The Myth of The Efficiency Expert

When the phrase “efficiency expert” first appeared in American business in the 1920’s, there was a certain modernity about it, that an expert must, by sheer definition, be a positive impact to companies and their employees.   By the 1990’s, however, authors like Michael Hammer gave it a more draconian meaning—if a job is not bringing value to a company, it is neither worth automating nor worth keeping.  In short order, an efficiency expert became a synonym for a job cutter.

And business process consulting became a synonym as well.  “You have to interview with this consultant. They call them efficiency experts but what you’re really doing is interviewing for your own job!”

But there is a better view out there of what in business process and workforce efficiency can do.  It’s not about cutting but optimizing.

We understand the difference.

Clockwork has developed a series of workforce optimization tools helping businesses large and small do a better job with the resources they have—not with fewer, not with more, but with what they have.   (To our knowledge, anyway, it’s not a tool to lay off anyone. )

Instead, by understanding the time commitments of workers and their jobs, a better path can be offered and refined to manage the needs of the employees with the needs of the work at hand.  Properly positioned, workforce optimization provides for efficient work, efficient down time (and every employee needs some of this), and the ability to more easily reallocate resources without incurring the higher marginal costs of attrition, losing experienced workers, or having to recruit, train, or reeducate others to do the same job that was competently being done by employee(s)  that were variously burned out, run off, or just too discouraged to do much more than what they are already doing.

Some Clockwork tools are fairly straightforward:  a company has a certain number of employees, a fixed set of work, and a need to use them where it is most effective.  Other situations are more complex but ultimately more valuable for a company—how to balance work, personal time, corporate training and development, peer education, and volunteer opportunities, all within the context of a vibrant and forward-moving corporate environment.

Workforce optimization is, at its core, a function of logistics—the right person at the right place doing the right thing at the right time.  It’s not guesswork.

Of course, you can take a guess and a guess is all you’ll get.  You can hire an “efficiency expert” and realize that the half of what’s left of your office will now be expected to do twice the work, which will inevitably leave the office with much left undone in the process.

Or, you can enlist the support of a comprehensive workforce solution such as what Clockwork can offer.  We’re not looking for someone to justify their job—it’s a poor use of their time and of ours.  With technology, just as with teamwork, everyone can achieve more.

Why D-Commerce Matters

Electronic commerce is king….but for how long?

For 15 years, businesses large and small have embraced the concept that e-commerce, primarily through the Internet, has fundamentally changed the way that goods and services are transacted.  As late as 1997, people still used the Sears catalog, the Yellow Pages, or an airline timetable to conduct business.  Not any more.

But there is a change underneath the feet of e-commerce that companies need to be preparing for, now.  Clockwork is focused on this next change, what is called digital or d-commerce, and how it can affect your prospects for growth, efficiency, and success.

My first experience with an e-commerce environment came in the transportation industry, where a web site was seen as a means of moving people from a higher cost per transaction (i.e., having to buy a ticket with an agent at the counter) to a lower cost of sale, by having them perform the same basic keystrokes through a computer.  A customer didn’t need to be trained in the duties of an agent, as the web site performed many of the same tasks behind the scenes.

Fast forward to 2012.  A travel customer wants more than the ability to book a ticket.  He or she also  wants gate information, hotel bookings, car rentals, upgrades, on-board snacks…and not from a personal computer, but a phone, or a tablet, or a device at their seat.

The simple act of commerce electronically is evolving into a much more customer-focused and customer driven process.  If companies aren’t responsive to that change, they risk losing the very customers who so effortlessly (and at very little cost to the client) migrated to the new platform.

It’s also more than just buying something.  Consumers increasingly see commerce as a fluid process, and want one means—one payment process, one refund process, one consumer interaction process—to drive their product decisions.  iTunes is one example of emerging digital commerce.  Netflix is another.

It’s still a little too much for some customers to get their hands around, however, and the industry isn’t doing its part to make it simpler.  I visited a marketing web site that attempted to define what they did in the d-commerce space.  They wrote:

 “Our proactive and practical advice targets the unique challenges created by the integration of customer-centric solutions into the technology landscape…We create immersive, loyalty-inspiring, consistent and persistent branded experiences that bridge platforms, devices, location and spontaneity.   And we do it while remaining true to project parameters including budgets, resources, timeframes and revenue projections.”

(In English, please. Our customers do not speak advertising-ese.)

“We build engaging customer experiences across multiple touchpoints that use the breadth and depth of technologies available in the commerce ecosystem.”

(Yes, much better.)

Digital commerce is about a range of islands in the consumer stream—awareness, shopping, purchase, post-purchase, repeat business, customer loyalty and ultimately retention—that expect  the same level of service in one as they get with any of the others.

Plenty of companies offer great sales experiences online and next to no post-purchase support, little or no customer loyalty, and little chance at retention.  The concept of “churn”, the marketing buzzword of the 1990’s which reflected the inevitable loss of customers to better-positioned opponents, does not apply in d-commerce.  If you do it right, you keep your customers for the long haul. Apple gets this. Dell, unfortunately, does not.

Digital commerce has significant consequences for today’s business climate, and it’s more than just building a web site.

The king is dead.  Long live the king.

Considering An IT Consultant

A recent issue of CIO Magazine offered an insightful look into some of the questions that small and medium-sized businesses face when engaging an IT consultant.  It’s not only worth reading, but it’s worth a few words about how Clockwork Technology meets—and exceeds—the concerns raised by columnist Rich Hein in his article.

“There a number of reasons you may need an IT consultant, including training on a new piece of software, equipment or technology,” Hein writes. “Maybe you need an unbiased review of internal procedures or SEO. Regardless of the reason, finding the right consultant can mean the difference between success or failure. Add to that the legalities involved and it’s easy to see how challenging this task can be.”

Legal issues cannot and must not be overlooked when considering a consulting relationship. At Clockwork, there has been a concerted effort to make the legal conditions of our consulting relationship as clear and as concise as possible. And in reviewing Mr. Hein’s suggestions for an optimal relationship with a third party firm, we’re pleased to note that Clockwork takes a proactive role in each when entering into a new relationship with a client.

His seven suggestions, and our response to each:

1.” IT Staff Employee or Consultant?”

At Clockwork, consultants are our responsibility, not yours.  Companies often wade into the weeds when issues of taxation and benefits cloud the distinction between being a contract employee versus a consultant.  All Clockwork consultants are paid on a strict 1099 pay rate.  When you pay Clockwork, you don’t pay extra for the work.

2. “Protecting Your Intellectual Property”

In technology, intellectual property is one of the most important assets a company can maintain.  At Clockwork, we spell this out from the start so there are no misunderstandings going forward.  Unless otherwise agreed to, the work we do for a client is “work made for hire”—we do it, you own it.  Period.

Why does Clockwork do this?  Unless Clockwork is bringing its own proprietary technology to the table, we understand that  the work we perform is in developing or refining existing technology you as a company may be operating, and we‘re not in the business of legal claims to what we bring to that relationship.  Settling this up front allows for a better business relationship going forward, especially after the consulting engagement when a future business partner asks “So, who owns this?” Our agreements make that clear from the start.

3. “Conduct A Thorough Interview”

Adding an independent consultant sometimes can be just as time consuming as adding an employee.  When you work with Clockwork, the consultants we engage are experienced and ready to go.  Our consultant base averages between three and seven years service with Clockwork and are not the “here today, gone tomorrow” stereotype found among many IT consulting operations.  We’ll be glad to bring a consultant in to talk with you, but if you’re just ready to get things done, we can do that, too.

4. “Know Your IT Consultant’s Methodology”

A Chevy dealer isn’t going to hire a mechanic that only fixes Hyundais, so why would you hire a company that is focused on only one methodology for tech services?  At Clockwork, we employ a number of tools so that what works best for you, works best for us.   If Agile doesn’t work for you, fine—we’re not going to fit a square peg in a round hole just for you to be “an Agile shop”.

As our web site notes, “Our project methodology is based on industry standard project management and software development life cycle (SDLC) guidelines.  We tailor the methodology to the client’s preferred level of detail…Our collaborative approach to systems design and implementation provides for a system transition that does not disrupt current operations and minimizes post-implementation remediation.”

5. “Have a Detailed Contract”

There’s no hidden camera behind Clockwork and its agreements—we’ve posted the master service agreement (MSA) on our web site so that prospective clients know the rights and responsibilities of all parties.  It’s detailed, sure, but that protects all parties and in the end, it’s the right thing to do.

6. “Use Confidentiality Agreements”

Clockwork doesn’t require additional confidentiality protection because it’s already included in our MSA.  We’re “confidential” right from the start.

7. “Ensure the IT Consultant Will Train Your Staff”

Clockwork understands this more than most firms. We are not here to run your business.  As we’ve noted before, we will come in, assess the situation, and tell it like it is.  We’ll do the work and move on to the next project.  We’ll even tell you if you don’t really need us, or if you are better served with another alternative to meet your objectives in less time or with less cost than your original plan.

Post-implementation training is part of every relationship we engage.  Some companies want a lot of training, and frankly, some do not.  We work with what’s best for you, not for us.

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