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The Coming Age of Entrepreneurialism

As this great country continues to work its way out of difficult financial times, many people look to the future and wonder what will be the “next great thing” that will invigorate the business world. My contention is America is at the forefront of a great new wave of entrepreneurism. For far too long the smart people went into banking, financial services, large high tech companies and other large enterprises like General Electric. Times are changing. Smart people are leaving these industries in droves, both voluntarily and involuntarily. You talk to almost anyone in large corporations and they complain about the daily life, lack of decision-making, and general malaise of corporate life. Many stay because they have a job and lack risk tolerance to go on their own.

Again, times are changing. In the past, MBA schools weren’t open and eager to teach entrepreneurialism either because many of it’s students had their tuition paid by large corporations, or because these same corporations support the schools financially, or students saw it as the fastest way to a corporate job. However, many MBA schools have now embraced teaching entrepreneurialism and are seeing students gravitate in mass to these studies. With the pullback in corporate support, students are now driven to make their own decisions and what gives them the most risk/reward potential. As Gen X and Gen Y become more of the leaders in society, their motivations are driven beyond the classic normal factors. Fulfillment of life goes beyond salary, and building something that will have a more meaningful impact, either by employing people or giving back to their community through services, have become priorities.

My contention is that these corporate “nomads” will start to find each other. They are highly educated and understand the operating principles of business. What they need help with is the risk profile of an entrepreneur. Through education, and most of all through trial and error of running a small business, this group will lead the resurgence of the business community. America needs this to happen and the government should offer incentives to promote the growth of entrepreneurialism. Let’s look at the numbers that the Kauffman Foundation released this year after studying the US government’s data set called Business Dynamics Statistics. From 1997 to 2005, existing companies were net job destroyers, losing one million jobs annually, while new businesses in their first year added an average of three million jobs annually. Corporate America is NOT where the jobs are created. Entrepreneurs and Small Business leaders are the job creators in this country. We need to embrace and exploit this fact as the New Entrepreneurialism Age grows over the next decade. Federal and local governments need to embrace this growth and cater to small business, as these are the growth engines of the future. Over the next eight years, America and Corporate America will struggle in a tough environment due to the deleveraging that needs to continue happening, deflation then inflation, and the end of a nasty debt driven recession.

Entrepreneurs will also struggle, but they understand the ups and downs better because they live with these day to day in their business. They also have an optimistic attitude and a drive in their gut to succeed. Entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do and will work day and night to get their job done. They are problem solvers. Corporate America has lost this trait over the last several years as making money became somewhat easy. No more. The other key to the entrepreneurial rise is access to capital. With debt tight but opening in the future, entrepreneurs have sought out capital through equity offerings. Much of the smart money looking to be placed understands this fact. Investors continue funding entrepreneurs even through these tough times. Returns still look attractive in these investments, even on a risk-based standard. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article talking about the growth of “Super Angel” investor groups. I believe the growth in angel investing groups will help drive the smaller entrepreneur at a faster pace than ever before. The next decade will be very tough, but I believe the following decade will be the new “Roaring Twenties”. Now is the time to either be an entrepreneur or invest in one. The new wave is coming and I for one am excited every day to have the opportunity to not only be an entrepreneur, but invest in other entrepreneurs as well. We will as a country, get through our issues and the entrepreneur will be a driving force to bring this country to a new level.

Photo from Guerrilla Futures / Jason Tester on Flickr

Looking at Technology in a New Way

It has been a busy few weeks for Sivad. We are in the middle of new customer implementations with a few more that need to be scheduled. It is a good sign to see companies who realize that even in a down economy spending money on new technology solutions is a good investment.

It’s no different for us at Sivad. We strive to keep our costs down and look to implement the right technology solutions to achieve our goals. One area that we have improved is the digital storage and access of documents. While this might be a basic function, we have found a unique way to access any document that will give us the needed knowledge to make fast, intelligent decisions.

While having archival of old documents is important, at Sivad our biggest concern is more our day-to-day business and market intelligence. We want to know what is going on with our market, our customers, our prospects, our competitors, and technology in general. In the past if we found an interesting article on the internet it would get printed out, stuck in a folder with good intentions of reading it, but in reality it was likely never to be seen again. That has all changed now. We took a product from one of our vendors, aXs Info, and used it in a way that best benefited us. Along with a scanning interface, we have the ability on the fly to print or drag documents directly into their system. This can be web pages or internet articles, emails, Microsoft Office documents, videos or just about any other document. There is a very easy indexing process and all the documents are run through a process that saves all the text in order to search on it later (I call this our internal Google search). This process of quickly saving documents is great, but best part is being able to find what we’re looking for, with a few keystrokes.

We don’t use their supplied searching interface, instead we use an option they offer called “the integrator”. This makes any application that we’re using, the searching interface. For example, I could be reading an email and see something that I need to react to, but before I do I want to know if I have any more information on the subject. To find out, I will highlight a word in the email and select a pre-determined “hotkey”. The aXs Info system will search all saved documents and any that matches that highlighted word will appear in a search results box. I select the document I am interested in seeing and it opens right there without leaving my email. I can perform this same search in web pages, in Word documents, accounting applications and just about any other application you can think of.

This has been a somewhat non-traditional way to use this application, but we have realized for our needs this way offers the most benefits. That’s a good point to keep in mind when using a new technology, it might be marketed for one use, but once it is understood it can be used for something else. I have seen many an executive who has the vision to reconfigure it, to ensure the most value for their company. I would encourage you to try to do the same with your present installed technology solutions.

Exploring the Sivad Framework

One of the most common questions we get is, “So what exactly does Sivad do?” We will explain the services we offer and for those who’ve seen or used services similar to ours, they get it. For others though, it’s not so clear. It was on one of these occasions that I decided to explain it visually and the light bulb went on in the person asking. Since that time we always use what I call the “Sivad Business Solutions Framework” to describe what we do, and how it can make a company more productive and profitable. Recently I had someone film this visual model in a meeting so that it could be used to answer this question in the future. I’ve just added it to my latest blog post and we’ll soon be adding it to our website. I’d love it if you’d take a few minutes to watch it and let me know what you think.

6 Tips for Creating Document Management Efficiencies

I could have called this blog post 6 tips to go paperless, but I would have lost all touch with reality. Ever since “going paperless” has become a popular catch phrase, the amount of paper companies’ deal with has actually increased, not decreased. It will be a long time before the human race looses that comfort feeling of holding a piece of paper in their hand. So, while going completely “paperless” might not be a realistic goal, having better control over all of the documents and information within your business is. The reasons are obvious – less storage needed for paper, disaster recovery for all of your company’s knowledge and most importantly, you’ll have significantly faster access to the information needed for your business to run and prosper. The question is where do you start?

1. Get full commitment from all your employees
A critical first step in this process is to get full commitment from your employees. Understand that you are getting ready to change your business paradigm. Old habits die slowly and everyone hates change. Without full commitment, your employees will tend to go back to the way things have always been done and your plan will go nowhere.

2. Evaluate, plan, execute
After you have received commitment, sit down and look at your current business processes. Where are the document bottlenecks? What are the most common areas where documents are needed to be accessed quickly? How do documents currently get filed? Do all employees file and retrieve documents in the same way? If not, they should. Once you have found the areas that need improving, develop a plan on how documents are going to be captured digitally and which ones you want captured. This includes who will be processing the paper to a digital format and how and where they will be stored. The only way a document management project will be successful is if all your employees know where and how to retrieve documents.

3. Start Small
Too many times I have seen companies start a document management project by converting every piece of paper to digital images all at once. This leads to mass confusion and loss of employee commitment. Remember, you are changing business processes here. The old way of doing things has taken a long time to learn, so do yourself a favor and start small. One department, one type of document, one vendor, one customer, or however you decide to start, make it small to see the quickest benefits.

4. Hardware and software tools
The operative word here is “tool”. Some customers believe that by purchasing and installing software, all of their problems will be solved. After one installation, I had a business owner ask me, “When does the software start scanning and filing all the paper?” Software is a must-have tool for a document management project, but you still need to involve people and processes to make it work. Here is a checklist of questions to ponder when selecting the right tools (in another blog post I will try to dive into these questions in greater detail).

1. Do you need software? With a scanner from Best Buy and Adobe you have a document management solution. You can create PDF’s and save them to your computer or your network. For an individual or very small office this might work, but believe me when I tell you this solution will out grow itself very quickly.

2. So you have decided you want a true document management software solution. Which one do you pick? If you Google the term “document management software” you will receive 16,200,000 results to choose from, good luck! I have sold a number of different packages over the years, some good and some just over priced. These days software vendors have targeted small and medium business with very affordable, robust solutions. While I am not advocating any specific packages, here are you some features that you should consider.

a. Easy to learn and easy to use – Do not buy any software package that takes 6 months just to figure out how to scan a document. You want to be up and going in the first 2 weeks. Remember we are changing paradigms here and we know your employees do not like change. If the solution is not easy to learn and use, they will sabotage it and any plans you might have for greater productivity.

b. Flexibility – Even though you are buying an off-the-shelf software package, you want it to be flexible enough to adopt your current naming schema in the manual world. The idea is not to change your processes to fit the software package, but have the software package automate your current manual processes.

c. Scalability – Look for a solution that can support from 1 to 1000’s of users without having to totally strip out the software and replace it with a new package.

d. Installed vs. hosted – The traditional way to deliver a document management software solution is to have it installed on your desktops and server. In the past several years a hosted version of this has become very popular. The software vendor hosts the solution on their servers and you access it via the internet when needed. For a small business with no IT staff this is a great alternative to explore. You get all the benefits of the system without the headaches of technically having to support it. One question I would ask the vendor is, if there is an option to move your hosted installation to your company’s servers down the road as your company grows. Eventually as your company grows you will want total control over the system to manage users better, control security and add features as needed.

e. Open architecture – This is not as big of a deal as it used to be, but do not purchase a solution that is proprietary and will only work with a small number of scanners, 3rd party software packages, image formats, etc. There are too many good open packages to choose from.

f. Feature rich – You might not need them now, but as you see your processes become streamlined, you will want to take advantage of optional features to help your solution grow. A few features to look for are automated capture and indexing, integration to other applications, Workflow, Electronic forms, and more. I will drill down in this more in an upcoming blog post.

g. Secure – This goes without saying, but make sure there is security built in to every part of the solution.

h. Well supported – First and foremost, a human being to answer questions no matter if they are technical or feature questions. Just as important, ask how often they release new revisions and if they use the latest development technologies. I have seen one too many software companies who produces a product and for the next 10 years does nothing to change it. They collect their profits each year in annual maintenance charges from customers for basically an obsolete product.

i. Find help – Finally, find help in choosing a product. There are value added resellers in every major market. They understand the products, different implementation options, and are able to look at your current technology infrastructure to advise you of the best path to go down.

3. What about the hardware? If you are going to install the system within your company and you want to have multiple employees access it, you will need a server. What server will depend on what software you purchase and this should be discussed before purchasing the software.

Scanners – If you are serious about a document management project do not purchase one of those $300 all-in-one printer, scanner, and copiers. It will not work! There are three paths you can go down and you might decide on one or all three.

1. Desktop scanners – If you go into just about any doctor’s office anymore they will take your insurance card and drop into a scanner on their desk. These are very convenient for ad-hoc scanning, but are not a good option if you are trying to scan a room full of documents.

2. Departmental / production scanners – If you are scanning over a thousand pages a day you’ll want to make the investment in a good scanner. They are faster and have a higher duty cycle (how many pages they can handle a day). For both the desktop and departmental / production scanners you cannot go wrong looking at the products from Kodak, Fujitsu, or Canon.

3. Multi Functional Peripherals (MFP) – This is your big printer/copier that is somewhere in many offices. Most of all of them offer options for scanning, but for large jobs you do not want to tie up this machine and not have other users able to print to it or copy because someone is scanning a thousand sheets of paper.

5. What to do with all that paper
Building that huge collection of paper in filing cabinets didn’t happen overnight, so converting all of that paper to digital images will also not happen overnight. Most customers are surprised how long and how labor intensive it is to get all of their old documents (commonly called backfile) scanned and stored on the computer network. Tackling these documents can become a big decision. Some customers decide to only scan new documents coming in (day forward scanning) while others scan in backfile documents only when they need to go pull them. Other customers work a plan where they will scan a year’s worth of backfile documents every 6 months, still other customers decide to use an outsourced service to do all their scanning. Whatever you decide, make sure it fits within your current business processes.

6. Patience
Probably one of the most difficult of these 6 tips is to have patience. To really get the processes created and worked out, it will take at least 6 months to 1 year, but if you stick with it, the pay off is well worth the time spent.

Photo from Jeffrey Beall on Flickr

Innovation, Leadership, and Thriving in Today’s Business World

“Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service”

The statement above was written back in 1985 by Peter Drucker in his book “Innovation and Entrepreneurship”. Today, this statement has more meaning than ever before. Drucker understood that the means to growing a business comes from productivity and innovation. We have become much more productive in our work life primarily due to our competing environments and the great technology revolution. Small business entrepreneurs understand this best and have become the growth cycle of the workforce. Today, small business employs half of the 144 million private sector workers and creates 60 to 80 percent of new private sector jobs. Here is where the US economic future lies. However, do small businesses really understand and optimally use technology and have true innovation?

Most believe technology is hardware or software. These are tools for technology. The real answer is innovation lies in the process. Small businesses now have the ability to use technology tools that just a few years ago were the exclusive property of large enterprises. Defining and improving the process with technological tools allows the costs of starting and operating a small business to decrease, while the opportunity for innovations increases. The power and ability to succeed has never been better for the small business community. As very successful and intelligent people leave corporate America, we are at the start of a great age of innovation for small business entrepreneurs.

For small business leaders to improve the process of doing business with technology, leadership is critical. Change is the scariest factor for many small business leaders. We all have lived through tough changes from new IT systems, to changing service providers. However, successful small business leaders understand the importance of efficient operations with updated technology systems. Highly innovative companies and leaders understand risk taking and the willingness to experiment and understand new ideas and processes. Many small business leaders encourage and reward innovative behavior because these behaviors have a direct contribution to the bottom line. Leadership is not always easy or glamorous. True leaders understand processes that lead to future profits or savings, need to be identified and then have the courage to act. They also know, by keeping an eye on these changes and embracing better process control, innovation as well as profits will grow beyond their competitors.

Innovation can occur in all aspects of business. Successful small businesses innovate in how they interact with customers, produce products, manage employees and deal with day-to-day issues. By looking at processes in one or many of these areas, small businesses can improve their bottom line by becoming more efficient, therefore saving time and money. In the end, small businesses can increase profitability while also increasing customer value, unique to many companies in today’s world.

We at Sivad believe in improving small business processes through the use of technology. Not only do we believe in this ideal, but it is our passion. We pride ourselves on looking at your processes and helping you build a more efficiently run business that has the ability to innovate quicker. Ultimately, your small business can become more profitable and a stronger competitor in more challenging world.

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Getting Plan Buy-in
For many, getting buy in from executive management to fund a project is difficult, terrifying, discouraging, etc. In today’s economy, and regardless of your job position, most people approach asking for money with the attitude of “I am not going to get it” from the start. I have spoken to many people about implementing a […]  (read more)

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