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June 30, 2009

Tainted Hot Dogs this 4th of July? RFID protects your health.

When you bite into a hot dog this 4th of July weekend are you sure that dog is safe? Did the package of dogs from the supplier remain frozen until you purchased it? Was it left out on the dock just long enough for E. coli to form? Are you endangering your family instead of providing holiday fun? With RFID technology consumers can rest easy knowing grocers have sophisticated tools to protect consumers against bad food.

RFID, or radio frequency identification, is technology embedded in small, thin tags applied to shipping containers, pallets and even individual product packages. They contain a unique serial number and transmit data to special antennae while in shipment. Companies use this data to locate shipments between the factory and distribution center, or butcher and grocer.

RFID tags have the ability to relay time and location information such as “location: Fort Worth; time: 12:34pm 07/04/2009.” Not only is this information critical to ensuring supplies arrive at your grocer in time for the 4th of July rush, but newer forms of RFID can now tell your grocer if the product has exceeded allowable time and temperature settings. For instance, if a package of frozen hot dogs was left on the loading dock for 30 minutes allowing the hot dogs to reach a temperature of 42 degrees (an unacceptable level) the grocer would know this from scanning the RFID tag. This information gives the grocer the ability to protect consumers against potentially dangerous food packages while saving money in the process by rejecting spoiled supplies from the distributor.

According to research from MA-based Sensitech Inc., food shipments rise above allowable temperatures in 30% of shipments from supplier to distribution center on their way to grocer’s shelves. E. coli and salmonella thrive in temperatures between 41 F and 140 F meaning some 30% of food products delivered to your grocer’s distribution center could contain harmful bacteria.

To combat this problem, grocer’s use RFID scanners at distribution centers. With a quick and simple scan of the RFID tag an “accept” or “reject” order can be applied to a shipment based on the shipment’s temperature history. If temperatures exceeded allowable ranges during shipment, the shipment is rejected. This saves the grocer money and provides confidence to the consumer in their food purchases.

RFID tags are becoming more common as the price for tags and related equipment drops. Soon, suppliers and grocers will move from the current pallet level of visibility with RFID to the package level. This will tell a grocer if an individual package of hot dogs is bad, versus rejecting the entire pallet of hot dogs. RFID tags are also becoming more sophisticated by expanding the amount of temperature and location data they can store along with the functionality to transmit this data wirelessly while in transit. If a package of dogs exceeds allowable temperatures in Lubbock, a grocer in Fort Worth can reject the shipment even before it arrives using this RFID data.

So when you reach for that hot dog this 4th of July, rest assured that your grocer and their supply partners are taking proactive actions to ensure your food quality is the highest possible. Technology, along with a human commitment to safety, can ensure the only worries this holiday are “who burned the buns.”

June 22, 2009

Does Your Web Site Meet Its Sales Quota?

How many sales has your web site generated lately? Follow these tips to increase the sales your web site creates.

Companies may consider a corporate web site a prerequisite for doing business - similar to a business card or mailing address. But ask yourself “how many sales has my web site generated” and “has my webs site met its sales quota?” If the answer to either of these questions is “no” or “I don’t know” consider the following tips for driving sales from your company’s web site: 

Call to Action

Most companies don’t create a web site for the general good of humanity – they expect the web site to contribute to driving sales. Therefore, ensure your web site includes a powerful “call to action” or message enticing potential customers to contact you. This call to action should be prominently placed on your site and repeated on the most popular pages. Freebies, contests and giveaways are great tools for enticing site visitor’s to submit their contact information. Require site visitors to submit specific pieces of information in order to contact your company such as their name, email address, phone number and nature of inquiry. Not only will this information allow your sales force to craft a response specific to the potential customer’s need but you can also add their name and email address to your monthly newsletter.


Search Engine Optimization

Your potential customers are online searching for your company – they just don’t know it yet. If your company doesn’t appear on the first page of results chances are your competitors are stealing your potential customers. To ensure your company appears on the first page of search results consider the following techniques:

-        Ensure your web site’s keywords, meta tags, header tags, and meta description (all elements of the code behind your web site) are updated and accurate. Search engines use these elements to categorize your web site and match it against search engine requests. For instance, if a Google user searches for “business process management and Fort Worth” and your web site’s description includes these terms you are much more likely to appear in their set of search results

-        Create a sitemap file that lists every page of your web site and register the location of this file with popular search engines such as Google, Bing, Ask, and Yahoo. Sitemap files tell the search engine what pages on your web site should be included in their engines and increases the chances your web site will be included in search results.

-        When people use search engines to find products and services they tend to use certain words more frequently than others (eg “wireless contract” is used more often than “cellular service” to find cell phone service providers). Therefore, the text on your web site should closely mirror the keywords people use to find your products and services. Online tools exist that suggest which terms you should include in your site’s description, keywords, meta tags and content. Using these terms helps your site match the terms your potential customers are using to find you.



The meat and potatoes of your web site is the content, or words and text, found on the various pages throughout your site. Content describes your products and services, helps search engines find and categorize your site, and can serve as a call to action. When writing content for your site consider the following:

-        Be Benefits Oriented. Possibly most important to consider when creating content for your web site is how it describes your company’s benefits to the customer. Your site should answer these questions: Why do business with your company versus a competitor? How will I benefit from your company’s products and services? What compelling information, research or data do you have to convince me your company is better?

-        Not too much. Not too little. Just right. Most visitors to your web site are not looking to read a novel, so keep the length of your text short and concise. A few paragraphs at most should be sufficient to articulate the benefits of your products or services – and most often I recommend no more than one paragraph per page. Bulleted lists work very well for communicating to an audience with a short attention span.

-        Are you dense? Keyword density refers to the number of words and the times they repeat on a particular web page. Search engines assume that a web site using the keyword “insurance” multiple times on a page (and in meta tags and descriptions) along with keywords associated with insurance such as “premium” and “benefits” should appear higher in search results for “insurance.” Therefore, ensure your content is dense with keywords associated with your company’s products and services and industry terminology.

-        What’s your frequency? Frequency refers to how often the content on your site changes. Search engines give preference to sites where content changes frequently so make sure you are adding to and editing the content on your web site frequently. I recommend at least once monthly, but weekly is best. This can be done by simply adding new press releases to your “Press Releases” page, describing current sales on your home page or updating your product catalog. Whenever you update your site resubmit your URL to popular search engines so they know you have something new to offer.



Ever visited a web site where you thought “I can’t find what I need on this site but I know it’s here somewhere?” The navigation (or structure of links) on your site should focus on how customers will likely use your site. For instance, if your customers are most likely to use your site to find a price on widgets make pricing links primary on your site and relegate links for the management team or pictures of the company picnic. Also consider how quickly your customers want to find the information they seek and adjust your navigation accordingly. If your visitors just need a quick way to find a customer service phone number don’t require them to click on Support, then Existing Customers, then Contact Us, then Method of Contact to get your phone number. A general rule of thumb is that your site visitor should be able to get the information they need within three clicks.



Your web site is a member of your sales team and should provide the tools your sales force uses to make a sale. For instance, if your product or service is a commodity and focuses heavily on price provide a price quote calculator on your web site. If you provide a consultative sales approach provide a questionnaire tool on your site asking the same questions your sales force would ask, such as “What email marketing tools do your employees use in daily operations?” Knowing what functionality to provide on your web site requires you to know your customer so ask them for their input. Ask your sales force what functionality they would like to see on your web site since they are most in tune with your customers. (Also ask other departments in your company what functionality they would like to see. Customer service might suggest functionality giving customers the ability to view current work orders to reduce call hold times at service centers.)


Link to Social Networking

By now you’ve probably heard of social networking and sites such as Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. For your customers already using these tools, encourage them to link to your account with links such as “Follow Us On Twitter” posted on your home page to encourage existing Twitterers to follow your posts. Then, use Twitter to send product and service updates directly to their cell phone. (Also see “Facebook, Twitter and MySpace Generate Leads and Extend Brand - How To Leverage Social Networking Sites” for more information on using social networking)


Close the Deal

Lastly, consider your company’s sales cycle and figure out how your web site fits into that process. Focus with a laser beam on how to:

·          Ensure search engines can find your site

·          Drive customers to your site

·          Provide useful tools and information your customers value

·          Entice them to take a particular action

When a customer contacts you via your web site forward the lead to an existing sales person for immediate action. Be sure to track close ratios of leads generated from your web site (eg via a Customer Relationship Management tool) and ask for user feedback to determine ways to improve the web site over time. These simple techniques will position your company to use the web site as your new sales person – that works 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

June 12, 2009

6 Criteria for Selecting an IT Staffing Company

Leveraging outsourced labor is an important tool in today’s turbulent economy and can result in very successful project execution, but care must be exercised in partnering with an IT staffing company since they will become your partner and must have a shared sense of project ownership and overall success. Below are 6 tips for choosing a staffing company:


1. What experience do they have in staffing your industry?

Is a software developer a software developer regardless of the industry? Well, it may be true they share the same skills, but in order to make your project a success you need a contractor who understands the subtleties of your industry. The contractor should have at least a basic understanding of the customers, partners and business models used in your company so that they can advise your project team on the best approach for developing and deploying the technology required in your project.

Ask your IT staffing company if they have provided contractors in your industry, in your specific niche of the industry.  Don’t be afraid to ask for specific examples. If you operate in the insurance industry writing health insurance policies for small companies a contractor with experience in accounting systems for Fortune 500 insurance companies might not deliver the skills you expect or need. Make sure the contractor you hire has experience that matches your business.

2. How do they pre-qualify candidates before you interview them?

First, understand how most IT staffing companies operate. They receive a request for a specific type of contractor – usually with a few (vague) requirements such as .Net skills, Java, C+, etc. Secondly, the IT staffing company will typically search proprietary and public databases of candidates using the search terms you provided them. Third, once a set of candidates is returned the recruiter will skim the resumes, usually looking for keywords, and will pare the list down to a small pile. So far, this process is pretty standard across the industry, but what happens next can very widely. Respectable firms will review the resume in detail to ensure the candidate encompasses the skills and experience you require (industry or otherwise). Next, they will speak with the candidate via telephone and ask pointed questions about their skills/experience (known as a technical interview). Candidates that appear to match the requirements and have personalities matching the customer’s work environment are then interviewed in person. Only a few candidates make the final selection and are delivered to customers for interview.

Less respectable staffing companies will conduct their online search for candidates matching the keywords you provided and will forward the resumes to the customer, requiring the customer to spend time culling the pile. Worse, the staffing company doesn’t conduct a technical interview to ensure the candidate actually has the skills and experience stated on the resume. Unfortunately, many candidates exaggerate or lie about their skills. Make sure you understand how your IT staffing company finds and qualifies candidates.

3. How do they recruit and retain qualified consultants?

The best IT staffing companies go beyond a database of qualified candidates and keep a rolodex of contractors they’ve employed in the past. This allows them to keep track of the good (and bad) contractors. Further, successful IT staffing companies will proactively seek candidates with skills in demand such as the enterprise resource planning software from SAP. Ask your IT staffing company how they recruit and retain contractors. Ask how they build and maintain relationships with their contractors to ensure long term success. Lesser-experienced companies will be short on answers.

4. How quickly do they provide candidates?

There’s no magic answer to how fast an IT staffing company should provide you with candidates but it should be a) long enough to perform a thorough search and vetting of candidates, and b) should be based on the difficulty of the skill set/experience profile you are requesting. If you ask for a contractor with .Net skills and experience working in law firms and your IT staffing company produces a list of candidates within hours – be wary. If you ask for contractors with SAP HR skills with experience in the oil and gas industry willing to work internationally… expect a few days to weeks for good candidates.

5. Do they care about your business model?

You want your IT staffing company to find qualified candidates with the skills and experience you require, but how do they know what will make a successful candidate in your company? Only time spent discussing your company, customers, business model and environment will provide a recruiter with the information needed to make a successful placement. Make sure your staffing company is interested in your company and takes the time to ask the important questions like: “what personality traits make for a successful employee in your company?”

6. Do they provide client and contractor references?

For an IT staffing company to be successful over time they must either have many clients (each with a few contractors) or few clients (with many contractors). Find out which model they pursue and request references from clients. Ask to speak with the person who directly managed the contractor on a daily basis to determine the quality of the match. Also – ask for a reference list of their contractors. Happy contractors will perform quality work for you but unhappy contractors are guaranteed to be looking for their next engagement and can leave you in a lurch. Most contractors are not obligated to give two weeks notice and will often quit an engagement without so much as a telephone call.

Copyright 2009

Kelly Short is an expert in the technology, business process automation and marketing disciplines. He shares over 15 years worth of experience everyday at http://www.kellyrshort.com helping small and medium companies with actionable advice on increasing sales with powerful marketing, lowering operating costs using business process management, and leveraging unified technology to crush competition.

Tags: it staffing company, contractor, software developer, outsourcing

June 10, 2009

Internet Enabled Vehicles Closer Than You Think

A recent study by Gartner predicts that “by 2012, the majority of vehicle manufacturers will concentrate product development efforts on enabling wireless data connectivity in their next-generation cars.” The headline is being treated like fortune telling or prediction, but realistically, internet enabled vehicles are just an extension of a movement already witnessed over the past few years.

Since roughly 2000 internet enabled devices have begun making their way into the vehicle. It started with GPS and RFID devices embedded with cellular antennas to report position or events back to distribution centers. Next, Windows Mobile, Treo and Blackberry operating systems provided a user-friendly interface in a handheld format that was successfully leveraged for a multitude of business applications such as signature capture for package deliveries, access to customer accounts, and the integration of barcode and RFID scanners with cell phones for logistics solutions.

The internet enabled vehicle is a concept already entering maturity – the only thing new is that vehicle manufacturers now accept that they must focus energy on integrating internet data with their vehicle platforms to satisfy consumer and customer demand. Many would agree that the current process of accessing internet data on a cell phone while driving is not the safest approach. Therefore – the question becomes “how do we integrate internet data with the vehicle to make driving safe?” This will be the true focus of vehicle manufacturers. Below are a few concepts worth considering – my predictions – if you will:

1. Combination of Speech Recognition with Email, Text, and Internet Search: This has already been done in some part by Ford’s Sync software embedded in certain vehicles. Sync integrates in-car communication with entertainment options. For instance, Sync reads your incoming text messages and emails and responds accordingly when the driver says “Play Barry Manilow.” In the future, this functionality will become standard in vehicles as manufacturers seek to streamline the integration of the most basic internet functions in their vehicles. Government legislation controlling the use of cell phones while driving will also drive demand for this functionality – hand’s free conversations might become de facto by law. Additionally, internet enabled navigation systems responding to driver requests for directions will become standard, “Take me to the nearest P.F. Changs restaurant.”

2. In-Vehicle Workflow: As stated previously, the first internet enabled cell phone uses focused on business solutions such as logistics and inventory control. However, asking employees to interact with a cell phone while driving creates liabilities and the cost of replacing dropped, damaged or stolen cell phone handsets can be substantial. In the future, vehicle manufacturers and internet enabled device manufacturers will find new ways to integrate screens into vehicle interiors allowing employees to interact with workflow software in safer, more economical ways. Combine this concept with speech recognition for even more powerful solutions. Envision a driver stating to his delivery truck “Package delivered to XYZ Company, route to next delivery location.”

3. Driver-Centric Data: The Acura RDX cross-over vehicle began integrating real-time traffic data into the dashboard navigation screen to assist drivers in avoiding congestion. The traffic data was received by cellular antenna embedded within the vehicle coupled with a wireless internet account. The result was a simple, yet highly effective combination of the driver’s need for information, existing traffic monitoring and routing software, and a vehicle manufacturer responding to customer demand for more technologically advanced products. In the future, this model will be used as a baseline for future in-car solutions. At first, existing software solutions will be coupled with in-car screens. As consumers become accustomed to this functionality and begin to demand more features manufacturers and software creators will design never-before-seen solutions. “Warning – a weather system on your planned route home is producing golf-ball sized hail. Turn left and proceed three miles to avoid danger.”

4. In-Car Entertainment: The average commute in America is 24 minutes by car. Vacation road trips can log tens of hours spent in the vehicle. As a result, in-car entertainment options have emerged over the past few years such as mobile DVD players, satellite television and gaming devices connected to in-car monitors, mobile broadband internet access and Sirius XM radio. The internet expands entertainment options via new solutions such as Hulu.com replaying your favorite network television shows, YouTube for watching your favorite “Mentos dropped in a Diet Coke” video, or thousands of internet-streamed radio stations. Theoretically, it would be possible to listen to streamed Hawaiian music while watching Pearl Harbor and surfing the net to learn more about diving spots in Maui. This niche of the internet enabled vehicle stands to cause the most action from governments wanting to ensure drivers focus their attention on the road, and not the Road House movie starring Patrick Swayze. Vehicle manufacturers will focus on integrating these heretofore after-market products into cars as standard equipment.

Vehicles will change dramatically over the next decade as we respond to the need for more economical means of transportation to head off global warming. But along for the ride, and possible as a compliment to it, will be the trend to enable vehicles with internet access either for point specific solutions such as workflow or as a general entertainment option for your rambunctious children in the back seat.

Gartner Says Wireless Connectivity to be Main Focus for Vehicle Manufacturers by 2012

Copyright 2009

Kelly Short is an expert in the technology, business process automation and marketing disciplines. He shares over 15 years worth of experience everyday at http://www.kellyrshort.com helping small and medium companies with actionable advice on increasing sales with powerful marketing, lowering operating costs using business process management, and leveraging unified technology to crush competition.

June 08, 2009

Are You Accepting Mobile Payments Yet?

The advance of mobile payment, banking and credit card software applications for wireless smartphones creates a new and powerful tool for retailers and business-to-business companies.

Dallas Fort Worth, TX - Gartner predicts the number of mobile payment users worldwide will hit 73.4 million by 2009 and 190 million by 2012. This represents a tremendous percentage of total cell phone users (Gartner estimates upwards of 3% of the total user base) and companies must consider this technology as a potential payment channel comparable with checks, cash and electronic funds transfers.


Retailers First Adopters of Mobile Payments


The benefits of mobile payment solutions for retailers are obvious. The ability to accept credit card payments or mobile payments on a wireless device such as a smartphone enables retailers to create a host of new, innovative and engaging retail platforms. “Pop-Up Retail,” a term coined by Trendwatching.com, is a temporary retail space designed to quickly draw in crowds in high traffic areas then disappear once buzz wanes. Think fairs, concerts and other outdoor venues with massive crowd attendance. Because these events have limited time durations the expense of creating a permanent retail space (and the infrastructure to support it like phone and internet lines) is prohibitive. But don’t write-off those sales just yet – mobile payment systems bridge the gap. With the swipe of a credit card down the side of a payment-enabled iPhone or Blackberry gives you instant access to the same payment processors you already use – returning an instant payment authorization and integrating with accounting systems afterwards to keep track of it all.

Future uses of mobile payments will extend beyond point of sale activity at events to providing useful payment tools for in-field staff such as carpet cleaners, repairmen, plumbers, etc. hoping to decrease the time between invoice and receipt of funds. Companies making house calls to discuss a customer’s outstanding invoices will be able to capture a payment instantly – offering the customer an option to avoid immediate disconnection of services.


Business-to-Business Companies Early to Late Majority


It’s true that many industries have adopted mobile data solutions for business-to-business customers, but most have focused on account and inventory information retrieval, logistics and routing solutions, and signature capture for goods delivered. In the future, businesses will move away from invoicing customers then waiting 30+ days for payment and will instead opt for mobile payment systems the customer uses at time of service or delivery to make payment. B2B companies will represent the Early to Late Majority adopters of this technology but its impact will be significant. The cost of managing receivables can be dramatically lowered leveraging mobile payment solutions.


In Summary – Brainstorm on how Mobile Payments can Impact Your Company


The multitude of killer applications available today on our web-enabled cell phones, smartphones and other similar devices would have been unheard of just four years ago – therefore, brainstorm for the future. You and your executive leadership should engage subject matter experts, both inside and outside the company, to determine how mobile payments are likely to affect your business model in the short and long term. Map out the impacts and begin developing a strategy to ensure you are proactively capturing the value mobile payment systems provide instead of reactively trying to catch up with your competition.

Dataquest Insight: Mobile Payment, 2007-2012

“Pop-Up Retail”

Copyright 2009

Kelly Short is an expert in the technology, business process automation and marketing disciplines. He shares over 15 years worth of experience everyday at http://www.kellyrshort.com helping small and medium companies with actionable advice on increasing sales with powerful marketing, lowering operating costs using business process management, and leveraging unified technology to crush competition.

June 02, 2009

5 Pro Tips for Running Your Website on Free Open Source Software

Open source software (OSS) is increasingly popular with businesses of all sizes throughout the nation. Should your business consider transitioning to an OSS-driven website? Here are 5 pro tips to consider when making an OSS decision:

Open source software (OSS) is increasingly popular with businesses of all sizes throughout the nation because: the license cost is typically zero; the existence of a robust developer community constantly delivers add-on solutions; OSS solutions offer feature-rich functionality out-of-the-box. Businesses are learning that these OSS solutions can be used to build very professional websites with features rivaling the most popular websites online (because they too are built on OSS). Should your business consider transitioning to an OSS-driven website? Here are 5 pro tips to consider when making an OSS decision:

Should We Deploy Our Website on an OSS Solution?

The question of whether you should deploy an OSS solution depends on your requirements for solving a particular problem and to what degree any OSS, off-the-shelf, or custom software package solves that problem. Begin by creating (or having someone create) a list of requirements you demand for an OSS and then compare each OSS against your requirements. The top OSS' that satisfy the most requirements should be investigated further. For instance, if you demand professional user membership and profile features MovableType is probably not a good solution, whereas Joomla is.

CMS vs Blog

OSS often comes in the form of a Content Management Systems (CMS) or a blog. CMS are document management tools that can publish documents, webpages, Adobe PDF's, scanned images, etc. to your network, intranet, website or a growing list of other distribution channels. If your company deploys a CMS the website would be a sub-component. This configuration provides a greater level of feature and functionality and crosses many boundaries for distribution. They are also typically more difficult to setup, learn and maintain.
A blog is a website containing type-written, video, audio, image or linked document content typically maintained by one or a few persons. Blogs are usually presented in a columnar fashion with separate entries listed in reverse-chronological order, all though newer sites running blog platforms have become quite complex and more visually appealing. A blog tool provides an easy-to-use administration panel to update and add blog entries but lacks the full feature set of a CMS such as adding new sections, organizing volumes of documents, or distributing content via different methods.
The type of functionality you demand will determine whether you select a CMS or blog solution.

Support and Setup

CMS solutions are more difficult to setup requiring planning and analysis to determine the best organization method while blog tools are typically setup within a very short period of time (sometimes in less than 5 minutes). Also, because these solutions are free they typically do not include technical assistance or support unless you pay an additional (but still relatively small) fee. Consider whether your company has the time to determine the best approach for deploying a new CMS or if time is of the essence and you need something up and running by this afternoon using a blog. Also, do you need support to solve glitches that may arise or can someone on your staff troubleshoot the issue?

Infrastructure Requirements

Most OSS applications require freely and widely available infrastructure tools such as PHP, Microsoft's .Net, and MySQL. If your internet site is hosted externally (eg GoDaddy.com) your host will typically provide the necessary tools to install your CMS or blog tool. Configuring these tools with your host might require time and/or a technically oriented person for more complex setups. Many blog tools can be hosted online by providers such as Blogger.com, but hosting the blog solution yourself will allow you to control the appearance of the blog with your company logo, color scheme, etc.


While it is true that OSS license structures rarely charge a license fee, some are moving towards a pay-for-play model to recoup investments made in their software. If you decide to deploy an OSS investigate what license options exist and whether you will be required to pay a license fee now or in the future.

Popular OSS and Blog Solutions:

Content Management Systems (CMS):
Blog Systems:



Copyright 2009

Kelly Short is an expert in the technology, business process automation and marketing disciplines. He shares over 15 years worth of experience everyday at http://www.kellyrshort.com helping small and medium companies with actionable advice on increasing sales with powerful marketing, lowering operating costs using business process management, and leveraging unified technology to crush competition.