Best Wishes for a Properous New Year

December 22, 2009

Well, that’s going to do it for this year. I checked and I managed to post 50 times on this blog since I started it back in June of this year. For those of you (all 4 of you) that have tuned in on a regular basis, I hope that you’ve found a couple ideas on how to improve your business practices.

Thanks for the comments and feedback. Please also feel free to provide suggestions on topics as well as any other ideas on how I can make this blog more useful.

It’s been an extremely challenging year, so it seems more appropriate than ever to thank our Alliance Partners for their business and wish you a prosperous new year.

Advertisements

Stating Your Case (Study)

November 10, 2009
For service-oriented companies that don’t have a ‘product’ to market, case studies about successful applications are often the most effective way to demonstrate your capabilities to prospective clients. Here’s what National Instruments considers when we choose to publish a technical case study on ni.com.
1. Is the customer, or end-user of the application, a company that is recognized globally? What better way to prove yourself than to have big companies like Ford and Sony document a success.

2. Is the application an extraordinary example of capabilities? Cool, cutting-edge, never-been-done-before. If it’s something that could get some mainstream attention, it might be a bonus. Or perhaps it is a novel solution. Well, having documented success help infiltrate a new business area.

3. Does the application address an identified marketing gap? You may have a lot of success in a certain application area, but might not have the case studies to prove it. So, identify the gaps and proactively try to find customers who are willing to share your success.

What matters most? Always make sure your case study has a clear and concise testimonial. Make sure every case study has a benefits statement for the end customer in addition to the technical details of application. Don’t just tell a technical story of “how.” Make sure you reveal the “why” behind the problem solving decisions.

 

Shout out to the Graphical System Design Achievement Awards

National Instruments will being call for papers in January, so now is a great time to start documenting those applications. You can find out more info: ni.com/gsdawards.

 


Creating a News Release

October 21, 2009

Distributing a news release is an opportunity for your company to announce a new product, service, technology, or collaboration with another vendor to the media, investors, and customers. For our National Instruments Alliance Partners, we hope that you take advantage of these opportunities to tell your story in a meaningful way.

Some things to keep in mind

Your news release should announce something fresh and newsworthy and have an eye-catching headline that summarizes the main news and is benefit-oriented. Editors receive hundreds of news releases daily, so you should refrain from creating releases that are merely disguised advertising. It is much more effective if you focus on your company’s new developments and relate those developments to popular industry trends. Not only should you think about your news, but you should consider how it relates to the media you are targeting. Research the publications on your distribution lists to ensure that you are sending the most appropriate news to each outlet.

A Helping Hand

If you are planning to distribute an NI Alliance Partner news release, the NI Corporate Communications Department can help by reviewing your release for technical accuracy and appropriate content as well as providing quotes from NI spokespeople. Please send drafts of your NI Alliance Partner news releases to pr@ni.com.


CSIA Conference – A Great Event to Share Best Practices

April 29, 2009

I’m looking forward to attending the CSIA Conference, April 30 – May 2. It is always a great opportunity to learn more about best practices. I’m particularly looking forward to the “Survival and Growth in These Trying Times” presentation by Don Roberts from Exotek. If you are not familiar with CSIA (Control Systems Integrator’s Association), they are committed to the business development of system integration companies. And Exotek is a management-consulting firm focusing specifically on system integration companies.

A Little Reminiscing

I first heard of CSIA in the mid-1990s when National Instruments was making our first foray into the Industrial Automation industry with our BridgeVIEW (now LabVIEW DSC), Lookout, and our Distributed I/O products. I attend my first CSIA conference in 1996 with the sole purpose of finding potential NI integrators, but discovered a group of system integration managers that were willing to share their ideas about managing system integration companies successfully. Over the years, I’ve been an active participant and promoter of CSIA I’ve supported the development of CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks which provides performance standards in critical business areas. NI was the first company to endorse the CSIA audit, when we included it as part of our Select Partner qualification process.

Alliance Partners Contributions to CSIA

I’m proud to say that our NI Alliance Partners have made significant contributions to CSIA over the years. To date, over 30 NI Alliance Partners have joined CSIA. Over 20 have passed the audit, constituting nearly 1/4th of the 100 Certified CSIA members. And, I’d like to especially recognize Dean Streck from V I Engineering and Jim Campbell from Viewpoint Systems, who have just completed their tenure on the CSIA Executive Council. They have made substantial contributions to the organization including: Dean – leading the Best Practices committee and Jim – for his service at Treasurer and on the Insurance committee. Thanks for your efforts and being good representatives of NI and our Alliance Partners.

Question: Are you going to the CSIA conference? Or if you do, let us know what you thought of it.


Your Business Foundation – Part 5 – Putting Plans into Action

April 27, 2009

With the annual strategic plan completed, you can now bring your new corporate objectives back to the organization. Take the opportunity to call a company meeting. It’s a good chance to show the organization your commitment to the business as well as eliminate thoughts about hidden agendas. You can then chart new directions and announce necessary adjustments.

Tie Corporate Objectives to Management Goalsplans-into-action

You also want to meet with your managers. Even if they participated in the strategic planning, it is a good idea to follow up and ensure that there is as seemless integration from mission/vision to business plan/objectives and down to goals/actions. The goals and actions should be: specific, short-ranged, obtainable, and measurable.

Speaking of measurable, you should agree on how to monitor and review them. Finally, check for understanding and agreement to complete the delegation process. Consider tying them into their compensation (e.g. MBOs).

Use KPIs to Create Corporate Dashboard

Once you have established the metrics by which you will monitor if you are on track to meet your business plan, then you determine which ones are most critical. These are commonly known as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Note there may not be a KPI for every single element of your business – just those critical to your success or perhaps important to a new aspect of your strategic plan. These KPIs become your Corporate Dashboard. Similar to a car, you’re corporate dashboard contains the vital information about where you are going and how your vehicle is performing.

apna-metrics-dashbrd

During my business consultation with APNA, our second Select Alliance Partner in India, they showed me their corporate dashboard – actually a LabVIEW VI with nothing but LEDs that were either green or red for each of their KPIs in each of their business areas. I was particularly curious about the Project indicator. So, I asked Gigi Mathews, their quality officer, who I would also learn was affectionately known as the ‘evil metrics woman’ by her colleagues. She responded, “If 100% of all projects are on time and budget, then it’s green. Otherwise, it is red.” I wondered if it had ever been green. She said, “No.” So, I suggest to her with all due respect that I didn’t know of any system integrators for which the indicator would be green. Nevertheless, I appreciated their efforts to define and track KPIs to build a corporate dashboard for their business.

Question: What are some of the KPIs on your corporate dashboard?


Your Business Foundation – Part 4 – Annual Strategic Planning

April 22, 2009

The business plan becomes the basis for your strategic planning process. On an annual basis, you should:

  1. Review your business plan
    1. Revisit your mission and vision. Are you fulfilling your business purpose?
    2. Review your company performance. Are you meeting your objectives?
  2. Analyze your business. I recommend a SWOT analysis of each of the following areas.
    1. Markets – who are you serving? How well are you serving them?
    2. Assets – what are the most valuable assets? Are they being captured? Grown?
    3. Organization – are you structured to execute the business plans?
  3. Make plans accordingly.
    1. Set (or continue) directions and objectives.
    2. Just as important to determine what you aren’t going to do

 Note that you don’t have to work out every detail and step, just create a clear picture by which management can lead the company.

Get Away from the Office

When conducting your strategic planning, it is worth the formality of an annual meeting. It is your business, so it is important enough to take some time once a year to plan for its future. There is a huge difference between the daily management of your business and strategic planning. By getting away from the office, you can avoid the interruptions and distractions of your daily management responsibilities. It also creates a more open environment to have frank discussions about the business.

Another benefit of an annual meeting is that it provides the opportunity to make adjustments to the company’s plans and operations. It gives you the opportunity to say, ‘we met with the board, and have decided that ….’

Get an Outside Perspective

Speaking of ‘the board’, it also raises the issue of who should be involved in your annual strategic planning process. If the ownership resides completely within the current management of the company, than it is an excellent idea to involve external people. Note that it doesn’t necessarily involve ownership, just an outside perspective — someone who is not involved in the daily company operations to test your ideas. For one thing, it will keep you honest and force you to create and justify your business plans. You’ll have someone to challenge your assumptions and offer fresh perspective.

If you don’t have external ownership with a vested interest, here are some potential advisors:

  1. Vendor or customer – need to be careful about potential conflict of interest
  2. Perhaps, a business person in your community that you respect and admire. Don’t know one. Ask you banker.
  3. SCORE – Service Corps of Retired Executives
  4. Exotek – very knowledgeable about business, but more likely as a facilitator

Next, we’ll talk about putting your strategic plan into action.


Your Business Foundation – Part 3 – Creating a Business Plan

April 20, 2009

Creating a business plan requires an understanding of the owner’s purpose for the business as well as the guiding principles for the business. A business plan typically describes the 2-5 year direction and objectives for the organization. That is, where the organization is going and how it is going to get there.

Basic Elements of a Business Plan

Check out the Small Business Association Planner for some good tools and advice. Typical business plans include:

  1. The purpose of the business – essentially a statement of the owner’s purpose, the company’s mission and vision
  2. Objectives – where will the company be 2-5 years from now (size, profitability, efficiency, ….)
  3. The organization – a description of how the company is organized to meet it’s purpose and objectives
  4. Strategies – Overall strategies for obtaining objectives
  5. Action plans including metrics for implementing strategies

Porter’s Five Forces

porters-five-forcesThere are a number of methods for determining a business plan. One of the common is to review ‘Porter’s Five Forces’. That is to look at the most common factors that affect your business. 

  1. Your buyers – the current and potential customers of your products and services
  2. Your suppliers – the basis for your products and services on. How is that changing and affecting your business?
  3. Your competitors – those competing with you for your business. What are your relative strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Substitutes – really another form of competition. What outside forces can affect your business?
  5. Barriers – kind of the opposite of substitutes. What can is protecting your business? How can you take advantage of that?

Obviously, you could spend a lot of time working on this and I’m not advocate wasting time. Still, if your business is important, then you need some sort of business plan to get you where you want to go. This business plan will fuel you annual strategic planning process – Part 4 of this Business Foundation series.

Question: Did you evaluate Porter’s Five Forces to create your business plan? If not, what other analysis did you find useful?