Navigating Cloud Computing

“The Cloud.” We’ve all heard the term. We understand it in the most abstract of ideas. We can store files in it, run programs from it, heck, my fiancé talks about setting up virtual servers (whatever that means). This digital storehouse of sorts can come in very handy; but what is it exactly and how can it be used to its best advantage? Does it have down falls? Let’s define “The Cloud” and what it can do for you and your organization.Cloud Computing

What is it?

Most digital data is non-tangible but is stored on devices that are. As I type this post, the information is saved to my computer’s hard drive. The hard drive is a physical piece of equipment. It can be removed and placed into another device and the information on it accessed. With The Cloud, there is no physical device needed to reach your digital files. By using The Cloud, I am able to create and edit files from practically anywhere. It is a globally connected computer you always have access to.

How does it work?

Information is essentially stored “on the internet”. The Cloud is run by off-site servers that do the majority of the workload. Instead of having software loaded into multiple computers, it can be accessed from the servers by means of online applications. This allows the connection from any device with internet access.

Pro’s

Saves space: By operating office-site servers and not taking loading additional software onto hard drives, you don’t lose physical space in your facility nor storage space on your computers. This means less upkeep and less clutter on your hard drive.

Accessibility: Have an internet connected device? Great! You have access. You have the ability to work from anywhere, as do your co-workers, and you can all collaborate.

Cost: Before cloud computing, you would need to buy software for each computer and upkeep their licensures. Utilizing The Cloud can cut cost on the amount of software you purchase.

Con’s

Accessibility: Though accessibility is a strong point of The Cloud, it is also a downfall. If you have a subpar internet connection, good luck reaching your files. It’s in instances like this that having the software installed on your physical device would be more appropriate.

Security: The Cloud “lives” online and you can access it easily, which means if it is easy for you, it’s easy for others. You need to pay close attention to security protocols to make sure your information does not get into the wrong hands.

Control: Hosting servers off-site or contracting services from an outside source takes control away from your in-house tech team. You are no longer in charge of your own equipment and are unable to service it. You will rely on the integration of services from outside vendors, which can at times be tasking.

So what do you do with all of this information? How does this best work for your organization? What is the most cost effective? These are questions you need to ask before outlining how The Cloud will work into your business plan. If you are just looking to store a small amount of noncritical information or are just looking for email hosting, utilizing cloud services from an outside vendor may be beneficial. If you are looking to create a cloud computing system for a large amount of secure information you may want to look into buying and creating your own system so that you retain control and security options.

The Cloud is only growing. Figuring out how to utilize it in your business plan is essential. How do you already use cloud computing, or how do you plan to use it in the future?

Making an Investment: Tips for Vetting Strategic Marketing Companies

We like to think we have it together and can do it all, but we know that it’s not true. A lot of the times we feel like we are being pulled in 6 different directions. Sometimes this is not far from the truth.

Organizations can spread employees thin on multiple projects in order to save costs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about saving money where you can, but spreading your most valuable resource (yourself and your employees) too thin can be counter productive.

In the workplace, when things get busy some “non-essential” projects get pushed to the back burner. When this happens, marketing is one of the areas that tends to go by the wayside. If you are looking for success and growth, ignoring to set good marketing practices can hurt you in the long run. Marketing is an ongoing project that needs continuous monitoring and evaluation. It is not a one-time thing; it’s an investment. You may think its more cost effective to figure this all out in-house, however, if you don’t have the human capital to concentrate on this, you may want to look for help from a professional marketing group. To make sure you get the best bang for your buck with said investment, here are several tips for vetting a strategic marketing company.

How’s the Fit?

When you start looking into different marketing agencies, one of the first things you need to explore is how well they will fit with your company and its needs. They will be representing your organization; are they capable of echoing your voice and values? Also will their communication styles jive with yours? If your group values face time, you don’t want to work with a strategic marketing company that relies heavily on email communication.

Collaboration

Though you are outsourcing your marketing management, you may not be outsourcing your graphic and web design projects. Or maybe you already have other vendors taking care of those needs. When interviewing potential agencies, discuss how they will collaborate with other groups in the creative process. If they are not willing or will have issues working with the platforms that have already been established, it’s best to know before signing a contract.

Professionalism

This should probably go without saying, but you want to make sure that the group you choose is professional and educated in marketing skills. You’d like to think anyone who presents themselves as “marketer” is professional and competent, but sadly that’s not always the truth. Before even picking up the phone, do some research, look at their portfolio work, do they list education backgrounds? How long have they been established? Remember you are making an investment; do some leg work first.

Know your Aim

Are you looking for more content marketing management, digital, or both? Be sure you know what your goals are before starting the vetting process or you may end up wasting time vetting marketing companies that can’t provide what you are looking for. Once you have decided, be sure to ask goal-driving questions. Just because a group says they do digital and/or content management, doesn’t mean they do it well. Find out what their strengths are and if they fit your specific needs.

References

Think of this process as you would hiring a new employee. You wouldn’t just hire someone off the street no questions asked, right? Ask for client references and a list of past portfolio work.

Marketing is essential to helping a business grow especially in the digital age. Consumers and potential clients are looking for a brand with a story. Relying on word of mouth can only go so far. Remember marketing is a long term investment for long term rewards. When choosing a marketing strategy and a potential outside company, keep this all in perspective.

Aligning the Herd One Gazelle at a Time

Aligning the Herd One Gazelle at a Time

“Goals without routines are wishes; routines without goals are aimless” is a quote taken from Scaling Up: The Rockefeller Habits 2.0 by Verne Harnish. This book has inspired a business and leadership event that ABG Capital has been fortunate enough to attend; the Gazelles ScaleUp Leadership Summit.

It’s been three months since eight of our leaders attended Gazelles 2016 ScaleUp Leadership Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. Seventeen dynamic speakers and authors captivated our team by sharing their wisdom, experience, and talent for success.  We gathered for discussions throughout the conference spending time reviewing notes, sharing ideas, and reflecting on strategies and initiatives that would best benefit our organization in the short term. Upon returning to the office, our leadership team agreed to meet once a week to hold ourselves accountable, narrow down our top take-ways, and decide on the one big rock or number one priority for the remainder of the year. Together we came to a similar conclusion of what that one big rock is and what we feel is needed to be even more successful, creating alignment through shared consciousness and empowered execution.

The first step in this process is to share the plan with each employee and identify opportunities for all employees at all levels in the organization to make decisions and solve problems by enabling rather than directing. This concept of engagement through empowerment leads to a “team of teams” approach to foster transparency and allow for stronger communication and understanding of the company’s strategic plan. The execution portion of ScalingUP pinpoints three critical components that must happen throughout the organization in every team; priority, data, and rhythm.

Source: gazelles.com

Source: gazelles.com

Promoting trust and purpose with and between teams will contribute to bottom-up results from daily interaction. Our company initiative for quarter three and four is to ensure that each team is meeting regularly to define its big rock for the week, month, and quarter.  We’ve been instrumental at achieving improved communications resulting in better efficiency and enhanced teamwork between departments.

Align Today is a tool we use to keep everyone in the loop by sharing a one page plan available for all to see, update, and work together toward aligning department initiatives with the company’s common goal or BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal). We recently outsourced Centric Performance to conduct employee surveys and management review meetings for selected teams to help identify each employee’s understanding of his or her role and how it contributes to the common goal of the company. Leadership is serving others and bringing out the best in people.  It’s important to rally the emotional connection and understand the importance of what each employee values to truly have an engaged staff who wants to develop individually and succeed as a team. Our plan is to involve the employees in designing a plan for their own critical numbers and KPIs to create buy in, appreciation, accountability, and involvement toward the common goal.

As you can see, the quote we began this with has a lot to do with the processes and tools we have injected into our environment. Routine matters. Let’s face it–if you’re moving without a routine, your priorities are most likely scattered and you have no analytical evidence to uphold any of your efforts. Even more important, your goal, or “big rock” that every employee and department should be focusing on as a priority, should be backed by rhythm. The rhythm within your day-to-day tactical progress is your routine–that “groove” or effortless pattern you get into when you master your priorities and data.

We realize that growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together in synchrony. If there’s one key we continually take away from the Gazelles it’s that our people are our rhythm. They are the force that continually pushes us toward success. If we cease to invest and cultivate in our employees, then there will be no perpetual development. All of our growth depends upon their activity within our organization. Activity that sprouts innovation.

4 Keys to Success from the Gazelles Growth Summit

It’s that time of year again–time for the annual Gazelles Growth Summit! ABG Capital’s top dogs are fortunate enough to travel once again to this learning event in Atlanta to continue their growth and education in the world of leadership.

ABG Capital, along with hundreds of other business owners, will learn from CEOs of some of the world’s top companies to understand their habits, experiences and insights to craft an industry dominating strategy!

gazelles 1This year’s summit is focused on Verne Harnish’s book Scaling Up- Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0. There will be a buffet of knowledgeable guest speakers presenting, including Jim Whitehurst, David Butler and Aubrey Daniels just to name a few. Also, team workshops that focus on the “Rockefeller Habits 2.0” in a day-long spirit of “how-to” interaction, collaboration and networking will be featured.gazelles 2

Today we’re going to dig right into the meat and potatoes of Scaling Up and showcase how ABG Capital practices the four main strategies found in the book on the day-to-day.

To summarize the book (which is almost sacrilegious to do), Harnish focuses on four keys to scaling your business. Keys that allow some companies to “make-it” and the rest to fall.

The keys are:

  1. Attract and keep the right people
  2. Create a truly differentiated strategy
  3. Drive flawless execution
  4. Have plenty of cash to weather the storms

The People

The book states that the job of the leaders is to make sure the right people are doing the right things.

Your values and culture should be so strong that they act like an immune system, forming a system of protection against those who may not align, all for the greater good and health of your organization.

At ABG Capital we invest in our employees. We cultivate them and promote their growth and success. We shape our employees into their roles and allow them embrace their passions. When everything aligns, it’s almost magical. It’s wonderful to see our teams share our C.O.R.E. Values, make them their own and embrace their responsibilities. Our organization exists almost as an accounting statement. Each produced effort has a column with numbers of the extraordinary people responsible. It only becomes problematic when those names in the column don’t align with the work and values presented.

Some companies may think turnover is a scary outcome within their business. It’s actually a good outcome. Only when you invest in your employees are they at the peak of strength. Why? You’re weeding out the B and C players that eventually become toxic to your A players–the players in which you invest.

The Strategy

Core values are the rules and boundaries that define our company’s culture and personality. They’re also the rules and boundaries that define our strategy. We developed a set of C.O.R.E. Values that have helped define our niche, simplify our execution and turn our revenue into profit. Our strategy is differentiated due to the fact that each of our portfolio companies has a Profit Per X. Meaning that our companies individually have one product, service, technology etc. that sets them apart from the rest.

gazelles 3

We each also have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), a long term goal that changes the nature of business. For example VoIP Innovations, one of ABG Capital’s portfolio companies, differentiates their X Factor, which is their BackOffice software that is unlike anything in the industry today. VoIP Innovations also has a BHAG of offering complete Choice, Automation and Control of their telecom services. Scaling Up teaches us that we need to sandbox our brand promises. Who are our customers? What are we really selling them? What are our three brand promises? And the most important; how do we measure?

The Execution

At ABG Capital we like to focus on three key components to steer our ship in the right direction: priority, data and rhythm. We pride ourselves in focusing on these three words in all that we do. What does that mean exactly? Well let’s break it down. Priority–when you come in to the office bright and early, just poured yourself a coffee and sat down at your desk, you should have a piece of work carried over from the previous work day that needs to be finished before your meeting. This task becomes your priority. Each business day should present a new priority; that one project, simple or complex that needs to be completed before moving on to anything else.

Collecting data requires us to have data. Key performance indicators (KPIs) must be identified, and effort needs to be expended to capture this information. ABG Capital’s KPIs vary between companies and KPIs enable us to measure how we are performing by revealing both areas in which we excel and those in which improvement is needed.

Rhythm is the heartbeat of your organization. Have a daily huddle. This 5-15 minute meeting should be implemented to discuss tactical issues and provide updates. Brief, daily meetings will help establish a rhythm, as can weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings. Meetings are useful for obtaining feedback, getting “real” information, reviewing KPIs and identifying problems that prevent things from running smoothly.

Meetings can even provide those all-too-rare opportunities to pat people on the back and “recharge their batteries.”

The Cash

In Scaling Up,  Harnish says to never blame the industry for your company’s financial situation. “Well, this is just the way it is in our industry,“ isn’t a phrase you’ll hear uttered from top executives. Could you imagine Warren Buffett or Mark Zuckerberg giving a shrug followed by these words? In fact, Harnish says there are only two time-frames that matter: 90 days, 10 years and nothing in between.

Your 90-day plan is data driven, and you’re focused on overcoming the choke point. This is your time to review a daily report of available cash and to note why it has changed in the last 24 hours. Recognizing these changes and following the efficiency and progress of your “rhythm” will promote huge growth in the next decade. So no more excuses–only improvements!

Getting Your Core Values Off The Wall and Into The Office

wall

If you were to walk into your company today, where would you find your corporate values? In the employee handbook? Hanging on a plaque in each room? Is your HR department protecting them? Regardless of where your core values may be found; they’re all empty promises if you as the business owner aren’t modeling them through daily office behaviors.

As a business owner, you’ll find yourself flip flopping in and out of other operating roles. Especially when pulling together your team to find out what your company stands for, besides the products/services it sells. In today’s post we’ll be taking a look at your core values, from the position of one question; Why? Why do we stand for these purposes and HOW do we make sure these purposes are off the wall and walking around the halls?

“Are our core values off the wall?” We all know what core values are. I discovered, in my college internship that core values aren’t as “ugly” or monotonous as my business planning classes made them out to be. Core values should be thought of with emotion. They should be a result of the cerebral planning process that is left out of the business plan. They should be looked at from within. It sounds a little silly, but really, look at your business as a whole in the mirror and tear yourself apart. What’s good about you, what isn’t? Core values are how your customers and the people you hire are connected. They’re why they buy from you instead of your competitors.

The process of developing a set of core values isn’t as intimidating as one may think. In fact, the building blocks for great core values can be broken down into three easy steps:

  1. Name the value: “Integrity is the essence of our success.”
  2. Describe the demonstrated behavior: “Our walk matches our talk. We make and keep commitments.”
  3. Measure how the leader demonstrates the value: Needs improvement–Delivery of commitments are inconsistent.

It’s unfortunate that part of the reason why businesses fail is because of their poorly executed core values. Internally and externally, if your partners in business don’t share the same purpose–and if they don’t share the same values–it will be difficult to make any progress.

The same goes towards your employees. These core values you have so proudly displayed on almost every wall need to keep your employees unified. If your employees don’t understand your values and purpose as a company; chaos could be the result.

Ask yourself why?  Why are you doing what you do in the first place? How are you doing what you are doing? Keeping that WHY at the center keeps the focus on those core values you set in place for your business.

Where are your core values being carried out?

Where are your core values being carried out?

Assembling a team of like-minded partners and employees that understand your WHY keeps those words you have plastered all over your office walls in the discussions where critical decision making takes place. As well as in the break room during lunch.

Make your core values a navigational practice for your business. Bringing in your WHY when hiring will assemble a team of like-minded employees. Hold your core values as a high priority during the interview process and watch reactions.

What about your preexisting employees? Employees can be looked at in two ways: Those who have high values and those who have low values. Those who have high values might need to be trained to have better performance. Those employees who have low values, even if they have high-performance, should be relieved from the company. They become toxic. This is where most companies go wrong–they base everything on performance and not the culture.

Without letting your employees know where you stand through your meetings and team-work events, your employees won’t know where you stand. So be straight with your values first and then measure performance.

So next time you walk into the office take a look around. Each day keep an eye on where your core values have bounced to next. You may be surprised, but you’ll certainly feel satisfied.

ABG Capital to Participate in Strategic Planning Session

ABG Capital

ABG Capital

December brings us many things.  The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is among us, the final quarter draws to a close, many businesses are preparing year-end reports, and thoughts of the upcoming New Year are in our heads.  Many people take the time to reflect, both personally and professionally, on the past year and look forward to 2013.  On a personal level, many look at what they have accomplished over the year and make new resolutions for 2013.  Corporately, businesses may draw up year-end reports and analyze numbers to determine their goals for the upcoming year.  At ABG Capital, we do all of those things.  We utilize our ideals to enhance our work and personal lives.  Our ideals are to cultivate ideas and people through our C.O.R.E. (Cultivate, Overcome, Respect, and Evolve) Values for the purpose of Giving Back.

Employees of ABG Capital utilize these ideals personally in many ways.  We participate in various activities throughout the year, where we are given an opportunity to Give Back to our community.  These activities include working at the food bank, fundraising for Make-A-Wish, and cleaning headstones at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.  In addition to Giving Back, employees also are encouraged to live healthy lifestyles.  We do an annual Biggest Loser contest, where interested employees weigh-in on Fridays, and the biggest loser receives a cash reward.  Also, we bring in an inspirational speaker/author in on a regular basis to educate our team about healthy eating habits.

In terms of business, we take our goals, or New Year’s resolutions, very seriously.  Every year around this time, our companies participate in Strategic Planning Sessions, where goals for the upcoming quarters are brainstormed and strategized.  These 2-day sessions employ strategic planning and executive education adopted from the Gazelles Growth and Leadership Summits.  As discussed in this earlier post, http://blog.abgcapital.com/?p=141, ABG Capital sends key employees to these Gazelles Summits to gain valuable training on how to lead and grow their companies.  This education, along with a Gazelles coach, enables each of ABG Capital’s portfolio companies to evolve solid annual strategic plans.

As 2012 draws to a close, employees at ABG Capital are busy preparing for holiday festivities, gathering gifts and monies for Giving Back causes, and focusing their energies on having a productive 2013.

ABG Capital is 14th Among the Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania

ABG Capital

ABG Capital

What makes a workplace outstanding?  Ranking on Pennsylvania’s Best Places to Work list 5 out of the past 7 years, perhaps ABG Capital has the answer.  The focus at ABG Capital is on people and culture, which creates a work environment in which both businesses and individuals thrive.

ABG Capital is pleased to announce that it is ranked 14th among the top 71 small/medium employers in the state, according to the thirteenth annual Best Places to Work in PA awards program.  In addition to this honor, ABG Capital was also recognized locally by the Pittsburgh Business Times, ranking 41st on their list of Best Places to Work in Western Pennsylvania.  This was their 6th showing in the past 8 years.

The Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania program was created by four companies: Central Penn Business Journal, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Team Pennsylvania Foundation, and Best Companies Group.  These organizations developed this program for several reasons.  The organizations were interested in helping Pennsylvanian companies retain their current workforce, attract new workers, and to distinguish the businesses in the state that attract and retain Pennsylvania’s talented workforce.

This program evaluates and ranks the best places of employment in the State based on employee satisfaction and engagement, as well as workplace practices and policies.  To be considered for this award, companies are required to complete the assessment process, where employers complete Benefits and Policies Questionnaires and employees complete Engagement and Satisfaction Surveys.  Once this information is collected, Best Companies Group then sorts and interprets the data to determine company rankings.

“It is such an honor to once again be ranked with an elite group of outstanding companies in PA,” stated Sharon Kolesar, Human Resources Manager at ABG Capital.  “Here at ABG Capital, we create values to foster a healthy life balance for our employees.  To know that 75% of our ranking is based on our employees’ responses and feedback exhibits that our culture is effective.”

The winners’ rankings were announced Thursday evening, November 29, 2012, at an awards ceremony at the Lancaster County Convention Center.  Additionally, the ranked companies will be profiled in a supplement to the Central Penn Business Journal and other business journals across the state.

Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ABG Capital leverages its unique business management model to reduce costs through the consolidation of back office operations for its portfolio companies. By consolidating services like accounting, legal, IT, software development, employee administration and HR, we are able to eliminate redundancy among, increase efficiency and be very nimble to the changes that occur in the market.  To learn more, visit http://www.abgcapital.com

Happy Thanksgiving from ABG Capital

Turkey Bowl

5th Annual ABG Capital Turkey Bowl

In 2008, ABG Capital started a popular Thanksgiving tradition, their 1st Annual Turkey Bowl.  Employees wanting to participate were put into teams, and spent an afternoon playing flag football games.  This activity quickly became a favorite among the ABG Capital team.

This year, the team carried on the tradition and hosted their 5th Annual Turkey Bowl last Friday.  Four teams played until there was a champion.  Afterwards, the participating employees chose an MVP and Hands of Stone award.  Those winners will be announced at the ABG Capital Holiday Party next month.

ABG Capital would like to take the opportunity to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.  We are truly grateful our valued customers and dedicated employees.

To see more pictures from our Turkey Bowl visit: http://abgcapital.shutterfly.com/pictures/1798

ABG Capital Employee Brings Aid to Hurricane Affected Areas

Hurricane Sandy

ABG Capital employee and husband with family affected by Hurricane Sandy

Those of us unaffected by Hurricane Sandy may be unaware of the devastation caused by this media-named super storm.  This huge storm affected 24 states, caused billions of dollars in damage, destroyed thousands of homes, left millions without electricity, and killed over a hundred people.  Even today, three weeks after the storm hit the US, there are still over a hundred thousand people without power in New York and New Jersey.

Denise Breide, the Provisioning Project Specialist for ABG Capital’s portfolio company, VoIP Innovations, was anxious to help out.  She and her husband, Ron, decided to take a trip to the East Coast to volunteer their time to those in need.  Prior to leaving, Denise collected various household items and cleaning supplies from her friends, family, and coworkers.  ABG Capital’s CEO, Jeff Tapolci, sent along a company donation as well.

Last Friday, Denise and Ron took their full trailer to the coast to distribute their collected items to those in need.  What they found was shocking, heartbreaking, and scary.

“I couldn’t believe the devastation in these hard-hit areas, “stated Denise Breide.  “The media could never portray how much loss these people have experienced.  It was truly heartbreaking to see these families have absolutely nothing left.”

Denise and her husband were so moved by their experience last weekend helping out those affected by this severely distressing hurricane that they have decided to repeat the trip.  This weekend, they will again drive over to the East Coast, trailer full or supplies, to help those in need.  They have another trip planned to December as well.

See pictures of Denise’s trip here:  http://abgcapital.shutterfly.com/229