The May 18, 2015 Issue of Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine has an article about the struggle of big IT infrastructure companies like Cisco caused by the rise of cloud computing and more open technology design and standards.
The article says that: "Increasingly, smaller companies that want their own data centers will also be able to order gear more customized for their needs than that of the Cisco generation. Dozens of IT companies now build chips, motherboards, and servers from designs published by the Facebook led Open Compute Project, a four year old effort to lower data center costs...Open Compute Project head Frank Frankovsky says its most active project focuses on making cheaper network gear."
Rock on open hardware! What are the impacts of these changes on the established IT infrastructure companies? Creative destruction!
The article continues: "This new openness reduces the influence and profitability of massive sales teams assembled by the big IT companies."
It isn't just open hardware designs that are overturning the apple cart in IT infrastructure. It is also software.
Lew Cirne, the CEO of cloud software company New Relic, offers this quote in the article: "Given that customers can switch cloud providers with a few clicks, the only reliable way to compete is to have the best product."
What a horrifying thought! When vendor lock-in and monopolies fail, the only way to compete is to bring better value to your customers with a great product! (How I wish this would happen the the big 3 traditional survey equipment/software vendors, Trimble, Leica, and Topcon.)
There are big companies in the IT industry that recognize this trend and are trying to adapt to a more open, collaborative world. The article mentions Microsoft, which is producing versions of its office software for Android and iOs, and also Dell, which is working with outside makers of networking equipment instead of always pushing its own stuff.
Let the walled gardens crumble! Although this trend of openness is bad for big IT companies, its only good news for companies that consume IT infrastructure, for their customers, and for innovation in general. Lowering the cost of IT also makes it easier to start new businesses and non-profit organizations, which we need for a healthy and vibrant economy.
The September/October 2015 Issue of ACEC's Engineering Magazine has an article entitled "Successful Firm Growth Starts With Cultivating Leadership". (The article was written by Douglas Reed.) The article offered what I thought were some key insights into securing the future growth of an engineering company, and what makes growing and engineering company different from growing a business like a manufacturer. Here are a couple of quotes from the article I wanted to share:
"When looking to expand their operations, many firms immediately seek out acquisitions...An acquisition is risky since a firm is essentially purchasing intellectual capital, as opposed to a manufacturing plant. Since these are people, not machines, many acquisitions fail or under perform because firms are not ready for the people adaption needed."
I've personally seen the truth of this quote demonstrated over and over again. I'll watch one of my large competitors gobble up one of my smaller competitors. After the merger, I see the top talent at the acquired company leave because of a clash in company cultures or a failure on the part of the purchasing firm to really take care of their new employees. The purchasing company is left with some desktop computers and a storeroom of old project files that are cataloged or indexed. Everyone loses in this scenario.
Because acquisitions are so tricky in the engineering industry, organic growth becomes even more important. The article continues with this important concept:
"The key to a firm's successful growth starts with growing its leadership...This can be particularly challenging in an engineering environment. Leaders typically began their careers as engineers and worked their way up the corporate ladder. While many go to business school to learn to be more effective leaders, the vast majority learn as they go, imitating their superiors, who themselves are often not students of business science. This approach is limiting and doesn't necessarily foster excellence. It requires leaders to have natural leadership skills rather than providing an ongoing opportunity to develop them...Too many firms struggle because, while their leaders are excellent engineers, they have a difficult time handling balance sheets, developing market strategies, or mentoring the next generation of leaders."
This quote almost brings me to tears. Finally another individual recognizes the painful truth about many surveyors and engineers that own (or like me: help to run) surveying or engineering companies. We may be people with great technical skills, but our people skills and business skills often stink. This is another pattern I've seen over and over again during my career. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a good employees walk out the door of a company led by a civil engineer or surveyor who doesn't know how to lead or motivate their team. Once again, everyone in this situation suffers. The company, the company's clients, and the employee.
I'm trying not to make this same mistake myself. I've been reading (and listening) to everything I can about business strategy, business management, and the leadership of talented professionals. I can't even begin to tell you how much I've learned in the last 3 or 4 years that has helped me be a better manager and land surveyor. I want to talk more about this topic in the future, and in the next few days I'll try to post a list of free online learning resources that have helped me be a better businessman.
In the middle of November I took my wife Monique on a trip up Highway 88 in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains. The mountains had just received their first couple of feet of snow for the winter of 2015/2016. You can view the photos from my trip on Flickr or on my Viewbug web page. I've included a couple of the images from that trip on this post.
I've made an Inkscape SVG resume template that I use available for free under the International 4.0 Creative Commons License. You can find links to the resume and preview images on my graphic design web page.
If you are an Inkscape user and want to spruce up your boring Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer resume document, I hope this resume template will help. Make sure you at least change the color scheme to a palette you like. (The Color Combos web site can help with this.) If I get time, I'd like to release a corresponding cover letter and project profile template.
Behance is a web site that allows artists and graphic designers to show off their stuff. (You can see some map snippets on my Behance Profile.) I stumble on some really beautiful free fonts on Behance occasionally. I put together a list of my favorite 10 free fonts from Behance and wanted to share the list with you guys:
I hope you appreciate the hard work that went into these fonts like I did.
I've always strongly believed that the people my organization hires are the most important element of our business success. This may be even more true in a technology intensive consulting industry like the one my company competes in. One of my greatest challenges as a manager and small business owner is finding (and keeping) smart people for my team.
The September 2015 Issue of Inc Magazine has a great short article entitled “Grow Your Business, Know Your People” that talks about one way to keep smart people on your team. The article highlights the need to know your team members personally, and to make them feel like they work with their friends and family. Here are a couple of powerful quotes from the article, which I encourage you to read in its entirety:
"Engaged, enthusiastic, and loyal employees are pivotal drivers of growth and health in any organization. The key to creating such workers in your business is as simple and cost free as it is overlooked. It comes in the form of giving them what they want, need, and deserve more than anything else: to be known."
What does it mean to “be known”. Patrick Lencioni, the author of the article, explains:
“Known in the way that all people want to be known, by family and friends. Who they are. Where they come from. What makes them tick. How there life is going.”
Why is this so important? Patrick tells us that too:
“When employees feel anonymous in the eyes of their managers, they simply cannot love their work, no matter how much money the make or how wonderful there job seems to be.”
This is great advice for business owners and managers. In the near future I want to write more on this topic.
The October 25, 2015 Issue of Bloomberg Businessweek has an article entitled “Mapping America's Disgusting Waterways”. The article described how Google is helping the non-profit Freshwater Trust map and photograph rivers in America. The non-profit is using Google Trekker to take the same type of imagery that is captured for roads in Google Streetview. Once the imagery is captured in the field, it is used in the office to assess river conditions. The craft that cares the Google Trekker also captures other sensor data inlcuding water tempature and the level of oxegon in the water.
This is an awesome example of how sensor platforms, remote sensing, and GIS are being solved to help analyze and solve real world problems. Very cool!
I've been fascinated with 3D printing technology for a long time. I've very excited about its potential to democratize manufacturing. I'm also intrigued by how it is changing the relationship between the designer and manfufacturer, often combining the two (2) roles. The August 22, 2015 Issue of the Economist Magazine has an article entitled “What Goes Around Comes Around” that talks about advances in 3D printing that allow glass structures to be made with the additive process.
The process of printing with glass filaments is being explored by a team of researchers at MIT. The team had to modify the typical 3D printing process to overcome the challenges of printing glass. (This includes fragility on the printed structure that results from uneven cooling of the glass.) There improvements included:
Using a heated ceramic nozzle for priting. This helps control the flow of the glass.
Keeping the object in a high-temperature heating chamber so the entire structure is cooled at one time when removed from the chamber to room temperature.
Future improvements to the process might include:
Automating the process of heating and cooling the ceramic nozzle. (In the current process this is done manually with a blower and propane tourch.
Adding a plunger to control the speed at which the glass filament is extruded during printing.
This process has the ability to print special glassware with complex surface features. It sounds like a cool innovation. I look forward to seeing this process improve and be applied to the manufacturing process.
The October 2015 Issue of Wired Magazine has a short article about Thumb Sats. These are 16 inch long microsatellites that can carry small experiments into space for low cost. The Thumb Sats piggy back on launches of bigger payloads. There data is received by a global network of stations monitored by volunteers, including a Boy Scout Troop in Wisonsin. The satellites, (which are equiped with onboard GPS) stay aloft for 2 months afer launch, before they burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
The October 2015 Issue of Inc Magazine has an article entitled “Built To Last” about a different type of start-up company. This type of start-up is called an “evergreen company” because its founders don't intend to sell it to another company. Instead, they intent to own (and run) the company for the long-term. This idea appealed to me as the owner of Redefined Horizons, a small publishing and education business for land surveyors and GIS professionals. Inside the article was a list of 7 characteristics of “evergreen companies”. Here is the list from the article:
Purpose: Being passionately druven by a compelling vision and mission.
Perserverance: Having the ambition to overcome obstacles and keep pursuing the mission indefinitely into the future.
People First: Engaging a work force of talented associates who excel as a team and are motivated by the mission and the culture (as well as compensation). Taking care of that team in the belief that, in doing so, the team will take care of the business, the customers, the suppliers and the community.
Private: Taking advantage of the ability of closely held private companies to have a longer view and more operating flexibility than public or exit-oriented businesses.
Profit: Measuring success by the number that provides the most accurate measure of customer value delivered.
Paced Growth: Having the discipline to focus on long-term growth strategy and steady growth.
Pragmatic Innovation: Embracing a continuous improvemtn process built around taking calculated risks to innovate creatively within the constraints of the business.
This is an excellent list! I'll have to consider how each of these 7 characteristics is displayed by my own small business.