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Going Paperless in 2016

It’s long been an ambition of mine to reduce the amount of paper I store and digitize records as much as possible. Over the past couple of years I’ve been doing a half-hearted job by scanning most of my important mail and shredding everything. In 2016 one of my resolutions was to make the “Paperless Household” a reality. My goals were as follows:

  1. Spend less than 5 minutes on our paperless workflow, per week
  2. Make document recall easier for my wife and I, on any device
  3. Establish a backup strategy
  4. Reduce chance of identity theft
  5. Stick to budget of $500 for one-off hardware/software purchases and $100 per year on software services

Here’s how I achieved my goals:

As part of my new process, I opted to still receive physical mail. I evaluated a few virtual mailbox solutions but decided against that route as I couldn’t see the time savings being material. Key to the process, I decided, was batching, and my newly purchased Sparco Desk Tray was to be the the hub for this; top tray for unprocessed mail, middle tray for outgoing and bottom tray for shreddable items.

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New mail comes in everyday and gets processed once a week (in a few minutes) with a few possible end states: 1) digitized 2) recycled 3) shredded 4) outbound. Items 2 and 4 are quickly summarized as items which don’t have personal information printed on them and can be sent for recycling or out to the mailbox.

Digitizing is slightly more complex. Here’s where I ended up for this part of the process:

  1. Scan paper items and generate PDFs
  2. Place paper items in shreddable tray
  3. Make the contents of each PDF searchable
  4. Automatic filing of PDF based on rules
  5. Sync to cloud storage

I’d been using my Epson WorkForce printer to do scanning in the past, but it took so long to scan it would mean I could never achieve Goal 1 – spend less than 5 minutes per week on paperless. After some reading around and advice from Omar, I opted for the excellent Fujitsu SnapScan iX500 which is a beast and can handle more than my needs for scanning.

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Whilst the hardware is great, the software provided by Fujitsu is mediocre and somewhat confusing to setup. Their software is good, however, for making PDF contents searchable, which is a scan profile you must activate using the SnapScan software:

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With items now being successfully scanned, saved to local disk and searchable I was ready to start filing. SnapScan’s Organizer Software seemed to have some rules features but I was unable to get them working. Instead I opted for File Juggler for Windows. For Mac, there are other options available, including the highly recommended Hazel. Using FileJuggler, I created rules that monitored the contents of the SnapScan directory and moved and renamed files based on contents of the files. During the course of January, I had created rules (or “trained”) the system to take care of mostly all the mail we receive, with the exception of a couple of pieces that needed manual processing. Once a week, I was spending about 3-4 minutes processing and automatically filing everything – magic! Goal 1 – Check!

Here’s an example rule to file away Mortgage Statements that I scan in.

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The system renamed the files and moved them to my OneDrive folder, called Personal Records and into sub-folders like Banking, Utilities, Mortgage, Taxes, Nanny Receipts etc. depending on the particular rule. Now in OneDrive, these files were easily accessible by mobile, web and desktop and more importantly by my wife too! Goal 2 – Check!

There are lots of good resources on Backup Strategies, but I like Scott’s “The Computer Backup of Three” approach. With files now syncing to OneDrive, I signed up for CrashPlan after evaluating various online reviews. Their setup was painless and now I had an offsite backup of all my stuff. At $60 per year, I really like their service. It just works. Goal 3 – Check!

Time for a pause. Digitizing all that content comes with its own risks, mainly opening a new threat vector for identity theft: Hacking. As an individual, I consider that risk pretty low; I use very strong passwords and I use two-factor authentication whenever possible. However, as a family I needed to think about how my wife uses digital services. She’s not as tech savvy but still has a ton of online identities to manage, just like everyone else. To help reduce the risk, I signed up for 1Password and followed this article on sharing identities with her. I showed her how to use it and then started hardening all her passwords, one by one, starting with the important ones like Banking, Email, Cloud Services etc. For physical items, I have the trusty AmazonBasics 12 sheet shredder – get one, they’re worth it. Goal 4- Check!

How did I do on the budget? Well, I went over a little because of the Fujitsu SnapScan iX500 but it seems the price is cheaper all the time (with Amazon’s prime discount). However, I believe that I’ll literally save hours over the course of the year due to its scan speed. I can’t understate that this scanner just eats paper like its going out of style. Crashplan is $60 per year but I went over on the 1Password license ($70) which is one off. Goal 5 – Check!

Finally, I updated our estate documents to recognize digital documentation stored in OneDrive and how trustees to our estate can gain access to important documentation should the worst happen.

Future enhancements to the “Paperless Household”

  1. Paperless services. Many services, like American Express, allow you to opt for paperless billing. This is great, but means that your paper trail is now all over the internet in different services in stead of one convenient, predictable location. Later this year, I’m going to explore FileThis.com as a means by which to complete the filing solution. I’ll let you know how that goes.
  2. Large format documents. When we bought and sold property last year, I was reminded how the volume of paperwork was ridiculous and how the institutions use irregular formatted paper. I need to figure out if I can digitize them and have my documentation still be legal.

Finally, have you digitized your household? Would love to hear your approach in the comments!

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Where does Product Management go in the org chart?

This question has come up a couple of times in recent conversations with people working at tech companies in Seattle. In companies that have enjoyed growth and are now at a stage where product management is necessary to drive direction and strategic planning, it’s common to sometimes trip up and misplace this important team in the wrong place in the organization. Different reporting structures yield very different results.

Rich Mironov has a nice post which places the head of product management – in this case the VP of Product Management – as a member of the executive staff and a kind of consiglierei and small team acting as an internal think tank. This autonomy and ability to think broadly outside of a specific function is healthy because there is no baggage that might dilute or cloud the perspective that represents the the right thing to do for the business”.

So when I hear of Product Management teams that don’t have a seat at the executive table I shudder. That was the case in my recent conversations. Both companies had created Product Management functions (yay) but unfortunately had implemented them under the CTO or VP of Engineering. The problem here is that the PM team needs to represent voices and opinions that sometimes disagree with engineering priorities. If you report to the VP of engineering, there exists an automatic bias (however hard you try to avoid it) that will influence your signal and input into the PM deliverables.

Where does your PM group sit in your organization? How is that working out?

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Choosing an IoT Platform Provider

The IoT Landscape is large, fragmented and changing fast. As a consumer, app developer or “thing” maker the amount of choice is bewildering and takes the Paradox of Choice to an anxiety level of eleven.

Matt Turck of FirstMark Capital does a good job of capturing the current ecosystem in his Nascar-like diagram of devices, platform providers and technology building blocks. Matt created this diagram at the end of last year and it’s already out of date.

The Thing Makers are on the march

At the digital agency where I work, we’ve seen a crescendo of requests from clients in the past twelve months to do projects in the IoT space. In particular, from the “thing” makers, aka those companies that are making devices that connect to the internet. Each one has different business and technical needs and constraints but one thing is always the same, the first decision they need to make is which IoT platforms and providers to choose for their architecture.

In helping them make this important decision we’ve developed a robust criteria with which to evaluate platforms and providers. We’ve found it flexible enough to use across different verticals, whether you are targeting personal devices, wearables or industrial scenarios.

8 must-consider criteria for evaluating IoT providers

  1. Business Stability — we ask a number of questions related to the corporate background and stability of any provider. We want them to be around in 12 months!
  2. IoT Standards & Consortiums — we examine which technology standards the provider has adopted and if they use proprietary technology. The goal here is to adopt a platform that is technologically future proof and also provides access to markets that drive specific business goals.
  3. Hosting Model — we look at how they provision environments for customers and which providers they leverage for this. For example, do they provide public or private cloud options and who provides their underlying infrastructure.
  4. External Communication — the ability to develop on top of a platform is important for customization and we ask how extensive their API coverage is and to what extent is it standardized.
  5. Big Data — Again, flexibility is the key here, so we look at how data is stored and how flexible the storage model is in addition to extraction and reporting tools that might be available.
  6. Trust — Particularly in the consumer market, trust is very important. We want to know about policies and track record for security and privacy of user data.
  7. Device Communication — There are various ways that IoT devices can communicate with the cloud and each has its advantages and disadvantages. We want to know how they support connections and communications to IoT devices both in the cloud and local (M2M).
  8. Device Management — does their platform and hardware modules (if available) make it easy to support and maintain IoT device remotely including over-the-air updates.

IoT Standards and Consortiums

Probably the most important criteria included above is the IoT Standards and Consortiums.

Like any emerging technology trend, there are a bevy of commercial and not for profit organizations lining up to have a say in how the foundational technologies should be defined and standardized. IoT is no different and we expect that tech companies will lead with platform innovation which will inform points of views among consortium groups and lastly standards-bodies will aggregate and normalize architectures and technologies. An example of this is Nest with its Thread technology group, around which a working group of companies like Samsung, ARM, Freescale and a growing army of companies.

The big question on everyone’s lips is who will win and therefore which consortium and technology approach will become widely adopted by the rest of the ecosystem. A good leading indicator is the mobile platform ecosystem wars as many of the technology players and approaches are the same. In that world, Apple and Google provided the best economic opportunity for participants in the ecosystem by creating a marketplace connecting developers with consumers and simple ways to monetize. In the IoT world, those platforms that provide the easiest way to make money will ultimately win. Apple and Google have literally billions of consumers already on their platforms and just need to connect the dots to unlock that market for their IoT ecosystem partners in order to win.

Since this is so strategic, this evaluation feeds directly into our recommendations for IoT platform providers.

Final Thoughts

As with any technology decision make sure you have full understanding of business and technical constraints and requirements and feed those into your evaluation of IoT providers. This important step will inform the relative importance you place on different criteria and therefore help to focus your efforts leading to a more targeted decision.

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for businesses

The test of a good theory is how its principles/framework can be leveraged in other domains outside which it was originally intended. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes the stages of human motivation and needs. The theory is often represented by a pyramid with foundational “needs” at the base with increasingly advanced needs as you move further up the pyramid. Maslow suggested that the most basic needs be met before an individual was is able to focus on attaining higher level needs.

Another parallel is sports. Take golf as an example: I started by learning “swing fundamentals” like stance, body position, grip etc. before I progressed to more advanced techniques like shot shape, controlling distance, spin etc. If I’d tried doing it the other way round I would have been one frustrated golfer.

In the business world, this same model can help organizations prioritize activities that lead to long term, sustained growth. Without foundational elements in place, other “higher level” activities will not accrue to any value and will ultimately fail. This is common in businesses that are trying to grow but find themselves bumping up against an “invisible ceiling”, which could be measured in revenue, profit, number of people etc. Often, it’s the lack of fundamentals that stunts company growth and eventually lead to customer and talent retention problems.

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Mission, Culture & Values

In the absence of clear direction / higher purpose (mission) and pillars by which to guide decision making (culture & values) organizations find it hard to steer away from uncertainty and ambiguity. Teams are unclear about how their activities accrue to the company’s goals and how to prioritize the many facets of the work they do. The most successful organizations are not only clear about their mission, culture and values but their team members demonstrate them consistently and hold each other accountable for following them. LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, does a really nice job of establishing mission, culture and values – have a read through their “Culture Book” here for some further inspiration on how to lay out these important items.

Corporate Governance

The meaning behind corporate governance is often clouded by finance, but at its essence, it’s really just a fancy term for defining who does what in an organization. Clear roles and responsibilities are important to help facilitate empowerment, leadership and accountability which are essential as an organization grows and inevitable complexity creeps into getting business done. It also helps team members build clear expectations on how to progress to the next level in their careers. Harvard Business Review has a good piece on the importance of defining roles and responsibilities.

Business Goals

What is the company trying to achieve? Defining, communicating and regularly reviewing company goals helps align teams and individuals on activities that accrue to the overall mission. They should be strategic as possible so that you avoid the “moving the goal post” dilemma and teams have time to plan and execute against them. Peter Drucker’s SMART goals are widely regarded as a good framework for how to set goals.

Unique Differentiation

Being able to create unique value for customers allows a company to outmaneuver the competition and drive customer retention. This is arguably the area where a company is able to generate the most incremental value for stakeholders. Capitalizing on differentiation is done by telling the story to the market through the sales and marketing teams and should be woven into the brand positioning. Entrepreneur magazine lays out principles to think about when defining a company’s unique differentiation.

Sustained Innovation

The ability to continuously create new products, enter new markets and disrupt incumbents helps organizations create sustained, long term growth. Cultivating sustained innovation is the “self-actualization” moment for an organization. Consider Apple, who defined the era of digital music and then proceeded to reinvent the smartphone which set them on a path to become the largest company on the planet by market capitalization. Often, sustained innovation is baked into an organization’s culture to encourage more frequent occurrence. Fast Company writes about this concept and how to approach it.

Where to start?

Achieving all of this, and reaching sustained innovation is by no means easy. It starts at the top with the CEO. He or she is responsible for leading and setting forth many of the high level initiatives; mission, culture and vision and corporate governance. At the same time they need to be putting in place a leadership team that are able to plan, budget and execute those initiatives and then empower and hold them accountable for driving outcomes that accrue to the organization’s success.

Have a different view on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for a business? I’m waiting to hear from you in the comments below.

 

— Hat tip to Ray Wang at Software Insider for his version of the business hierarchy of needs which helped me structure my thinking around the priorities.

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Feedback is a gift

We sometimes shy away from receiving feedback because we don’t want to hear where we messed up or (worse) we think we already know it all. My previous boss – a great leader – used the phrase “Feedback is a gift” all the time and encouraged his team to actively give and seek out feedback. Over the holiday break I thought about why he chose to use this phrase in particular.

  1. It disarms the receiver’s fear of feedback. By presenting it at a gift the receiver is able to see the positive in getting it and begins to actively seek it out. It’s no longer scary!
  2. It helps the giver of the feedback realize the responsibility in giving the feedback. Here is something that can truly impact the individual and help them get to the next level. Giving gifts is hugely satisfying!
  3. Third, it’s catchy! He was in marketing after all!

As you head back into work and begin your new year, seek out feedback from people you work with. Use this as input into how you plan your personal development in 2015.

If you want to improve how you give or receive feedback, I recommend you pickup a copy of “One Minute Manager” and read the section on one minute praising and reprimands. It might just make your year.

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Snooping on your home screen

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Apps have been pinging other apps on the phone to detect whether they are installed or not for a while. In fact there are a couple of startups that provide SDKs to do it.

Doing this provides insight into the type of user the owner of the device is, which allows the publisher to provide more targeted features & experiences as well as advertising. For example, if you have a bunch of baby apps, shopping apps, or coupon apps then you are most likely a female with a new baby.

Read more: http://recode.net/2014/11/26/twitters-now-collecting-data-on-which-apps-you-download

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The Weekly Plan

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How would you like to finish your work week with a sense of pride, accomplishment and – most importantly – surplus energy heading into the weekend? Sounds good right? Here’s how to get started.

  1. Your week starts on Friday. Before you close your laptop for the weekend, create your plan for the week. This helps you get ahead of the rest of the world by having a plan of action for the following week. By doing this you will easily filter out distractions and interruptions and instead focus on what will make you more successful.
  2. Write down the outcomes you want to achieve by the end of the following week. I emphasize outcomes, since people often get caught up in the “activity” of doing work instead of focusing on the end goal. If your outcomes are too large to fit into one week break them up into smaller chunks making them more achievable. If it helps, you can write down the activities that need to get done to unlock the outcome – that’s healthy but sometimes unnecessary if you can juggle that detail in your head. Keep checking the size of your list. If your list starts too look unmanageable its time to start prioritizing and trimming the list. Remember, you want to feel good about achieving your outcomes – if you set unrealistic plans you won’t unlock that feeling.
  3. Next, we get into calendaring. If you’re like me you run your life in your calendar and work colleagues have the ability to view your availability. This can be great, but can also result in calendar “hi-jack” where you get inundated with meeting requests. In the next few steps I outline ways to groom your calendar during your weekly planning session on Friday. Grooming consists of: Shortening, consolidation and definition.
  4. Shortening: Try and get all your regular meetings scheduled into one day or at least in blocks across multiple days. Shorten them to 25 minutes and get super focused on agenda topics and the outcomes you want out of the meeting. The 5 minutes accounts for “travel time” for folks to get to where they need to be next.
  5. Consolidation: Try to batch together common topics, themes or elements into one meeting – I often forward invites to people and add agenda items to one core meeting instead of having lots of related meetings on the same theme. This will increase effectiveness of your meetings and at the same time shorten them and allow you to get back to your weekly plan.
  6. Definition: Never accept a meeting unless it has a well defined agenda with outcomes and the right stakeholders to make a decision or progress. If any of those things are missing then provide feedback to the team and decline until rectified.
  7. Book out work time that accrues to achieving your weekly outcomes. If you find it hard to find time, start blocking out half days or even a whole day if you can. This will allow you decent runway to accomplishing substantial work and avoid the tax of context switching or interrupts.
  8. Block 30 minutes every morning and every afternoon to do email. Don’t live in your inbox – it is a productivity killer. Remember that email is merely a means of communication and not “actual work” nor a tangible outcome.
  9. Because you have planned in advance for the week ahead, you’ll find your co-workers are at a disadvantage. For those unfortunate souls, set aside some “office hours” throughout the week where you make a point of making yourself available. This doesn’t have to be a large chunk of time, but is a good buffer for those meetings that crop up but are useful to help unblock progress for others.

What do you think of these steps? Are there any other things that you do to help make yourself productive?

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Nike’s timely exit from wearables

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Nike have exited the wearables market at the perfect time. In launching the Fuel Band, they helped establish a category and set consumer expectations for fitness wearables hardware and software experiences. Oh and they learnt along the way how to plug it in most efficiently into stickiest part of the Nike ecosystem, the data.

“Just last week, Nike announced the launch of its San Francisco-based Fuel Lab. The testing space, born from its accelerator program, will join Nike’s slew of other innovation-branded R&D havens where companies will be able to design hardware products that incorporate the company’s proprietary point-based workout metric, NikeFuel.

Essentially, it will be a incubator for FuelBand successors, as long as they plug in to Nike+, for which Nike is publicly releasing an API this fall.”

Their focus on APIs through public developer programs and exclusive incubators will foster the right level of ecosystem innovation at the hardware level and have it accrue to their core competency – their sports products. Now that manufacturing and prototyping costs have reached a startup friendly level (hello 3D printing), gone is the need to have bucket loads of cash to get a product off the ground. Nike is sensibly dispersing that risk to the ecosystem and focusing on its core products. Bravo.

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Tracking users location and the laws of value exchange

Fortune published a pragmatic piece on location based tracking and how users will or won’t accept this type of interaction retailer or brand.

Part of the problem with iBeacon and its brethren is the word “tracking.” No one would answer “yes” to the question, “Do you like having your every move tracked whenever you enter a store?” And yet, that’s what happens to us as we browse the web every day. Marketers, publishers, and e-commerce sites use cookies to follow us around the web and serve us ads based on our browsing histories. Cookies have always been a point of contention with privacy wonks, but Internet users are generally okay with it.

Which word the industry ends up using to describe “tracking” is completely irrelevant. What is most important and indicative of iBeacon’s (and its brethren) maturity is when marketers actually figure out the right level of value exchange by which a consumer is willing to participate in a location specific interaction.

Spam me with crap and I will uninstall you. Shower me with value and I will be yours forever*.

*Forever in the internet world is actually next week, or at least until the next time you screw up and de-value our digital relationship.

Will there be spammers? Yes. Will there be an uproar from consumers? Yes. Will consumers eventually get over it as marketers figure out how to best leverage the technology and find the appropriate value exchange? Yes.

This pattern reminds me of Facebook Connect’s early days when users rioted when they had to sign into apps like Spotify using their Facebook account due to privacy concerns. Fast forward a few years and now this behavior is the norm. People understood the value in signing in with Facebook – it saved them time and enriched their interactions with their Facebook friends.

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