Category

Technology and Operations

June 2020: HOW CAN YOUR BUSINESS BENEFIT FROM A FRACTIONAL LEADER?

By | Business Consulting, Finance & Accounting, Human Resources, Strategy, Technology and Operations

HOW CAN YOUR BUSINESS BENEFIT FROM A FRACTIONAL LEADER?

And steps to find the right firm. 

For those not familiar with the concept of fractional leadership, it is an efficient and cost-effective model for businesses to outsource functions when they do not have the expertise in-house or are going through a transition. This form of leadership offers an objective perspective and can guide businesses when faced with challenging decisions. Their role is to become a trusted advisor, lead through change, and offer unbiased advice.

This practical solution gives companies access to experienced talent without paying for the committed costs of a full-time employee with benefits. And based on the needs, this can either be a short or long-term engagement. Interim needs vary from filling a vacancy while a candidate search is taking place, to covering for an employee taking medical leave, or preparing your company for a merger.

As a result of our current economic environment,  fractional leadership has become more popular. Businesses that have recently streamlined their operations have hired a fractional leader because they still need access to a high level of expertise and must close the leadership gap. A big challenge is finding a consultant that is the right fit for your company and qualified for the job. Equally important is making sure their values align with yours.

Here are steps to guide you through the process to find the firm that will deliver results and become a valued partner.

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First. Clearly define your needs and challenges. List the goals, expectations, and deliverables for the engagement. What are the expectations upon completion of the project? Be sure to define the scope of work. Prepare and share any relevant materials such as financials, charts, policies, or other reports.

Second. Ask for referrals from a trusted source. Your CPA, banker, or attorney is a great resource. The more people you ask, the better understanding you will have of the marketplace. Pay attention to names that are mentioned repeatedly. If you are new to an area, local business groups or the chamber of commerce may be able to help.

Third. Do your research. Once you have a strong list of key players, look at their websites to see how their values and approach aligns with your needs and company culture. Talk to current and former clients, if possible, to hear first-hand about their working experience with the firm.

Fourth. Schedule meetings with the top firms. Conduct these meetings like you would conduct an interview. Prepare your questions ahead of time and share your goals and expectations.

Fifth. Pay attention to the following characteristics during these meetings:

  1. Unimpeachable character. First and foremost, a competent consultant must be a person of integrity who demonstrates professionalism, confidentiality, and commitment.
  2. Solid experience. A consultant’s work experience is their asset to you. Ask how many years of experience they have as well as training and degrees. The more seasoned they are, the more value-added solutions they are likely to provide. Also, consider the types of companies they have worked with before and knowledge they may have of your industry or relevant fields.
  3. Creative problem-solving skills. Understand what their approach will be to deliver a results-oriented solution. Does their response sound authentic? Are they able to provide specific examples of how they have addressed similar situations?
  4. Excellent interpersonal skills. Try to envision working with this individual and how well they will integrate with your team. Will they proactively address issues and conflict and minimize unneeded drama?
  5. Outstanding communication skills. Pay attention to how they communicate their thought process. Their ability to lay out their approach provides insight into their level of communication.

Once the interviews are over, expect to receive a detailed proposal from each firm. The proposal is an essential element of the decision-making process because it provides additional insight into thought processes and written skills. The proposal should capture:

1) The scope of work, as discussed during the meeting.

2) The approach to resolving the problem with milestones and a timeline.

3) A clearly defined cost and payment structure for the project.

4) The individual’s credentials and experience.

5) The firm’s strength, longevity, and reputation.

Consideration of value: While cost is always a factor, examine the entire package of expertise you are receiving for the investment you are making. Often a good consultant can provide a return many times the investment (ROI) through efficiencies, savings, and/or increased revenue.

Benefit of working with an entire firm vs. a single individual: When hiring a consulting firm, your businesses is more likely to be supported by a team of of professionals who know your business, have a wealth of experience, and a strong support system. The firm can bring together different skill sets from multiple disciplines to assist with a variety of challenges. The benefit of the team is having the backup, just in case.

After deciding which firm to engage, remember you can always ask for references. It is a step that can be revealing to help make you feel more comfortable with the choice.

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Warren Whitney provides fractional leadership in the areas of HR, Finance & Accounting, and IT to include the roles of HR Leader, CFO, CTO, CIO, COO, and Controller. While we typically work in our clients’ offices, we can also work remotely. Based in Richmond, Virginia, we also serve clients throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond. We are passionate about the work we do and welcome the opportunity to speak about the services we provide. To learn more, please contact Stephanie Ford at SFord@warrenwhitney.com or 804.282.9566.

 

 

May 2020: RETURN TO WORK STRATEGIES

By | Business Consulting, Finance & Accounting, Human Resources, Strategy, Technology and Operations

RETURN TO WORK STRATEGIES – How to navigate and protect your business for a smooth transition.

 As Virginia starts a phased reopening by easing “stay at home restrictions,” businesses need a well-thought-out transition plan.  Your plan should take into consideration not only your employees’ and customers’ health and safety, but also fiscal stability, strategic direction, and technology. This multi-layered plan must address regulations, the environment, and internal communications as well as the emotional well-being of your employees. Flexibility is critical, and your business will need to be positioned to respond to a changing landscape as the situation evolves.

When devising your plan, consider these pieces of advice from our team in the 4 areas we serve our clients.

 HUMAN RESOURCES

      PREPARE THE PHYSICAL WORKPLACE

  • Give your office a post-pandemic makeover! Normalize the “6 feet rule” in the office and consider providing the baseline of PPE such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
  • Regularly clean the worksite and follow the CDC guidelines. Consider hiring an industrial cleaning company or aks your existing professional cleaner about their standards.
  • When planning the return to the office, consider:
    1. Flexible schedules to include part-time in the office and teleworking
    2. Create odd/even workdays in the office
    3. Stagger start and end times
    4. Designate days for specific work to be completed

It is important to note that doing everything possible to make the workplace clean demonstrates your commitment to maintaining a safe environment. This will build confidence and reduce the tension employees may have about returning to the workplace while COVID-19 concerns continue.

      FOCUS ON INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS

  • Communicate your organization’s policy explaining the protocol. Transparency is key; include the thought process of how and why you devised the policy.
  • Make sure the policy is easily and readily accessible both online and in the workplace.
  • Survey your employees regularly to understand their main concerns and that their voice is valued (i.e. survey monkey, calls, focus groups).
  • Build a desire for workers to return to work and explain why especially if employees are successful at teleworking.
  • Keep employees engaged and mentally healthy. An example could be collaborating with a local gym for virtual yoga classes.

Over communicate the safety protocols as the workforce re-enters the physical workplace. Employees will feel secure knowing management has considered federal guidance and is establishing procedures to develop a culture of safety.

Refer to the state guidelines. External guidelines can help bridge the gap between varying employee opinions. https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/Virginia-Forward-Phase-One-Business-Sector-Guidelines.pdf.

FINANCE & ACCOUNTING

      MANAGE INTERNAL CONTROLS

  • Make sure internal controls continue to be practiced especially in the remote working environment.
  • Investigate new ways to accomplish signature and approval responsibilities.
  • Evaluate how receipts have been handled in light of “working-at-home.” Who is proofing cash receipts? How are deposits made and who makes them?
  • Continue to communicate the controls and review of policy requirements.
  • Review by-laws for borrowing/banking transactions requiring board involvement.
  • Ensure all bank reconciliations have been prepared and company credit card receipts have been documented.
  • Make sure all mail has been reviewed and time-sensitive items have been handled.
  • Determine a rotating schedule on personnel to ensure there is at least one person in the accounting department who can be physically present the majority of the week.
  • Take your ledger to the cloud (i.e. QuickBooks Online or remote access).

        ESTABLISH FISCAL STABILITY

  • Continue to forecast cash flow and report out with your team weekly.
  • Run various forecasting scenarios to reflect potential best and worst-case scenarios.
  • Rebuild your operating cash reserve. If you recently took shortcuts, document where you mitigated risk. It is easier to remember now than when you are being audited.
  • Monitor PPP forgiveness and everchanging rules for new SBA loans.
  • Develop a strategy to: improve liquidity, build working capital reserves, and access credit facilities. There is no guarantee there will be an additional aggressive stimulus package.

 STRATEGY

       DOCUMENT LESSONS LEARNED

  • Do your post mortems. What did you learn that would have been helpful had you put it in place beforehand? Can you do it now and be more prepared if/when we are forced back into lockdown?
  • Record your organization’s strengths and build action steps around weaknesses, threats and opportunities.

        POSITION FOR SUCCESS

  • Evaluate business partnership and merger opportunities to ensure the relevancy and strength of your organization.
  • Consider potential alternative revenue streams. Work with your team and board to identify innovative and creative strategies that are mission-aligned to retain your organization’s relevancy and success.
  • Bring new thought leaders to the table to help reposition your organization in innovative ways.
  • Consider a mini-board retreat to reevalute and modifiy your strategic plan.

TECHNOLOGY & OPERATIONS

       UNDERSTAND YOUR TECHNOLOGY

  • Survey management and staff to identify issues with technology and processes; record these issues (small or large – either may cause bigger problems).
  • Evaluate your relationships with your vendor partners. Ask yourself:
    • Can they support technology changes?
    • How will we be impacted if they go out of business?
    • Will my business have the rights to continue using software provided by the vendor?
  • Regularly review your information security and technical risks. With malicious activity on the rise, risks need to be addressed by a combination of policies, technology, manual controls, training, and knowledgeable support staff.

      PLAN FOR CHANGE

  • Be prepared to address new customer and partner expectations.
  • Re-consider new technology that has been put off that may help stabilize operations. Evalute the short and long-term benefits of the technology changes. If choosing to upgrade, be patient when training employees and remember this is a huge change for all involved.
  • Think outside the box when resolving issues or ways to increase efficiencies. Even if you are not ready to make changes now, do the research so you are prepared to react when needed.

If you have any questions or seek further clarification on these items, please call us at 804.282.9566. Warren Whitney is available to evaluate your new operating environment. Our fractional assistance and project work can help you think through decisions. We can put together cash flow projections, manage HR issues, adapt technology and processes, and devise a strategic plan. We Make Potential Happen.

 

 

January 2020: Protect your Business – Actively Manage your Technology

By | Technology and Operations

Author: David Nelms

Technology is a double-edged sword. It makes businesses more efficient and can also make them vulnerable. The technology used by businesses can unknowingly expose them to issues that could result in lost revenues, productivity, or financial penalties (to name a few). This is why it is critical to understand the potential risks your business might face and create a plan to protect yourself. While it is impossible to avoid all threats, precautionary measures can be taken to mitigate potential harm. No organization should feel like they are constantly reacting to the most recent issue or breach.

Unfortunately, there is no exact formula for determining risks, however, there are tools to identify where one is most vulnerable.  Based on Warren Whitney’s experience working with our clients, below are (8) common areas where businesses may not be managing their exposure to potential technology threats.

SYSTEMS SECURITY

There are frequent reports of issues related to computer viruses, ransomware, and data breaches. Nowadays, because of highly sophisticated hacking tools and potential threats, protection requires significant technical expertise from vendors and internal technical staff. For ultimate protection, hardware and software need to be regularly maintained and updated.

  • Are your systems and people prepared to respond to threats and proactively manage risks?

TECHNOLOGY BECOMES OBSOLETE

Computer programming languages and systems often have a defined life cycle. At the end of the life cycle, the system will no longer receive critical updates or security patches.   While the end of support dates are often known, many organizations do not adequately plan for the obsolescence which can expose them to security-related issues.

  • Are your hardware and software systems fully supported and receiving appropriate updates and patches? Do you have plans in place that proactively address future issues?

VENDOR MANAGEMENT

Many organizations rely on vendor partners for their technologies and/or customer support.  Unfortunately, in many cases, businesses do not fully manage these partnerships and businesses in turn, do not have a proper protocol in place to address technology threats.  Equally important is to have contracts that cover potential liabilities, expectations, and deliverables. This is especially necessary for regulated industries.

  • Do you have appropriate vendor agreements in place? Are you actively managing your partnerships with your technology providers to maximize your investment?

COMPLIANCE AND CONTROLS

For companies who have service providers or organizations maintaining confidential data, they need to be HIPAA, PCI etc. compliant and prepared for an audit. For this, you need records of: 1) Vendor agreements, 2) Policies and procedures, 3) Technical controls, and 4) User awareness.  These controls are necessary to maintain the integrity of the system’s security, data, and financials.

  • Do you have the appropriate policies, procedures, and technical controls to protect personal information and the integrity of the company’s financials?

DISASTER RECOVERY PLAN AND BUSINESS CONTINUITY

Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) is a set of procedures to enable the recovery of technology systems following a natural or human-induced disaster. This plan supports functionality and/or the recovery of vital systems. Business continuity is the protocol to follow while the outage is being addressed or systems are being recovered.  These plans need to be evaluated regularly to address changes, threats, evolving workflows, etc.

  • Do your contingency plans protect your business in an emergency so you can continue operations to meet customer needs?

PROJECT AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

Protecting against potential impacts and risks related to project and change management requires technical knowledge, organizational skills, and structured processes. Without this, projects will likely take too long, cost more than expected, and/or miss key requirements. Organizations without a structure to manage the changes often play catch up and fight “technical fires.” All of which can be avoided.  The negative impact of not having processes to manage both projects and scheduled changes can be significant.

  • Do you have both the experience and processes to effectively manage risks associated with technology projects and changes?

FINANCIAL RISKS

We often find that small to mid-sized organizations have difficulty planning and budgeting for technology projects or capital expenditures. Typically, this is because they don’t have the internal expertise needed to understand the benefits of the investment or potential risks if they do not make the investment.  Not making proactive investments to maintain an organization’s technology can result in functional limitations and/or greater costs over the course of time.

  • Does your team have processes in place to stay ahead of the curve and effectively manage technology-related expenses?

STORING DATA IN THE CLOUD

Methods of storing and accessing data in the cloud are becoming easier and cost-effective. Software applications are providing more capabilities and easier ways to access and share data. While these systems are readily available and often economical, it is critical to understand how they protect your data and work with other systems. Not fully understanding how the systems interoperate can result in losing control of data and/or being unable to match data between multiple systems.

  • Do you have the skills and processes in place to make sure you are appropriately evaluating new systems? Are you effectively using and analyzing your critical data? Does your backup plan allow for a full restore?

These are just some potential areas where your business might be exposed to technology threats. There are many more areas and details to be considered.  Warren Whitney works with a wide range of organizations and vendors/partners to help identify and address a companies needs. To learn how our Fractional CIO services can help you effectively define and manage strategies, please contact David Nelms dnelms@warrenwhitney.com or 804-282-9566.

February 2019 Newsletter: How to best leverage your Managed Service Provider

By | Technology and Operations

It is critical for organizations to maintain their operating systems’ functionality to ensure they continue to meet their business needs. Many companies look to external vendor partners to support and maintain these systems. These vendors are often referred to as Managed Service Providers, or MSPs. They offer a wide range of services, and expertise at various costs.

Warren Whitney’s Fractional CIO, David Nelms, works closely with mid-sized companies to select appropriate systems and partners or to assist them with managing existing partnerships.  He works with companies and their partners to define strategic technology plans and key projects.  Organizations need guidance for many reasons:

  • They aren’t comfortable with current spending levels or services.
  • They are growing and expect to have additional needs.
  • They simply don’t feel they have the appropriate background and knowledge to make key decisions.

Based on a variety of factors, it is often complicated for organizations to know how to select and/or manage their MSPs. Warren Whitney has worked with many of the major local MSP providers, though we do not have defined partnerships with them, allowing us to remain objective as we act on a client’s behalf.

Here are the 6 key questions we ask when assessing our clients’ MSP relationships or when we evaluate new ones:

1) Do the MSP’s technical skills and the technologies they support align with the needs of the organization?

Some hardware, software, and networking technologies are better suited for the complex needs of large enterprise organizations, while others may be a better fit for small to mid-sized companies. Some MSPs may focus on selling and supporting technologies from a limited number of vendor organizations, while others may consider themselves technology and vendor agnostic.  In some cases, this creates a tradeoff between depth of knowledge and scope of what the MSP can effectively support. Companies need to have a general understanding of the type and complexity of their technological needs, so they can assess the potential fit.

2) Is the partner/potential partner a good cultural fit, and is it easy to communicate with key people in the organization?

We often find people think their MSP partners are “probably technically sound,” but they feel challenged when they try to communicate with management or the teams that work on projects or provide day-to-day support.  The technical jargon used can often differ between the teams so it feels like they are speaking different languages.  While sometimes difficult to do up front, it is very important to have a sense of how well the organization and the MSP will be able to work together and communicate.

3) Does the provider have well defined processes in place to make sure issues are quickly resolved and that evolving trends are proactively identified?

One of the realities in the MSP world is that most support providers either use the same tools to provide support and monitoring for systems, or they use ones that are very similar in their capabilities.  The key difference is: 1) How well the provider configures these tools, 2) How frequently and thoroughly they look at the information the tools produce, 3) How quickly they respond to any issues that arise, and 4) How effectively they analyze data to differentiate root causes from symptoms.  These are definitely some of the main areas to explore with any potential MSP partner.

4) Does the MSP have knowledge of any industry specific requirements and an appropriate focus on security?

Different organizations may have a variety of industry specific requirements that their technologies have to adhere to (e.g. HIPAA, PCI, etc.).  All organizations need to make sure their servers, networks, PCs, and software are appropriately equipped and configured to protect against a constantly evolving set of security threats.  It is absolutely critical to understand whether any potential MSP partner is equipped to both address current needs and continue to stay ahead of the game in these key areas.

5) Does the MSP contractually commit to service levels that meet the needs of the organization, and are all agreements constructed in a mutually beneficial manner?

To make sure expectations are clear for everyone involved, it is critical to have defined service levels for all key areas and to understand what the service levels mean.  As an example, many people are surprised when they find that a service level stating that “systems will be available 99.9% of the time” could actually mean that the specified systems can be down for well over 8 hours over the course of a year and still be considered within the defined availability level.  What if this down time was all to occur during the day on a busy day?  Would this be acceptable?  Companies should make sure appropriate service levels are defined and know exactly what they mean.

6) Is the relationship actively managed and trust based?

All too often, companies tell us that they are frustrated with their existing relationships, but we then find that they don’t meet regularly with the vendor partner and they feel they don’t understand what they do or how to ask them the “right questions”.  As with any partnership, both parties need to be committed to set clear expectations as much as possible, communicate effectively, and actively manage the relationship. There will invariably be issues related to technology and technology support, but the key question relates to how effectively any issues get resolved. As soon as trust in a partner erodes significantly, this is usually an indication of a larger issue.

While some of these questions may seem basic, the challenging part is asking the questions correctly and assessing the information provided, especially for organizations that don’t have experienced technology leadership. Defining and managing relationships with technology partners is especially challenging for complex organizations, especially ones that are growing rapidly, undergoing a wide variety of changes, or heavily dependent on internal process efficiency. Warren Whitney’s Technology and Operations expert, David Nelms, has deep experience in these areas and is prepared to help clients address these concerns.

Helping define and manage technology partners is just one of the many Fractional and Advisory services provided by our Technology and Operations team.  If you have questions or would like to discuss any challenges you may be having, please contact David Nelms at dnelms@warrenwhitney.com or 804.977.6695.

 

July 2018 Newsletter

By | Family Businesses, Technology and Operations

Valuable technology tips for your business

Technology can be a competitive differentiator, but the constantly evolving world of technology is challenging to navigate for businesses.   Growing businesses evaluating technological support want to ensure they get appropriate value, maintain efficiencies, and stay ahead of the curve. Finding the right software and systems to best suit these rapidly changing demands, is often the key to success.

David Nelms, Warren Whitney’s Director of Technology and Operations, explains that outgrowing technology is one of the most common problems expanding companies face. “The biggest challenge when evaluating a business’s systems is knowing the path to take and making sure that the technology is keeping pace with needs. Adding to the complexity is that upgrading systems can often be very expensive; there is a lot more involved than just the base cost. “

Tip #1: Evaluate your needs. Do not dive straight into looking at new software or systems before you understand your current and future needs. When David works with his clients, he stresses the critical nature of knowing the problem they are trying to solve.  He says, “an objective, in-depth survey is essential to define the foundation for support.”

Tip #2: Analyze your software options. After defining the foundation for support, a thorough analysis of your top software options will help cut through the clutter so you can make the most cost-effective investment.  David cautions, “the most expensive, shiny new system with lots of bells and whistles may not be the answer. For some, the most basic, cost effective solution may solve most, if not all, technological problems. “

Tip #3: Embrace your new technology. After purchasing a new system, the commitment to being educated on how everything should work, configuring the systems to achieve results, and providing employee training are keys to success. “This total commitment will determine the system’s success.”

To give an example why all three of these tips are equally important, David recently worked with a firm that was frustrated with its newly acquired ERP and Human Resources systems. During the discovery process, he learned this company had purchased the most highly regarded and functional systems in the industry.  These systems were an excellent fit; not overly complicated or expensive.  The company had done a good job of understanding their capabilities before the purchase but it had not been effectively implemented. As a result, the systems were configured to duplicate the client’s old systems. Also, there had been no employee training. Understandably, the firm did not gain anything from the investment and their frustration was with good reason. Fortunately, David was able to identify and address the client’s issues, allowing the team to benefit from the investment and achieve what they originally set out to accomplish.

Commitment and knowing your business’s current and future needs are two of many necessary detailed steps to ensure a smooth and successful integration of new technology. Integrating new technology is a major investment and big expenditure, it can be risky especially if it supports core business processes. Having someone with experience to guide you through this complex world is essential. Unbiased and objective conversations are critical to the selection and implementation process.

If you are looking to update your infrastructure or core business systems and would like to speak with a professional, contact David Nelms at dnelms@warrenwhitney.com or 804.282.9566.

Turn Your Technology and Operations into a Competitive Advantage

By | Family Businesses, Technology and Operations

David Cropped

Contributor: David Nelms

Downloadable link

Technology can be your hidden competitive advantage. Warren Whitney’s Technology and Operations Practice Group outlines six fundamental recommendations below to ensure that your technology is appropriately aligned with your business strategy, operates as efficiently as possible, and is ready to support future growth. We offer a high-spot technology assessment to help you identify ways to ensure your technology is supporting and strengthening your operations.

1. Develop a technology plan that is aligned with your strategic plan.

For a variety of reasons, hardware or software technologies used by organizations become too difficult, risky, or expensive to support and maintain, or they simply do not keep up with the needs of the business. It is important for organizations to frequently assess how well their systems are positioned to support their current and long-term needs so that they can stay ahead of the curve. Just as organizations have a strategic plan for their overall business, we recommend that they have a strategic plan for their technology as well. The technology plan needs to be closely aligned with the overall business strategies and functional needs, but it also needs to consider a variety of other factors, such as information security risks, vendor stability and availability of adequate support, new capabilities available within the marketplace, and whether their systems are prepared to continue operating in the event of disasters or other external events.

2. Do not underestimate the complexity of a hardware or software conversion.

At some point, all organizations will need to upgrade or replace their software systems. Some companies will simply upgrade to a new version of their existing systems, while others may look to add new systems or move systems to the Cloud. Regardless of whether projects involve selection of a new ERP/MRP system, a move of business applications to the Cloud, or an upgrade of the version of operating systems or software used on employee desktops, the potential complexity and impact of these initiatives cannot be taken lightly or underestimated. Software conversions rarely go off without a hitch, so organizations need to be prepared to manage the efforts closely and deal with unexpected issues. From the beginning, the projects need to follow some form of structured requirements and risk management processes, and they need to utilize solid project and issues management. Organizations need to allow time for organizational change management and appropriate staff training. The extent to which all of these things need to happen will vary by project and organization, but they all need to happen. They are especially important when new software is being selected that will make dramatic change to the way key business functions are supported. Above all, before the organization makes an investment in any software change, there needs to be a clear understanding of the expected benefits and a commitment to taking a fresh look at the way internal policies, processes, or procedures may need to change to capitalize on the new investment.

3. Look for vendor relationships that provide a competitive advantage for your organization, not just an expense.

Often management feels that their vendor partners or internal technology resources are not fully aligned with the needs of the business. Conversations often reference personnel who operate reactively versus proactively or that “speak another language.” Possible solutions could include more structured vendor management programs or service levels, coaching and mentoring programs for internal staff, development of policies and procedures, or improved processes for prioritization and project management. Above all, regardless of their role in the organization, companies need knowledgeable resources who actively manage strategy, spending, and day to day efforts for all aspects of their technology systems and resources.

4. Use technology to produce information that creates business value.

Most companies seem to be fairly comfortable with the information and metrics they are currently using to manage the business. Some can get it at the click of a button, while others tell stories of their CFO, controller, or other business area resources locking themselves in an office for a week or so at the end of each month to produce the necessary information from a wide array of Excel spreadsheets. Many have heard the term “Big Data,” but they do not know what it means or how it will benefit them. Regardless of where folks are on the information delivery curve, we strongly recommend that they have a very solid understanding of where all of their information is coming from, the exact meaning and relevance of each key piece of information, how information from different sources fits together, and most importantly that they have the necessary checks and balances in place to make sure that all of the information remains accurate. Similar to our advice related to the overall technology plan, we also encourage organizations to continually evaluate additional ways that they can use information to create business value.

5. When there is a planned or unplanned change in personnel, take the opportunity to evaluate reporting structures, take a fresh look at management and staff responsibilities, and optimize organizational alignment before making a new hire.

When there are personnel changes, management is often in such a hurry to fill the hole in the organization that they just hire someone with similar skills to the last person. This is the best time to consider whether an organizational change or different skills could provide a business advantage. This is the time to consider an interim IT Director, CIO, COO – or whatever position is vacant – to evaluate and bring perspective before making the next hire.

6. Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement at all levels of the organization, and consider how technology can support it.

As businesses grow, competition increases, or other factors change, businesses continually need to adapt. This involves continually making sure that people, processes, technologies, and information are all aligned. Creating and maintaining this alignment is particularly difficult if it is just seen as the responsibility of senior management. While this need is not specific to any given technology, industry, or project, one of the most frequent recommendations that we make to all of our clients is that they do things to implement an ongoing culture of continuous improvement. Empower everyone within the organization to share ideas on how to make their individual jobs better and improve upon the products or services delivered to customers. Once this culture is established, all other initiatives have a much greater chance of success.

Warren Whitney’s Technology and Operations services can help in any of the areas above. Specifically, we:

• Take roles as CIO, IT Director, or COO. We can serve on an interim basis while you replace a full-time position or on a longer-term basis if you are a growing organization and do not yet need a full-time information leader.
• Facilitate strategic planning and technology planning.
• Develop and implement processes and procedures that strengthen your use of technology in support of operations. Often this does not entail new systems.
• Guide you in evaluating and implementing new hardware and/or software.

Please call David Nelms, Director of the Technology and Operations Practice Group, with any questions. We would welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about your organization. Contact David at DNelms@warrenwhitney.com or at (M) 804.513.6581 or (O) 804.282.9566.

Technology & Operations Services Overview

By | Family Businesses, Nonprofit, Technology and Operations

Organizations need efficient business processes and robust technologies to remain competitive. Warren Whitney provides a variety of fractional and project based management services to help businesses improve operational efficiency, adapt to industry changes, and prepare for continued growth. Our professionals typically assist clients with strategic needs, but we can also roll up our sleeves and help drive tactics once the strategies are in place. Examples of services we provide are:

Leadership

  • Leadership assistance during transition or loss
  • Fractional CIO/COO leadership services

Strategy and Planning

  • Organizational assessment and design
  • Technology SWOT evaluations and long range planning
  • Governance, risk management, and policy definition
  • M&A readiness assessments and post transaction assistance
  • Management reporting, KPIs, and executive dashboards
  • Turnaround planning

Management and Consulting

  • Management of internal and external resources
  • Staff mentoring and management development
  • Large project oversight and management
  • Expense evaluation and stabilization
  • RFP and systems/vendor selection processes
  • System conversion, integration, and migration planning
  • Information management and reporting
  • Process evaluation and optimization
  • Vendor review and service quality management
  • Resource needs definition and sourcing

All our professionals have significant management and leadership experience in a wide variety of industries. We have a proven ability to “right size” solutions that can help you address your most complex needs.

Please contact David Nelms at 804-282-9566 to discuss ways we can help you address any issues and improve your business performance.

Technology Is The Easy Part, or It Should Be…

By | Family Businesses, Technology and Operations

David Cropped

Contributor: David Nelms

Link to Downloadable Article

The following is a paraphrase of conversations I’ve had with several business owners and CFO’s recently. Does some or all of this apply to you and your business?

“My business is growing. The software we use is outdated, and the vendor we use doesn’t support it well anymore. We use a lot of Excel spreadsheets, but they are increasingly difficult to keep up with and are causing us a lot of problems. I’m having a hard time getting the information I need to manage the business. I know I need better tools and a more current system, but I don’t know where to start or how to find what we need. What do I do?“

This is not an unusual situation, but my response to each of the folks I spoke with may not be what you expect. It has nothing to do with a cool way to do an internet search for software. The response I generally give is that the actual technology is the easy part. The more challenging part relates to making sure we have an appropriate foundation for the discussion before we go down the path of thinking about a potentially large technology investment that could have major implications to the business. We need to make sure the organization is committed and prepared for change, and that they have a fairly clear understanding of what’s actually needed before they even start thinking about specific technologies or solutions.

Assuming you really do need to pursue an overhaul of some or all of your key software systems, or if you simply think you might, the following are a couple of general things to consider as you think about getting started with an undertaking of this nature:

• Make sure you have a solid medium to long range plan for your business.

Systems need to support the business. They are all about improving processes and providing information. They can help ensure best practices are followed in some areas, but they shouldn’t completely define how the business should operate. New systems are often major, expensive, capital investments. As with any capital investments, you want to make sure you know where you are headed before making them. Make sure you have clearly defined business strategies and specific goals. If you have specific goals, you will be in a better position to evaluate whether a certain system will help you achieve these goals as you work through the process.

• Identify your current issues and anticipated future needs before you start thinking too much about the systems. Otherwise, if you start by simply looking at systems you might be drawn to the “sparkly,” expensive solutions that are not a good fit or are more than you really need.

This is often harder than it sounds. It requires a clear understanding of how the business operates coupled with a lot of objectivity. Before making a major investment in new systems, you need to understand the business processes you want the systems to support. You also need to be willing to challenge the status quo. Don’t assume you need to keep doing everything the way you have in the past. Use this potential project as an opportunity to revise obsolete polices and adopt new, best practice processes whenever it makes sense. Understand the things you currently do well and need to continue doing, and identify the pain points you need to address. When you are working to understand these needs, make sure you get input from people at all levels of the organization, as well as external customers, if applicable. Don’t just rely on input from managers who may be slightly out of touch with day to day needs. Make sure you try to understand the scope of future changes that will be needed to support the goals you have established. As you work through defining all these needs and requirements, document and prioritize them. Be prepared to separate wants from needs.

• Understand the information and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you need to have to manage the business effectively.

In short, if you don’t understand the types of information you need to run the business, or will need to run the business as you grow, you won’t be able to tell if the systems will be able to support you.

• Make sure company leadership is truly prepared to “make an investment” versus thinking they will just be “incurring an additional cost” before you get started.

Investments help enable growth and efficiency. It is premature to assume you have full buy in on the overall expenses associated with a software replacement project until you know what they are. However, if a major change of this nature is not viewed as a potential investment from the start, you should really question whether you are ready to start the discussion. If it is simply viewed as an “additional cost” from the inception of the conversation, this will often lead to a process and decision based primarily on price versus functional fit. This in turn, generally leads to a failed project.

• Think about your organization’s capacity for change and make sure you have the management team’s buy in for a fairly major change to both systems and processes within affected departments.

Before you even get started with a major software replacement project, regardless of the potential cost, make sure the organization is prepared to make a significant change. Significant change always involves challenges. Some challenges can be anticipated; some can’t. Make sure you are prepared to avoid expected challenges and address unexpected challenges as they arise.

• Be prepared to manage this effort as a project.

Make sure it is considered a strategic priority for everyone involved. Document critical information. Be prepared to communicate frequently and effectively to all stakeholders. Don’t assume anything. Establish schedules and stick to them. Commit to provide necessary training.

Again, these are just a few high level things to be thinking about as you consider making a significant change to any critical systems used to support your business. There are many other more detailed steps and structured processes that need to be followed as an initiative of this nature progresses. Having someone with experience going through this process is invaluable and unbiased facilitation of many of the discussions is generally critical. Some companies are prepared to manage these efforts internally, but most others need help. If you suspect you may need help, you probably do. If you do, get it. The investment will be worth it. Don’t skimp on the up front preparation or you will typically regret it down the road.

If you’d like to discuss concerns or issues related to your technology and how it supports your business, please feel free to call or email me.

 

Warren Whitney Announces Merger

By | Technology and Operations

CONVERGENT BUSINESS SOLUTIONS MERGES WITH WARREN WHITNEY

 

Richmond, VA – Through a merger with Convergent Business Solutions (CBS), Warren Whitney has expanded its practice areas to include Technology consulting services.  David Nelms, owner of CBS, will lead the Technology practice.

Since 2009, CBS has provided information technology consulting and contract Chief Information Officer and Chief Operating Officer services for mid-sized organizations.  The firm focuses on higher-level strategy that integrates technology and operations within the business thereby improving operating decision-making and efficiency.

Warren Whitney pioneered the concept of as-needed senior-level leadership.  For more than 26 years the firm has served privately held and nonprofit organizations in the areas of finance and accounting, human resources, and sales and marketing.   Strategic planning, board governance and executive searches are available to clients on a consulting project basis.

According to Scott Warren, co-founder of Warren Whitney, “David has built his technology firm in a model that parallels Warren Whitney’s.  We have collaborated with him on a number of clients that require technology and operations strategy.  Our professionals often work across practice areas informally to address clients’ needs quickly and efficiently.  By joining forces, we will be able to do this for their technology and operations needs as well.”

Larry Gumprich, Chief Financial Officer for Integrated Global Services says, “Warren Whitney and CBS have worked seamlessly as a team for us for the last 7 months on an important revamping of our information systems.  The merger comes as no surprise.”

David Nelms adds, “I am excited for Convergent Business Solutions to be teaming up with Warren Whitney.  Both firms work with mid-sized organizations to help them address critical business challenges.  Our new alignment allows us to address all aspects of an organization’s needs.”

 

 

View the Richmond Times-Dispatch Article