iPad Likes to Play But Playbook Means Business

As I’ve said many times before, I love my iPad and it’s great as a consumer device. As much as we like to mock early proclamations of the iPad being magical, put an iPad in the hands of a six-year old and few words can truly capture that experience than to say it is “magical.” The iPad is intuitive, engaging, and invites the user to touch it. Within a few gestures a child has mastered the device and parents are left awestruck as to how “brilliant” their child is. Sorry, folks, that’s just kids being kids and speaks more about the brilliant design and marketing teams at Apple than your kid being a savant.
That being said, I doubt the iPad will ever become a replacement device for me at work. Putting the security flaws aside for a moment, there are several major gaps that keep the iPad from being the only device in my bag.

  1. Native sharing of files between devices.
  2. Flash.
  3. True multi-tasking.
  4. Smaller form-factor.

I’ll explore these topics further in my next article: 5 Things My Playbook Can Do That My iPad Can’t. For the Apple fanboys out there who are lining up to jump all over me, that’s great if you’ve found Nirvana with the iPad. Bully for you. I’m saying it won’t work for me in my business bag and I suspect, a few others.
Yes, I carry an iPhone. Dammit if I can resist the juggernaut that is the Apple App Store. I’m there because the Developers are. If those Developers ever went somewhere else, that’s where I’d be. Keep that in mind, Developers. You hold the power, not Apple. Have we learned nothing from the Music Industry? I read a recent stat somewhere that a Developer might–might–make $10,000 a year on Apple Store. You can quickly figure this out just doing the math. Apple proudly trumpeted recently they’ve paid more than $1B out to Developers. With over 200,000 apps that means an average of $5K. Even if you say half the apps are free, that leaves you with $10K. You know your time is worth way more than that, right?
But I also carry the ‘Berry. For all my colleagues that pooh pooh my choice to carry both devices, spend your days hopping between Developer events, texting, tweeting, and checking emails and when your iPhone has died after 2 hours my Blackberry will race on like a champ. What good is that famed Retina Display if you have to keep it on half power (and it will still die before my Bold)? Don’t even get me started on the left-handed grip of death issue.
For business messaging there is still no better solution than Blackberry. Period. No qualifiers. End of discussion. So imagine my high hopes for RIM’s Playbook. Before you criticize the Playbook for its shortcomings, consider a few things:

  1. Playbook was always conceived as a companion device. It expands its customers capabilities without sacrificing security. Since IT departments the world over–government and military included–have blessed the Blackberry and have long experience with the device, it will be a little while before they will gain that sort of confidence with RIM’s new QNX OS. And I do hope they get there. But for now, bridging email from the Playbook to your Blackberry works fantastically and keeps the InfoSec guys happy. That’s why there’s no native email client.
    I do think that RIM will quickly reconsider their choice for not having an email client. Having a bunch of web shortcuts for GMail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail on your Playbook desktop is weak sauce. Users will quickly demand it and you could easily provide both options (client for non-work-secured emails, bridge for work-restricted access).
    Ask most security-sensitive employers about their use of iOS devices in their workplace and either they are strictly verboten or are crippled to the point that it is essentially useless.
  2. This is just the first generation of the Playbook. True, on the one hand I would think that if your competitor has a 2-gen lead on you, you would at least launch with parity, but I’m willing to forgive a bit. The Playbook screen orientation detection is much slower than recent versions of iOS, but I contend not visibly noticeable from the original iOS implementation. The same holds true for some of the swipe responsiveness on the Playbook. On this one, I will fault RIM a bit. Come on, guys, you can do better than this.
  3. Playbook ain’t for you. For now, the bleeding edge adopters will put it through its paces. We’ll eagerly await each firmware update and applaud each improvement. We’ll convince our colleagues (and IT departments) why Playbook will be the way to go. All RIM has to do is deliver.

So word to the wise, RIM, hang in there. Remember, you aren’t competing with Apple. You’re trying to make the best product that remains true to your core value proposition. You’re trying to respond to those who already love the Blackberry and remain loyal (but who will jump ship to iPad if you don’t deliver). Blackberry’s still outnumber iPhone devices. Don’t bet so big on this first launch. You’ve got a few iterations to get through before we can bring the others along. You’ll make up for it when the USPS outfits every mail carrier with one of your Playbooks or when you sign your Kaiser Permanente deal so all their doctors can slip one into their lab pocket (which you can’t do with the iPad).
I’ve got a few more articles to write to share my evolving thoughts about the Playbook. For now, I will say that it isn’t ready for the masses. For the technophiles looking for a new toy. It is worth a look. Start with the 16GB and keep your money for the next version. Especially for those of us who lament Samsung’s discontinuation of the 7″ Tab (why, Samsung, why?). I remain as optimistic now, having used the Playbook for over a week, as I was when it was first announced. Keeping my faith and earning that trust will really depend on RIM’s ability to deliver on apps. You live and die by apps, Playbook. Opening up to Android apps was critically smart. Failing to port every Blackberry app to Playbook at launch was not. Beyond improving responsiveness, beyond improving the hardware, you will be judged by apps. Hurry.

How You Can Save Your Company $2,000,000 in Just 5 Minutes

In my last article, I wrote about kaizen, a Japanese business philosophy of constant improvement. I’d like to follow up on that discussion with a brief demonstration of how even seemingly small changes can have a huge effect on your business.

How can you save your company $2,000,000 in just 5 minutes? Follow along to see how.

It takes my laptop 14 minutes to startup. That’s from the moment I press the power button to the time I am able to launch my first email in Outlook. Even if you subtract for XP itself, that’s a long time. I am not your typical user: I defrag my machine often, explicitly shut off non-essential services, map only one network drive, have wifi explicitly disabled, and put nothing in my startup folder except for the aforementioned Outlook. Oh, and I’ve done most of the recommended tweaks to get XP to boot faster. So where does the rest of the time come from? All the stuff my company does to make sure my laptop is secure, has its updates, and whatever else is in the standard image.

Don’t get me wrong, this is important stuff and I support it whole-heartedly. But consider this, what if a VP walked over to the IT department and said: “Guys, find a way to shave 5 minutes off the system boot times while keeping the systems secure and I’ll pay you a $5000 bonus.” Watch how fast those minutes disappear.

14 minutes. Big whoop, right? Chillax, press start, go grab a cup of coffee, and when you come back you’re ready to go. Okay, smart guy, what if I’m in the middle of a critical 30-minute meeting with the CFO and my laptop requires a restart? ‘Cause that never happens on Windows, right? So there goes half my meeting there.

What would happen if IT just shaved off 5 of those minutes?

  • Average Salary in the United States: $44,000
  • Per hour that works out to (40 hr/week, 50 weeks): $22
  • Per minute that is: $0.37
  • For 5 minutes: $1.85
  • For the year (5 min/day x 5 days/week x 50 weeks/year): $462.50
  • For a company of 5000 employees: $2.3M

That’s what 5 minutes means. Backup for a second, Serge, that’s great for large companies but what about smaller companies? Okay, take a 25-person outfit, with an average of $15/hr:

  • Cancel one unnecessary 30-minute meeting each month ($2250)
  • If half are parents who usually leave 15 minutes early to pick up their kids, provide onsite daycare (still at the employees’ expense) ($11250)
  • Save 2 minutes by reducing just 5 emails ($3000)
  • Provide computers that boot just 1 minute faster ($1500)

That’s $18000 right there.

Yes, yes, it’s a bit of a leap to say that this saves the company in real terms because you won’t actually see that in the bottom line. Okay, so quantify for me how much work-related stress does cost the company. What are the recruitment and training costs of retaining and having to re-hire talent due to attrition? What is the value of being recognized as one of the best companies to work for? Measure for me the lost opportunity costs of all those minutes added up when said employees could be working on other things in a state of peace and tranquility.

That is the point of kaizen. A relatively simple idea of reducing the amount of time it takes for a computer to restart can create a culture capable of constant improvement. This is the type of environment that nurtures employees who will think of that huge cost savings or that next multi-million dollar revenue stream.

Have time-saving ideas for your company? Share in the comments section below. Play around with the Kaizen Calculator to see how much your company could be saving.

Oh, and you probably could have read this article 8 times in the time it took me to restart my laptop.

Kaizen, The Japanese Art of Continuous Improvement

It seems I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my time in Japan. Usually it comes about when I’m thinking about technology or gadgets. But lately, I’ve been reflecting a bit more on Japanese culture and specifically the culture of the workplace.

In the early 1980s, Japanese business was the dominant global player, easily trouncing the US and its western brethren on profits and efficiency. The seemingly impossible advances and pace set by the Japanese automotive industry and electronics manufacturers became the blueprint that many companies tried desperately to duplicate.

In fact, many modern practices in business find their roots during this period of business growth and change. During our current period of economic difficulty, business uncertainty, and low employee morale, I’ve been thinking about one practice in particular:

kaizen (改善) – Japanese for improvement; comes from the words kai, meaning to change or break and zen, meaning good or better

Kaizen is a system of employee-driven suggestions to improve every aspect of the business. But even this definition falls short. Kaizen is a state of mind, it is ingrained in Japanese business culture. It asserts that all employees are responsible for the quality and profitability of a company. Masaaki Imai is known as the father of Continuous Improvement (CI) in the workplace and recognized as the inventor of kaizen. This practice of employee suggestions dates back much further though, when in 1721 the shogun Yoshimuni Tokugawa issued the following proclamation: “Make your idea known. Rewards are given for those that are accepted.”

Focus on the word “accepted.” In the West, we tend to reward ideas that are “implemented.” In Japan, merely making a suggestion is met with a reward, albeit a very small financial one (something like $5 per idea). A large reason why suggestion programs tend to fail or are ineffective is this emphasis only on ideas that are implemented. Management has the most significant impact on whether an idea is actually implemented, and yet the individual employee only gets recognized (rewarded) if Management actually does something with the idea. Pretty soon, you train the employee to not bother.

Yes, yes, we can talk about establishing programs that empower the employee to take action, but that will be the subject for another article. I leave it for now with the assertion that such an approach is all well and good, but it has to start from the top, from defining the system, allocating the budget and time, and actively engaging in the program. This is one instance where “delegating” or “empowering” downwards is a bit of a cop out.

The Employee Involvement Association (EIA), formerly known as the National Association of Suggestion Systems (NASS), reports that the average employee suggestion returns about $7000 to the company in profit or savings. In the US, the implementation rate for employee suggestions is about 35%. In Japan that number is more than 70%. The total savings/earnings for companies and state agencies which have employee suggestion programs is in the billions. That’s billions with a “b.” Yet only 3% of companies in the US even have a suggestion program. Successful and sustainable ones are a fraction of that.

There are many spectacular stories of employee suggestions–American Airlines bought a Boeing 757 from the $55M in savings its annual IdeAAs in Flight program delivered–but thinking small in this instance has another positive effect…it creates access. From the Managing Director all the way down to the housekeeping and maintenance staff, anyone can submit an idea. A Managing Director may not be bothered with $5, but a janitor will submit tons of ideas if it means it’ll pay for lunch. Shoot, I’d submit an idea every single day!

Consider what just a few of the following ideas might save your company:

  • switch to mugs instead of disposable coffee cups
  • change to long-life lightbulbs
  • change printer defaults to double-sided printing
  • meeting moratorium Fridays
  • onsite car wash (vaccinations, oil change, etc)
  • workplace dry cleaning and laundry delivery services
  • onsite child daycare

Do any of these ideas directly impact your product or service? Probably not. But ask your COO or CFO if they care about their impact on operating margins (they will). Also consider that these handful of suggestions alone mean employees can focus on their work instead, which does impact your product or service. It also instills a culture that every employee has a chance to make a difference and it encourages creativity, which will translate in the way your employees approach their work.

Estimating the impact of such a program on morale and employee retention is extremely tricky and not likely to convince Management on the value of the program. So let’s say such a program retains just one employee. One single employee. I don’t think you’re asking anyone to make too much of a mental leap in accepting that this sort of program could save one employee. Estimating very conservatively, the cost of interviewing, hiring, and training an employee would easily be $50,000. For $50,000, you could fund 10,000 ideas (at $5 each). If ideas average about $7000 back to the company, that’s an additional $70M. Not bad for a $50,000 investment.

Here’s my proposal, start an employee suggestion program at $5 an idea. Reward implemented ideas with an additional 0.5% of the total return back to the originating employee. Don’t be greedy, give a half percent back to the employee. You’d rather have 100% of 0? (that’s still zero) Or would you rather have 99.5% of the more than $2B which came from employee suggestions last year? (that’s still $1.99B).

This post was inspired by an article forwarded to me by one of my team members. Thanks for jogging my memory, K.