Archive for June, 2009

Outsourcing IT Management

June 25, 2009 by Chuck

Information Technology (IT) has become a necessary component of today’s business culture.  If you own a business with more than 5 employees, it almost becomes a necessity.   In some form or fashion, you’re going to have to come up with a game plan to maintain and replace your current systems.  What works best?  Let’s talk about that.

If you’re a business with less than 100 computer using employees, you may find a lean philosophy will maximize IT efficiency as well as effectiveness.   Why?  Here are several reasons.

  1. Computer usage has become a common part of American culture.  Almost all sectors of professional life involve the use of a computer. When it comes to small IT tasks, just about any computer hobbyist at a company could manage and maintain software and hardware inventory, the ability to change a forgotten password, and add a printer to a workstation.  Depending on time availability of that employee, he or she could also handle email accounts and basic web site changes.
  2. Microsoft Windows is very stable.  I know, I know… you’ll always have a small percentage of PCs that will tend to crash.   This is more about the law of averages than the quality of Windows.  Generally speaking, a well made, properly installed Windows XP or Vista (and soon to be Windows 7) PC with up to date antivirus and antispyware software will be very solid.  The small stuff is usually easy to fix but what happens when you get a virus or spyware on your computer?  That’s when you need an IT professional.
  3. Difficult server, router, and security tasks are infrequent.   Don’t get me wrong, the need for expert IT professionals is still necessary and vital to the health of any business, but in order for an IT person to be proficient and up to date requires both constant training as well as exposure to these types of problems.
  4. Attrition of employees.  Generally speaking, good employees tend to be here today, gone tomorrow.  Just about every employee is looking to increase his or her leverage in the current job market.   Hey, if you could get a better paying job, with more benefits, and a better boss – wouldn’t you leave?  Of course you would.   Well paid professionals that outsource (in my experience) tend to stick around for much longer periods of time.
  5. The high cost of professional training and equipment.  Training and professional trouble shooting equipment range in the thousands.
  6. Managing and providing HR benefits.

 

What then do businesses need to outsource?

  1. File, print, email, web, and SQL server installation and maintenance
  2. Routers and firewalls
  3. Security implementation policies and procedures
  4. Remote computing access
  5. Budget planning and new business solutions
  6. Workstation hardware and software policies

 

After owning my own IT Company for 11+ years now, I have found that companies that outsource their top level IT needs save money.

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10 Ways to Creativity

June 18, 2009 by MarkM

The Mechanical Engineer’s Perspective

  1. Music:  Certain types of music may be used to create a desired mood such as hard rock in a fabrication shop, jazz in the elevator, Kenny G at the grocery store, or Vivaldi playing low in a restaurant.  If there is a genre of music that provokes your spontaneous side, getting into that mood might help boost your creativity.
  2. Change of view:  When we have become numb to our daily routine and surroundings our senses tend to be in a lesser state of awareness.  Changing the physical location of your work space can be an effective way to awaken the sleeping sense of creativity.
  3. Strange Things:  Ambiance, tone, mood, and setting all play a role in your creativity.  Is there something that you can place in your work space that will help heighten your senses and capture your interest?  A Venus Fly Trap?  A clay sculpture?  A 1969 Camaro?  Make your work space someplace that calls to your creative side and beckons for the genius and artist in you to step forward.
  4. Retreat:  If you have been concentrating intently on one issue for too long and keep hitting dead ends, break away from it and “sharpen your blade”.   Is there grass outside that might allow you a brief escape and feel sunshine while you clear your head?  Investing 5 minutes in clearing your head and taking a step back to re-evaluate the problem will be more productive than 30 minutes of spinning your wheels without progress.
  5. On Your Feet:  At Setpoint we have a saying: “To the Whiteboard!!” We find it most effective to communicate our design ideas to each other by gathering around a whiteboard and letting these ideas come to life in sketches, diagrams, and pictures.  While we’re on our feet gathered around a whiteboard ideas are communicated effectively and develop quickly.  This is a great way to help others “see what you are thinking.”  Thinking on your feet in front of a whiteboard can be engaging and allows you to focus your thoughts in a visual and creative way.
  6. Confidence Builders:   It may sound cliché, but there is profound truth in accomplishing something because you “think you can.”  Sometimes when we’re up against a mental block, we just need something to push us forward.  Accomplishing a small task that you know you can do well is one way to achieve that needed boost.  Maybe it’s repairing an engine, fixing something around the house, or building something out of wood.  When you have completed this task – revel in the accomplishment.  Indulge in the reward of knowing you finished this task with perfection, review how you thought of every angle and went the extra mile.
  7. Good Meeting Management:  In the context of a brainstorm meeting, inspiring creativity can depend on the meeting manager among other things.  A good manager can keep a meeting focused on the subject.  A better manager can maintain meeting direction in a manner that the discussion flows freely while generating ideas from the team.  The best manager is decisive and can lead the team into creativity by giving clear guidelines and hearing ALL ideas, allowing expansion on different perspectives, encouraging positive objectivity, does not allow negative commentary on any idea, all while holding the meeting focus and reading the body language of participants to know when it’s time to “move on.”  A productive meeting has a clearly defined objective and end result.
  8. Dealing with Stress:  Stress chokes creativity unless it can be compartmentalized and channeled.  Defining the problem and knowing what the next step is to solving it will give you instant results for reducing your stress level and allowing your creative side to flourish.  Try the following exercise:  Take two minutes to write down all the tasks you are keeping a mental list of, beginning with those that cause you the most stress.  Completely drain onto paper that mental list you are packing around, exhaust every last item.  Including work related items, things from home, and anything else that’s on your mind – one big list.  This should be fast and informal, just find a pencil & paper and start scrawling away.  Next, categorize the items into two separate lists, either “Work” related, or “Personal.”  Finally, prioritize each item in each list in numerical order of what needs to be finished immediately and what can wait.  Having this list in front of you is very empowering, it will help you compare importance of all your tasks and will cause you to re-evaluate your stress level.  All you need to determine is what the next step is for each item.  Don’t solve the entire issue – ONLY THE NEXT STEP. Be realistic, maybe it’s a phone call, a trip to the store, or composing an email.  In some cases you may be able to completely eliminate tasks altogether.  Knowing you have a plan to take action on these items will tremendously relieve your burden.
  9. Use the “Other side”:  Do you dominantly use the right side of your brain or the left?  We tend to approach problem solving in the same way every time.  What if you could teach yourself to approach a problem from a different angle?  There is rarely only one perfect solution for a problem.  Then it follows there are endless ways to arrive at one of the many solutions that will work.  Try some exercises that will get the other half of your brain involved.  The left side of the brain is used for thinking analytically and logically.  We also use it for reading, writing, arithmetic, and understanding symbolism.  The right side of the brain is used for spatial reasoning, visual thinking, and intuition. The right side can deal with complexity, ambiguity, and paradox while the left side looks at sequences, patterns, and lists.  The left side of the brain looks at parts while the right side looks at the whole.  Sometimes, we use the excuse: “My mind doesn’t work that way.”  Therein lies the problem.  Why not train it to work that way and see what you are capable of when you tap into that reservoir of creativity hidden in “the other side.”  (Reference:     http://www.funderstanding.com/content/right-brain-vs-left-brain)
  10. Defining the Problem:  Moving forward with an idea without stopping to question all of the underlying assumptions can be risky.  Understanding the problem from multiple perspectives sheds new light on the solution.  For example, if I were redesigning a dishwasher I would want the insights of several disciplines including: Electrician who has to wire it, maintenance guy who has to install it, maybe even the teenager who would use it.  I would also seek out the Chemical engineer’s input on corrosion resistance, the mechanical engineer’s input on motors and wear.  I would also consider the programmer’s input on failure modes and troubleshooting. What about a blind person’s perspective?  A really short or tall person?    The point is – by thoroughly identifying all of the key issues surrounding a problem you have already developed a significant portion of the solution.
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The CAD System is Evil and the White Board is Your Friend

June 11, 2009 by Setpoint

Engineers are typically detail oriented, introverted problem solvers that techno-babble about the latest advances and can’t imagine how the previous generation accomplished anything without the modern tools that are available today.  So, what does this mean?  If we start with introverted…sometimes I’m certain that our virtual world that has been brought to fruition by engineers is just a selfish result because we really didn’t want to actually talk to each other in the first place.  How about latest advances, we spend significant time and effort learning, trouble shooting and maintaining the latest software tools.  Remember, engineers are problem solvers, given enough time and money we can make anything work.  I’m going to rant for a moment: how often do we end up with an annual software upgrade that requires nearly double the hardware capability that was fine for the previous release along with significant install, debug and training for no real ‘core’ improvements, just new look and feel.  Done ranting and back to latest advances, we spend significant effort on the latest CAD tools.

What does this add up to?  It is all too easy when starting the design process to work on our own with the latest software tools.  Generally goes something like this: there is a preliminary design review in two weeks, who has time for daily internal reviews not to mention the customer is expecting to see a beautifully shaded and textured virtual model…I just have to get this done.  There are a few things inherently wrong with CAD on the front end of the design process. 

  • Drives towards details rather than system thinking.  Rather than a generic ‘schematic’ component we model the actual component and it escalates from there to the fits, clearances, parametric mates etc.  It’s all too easy to get caught up in a correct or perfect model of a potentially flawed concept.  Think of this as the proverbial forest for the trees problem.
  • Far too slow and rigid for preliminary system thinking…a faster more flexible tool is required.
  • This is probably the most significant detriment: minimal team synergy.  Not only is it difficult to engage a team with only one person ‘driving’ but the ‘bandwidth’ of team resources is potentially limited to CAD jockeys.

 

How do we combat this at Setpoint?

  • Egos are checked at the door, there is no room for ‘not invented here’.
  • The old saying that there is no such thing as a bad idea…wrong.  Get over it, it’s part of the process and we’ve all had them, the public humiliation doesn’t last long and the bad idea may spawn a great idea.
  • Whiteboards are always available.  Impromptu white board discussions don’t happen when conference or war room pre-scheduling is required.    Table tops also make great whiteboard surfaces.
  • Typically no chairs in white board areas.  People are more engaged when on their feet, helps reinforce a sense of urgency and meetings rarely drag on.
  • Digital photos of whiteboards for a quick and simple archive.
  • Multi-discipline group involvement.  Rather than a review it’s a process that many participate in because anyone can operate a whiteboard marker.

 

Don’t misunderstand me, CAD is a valuable tool in design; however, it’s not always the best tool.

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Does Automation Make Sense?

June 4, 2009 by Kara

If you have a process for assembling or inspecting your parts, how do you know if automating the process makes sense?  Setpoint has been discussing this question with companies since 1992.  In our YouTube clip, Does Automation Make Sense, Clark walks through the issues a company needs to look at before automating a process.  In order to solve your problems, you need to know what they are.  Watch the video below as Setpoint discusses the steps of getting all the issues and opportunities out, setting a budget, determining your ROI (Return on Investment), and more so you can decide if automating is right for you.

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