The Blatant Squandering of Human Capital Potential

Subtitle: The Demon of Bad Management

I have noticed something disturbing in my 5+ of year of professional life, a disturbing scenario that plays itself out in thousands of organisations all over the world. It is the way that organisations, through ‘managers’ irresponsibly squander the valuable asset of human passion at their disposal.

This scenario is best portrayed by a short movie called “Max and Max” on the accompanying DVD to Stephen Covey’s “The 8th Habit” book. The film traces the lives of a professional starting work at a new firm and a dog getting a new home. The professional’s manager (Mr Harold) also happens to be the dog’s owner.

Like millions of young professionals all over the world starting the new job, Max is filled with passion, has lots of high hopes for his new job and starts with lots of passion and initiative. Max the dog, a trained hunting dog also can’t wait to get started at hunting. But then the ‘management demon’ descends to suck out all that passion.

Mostly through micro-management, failing to appreciate and leverage the creativity and initiatives of the Maxes and a misguided adherence to ‘corporate policy’, Mr Harold turns both his new hotshot Max and his dog into drones that do exactly what he (as the representative of the organisation) tells them to do and then is frustrated at their lack of initiative.

Sure, while the manager is happy that thing are being done their way, is the price (the passion, commitment, zeal and engagement of their employees) worth it? And how sustainable can the success at such an organisation be?

I describe it as a demon because it is the only name that can be given to something that can suck out the passion, creativity, dash hopes that a human being brings to a job and changes that person into a drone that just wants to punch in the hours and desperately looking for an opportunity to move to the next job (and God forbid, rinse and repeat!)

It is ironical that this happens at the same organisations that say “our people are our greatest asset“. I am very sure that if money was squandered similarly, heads would roll … so why does it persist?

In my opinion, this act really is the result of several things amongst which are:

 

#1 | Myopic focus by management on short term results

while micromanaging someone can get you immediate results, it simultaneously kills the person’s capacity to get results on their own, thus the ‘manager’ feels s/he must always micromanage to get results. This typically ends with an unhappy employee that leaves the job. This kind of behaviour is typical of organisations that don’t think holistically (look at the whole system, not just a small part of it).

The scenario is aptly described by the “Passing the Burden to the Intervenor” systems thinking archetype. The burden here is the ability to think independently and take initiative to make good things happen, the intervenor is the manager. When the manager micromanages in an attempt to get results, the employee with time just stops trying and waits to be micromanaged.

 

#2 | Failure by the employee to take responsibility for their own happiness and engagement.

Most professionals spend at least 8 hours a day at some kind of work, with colleagues and bosses – usually the part of the day when our energies are high and it is up to us to try hard to not let the filth and negativity that may exist at work to poison our passion and engagement.

From a spiritual/self-mastery perspective, take it as “every bad boss, every toxic situation is a devine master that has been brought to teach us something we need to learn – patience, tolerance, toughness, equanimity, courage etc. Let us look for the lessons in that bad situation and learn them, for example now that you know just how demotivating it is to be micromanaged, commit to not micromanage others — your kids may be a good place to start. Or as Stephen Covey puts it in the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Between stimulus (what happens to you) and response (what you choose to do), there is a space, in that space lies our choices and in those choices lie our happiness”.

By being present (think mindfulness), we can notice the micromanaging, and other bad behavior in our workplace and as masters of our destiny, CHOOSE to respond in a way that preserves our dignity, integrity and passion rather than react in an equally un-enlightened manner and getting sucked into the vortex of negativity. In the spirit of mindfulness and presence, there are lots of happy things that happen in the workplace everyday – the un-requested help of a colleague (even to someone other than you), an act of kindness/encouragement etc. – we can choose to focus on these rather than the toxic ones …in that choice lies our mood for that day.

#3 | Failure to adapt to the age of the Knowledge Worker and Rules for their own sake

Micromanaging might have worked in the industrial age, but nowadays, it really has no place. It is an insult to human dignity and fails to acknowledge that another human being has the capacity to contribute. Unless nepotism and other vices were involved or there was some really poor judgment, the mere fact that someone passed the interview to qualify for a position and that the organisation offered her the job means that the hiring managers saw and believed in ability of the candidate to contribute. To then start to micromanage such a professional is self-contradictory and is a result of inefficiencies and/or ineffectiveness in the processes of recruitment, engagement and day-to-day management.

In this age, there are certain things that the professional is just better and more competent at than their manager and to know recognise that and defere judgement on those issues to the professional is not just a serious case of ego-mania and little-mindedness, it is also unprofessional. Rules are great, they are the fundamental tennets beneath all efficient systems. However wrongly used, rules can become agents of tyranny and despair. Rather than just bring up a rule, how about explaining the reason why that rule exists so that a reasonable professional can better buy into it? Similarly, rather than just give instructions? how about explaining to the professional why the instruction is being given and what the ultimate objective is? That way the professional can be creative about how s/he accomplishes the task (and in the process is more engaged in the job).

Even in the military (the mother of all command and control organisations) explaining objectives rather than just plain orders has led to some highly effective operations by forces on the ground. I realised the last point vividly one time I was creating a presentation – I had always read “Limit yourself to 4 bullet points at at least 28 point size“ and it was not until I had my own slides up and went to the back of the room that I noticed that anything other than that is hard to read. With that realisation, no one had to force me to obey that rule because as a professional wanting to make a good presentation, I knew its value.

We may well not get rid of these demons in the next 20 years. But I believe that ultimately, for a better world, for better work, power/responsibility/initiative and rewards must become decentralised and be deployed into the agents of action that are professionals. Until organisations and employees can find ways to manage and sustain their passion for work, work will continue to be a necessary evil that raises blood pressures and ruins health rather than “the flute through which the hours of the season turn to music“ to paraphrase Kalil Gibran.

How do you cope with such incidences in your own life? Do drop me a line. Shalom

Unleash Organisational Effectiveness and Reduce Risk with Open Source Enterprise Applications

One way or the other, most of the major work of organisations is done through projects thus making project management a key competence of every effective organisation. Similarly projects get done through project members performing the various tasks that make part of their job (some which may be part of normal operations)

The main model for using IT by most organisations tends to be a host of locally installed applications on the users desktops to do things like word processing, project management, spreadsheets and personal efficiency etc. This model although it seems to be working is fraught with a lot of risk … ask the non-technical employee the pain of having their laptop crash:

  • They loose access to their organized mail within the mail clients (especially since the vast majority of users tend to use POP rather than IMAP for mail access.
  • All documents they created for the organization get lost especially seeing how ‘good’ we are at backing up on a regular basis.
  • If employees are using Outlook or some variant to manage their addresses, tasks and todos … then a lost.

All of the above typically have the following consequences:

  1. The organisation either doesn’t have an ‘organisational memory’ (i.e. a way for someone else to make use of a fact known by another person). This is particularly true when internal communication is not effective ( … like the US intelligence community having all information required to have seen the X-mas day attach coming). What results is islands of memory, typically stuck in different employees’ heads and typically not available to the rest. The matter gets worse if that information is in an email or document which is typically not available if the person is sick or away or has left the organisation.
  2. The organisation is exposed high risk in the event that an employee’s computer crashes. Without a proper backup solution in place that is rigorously followed (which is rarely the case, even amongst us IT professionals who KNOW better). If the employees have to backup to USB drives or CDs on their own, there is no telling what sensitive information will be conveyed via those media into hands/eyes that have no business seeing it.

My proposed solution? Enterprise software hosted on servers on the organisation’s network that users can use through a web browser. Call it private ‘Cloud Computing’. And of course you should see this coming … there a really excellent Free and Open Source solutions out there besides other terrific proprietary and commercial alternatives. So what are the advantages of this model?

  1. Financial Savings: Employees don’t need fat applications installed on their computers, just a web browser. The licensing fees associated with those applications become a cost saving. Even if the applications are free, the support costs per user are also eliminated because the applications is hosted on a server. Furthermore, as we eliminate the need for applications installed on the employees’ computer and most/all the work gets done in a web browser, organisations can further reduce their IT expenditure by moving to Linux on the desktop.
  2. Reduced Risk: When work is done inside a browser, on the organisation’s servers AND the data is stored on those servers, backup can be automated and be regular. It can also be more appropriately secured.
  3. Employee and Organisational Effectiveness: Should an employee’s computer crash, instead of waiting perhaps a 3 days for it to be repaired and her data restored, she can pick just about any computer with a browser and continue work from where they stopped … no downtime for the organisation, no frustrations to the employee.
  4. Organisational Memory: Together with established, explicit and well documented processes, I believe “organisational memory” is one of the pillars of operational effectiveness. The specific tool here is the wiki ….a unified place to document processes and projects, collaborate as well as store all ‘living’ documents about organisational standards and procedures. Putting a wiki in place creates the infrastructure for organisational memory (which is otherwise non-existend), making use of that memory is quite another matter.

So, what are some of the FOSS enterprise applications I think organisations could leverage? eGroupware is like a Swiss Army knife … comprising of a host of different applications from calendering, resource, task, knowledge and project management, as well as pop/imap mail within a browser, a wiki, polls and a website application. As is often the case one size doesn’t fit all and some of the applications in eGroupware are great while others are terrible (Site Manager and the Wiki).

If you choose not to go take the one-size fits all approach, here are some great solutions I have come across.

  1. Collabtive/ProjectPier: For enterprise general (as opposed to specific such as software) project management, there are lots of applications in the FOSS community. ProjectPier is quite mature and simple while Collabtive is new, very innovative and seems to have the spotlight at the moment with a very beautiful AJAX interface.
  2. Tracks: Without doubt, the acknowledged best methodology for personal productivity management in the world is David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done as laid out in a book of the same name). While GTD is NOT about technology but about methodolody, it helps a lot to have a great application to help with the methodology … current PIMs like Outlook fall short. How about one that can be put on a server with accounts for each employee? …. Tracks is IT.
  3. Mediawiki: What can I say that the success of Wikipedia (the fourth largest brand in the world) can’t demonstrate better? How about the company’s very own implementation of that? … this is the infrastructure for organisational memory.
  4. Etherpad: While Wiki’s are good for asynchronous collaboration, sometimes what we need is really realtime collaboration. As an example, 3 people could sit at their computers and simultaneously write different parts of an article to the same document! (the review and correct it)…complete with version control. That’s the brilliance of Etherpad.

Just a word of caution … “If you are going to put all of your eggs in one basket (ie all your apps and data in the server room) … by all means try to get a titanium basket lined with air-cushions”. I’d hate to imagine the pain should that basket break or if some vermin gets into it.

Needed to make all this work for good and not just be technological tyranny and confusion is a CIO who actually ‘gets it’, one who continuously explores ways of integrating these technologies into the work processes of the organisation and provides employee training and on-going support especially to the non-technical employees. And it goes without saying that we also need employees who are willing to continuously explore more effective ways of doing their work. Now, how about that? Please I’ll be glad if you share your experiences so we can all learn from them and contribute to making them better.

Stiffling Innovation & Choice by Bundling Software

I would love to open this with a disclaimer — I don’t hate Microsoft. Even though I mostly use Ubuntu (and since 2009 Mac OS X), I happen to be writing this on Vista [I dual boot].

What prompted me to make this post is an experience I just had with Windows Media Player 11 in Vista. I just got really disappointed when I wanted to edit the tags of an MP3 and realised [for the 50th time?] that I could not. It got me wondering …. “every other media player out there has this functionality” and an older version of WMP had it, so what happended?

Now that I think of it, the long lag times for popular features to get into Microsoft products isn’t restricted to Windows Media Player. Come to think of it, tabs within browsers only got into Internet Explorer in version 7 … almost 4 years after Firefox, Opera and other browsers have had it. Notepad as a text editor is a disgrace, none of the features such as line numbering, code colouring etc that makes other text editors like gedit and kate so great. And if you have used other File Managers like Nautilus on Ubuntu, Windows Explorer is so feature poor.

Indeed, I think it hurts the entire IT industry (by stiffing innovation) when Microsoft shoves such mediocre products down user’s throats by bundling them in Windows. Maybe MS should stick to the software the do well – Windows, Office, Server etc and let smaller shops do other applications. Some of the free utilities for text editing, photos, media players out there that are freeware are far superior to the Microsoft offerings but rarely get a chance because most Windows users only get one choice – the mediocre Microsoft choice when the get their PC.

I think it a good thing the European Union is doing by forcing Microsoft to offer user’s choice when they set up. These choices should include but not limited to:

  • Web Browsers: IE8 is quite good, but Chrome, Firefox and Safari are also terrific.
  • Media Player: Let people choose between WMP, iTunes or the tens of other great media players out there
  • Instant Messaging: Please don’t shove Windows Live messenger on us, there is Yahoo messenger (which will connect to your Hotmail or MSN contacts) and cooler tools like Pidgin, Digsby and Trillian.
  • Please get rid of Notepad and Wordpad and give us a better text editor.

Ultimate Ubuntu Linux EyeCandy

Ok …out of the box, most Linux distributions are eyesores compared to MacOSx and Vista [even XP for that matter]. But the tools to make this beautiful lady shine are out there. Here is what an average guy like me was able to accomplish … so you can imagine what an organized set of people can do in this sphere.

So let me give you my own version of the Obama dream for Linux …. ¨If there is anyone out there who still …
….doubts that Linux can be as cute or even cuter than Windows or MacOS,
…who has not yet awoken to the the fact that Ubuntu is the most flexible operating system there is…..
…. who still doubts that Ubuntu is the virtual land where all dreams can come true …. THIS POST IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG!!!!
¨
[not exactly like the great guy himself but .... u get the idea ;-)]

First by laptop is an HP Pavillion dv5-1199ei, 2GHz Intel Centrino 2, 4GB RAM, with Nvidia chipsets for graphics. To honour this beauty [my girlfriend calls the laptop by concubine ;-)] … I decided to go with 64-bit Ubuntu 8.10 and so far, I have not been disappointed [...I am NEVER using the 32bit OS if I can help it].

Here is a list of the common applications I installed:

  • I installed Wine so I can run some Windows applications.
  • I installed Google Desktop Gadgets and Screenlets to suit all my desktop Widget/Gadget itches.
  • Songbird for media player — it is the only Linux media player beautiful enough for me [others may be better but the aesthetics also matters to me]. Even then, I have installed the latest version of WinAmp using Wine [but in truth, it is not much better than XMMS]
  • I also have Mplayer [with additional skins], and also VLC player.
  • For Bible study, I have GnomeSword [a lot like e-Sword which I use on Vista]
  • I use Pidgin for instant messaging [waiting for Digsby to become available on Linux]
  • For the geek in me, I have GNS3/Dynamips/Dynagen for network emulation, Ethercap and Wireshark for packet analysis.
  • To support my Webcam, i installed and use Cheese Webcam booth — works great.
  • Openoffice Draw is a little clunky for my liking, so I installed Inkscape.
  • My life is always very miserable if I don´t have Freemind, so I have the latest beta version of Freemind.
  • I have latest Java installed with Flash 64-bit plugin for Firefox so I can watch Youtube movies.

bla bla bla, so here are some of the pictures ….

Fig 1: My desktop with some Google Gadgets running and my custom panel that holds shortcuts for applications I use most [my version of Windows QuickLaunch bar]

coolbuntu01

Fig 2: My cool dock application – AWN: I especially love that cool curving popup of a frequently used partition on my hard drive.

coolbuntu02

Fig 3: This is one version of my ¨Start¨ menu …. from the top toolbar [which automatically hides itself to give me more screen real estate when i am using other applications]

coolbuntu03

Fig 4:Freemind … the other part of my brain that is outside of me.

coolbuntu04

Fig 5: Songbird, my favourite audio media player on Linux.

coolbuntu05

Fig 6: All my running applications in ¨shaded mode¨ … let´s see you do that on Vista [out of the box]

coolbuntu07

Fig 7: What can I say? my workspaces visible at the same time in 3D! Cool isn´t it?

coolbuntu08

Fig 8: Switching through my running applications in an elegant and visual way.

coolbuntu09

Fig 9: Another way to flip through my running applications … the more traditional way.

Fig 10: My dock [AWN] and the second way to access my applications.

coolbuntu10

Ok …. all of these are not some artist impressions, i use them everyday. And this post was done using the ScribeFire plugin in Firefox.

Thank you to all those wonderful guys out there who make these beautiful things possible and affordable. Welcome to the future of computing …. it is painted in Linux!

Baby Steps for Leveraging ICT in Universities in Developing Countries

Let me start with a disclaimer, —- I don´t like baby steps, to me they usually end up in medocre solutions, I would rather fail at doing something really big and thus set the stage for someone else to do something significant by learning from my failure. However, sometimes, baby steps have their place – to set things in motion so here we go.

While many CEOs now find it trendy to talk about how their organization is using IT, that typically  means that there is Internet access and some dysfunctional website which is rarely updated. Sometimes i must admit, these organizations are overwhelmed by the complex solutions we in IT try to pitch. Here are a few very uncomplicated things any serious organization can start doing now …. especially higher institutions in developing countries:

1. Put a PDF copy of every major form used in the organization online. Yes forms are the instruments of bureacracy and in most institutions, there is rarely a  process that doesn´t use a form or another. In my experience, sometimes, there are no copies of these forms available or a copy that has been photocopied so many times it is illegible. So just make fresh copies and put them online in PDF — a fresh one is there for anyone to download and print. Going a step further, each form should have accompanying instructions for how to fill it, who to send it to and what else to bring along when submitting the form.

In the future, this could evolve to the ability for students, employees, customers to fill and submit these forms directly online.

2. Put soft copies of popular literature online – employee handbook, procedures for doing certain things, etc. Not to complicate issues (some of those documents might not be for public consumption), only put non-sentive information online.

This shall in the future evolve to an intranet or private part of the website accessible only to users that login, depending on their credentials.

3. Soft copies of all lectur notes (of course lecturers who simply pass of their old student notes or shamelessly copy other´s notes may resist this ;-) , slides, lab manuals etc that students use. I had the terrible experience of having to read notes that I could barely see [50th generation photocopies].

In the future, this shall evolve towards a full-blown Learning Management System (like Moodle).

4. Official lists of the institution eg Admission lists and why year books? (So now any organization can fish out those that falsely claim to have finished from one university)

In the future, this shall evolve to online applications for applying for admission online,  online registration, e-transcripts and to enable third parties authenticate certificates against forgery.

5. Payslips should be sent to employee´s email accounts (even if they are still using free webmail for now .. the ideal will be all employees use the institutions email system)

These things are easy, cheap and don´t require any contractors so COME ON!!

Windows 7 – Nail in the Desktop Linux Coffin?

Two events in the last month have gotten me worried about the future of desktop Linux. First is a declaration by Mark Shuttleworth [Ubuntu's founder] that there is no money in desktop Linux. This is significant because Ubuntu represents the closest stake the Linux world has had to being used as a desktop operation system. First of all, Ubuntu seems to have matured [I didn't upgrade from 7.10 because I didn't have a compelling reason to.]. Of course there is the mist of cloud computing and broadband which might make most of our computing to become utilitarian … but I have always thought that is a plus for desktop Linux because you still need an OS to run a web browser. If cloud computing makes the case for desktop applications less compelling for most, then desktop Linux will gain a huge edge over both Windows and MacOSX.

The second disconcerting piece came out of the last Microsoft Professional Developers Conference – the unveilling of Windows 7. I made the case on this blog earlier in the year that given the kind of hardware specs Vista needs to really fly, desktop Linux is a better alternative. Well … Microsoft seems to have pre-empted that with Windows 7 … I learnt that the executive who heads the Windows development team has as his primary laptop, a netbook based on an Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM and that Windows 7 will run very fast on those specs!! Considering the Windows familiarity and eye-candy factors, it seems Window 7 suddenly is putting Linux out of the play on most things that matter to the typical PC user except price?

So please share your take on this? Is this a move the Linux desktop community need to worry about? What moves must desktop Linux make to counter this? However it turns out, am planning to get a new laptop soon and irrespective of its OS, I plan to install Ubuntu because I specifically need it … but then, I am not the average user.

Why Linux Still Struggles on the Desktop [but Thrives in the Datacenter]

I was reading through a Harvard Business Review article and I came across a distinction made by a Harvard professor which essentially says [in my own words] … “people don’t want a car, they just want to get from here to there”

I was struck by how true this is and how often we geeks fail to understand that subtlety. Linux is doing very well in the data center for this reason [plus the fact that it is free and libre] : organizations want a website, a mail system etc, they don’t want a server OS. Since Linux does this well AND is free and libre, then it is very compelling in many scenarios.

In the same vein, enterprise IT admins want to be able to control desktops and laptops, what applications are installed on them and enforce highly granular control of access privileges – it is only natural that they turn to Microsoft’s Active Directory in Windows Server and hence Linux hasn’t made a dent in that portion of the data center.

Now for the desktop – Linux hasn’t gotten this quite right [yet] because people just want to

  • Type notes, resumes etc and share them with others.
  • Edit photos and movies and share them.
  • etc etc

They will use the tool that helps them do these things in the easiest and cheapest possible way.

While it is generally believed that the Apple Mac is the most elegant computer out there, its high cost keeps it out of the range of most people but most of those who can afford it do get it. This perhaps explains its popularity in the high end desktop publishing and graphics space.

Windows has evolved to be easy to use  [perhaps more accurately, Windows is familiar and popular] and has surpassed MAC OS by supporting a large ecosystem [applications and hardware] which gives users a greater range of options to get the job done and painlessly share their work.

For all its virtues, desktop Linux is not as elegant [visually and usability-wise] as Windows or Mac OS X. Yes it is getting better but consider these things that the typical person needs to do but can’t do easily on Linux:

  • Play DVD movies.
  • Manage and synchronize digital media on their ipod or Zune/Zen etc.
  • Create documents and share them with others in their native format [aka file format agnostic]
  • Connect and use the latest peripherals [printers, scanners etc]

Some of these limitations on the part of Linux are due to vendors and manufacturers not opening up their devices or applications for whatever reason. Such practices are evil but guess what? – the user doesn’t care – she only cares that she can’t play that new DVD, use that photo printer or sync her ipod.

The key then is to orchestrated the average user’s Linux experience well: A geek with taste takes the vanilla desktop Linux and

  • Installs some good eye-candy and fonts.
  • Sets up a cool media player with any plugin and codecs for using the popular media formats and working with the latest ipod, zune or zen.
  • Sets up drivers especially for wireless networking and wireless WANs.
  • Configure such things as hibernate and suspend etc etc.

…… and viola!!! when a user starts their PC, they can go straight to gratifying themselves. Now for the hard part: how do we do this and still give the OS for free?

Leveraging ICT in Entrepreneurial Ventures IV: Use ICT to Cut Costs

Unifying your inter-office Communications: The typical small business office today has about 4 computers, need a printer or two (in fact one CEO I spoke with last year had a grand vision of putting a printer on each of the 20 desks and PCs in his office!!!). There also is some kind of voice system … and Intercom or PBX. Not only does this complexity increase maintenance costs, it increases the chance of something going wrong and is more importantly from and entrepreneurs perspective an unfortunate waste of money.
For starters, with ensuring that your computers are networked will allow the organization to get a lot more from it. Over the network, the organization really doesn’t need more than 1 printer for 10 people. With a network in place, a single Internet connection can be share by all computers in the office, printers, document templates etc. Furthermore, you can completely leave out the extra cabling and PBX for your intercom and do chat, voice, video and even application sharing on your local network. The resultant cost-savings are non-trivial.

Automate Back-end Processes: Information about products and services can be put on a company website. Similarly forms and information brochures can be put online so people can access them rather than having to call every time and make inquiries. Any work that involves filling of forms by your clients can be automated and done online – not only does it reduce the opportunities for mistakes (as the computer can validate data on the fly)
Go Quasi-Paperless or Fully Paperless: And with a fully networked office, do we really need to print a document that we want to send to a colleague in another cubicle/table? Definitely not. Such things as interoffice communications, memos and reports can be done completely digital. But a caveat here … for this not to be a recipe for a business disaster, there must be proper backups in place so that the entire business does not come down because a computer failed.
Keep Physical Office Space as Lean as Possible: Probably my most disconcerting suggestion, if the infrastructure exists, using innovative management, consider the possibility of cutting out fixed and recurring costs relating to maintaining a physical office and run your venture predominantly virtually. Rather than office cubicles for each employee, why not just buy each employee a laptop and let them work from their homes? This way you will substantially cut your utility bills – power, cleaning etc. This is quite disconcerting because poor management has a huge need to control and micromanage people but to with a forward thinking management system in place, this will work out quite well because it gives employees huge flexibility. Obviously this can’t apply to all ventures and a critical amount of real estate in the form of office space and accessories will still be required. Even in manufacturing where people need to be on ground, there are some staff that can do the majority of their work without being physically present. This is however not without its caveats and so….. Proceed with caution.
Communicating with Suppliers and Distributors: Since no business operates in isolation, part of normal business administration involves contact with supplies and distributors to manage the supply chain end-to-end. Communication with these partners has come a long way from physical meetings to phone calls and now the rich messaging applications are a new and exciting addition to the mix. It is now possible to hold meetings online (GotoMeeting, WebEx) with full videoconferencing with nothing more than your Internet connection and a relatively cheap value computer. On the lower side, plain email and instant messaging can do a tremendous amount of work. These same multimedia communication technologies can also be leveraged to make product demonstrations to customers in different parts of the world.
Leverage e-Learning: As multimedia computers, networks and the internet become more commonplace; start-ups can leverage them to provide training to their employees at lower costs that traditional, consultant led alternatives. The idea is not to completely eliminate consultants and their workshops but to provide tools for employees to get more skills and knowledge from the convenience of their personal computers.
Use Freeware & Open Source Software: Legally acquiring the software that most business need for office automation can cost significant amount of money (See the article “The Simple Case for Free and Open Source Software” at http://ibiztech.wordpress.com for details). It is possible to shave off more than 50% of the acquisition cost for relevant business applications by using software that is free of charge. Examples include Ubuntu Linux instead of Microsoft Windows for your desktop computers, several variants of Linux for practically all your server applications, OpenOffice.org suite of applications (replacement for Microsoft Office). Some of these applications are the best in their class and very reliable.

Leveraging ICT in Entrepreneurial Ventures IV: Group Collaboration

Collaboration can be between people within your organisation eg sharing documents, ideas, leads and a single contact database. We could take it further and use the Internet to collaborate with partners, suppliers, distributors as well as clients with new web tools like Wikis, blogs, bookmarks and social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn.
The emergence of the knowledge worker means increasingly that more and more of the key assets of an organization rest in the brains of their employees. So if there isn’t a platform that helps your employees share their knowledge, then they won’t collaborate well and teams will function sub-optimally and no synergies can be formed. As an example, suppose you have a 5 person marketing team. Each goes to different parts of the market and makes their own contacts independently. What happens the day one of them gets sick and is unavailable? – it means all critical information relating to the aspects of the market she was handling is lost to the organization. Worst still, what happens when she leaves the organization? She takes with her (in her brain so there’s nothing you can do about it) critical business information that can confer an advantage to your competitors. Sure you might not be able to do anything to stop an employee who wants to leave, however, with appropriate IT systems AND the supporting managerial systems in place that had let your employees share knowledge, contacts and resources, that information doesn’t need to be lost to the organization.
Collaboration doesn’t need to be done only by marketing department. It can also be done with partners in different locations around the world, with existing customers on product support and why not product-design? Picture this scenario … during a recent trip to Lagos, you meet a potential partner on the plane and exchange contact information. Later on getting back to base, you send him and email and arrange to chat using instant messenger. Even though you are in two different parts of the country or even the world, you can discuss the framework for a future collaboration, agree on specifics and then meet physically only to seal the deal. How much will that save you in travel costs and time lost being away from your base?
Similarly, amongst your staff in the office, it will be more cost effective to collaborate on documents digitally rather than having to print. Not only does this save you money in terms of not using paper but it also saves the environment (a key selling point to most businesses these days if you haven’t realized) and is faster once a good system is in place.