Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Partial Internet Voting: 80% of the Benefit Without The Security Risks

Everybody talks about internet voting and, while a few places have implemented it,  most elections don't allow it because of the security risks.

But, what about the efficiency of partial internet voting?

By this I mean that, the election commission could create a website and application that lets people vote, and then print out their ballot. Security wouldn't be an issue because you still have to physically show up, check in, and turn in your ballot.

At the voting places, they could replace voting machines with computer/printer combos, and set them in front, before you check in with the clerks.

Then, people who printed their ballots at home could walk right up to the clerks, check in, show ID, and submit their ballots.  Done!

Meanwhile, the people who want to vote at the voting place could simply line up at a computer, fill out the website, print their ballot, and then walk up to the clerks, check in and turn in their ballots.

This would get people in and out quickly.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Business Lessons From Donald Trump's Win

Trump's win holds two lessons for businesses:

1. Limits of Big Data - Pollsters predicted a Hillary win – in part because they didn't do a better job of surveying rural voters. Is your business listening and interacting with its customers, or simply crunching available data? The best decisions are made by using a combination of hard data, customer feedback, and experienced executive decision-making.

2. Need for rapid change and innovation - The election shows how voters can decide to suddenly shake up government. At this time, we don't know exactly how Trump's Administration will differ from Obama's.  We do know that, since Republicans now control all three branches of government, laws will change must faster than during Obama's presidency.  Businesses need to be ready to interpret and react to change faster than their competition.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Beer and Brexit: Misleading Wall Street Journal Article on AB InBev and British Pound

In this past weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal, they had an article in the "Money" section about how the decline of the British Pound (by Brexit and Thursday's "flash crash") would "cost" Anheuser-Busch InBev NV an extra $13 billion to acquire SAB-Miller PLC.

Now, to give them credit, the WSJ did put quotes around cost.

But, still, my first reaction was, "if InBev's purchase became more expensive, because they were using pounds to buy SAB-Miller in dollars, why didn't they hedge their currency risk?"

It turned out InBev did hedge – just like any responsible corporation should.  Moreover, they were doing the opposite: they were using dollars to buy SAB-Miller in pounds.

The WSJ article was trying to make the point, while acknowledging the hedge, that InBev could have made an extra $13 billion without the hedge because the pound weakened so much against the dollar.

Now, some might find this interesting, but InBev did not lose $13 billion. They did the responsible thing.  Their core competency is beer, not currency speculation.

The hedge allowed them to pay exactly what they would have paid, based on the GBP-USD price at the time the deal was announced.  It removed any uncertainty around currency change.

What if the market had gone the other way, and the pound had gotten stronger against the dollar by the same magnitude? Then, they would have actually paid $13 billion more for SAB-Miller, which would have been unacceptable.

Think of the currency hedge like insurance.  If you pay $5,000 for homeowner's insurance for the year, and your house doesn't burn down, you don't say that the result (house staying safe) cost you $5,000.

Monday, October 3, 2016

West Elm and Innovation: From Furniture to Boutique Hotels

I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that furniture retailer West Elm is planning, along with a hospitality management company called DDK, to create a chain of boutique hotels.

This is a cool example of innovation.

What does West Elm know about running hotels?  That is probably why they partnered with DDK. They will probably handle the operational details.  West Elm, however, brings expertise in furniture and design which, if you think about it, is valuable because a hotel room is like a home away from home.

Boutique hotels are in demand because frequent travelers are getting tired of cookie-cutter hotel rooms.

West Elm can use its products to create hotel rooms that stand out in comfort and style.

The other great thing, from West Elm's perspective,  is the synergy created.  Not only can they make money from renting out rooms but hotel guests will also be able to order their room's furnishings online.

Thus, the hotel will not only be an independent source of revenue, but also another way to promote their products.

So what prompted West Elm to be innovative and start hotels?

It turned out that West Elm's leadership was smart enough to realize that opening more stores would not be a path to growth.  Instead, it would cause cannibalization of sales.

Chicago Cubs Economics: Tribune, Taxes, and Tivo

Just before the Great Recession, when Sam Zell led the ultimately doomed leveraged buyout of the Chicago Tribune, he and his fellow investors planned to sell the Chicago Cubs to help pay down debt.

In 2009, they found a buyer for the Cubs – the Ricketts family. They bought the team for $845 million.  Since the Tribune had bought the Cubs in 1981 for $20.5 million, they were on the hook for a large tax bill.  They tried to avoid paying it by using a leveraged partnership instead of an outright sale.

Fast forward seven years to today.  The Cubs are now worth $2.2 billion and the favorite to win the World Series.

I wonder if the Tribune wishes it held on?

While the Cubs made the Tribune $824.5 million over 28 years of ownership, the Ricketts family made $1.355 billion over just 7 years of ownership.  To add insult to injury, the IRS is still pursuing them for $225 million in back taxes.  The IRS considers the leveraged partnership to be a disguised sale.

Why did the Cubs explode in value during the last 7 years?  The progress on the field had little to do with it.

The key is Tivo.

Tivo pioneered the concept of fast-forwarding live TV, time-shifting, and binge watching.  Commercial TV has lost much of its value to advertisers.  The one exception is sports – people will still view them live, without fast forwarding.

Out of all sports, baseball is the one that has the most broadcasts during a season.  TV networks and channels started bidding to win the right to telecast baseball, and the TV money exploded, along with team values.

The Chicago Cubs have always been one of the most watched teams, and are in one of the most TV-friendly markets in the country.  As a result, their economic value was especially affected.

Moleskine Knows What Business It's In: How Syntegra Capital Made a 19-Times Return Through Paper Luxury

You've probably heard of Moleskines – the fancy hardcover notebooks introduced in France in the 1980's. In recent years, they have become popular with artists, writers, and millennials.

Millennials? That isn't a typo.  When Syntegra Capital bought a majority stake in Moleskine in 2006, some thought it was a risky investment because of the threat from digital technology.

Instead, as mentioned in a recent Wall Street Journal article, it has become trendy to carry both a Moleskine and an iPhone.  The notebooks have been such a must-have that Syntegra, currently in the process of selling Moleskine, will end up enjoying a 19 fold return on their investment in just 10 years.

It probably isn't a co-incidence that, after buying Moleskine, Syntegra hired a new CEO from the luxury jewelry company Bulgari.

Syntegra succeeded because, just as an iPhone isn't just a phone, they considered a Moleskine to be a luxury item – not simply a commodity notebook. 

Credit Card Fees: Businesses Should Reward Customers, Not Punish Them

There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case about whether local governments can ban merchants from charging fees or surcharges to customers who use credit cards.

This debate is also occurring internationally.  For example, according to the Journal article, the European Union is banning credit card surcharges next year because they say that retailers can't discriminate based on payment method.

However, I think that focusing on the legal issues is missing the larger picture.  From a customer service and innovation perspective, charging customers for using credit cards is a mistake.

Credit and debit payments are the future – whether they are done with "cards", chips, watches, or phones.  Charging an extra fee for the dominate and most convenient payment format will simply drive customers to the competition.

What are some alternatives for merchants?

1. Accept the fee as a cost of business.  Instead, focus your efforts on encouraging your customers to spend more money per transaction.

2. Raise your fees across the board, and offer a discount if customers pay with cash.

3. Offer some other perk (besides discounting) if customers pay with cash.

Never think of punishing a customer, especially when he is actually trying to buy something from you.  Buying should always be a rewarding and hassle-free experience.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

DNP (Declining - Not Permitted Technology)

I have worked with several financial services clients, including banks, insurance companies, and trading firms. One of their most vexing issues was dealing with DNP (declining - not permitted technology).  This is technology used in older but critical applications that, while once state of the art, are now considered dangerous because vendors no longer support it and/or have very few employees knowledgable to work on it.

While the application is fully functional and does its job, the DNP technology is frequently core to the application, meaning that the IT staff are not allowed to do any maintenance on it, for fear that the application might not even reboot.

Also, having an application with one piece of DNP technology frequently causes a spiraling effect that results in using other outdated technology.  For example, one banking client of mine had a bulk FX currency application that used an old EJB server that was DNP.  Because the vendor stopped upgrading this server years ago, the server could only connect to Oracle databases using older driver versions that Oracle no longer supported, thus leading to more risk. 

One of the strategic challenges that I have worked on is to decide whether to completely replace the application or if the application can be ported to non-DNP technology.

In different cases, I have recommended both options.  A big determinant is how well the application was developed.  If the developers followed best design principles and standardizations, then it should be possible to swap out the DNP technology.

Frequently, however, the DNP technology was implemented when the technology was "bleeding edge" - before standards were developed.  In those cases, the application interfaces with the DNP technology using customized programming, making it messy to port.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

My Summer Reading

I recently finished:

1. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  How to cope with The Resistance (i.e. procrastination, default to the status quo, etc.) whenever you attempt something creative or self-improvement.

2. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  Very interesting book about why ideas become popular. It provides lessons from fables, proverbs, and urban myths to improve education and business communication.

3.  The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.  The first murder mystery with Nick and Nora Charles.

4.  Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.  Two more novellas with Nick and Nora Charles.  Based on scripts from two of the movies from the film series that starred William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Notes From Reading "The War of Art" By Steven Pressfield

Yesterday, I attended the quarterly business book club run by the Naperville Chamber of Commerce.

We discussed the book "The Art of War" by Steven Pressfield (Author of "The Legend of Bagger Vance").

Here are my notes:

1. The Resistance = Procrastination, unhappiness.

2. Self-doubt is an ally: "The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death."

3. Fear = good.  Fear tells us what we have to do. If it's good for growth, we will feel resistance and fear.  The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch.  He's scared, petrified.

Conversely, the professional turns down roles he's done before.  No longer afraid.  Why waster his time?

4. Support from others is monopoly money.  We have to face Resistance alone.

5. Healing - A form of resistance.  Warrior just does the work.  When Pressfield down, he sat and wrote junk, but doing the work was enough - he then washed dishes while whistling.

6. If feel resistance, then you are doing what you love.  Opposite of love is indifference.

7. Need isolation to do best work - the muse takes over and we lose track of time.
8. Combat Resistance by turning pro = learn to be miserable.

9. Pro really does it for love, but attitude is he does it for pay: working stiff, lunch pail, hard hat, no mystery or drama, day in and day out.

10. Artistic professional like 9-5 job: do it every day, but not defined by it.

11. Professionals, no excuses. if give in to Resistance once, then twice as easy next time.

12. Love the work, but its not you.  Don't take success or failure personally.

13. Pros: self-validate, play it as it lays.

14. Pros establish professional order.

15. Professional is patient.  Resistance uses enthusiasm against you.  Long haul.  Success takes twice as long as you think.

16. professional demystifies: Amateur = must conquer fear.  Pro = Can't overcome fear, live with it and keep plugging away.

17. Order from chaos.  Tap into creativity, muse.  Ideas just come to us if we plug away long enough.

18 hierchy vs. territorial. Schools / work hierarchies.
    Pros are territorial (i.e. Swartzenegger gym).  Territory gives what you put in.
19. Motivation hierarchy or territory?
       1. if anxious, what do you do?  (Shwartzeneggar would go to gym)
       2. If last person on earth, would you still do it?

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Global Economy: Panama Canal and South Carolina

The Panama Canal is almost 2,000 miles away from South Carolina yet, as an illustration of how globally connected world economies are today, the upgrades to the Canal are having a profound affect on Greenville, SC.

The widening of the Canal means larger ships can pass through which, in turn, mean that it's now cost-effective to ship cargo directly from Asia to the East Coast.  Warehouses and transportation networks (plus jobs) need to be created, and South Carolina has a edge over other Eastern cities, in terms of cheap labor and real estate.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Breakfast Talk: Turning A Potential Negative into a Positive

This morning, I gave a breakfast talk at my local chamber of commerce. 

It went great, but it could have been in crisis before it started!

Last night, they sent an email saying that the normal conference room they use for talks (which was large, and had an overhead projector / screen for Powerpoint) was severely damaged by a water leak, so they had to move the event to a much smaller conference room.

It meant no projector and, instead of everyone seated comfortably in a large room, they were crammed tightly around a table that took up most of a tiny room.

Instead of panicking, I turned the situation into a strength. I didn't use Powerpoint. Instead, I just talking with them.

I had access to the backgrounds of the business owners, so I used them in my examples. They stopped and paid attention.

It also started a discussion. I ended up only talking for 1/2 the time, and they talked with each other, on my topic (strategic innovation), the info I gave, and their situations.

At the end, they were energized, and I had at least one person interested in doing business with me. A lawyer with an independent practice said he had a corporation as a client who could use my help.

Info World Article: 7 deadly career mistakes developers make

I was quoted in a recent Info World Article:


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) For Innovation

Most of the common KPIs that executives typically look at are good for measuring the financial performance of their organizations.

But, what are some useful KPIs for measuring innovation?

Here are 2 of them:

1. What percentage (%) of revenue / profits are derived from products / services that are less than X years old?

2. Your average sales price (per unit)?

You want both of these metrics to be increasing.

The first KPI helps you track how successful your organization is at creating new products and services that your customers actually value and want to buy.

The second KPI will tell you if your pricing power is increasing (By making it per unit, you discount the effects of customers buying in greater volume).  An increasing average unit price indicates that your customers are receiving (and paying for) increased value, and don't regard your products  / services as a commodity.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Joker's Tattoos: Innovative Content Marketing For "Suicide Squad"

To promote this summer's "Suicide Squad" movie (based on the D.C. Comics series where the government uses villains to complete dangerous missions), the producers went beyond trailers.

As an example of synergy between content marketing the film, and the film itself,  the movie is giving the Joker tattoos for the first time.  Now, to publicize the film, the producers are revealing that the tattoos contain meanings and hidden "Easter Eggs" based on the long comics history of the joker.

There are two lessons for business:

1. Are there any neat stories behind your products and services that can "edutain" prospects and draw attention to your business?

2. Can you build interesting content into your business that you can later use for marketing?

© 2016 Praveen Puri

Friday, May 13, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hotel Pillow Origami: Restoring Control Outside Your Comfort Zone

I'm currently in Rhode Island on business and just woke up after my first night in the hotel.

I had a pleasant night's sleep because I took the time to engage in "hotel pillow origami", where I used trial and error, and creativity, to rearrange the pillows into a formation that supported my head, neck, and back.

I'm sure that most experienced business travelers can identify: every hotel room has different beds and a unique assortment of pillows.  Not taking control and finding the right pillow foundation can literally be a pain in the neck.

Taking control in this way shouldn't just be limited to travel and hotel beds.  In business, our careers, and our lives, there are many times we end up outside our comfort zones. In fact, we should want this to happen, because that is where growth and advancement happen.

But, there is no rule that says we have to endure maximum discomfort in these situations.  In fact, I'd argue that the ultimate personal growth happens when we rise to the challenge of uncomfortable change and adapt it to us, rather than just passively accept  new situations.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Reimagining A Commodity

You're a Wisconsin dairy at a time when milk, a commodity, is at historically low prices.  Many mom and pop farmers are struggling.

What do you do?

If you are 1871 Dairy, you copy the microbrewery trend, and become a micro dairy. They first started by providing fresh, organic, grass-fed milk to high-end Chicago restaurants.

Now, they are opening a micro dairy, where they will build a small milk processing plant in downtown Chicago, far away from the actual Wisconsin farms.

They will offer small-batch, exotic flavored milks, creams, yogurts, etc. such as adding blackberry-basil or banana-almond butter to fresh milk.

In this way, they have added value, and elevated milk from a commodity to a unique, premium  product for which they can charge more.

Are there creative twists that you can add to pain-vanilla portions of your business, to create awesome value for your customers, which will inspire and delight them?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Zoinks! What About The Customer, Scooby Doo?

Last night, my younger son got a Scooby Doo pirate play set - complete with action figures, a pirate castle, and a canon that actually fires a plastic missile!

He was all excited and, as soon as he woke up this morning, wanted to play with it.

Before he could however, one major struggle soon presented itself - opening the set!

It ended up taking me over 10 minutes to open the box (let along put the thing together). First, I had to open the outer box. Then, I had to pull out the whole set, which was tied down with 7 pieces of wire and screwed to a base using 3 screws. I had to get my tool box!

Then, all the action figures were sealed in a solid layer of thick plastic that could probably stop bullets. I had to press down with a heavy-duty pair of scissors to open it up.

Then, I had to pull out the figures through the plastic opening without its sharp edges severing my wrist.

Why do all the toy makers do this?

Why do they make all their packaging customer-unfriendly?

1. It complicates their logistics.

2. It adds unnecessary cost.

3. It annoys the heck out of your customers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

It's About The Client's Success, Not Your Ego

I just completed a high level design of a new software process for a client.  

But today I found out that the client's system already has a feature that can do what they want - it just has to be turned on and configured.  They didn't know it was there. It would save them hours of implementation, not to mention that the feature is already tested.

So I told them that my design is ready, but also told them about this other software and recommended that they go with that solution.  I have no issue with my design not being used.

I've worked with people whose egos would be hurt if their "baby" wasn't used, but I've never had any qualms about discarding my hard work if better ways present themselves.

 I KNOW I'm good, so I don't need the validation.  I know the client will be more impressed because they are getting great value from me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

For Coke, Innovation Comes in Small Bottles

The past few years have been tough on Coke.  Health-conscious populations have dramatically reduced their consumption of soda.

But now, after a jujitsu maneuver, Coke's global sales are rising.

What was their innovative, jujitsu move?  Instead of fighting the anti-soda trend, they went with the flow by selling smaller servings.

After decades of bigger bottles and "super-sizing", Coke started introducing small cans and bottles.

This has had 2 effects:

1. Coke makes more profit per ounce, because packaging is a large percentage of their cost.

2. More people are buying soda, because they see the small package as a comprise between drinking regular servings, and the ideal of drinking no soda

The lesson here is that innovation doesn't necessarily mean bigger or better.  It could be smaller and less.  The key is to give customers something they value.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why Procrastination Can Be A Gift

Procrastination is seen as the major enemy of creativity and accomplishment.  Just thinking of the word conjures images of white-knuckled students pulling all-nighters to finish their term paper or study for the finals exam.

And procrastination can be terrible - keeping us from realizing our dreams and reaching our goals.  But this occurs when procrastination is rooted in fear of failure (or success) or perfectionism.

However, many times, procrastination can be a gift.  It can be a GPS signal for us to switch directions when we are on the wrong path.

In this case, procrastination is rooted in as mismatch between our heart and our heads.  When our minds, trying to please someone else, or through over-thinking, chooses to do the wrong thing, and engage in activities we don't really care about.

It could be volunteering for a cause we don't believe in, or doing a dead-end job we hate because we're afraid to try something new.  In either case, we find ourselves procrastinating because there is no joy, no adrenaline rush in accomplishing it.

Then, when we switch to doing something we are passionate about, something we enjoy, we'll do it effortlessly (unless, of course, we start thinking about failure or perfection).