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The Keys to Driving Successful Digital Transformation

The terms “Digital Workplace” and “Digital Transformation” swirl so prominently in the corporate air these days that it is hard to go a day without hearing them, if not inhaling them. In a recent study conducted by IDG Research for Unisys, nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents stated that it is “highly important” for their organizations to implement digital business over the next 12 months by substantially modifying their technology as well as their IT processes and resources. The survey identified five key priority areas: mobile application development, cloud deployment, social media, data science, and security.

Digital business transformation requires an experimental mindset that is inclusive of the entire business—marketing, sales, services, IT, R&D, and customer and partner communities. Unfortunately, many companies still cling to a vertically oriented, bureaucratic, hierarchical system of operations and governance, essentially the calcified spine of an operational model that once propelled progress but now erects roadblocks to change. Large companies therefore lack the single most important attribute required for successful digital transformation: adaptability. I believe that a lateral, rather than vertical, orientation must form the basis of a new business model that ignites creativity instead of inhibiting it. I will explore aspects of this model in detail below. First, however, let’s examine the central elements of successful digital transformation.

Keys to Digital Transformation:

1. Make Customer Experience (CX) the top driver of digital transformation. Digital Transformation analyst Brian Solis notes that, “Companies that don’t grasp or internalize the customer journey are obstructed from seeing its potential for optimization and innovation.” In far too many cases, IT and marketing departments still influence technology investments without fully understanding customer behaviors and expectations. Customer experience should be a top driver of digital transformation, and organizations should map their processes to the customer journey, rather than, in essence, asking customers to alter their behaviors to fit an existing corporate process.

a. Understand that evolving customer behaviors and preferences are the primary catalyst for change. Customer expectations and behaviors are dynamic. Effective digital transformation is impossible without an understanding of the changing preferences of existing customers and the new ways of thinking that potential customers bring to the table. Businesses must therefore invest in smart applications combined with artificial intelligence, including deep learning, machine learning, and proactive and prescriptive analytics. It is also advisable to include marketing automation technologies that integrate with both services and sales lines-of-business for improved understanding of customer behaviors.

b. Map out the journey of new, connected customers. Twenty-first century connected customers differ in fundamental ways from customers of the past. It is critical to gather information on their unique attitudes, behaviors, and experiences. IDG Research found that 71% of executives describe the number one challenge their organizations face as understanding the behavior and impact of new customers. Yet only half (54%) of survey respondents have completely mapped out the customer journey. Without such a map, it is impossible to implement truly customer-centric changes that improve the overall customer experience.

c. Familiarize yourself with mobile data and the challenges it embodies. Become more familiar with the challenges inherent in mobile data, and deploy this intelligence to drive digital transformation.

d. Respect and improve the mobile customer journey. “Mobile is just the beginning of disruption in the customer journey,” Solis notes. “With the runway for disruptive technologies still ahead (e.g., wearables, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality), companies will need a resilient infrastructure that adapts to not only mobile’s ‘micro-moments,’ but also the impact of all these trends and new devices over time.” Any effective digital transformation strategy has mobile technology as a centerpiece.

2. Focus on the top three digital transformation initiatives:

  • Accelerating innovation
  • Modernizing IT infrastructure with increased agility, flexibility, management, and security
  • Improving operational agility to more rapidly adapt to change

3. Recognize that CMOs and CEOs continue to lead digital transformation. As digitally savvy leaders, CMOs and CEOs must accept personal responsibility for the progress of digital transformation, and must rise to the challenge of leading their companies into the 21st century.

4. Create formalized, cross-functional digital department workgroups. Of the 81% of companies with digital departments, only 40% have a formalized cross-functional workgroup. This deficiency directly impedes the development of a laterally oriented structure that fosters innovation. Create a strong group of four to five full-time employees that focus on digital transformation.

5. Embrace digital transformation efforts and eliminate “fear of disruption.” According to Solis, “Another top challenge facing digital transformation is the very thing that governs the course of business: a culture that is pervasively risk-averse (63%). Boards, shareholders, and stakeholders want to make improvements and increase profitability but are often unwilling to examine and change the governance in place today.” Understand that disruption helps create new customers, products and markets. Embracing disruption spurs future growth.

6. Create short-term plans for digital transformation: The digital world changes frequently. Create short-term plans for growth that leave room for updates and the inclusion of new technologies.

7. Create a multi-disciplinary digital transformation approach. Accelerate innovation by launching a formal “innovation center” to promote the testing and understanding of new technologies and the development of new solutions and services.

8. Combat internal barriers to progress and expand innovation by partnering with startups, investors, entrepreneurs, and universities. These partnerships accelerate the adoption of new technologies, shortening the timeline for digital transformation.

9. Exploit the combination of an innovation center, partnerships with startup ecosystems, and a focus on concept development and product innovation to boost digital transformation ROI. Create a plan that combines multiple areas and harnesses the strengths of each one. Improved cross-sector understanding will facilitate ongoing collaboration and ensure that every sector continuously tracks toward enterprise-wide digital transformation goals.

Implementation and the New Business Model

A recent Huffington Post article serves as a good reference on the six stages of digital transformation identified by Solis, and on how mature companies implement emerging technologies. Yet no matter the level of a company’s commitment to proceeding through those six stages by adopting the principles detailed above, adherence to a 20th-century business model will bring the most well-intentioned efforts at digital transformation to a grinding halt. A new, laterally oriented business model must underpin any digital transformation initiative if the potential ROI is to become a reality.

Social applications of digital technology offer a world of new possibilities for organizing and orchestrating work inside an enterprise. Whereas hierarchical communication structures tend to breed the very sort of toxic, manipulative corporate culture that has driven so many talented people away from large firms, cross-departmental social engagement fosters a spirit of collegial collaboration, boosting morale and productivity at once. Such a model promises to reshape the way executives and employees alike think about internal support functions, by focusing those functions on creating, maintaining, and improving the individual micro-services that form the heart of the organization’s operating platform.

From a management perspective, embedding rules, processes, and workflows in the platform itself is both simpler and more reliable than using manual control methods to enforce them. From a technology perspective, the organization can create an integrated, internal user experience layer that brings together what is usually at present just a collection of point solutions and off-the-shelf software. From the perspective of employees, this shift toward lateral integration cuts the puppet strings that control them from above, instead weaving processes and workflows into a supportive platform that becomes a stage on which to shine. Stage directions still provide guidance, but employees become actors with greater freedom to perform.

Benefits (ROI) and Challenges of Digital Transformation

Research has demonstrated that effective digital transformation realizes the types of ROI any C-suite or board appreciates…

  • Increased market share (41%) and increased customer revenue (30%).
  • Improved employee morale: 37% of respondents stated that second to increased market share, employee engagement was the next big return.

…but it will not happen overnight.

“Digital Darwinism favors those companies that invest in change,” Solis observes. However, he adds that, “Digital transformation isn’t easy though. Its true evolution takes time and resources, with benefits delivered in the long-term. This, to some, can represent deliberate moves away from delivering against quarterly returns. That’s the paradox of investing in digital transformation; it gives returns to those who treat it as a long-term investment versus those who expect immediate impact,” said Solis.

Measuring Outcomes

“Digital strategists must still rethink metrics to chart future development in new channels, experiences, content, and devices,” Solis explains. “Existing KPIs help validate early work in digital transformation. But often, measurement efforts are focused on measuring isolated efforts within each department/function. For example, only 22% of those surveyed cited having a content strategy in place that addresses customer needs at all journey stages, but content analytics are in the top five most important metrics measured. There is disconnect between strategy and measurement in digital transformation efforts.”

Therefore, once the new business model is implemented, exploiting the emergent cross-sector connectivity to develop metrics measuring all stages of the customer journey is crucial.

Measuring internal progress toward transformational goals is equally important, and equally difficult. An Enterprise Social Network (ESN), internal collaboration system, or social intranet is a powerful tool to address this challenge. The network can serve as a human sensor array to help guide improvements to the organization and its functions over time. Input must be sought from people at all organizational levels to identify the key capabilities the organization should possess in order to fulfill its strategic goals and respond to emerging threats and opportunities in its markets.

At the leadership level, these capabilities are typically broad and strategic; at the departmental level, they are often quite tactical; and, at the level of individual teams, they might consist mostly of simple tweaks or solutions to bureaucratic pain points. The ESN facilitates gathering these capability targets as agile user stories. Progress can subsequently be measured using a combination of available data (e.g. Social Network Analysis) and by querying the human sensor network, which will also contribute strategies to realize particular target capabilities.

This simple framework provides a way to bring together all transformation actions within the organization, both those planned and those already underway, and to view them through a common lens of capability development.

Product Management Is Really Innovation Management

What is innovation? Innovation is not new.

Humans are creative by nature. Innovation is written into our DNA. We have our wits, not our strength or speed, to thank for the fact that we didn’t end up as just so much smooth-skinned lion food thousands of years ago.

When faced with challenges, we conceive innovative solutions that change the way we live our lives.

Driven by humanity’s intense need communicate, our ancestors innovated from pictures painted on cave walls to spoken language, then to written language, then from handwritten books to the printing press and newspapers, and on to radio and TV. The spiral of innovation has continued into the Internet age with the creation of electronic books, social media, and search engines that deliver information from all over the world at light speed.

Each step represented a significant improvement upon the previous solution.

Given that humans instinctively innovate, we have to ask the question, “Why do so many companies fail to do so?”

Innovation defined.

This definition is critical because the term is so often misused. Many organizational leaders use the word “innovation” simply to refer to anything new or different.

What is missing from this conception is that innovation is not simply change; it is change that creates value.

Daniel Scocco of the Innovation Zen blog writes, “The first confusion to dismiss is the difference between invention and innovation. The former refers to new concepts or products that derive from individual’s ideas or from scientific research. Innovation, on the other hand, represents the commercialization of the invention itself.”

From a business perspective, effective innovation changes the market by making possible the delivery of increased value to the customer, creating a competitive advantage for the organization.

Jim Andrew, author of Payback: Reaping the Rewards of Innovation, puts it more bluntly: Innovation is about making money.

Innovation occurs when:

  • A currently unsolved problem is solved, fundamentally changing the way that things are done
  • A new solution to a problem emerges that is significantly better than any previous solution, where “better” can be defined as faster, cheaper, easier to use, more reliable, etc.

Importantly, incremental improvements or feature enhancements devised to counter a capability from a competitor or to address a problem impacting product performance do NOT constitute meaningful innovation. This process does not result in significant leaps in product value.  

Products logically step through a gestational period within the organization, followed by an introduction period in the marketplace. The natural arc of a product’s lifecycle is from growth to maturity to eventually decline.

Companies that innovate extend the lifecycle of a product, essentially creating loops back to earlier points in the arc. A genuinely better version of the product can mean a return from maturity back to a growth stage or from decline back to maturity. The introduction of broadband connectivity, for example, dramatically extended the lifecycle of Internet access delivery, forestalling the maturity of the product by over a decade.

Companies that fail to keep pace with innovation see their products and even their reason for being dissolve into irrelevance. A company selling only dial-up Internet access simply would not be in business today.

IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano comments on the need for innovation: “The way you will thrive in this environment is by innovating—innovating in technologies, innovating in strategies, innovating in organization model.”

Lafley and Charan, authors of The Game Changer, argue that innovation puts companies on the offensive. Through innovation, companies create a step change in value for the market, thereby surpassing competitive threats.

For innovation to yield rewards, innovation programs cannot simply be laboratories for testing and launching new ideas in the hope that one of them takes flight in the marketplace. Such an approach is a costly exercise, akin to a gambler paying the ante for one poker hand after another, waiting endlessly for the day when he is dealt a royal flush.

There must be a method for identifying lucrative opportunities and a process for execution. The goals of innovation and product management are inherently aligned. Product managers launch and support products in a dynamic, competitive marketplace. For a product to be successful, it must deliver value to its users, value that no competing alternative can match.

A product delivers value to users when it:

  1. addresses a need, solves a problem, or meets an end goal; AND
  2. is delivered at a price point that convinces buyers they have received a fair exchange for their money.   

For a product to remain successful, it must continuously deliver unique value. Achieving this goal is not easy, as competitors constantly enter the market, giving buyers more choices at more prices. Profits therefore tend to be driven downwards over time. Product managers must always be searching for a competitive edge that they can exploit to combat this effect.

Strategic Product Management should therefore be defined as the delivery and maintenance of products that, within their target market:

  • Deliver more value than the competition (user focus)
  • Create a sustainable competitive difference (buyer focus)
  • Generate ongoing benefit to the organization (organization focus)

Scott Berkum, author of The Myths of Innovation, deciphers why most companies are not innovating, noting that:

  • Teams don’t trust one another and hence collaboration is nonexistent
  • Managers are risk averse
  • Innovation is hard work and takes time

According to Berkum, “The main barriers to innovation are simple cultural things we overlook because we like to believe we’re so advanced. But mostly, we’re not.”

Robert Tercek, an innovation consultant, has also pinpointed key reasons for failure. He states that, “The physical environment needs to be conducive to innovating. An office space similar to a rabbit warren will not inspire innovation teams to think creatively.”

Tercek observes that a second reason why innovation fails is that the innovation team often lacks the authority to bring ideas to completion.

Thirdly, innovation fails because those innovating may lack the necessary skills to “sell” new concepts.

Poor product management is a barrier to successful innovation.

From a product management perspective, organizations may struggle to innovate because their product management teams focus on day-to-day minutia, failing to prioritize activities that deliver new solutions to the market.

The entire structure of product management in these organizations runs contrary to the goal of innovation. Product managers cannot perform strategic tasks if they are constantly loaded down with operational and maintenance activities. They cannot discover and understand emerging customer needs and problems. They do not have the opportunity to engage in conversations, ask questions, or even simply observe their customers.

This scenario is a consistent product management problem across many industries. Far too many organizations see product management as a support function to sales, marketing, and engineering. But product management should lead an organization rather than serving it.

Effective product management leads innovation.

Ideas can emerge from anywhere within an organization. Quantitative market research, contextual enquiry, qualitative market observations, and customer visits or complaints can all spawn new ways of thinking.

Importantly, these ideas must be collated and channeled through a review process to determine which have merit. A persistent point of failure in innovation is the inability to sift through a large pool of ideas and identify the ones that are worthy of development.

In our opinion, all ideas should be fed into a product management framework to assess and distill them, leading to eventual action on only the strongest ideas, turning them into profitable products.

A recent Nielsen study (June 2010) of the FMCG industry showed that successful innovators have precise new product development processes:

FMCG companies with rigid stage gates—decision points in the process where a new product idea must pass certain criteria to proceed forward—average 130 percent more new product revenue than companies with loose processes.

Idea Phase

During the ideation phase, product managers should use the market potential formula to:

  • Filter ideas to find those worth pursuing
  • Understand the financial rewards to be gained

To calculate the market potential for a product or service, determine the size of the market problem, the value of the problem to consumers, and the price or the duration over which consumers are willing to pay for the problem to be solved.

Product Strategy Phase

Once a promising idea has been identified, the next stage of the product delivery process involves elaborating on the idea, determining if the business has the capability to develop the idea, and refining projections of the financial return.

During the product strategy phase, the product manager should prepare:

  • A more detailed proposal of the idea
  • A business case to determine the idea’s capability to obtain some or all of the market potential, the costs of delivery, and the likely return on investment

No matter how creative an idea might be, if it will not deliver a return to the business, it is NOT an innovation and should be abandoned during this phase.

It is important to note that during the product strategy phase, the business case is conjectural, since the product idea is still in its infancy.

Product Planning Phase

During the product planning stage, the project management team further defines and assesses the target market’s need for the proposed idea. Seeing the idea through the eyes of a potential customer drives further crafting of the concept.

The product planning stage defines user requirements and sets the boundaries of the new product or service. A market requirements document is the resultant activity of this phase.

Product Definition Phase

During the product definition phase, product managers initiate one of the following activities in order to create a product requirements document that defines the features and functions of the product in detail:

  1. Develop an interactive, high fidelity prototype to test the product idea and to help finalize the requirements before development.
  2. Engage with a technical team to rapidly prototype the product idea and, consequently, discover and describe the rules governing creation of the product.
  3. Create low fidelity, paper mockups of the product to test the idea without exhausting technical resources, basing the product requirements document on the outcomes achieved with the mockups.

 

Activities within the product definition stage are NOT onerous. Without clear documentation of product requirements, an informed final go/no-go decision is impossible.

Final Words

At their cores, product management and innovation have the same goals. Both practices look to the market and to users for problems that are worth solving—problems that, when solved, will deliver value to the user and rewards for the business.

To be successful in achieving these goals, both product management and innovation require continuous effort, time, and a robust, repeatable process. If product management is effectively resourced and outwardly focused on understanding users and buyers in the marketplace, it can become a company’s engine room for innovation.

However, if product management is forced to focus on day-to-day operational activities, opportunities for innovation will seldom arise, and will be overlooked when they do.

Organizations that seek to deliver innovation to the market should therefore resource their product management teams to enable them to focus on emergent market opportunities and potentially disruptive market change.

 

About the Author

With almost twenty years of experience in program and product management, Rachel Everett has led and coordinated large product development efforts across a range of industries. Ms. Everett’s research focuses on customer-centric product design and development. She has written extensively on the topic and lectured at conferences and universities.

Beyond Twitter and Facebook: Other Social Media Platforms Organizations Can Use to Reach Customers

Social media strategies are more important than ever!  Beyond Facebook and Twitter, other platforms may be quite valuable in connecting with customers. Here are a few well worth considering:

  Instagram is a mobile photo & video-sharing service. Users take images or videos, apply digital filters, and share them on the application itself (and on a wide variety of social networking services). Although Instagram does not allow images and videos to have alternative text, users should provide a detailed caption explaining the image. Use Camel Case for multiple words within a hashtag.

  Yelp traditionally showcases crowd-sourced reviews of local businesses. However, as announced this month, GSA is encouraging agencies to launch their own Yelp pages in order to attain public feedback on their services. This could allow organizations to assess customer views of what’s working and what’s not––much more directly than other social platforms.

  LinkedIn focuses on professional contacts, and allows users to collaborate and share articles and ideas through its group message boards. Your LinkedIn profile name should be accompanied by a clear logo or image so users can distinguish you from others with a similar name or brand.

  Pinterest is a visual discovery tool where users create online “bulletin boards” of images, ideas, and videos. All Pinterest content is “pinned” to boards by outside sources. When pinning, it’s a good idea to include a description of your pin, and alert users if it is a picture [PIC], video, [VIDEO], audio file [AUDIO] , or GIF [GIF]). If your pin is not accessible or you didn’t actually create it, it’s important to leave a brief note on the pin making people aware of these limitations.

  Periscope streams live video to viewers who can add comments and questions. It was launched in March. A few organizations have already tested out Periscope: Treasury streamed Secretary Lew’s remarks on the new $10 bill;  The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History showcased their Dinosaur collection; and the Department of Justice broadcasted a Press Conference in Cleveland. While still in its infancy, this kind of technology can be used by agencies to give public access to inside experiences (such as facility tours, major events, interviews, Q&A’s, announcements,and press conferences).

  Reddit is a virtual bulletin board where users can post text, media, comments, and links. Though still more popular with tech-savvy groups, Reddit is becoming increasingly mainstream. The City of Austin took a chance on Reddit and found it was a great way to interact with citizens and drive up content views. Government organizations can use Reddit to host Q&A sessions, to promote events, or to drive co-collaboration with citizens.

  Vine is all about images, which are inherently captivating. (Many agencies have had success with Instagram for that reason.) Vine’s six second videos take images one step further, though. In many ways, Vines act like mini-ads, allowing organizations to promote their missions and work.  Air Force and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are two examples of organizations utilizing Vine in this way. Agencies can use Vine to provide a quick look into what they are doing, to remind people of an upcoming event, to offer public service announcements, or even to recruit.

 social-media

It is critical for agencies to focus their social media efforts, and to be aware of what platforms are out there. It’s an ever-growing field, and having a good strategy can make all the difference in reaching out effectively.

Social media provides a unique opportunity for government organizations to drive citizen engagement. For those interested in trying a new platform for your agency, we welcome your thoughts on how to best be heard.

Digital Marketing Tools to Reach and Retain Clients

Diverse People Connecting With Social Media

Diverse People Connecting With Social Media

Who doesn’t want to create and nurture new customer relationships? In welcoming these critical connections, digital marketing tools can help your team with focus and organization, division of labor, scheduling, and task automation.

Below, you will find a list of great tools. Happily, many of them are either free or very inexpensive. Just one more plus on the path to customer integration.

Tools to Help Publish Content

To be successfully “found” by customers, great relationship development and a stellar reputation are critical. In addition, there’s no denying that written content can help, especially when published in the form of a blog. There are many tools to help you do just that. Here are some that we recommend:

  • WordPress: WordPress is one of the most important tools of digital marketing. This blogging platform can operate not only your blog, but your entire website. WordPress makes the process of publishing new content very easy for people within your organization. It also features thousands of “plug-ins” (the equivalent of apps for your blog) that allow you to customize your site in a numerous ways. WordPress is free, and can be downloaded atwww.WordPress.org/download. Remember, it’s preferable to install your blog within your website (i.e., www.yourcompany.com/blog), rather than through an external blogging service (i.e.,www.blogger.com/yourcompany).
  • Editorial Calendar for WordPress: Editorial Calendar is a WordPress plug-in (or app) that helps manage the posts for your WordPress blog in a calendar view. This free tool gives you a bird’s-eye view of the posts you and the team have in the queue, and when they will be released publicly. The tool also allows you to drag and drop posts from one day to another, and to edit posts on the fly. This plug-in can be downloaded at www.WordPress.org/plugins/editorial-calendar.
  • Google Drive: Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) helps you create lists, calendars, and content for your team to view, edit, and develop. With Google Drive, you can create online documents and spreadsheets and share them with others for group editing. It is a great tool for drafting blog posts, content calendars, or brainstorming. Google Drive is available for free atwww.google.com/drive.
  • HubSpot Blog Topic Generator: Do you struggle with the task of coming up with relevant blog post topics? HubSpot has created a helpful tool that turns keywords into blog post headlines. You can enter three nouns and the site will produce a handful of topics that you can use as blog post starters. You can use the tool for free atwww.hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator.
  • Evernote:  Evernote is a lifesaver for creating and sharing notes, lists, pictures, and virtually anything else you can imagine. It’s a great brainstorming and collaboration tool for use on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. You can create separate notebooks and tags that can be shared with others, and you can add ideas on the fly. When it’s time to write new blog posts, your ideas will be waiting for you in Evernote. Evernote offers both free and inexpensive paid versions at www.evernote.com. Its apps are available for free in the Apple and Android app stores.
  • Hemingway: The Hemingway app (www.hemingwayapp.com) helps turn lengthy prose into clear, reader-friendly language. You can paste blog posts into the app and receive instant suggestions for simplifying flowery language, word choice, and voice.

Social Media Tools

Once you start churning out blog posts, there are a number of tools available to help share them online, engage users, and monitor what customers are saying about your brand and competitors. Here are some worth experimenting with:

  • HootSuite: HootSuite is a tool that, among other things, helps manage multiple Twitter accounts and preschedule posts on various social networks. It offers free and paid versions atwww.hootsuite.com.
  • TweetDeck: TweetDeck (which is owned by Twitter) is similar to HootSuite, but also monitors Twitter for mentions of your brand, industry, or keywords that might signal a parachute moment for you. It can be accessed at www.tweetdeck.com
  • Bitly: Once you start sharing links online, it is important to shorten them and monitor their performance. Bitly (www.bitly.com) is a tool that helps you do just that. You can track how many times a link is accessed, in one convenient dashboard.
  • FollowerWonk: FollowerWonk is a tool that lets you dive deeply into your Twitter accounts and identify trends and users that can help amplify your message. It offers free and paid editions, and has some powerful reporting features at www.followerwonk.com.
  • Hashtags.org: This is a site that identifies and utilizes trending hashtags. Hashtags are words with the “#” symbol in front of them that allow users to communicate and connect around a topic, event, or concept. For example, entrepreneurs may include #startup within their tweet to connect with others who may also be using or viewing this term. Not surprisingly, the site’s URL is www.hashtags.org.
  • TweetAdder: This tool helps you zoom in on Twitter users who are connected to your brand’s topics. It helps monitor follower activity and identify users who can help grow your following and social reach. The tool is online at www.tweetadder.com.
  • JustReTweet: This site encourages its community of users to retweet relevant content from one another. While some may use a tool like this gratuitously, it may be helpful in connecting with Twitter members who are anxious to share your message with their followers. You can sign up at www.justretweet.com.

 

Tools to Help Gain Search Visitors

Along with tools for social sharing, there are a number of tools that can help you connect with search engines such as Google and Bing. Spending some time learning about and using these tools can help you position yourself to rank highly in search results when users search for your product or service.

  • Google Keyword Planner: Google offers a free tool that gives access to its database of search queries. This tool reveals which words are most often used by people who search for your product. If you are marketing fresh fruit, for example, this tool can help you determine how often users are searching for “organic fruit” versus “local produce.” Experiment with a few examples athttp://adwords.google.com/ko/KeywordPlanneer/Home.
  • Wordtracker: Wordtracker is a more focused, intensive version of Google Keyword Planner. It is an established, highly respected keyword research tool, and it’s available for a nominal monthly subscription fee. You can try some free queries and sign up atwww.wordtracker.com.
  • Raven: Raven is a comprehensive marketing platform with some powerful search engine marketing tools. It is very complex and worth the investment. It can be accessed at www.raventools.com.
  • WordPress SEO by Yoast: This plug-in can be installed within WordPress to ensure that blog posts are optimized for the proper keywords. The plug-in guides your writing and can alert you when your keywords are not properly placed in your post titles, body copy, or elsewhere. It can be freely downloaded atwww.yoast.com/WordPress/seo.

Tools for Measuring Results

Peter Drucker is famous for saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” When you make great investments in time and resources for digital marketing, it’s critical to keep tabs on what is working what isn’t (as well as track how well those efforts generate a return for your labor). The following tools can help you do just that.

  • Google Analytics: This free tool is a must for digital marketers. Offered by Google, it is a metrics tool that can be installed on your website. Google Analytics gauges the activity within your site. It can reveal hundreds of facts, including where and how your web visitors found your site, where they came from, how long they stayed, and what pages they viewed. Though there are others analytics tools available, this one is highly recommended. It’s also compatible with many other services, and simple to understand. It can be downloaded and installed at www.google.com/analytics.
  • Visual.ly Google Analytics Report: Visual.ly offers a great, ongoing service to help you visualize your analytics results. With all of the data that Google Analytics offers, this tool can help you digest some of its more important facets. You can sign up for free atwww.visual.ly/google-analytics-report.
  • Ducksboard: Ducksboard is a dashboard product that can help put metrics on a screen for team monitoring. It works on a computer screen, mobile device, or flat-screen television. It is affordable, and a free trial is available at www.ducksboard.com.
  • Statigram: Statigram is a platform-specific site that helps monitor your brand’s Instagram activity. It can show how popular your account’s posts are, and how your followers are growing. It can also provide a geographical distribution of their locations. It is available for free at www.statigr.am.
  • Klout: Klout is a tool that helps you measure your social influence by assigning each account a Klout score. Klout uses proprietary formulas to rate users, and help track progress. It works with accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and many more. Try it for free at www.klout.com.

Bridging Gaps With Wikis

File_000One great way to connect with the public is by building a Wiki. The word Wiki comes from the Hawaiian, meaning “quick”. And, that’s what a Wiki is: a fast and easy way to engage people. Specifically, it’s an online database that allows anyone to edit or add content. In creating a Wiki, you’re essentially inviting others to help take ownership of an issue. It’s democratic to the core. Everyone is on an equal playing field, and can suggest solutions that  might not have been considered.

Surely, you’ve heard of Wikipedia (an online crowd-sourced encyclopedia). The public is free to edit Wikipedia and update its web pages, allowing it to grow and change over time. Many other sites embrace the community like this, so Wikipedia is not the only game in town. Many are pop culture related, using the fans’ love of a property to create an ever-evolving online database.

Many Wikis are used for more practical reasons. The country of New Zealand, for example, posted its Police Act online in 2007, asking the public to make changes at will. At the end of a period of time, the administrators were able to gather those suggestions and determine which were viable.

Advantages of Wikis

Wiki is a tool that generates, by its very nature, a lot of support. It invites and allows people to feel vested in a project and create the end result. It also provides a lot of transparency, because the public can be actively involved in a program. Discussion pages track disputes and the exchange of ideas. As a plus, all the changes that are made are tracked automatically, minimizing the amount of work needed on your end.

Wikis can also be designed for use by a single organization. These internal Wikis are extremely efficient for sharing information in-house. Outsiders have no access, and the Wikis can be used in conjunction with other information-sharing apps. Viderity is able to help focus your efforts by creating and maintaining a Wiki that is tailored to your goals. Whether you’d like to open up a discussion publicly or internally, we can help make that happen–in the process, enriching your programs and opening the flow of communication.

Time For Spring Cleaning – Refresh Your Website For Higher Google Ranking

2015-03-28 19.14.15As tulips bloom, April deadlines loom.  Not that dreaded Tax Day, but rather Google’s April 21st Mobile-Friendly Website deadline. In recent news, Google ranks mobile-friendly websites higher in search results.  Per Google, “This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

If this is news to you, then here are few points to get you in the game:

So what does that mean for your website? If you’ve put off developing your website in either responsive design or a separate mobile site, then your site will have difficulty ranking in mobile search results.  If traffic to your website is predominantly mobile and your website is not mobile-friendly, then your traffic will most likely be decreased due to low ranking. 

Just how much of the traffic to my website is mobile?  There are several tools available for answering this, but the obvious choice is Google Analytics.  Google Analytics is able to segment the number of hits from desktop users versus mobile users.  Once you have the facts, you can determine if a responsive website becomes a high priority for Q2.

Try a few links using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.  The test  provides clear results as to whether your site is mobile-friendly or not.  In addition, it provides potential issues, a view of how the page displays on a mobile device, and suggested changes to your website.

Bottom-line: Don’t panic.  There’s still time to ensure your website ranks highly. Keep in mind that updating the mobile friendliness of your website doesn’t have to happen all at once.  Google’s algorithm will look at the mobile friendliness of each page.  If you have a page that gets more hits on mobile devices, start with that page and then address the remaining pages of the website. It’s these little updates that keep you fresher than the competition.

Women Approach Tipping Point in Tech

Womantech

Is the industry in for a gender reversal?

As a female CEO in the male-dominated IT industry, I spend a lot of time at the corner of Women and Technology. I watch that intersection, try to read the signs, see which way the traffic is going. Lately, there’s a lot of talk on the block.

Recent articles have asked “Are Women Advancing in IT?” or describe “What It’s Really Like To Be a Woman in Tech” or tell us “The Secret to Getting More Women Into Tech” or warn of “Tech’s Man Problem” or explain “Why We Need to Keep Talking About Women in Tech,” to pick just a few headlines.

Yes, this is yet another article on women in tech, but it occurs to me that all this talk may signal the last thrashings of issues that are going away, as women really come into their own. We may be approaching a tipping point for gender issues in technology—and by that, I mean the point at which they’re no longer issues at all.

Bigger and Better Numbers

One remarkable statistic from all that recent research: 60% of 2013 tech hires were women, doubling the 2012 rate. ±30% has been the plateau figure for years. A leap of this magnitude suggests that companies are not only hiring women for new positions, but replacing women in existing jobs with more women. (Quit rates for women in tech remain higher than for men, especially at mid-career.) Gender is clearly not the obstacle it once was—and the number of indisputably qualified women has jumped significantly.

These are reasonable conclusions, given recent success stories in academia. A lot of schools sat up and took notice when Harvey Mudd College quadrupled its female computer science majors in four years. It’s not lost on me that this took place after a woman became president of the college. But her strategies for the computer science program are based on common-sense ideas that both schools and workplaces can use (and are using) in cultivating a more diverse base of tech talent.

Closing the Gap

Women still earning 77 cents on the male dollar in other fields may begin to flood into technology, where the like-for-like pay gap is narrowing faster than elsewhere. Those mid-career quit rates do tend to reinforce the glass ceiling and keep average pay lower for women. But we’re far closer to parity in IT than in other private-sector industries.

The pay gap is smaller for federal government workers, too, which accounts for some private-sector attrition in tech fields. And in all three studies of government employees conducted over the past two decades, women have received more promotions and quality step increases than men, on a percentage basis.

Fairer treatment may be one reason I find far more women in director-level IT positions at federal agencies than in the private sector. This is anecdotal (and an impossible BLS search, triangulating high-level jobs in the information category with gender data on top of a public/private comparison), but I’m not the first person to make the observation. The federal government has made great strides toward gender equality following a 2010 EEOC report that identified obstacles to employment opportunities for women, specifically targeting federal-sector technology in recommendations to agencies.

Diversity Wins in the Marketplace

These encouraging signs bode well for federal institutions, if women improve government as they do technology businesses. According to ground-breaking research by the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT), women significantly boost useful innovation. Technology teams comprised of both women and men produce IT patents that are cited 26 – 42% more often than similar patents developed by men only. Related research shows that companies with the highest representation of women in senior management average 35% higher returns on equity and 34% higher returns to stockholders than those with the lowest numbers of female senior managers.

These are really just the benefits of diversity. Larry Page of Google has said, “We’ll more than double our rate of technology output to the world” by recruiting more women. Still, only about 20% of Google’s engineers are women. As the benefits of diversity become clearer and women drive more (and more measurable) positive business results, the competitive advantages of inclusiveness and equality will become clearer as well.

Toward Solutions

Larry Page’s remark reminds us that women’s issues are ultimately a guy thing, too. To get beyond an industry defined by “techstosterone,” we need men in our corner. Some companies already recognize this. The NCWIT study cites the famed IBM Women Inventors Community, which had sponsorship from a male executive and has always included men in its mentorship program. I like IBM’s approach on this a lot. The fundamental concepts—mentors, support networks, focused brainstorms—can work for any industry, but seem especially useful in IT, where the pace and detail-orientation often create an obliviousness to larger issues of diversity and equality.

As we deepen our understanding of the need for gender diversity at every level, more tech companies will begin to look less like boys’ clubs with a few dismayed female faces here and there. Maybe we’ll stop talking about women in tech and find ourselves conversing at the corner of Technology and People. That will be good for everybody.

Winning Government Contracts and Steering the Future

BooksBudget reductions at government agencies can heighten competition for federal contracts. Old programs are discontinued; departments are restructured; experienced workers leave, jeopardizing existing relationships. What expertise do you offer potential agency partners, and what are the terms that will define how that partnership works? Understanding contract types can help you level the playing field for your business and aid you in winning contracts and developing business relationships that last.

A recent article published by the Department of Defense offers some great insights into pending budget cuts and restructuring. Moving forward, the government will be looking for specialists in smaller quantities. A contract with single-digit full time equivalents may not offer a high enough payout for large companies seeking scale and high price to offset their costs. The small and nimble company may be just what some agencies are looking for. Being nimble means you make it look easy — and making it look easy means you’ve done your homework.

Are you ready for the “road less traveled” of specialized, smaller-scale projects? Understanding contracting needs and procedures can get you running at top speed down this road.

Four Ways of Getting There

Companies like Viderity — agile, able to structure and execute projects with continuity, speed, and precision (and leap white marble buildings in a single bound!) — often top the list of competitors for government contracts. Let’s review a few contract types that we typically see:

  • Firm Fixed Price
  • Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity
  • Professional and Administrative Services Support
  • Time & Material

A Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contract provides stability for both parties. The government receives flexible expertise, while the vendor is assured of adequate money—which vendors tend to appreciate! All fees are rolled up into direct labor rates. Well-defined deliverables are advertised and may include Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) as part of the requirement. FTEs are sometimes used to determine the best price for a project; using FTEs also helps to calculate how many employees it would take to meet contract obligations.  FFPs allow for adequate price competition, reasonable price comparisons, and realistic estimates. This type of contract can streamline the source selection process. FFPs are governed by Federal Acquisition Regulation Subpart 16.2.

The Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract acts as a control for potential individual task orders. Details of the contract are specified by Technical Objectives for precise needs delivered during a defined period of time. This contract provides delivery control and is great for quick, short-suspense requirements. A Task Order (TO) can be derived from the IDIQ to support specific labor categories or specific services.

Professional and Administrative Services Support contracts set terms for program management and administration. Contractors are experts, highly skilled and knowledgeable in specific labor categories, e.g., IT Specialist, Program Manager, etc.

Time & Material (T&M) contracts assist requirement holders when they are uncertain of extent, duration of work, or costs involved. The default to use for cost projection would be the labor hour at a specific fixed hourly rate.

Who You’re Working For

As you navigate the details, it’s easy to lose sight of what this work is really all about. Get familiar with “The Basics of Government Contracting,” if you’re not already. Study the agency you’re hoping to work with. It’s surprising how many companies come in unprepared, focused only on their own needs and not on those of their potential partners.

It may sound old-fashioned, but government contractors are supposed to serve the public interest! Approach each contract as if it were your first, with the care and precision taxpayers deserve. For Viderity, on any road we’ve traveled, that has made all the difference.

Top 8 Technologies to Improve Workplace Health

 


8 technology advancements office healthTechnology
advancements improve our workplace productivity, but may have unintended
negative consequences on our bodies.
Health hazards of the office are often hidden and surprising, yet once identified
– hi-tech solutions are quickly developed in response. Here are eight
innovative technologies to improve your health in the office.

8. Video Games Relieve Stress

Work
is always stressful, but for some, this stress can be dangerous. One-sixth of
workers report that workplace anger has led to property damage. Another 2 to 3
percent of U.S. workers (about 3 million people) have admitted to pushing,
slapping or hitting someone at work. Twenty-two percent of U.S. workers report
being driven to tears because of workplace stress (Source).

Video
games may help relieve stress and prepare individuals for work. One study
suggests that workplace playfulness improved communication, creativity, problem
solving and team building. Video game play-time should be
kept to 10 – 15 minutes to maximize health benefits. Studies also suggest that particular
video games may also help children concentrate. 

7. Arm Rested Mousepad Improves Posture 

Repetitive
motions like typing and clicking can cause injury or pain and if this becomes
tingling, numbness, itching or even sharp pain – this could be carpal tunnel
syndrome. In addition, leaning forward to reach your mouse and keyboard can
strain your back.

A
mousepad is now available with an armrest, allowing you to
sit back and not lean forward – to help maintain better posture. One source says that this specialized arm-rest mousepad may help prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and other
Repetitive Stress Injuries while releasing tension in the neck and upper back.

6. Computer Screen Advancements
for Eyestrain

Computer
Vision Syndrome (a.k.a. computer eyestrain) involves symptoms of burning, dry and
strained eyes, headache, neck ache and blurred vision. It’s caused by overuse
or misuse of computer monitors, bad lighting and other environmental factors. Repeated
physical discomfort due to one or more of these symptoms cuts your productivity
sharply over time.

The
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends trying a
different monitor. A wide variety of monitors with distinctive visual
experiences are available to choose from including CRT monitors, flat-screen,
wide screen, high definition, LCD and screens in matte and glossy finishes.

5. Antibacterial Keyboard Defends Against Germs 

Beware:
your desk may be 400 times dirtier than your toilet (Source). Eating at one’s desk is the
leading cause of bacteria because breadcrumbs and other food remnants get in
between keyboard keys, attracting rats and leading to germ exposure.

To
combat germs, use antibacterial wipes to wipe down your work-station daily.
Also, check out this state-of-the-art silicone portable antibacterial keyboard.
The keyboard’s light-weight flexible design makes it easy to carry
anywhere.

4. Track Lifestyle Habits with Fitbit

When busy at work, exercise and sleep can get squeezed – consciously or
subconsciously. Yet lack of exercise and sleep will hurt your daytime
productivity.  To ensure that you are
maintaining healthy lifestyle routines, check out the upcoming Fitbit product, Flex is a wireless activity and sleep wristband coming out in Spring 2013.

3. Touch Screen
Products/Tablets Replacing Desktop Computers

Repetitive typing and
clicking cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other Repetitive Stress Injuries.
Sitting in one place for long periods of time causes back pain.

In some work
setting, touch screen tablets are replacing desktop computers – reducing typing
and increasing flexibilty to move around the work space. Microsoft’s upcoming
Surface Pro perhaps marks the next generation in PC and tablet technology – promising
to be both a touch-screen tablet and a PC running software like Photoshop,
Microsoft Office and iTunes.

2. Smart Pens for
Creativity

Starring
at a blank computer screen can cause writer’s block and stunt creativity. Smart
Pens like Livescribe allow you to write on paper while
your words are being transcribed onto your computer. In addition, Livescribe
pens record audio so whether you can’t make our your handwriting or got sleepy
during an important meeting, you can re-trace over the spot in your notes to
listen to the audio-playback from this exact moment.

Wacome’s Inkling is an
novel tool for artists and designers who like to draw on regular paper – the
Inkling captures a digital likeness of your work while you sketch with its
ballpoint tip on any sketchbook or standard piece of paper.

1. Upright Desks Increase Movement and Reduce Major Health Risks

Hunched over a computer all day?
While putting in solid hours of hard work, you may also be putting your health
at risk. On average, people are sitting for nine or 10 hours a day – at work,
in commute and at home (Source).

Without regular movement, sitting can
lead to back pain, which is a major cause of missed work for adults of all ages
(according to the Georgetown University Center on an Aging Society). Sitting tightens the hip flexors, the muscles than help pull your legs toward
your body (according to the Yoga Journal). Tight hip flexors contribute to back
pain by forcing the pelvis to tilt forward, compressing the back.  

Even scarier, research shows that just one hour or more of sitting causes the enzymes that
burn fat in the body to slow down production by up to 90 percent. Extended
sitting also slows our metabolism of glucose and lowers our levels of good
(HDL) cholesterol in the blood – major risk factors for heart disease and Type
2 diabetes.

In response, standing desks are gaining popularity in some offices, including Wired
Magazine headquarters with executive
editor, Thomas Goetz and other staff members using the desks. A wide variety of styles and price ranges are now available on the market.

Interestingly, standing at work isn’t
actually “new” but rather a return to old ways. In the nineteenth and twentieth
century, office workers such as clerks, accountants and managers, stood while
working. Sitting was considered slacking. In fact, many intellectual leaders
have been known to stand while working – including Leonardo da Vinci, Ben
Franklin, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov and Philip Roth.

Treadmill
desks
take things a step farther. By walking very slowly on the treadmill while
working, you can incorporate physical activity into your busy schedule and
lower your heart rate considerably.

In conclusion, technology may sometimes negatively impact our workplace health, but technology may also be part of the solution.

Post by Julie Flygare, a leading health advocate and writer.

The Performance Review Checklist

Performance-review A performance review is one of the best tools a manager has to fine tune the performance of subordinates. A performance review is a regularly scheduled recap of the day-to-day engagements between managers  and employees. It should always include a plan, large or small, for the employee’s continued professional growth. A performance review is not about money. Raises are about money.

A performance review is not about filling out forms. Audits and inspections are about filling out forms. The review – or appraisal – is about feedback. It is a conversation about how much meaning and purpose a manager can create with an employee. No performance review can be successful unless the manager has already given good feedback and direction regularly throughout the year, making assessments and adjustments along the way, and building rapport and confidence with the employee. Only then can it all be successfully summarized into a concise review. In other words, the review itself is the culmination of the interactions between the manager and the employee throughout the year.  If a manager is saving things up for a year to spring on an employee all at once, well, that’s a performance review that won’t be helpful. In fact, it could probably do more harm than good. Do you know the vital steps to take before conducting an employee performance review? They’re at least as important as the steps you take during the review. With that in mind, here is a six-part checklist that covers all vital phases of the pre-review.

1. Hold periodic informal feedback sessions.
Your best bet for accomplishing this is to mark your calendar with dates and notes such as “Hold a ‘how ya doing’ talk with Hank” to remind you periodically throughout the year to sit down with employees to discuss their performance – outside the formal appraisal setup. That promotes a “no surprises” environment when you do the actual face-to-face appraisal later on. These informal talks create “check-up” points along the way, and help keep the manager and the employee focused on the worker’s development.

2. Keep a record of the informal sessions.
Nothing fancy, but try to keep notes of what was said, what was agreed upon and when you talked. Notes like that can help resolve disputes that might come up later during the formal review. This kind of documentation will allow you to respond with comments like, “When we talked in August, you said …”

3. Standardize your evaluation criteria as much as possible.
If you have two or more employees doing similar jobs, you’ll want to make sure you’re using the same standards to judge their performance – whether it’s straight productivity numbers, quality levels, revenue generation or other measurable criteria. The reasons for standardizing are threefold:
* It’ll make your life easier, in that you won’t have to reinvent the wheel for every review. You’ll have a predetermined set of standards that you can use each time.
* It’ll make more sense to your employees. They’ll have a clear understanding of what’s required and what they’re being judged on.
* It’ll help avoid lawsuits and charges of favoritism or discrimination. The main cause of complaints is fuzzy measurement. If Employee A thinks he’s being held to a different set of standards than Employee B, expect Employee A to complain – to a lawyer, in some instances.

4. Study the employee’s previous performance review.
Were goals laid out? Were promises made? Did subsequent events change any of the employee’s circumstances since the last review? It’s important to familiarize yourself with all of the components of the previous review, especially if the review was done by another manager. You don’t want to be caught off-guard or appear to be unaware of major agreements or problems.

5. Ask the employee to do a write-up of accomplishments.
Some people may expect you to remember everything. Fact is you can’t. No one can. That’s where the employee’s write-up, or “self evaluation,” comes in handy. You’ll (a) get a reminder of what the employee has accomplished since the last review and (b) have a basis for comparing your evaluation and resolving differences. The last thing you want is to walk into a review and get surprised by the idea that the two of you have totally different views on what happened since the last review.

6. Talk to customers, relevant co-workers and other points of contact for the employee.
Just about every employee does tasks that go unnoticed by a supervisor. It’s unavoidable, and no supervisor can be expected to know and see everything. A supervisor is, however, expected to do a little  legwork to learn as much as possible about the employee. Did she, without being asked or recognized, help out another employee with a difficult project? Did she go the extra mile for an important customer? As a responsible supervisor, you’ll want to find out about those instances. And the more you can find about, the better. Multiple sources will give you a better balanced view, rather than relying on one source who says the employee is great – or terrible.

 

PERFORMANCE REVIEW PREPARATION CHECKLIST

Prior to the meeting

  • Identify a time and date that is mutually convenient. Avoid re-scheduling!
  • Reserve a private place free from phone calls and interruptions!
  • Get employee input on his/her accomplishments, concerns, goals.
  • (Optional) Get employee-provided list of references: co-workers, customers, etc.
  • Seek input from those who interact and work directly with employee.
  • Review and compare performance: expectations versus actual.
  • Review skills, work experience, training/future training needs.
  • List major positive and negative incidents (Be specific, do not generalize).
  • Determine strengths and weaknesses.
  • Prepare and prioritize a tentative development plan.
  • Establish meeting objectives/agenda.

Conducting the meeting

  • Establish an open and positive climate.
  • Review the purpose of the review – Goal setting and problem solving.
  • Discuss performance goals and achievements.
  • Discuss strength and competencies, areas of potential growth.
  • Discuss area of development/opportunity/formal training (if any).
  • Encourage employee response.
  • Seek agreement on appropriate goals, development and timetable.
  • Summarize the meeting. If it is positive, end on a positive note. If it is not
  • positive, reinforce what must occur and set clear deadlines for
  • improvement/consequences.

Meeting follow-up

  • Prepare a formal, written review document.
  • Get employee signature, agreement.
  • File copies in personnel file, HR file.
  • Provide copy to employee.