People enjoy their daily life, expecting it to work all the time. When it doesn’t, it impacts people’s lives. We’re trying our best to create efficiency and streamline the industry.”
What does WayPart do?
WayPart.com indexes the websites of multiple distributors that sell products on the internet and consolidates them into a single comparison shopping site. Buyers can search our database of parts using incomplete or inaccurate part numbers and display relevant data for industrial supplies, such as manufacturer, part number, description, price and picture.
Does your search engine return domestic-only results, or worldwide?
For now, we are only indexing U.S. distributors and so our target audience is mainly U.S. users. As we grow, we plan to include international distributors and therefore expand our target audience to include international users.
Shipping industrial supplies is not as easy as shipping consumer goods. There are many rules and regulations that need to be adhered to, and some distributors just don’t see the value in dealing with this. If a local distributor is present in that foreign country, then they are much better suited.
Is it challenging, changing how industrial parts have been distributed?
Absolutely. It is a big challenge but it is not without precedent. Most companies now develop relationships with certain distributors and deal only with them. This limits their ability to get better pricing and also limits their exposure to smaller distributors that may have better value. We aim to even the playing field and provide users with access to as many distributors as possible so that they are able to compare pricing and make more informed decisions.
What incentive do you give distributors to make their parts available through WayPart?
Our main incentives to distributors are to provide them with a wider user base as well as promote their products. When a user searches for a specific distributor’s part number, we only display that search result, whereas if the user searched for the manufacturer part number, we list all relevant distributors. By doing so, we limit the search results to those of the specific distributor and therefore provide a more targeted user experience that benefits both the end user and the distributor.
How can WayPart’s business model change the overall industrial parts market, specifically regarding production?
Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency; to be able to cut down on time, cost, manpower, searching through different systems. Depending on the size of the company, it costs a lot of money just to use the supply platform. On WayPart.com, you can do it for free.
The Internet provides transparency and immediacy. This has been achieved in the consumer marketplace and we aim to achieve it in the industrial parts marketplace.
[Industrial parts distribution] is a big part of our world that we don’t see on a daily basis. People don’t understand the energy and effort and work that it takes to build, create, and maintain things. Bridges, school, hospitals—all are built with parts. People enjoy their daily life, expecting it to work all the time. When it doesn’t, it impacts people’s lives. We’re trying our best to create efficiency and streamline the industry.
0 comments | Posted by: Terri on November 17, 2011 | Categories:
Phone message answering services are joining the ranks of modern-day business tools, like email and cloud storage, that are building paperless offices.
Paperless offices make tremendous economic and environmental sense, which explains why more and more businesses are making the shift. The environmental benefits are obvious. By reducing paper manufacturing, you reduce deforestation, pesticide and herbicide use, soil loss, fragile monoculture forests (which are susceptible to disease and pest epidemics, unlike robust polycultures) municipal solid waste, water and air pollution—it’s a long list, which plenty of brand-savvy businesses will happily recite to tout their supposed environmental commitment.
Even government offices at all levels throughout the United States are going paperless to increase efficiency and reduce waste. The Indiana General Assembly, for one, is trying out paperless legislature. They hope to make a difference by reducing the “11,400 pages for each bill the legislature considers.” Schools are beginning to follow suit by replacing paper and textbooks—which are extremely expensive for schools—with iPads and “open textbooks,” available online and (for the moment) free.
Whether environmentally friendly or greenwashed, brand-savvy or not, every profitable business and viable organization cares about their economic bottom line: Paperless offices are more efficient, agile and, yes, cheaper.
Consider file cabinets. When offices archive their information digitally, rather than filing cabinets and physical folders, information becomes infinitely easier to access, edit, share and archive. No more bookshelf-sized filing cabinets; paperless offices store their records in secure online servers. No more printers, no more boxes of paper and no more expensive printer ink or toner.
Or consider written documents. Letters have been mostly replaced by email and chat. Printed documents are becoming rare; now, with shared applications, collaborating and editing takes place online instead of on hard-copy. Smart phones and tablet apps are replacing calendars, planners, index cards and notebooks.
And because written messages can be illegible, and paper is easily destroyed or misplaced, phone message answering services are replacing the humble “While You Were Out” memo.
When a remote operator takes a message, they can send it instantly (by email or otherwise) to one person or a group of people, anywhere. Message recipients can then access that message online, regardless of their location, and they can hang onto it as long as they want.
A phone message answering service is one of many steps toward a completely paperless, more efficient office. But it’s a crucial one.