This blog has Moved.

1 November 2008

I’ve moved this blog off the WordPress site and incorporated it into my own site at http://www.mjmhelp.com/.  I will not be adding any more posts to this site.  I will slowly move all the posts to the new location.

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Why did we just have an election?

15 October 2008

After all the posturing and complaining that the last government was dysfunctional, we have a new government that may prove to be just as dysfunctions.  Dion will probably step down after the poor showing in the results.  If not, he will surely have an internal fight on his hands.  The struggle to find a new leader will leave the party in turmoil and focused on navel gazing.  Harper, on the other hand, has now won two minority governments, and must be mad as hell.  I’m sure he will call another election in about 18 months and we’ll do this all again.  So much for the “elections every four years”.


Quintessential Canadian Experience

5 October 2008

Today, I had a very Canadian experience: portaging a canoe through downtown Ottawa.  Portaging (carrying the canoe on ones shoulders) is typically done in the woods, between lakes or around rapids that are too dangerous to traverse, hidden by trees.  In the city, it is a different experience, both for me and for the people I passed.  It was a short trip from my house to the Ottawa River – probably a few hundred yards – yet I managed to pass in front of a tour group and a number of other people on the street.  Thanks to the Frantics, the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River , it is not unusual to see someone walking down the street of the nation’s capital with an 18 foot canoe on their head.  Still I hope the tourists enjoyed the sight as they bought some Maple Syrup candies.

Between the portages from and to home, my wife and our youngest daughter spent several hours on the Ottawa River seeing the sights, the ducks and swans and the leaves which are just about to peak with the autumn colors.  With the rocking of the canoe, my daughter only lasted a short while before she was snoring in the bottom of the boat, leaving my wife and I to talk.

It was a great day.


No Strategy Survives Contact with the Market

29 September 2008

The recent collapses of the financial markets highlights the existence of change as a force of nature in the business world.  Change happens. All the time.  If stability doesn’t exist, it doesn’t make sense to plan strategy around stable business markets.

To paraphrase Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, the Chief of Staff of the German Army in the 1800’s: no strategy  survives contact with the market.  Rather than indicating that strategy is pointless, the comment is meant to show that strategy must react to changes in the market.  It must be fluid rather than fixed, open-minded rather than dogmatic.  It is a game of options and optimization.

The key, then, to effective strategy development is to ensure you have options and contingency plans and that you are continuously working to develop and optimize these plans.  To quote Moltke again, “Plans are nothing, Planning is everything”.  The essence of this thought is that the plan will invariably change before it is completed so don’t concentrate on the plan, concentrate on the processes of planning.  The plan will be obsolete as soon as you e-mail it.

MJM Consulting – Helping companies grow.


Bootstrapping your IT

23 September 2008

If you are a new startup that requires several people to work together, just how cheaply can you set up your IT network?  Very cheaply it turns out.

You will need computers – but just about any old computer will do.  You can use the cast offs from other companies that are upgrading – they often pay to have them removed.  The software on the machines is not important as long as they have a browser and a functioning Internet connection.  Don’t go buy the latest machines loaded with expensive software.  If you have to purchase computers, try to purchase used ones.  If you really want a new one, get the cheapest model with the least software.  Don`t get a laptop until you really need it.

Next you will need Internet access.  Start-out with a dial-up connection – it may work with the other suggestions I’ll make below and it is cheaper than highspeed DSL.  If you have wifi, find a free drop and work from there.  (Note that two café lattés from Starbucks cost as much as a month of cut-rate DSL.)

If the other employees are also working at the same location, you will need a router to share the internet and some cables.

Don`t buy a server!  You won`t need it.

For the software, use the web.  There are fantastic services out there that can support a new company with collaborative tools and software that is free to use or extremely cheap.  They are either web based (web2.0) or hosted desktops.  Here is my short list of hosted desktops:

  • Ghost (G.ho.st)– provides a web desktop via a browser with 5 gb storage and 3 gb of mail.  It is a fully hosted solution aimed at personal users.  It just released a version accessible from mobile devices.  It includes a full suite of applications as well as Zoho and Google apps (see below).  Very cool stuff and probably good enough for starting up.
  • Ulteo– a open-source free personal desktop that can be shared with others. It is Linux based and comes pre-loaded with applications such as the Open Office suite.  Desktop sharing is useful for collaboration and as a web conferencing application.  The number of invites is limited and fees apply as more are added.  There is no corporate shared storage.  The desktop is hosted by Ulteo or can be downloaded and run locally.  File synchronization is supported between local and server storage.
  • (TBD) – there are other services coming.  Stay tuned for more.

For web 2.0 solutions, check out the following list:

  • Central Desktop– a web2.0 collection of team collaboration tools.  While there is a free version, the memory available is limited to 25 MB – not alot.  Fees increase with the number of users, projects and storage.
  • Google– Google provides Google Docs and the more complete Google Apps which provides business e-mail, collaboration tools and on-line storage.  Very popular. Has a 30 day free trial and then its $50 per user per year.  If you can put up with advertisements, there is a free standard edition that is supported by ads.
  • Jooce– an online system for nomadic computer users.  Limited in scope and aimed at social networking from any Internet terminal.  However, it is free and there are (currently) no storage limits.
  • QTask – an web based project coordination tool.  First 5 users are free for the first year, then it is $50/user/month.
  • ThinkFree – a Korean company that provides on-line office software.  There is a free office suite and a workspace edition (in beta) for corporate use.  The applications are high quality  and look very similar to Microsoft Office.  Mobile devices are supported.  While they support on-line access, their main target is self-hosted solutions.
  • Zoho– a suite of web2.0 applications that provide most of what a small business needs.  There are a wide number of generic applications that can support small businesses.  Zoho is very similar to Google Apps but has a broader selection of applications.  Collaborative document editing is possible making it an excellent choice for a micro business.
  • Zooos – A web 2.0 office application suite.  Looks to be still in development but the blog and other parts of the site appear inactive.

Other interesting solutions that require a server:

  • EyeOS – EyeOS provides an open-source server solution that allows your company data to be accessible from everywhere.  However, they do not host the server – you have to do that.

If these solutions don’t solve your problems then you may have to purchase a server and set up a LAN.  Just beware of the costs and complexity involved.  The above solutions can be up and running in minutes.  A LAN will take days and cost you many hundreds if not thousands of dollars.  Then add the software.  By the time you get file servers, security and enterprise e-mail with MS Exchange Server installed, you can easily spend $30,000.

If you know of other web 2.0 or hosted business solutions out there, I’d like to hear from you.


Having Difficulty Finding New Business Ideas?

13 September 2008

The rather new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Club in Ottawa is a bit different then other networking groups I’ve attended.  Composed of ex EMBA graduates from the University of Ottawa, it combines networking, presentations from members and more homework – as if the current students didn’t have enough already.

At last nights meeting, Rachel Hancock led a session on developing new business ideas.  She outlined a process to follow that helps in developing ideas.  At first, it seems straight forward.  Basically (and with far too much brevity) it is: examine trends in the markets; identify challenges that are developing; use your experience to qualify them; from the challenges identify opportunities and then study these using the standard market and business planning methods.

The trick lies in letting go of your self-imposed constraints.  In the small group I was working with, we had a lawyer, a green energy developer, a incubator, and me – a general manager.  We looked at technological, social and environmental trends and came up with a company that would develop green energy using an open-innovation (read open source) model – hardly innovative given our backgrounds but illustrative of the constraints we impose on our thinking.  Breaking out of these constraints is necessary to finding good new ideas that are more than just bits of your past experience.

This is a common theme in discussions about creativity.  Thinking laterally and letting the brain play with the data once you’ve digested it is part of the process.  The hard part is being open to the new ideas when your brain passes them on to you.  To me, this sounds a bit like Obiwan’s advice to Luke: “Use the force” but it is necessary or you will be stuck in a trap of your own making.

This isn’t to say the process is easy. Outside of the classroom, the search for the next big thing is a serious and time consumming effort.  Lots of data needs to be gathered and digested.  Just take a break now and then to let your brain play.

Good luck with your search.