Friday, June 18, 2010

The office

I remember when I worked for a large company and we were trying to come up with ways to maximize EBITDA -- my idea was to not renew our office lease; $90,000.00 direct to the bottom line by not really doing anything except not coming in to work. The idea, of course, was meet with resistance by a bunch of people, including people working in the office and people at the corporate office. What was interesting, of course, was that everyone already had laptops on their desk, all of the files were stored on servers in the corporate office, everyone had VPN access, and we had installed a very expensive phone system with IP and soft-phones; in short, we were totally set up to not be in the office, except no one wanted to be without the office.

Offices used to be where all the "stuff" was -- the computers, the servers, the phone system, the only way to check e-mail . . . that is no longer the case (do you remember when IT finally "turned on" Outlook Web Access) and it hasn't been for a while. It used to be that the only way the "watercooler conversation" happened was actually at the watercooler in the office, but now, of course, those conversations (and those that would likely never have occurred at the watercooler) take place on Facebook and instant messaging, faster and more dynamically and without having to get up from your chair.

Interestingly I compose this post from the patio of a place down the street that has wifi . . . because the power to our office complex is completely out and the power company is optimistic on the fact that it will be turned back on "at some point today". In the context of this post:
  • Our e-mail and groupware services are through Google Apps -- wifi on the patio is as good as ehternet and wireless in the office.
  • Our users store their files locally because they are constantly backed up and version-controlled when machines are idle for 10 minutes by Mozy Pro -- the file server is not a concern.
  • The telephone/internet provider that we use allows us to software-forward the main office line to a cellular phone or other number if needed -- taken care of via a web portal.
  • Most of our employees use their cell phones as their primary business phones anyway -- no disruption with the phone system being down.
  • Our website is hosted with BlueHost.
  • Our workforce management software is hosted and delivered via thin client.
  • Our payroll system is hosted and delivered via thin client.
  • We use Basecamp for a number of collaboration projects, but could easily scale it to a bunch of others -- Basecamp is hosted an accessible from anywhere.
  • The only thing that we cannot reliably access is our accounting software, which is the only item that we continue to host on our server as opposed to in the cloud -- maybe I need to re-evaluate this.
Seth Godin has a more detailed and general post about offices that's worth reading: link. In his post, Godin describes the linchpin to the death of the office simply being the "place to go" -- this is by far the easiest piece. If you are a client service organization, and your client has a facility, go work there and meet there -- hopefully your client(s) like you and would be happy to see you and your team more often. Panera's had free wifi for as long as I've been going there; some of them even have cool lobby areas outside the store. Starbucks has free wifi starting in July; think of the coffee fees as your utilities (you'll probably get better productivity with everyone all cranked up on caffeine anyway). Invest in 3G/4G wireless cards -- 10 employees x $60 per month = $600 (how much is your rent and phone service monthly now? for that matter, how much is your T1 per month) and pick a cool place or places. Find a few places that are smart enough to offer wifi (see my post about this here) as part of their value proposition -- maybe negotiate a deal to be able to "put it on your tab" because everyone wants to feel like a regular somewhere and be able to say that to impress clients, employees, and prospective clients. Let your employees actually work from home sometimes -- you don't need to see them face-to-face to measure productivity; some of them will take advantage or freak out, but they're not the ones you want long-term anyway.

Is this scary stuff? Maybe. But why are you scared?

Perhaps more importantly: how much higher could your salary be if the company didn't have to pay rent and utilities and monthly charges at the office? How much would you save on your commute? How much more productive could you be if your face-time with your co-workers was finite every week?

Still scared?

PS -- I haven't been successful practicing what I'm preaching here . . . yet.

PPS -- In the picture she's not passed out on the keyboard, she's just hiding from the camera. But when's the last time your office looked like that?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

iPhone 4 purchasing today

A few tips and tricks for ordering your iPhone today based on my experience if you're an existing AT&T customer:
  • If you're an existing AT&T customer, try using ATT's site instead of Apple's.
  • Go to the AT&T store if the online is not working for you. If there is a long line, ask to manually fill out an upgrade form (they have them), let them make a copy of your credit card and driver license, and have them fax you confirmation once they've entered it into the system.
  • Try accessing the AT&T site via your iPhone's Safari browser (don't use the AT&T iPhone app, but actually access it using Safari). I don't know if this is just coincidental, but when it wasn't working on my computer, it worked on my iPhone.
  • Don't call the AT&T store -- they can't and won't take your order over the phone.
  • Don't call the Apple Store -- they can't and won't take your order over the phone.
  • White iPhone 4s are not available for pre-order from any outlet at this point.
  • According to everything on all of the sites and in the store, your order should ship in time to arrive on June 24 -- be sure to use a shipping address where someone can receive the package or be sure to put a signature waiver out for the delivery guy.
Good luck!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Digital kid

My daughter started using an iPod Touch just short of age three -- somewhere a bit past two and a half. We didn't have to restrict the internet because she didn't really know how to spell and didn't care about the browser working -- just being able to type and click icons and have it play songs and videos was enough. Of course, this is unfathomable to people that grew up not watching television until they were ten or in their teens; people that maybe had a single house phone growing up.

At nearly 5 years old she's now on to the most current version of the iPod Touch. Although she hasn't done it herself (though she probably could if I let her play around with it), she's selected the music that's on it (based on recognition of the covers in coverflow, not necessarily the names of the bands/songs) and she's selected the videos that are on it (movies and television shows, including every episode of Phineas and Ferb with the commercials edited out). Through the App Store she has selected several games that she enjoys playing and she's got some amount of understanding about how YouTube works; interestingly the Notepad is one of her favorite applications right now as she loves to practice her spelling.

Even though she hasn't specifically complained about the lack of voice functionality, she refers to the iPod as her "phone" (just like the iPhones that both of us have). One of her favorite things, if she gets her hands on one of our phones (believe me, navigating the password locks for her is not a problem) is to use the camera -- clearly this is going to be an issue if the next generation has a camera and she sees it in the Apple Store. There are some apps that she seems to want, but thankfully, although she's able to get all the way through the purchase process on the App Store, she's yet to learn that password, so we haven't yet seen any massive App Store bills.

There's an interesting dynamic in discipline that goes along with the digital kid: the removal of apps and/or audio/video content can be powerful sticks or carrots. Given the fact that all of the apps and content are backed up in iTunes, digital discipline is easy to execute and even easier to reverse as appropriate.

It's hard to imagine that she'll be telling the "when I was kid when only had iPod Touches with wifi" conversation with her kids, but she probably will. And in that vein, here goes a few of my "when I was your age" for her:
  • One phone in the house -- didn't get my own line until I was 13. Now we don't even have a home phone; when you need to talk to someone you either do it via video iChat or use one of our cellphones. Chances are good that you'll have your own cellular voice device at a pretty young age.
  • Apple II was the computer that I grew up with; I got a Mac when I was 11 or 12 and the processor in that Mac is less powerful that the one in your iPod Touch. You currently have access to more raw computing power in our house than they use in the space shuttle.
  • Until college, the most sophisticated device on my belt was a pager and it didn't have a keyboard. The phone device that you know how to use has the same functionality as my pager and it's considered an extremely minor feature at the bottom of the list behind a million others.
  • Once I got my own phone line at age 13, I got a modem and was able to dial in to the internet at 14.4kbps to a local university that gave out free dial-in accounts; Mosaic and Netscape browser (the visual web) didn't come out until I was 15. You have access to the visual internet, streaming audio, streaming video, and all of it comes to the house where it's available wirelessly at a connection speed of 5mbps to the internet and 100mbps on our internal network.
  • I had thousands of CDs (they look just live DVDs) and eventually got a player that allowed me to load multiple CDs at the same time. The music collection at our house is over 30,000 tracks and you can load a ton of them on your iPod, listen to them in any room of the house, and there's nearly unlimited storage for more.
As Seth Godin said in his recent post: "I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys."

Sooner or later I'll be lame and behind the times and not understand what new technology she's into. For now I'm happy to be able to write about it.

PS -- the first thing she said when she saw my iPad: "Is that for me?"

An opportuntiy for car transporters

It seems like I've noticed a lot more car transporters on the road these days -- you know the ones I'm talking about: double-decker, open sided trailers being towed by a big rig. I've never really understood how it is that these companies can minimize damage to the cars and vehicles that they are carrying when they are exposed to weather and road damage; new cars have some plastic wrappings over what must be the most commonly damaged areas, but I have to imagine there is an expense to dealers for transportation rehab.

Although I don't live in an area that has dock space or boat storage yards, I am well aware of the practice of shrink-wrapping boats for transportation and storage during the winter. Chances are good that you've seen boats in storage this way if you live in a cold weather coastal city or that you've even seen boats at dealerships with full or partial wraps to protect them while on the boat lot (I'm actually not sure if it's called a lot when it's not a car lot, but I'm sure you get the picture).

At this point it's likely you can see where I'm going with this: be the only auto transport company that shrink wraps the vehicles that it transports just like you shrink-wrap a boat. I don't have any idea what the cost of the shrink-wrap materials and time is, but I would be willing to bet that you could charge some sort of premium; perhaps it's low enough that you can charge the same price and make that your differentiating sales tactic. The one time I had a vehicle I already owned transported, it was on the bottom of a double-decker and something from the car above it dripped on it and chewed up the paint; it's possible that the shrink-wrap could have prevented this.

Just an idea -- free of charge from me to you.

I hope somebody implements it.

Car transporter image from sittered; wrapped boat image from Gemma Grace