Alphabet Soup – 2 Servings

August 28, 2009

Serving 1: BI for SME

If you’re interested in Business Intelligence for the Small / Medium-sized Enterprise, please read my article in the September issue of CAmagazine, the official publication of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

If you’re NOT interested, why not click on the link anyway? It won’t hurt (promise), and if the page gets a large enough number of hits, they may even invite me back again.

For the online article please click  here.

Serving 2: FCMA

Beth Crawford is the controller for Toppits Foods Ltd., located in Vaughan, Ontario.  I interviewed her for the above article in which she is referred to as a CMA.

Beth was recently awarded with the Fellow of the Society of Management Accountants of Canada (FCMA) designation.  This is the highest honour granted by CMA Canada and is awarded to CMAs who demonstrate excellence in management accounting, a commitment to the CMA designation and their professional organization, and a civic-mindedness that enriches their community.

Beth is one of the most astute people I’ve worked with, and I’m delighted to congratulate her in attaining this very well-deserved recognition.

Not Enough Time

August 20, 2009

 ….to free up time.

Here’s a common business catch-22: you know you could free up a whole lot of time, if only you could find the time to take action and implement some changes.  But you’re just too busy with day to day responsibilities.

We often see this at small and medium sized enterprises (“SME”), with improvements to business processes and technology to support and automate those processes. Perhaps you’re manually updating a group of Excel spreadsheets on a daily (or weekly) basis. You know that this could probably be automated, which would save you 7 or 8 hours a week, every week. But the time needed to identify and implement the necessary changes to process, and the relevant software, takes time that you currently just don’t have. So the status quo is maintained.

So how do you get out of this trap? The solution will differ from one company and person to another. Here are some ideas, all of which I have either personally used, or personally observed at (successful) customer implementations:

  • Make a written list of how your time is spent on a daily / weekly basis, and identify any areas which could either be suspended for a few weeks without causing too much harm, or delegated to a temporary hire for the duration of a business improvement project. (Interestingly, some activities, when written down, seem less important than when you’re actually doing them.)
  • Identify other individuals, either internal or external, who could spearhead the business improvement project on your behalf.
  • If your business is seasonal, plan in advance to focus on this project during the slower periods – if you’re prepared ahead of time, you’ll use the time more productively.
  • Enlist the help of your employees / peers / supervisor to work out the best time management strategy – they may be more objective than you can be about the relative importance of the things you do.

Whatever time you are able to set aside for a business improvement project will get gobbled up real fast. So to maximize the benefit and give yourself a real chance of success, you should establish the real, measurable improvements that you expect (or hope) to achieve.

Too Many Balls to Juggle

With limited time comes limited reach. The inertia that drags many business process and software implementation projects to a halt is often characterised by an unrealistic number of “requirements” or goals. For example, trying to match possible ERP software vendors with a list of 130 requirements may be quite workable if you are focused on this project full time, over an extended period of at least several months. However, the typical SME will never be in that position, and trying to “cover all the bases” almost always results in a project that never reaches a conclusion. There’s even a name for this condition – “analysis paralysis” – where you free up some time, spend it on detailed minutiae, and end up making no changes at all.

A better approach is to set a limited number of desired results that will provide the highest positive and measurable improvements. It’s better to focus on a project with the 4 or 5 main objectives that will provide the best return (biggest time savings) and just get it done, as opposed to trying for perfection and never getting to implementation.

Free Software improved my Outlook

August 13, 2009

There’s a free software utility that frankly I’d be willing to pay for, based on the value it delivers (at least for me). It’s an add-on to Outlook called Xobni (

Xobni works with Outlook 2003 and 2007. According to the website, “Xobni’s Outlook add-in saves you time finding email, conversations, contact info & attachments.” And guess what? That’s exactly what it does – very well.

I downloaded and installed Xobni about a month ago. It uses up considerable system resources while initially indexing your email store (including your archive), but thereafter it seem to have no discernable impact at all on performance – unlike other email search tools I’ve tried.

Visit the website for a video demo of what Xobni does – there’s too much for me to include here. So I’ll just mention the part I enjoy the most. When I’m looking at an email from, say, David, I see amongst other things:

  • Any information available about David from Skype, Facebook, LinkedIn and other public sites.
  • A list of all email conversations I’ve ever had with David – click to show the emails involved and interact with them.
  •  A (clickable) list of all attachments we’ve exchanged via email.

Just one month in, I know I’d be lost without this add-in. Please feel free to post comments after taking a look for yourself.

Can We Talk?

August 5, 2009

The following could be an e-mail (or Instant Message) exchange between Mary and Fred, collaborating on a project:

10:25 – Mary: We need to finalize the budget for the Widget account
10:37 – Fred: I agree.
10:43 – Mary: Do we have all estimates, including the printing costs?
10:57 – Fred: The printing cost is in.
11:08 – Mary: So do we have everything? Can we complete the budget?
11:17 – Fred: Looks like we have all the external cost estimates in hand.

At 11:29, Fred stands up and walks to Mary’s office (right next door to his). In 3 minutes they complete the conversation (which went nowhere in over an hour) and Mary has what she needs to know.

An exaggeration? Perhaps, but we’ve all seen way too many lengthy email conversations dragged out over days or weeks, when a simple phone call (or a walk down the hall) would have short-circuited the whole thing. We’ve become so conditioned to electronic forms of communication that we forget how effective a simple two way voice conversation can be, particularly in a time-sensitive business situation.

Mark’s 4th rule of business communication: Always consider voice communication first, instead of last.

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