Instead of telling you what I think this month, I will just ask some questions to provoke some thought. I think you’ll likely know what I think by reading the questions I ask.
- Are you running your business, or is your business running you?
- Do you control the expenses in your business by operating from a budget, or do you operate by the “seat of the pants”?
- Do you have processes in place (and documented) for internal job functions, or do you assume everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing?
- You know that everyone in your organization has certain responsibilities. Have they been clearly communicated, and do the people in your organization know they have these responsibilities?
- Do you know the true cost of items that you produce or buy for resale, including indirect costs?
- Do you know what your most profitable items are and those items that are not so profitable and maybe should be discontinued?
- Do you know your businesses key financial ratios, what they mean, and where the danger levels are?
- Do you analyze the return on new asset purchases before the purchase has been made?
If you think you have good answers to all of these questions, ask them again. I challenge you to continually ask these questions throughout the year, and improve operations through better management. At Red Wing Software, we evaluate our position and try to answer these questions regularly. Once we think we know all the answers, we stop improving.
- Ken Hilton, President
Just two months ago I wrote about summer storms and having a disaster recovery plan. Well, the Red Wing, MN office had a chance to experience this very problem, and try out our plan.
Last Saturday evening, we had an electrical storm that knocked out power for a few hours. When the power to the building came back on, not everything restarted the way it should have. Our file servers that hold all our database information needed to be restarted. All individual computers had to be manually turned back on, which prevented employees from logging into their computer from remote locations. And, the computerized phone system would not reboot at all.
Larry, our “computer wizard” and IT Manager, worked Sunday and had almost everything back up and running by the time everyone arrived at the office Monday morning. He had a technician arrive at the office first thing Monday to repair our phone system. Knowing that the repair would take some time, he already connected an old analog telephone to our fax line and rerouted our incoming phone numbers to all ring in on that line so we could at least take incoming calls.
While Roxie could take calls and log them into our customer service software for support technicians to return calls when the system came back up, with only one line, we didn’t have a way to make outgoing calls to answer support questions. Not wanting to make our customers wait an unknown amount of time to receive a call back, our support staff took it upon themselves to use their personal cell phones to make the return calls and take care of our customers even before the phone system was fixed.
This certainly doesn’t qualify as a major disaster, but it does show the importance of having the right people in place and a plan to get things back in operating condition. Thank you to our entire staff for pulling together and minimizing the effect of this temporary problem, and to our customers for being patient through this process.
Ken Hilton - President
Sometimes what seems to be an insurmountable problem can have a simple solution, if only we look at it from a different perspective. Here are a couple examples that I have been directly involved with. The first happened at a recent event I attended in Indianapolis, and the second happened early in the development of the ratio/index analysis functionality in our software and forever affected how we look at new software features.
I was recently at a conference attended by a large number of Certified Public Accountants. They were all highly educated, extremely sharp people. At the final break, the sponsors of the event provided milk and cookies as an afternoon snack. The cookies were large, and the milk was in individual serving bottles with a small opening in the top. I was talking to one of the participants as he stood with a cookie in one hand and milk in the other, when he said, “It sure would be nice to be able to dunk this cookie, but it won’t fit in the top of the bottle.” I just politely suggested he dump the milk into one of the glasses that were neatly stacked next to the big bowl filled with milk on ice, and he could dunk the cookie.
Over twenty-five years ago, I was having an intense discussion with our (then and current) Development Manager on how the data in our Ratio/Index analysis program should be displayed. This was as close to a knock-down, drag-out fight as we’ve ever had over a software feature. I thought the trend information on the reports should be presented in reverse chronological order so the most recent information was closest to the line titles, and he thought that was crazy, because financial information should always be in chronological order. One of our partners, at the time, entered the conversation at about the breaking point and after hearing just a small portion of the discussion, he suggested, “do it both ways and let the customers decide how they want to see the data,” totally ruining a perfectly good argument.
Next time you are confronted with a problem that seems to have no solution, step back, take a breath, and look at the issue from a different angle.
- Ken Hilton, President
Summer is now in full swing. I was reminded of this recently while enjoying one of my favorite summertime outdoor activities, golfing. We were finishing the thirteenth hole when we heard thunder in the distance. I quickly grabbed my smartphone and checked out the radar for the area. A thunderstorm that had not been there ten minutes earlier was now just to our north and heading southeast. It appeared we would be spared, so we kept playing. As we finished the last hole, the sky let loose and everyone scrambled for a safe place to spend the next hour.
I mention this as a reminder of how fast storms can erupt, and how important it is to make sure you’re prepared for unexpected events. Do you have a safe place to retreat to in a hurry when things get dangerous? Does everyone in your organization know how to recognize when to take action? Is all your important information backed up and stored off-site? Do you have a disaster recovery plan in case it is needed? I certainly hope you never have to deal with a serious emergency, but it is always a good idea to have a plan.
On this Independence Day, and for our friends to our north, Canada Day, please celebrate safely.
Last month, I had the opportunity to meet with two different groups of customers. The first group consisted of organizations from around the country that use our CenterPoint Accounting and Payroll software to support a large number of their customers. These organizations are extremely proficient in the use of the software, and are always looking for new ways to be more efficient in their work. To that end, they continually push
Red Wing Software to provide new functionality to our products. It is important to us to have customers that help make us a better company, and we sincerely appreciate their input.
The second group attended a CenterPoint Accounting and Payroll training in our classroom in Red Wing, MN. I had the pleasure of having lunch with four of these customers, two from North Dakota, and two from Oklahoma. It is always interesting to learn more about their businesses and how they use our software. We claim to be the friendliest software company on the planet, and I think it’s because we have the friendliest customers.
A few days later, we observed Memorial Day in the United States, which reminded me of how the sacrifice of many keep us safe and allow us the freedom to travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to gather and conduct our business or just enjoy the company of others. There are few places in the world that have this freedom, and we should remember that this freedom does not come without cost and sacrifice. Thank you to all that serve globally, nationally, and locally to keep us safe and free.
- Ken Hilton, President