Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Unions to face up to challenge of change

Two current developments in the UK are beginning to highlight growing challenges unions must face in the years ahead.

Moving Ever Upwards ?
Aside from two obvious challenges the Postal Workers Union have to face, namely deregulation and the introduction of internet based communication, what about the need to embrace the tough mindset that many of us have faced ? That of taking a step backwards before we can again move forwards ?

Too many of us have believed that we can only move upwards in life, that any kind of backward step is admitting failure, or giving up. But sometimes it is necessary to admit that things haven't worked, or that the goalposts have moved substantially.

Too often, we hear unions refusing to accept their employees receive any less than they get now. Perhaps this is just a negotiating tactic, but what are the effects ?

Introducing Competition
When competition is introduced, communications workers begin to have a choice, and we can see the introduction not only from the likes of UBS & TNT, but the legions of white van driver companies now springing up to deliver physical goods purchased over the internet.

Choice of employer means operators can begin to negotiate their own salaries, and appreciate their true value.

Artificial Constraints ?
Where unions then artificially apply an across the board salary structure and rigidly stick to pay grades, this distorts an operators ability to perform effectively in the market, and provides the competition with cost and reliability advantages. It is folly to suggest, for example, that unions can control wages across national borders, as might soon be discussed with outsourced teaching resources from India. Regional costing has to be a key factor, and has to be market driven, even inside the UK.

The Introduction of New Choices
For the Royal Mail postal workers, strike action taken allows customers time and the motivation to consider other options. This could be UBS or TNT for parcel delivery and email for posting any literature.

The point here is that the goal posts have now moved substantially. As we all know, those who try to resist change are often left behind, and do worse than those who try to adapt to change and move with it.

Facing Behavioural Challenges
For unions then, it appears the 3 key challenges they face are actually internal: adapting to face up to changed market circumstances; understanding the need to cost regionally and flexibly; and taking on board that sometimes we all have to move back a step before we can move forward again.

With BT having gone through similar painful change, can the unions step up to the mark today and help their Postal Worker members meet this challenge more successfully. And how will the teacher's union adapt to potential changes in their market ? We watch and wait ......

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Beating Jargon Supports Business & Service Growth

Too many people have a tendency to hide behind business and services jargon.

The rationale is that it is a shortcut, a quick way to convey meaning, and that it speeds up conversation.

But is that true for new recruits ? Potential older employees who may not be part of the current zeitgeist after having brought up children ? Customers & suppliers ?

Does it really help speed up conversations that much if people don't actually understand, and either have to assume (spelt "ass" "u" & "me") meanings or leave the concept unquestioned, too scared to appear "stupid" ?

So how can businesses and services help customers, suppliers and employees understand their jargon, so that everyone is on the same footing, and conversation can genuinely be speed up.

Our resident business consultant, Peter Jones from Blue Oyster Innovation, Harrow says that it is now straightforward to build externally accessible reference points which customers, suppliers and new recruits can visit to learn about a business and how to connect successfully with it.

Rather than erecting a barrier to working relationships, this helps to build relationship bridges, and cement better working dialogue between all concerned. I turn this creates tremendous opportunity for the building and exchange of knowledge, both directly about a business or service and also in terms of complemetary businesses and services.

Isn't it about time the jargon barriers started coming down, and communication bridges started being built ?

Friday, 31 August 2007

Technology Changes Use of Office Space

Now that so much technology is available to SME businesses, the need for office space has been drastically reduced.

The effect of this can be seen in lower prices being advertised for office unit leases, and office units unused and vacant. But what are the causes ?

The UK is still engaged in a drift towards a more service based economy. Services don't need product storage space, whether in-house or through outsourced warehousing services, and therefore no need to have physical space to either display or store products.

Also with the move towards out-sourced business units, core work-force sizes are shrinking, and business networks are growing. Why invest in a permanent skill set when the same skills can be found and brought in for specific tasks as and when needed, and not retained on a year-round basis. Services can now be found in abundance to help with marketing, sales, warehousing and distribution, accounts and customer service.

So the move away from physical products and the fragmenting of business operations all mean less core office space is needed. What will business centre managers do about using spare capacity ?

Our resident business consultant, Peter Jones of Blue Oyster Innovation, tells us that office suites are now getting better at recognising the need for office space purely for display and presentation purposes. He is aware of the growth of specialist service providers who can organise room space on a daily basis to take advantage of capacity outages in office suites.

Whilst bigger business centre owners already have their own software to target maximum usage from the available office space, smaller business centre owners had better wake up to the opportunity to increase their revenues and take full cashflow advantage of their capital assets.

Business Information Can Make You Money

SMEs often have a significant amount of customer and supplier information, but find it difficult to put it to use, to add value to their business.

There are some strategic actions they can take, looking in turn at top 10 cost and revenue figures.

Take marketing spend for example. Does the business know who their best customers are, and who are growing in spending profile ? Which advertising channel has the highest returns, in terms of customers who stay long term, and build a spending profile.

Like as not this information is all available, in accounts and in mailing lists, but how to analyse it all and give a precise and complete picture of which customers matter most to a company ?

Is it possible to ask customers what their preferences are through a succinct, easy to manage questionnaire ? Can this information be put to use to determine company strategy and direction regarding products, services and target customers ?

How effective is the corporate website ? Does it get a clear and unique message across to would-be clients about the company, what it does and why that benefits clients ?

On the cost side, can mailing and printing costs be reduced ? Are there other ways to reach customers such as ezines which would actually be better at keeping them in touch ?

Looking at a small workforce, where is their time spent, and where might it be spent to add more value to business turnover ?

Our resident business consultant, Peter Jones, of Blue Oyster Innovation, says that most business owners would benefit from a short introductory chat lasting no more than one hour, reviewing their business from the perspective of the top 10 costs and revenues. Any business consultant can use this to assess where savings and additional revenue can be made, and whether working with them will actually benefit the business over the course of a financial year.

The technology to analyse business information is already available, and can be applied readily to standard format business information. Business managers need to grasp the nettle, take time off from the daily battle ground, and find out whether a small short term investment would pay dividends in the longer term.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Google Missing An Advertising Opportunity

Google are currently exploring myriad ways of presenting topics of interest to web browsers and earning advertising revenue from browser click through.

One such way is Google Desktop, whereby news and web page items are shown on a regular basis, and browsers are tempted to click through, in the process building up a usage profile.

However, some of the Google Desktop scripts are now being picked up as "malicious" by current Norton Anti-Virus software. This results in the Google Desktop shutting down.

The conventional way to solve this is by customers complaining to Norton, and waiting for a body of opinion to build up before Norton take action. This would be very slow.

From the Google perspective, missing revenue streams while the situation persists, a quicker solution would come by collaborating with Norton at a suitable level, finding out what Norton are trying to detect and how, and developing Google Desktop scripts in a way which integrates with Norton AV development practices.

The question now is, how to bring this to Google's attention. We can all play a part, providing we know someone who knows someone, who then knows someone inside Google.

Pass it on !