Situation: A small company sells consumables as its primary source of revenue and profit, and produces equipment associated with these consumables. Their challenge is that designing and producing equipment is beyond their financial capacity. They have a small, loyal staff engaged in equipment production. This is a critical trade-off that must be resolved. Where should the company focus – people or cash?
Advice from the CEOs:
This product/profit combination is common. HP sells printers and ink, as well as other products, but ink cartridges have long been their primary source of corporate profit. The question is how to produce the associated equipment at the lowest cost?
Given the shortage of financial resources, why not asks a company with expertise in equipment to build the equipment on a contract basis?
Offer the outsource company the designs and expertise to support the project. That company may even hire your employees who have developed expertise in this area.
In return for providing design and guidance, ask the contract company for a percentage of the revenue or profit on equipment that they sell. This relieves you of the payroll and cash obligations for the equipment, and provides you with a modest income stream from equipment sales.
There is an obvious question of how the small company retains its intellectual property position. Is it possible to look at critical sub-assemblies and retain the expertise within the smaller company to complete and install some of these?
If so, this will boost annual revenue. The contract partner completes all but the most critical pieces, and the small company finishes the product with its technology.
The small company, through its sales and marketing efforts, should maintain control of leads and sales of both equipment and consumables.
Situation: A small company has no formal human resources, pay scale or performance review systems. The CEO wants to create a structure to address these gaps, as well as to encourage employee feedback. How do you build an HR function for a company with under 20 employees?
Advice from the CEOs:
Many small companies outsource HR services. There are a number of firms who provide outsourced HR services, and through them much of the HR activity can be conducted online. Examples include ADP, Administaff, Express Employment Professionals and PayChex.
These systems cover all of the mechanics of HR, and help to assure that the company is in step with changing regulatory requirements.
There are also a host of individual consultants who put together HR systems for smaller companies. These are most easily found using locally-focused Internet searches.
Employees in small companies are used to wearing many functional hats. Hire or assign a manager to create an HR system and implement it once it is set-up. This person will be in charge of the personnel review schedule, changes to regulations and contact with outside HR resources.
One company’s HR Manager has a one hour conversation with the company’s lawyers once a year to make sure that the company is up to speed on any regulatory changes.
Hire a Director of Operations and include HR in this individual’s responsibilities. This person can research options for discussion by the leadership team. Empower them to bring in resources that will meet the company’s needs.
Situation: A company wants to reduce their cost of engineering. They are considering outsource options, both domestic and overseas, as well as remote offices in lower cost regions domestically. How can you best reduce costs?
Advice from the CEOs:
An emphasis on cost may be misplaced. Consider instead of where you can offer the best value to your customers or clients. Focus on and compete in best part of your market – the place where you possess the strongest advantage; then worry about cost.
Outsource companies can be dangerous partners. Assume you only profit from the first job that you give them and that they may be your competitor the next time around.
We’ve learned from the last decade of experience in Asia that cost advantages are often temporary. Salaries for top talent in India and China now approach those in the US. This experience is likely to be repeated in Southeast Asia.
Focus on high dollar services and opportunities.
There are limitations to offshore talent – especially in complex, multi-step development projects. Keep high dollar projects in-house because they justify higher prices and margins.
When you outsource, negotiate retainer contracts with additional charges for work above and beyond the scope specified in the retainer.
What do you want to be? Consider your options:
Become a project management company and outsource development.
Be a development company and just look for cost effective sources of labor.
Start your own outsource company – a split-off staffed by your own employees – and feed them work.
Before you invest substantial time or money, do a test.
Situation: A company is in contact with an Eastern European company that seeks outsourced business from the US. The CEO seeks guidance on challenges managing as well as formalizing this relationship. What is your experience outsourcing to Eastern Europe?
Advice from the CEOs:
Location in Eastern Europe is important. There have been concerns with both corruption and IP protection in Russia. Some other Eastern European are more aligned with US/European values and farther up the ramp as outsource partners.
Experience of other US companies suggests that your spec must be written much more tightly than if you were doing the work here. If you can’t write a tight spec on the work, don’t outsource it!
Contract outsourced work on a fixed fee basis with the bulk of payment due on completion. This helps to assure that you receive timely delivery and the quality of work required.
Set up thresholds for the circumstances to engage an outsource partner.
Say one US worker is economically worth 5 foreign workers in your domain. Do you have enough work to support this?
Determine who will manage the outsourced work. A European is fine, as long as they have experience managing outsourced work.
Someone on your team will become their Project Manager. This can be VERY time consuming.
Consider setting up an offshore company to shelter some of the revenue from the outsourced work.
You want to locate the offshore company in a tax-free country, and to have them handle the funds connected with the outsourced work.
The contact in the tax-free country will likely be an accountant, lawyer or both. There are many reputable individuals who do this in tax-free countries, but be sure to check references and background carefully.
Interview with Jim Kaskade, Global Executive (most recently SVP and General Manger, SIOS Technologies, Inc.)
Situation: Cloud computing as a concept dates back to the 1960s. “Cloud” became a more prominent concept in 1990s as a metaphor for service delivery over the Internet. The technology that makes it a practical reality has advanced significantly. Broad business adoption, however, has varied depending on the deployment architectures used. What are some of the barriers to enterprises “crossing the chasm” and embracing moving to the cloud?
Definitions: There are three cloud deployment architectures or market segments when defining the opportunities and barriers to entry:
Software as a Service – SaaS – represented by distinct B2B applications like Salesforce.com and Google Apps, and B2C applications like Apple’s iCloud.
Platform as a Service – PaaS – represented by application platforms targeted at application developers and including Microsoft Azure and Amazon Beanstalk.
Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS – represented by on-demand access to low-level IT infrastructure such as virtualized computer, storage, and networking infrastructure.
The elephant in the room is that, relative to global IT spend, use of public cloud is in its infancy.
Adoption of the cloud varies by business size and IT structure.
Start-ups – particularly technology start-ups – use all three segments. The rationale is simple. It is easier and conserves capital to use all three delivery segments as an expense rather than invest in IT infrastructure. Another benefit is time to market.
Mid-sized companies – up to hundreds of employees – have more challenges.
They start with SaaS applications to get their feet wet. Primary concerns are availability and security. If they have good, dependable Internet access, barriers to entry can be low.
Using a PaaS is also attractive but begins to compete with internal, existing platforms. Mid-sized companies typically have their own IT and developers who may prefer an internal platform. The company’s choices are also limited to a PaaS system that is similar to current development platforms.
The barrier to IaaS adoption is the IT staff itself. If the IT staff is savvy, they can maintain and run their internal data center less expensively than IaaS services. The question comes down to whether building and maintaining a “crazy smart” IT group is core to the company’s business model.
Enterprise companies – Fortune 100s or even 1,000s – have far greater challenges.
Their current IT model already has moved to a mix of 30% in-house and 70% outsourced with partners like CSC and Accenture.
Most Enterprise CIOs begin their use of “cloud” with a migration to SaaS. The barriers to PaaS are that their systems are tailored to customer-specific applications and internal infrastructure, limiting PaaS use to small, non-critical applications which require quick, global deployment.
The barriers to using IaaS services are similar to PaaS, where CIOs struggle with tradeoffs between agility and issues of cost, security, and availability.
The Achilles’ heel of these companies is that 80% of their IT spend is just keeping the lights on.
The implications of all this are that the cloud is ideally for small to medium companies, some of which will become large enterprises. If you can succeed with a migration of legacy applications to cloud-based services you will become more nimble in responding to customer’s needs – the biggest upside to cloud services in general.
Situation: The Company downsized during the recession. The CEO and sales staff are overburdened by administrative and business development tasks. What’s the best way to bring to add resources to support sales and infrastructure?
Advice from the CEOs:
Look at what hats you are wearing. Wear the hats that fit best and take off the others.
If an activity is not core to your success, off-load it. For example: bookkeeping, shipping and receiving, records and basic correspondence.
These are necessary, but don’t generate revenue.
If your core businesses are sales and service, is one more profitable than the other? Can you outsource pieces of the less profitable activity short-term?
Where do you want to be personally in the next 2 years? On what roles do you want to focus? Build a plan to transition you into these roles.
The E Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber is a quick read that outlines the process.
You may not need to bring in a high level operations manager. Consider hiring an office manager to help organize you and your business development staff. For a smaller operation this person can take care of phones, bookkeeping, shipping and receiving and routine correspondence. This will allow executive staff and sales to focus on growing and servicing customer demand.
During the summer months hire high school or college summer interns. They provide an inexpensive source of labor, high levels of energy and creativity, and are eager for work experience.
Interview with G.K. Chitta, CEO, INSTA Intelligence Technologies
Situation: Fast growing companies often find it difficult to scale internal IT management to keep pace with database growth. There are typically 1-3 people in charge of dB management in a small to medium-sized business. Crisis hits when there is an abrupt system shutdown for up to 48 hours and a significant disruption to company operations. How can this be avoided?
The difficulty is that small infrastructure teams often don’t have the range of skills to diagnose dB issues. Calling Oracle, SAP, etc. for assistance gets expensive fast.
One option is to outsource business intelligence and dB management to a specialist. Quality offshore resources exist that can take over support of company BI and dB management, offering a full suite of services from anti-virus to preventative diagnosis of subtle misalignments.
For example, INSTA replicates the dB in a remote data center so that they can monitor the system for errors, develop solutions, and remotely resolves errors with no interruption to users.
In addition, some outsourced specialists include calls to Oracle, SAP and so forth as necessary to resolve problems at no cost to the client.
In a recent pilot study in a company with 5 servers, the offshore outsource partner provided a full suite of services and was able to increase uptime from 95-97% on a daily basis to 99.97%. This level of performance should be the goal.
Your outsource provider should have 24/7/365 support services, and
Should provide you with a service-level agreement (SLA) prioritizing issues so that the most critical issues are resolved fastest.