Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Developing Your Small Business Marketing Plan

Along with your business plan, your small business marketing plans is only of the most important long-term plans you'll make for your small business. Some small business owners choose to ignore that advice, instead preferring to fly by the seat of their pants, so to speak, to "wing it." While some of those small business owners are successful, they're not nearly as successful as they could be had they laid out a well-defined small business marketing plan.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Juniper takes customer service to the next level with GSA 7.0

Editors note:Today’s guest blogger is Brian Kissel, Business CIO of Juniper Networks, a global producer of digital network solutions and services. Brian’s team is leading a project to improve the findability of useful information for employees across the company, using the Google Search Appliance 7.0.

At Juniper, our ability to manage and access knowledge directly impacts our ability to innovate and deliver value to our customers. However, as at most enterprises, this “corporate knowledge” is contained in various places across the company.

For instance, in a single customer support call, our team might need to consult and filter through more than four different applications to see if similar issues had been solved before, or look for an existing fix. Doing this one by one using the default search tool within these systems was a real time-waster. It also meant we could overlook some of the information needed to make better decisions. And in the meantime, our customer is waiting!

To solve this problem, we recently started using the Google Search Appliance (GSA) across these systems. With the GSA, it was pretty straightforward to provide a single, unified search box, similar to a “Google.com for our business.” As with Google.com, we no longer have to ask the question of “which site might have this,” or correlate different ideas from different systems. Google made it possible to connect to our various sources, all while preserving the end-user security we apply to our different content.

Using GSA means one source of truth, delivering highly relevant search results. With our previous solution, employees wouldn’t find what they were looking for, or would have to look through multiple pages before finding it. With the GSA, people find what they are looking for on the first page without having to click back.

This has reduced turnaround time in solving customer problems and improved the level of our service. This saves direct costs, but, more importantly, leads to happier customers. For engineering, it means faster access to relevant information such as technical specification documents, product plans, and customer cases, which helps them design and build innovative products and solutions, better and faster.

Compared to traditional enterprise search solutions, GSA requires less human intervention for configuration, management and optimization, and we estimate that our labor costs have been reduced by approximately 25% as a result. Overall, by deploying Google Search internally, not only have we seen a tremendous boost in employee productivity, but we’ve managed to delight our employees by delivering a search experience that they are familiar with in their personal lives and also scales to the Enterprise.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Garden Fresh empowers employees with Google Apps

Editors note: Today’s guest blogger is Eric Rosenzweig, CIO of Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. Eric and the Garden Fresh team will be telling their story live via webinar on November 14th. Register to hear them discuss why the time was right to switch and how the change benefited their business.

With 129 restaurants in 15 states, Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. has grown quickly since we acquired the first two Souplantation restaurants in 1983. Since then, over 300 million guests have experienced the all-you-care-to-eat dining experience at our restaurants, jam packed with fresh, high quality ingredients.

Early in 2012, we found that the upkeep of our email system & servers was becoming unsustainable. It slowed down collaboration and execution of plans across the business. After evaluating various solutions, switching to Google Apps with the help of SADA Systems was a ‘no brainer’.

Introducing shared Google Calendars and Google Docs simplified day-to-day tasks. Before the move to Google Apps, branch auditing, a quality control process, was a particular pain point for us. Auditors would share branch videos with 18 general and district managers via email. Managers often missed key details in the ensuing email correspondence and ended up with many duplicate copies of important documents. Now, the videos are added to a shared Google spreadsheet, on which each branch has its own tab. Analysis & actions items are captured on one live, master document, erasing information duplication and ensuring that important insights are not missed. The new auditing process requires 80% less time on this team’s part to effectively manage.

Our marketing team has also seen the benefits of real-time collaboration. The process to launch new marketing endeavors, such as coupon schemes across multiple locations, has been streamlined. In the past, problems with in-store coupons were surfaced via phone or email, on or after the launch date. Now, prior to a campaign launch, each restaurant receives a Google Form containing test codes. They use the form to report whether the codes are scanning correctly. If they aren’t, they can open the response spreadsheet to see who’s fixing the issue and when it’s expected to be fixed. This allows for speedy troubleshooting that leads to a much better customer experience.

For me, the most important thing about these examples is the lack of IT involvement. The switch to the cloud has empowered Garden Fresh employees to share information & collaborate in ways that suit them, placing very little strain on IT resources. My team now has the time to focus on projects that will move the business forward as a whole, which is exactly as it should be.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Google Apps Vault now available to Google Apps for Government Customers

Since we launched Google Apps Vault, many businesses have adopted it to archive, retain and manage business critical information. Starting today, Vault is available for Google Apps for Government customers. Federal, state and local agencies in the United States can now purchase Vault to help meet their compliance needs.

Google Apps Vault helps protect organizations of all sizes from legal and compliance risks through advanced message archiving, retention and eDiscovery capabilities. It provides the ability to quickly search, identify, preserve and export information in response to litigation, investigation, compliance audits, or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Vault helps organizations cull through their data and find messages relevant to such requests, reducing the associated time, effort, and costs.

Google Apps Vault can also be used to address knowledge management needs. It enables authorized users to search, manage, and review data. For example, if an employee leaves abruptly and the organization needs to understand the status of the employee’s projects, Vault will help find the needed information. Customers using Vault can ensure that data with critical business information are preserved and can be reviewed.

Vault built on the same infrastructure as Google Apps and recently completed an SSAE 16 / ISAE 3402 Type II SOC 2 audit. Visit our Google Apps for Government page where ynu can find more details as well as contact our sales team.

Get started at no cost with a faster, larger Cloud SQL database

(Cross-posted on Google Developers Blog)

You want your applications to be fast, even with millions of users. Anytime your user tries to retrieve information from the app or update settings, it should happen instantly. For the best performance, you need faster, larger databases - especially if you have a growing user base to serve.

Google App Engine is designed to scale. And now Google Cloud SQL—a MySQL database that lives in Google’s cloud—has new features to meet the demand for faster access to more data. With today’s updates, you can now work with bigger, faster MySQL databases in the cloud:

  • More Storage: We’re increasing the available storage on Cloud SQL to 100GB – ten times more than what used to be available.
  • Faster Reads: We’re increasing the maximum size of instances to 16GB RAM, a 4 times increase in the amount of data you can cache.
  • Faster Writes: We’re adding functionality for optional asynchronous replication, which gives the write performance of a non-replicated database, but the availability of a replicated one.
  • EU datacenter availability: Now you can choose to store your data and run your Cloud SQL database instance in either our US or EU data centers.
  • Integration with Google Apps Script: We’re making it quick and easy for businesses using Google Apps to use Cloud SQL. Publish and share data with Google Sheets, add data to Google Sites pages or create simple Google Forms without worrying about hosting or configuring servers. 

Introducing a new trial offer 

Many of you have requested a trial offer to test out Cloud SQL. Today, we’re introducing a 6- month trial offer at no charge, effective until June 1, 2013. This will include one Cloud SQL instance with 0.5 GB of storage. Sign up now and get started on Cloud SQL at no cost.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hudbay Minerals moves its global team to Google Apps

Editors note: Today’s guest blogger is Joe AbiDaoud, CIO of Hudbay Minerals, a publicly traded Canadian mining company headquartered in Toronto. See what other organizations that have gone Google have to say.

Since 1927, Hudbay Minerals has focused on discovering and producing base and precious metals. From exploration projects in North and South America and our ctrrent operations in Canada, our 2,000 employees depend on technology to work together and make sure our efforts are coordinated across regions. To do this, we really needed a platform that allowed us to easily collaborate, work remotely using our mobile devices, and communicate across teams in different regions and different languages.

We had been using Microsoft® Office for years, with several Microsoft® Exchange servers across the company, but it became increasingly difficult for our IT team to stay up and running with the uptick in support calls due to a dated system. After exploring various options at different price points, we knew we wanted to move to a cloud-based solution to work more efficiently and provide a scalable and reliable solution.

We invited Google reseller, Sheepdog, to conduct a two-day Google Apps for Business workshop for a small group of employees from various levels and departments within the company. During the workshop, employees evaluated Google Apps against our “success criteria,” which included ease of use, efficiency, functionality, speed and cost. We quickly realized that Google Apps was a good fit for our geographically dispersed company and in July we started moving more than 1,000 employees to Google Apps.

Our IT support calls for email plummeted overnight, demonstrating just how easy it is to use Google Apps. For a global company, being able to instantly translate messages in Gmail and use Google+ Hangouts to meet “in person” made the language and geographical barriers easier to overcome. We’ve also estimated that by going Google we will reduce our costs over the long term when compared to the cost of upgrading and maintaining our old infrastructure. As a public company, we’re thrilled with the savings and new ways of working that we discovered by moving to the cloud.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Minimum Wage to $9.50? $9.80? $10?

During the 2008 campaign, President Obama promised to raise the minimum wage to $9.50/hour by 2011. This pledge was made at a time when the economic slowdown was already underway: the recession started in December 2007. The pledge was also made at a time when an increase in the minimum wage was already underway: in May 2007, President Bush has signed into law an increase in the minimum wage, to rise in several stages from $5.15 to $7.25 in July 2009.

Last summer, some Democratic Congressmen tried to push the issue a bit. In June, 17 House Democrats signed on as co-sponsors of a bill authored by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois for an immediate rise in the minimum wage to $10/hour--and then to index it to inflation in the future. In July, over 100 Democrats in the House of Representatives signed on as co-sponsors of a bill authored by Rep. George Miller of California to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.80/hour over the next three years--and then to index it to inflation after that point. But while raising the minimum wage was a hot issue in the years before Bush signed the most recent increases into law, these calls for a still-higher minimum wage got little attention.

For background, here are a couple of graphs about the U.S. minimum wage. The first graph shows the nominal minimum wage over time, and also the real minimum wage adjusted to 2011 dollars. In real terms, the increase in the minimum wage from 2007 to 2009 didn't quite get it back to the peak levels of the late 1960s, but did return it to the levels of the early 1960s and most of the 1970s--as well as above the levels that prevailed during much of the 1980s and 1990s. The second graph shows the minimum wage as a share of the median wage for several countries, using OECD data. The U.S. has the lowest ratio of minimum wage/median wage--and given the greater inequality of the U.S. income distribution, the U.S. ratio would look lower still if compared to average wages. However, because of the rise from 2007-2009, the U.S. economy has experienced the largest rise in the minimum wage from 2006-2011. (Thanks to Danlu Hu for producing these graphs.)

So why didn't calls for a higher minimum wage in summer 2012 get more political traction? 

1) The unemployment rate in May 2007 was 4.4%, and had been below 5% for 18 months. The unemployment rate last summer was around 8.2%, and had  been above 8% for more than 40 months. Thus, there was a lot less reason in May 2007 to worry about the risk that a higher minimum wage might reduce the number of jobs for unskilled labor than their was in summer 2012.

2) In summer 2012, average wage increases had not been looking good for most workers for several years, which made raising the minimum wage seem less appealing as a matter of fairness.

3) The increase in the minimum wage that President Bush signed into law that took effect from 2007 to 2009 made it feel less urgent to raise the minimum wage still further.

4) Some states have set their own minimum wages, at a level above the U.S. minimum wage. The U.S. Department of Labor has a list of state minimum wage laws here: for example, California has a minimum wage of $8/hour and Illinois has a minimum wage of $8.25/hour. Thus, at least some of those jurisdictions who favor a higher minimum wage are getting to have it.

5) In summer 2012, the Democratic establishment was focused on re-electing President Obama, and since raising the minimum wage was not part of his active agenda, it gave no publicity or support to the calls for a higher minimum wage.

6) In the academic world, there was a knock-down, drag-out scrum about the minimum wage going through much of the 1990s. David Card and Alan Krueger published a much-cited paper in 1994 in the American Economic Review, comparing minimum wage workers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and found that the different minimum wages across states had no effect on employment levels. (“Minimum Wagds and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”American Economic Review, September 1994, 84(4), pp. 772–93.). This conclusion was heavily disputed, and for those who want to get their hands dirty, the December 2000 issue of the American Economic Review had 30+ pages of critique of the Card-Krueger paper and 30+ pages of response. I won't seek to mediate that dispute here. But I think that the academics who were driving the arguments had sort of exhausted themselves by the time the 2007 legislation passed, and no one seemed to be slavering for a rematch.

I was lukewarm on the rise in the minimum wage that was enacted in 2007. It seems to me that there are better ways to help low-wage workers. But that said, if the minimum wage isn't very far above the market wage for unskilled labor (and in some places may even be below the market wage for unskilled labor), there's no reason to believe that it will have large effects on employment. However, raising the minimum wage further to the range of $9.50/hour or $10/hour would in many parts of the country push well above the prevailing wage for unskilled labor, especially in a still-weak economy, and so the effects on employment would be more deleterious.

I tried to explain some of the other policy issues raised by a higher minimum wage in my book The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works, published earlier this year by Penguin Plume.
"Here’s an insight for opponents of a higher minimum wage to mull over: Let’s say a 20 percent rise in the minimum wage leads to 4 percent fewer jobs for low-skilled workers (as some of the evidence suggests). But this also implies that a higher minimum wage leads to a pay raise for 96 percent of low-skilled workers. Many people in low-skill jobs don’t have full-time, year-round jobs. So perhaps these workers work 4 percent fewer hours in a year, but they get 20 percent higher pay for the hours they do work. In this scenario, even if the minimum wage reduces the number of jobs or the number of hours available, raising it could still make the vast majority of low-skilled workers better off, as they’d work fewer hours at a higher wage.

"There’s another side to the argument, however. The short-term costs to an individual of not being able to find a job are quite large, while the benefits of slightly higher wages are (relatively speaking) somewhat smaller, so the costs to the few who can’t find jobs because of a higher minimum wage may be in some sense more severe than the smaller benefits to individuals who are paid more. Those costs of higher unemployment are also unlikely to be spread evenly across the economy; instead, they are likely to be concentrated in communities that are already economically disadvantaged. Also, low-skill jobs are often entry-level jobs. If low-skill jobs become less available, the bottom rung on the employment ladder becomes less available to low-skilled workers. Thus, higher minimum wages might offer modest gains to the substantial number of low-skilled workers who get jobs, but impose substantial economic injury on those who can’t.

"There are alternatives to price floors, and economists often tend to favor such alternatives because they work with the forces of supply and demand. For example, if a government wants to boost wages for low-skilled workers, it could invest in skills-training programs. This would enable some of those workers to move into more skills-driven (and better paying) positions and would lower the supply of low-skilled labor, driving up their wages as well. The government could subsidize firms that hire low-skilled workers, enabling the firms to pay them a higher wage. Or it could subsidize the wages of low-skilled workers directly through programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a tax break to workers whose income is below a certain threshold. This policy increases the workers’ net income without placing any financial burden on the employers."
What I didn't point out in the book is the political dynamic that raising the minimum wage allows politicians to pretend that they are helping people at zero cost--because the costs don't appear as taxes and spending. But pushing up the minimum wage substantially now, after the recent increases and in a still-struggling economy, does not strike me as wise policy.

Addendum: Thanks to reader L.S. who let me know that my argument here--a minimum wage law can play a useful redistribution function under certain labor market assumptions, but in general it is better for the government to move to a lower minimum wage and higher government support for low-wage workers--is quite similar to the more formal case made by David Lee and Emmanuel Saez in their recent Journal of Public Economics article, "Optimal minimum wage policy in competitive labor markets."