Sport in 2010

December 31, 2009

Sports thoughts in a business and technology blog – what gives?

Well, these days professional sport is business – big business – and the use of technology in most sports is pervasive and in many cases leading edge. And that, my friends, is a classic rationalization.

So with no further ado, here are my sports thoughts and prognostications for the coming year:

NFL:  Expect to see Manning v Favre in the Superbowl, with the Colts edging it.

Winter Olympics: Canada for gold in hockey – men and women, and many speed skating medals with the Canadian women leading the way.

NHL: Being from Toronto, as usual I expect to have no interest in the Stanley Cup.

NBA: As per NHL above.

FIFA 2010 World Cup: I’d like to see the Netherlands win, but expect Spain and Brazil to fight it out in the end. Look for the USA to surprise a few and advance to the quarterfinals.

MLB: I’d like to see the Phillies win Roy Halladay a World Series ring – no sportsman deserves it more.

Golf: The year of Michelle Wie, perhaps? I suspect not, though, there sure is a lot of solid competition on the LPGA circuit since Annika retired. On the men’s front, the less said by me the better.

Tennis: Serena will dominate again – I swear.

OK, so probably I should stick to business and technology in future. I wish all a Happy New Year. Here’s to a peaceful and prosperous 2010.


Handheld Technology ROI

December 16, 2009

Book distributor Foundation Distributing Inc. recently implemented a pack verification system.  It makes use of handheld devices to scan items that have already been picked in a separate process, and verify them against the order being packed.

Foundation’s president, Pat Chown, shared some feedback from his customers with me. Firstly, 100% of customer feedback has been positive since the system was put in place. Packing errors, both actual and perceived, have virtually ceased altogether. The italicized words in the previous sentence provide food for thought, because the one benefit is obvious, but the other less so.

It’s a given that a properly implemented system, which scans items and compares them with the order, should virtually eliminate any errors in the packing process. Yet there’s a less obvious, but no less valuable, benefit. And that’s the elimination of costly extra shipments due to customer error on the receiving end.

Pat shared the story of a customer reporting a short shipment after pack verification had been implemented. The folks at Foundation reviewed the order and determined that they had, in fact, packed what was ordered, and could prove it via the system. The customer consequently determined that the items had been received after all, but had been mishandled at their end.

In the past, Foundation would have simply shipped the apparently short items at their own expense. It makes me wonder how many other distributors out there dispatch unnecessary “make-up” shipments under similar circumstances.

Foundation’s experienced a healthy ROI on this technology implementation. And that’s consistent with the company’s technology investment in the 11 years I’ve been dealing with them. That’s because Pat has a vision of how technology can be implemented as a strategic asset, and he’s always very clear about the objectives of any technology investment.  A small number of measurable objectives is preferable to a large laundry list of non-quantifiable “wishlist” items.


Fewer Reports, More Value

December 2, 2009

Back in the day…

It was a rainy day, several years B.E. (before e-mail), when the CFO proudly unveiled his new month end package of reports. Pointing to a stack of paper about 3 inches high, he enthused about the 20% reduction in the number of reports: “Think about how many trees we’ve saved.”

Once I stopped laughing, I remembered that I was part of a team performing time and motion studies for this organization. Over the next month we followed the distribution and usage of the monthly report package. Fourteen percent of the pages were reviewed briefly by clerical employees. And 6% of the pages were actually used by management. The remaining 80% of the paper stack was filed without ever being looked at. And I know this for a fact – because one month we substituted blank pages for around half the reports, and yes, those blank pages were dutifully filed as well.

We distilled the reporting package down into a handful of detailed reports, and eliminated the remainder in favour of a few exception reports. Other than financial reports for committee meetings, nothing was printed unless it varied from pre-determined norms. So instead of dumping a detailed list of all training course transactions, for example, a report which used to run to over 50 pages each month was summarized onto a single page. This was supplemented by one page for each course that qualified as an exception – typically no more than 3 or 4 per month. The 3 inches of paper had been trimmed to less than a quarter inch – and every single page printed was in fact used. Oh, and the CFO was replaced for medical reasons (paper cuts).

Fast forward to the present…

It is now so easy to create reports on any and every piece of data in an organization. And we don’t have to print the reports any more – we can save them electronically as PDF files, and we can email them. We can have automated reports emailed to us at regular intervals. This seems like a great idea, so we start with one or two time-sensitive reports weekly. When that seems to work well, we expand the process and soon we’re receiving a couple of reports by email every morning. By the time we reach 15 reports flying into the inbox every day, we’re almost back at square one: we get the reports, but there’s too much information and not enough time, so we end up ignoring most (or even all) of them – they essentially become internal spam.

Here’s what you can do: define the (very small number) of key metrics that you absolutely need in order to perform the most important parts of your job.  Now determine which of these are only relevant when they fall outside of normal limits, and turn those into exception reports. For the remainder which require regular review, decide on how frequently you really need them, and obtain those reports at that frequency. Now cancel all other reports, and review this strategy regularly (as these requirements will evolve over time).

Bonus hint: if a report gives you information about which you cannot take any action, it’s probably not a useful report.


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