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Greetings from rural Midwest.  Pictured is the American Broadband fiber inventory for a new market we are in the process of launching.  More details on that launch in a few weeks as we bring fiber goodness to unserved and underserved homes and businesses. 

This has been a very busy couple of weeks with insightful earnings news from many companies.  We are going to do our best to sort through 10+ hours of earnings calls and focus on a few questions we think were left unanswered.

The fortnight that was

In the previous Brief, we discussed AT&T’s and Verizon’s earnings.  After that Brief was published, the remaining eight companies (including each of the Fab Five) reported earnings.  For the Fab Five, reaction was positive across the board – even Meta/ Facebook added to their market capitalization.  Over the last two weeks, the Fab Five have added $687 billion in value with 99% of that coming from Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet.  Cumulative Fab Five losses, which peaked at $2.7 trillion in June, are now a trillion less. 

The Telco Top Five had more of an intra-company realignment rather than large-scale movement.  Over the last two weeks, they have lost $7 billion in total market capitalization with $24 billion in Comcast and Charter losses offset by $17 billion in T-Mobile and Verizon gains (re: Verizon took their stock price haircut three weeks ago).  Comcast has lost $55 billion in market capitalization this year and now trails T-Mobile in total value.  Interestingly, T-Mobile is only $8 billion away from taking the “most valuable company” spot from Verizon. 

While the discussion of the Telco Top Five has a distinctively US-focused bent, the Fab Five are more closely linked to the global recovery.  With the dollar remaining at record highs (see the Bloomberg dollar index measure here, dollar to yen index from Yahoo here and the Wall Street Journal dollar to euro exchange rate history here), earnings continue to require constant currency adjustments.  Each of the Fab Five are likely keeping significant currency stores abroad and borrowing in US dollars as necessary to fund daily operations. 

Not much funding is needed thanks to large cash balances for each of the Fab Five.  The following chart was posted to our online-only interim Brief post (here) and reflects the net debt for each of the Fab Five from 2Q 2021, 4Q 2021, and 2Q 2022: 

Negative net debt shrank by about $92 billion over the four quarters ending 2Q 2022, with $24 billion coming from Meta/ Facebook.  While each of the Fab Five have share buyback plans, it does not appear that recent market capitalization losses have triggered the action of taking on additional debt to buy back shares.  These corresponding drops would seem to indicate that foreign repatriation of funds has slowed to a crawl, but the situation is not dire.

Each of the Fab Five generates plenty of cash to continue their businesses generally unabated; provided that there is no forecasted long-term recession (even with all of the back and forth on our current economic state, no one is predicting long-term economic declines).   

A strong cash position is also good for quick execution of acquisitions.  As we discussed in the last Brief, Amazon is looking to supplement its health care portfolio with their $3.1 billion One Medical acquisition, and last Friday they announced the acquisition of the Roomba parent, iRobot for $1.7 billion (including debt, announcement here).  If only the FTC would cooperate with a quick approval (more on the FTC’s activities with respect to Amazon and Meta in this Bloomberg article). 

One other use of cash (copious amounts in this instance) is buying up rights to selected games in various sports.  Apple has been on a tear with Major League Soccer (MLS – 10 year term – $2.5 billion – takeaway from ESPN) and Friday Night Baseball (term unknown, but multi-country streaming rights), while Amazon snagged Thursday Night Football from Fox (NFL – 11 year term – price ~$11 billion) and NBC expanded their Sunday Night Football rights with Peacock streaming and Telemundo Deportes broadcast rights (NFL – 11 year term – price ~$20 billion). 

The biggest prize, however, is the NFL Sunday Ticket.  We have discussed this in a few Briefs, and expect Apple to take the prize with somewhere between $2.5 and $3.0 billion per year (Dylan Byers has a good summary of the Apple advantage in this Puck article).  The question then becomes term – will the NFL make the contract concurrent to the existing deals, locking in a marquis global streaming and distribution partner?  Will Apple then turn around and strike an exclusive streaming distribution deal for commercial locations (e.g., with AT&T or Verizon)? 

One of the nice things about September is that it features the start of the NFL season (Sept 8 – Buffalo Bills at the Los Angeles Rams) and also the annual Apple iPhone and other hardware announcements.  Whether Tim Cook could have a special “one more thing” depends on Apple’s appetite to spend for these rights.  We think that Apple will expand their audience because of this deal and will also step up their distribution agreements with rural and suburban fiber providers to convert as many satellite Sunday Ticket customers as possible. 

Finally, many of you have asked about price increases in the communications space and the potential persistency of our current wage-price trend.  As I have discussed with many of you, when you own a part of a rural broadband provider with legacy operations in Alaska, Nebraska, and Louisiana, certain commodity prices drive regional economic outlooks.  In Louisiana (Lake Charles), natural gas is very important.  Here’s the price of natural gas going back to 1997 from the U.S. Energy Information Administration

Natural gas is at a 14-year high with annual price gains in the 75-80% range.  Heat for many homes and businesses, particularly in the Midwest, comes from natural gas.  This will impact real estate costs for a broad array of service providers this winter, particularly hospitals, commercial offices, and delivery vehicles that have converted to natural gas.  While we do not have time to go into heating oil and propane, prices have increased on par with their natural gas counterparts (more here). 

In Nebraska, corn drives the economy.  Here’s that chart :

In early 2021, as the world was beginning to think about a post-COVID economy, corn shot up from the COVID-low $3-$3.50 per bushel to $5-$6 per bushel.  That has served as an effective floor for the last two harvests.  Like petroleum, corn is an essential ingredient in many foods.  The 6-7 years of persistently low prices seems to have been broken, and, while that has many Nebraska farmers happy (especially if fertilizer prices continue to decline from their recent highs), it’s not a good sign for long-term inflation.  

This is not a commodity blog, but to answer several of your questions, there’s no sign from the heartland using petroleum, natural gas, propane/ heating oil, or corn prices that we are in a transitory phase.  It’s time to think about 4-6% annual inflation, at least for several years.  (And, for those in Alaska who look beyond petroleum costs, check out the price trends of various shell fish from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game here – yikes!).  

Bigger questions after second quarter earnings 

There’s a lot to unpack from the second quarter earnings calls.  To use space and print as effectively as possible, we will spend this Brief and the next attempting to explain and answer four questions: 

  1. How can cable mobile/ broadband bundling succeed? 
  2. How aggressive will (holiday) promotions be for the rest of 2022?
  3. Is T-Mobile a meaningful business player beyond small business (50+ employees) in the next five years?
  4. Can any meaningful acquisition activity receive approval?

There are many more questions to think about, but these are the big multi-company/macro questions in our view.   

Question #1:  How can cable mobile/ broadband bundling succeed?

Most of the cable companies have reported earnings, and mobile bundling success/ opportunity was at the top of the list.  Nearby is the chart showing net additions for each cable company since each launched MVNOs. 

To date, using 2.4 devices per home (a lower figure than we would use for a traditional wireless provider), Comcast and Charter have penetrated approximately 3.2% of their total passings with wireless.  Comcast’s wireless offering turned five years old this quarter, and Charter’s will turn four years old next quarter.  If the tables were turned, and we were examining penetration of a new fiber provider in a Charter or Comcast territory, would 4% (or even 24%) be acceptable for the business case?  Cable’s performance in wireless has been plodding patient (no subsidies or crazy offers), but can they afford to wait much longer? 

Comcast and Charter don’t emphasize triple play bundles any longer.  Digital phone has been deselected in favor of mobile (finally).  Programming costs continue to rise, and YouTube and Hulu now define skinny bundles (and skinny margins) even as they redefine the advertising world.  Both companies would rather have broadband from a new passing than an incremental revenue generating unit (RGU) of video at an existing home. 

Mobile is a slightly better gross margin business for traditional cable companies than video (although nowhere as good as digital phone).  Tom Rutledge, Charter’s CEO, has gone so far as to (rightly) redefine his company as one of the largest wireless companies in the world.  Why has market share been so elusive? 

Charter’s COO, Chris Winfrey, addressed this issue on their earnings call in response to a question from Peter Supino, saying that Charter has struggled with bridging the gap between household (stationary) revenues versus device-driven revenues.   

“So nothing to announce today, Peter, but clearly, we think a lot about mobile and its ability not only to attach to existing Internet customers, which has been the predominant path so far. But, as the market understands better our product, the fact that it is the fastest mobile product in the country and that it’s real, that it really does save customers a lot of money, no contracts, no taxes, no fees, I do think there’s a really powerful case that we can use mobile to actually drive significant Internet net adds and particularly in the market with low volume to be able to kick start in volume in the marketplace by using mobile to do just that.

So we’re constantly testing different concepts in the marketplace. Economically, it’s a no-brainer and it makes a lot of sense, but it is a new package structure for educating customers to get them to think about buying a household service and an individual service together so that they can get those savings and they can get that better product, and that may take a little bit of time for us to find the right connection as well as to educate the marketplace.”

Spectrum Mobile is a very strong product when it is paired with a broadband connection that customers value.  With their network provider (Verizon) now in market with a $30/ month price point (albeit with the 5th line), is the bloom off the rose? Can cable play defense and offense at the same time?  

We believe strongly that cable can win 25% share if they combine switching with the introduction of new (Apple) devices.  Aggressive device promotion (via aggressive trade-in credits and perhaps a free speed upgrade) will win the day but Charter and Comcast need to commit to the short-term financial risk.  They also need to Strengthen their unserved base marketing once they get a new offer in place.  Running Spectrum Mobile spots during unused ad inventory is fine at the beginning, but the business is entering its fifth year. 

Most of the same points above can be made for Comcast or even Altice (who is now growing at pre-Sprint rates and appears to be off to a good relationship with T-Mobile).  One additional point for Comcast would be to at least match Spectrum’s growth rate – for 12 out of the last 14 quarters, Spectrum has outpaced Comcast on net additions with six million fewer households passed. 

Question #2:  How aggressive will (holiday) promotions be for the rest of 2022?

Times are going to be tight for 40-50% of consumers heading into the Holiday selling season.  Salesforce published their predictions for the Holiday season late in June – it was chock full of interesting data.  One important data point:  51% of consumers plan to spend less in the 2022 holiday season than 2021. 

They make several predictions:

  1. Shoppers will buy even earlier to avoid price hikes (37% more US shoppers are starting earlier)
  2. Loyalty shifts to value (half of all shoppers will shift brands this holiday due to pricing)
  3. Physical stores will drive growth across all channels (60% of all digital orders are now influenced by the store)
  4. Shoppers will gravitate toward sustainable options (64% of consumers will stop doing business with a company if corporate values don’t align to their own)
  5. Retailers will test NFT drops (creating digital “twins” of physical goods)

While we aren’t sure that all of these are applicable to the communications industry, we definitely think that the first three predictions could shape the attractiveness of one broadband or wireless carrier over another. 

Both Verizon and AT&T suggested in their earnings calls that increased content bundling is “on the table” for the fourth quarter.  T-Mobile already has a terrific Tuesdays app that gives stuff away for free (including 20 cent gas discounts at Shell – our personal favorite).  Charter and Comcast, with their new joint venture, could actually deliver away a free television (with set top box already included) for the right contract term and product mix. 

These are all good, but the real “free” to most consumers is devices, particularly the iPhone.  Or, even better, the Phone + Apple Care.  How that is accomplished within the boundaries Apple places on carrier pricing remains to be seen, but we have a feeling that many teams are working on the solution at each company.  We think that we may soon see the most competitive wireless device environment in the last decade, one which will spawn switching and likely lead T-Mobile to market capitalization leadership.  More on that the next Brief. 

Until then, if you have friends who would like to be on the email distribution, please have them send an email to [email protected] and we will include them on the list (or they can sign up directly through the website).  Enjoy the rest of August and go Royals and Sporting KC!

Mon, 08 Aug 2022 00:16:00 -0500 en-US text/html https://www.rcrwireless.com/20220808/analyst-angle/the-sunday-brief-bigger-questions-after-second-quarter-earnings
Killexams : If Your Current Business Phone Does Not Support SMS, It May Be Time For An Upgrade

Rich Rosen is the Founder & CEO of Fastcall—a leading Salesforce native app for phone, SMS and video. Rich has two phone-related patents.

I highly encourage business marketers to engage their customers—or at least allow the company to be engaged by their customers—via text messaging. What do I mean by this? The phones used by your sales and support teams should be able to receive SMS, meaning that you should allow your customer to engage with your sales and support teams by SMS.

The business consulting firm Gartner recently reported that SMS open rates are as high as 98%, while response rates were reported at 45%. Email trails far behind with a 20% open rate and a much lower 6% response rate.

With these numbers in mind, I encourage marketers to enable SMS conversations with their existing phone solution or seek out a new phone vendor. Modern businesses should be able to answer questions about their product or service via voice call or SMS.

For example, let’s say I just called an important prospect to schedule a demo. There was no answer, so I left a voicemail message. That prospect just texted me back and said, “Hey, Rich. I am very interested—call me back in five minutes.” If my phone cannot receive SMS, two things just happened. First, I did not receive the request to call back in five minutes, and second, my prospect thought he messaged me. Deal blown.

User Expectations

The lines between consumers and business customers have blurred. Your business customer has a mobile phone, and they most likely use SMS frequently for personal conversations. You would not be surprised if a customer replied to SMS messages sent by your company, but you may not be expecting your customers to reply via SMS to phone calls received. Users will often ask questions via SMS, making it a good choice for short personal conversations similar to email. It's important that your phone system supports this or you may lose opportunities to engage with your customers.

SMS (and shortcodes) have been used for basic reminders—for example, a service appointment from a local business. Automating SMS to do things like this can be set up in your customer relationship management (CRM) application.

Today, even business users expect a person to respond to them when they SMS reply to a phone call—not just responding to a basic notification but asking questions, thus moving a conversation that would have happened by voice to SMS.

How To Get SMS Onto Your Office Phone

The answer is software. Today’s modern software phone applications—often called softphones—combine SMS and voice and very often integrate into your CRM. These applications not only add SMS capabilities to your voice phone but can deliver you much of the same functionality you currently use with email, such as prewritten templates, merge and automation. Logging SMS in your CRM along with calls and email is a great way to bump your customer service up a notch.

I can tell you that text messages get engagement like no other communication channel available to you. If your goal is to best communicate with your customers or end users, you should consider adding SMS as a capability to your company’s phone system.

Pro Tip: Chances are that your business has a toll-free phone number (phones starting with 800 or some variation). These go back to a time when callers paid for long-distance calls to your company, which is not really a thing anymore. Today, toll-free numbers deliver the impression that a business representative in a call center is on the other end, which may or may not be what you want. You should use local phone numbers versus toll-free numbers for calls and SMS. Your response rates will likely be higher. And using local phone numbers for SMS is a good idea for marketers who need to appear local, such as a plumber in the same geography as the customers in the service area.

Important Regulations

Before you get too excited about adding SMS to your business phones, you need to know about recent requirements from the mobile carriers. Today, all SMS messaging use cases have to be approved by mobile carriers. Your SMS service provider should manage this for you.


Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?


Thu, 28 Jul 2022 02:00:00 -0500 Richard Rosen en text/html https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2022/07/28/if-your-current-business-phone-does-not-support-sms-it-may-be-time-for-an-upgrade/
Killexams : Asynchronous Work Poses Another Challenge to the Office Market

Is the next step beyond the hybrid office the asynchronous office?

A lot of bosses have made their peace with the idea that workers, the kind who make a company work and you don’t want to lose, are going to want to work remotely well beyond the pandemic. But a lot of thinkers are thinking why stop there? They are agitating for an even more empowered worker, one who gets to decide when, where and, most importantly, whether to commute to the office, making the traditional workplace even less populated than before.

“Asynchronous work gives people the freedom to move away from hyper-responsiveness and real-time communication towards a mode of work where they get to decide when and where to work,” said Steve Glaveski, CEO of Collective Campus and author of a December 2021 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Remote Work Should Be (Mostly) Asynchronous,” in an exchange of emails. “It is characterized by getting stuff done, without the constant chatter of meetings, Zoom calls and instant messages.”

To Glaveski and other advocates, too often the Zoom call, or whatever online facilitator is used to re-create the face-to-face meeting, is a time waster, an opportunity for immediate supervisors to assert their superiority, as opposed to something that actually adds value to tasks. 

Instead, under asynchronous work, projects are supervised by “task boards,” which are documents that anyone on a work team can access through software such as Slack or Google that allows a team member to post what they are doing, see what other members on a team have done or are doing, and see what progress has been made toward their group goal.

There are other aspects of asynchronous work that distinguishes it from hybrid offices and, of course, traditional 9-to-5, commute-to-the-office work. These include limiting the time you have to spend on work and where you can declare without penalty that you are done for the day and not available. Morning people can get up at 4 and get more done by 7 than people who get up at a normal time can do all day. Night people can live like rock stars recording an album, and work until midnight or beyond. Asynchronous schedules usually account for time zone changes, too. 

For those who think all this is too speculative and reeks of academics who have too much time on their hands, they are in for a rude awakening. Big-time global real estate service firms like JLL are already monitoring the trend, and Salesforce, a maker of customer-management software that’s San Francisco’s biggest employer, is experimenting with the asynchronous work model.

“Employers are absolutely going to need to adapt,” said Cynthia Kantor, JLL’s chief client value and growth officer. “Flexibility is fundamental to the future.”

In a June report, JLL said it found that 60 percent of office workers wanted to work in a hybrid style and 55 percent were already doing so. Only about 48 percent of those surveyed saw their company as a great place to work, and one out of four told the firm they contemplated leaving over the next year. Kantor said she saw this as evidence that workers were restless, and looking for more comfort and balance between earning a living and having an enjoyable life.

At Salesforce, the company has had “asynchronous” weeks since last year, as it experiments with new work environments. It had more than 77,00 employees as of May, according to a spokeswoman, and 110 offices around the world, including six Salesforce Towers (there’s one by Bryant Park in New York as well as the headquarters tower in San Francisco) and three in development in Dublin, Sydney and Chicago. Its most recent asynchronous week was June 20 to June 24, an article on its website said.

One of the characteristics of such weeks is to go “meeting-free,” according to the Salesforce article. It offers some tips about “best practices” for going meeting-free: among them, plan, plan, plan (meaning that supervisors must set clear expectations for their workers); encourage teams to seek alternatives to meeting replication software like Google Meet or Slack; and create “enablement” materials for workers that are easy to find on the web.

The company also created a Frequently Asked Questions document for its workers, which among other things dealt with issues that might make them feel insecure about working asynchronously, such as “How do I avoid feeling isolated?” It said the answer to most such questions was to “rely on collaborative digital tools” by doing such seemingly frivolous things as greeting your team or sharing a personal playlist.

“Employees want the flexibility to decide how, when and where they work,” Steve Brashear, COO of Salesforce’s real estate and workplace services, said in an emailed statement. “But digital-first does not mean digital-only. Our employees’ No. 1 request is to get together in person with their teams, and our offices play a critical role [in that].”

From a commercial real estate point of view, the question hanging over all of this, and one for which there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, is how much, if at all, this makes traditional office-dominated skyscrapers obsolete, or less valuable. Office occupancy in major U.S. markets has already hovered between 40 and 45 percent for months, according to security firm Kastle Systems, which tracks employee ID swipes in places such as New York and San Francisco. 

In a June interview with Commercial Observer, Owen Thomas, CEO of Boston Properties — the largest publicly traded office real estate investment trust and controller of some of America’s most iconic skyscrapers, like New York’s General Motors Building, Boston’s Hancock Tower and Prudential Center, and builder of Salesforce’s headquarters tower in San Francisco, the city’s tallest building — said companies would cling to downtown space that defines them, and there was no reason to abandon Boston Properties’ time-honored mantra of “A-properties in A-locations.”

And Elon Musk, boss of Tesla, which makes electric vehicles, and SpaceX, which makes rocket ships, caused a stir in June when he demanded that all his white-collar workers return to their offices at least 40 hours a week, or resign.

“Elon is the richest man in the world, so he must be doing something right,” Glaveski said in his email. “While I think that real-time communication and bringing people together has its benefits, mandating full-time face-to-face hours is not something I would do.”

As for Thomas’ take, Glaveski called it “wishful thinking from a commercial property landlord,” and a product of “optimism bias.”

Asked if asynchronous work is a trend that commercial real estate investors, especially those who have been drawn to offices, need to be concerned about, Kantor said the situation is “evolving.”

David Arena, director of global real estate for the international bank JPMorgan Chase, said that many of the bank’s clients are experimenting with remote workplaces, and that the post-COVID climate remains unsettled. About half of the bank’s own workforce, such as its tellers and its securities traders, have to be in the office to do their jobs properly. Then there’s another 10 percent who can do their jobs anywhere, leaving 40 percent who in the future might work in some combination of in the office and outside the office. 

“There is a material role for physical real estate and physical offices in the future,” Kantor said. “It’s about matching the work environment with the work that needs to be done.

“When you are an office worker, and your role is work that can be performed in a variety of physical locations, then it’s best to be performed where that individual can deliver the highest-quality work product for them,” she said. “That’s the best outcome for the employee and for the company.”

Tue, 02 Aug 2022 01:00:00 -0500 David M. Levitt en-US text/html https://commercialobserver.com/2022/08/asynchronous-work-schedule-office-market/
Killexams : A Slack Bug Exposed Some Users’ Hashed Passwords for 5 Years

The office communication platform Slack is known for being easy and intuitive to use. But the company said on Friday that one of its low-friction features contained a vulnerability, now fixed, that exposed cryptographically scrambled versions of some users' passwords. 

When users created or revoked a link—known as a “shared invite link”—that others could use to sign up for a given Slack workspace, the command also inadvertently transmitted the link creator's hashed password to other members of that workspace. The flaw impacted the password of anyone who made or scrubbed a shared invite link over a five-year period, between April 17, 2017, and July 17, 2022.

Slack, which is now owned by Salesforce, says a security researcher disclosed the bug to the company on July 17, 2022. The errant passwords weren't visible anywhere in Slack, the company notes, and could have only been apprehended by someone actively monitoring relevant encrypted network traffic from Slack's servers. Though the company says it's unlikely that the genuine content of any passwords were compromised as a result of the flaw, it notified impacted users on Thursday and forced password resets for all of them. 

Slack said the situation impacted about 0.5 percent of its users. In 2019 the company said it had more than 10 million daily active users, which would mean roughly 50,000 notifications. By now, the company may have nearly doubled that number of users. Some users who had passwords exposed throughout the five years may not still be Slack users today.

“We immediately took steps to implement a fix and released an update the same day the bug was discovered, on July 17th, 2022,” the company said in a statement. “Slack has informed all impacted customers and the passwords for impacted users have been reset.”

The company did not respond to questions from WIRED by press time about which hashing algorithm it used on the passwords or whether the incident has prompted broader assessments of Slack's password-management architecture.

“It's unfortunate that in 2022 we're still seeing bugs that are clearly the result of failed threat modeling,” says Jake Williams, director of cyber-threat intelligence at the security firm Scythe. “While applications like Slack definitely perform security testing, bugs like this that only come up in edge case functionality still get missed. And obviously, the stakes are very high when it comes to sensitive data like passwords.”

The situation underscores the challenge of designing flexible and usable web applications that also silo and limit access to high-value data like passwords. If you received a notification from Slack, change your password, and make sure you have two-factor authentication turned on. You can also view the access logs for your account.

Fri, 05 Aug 2022 10:09:00 -0500 en-US text/html https://www.wired.com/story/slack-hashed-passwords-exposed/
Killexams : Quip No result found, try new keyword!Quip is a productivity software suite that lets people within a workplace write and share notes among themselves. Wed, 03 Aug 2022 20:21:45 -0500 en-us text/html https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/quip/ar-AA10i6yn Killexams : Brainstorming: Asking questions fuels problem-solving

Brainstorming is hard enough when people are in the same room. Remote brainstorming is even harder, as many teams discovered during the pandemic

One of the main reasons bosses want people back in the office is because working from home has disrupted the natural collaborative process. Remote collaboration can work, but it’s often a poor substitute for the sparks of creativity that can fly when people are physically together.

But if remote brainstorming is the only option, then Karan Sonpar, professor of organisational behaviour at the UCD school of business, says it pays to lay down some ground rules to optimise the outcome. This starts with setting a clear agenda and sending it to participants in advance. It’s also important to have clear start and finish times, to restrict the number of participants and to ensure that whoever is leading the session deals firmly with overtalkative individuals to stop them dominating proceedings.

Once the housekeeping rules have been dealt with, Prof Sonpar says, the key issue is “making sure we are asking the right questions and explaining the rationale behind them. We often jump into problem-solving mode way too fast without framing the core issue or questions at hand,” he says. “Also, start with the shy and/or most junior people first. Otherwise, the highest paid person at the table will drive the agenda and the decisions.”

When brainstorming sessions go wrong, it’s often because people assume the aim is to find answers. Strictly speaking it is. But the way to get there is by asking good questions.

Hal Gregersen, a senior lecturer in leadership and innovation at MIT, is a big fan of questions which he describes as, “positive, mind-opening prompts.” However, he also notes that those leading organisations often ask the questions but don’t get answers they really need because people are either telling them what they think they want to hear, or saying nothing because they fear the consequences of saying something they believe their boss won’t want to hear.

The same applies with brainstorming. Timid folk won’t say their piece, extroverts won’t shut up, quick-thinkers are spouting ideas faster than anyone can absorb them and those out to curry favour start pushing things in a direction they think their boss wants them to go. With all of this going on it’s not surprising that brainstorming gets a bad rap because there are times when it can feel chaotic and like a serious case of the unknowing leading the bewildered.

Probably the single biggest reason why a brainstorming session falls flat is down to a poorly articulated problem at the outset. Secondly, too much can be expected from a session because it’s confused with innovation when in fact it’s only one stage in the innovation process. Thirdly, putting people on the spot can create a real sense of panic and minds go blank. Fourthly, there’s something very intimidating about a pristine white board waiting for bright ideas.

Brainstorming has been the go-to technique for solving problems since the idea was first popularised in the 1930s by advertising executive Alex Osborn. In 1953, he put his thoughts on developing creative thinking down on paper in some detail in Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking, which subsequently became a textbook for American universities and part of management training at big companies such as General Electric.

In Osborn’s view, every idea is a good idea and it’s important not to criticise or jump to judgment too quickly when an idea is floated. Testing and evaluation can follow but this should be done independently, not by the person who came up with the suggestion because they have a vested interest.

Having watched brainstorming succeed and fail Hal Gregersen has developed his own methodology for the process, which he has used in consulting roles with numerous big blue chips including Danone, Disney and Salesforce. The inspiration for the model came when a session with his students at MIT became bogged down.

“After a lot of discussion, the energy level in the room was approaching nil and glancing at the clock, I resolved to at least deliver us a starting point for the next session,” he writes in the Harvard Business Review. Gregersen told his students to forget about finding answers and to come up with some new questions about the problem instead.

He got them to write down as many as they could in the time remaining and to his surprise, the room became energised. “Brainstorming for questions, not answers, wasn’t something I’d tried before,” he says. “It just occurred to me in that moment ... [but] underlying the approach is a broader recognition that fresh questions often beget novel, even transformative, insights.”

In rough terms, Gregersen’s approach involves bringing a small group together to address a problem. The session starts with a broad, open-ended overview of the issue followed by a “question burst” where people can ask as many question as they like in four minutes. They can only ask questions. No comments, interjections or responses are allowed and the aim is to produce about 15 questions in the time allowed.

This might sound simple enough but Gregersen says that as most leaders are paid to answer questions they find it extremely difficult not to jump in with answers during the four-minute burst. “The methodology I’ve developed is essentially a process for recasting problems in valuable new ways,” he says. “It helps people adopt a more creative habit of thinking and, when they’re looking for breakthroughs, it gives them a sense of control.”

Thu, 04 Aug 2022 16:00:00 -0500 en text/html https://www.irishtimes.com/business/work/2022/08/05/brainstorming-asking-questions-fuels-problem-solving/
Killexams : We Need To Humanize The Customer Experience Again

Mike Esterday is the CEO of the global sales performance firm, Integrity Solutions.

More than half of customers don’t believe companies have their best interests in mind, according to the Salesforce Trends in Customer Trust survey. That doesn’t bode well for satisfaction, net promoter rates or future business.

The more companies invest in automating and digitizing the buying process to Strengthen customer experience, the clearer it becomes: Technology doesn’t solve everything.

The Salesforce study hints at a path forward, though: 95% of customers are more likely to be loyal to a company they trust and 93% are more likely to recommend a company they trust. Trust hinges on your people, not your systems. The question is, are your employees engaged, equipped and inspired to fulfill this role?

People Define Your Customer Experience

While companies often equate customer experience to (post-sale) customer service, the experience begins well before the deal is done. Trust comes from employees who are committed and inspired to create more value and provide differentiating service for their customers at every step. This isn’t the responsibility of one area of the company; it’s a mindset that must permeate the entire culture.

You can’t sustain that mindset when people are burned out or detached from the purpose of their work—a huge issue that’s contributing to today’s historically high quit rates. Yet, some companies are noticeably talent—and customer—magnets. They’ve created cultures where people know what they do is making a difference for customers and the company.

When employees understand how their work impacts customers, they become personally invested. This sense of purpose fuels them to create more value for customers. And the more engaged they become, the more discretionary effort they’ll put in to ensure customers remain loyal, even when problems or mistakes happen.

This kind of purpose-driven work is powerful. As Lisa Earle McLeod detailed in her bestselling book Selling with Noble Purpose, salespeople who are committed to improving their customers’ lives are consistently more successful than quota-focused salespeople. A Deloitte study on cultures of purpose reinforces the point: When employees feel they’re working for something greater than profit, their companies are more successful.

Three Pivotal Areas To Focus On

1. Sales

Sales teams know the double-edged sword of technology. It’s supposed to make things easier, but many feel overwhelmed, spending less time listening and understanding customer needs and more time logging data, reciting scripts and talking about products. If they’re not listening, though, they won’t learn what their customers value.

Salespeople need to refocus on the human-to-human value they bring to the relationship. Here are some critical focus areas:

• Develop a mindset that encourages two-way conversations. Successful salespeople are genuinely curious. They ask good questions to help customers discover their true challenges and needs—and they really listen.

• Develop their questioning confidence. If salespeople are reluctant to engage in open-ended questioning, it might be an issue not just of skill but of will, which is often rooted in negative beliefs about their abilities and about selling itself.

• Define what “selling” means in your organization. By defining selling as uncovering and meeting needs and creating value for people, you provide a positive roadmap for specific actions, behaviors and objectives at each stage.

• Redefine what “closing” means. Sales training often emphasizes closing techniques designed to get the customer to say “yes.” These dynamics create tension and undermine trust. They also imply that the salesperson can disappear when the sale is finalized.

2. Customer Service

“We value you as a customer. Your business is important to us.” These are nice words, but they often fail to translate into the genuine experience. This doesn’t mean your people don’t care about their customers, but they might need a clearer process and framework to turn those words into action.

Improving customer service in your organization requires a combination of both process and people strategies, including:

• An effective customer service process, which allows people to bring out their best because it gives them consistency and an anchor to ground them. This is especially important when everyone’s juggling heavy workloads and dealing with a variety of customer issues.

• Learning and development centered around people, not scripts. Handling issues effectively starts with having productive conversations, and that looks different for each customer. Teams need the skills and tools to recognize and adapt in the moment so they can communicate in a way that connects with customers.

• Developing problem-solvers by moving away from a transaction-focused mindset. Mistakes happen. But skilled, motivated customer service reps are able to respond in ways that ultimately Strengthen the customer’s brand perception and trust. Asking good questions, thinking critically and listening non-defensively will allow your employees to engage with customers on a deeper level and get to the root of problems.

• Defining what “customer-centric,” honesty and integrity mean in your organization and integrating those into your training. Teaching people to be human and appreciate the customer’s frustration goes a long way toward building trust and loyalty.

3. Coaching

Giving meaning to the job is not just up to the employee. Managers play a critical role in helping employees find the “why” in what they’re doing. That’s where good coaching comes in. Successful managers:

• Coach people from a perspective of tapping into purpose and holding themselves accountable for their impact.

• Are vested in the employee’s success and personal fulfillment.

• Model, measure and reward behaviors that create an exceptional customer experience.

• Have confidence, credibility and skills to coach frequently and empower employees to produce desired results and reinforce a customer-centric culture.

• Celebrate stories of customer impact in team meetings and one-on-one coaching.

The Trust Difference

In a world dominated by technology, your people remain your most powerful differentiator. PwC's Trust in U.S. Business survey found almost half of consumers have started or increased purchases from a company because they trust it. A third have paid a premium for trust.

By understanding customer needs and delivering value based on those needs, your entire organization can work in sync to create a standout experience rooted in trusted, high-impact relationships.


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Fri, 29 Jul 2022 02:15:00 -0500 Mike Esterday en text/html https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2022/07/29/we-need-to-humanize-the-customer-experience-again/
Killexams : She had it better than most Arizona prisoners, but says she still faced racism and labor abuse.

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Mon, 08 Aug 2022 07:00:00 -0500 en-US text/html https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2022/08/08/arizona-prison-system-exploited-inmate-labor/10264932002/
Killexams : It’s Time to Treat the Federal Workforce Better

The harsh reality of the Great Resignation is that if you don’t deliver your employees the tools they need to succeed, they’re going to pick up and go elsewhere. The 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey revealed that federal employee engagement and satisfaction fell 4.5 points from 2020. Now more than ever, making sure the public sector workforce feels valued and supported is critical during this time of mass movement in the labor market. 

Valuing employees isn’t a new concept, but the fear of burnout is. Remote and hybrid workplaces have shifted the 8-hour work day in the office into an “always-on,” work-from-everywhere environment. Among government employees—many of whom served on the front lines of the COVID pandemic—65% report feeling burned-out. The pandemic increased demand for government services, straining the workforce as employees tried to meet the needs of their fellow citizens while experiencing an unprecedented upheaval in their own lives. 

The reality is that burnout has a significant and negative impact on the customers a worn-down workforce is looking to serve. The pandemic has completely transformed the dynamic between employers and their workforce, bringing forth a focus on wellness to advance the mission of their business. 

Promoting wellness within your workforce ensures that your mission will be carried out in an efficient and effective manner. At a time when 50% of the public believes that the pandemic made the government less resilient, it's time for a change in how we treat the public sector’s greatest asset: the workforce.

Prioritize Employees’ Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing

Unsurprisingly, 91% of employees say that their employer should care about their emotional wellbeing. By taking care of your employees’ mental health, you are not only improving their quality of life, but also helping them bring their best selves to work. 

From a productivity standpoint, if your employees aren’t doing well, your business can’t thrive. In the public sector, the government cannot afford for services to slip through the cracks, as people depend on government agencies for everything from fighting fires, to unemployment insurance, to obtaining health care services, or even in getting a passport. 

To Strengthen the resilience of our government, our public sector employees need to feel supported outside of their work schedule, so that they can bring their A-game to work, without burning out.  

Use Digital Transformation as an Opportunity to Enhance the Employee Experience

Imagine your job is to process applications for business licenses, and you spend half the day opening envelopes and transferring data from handwritten forms to a computer database, rather than reviewing those applications to ensure they meet the criteria or answering unique questions from applicants. Automating that data entry step would allow you to focus on the tasks only you can do, and help you do them faster. 

At its core, digital transformation is the application of technology to reduce burdensome administrative tasks, and make work more efficient. Emerging technologies reduce the friction and hassle that plagues the government workforce, and in turn, can boost morale. Automation and AI are game changers for productivity by increasing efficiency without increasing workload. 

Creating a smoother employee experience contributes to overall job satisfaction. Survey data shows that employees in the public sector rank their workplace experience 8 points lower than the private sector average, at 69% and 77% respectively. Simple changes, such as implementing digital solutions, can Strengthen the workplace experience, leading to increases in productivity and overall job satisfaction. 

Traditionally, the public sector has been slow to implement changes to its workflow, leading to decreased productivity, low job satisfaction, and ultimately burnout. In order to foster a positive work environment, you have to take care of your employees and deliver them the tools to succeed both inside and outside of work. 

In order to revitalize an increasingly burdened public sector workforce, government leaders must provide holistic employee support by prioritizing their workforce’s mental health and emotional wellbeing, in addition to taking advantage of digital transformation to simplify repetitive tasks and allow employees to focus on the work that matters most. Now that’s an approach that will help employees thrive, better serve constituents, and achieve the agency mission. 

Sean Kennedy is vice president and general manager of health and life sciences, strategy and solutions at Salesforce. He is a 25-year veteran of the health IT space, holding previous roles at the Massachusetts eHealth Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and the United States Army.

Sun, 07 Aug 2022 22:00:00 -0500 en text/html https://www.govexec.com/management/2022/08/its-time-treat-federal-workforce-better/375498/
Killexams : Varonis Showcases Data-First Security for Salesforce and AWS at Black Hat USA 2022

Press release content from Globe Newswire. The AP news staff was not involved in its creation.

NEW YORK, Aug. 04, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Varonis Systems, Inc. (Nasdaq: VRNS), a pioneer in data security and analytics, will return to Black Hat USA as a Gold Sponsor on August 10 – 11 in Las Vegas. Varonis experts will be in-person at booth #2934 and online in the virtual Business Hall for 1:1 demos and to answer questions about securing data in the cloud.

Visit Varonis at Black Hat to see how the Varonis Data Security Platform helps companies minimize their blast radius ― the damage attackers can do once they land on a network. Learn how Varonis closes security gaps on-prem, in Microsoft 365, and across popular SaaS and IaaS apps and services, including Salesforce, Google Drive, Box, AWS, Okta, Jira, Slack, GitHub, and Zoom.

Varonis Highlights at Black Hat USA 2022:

  • Meet Varonis In-Person: Join Varonis at booth #2934 on Wednesday, August 10, and Thursday, August 11. Schedule a 1:1 meeting, watch presentations and see the existing features for DatAdvantage Cloud that let you visualize and prioritize security risk across today’s mission-critical SaaS applications and cloud data stores. We’ll also have giveaways and our legendary Breacho game.
  • Virtual Visits: Stop by the Varonis booth in the virtual Business Hall, where you can schedule demos of the Varonis Data Security Platform and DatAdvantage Cloud.
  • Virtual On-Demand Session: Remote work and the rise of cloud collaboration increase your attack surface and deliver attackers more opportunities to compromise critical data stores and applications. At the Varonis virtual booth, learn how to mitigate risk and reduce your blast radius by putting your data first during the session “Attack Surface vs. Blast Radius.”

Additional Resources

About Varonis
Varonis  is a pioneer in data security and analytics, fighting a different battle than conventional cybersecurity companies. Varonis focuses on protecting enterprise data: sensitive files and emails; confidential customer, patient, and employee data; financial records; strategic and product plans; and other intellectual property. The Varonis Data Security Platform detects cyber threats from both internal and external actors by analyzing data, account activity, and user behavior; prevents and limits disaster by locking down sensitive and stale data; and efficiently sustains a secure state with automation. Varonis products address additional important use cases including data protection, data governance, Zero Trust, compliance, data privacy, classification, and threat detection and response. Varonis started operations in 2005 and has customers spanning leading firms in the financial services, public, healthcare, industrial, insurance, energy and utilities, technology, consumer and retail, media and entertainment, and education sectors.

Investor Relations Contact:
James Arestia
Varonis Systems, Inc.
646-640-2149
investors@varonis.com

News Media Contact:
Rachel Hunt
Varonis Systems, Inc.
877-292-8767 (ext. 1598)

 

Thu, 04 Aug 2022 01:07:00 -0500 en text/html https://apnews.com/press-release/globe-newswire/technology-d6b94f2fdeecd624c8ce46a5aeb4b319
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