Archive | November, 2012

Scottsdale schools look to harness Sun Power

27 Nov
Scottsdale schools look to harness Sun Power  

By Brett Nachman
Independent Correspondent

Four Scottsdale high school students “soaked up the sun” during their fall break to participate in the SunPower Solar Science Academy — a week-long program aimed to educate students on the benefits of solar energy implementation.

Scottsdale Unified School District is the only district in Arizona to participate in this one-of-a-kind initiative.

Five other school districts in California have been involved as well, SUSD officials say.

The quartet of Saguaro and Coronado students to partake in this program included Taylor Clark, Carlos Mora, Jessica Norman and Abraham Ramirez.

The students, at the Nov. 20 SUSD governing board meeting, shared information on solar power and their experiences during the project.

Dr. Karen Benson, SUSD director of curriculum, said that the collaboration with the SunPower Corp. involved “the agreement that we would allow students to showcase their learning in front of our governing board members.”

Dr. Benson recognized SUSD coordinators Chris Brandt and Janey Kaufmann for the “many hours they put in,” as well as “superstar” lead teachers Susan Lindberg and Erika Mills.

The students developed Galileo Systems, a fictional company, and assumed roles within this project.

They discussed the potential of solar power, as well as the progress SUSD has made in embracing this energy.

“Making energy resolve around the sun” represented the slogan of their presentation.

Mr. Mora spoke to the scientific process of converting sunlight into electricity.

Meanwhile, his colleague, Ms. Clark, informed the audience that “enough sunlight falls to Earth every hour to meet our world’s energy demand for an entire year.”

The students shared that solar energy can be incorporated at a household level, as their project partially focused around determining the cost and energy savings of a sample home.

Their example, showcasing a house boasting a south-facing view, 34-degree-angle roof and no foliage obstructions, could save approximately 11,000 pounds of carbon dioxide gas emissions from being released each year.

“Let’s face it, we get a lot of sun here,” joked Mr. Ramirez.

Mr. Ramirez said he advocates solar power because of it being “more eco-friendly, safer, cheaper, more productive and just plain more basic compared to other energy sources.”

This project ties to SUSD’s real-life utilization of solar energy.

The district recently applied the Qualified School Conservation Bond to partner with SunPower and equip 11 of its 33 schools with solar panels.

These newly-installed systems can be found on SUSD school rooftops and on parking lot shading structures.

“QSCB allows companies that wish to reduce energy consumption in public buildings to have bonds to help pay for the expenditure,” said Mr. Ramirez.

This natural form of energy is expected to save Scottsdale schools electricity costs around $25 million in the next 25 years, a May press release states.

During the Solar Science Academy, these students discussed strategies on integrating solar energy into the community, even gaining firsthand experience via taking field trips to various businesses.

Ms. Norman said they visited Stara Technologies in Glendale, which tests solar panels for usage in the military.

The students said they enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the program and better appreciate this form of technology.

“My grandfather tried to promote solar panels 20 years ago, which wasn’t cost-effective then,” said Ms. Norman.

Ms. Norman said she participated in the camp to remember her late grandfather, “but also to increase my knowledge of solar technology and how to improve my lifestyle.”

Mr. Ramirez said he was “oblivious” to this subject matter beforehand, but benefits from having been a part of the SunPower Solar Science Academy.

Mr. Mora attained “business and team management skills” from working on the project with his fellow students.

“I learned lessons on cleaner living that will carry with me for the rest of my life,” said Ms. Clark.

Editor’s note: Mr. Nachman is participating in the Independent Newmsedia’s correspondent program


19 Nov

In Arizona an organization is making great strides in re-educating government procurement entities on their options for group purchasing insurance.  In many government settings, standard procurement processes are often used exclusively, without giving proper consideration to other options legally available.  Sometimes these other options can yield great savings and better services and products as well.

Here is a PowerPoint presentation put together recently by Bill Munch of the Valley Schools Management Group (VSMG) on how group purchasing options should be considered in addition to standard single-entity procurement:

Options in Insurance Buying FINAL 09132012

The Power Point is pretty self-explanatory, but for more information, please feel free to contact Bill Munch, Andrea Billings, or Sheri Gilbert at 623-594-4370.

Bill Munch

Was Your Project “Done Right”? How Do You Know?

15 Nov

Was Your Project “Done Right”? How Do You Know?

Submitted by Esther Schindler

At the beginning of a development project, there’s no way you can know — or recognize — when the project is “done right.” Even if you know a lot about the problem domain.

We all like to think that we understand our users, and that we listen carefully when they explain what they need. Armed with that certainty, we go off to design an application that scratches every itch the users described. And we are annoyed when they announce that, to their own surprise, what the developer delivered wasn’t what the users wanted after all.

That’s not always because your understanding was imperfect, but because few of us humans know the difference between “What I want” and “What I need.” Often this distinction doesn’t occur to us until we’ve made a few bad choices, which is why divorce lawyers earn a pretty good living.

Proponents of Agile methodologies will nod along with the above and mutter, “Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along?” (About the need/want issue; I’m not sure about the lawyers.) But I’ve recently bumped into a non-computer example that drove the message home for me.

It’s a case of the busman’s holiday: One of the things I do for fun (or at least to serve the community) is edit the monthly newsletter for a local all-volunteer nonprofit organization. That gives me a certain degree of dispassionate observer status, because every month I see (and correct the grammar in) the club’s board meeting minutes, as well as the newsletter’s other articles. I follow the club’s projects, including its recent plans to move into a new building under a local government sponsorship. (I’m intentionally coy about its identity, here, as I don’t want to embarrass anyone publicly, and the example doesn’t need specifics.)

The guy who volunteered as Project Manager is very much of the old waterfall school. For several months, he’s been proudly demonstrating to the club members how Gantt charts work and what “critical path” means. But I realized that in the past six months, about the only thing that has been produced is pretty charts, meeting reports, and a couple of architectural layouts (the latter generated by another volunteer who clearly has a workable vision for how it might all come together). There are real physical things to be built and installed in the new building, but as far as I can tell, not a single one of them is started.

Meanwhile, the club president, whom I like a lot, has left it up to this Project Manager (I’ll refer to him as “Stan”) because the president (let’s call him “Joseph”) wants to see the new building project “done right.” I admire Joseph’s delegation intent, but I’m beginning to see just how Waterfall projects go south. (Never mind that the situation is exacerbated because this is an all-volunteer organization. I spent many years as a computer user group activist, and learned from raw experience just how much is different when “motivating people” does not involve financial remuneration.) The bottom line is that nobody in this project could recognize whether or not it’s been “done right” until the very end (i.e. when the doors open on the new building), by which time it will be too late.

All of Stan’s energy has been put into organizing “What has to be done.” Very little, as far as I can tell, has been put into identifying the different constituencies who need to be satisfied, and figuring out how to make them happy. The result is that Stan’s plans are cast in concrete when the municipal authority says they require Such-And-So, then the concrete is blasted out when the Building Architects make a change… and nobody has asked, “What will make people actually pay to come into this building to see what we’re displaying?” or “We have a small group of volunteers who joined the organization to indulge in their hobby. How can we make the new building serve their needs?”

I foresee bad times ahead.

I could write at length about what it takes to find out what is needed-and-wanted, and what happens in volunteer organizations when the members’ needs are ignored (in fact, I did, before I deleted a big block of text). But the point I want to make is that a “Project Plan Is God” approach can only serve a bureaucracy. It can serve the end user only by accident. The users (whether it’s the club members or the building architects) become secondary to “compliance with The Plan.”

That wouldn’t be so bad, except that a project being “done right” can only be judged by whether each of those groups-of-users is happy at the end. And since they don’t know what they want (only what they think they want), they need developers (and project managers) to give them frequent opportunities to look at the results and make course corrections. And thenadjust the deliverables in response as necessary, as the players find out what truly is required, by which date, and with what priority.

So to (at length) come back to my original point: even if you know all about the problem domain (that is, you understand the nature of the business problem), both you and the users operate on assumptions. Those assumptions may not hold true for every case, and specifically those assumptions may be inaccurate for this particular project. There is no way that Stan can predict every problem the club will encounter, the more so because of the battling agendas of all the parties involved. But by putting all his emphasis on “creating a plan,” he loses sight of the purpose of a plan: to make sure that the project goals are met. With no allowance for the inevitable changes, either Stan will spend all his time updating his project management software, or the Plan will soon have no relationship to the actual project status.

This particular nonprofit isn’t my problem, really. But I hate to see well-meaning people set themselves up for failure. And right now, that’s all I can predict.

CRM Needs Assessment for Projects Done Right

13 Nov

CRM Projects Done Right Mean Business Process Changes

Like most enterprise applications, CRM systems mean tighter business processes. Unlike most enterprise apps, however, CRM users typically aren’t ready this for this. Here’s a look at what needs to be fixed before you should really start a CRM project.

By David Taber
Thu, September 13, 2012

CIO — Think about an accounting, ERP or even HR application. Making them work means some using pretty tight business rules and user practices. Most of the time, users have been fully indoctrinated by their professions and have no problem adopting generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or the more flexible ERP II.

Now think about the typical outbound marketing person or sales rep. There’s professionalism, yes, but there’s also a deeply held belief that what they do is a sort of artistry based on unique personal skills. The amount of CRM-oriented processes baked into most sales and marketing departments could fit in a couple of tea cups.

Commentary: Before You Invest in CRM Software, Assess Your Needs

I’m not just being snarky here. That’s coming from a 20-year veteran of the revenue generation business process. The shallowness and incoherence of marketing and sales processes is a major impediment to the effectiveness of CRM efforts and the adoption of the systems by users.

The bottom line is this: Successful CRM projects depend on the refinement and deepening of the relevant business processes. That can make CRM projects a taller order.


5 Business Process Issues Associated With CRM Projects


In the early stages of any significant CRM effort, you need to look for symptoms of business process disconnects and incentive misalignments across various parts of sales and marketing. Unifying and automating non-integrated business processes will only expose or exaggerate contradictions.

The place to look for these disconnects is in job descriptions, territory maps, sales channel rules of engagement, marketing programs, lead nurturing campaigns and other PowerPoint, Visio and Word documents. Here are five major problem areas.

Unclear or undifferentiated processes. Do the job descriptions in marketing (particularly the outbound side) and sales (particularly field marketing and pre-sales) reflect highly differentiated process roles, or are the responsibilities only vaguely stated? You want to see unique ownership of goals that can be independently achieved. You’re looking for specific descriptions of cogs in a machine, not vague statements about teamwork.

Pay close attention to service level agreements, especially those that involve the following parties:

  • Lead generation and lead cultivation
  • Lead cultivation and inside sales
  • Inside sales and the field
  • Channel managers and sales partners

Commentary: CRM and Sales: If it’s Broke, Fix It

Make sure each SLA includes explicit quality criteria, deadlines and rejection rules. Here’s a good example: “If Sales does not explicitly act on a new Opportunity within four business days, the Opportunity is reassigned.” In addition, develop a waterfall model that indicates each major phases of lead and deal maturation, with approximate times and conversion ratios for each major step.

Incentives Make sure the answers to the following questions are not “Well, it depends…”

  • Are marketing bonuses based on a balance of brand, reputation and loyalty as well as pipeline creation?
  • Are sales compensation plans pushing people in coherent directions across all parts of the sales organization?
  • Are quotas and compensation plans excessively individualized in different parts of the sales team?
  • In commission plans, does $1 really equal $1? Do direct reps get commission on channel sales in their territory?

Metrics Metrics for key success factors should be clearly identified and enforced. You don’t want metrics that are almost incidental—for example, “the sales rep will make at least 10 cold calls per week.”

In addition, metrics should evaluating things that an individual can actually control. One classic mis-metric is to hold outbound marketing responsible for revenue. (Instead, measure “number of sales-accepted leads” or “overall pipeline volume.”) Another is to hold the sales rep responsible for customer satisfaction when he has nothing to do with product quality or service responsiveness. (Instead, measure “customer complaints about sales” or “number of misconfigured orders.”)

Commentary: 5 Reasons Social CRM Is the High Ground for Revenue Production

Finally, ask if metrics are enforced by business rules with deadlines or approval cycles. For example, are qualified leads that have gone stale supposed to be returned to marketing? Are deals that haven’t moved in 60 days eligible to be closed or pulled back from the channel partner?

Terminology Start with a clear description, or even an indoctrination document, for what sales objects such as Lead, Contact, Account and Opportunity mean to the marketing and sales process. Get people to stop saying “We convert leads into opportunities”—and take double points off your score if you can’t explain the misconception baked into those words.

From there, look at every record type and status value for these sales objects. You need qualification and entry/exit conditions that make two things clear—one, that all leads, contacts, accounts and opportunities would in fact fit into the scheme, and two, that at least 80 percent of leads, contacts, accounts and opportunities would fit into exactly one record type or status value at any one point in time.

Commentary: Email-to-CRM Contact Connection Easier Said Than Done

Finally, for the status fields (leads, contacts and accounts) and the stage field (opportunities), make sure, again, that there is clear definition of what the status value means, as well as a set of unambiguous entry/exit criteria.

Channel conflict There are several key questions you must answer here.

  • Do outside sales reps view the ecommerce system and the inside reps as diverting their commission dollars?
  • Do your reps view distributors and resellers as competition?
  • Are customer renewals handled by an organization that doesn’t report into sales?
  • Does marketing treat your channel partners as an extension of the sales force?


Moving CRM Projects From Mere Magic to Machinery

Classic B2B sales and marketing came to full flower long before the advent of CRM. This lead to huge, sometimes miraculous, wins accompanied by big cost structures and unreliable sales forecasts. Even today, sales and marketing budgets are the single largest cost area of many firms.

The goal of CRM projects is to lower the cost and improve the reliability of the revenue engine so it’s always firing on all cylinders. Achieving that means moving beyond not-very-systematic thinking and adding models, metrics and machinery across the sales and marketing team. Like your car’s engine, the revenue engine needs to be carefully and coherently tuned in order to deliver its maximum output.

David Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, “ Secrets of Success” and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a certified consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, Europe, Israel and India. Taber has more than 25 years of experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above.

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