Who is doing the Watching?

We are living in a world, these days, that allow many companies and services, who participate in some form of data collection, to get more “bang for their buck”. In most of history, consent was imperative due to the very blatant fact that companies had to hire or notify their informants directly, in person or through surveys. The collected data was then used as a general idea for how a certain social demographic operated, relaying that information to advertisers. Nowadays, whether voluntarily or not, information is constantly gathered from the everyday choices we make online, which is easily, and cheaply, gathered and sold, no bulky surveys or drawn out interviews necessary. Even better, this information is more targeted! Rather than a general summary of a demographic, the advertisers can pitch a product directly to a specific user, like we often see on Facebook.

Smart TVs and Consent

The truth is, consent is still very much apart of every company’s business model, however, with the advent of the internet and the minute-by-minute advancement of technology, consent is hidden in the manifesto known as “the terms of agreement” tucked way between politics and disclaimers, which we inevitably skim through with little reading in effort to use the service or product.

And well, if that doesn’t satisfy, than perhaps we should be sticking to a good old fashion 12 inch screen with a VCR, or better yet, a book.”

The issue of data collection, privacy and security is constantly coming up as technology advances. Due to the recent release of a voice activation feature on the Samsung Smart TV, owners are bringing up an ethical concern of “who is doing the watching?” Orwellian references have been circulated throughout social media inevitably. In response to this international concern, Samsung has made a statement saying the voice activation feature is manually operated by the user to deactivate. It the effort to be as transparent as possibly, the company also mentioned that upon purchasing the product their policy readily discloses that all information is shared with a third party. The third party being- Nuance.com -a company Samsung works with to provide speech-to-text conversion to deliver customer demands. Unlike Facebook and other social media companies, Samsung also claims they are not selling or retaining customer’s information to advertising companies.

Privacy Issues and Tech Gadgets

So what are the most critical takeaways of privacy issues regarding this new gadget? I believe the most important aspect is- this form of technology evolution has been egged on by what our culture thrives on. There is the constant crave for better, faster, more complex tech to make lives cushier, more convenient, and lazier. Therefore, perhaps the finger is being wagged in the wrong direction when it comes to privacy issues. With the Samsung Smart TV, the user has full control over whether or not to use the voice activation device, deactivating it whenever they choose. One can sit on their couch, not use the remote, yell at the big bully of a screen, and then pick up the remote and deactivate the feature to have their privacy back. And well, if that doesn’t satisfy, than perhaps we should be sticking to a good old fashion 12 inch screen with a VCR, or better yet, a book.

 

Kayleigh Stack

Customer Liaison & Research Associate

Pros and Cons of Bigcommerce.com

Everyday more and more businesses are using Bigcommerce.com. As a tech nerd, Start-up owner, and employee at Ruckbau, a technology consulting company, I too have had my Bigcommerce.com adventures. At certain pointsI have found myself frustrated, while at other moments I’ve been pleasantly satisfied. After having a decent amount of experience with this company as a customer, I came up with a list of pros and cons, in hopes to help both the bigcommerce.com expert and novice.

The Cons (because they are always more fun to start with)

1- Nightmare slideshow (However, this may not be the case for every layout).

 When you pick a layout for your online shop, more likely than not it will come with a slideshow. The slideshow consists of a big banner on top of the page with a few images. Given its name, I’m pretty sure it’s function is self-explanatory.

 The slideshow in the layout our customer picked was (not?) responsive. If you are not familiar with this term, I’ll gladly explain. A responsive website is a website that adapts to the sides of the screen, for it to, ideally, look the same on all devices- including phone browser, iPad, or 32” monitor. (Now, if you need a 32” monitor to browse the web, you may have some more serious issues not related to the web at all)

Getting to the point….

The Slideshow on bigcommerce.com stretches all the images when looking at them from a big screen. Unfortunately this didn’t have an easy solution. We had to go in and spend four hours playing with the code to get it to work properly. If you are not an experienced web developer, it seems you’ll have no choice but to live with stretched images.

2-Not easy to tweak layouts (This one concerns both tech savvy and not so tech savvy people).

 If you have some  knowledge of HTML and CSS, and you decide you prefer a different layout design rather than the ones offered, you may encounter some difficulties figuring out how to make those changes.

 The way that bigcommerece.com stacks their code doesn’t make it easy to play with the HTML and CSS. However, with that being said, once you do figure out how, it’s pretty simple.

3-Terrible code stack (if your not a developer, this may not concern you).

 The code stack the website is built on is pretty terrible. If you need to go in and do development, you should be mentally prepared to deal with lots of things you probably don’t want to deal with.

4-Creating a Homepage could be a pain.

 If you are trying to create a landing page that is not going to display products for sale, you will be confronted with some extra work. Although it may not be extremely hard (I found a pretty good tutorial video), your frustration-o-odometer may go through the roof (yes, that is an official measurement).

The Pros

1-Friendly user interface.

 If you use WordPress, Bigcommerce.com should be a breeze. If you don’t, after an hour or two, you’ll feel like a pro (or at least comfortable with it.)

 Their user interface is very friendly, and after playing around for a short time, you should be adapting pretty quickly.

2-Lots of online support.

 There is lots of documentation on their support site. Plus they have an online chat support- offering many people eager and willing to roll up their sleeves to do the dirty work for you (as long as it’s a reasonable request).

3-Lots of layouts to pick from.

 With a good assortment of both free and purchasable layouts, it should be easy to pick one that fits your store’s needs.

4-Google analytics and more.

 You can get Google analytics to track where your customers come from, go to, and all of those other cool things the internet is doing these days. They also offer lots for marketing to help promote your store, gift certificates and more.

5-Free trial.

If you still don’t know if this is the commerce platform you have been looking for, you get a 15 day free trial. I’m not sure if you will see any sales results in that time (and if you do, I want a commission), but that should be more than enough time to figure out whether you like the site or not.

Thank you for taking the time to read! Hopefully this will help you when considering big commerce.

Fede Pisani

Technical Blogger

What is Business Process Management?

Old Technology
The original ERP – it did addition.

For most of my youth, when I would hear someone use the term BPM, I just assumed that I was speaking to a DJ (beats per minute). Eventually, I came to spend more time working and less time dancing, and BPM came to mean something completely different. Although Business Process Management isn’t quite as edgy as “Beats Per Minute,” it is exciting in its own right.

These days, Business Process Management is more than just workflows and processes used to conduct business. Although most b-school grads and consultants will give you an abstract and somewhat nebulous definition of bpm – an iterative process cycle that emphasizes improvement – the fact of the matter is that modern bpm is completely dependent on technology. Trying to implement a business process life-cycle without the use of complicated software is just not possible. Organizations are so large, complicated, volatile, and cumbersome, that no single human (or group of humans) could even think about overseeing the entire bpm life-cycle without assistance from our silicon friends.

I hate to say it but, those glorious days of decision makers understanding all of the organization’s processes, writing out marching orders to managers on pieces of paper and watching the money flow are over. Firstly, most decision makers know as much about their organizations as drivers know about the cars they drive. Sure, they know that they can go left, right, faster or slower, but they have no idea what is going on under the hood or what processes enable them these actions. We all get along fine driving our cars without knowing what’s going on under the hood, but any manager worth her salt will tell you that unlike machines, people need feedback, not just directions. Smart employees need to understand why they are being asked to do the things they do and smart managers need to be able to understand, at a high level, what’s going on under the hood in order to make decisions and rationalize their marching orders.

With these needs in mind, it makes sense to define Business Process Management as a centralized set of tools and processes that automate, optimize, manage, and analyze work and the workers within an organization. If that sounds an awful lot like an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, that’s because it essentially is just that: an ERP with a specific set of goals, focused on maximizing efficiency and optimizing business processes. A magical machine forged from the dreams of smart managers, developers, engineers, workers, project managers, and anyone else who has ever worked in a large, complicated environment. The only problem is, this machine is usually more of a fantasy than reality.

Nearly 50% of all ERP systems fail before they’re even implemented. And most end up under-utilized by the people that they’re supposed to serve. With this blog, I hope to break down some of the problems with modern bpm and erp systems and describe some useful tricks for small and medium-sized businesses so they can leverage technology and get automated and optimized.

The Art of Workflows (with Google Draw)

Workflows? I don’t need no stinkin’ workflows.

Jazz musician Miles Davis.
“Even Miles Davis needed sheet music…”

Yes, you do. Lists and todos are for grocery stores and dentist appointments – real processes require real, logical steps. If you aren’t already putting together workflows and ordered lists, then you (A) don’t know what these are or (B) think that winging it is just a better way of doing things. For those of you that believe in the Gospel of Wingin’ it, I say this: sometimes, you’re right. Sometimes, it really is just better to wing it and play it by ear – improvise. But sometimes is not always, and even Miles Davis needed sheet music from time to time to get him started.

For those of you that have no idea what a workflow is or have some vague notions of diagrams, charts, graphs, cats, cogs, and gears with arrows sticking out them – fear not. You probably already know how to diagram a workflow. In fact, you probably did this in grade school when you were learning how to brainstorm or every time you played Candyland. You certainly don’t need an MBA and you definitely don’t need an expensive program. All you need is the ability to draw and a list of ordered steps. A workflow is nothing more than each of those steps, laid out in one place, with arrows connecting them in order. The value of a workflow over an ordered list of steps is that you can visualize the process more easily, and you can add some basic logic to your steps, i.e. if my mailman delivers my Netflix DVD today, then I go to step 3, otherwise, I go to step 4. (You’ll see what I mean when we get to an example below.)

Step One: Figure out steps two, three, four…

Some people like to just jump into the drawing part of the process – putting squares and arrows down on paper. I think it’s best to just start with an ordered set of steps. The process I will workflow as an example is “A low-key Friday night.” My steps are laid out below:

A Low-Key Friday Night:

  1. Commute home from work
  2. Pick up some groceries
  3. Arrive at home
  4. Get the mail
  5. Cook some dinner
  6. Open a bottle of wine (or beer)
  7. Eat dinner
  8. Wash the dishes
  9. Watch a movie
  10. Read a book
  11. Go to sleep

This seems like a pretty discreet and simple set of steps, but as you’ll see once we put these steps into a workflow, there is a world of logic between each item.

Step 2: Put it in a “Drawering.”

Now that we’ve got the steps down on paper (errrrrr… on screen), we need to start drawing. Each one of these items can be represented by an individual box, or circle, or whatever graphical representation you would like to use. There are all sorts of diagramming standards, but we don’t really care about any of them. Right now, we just want to get started with workflows.

The tool I like to use for drawing out workflows is Google’s Draw. I’m no Google fanboy, but they definitely make some useful products. Most importantly, the app is free and it’s easy to use. You can drag and drop all sorts of shapes and easily add text within the shapes by double clicking. You can access Draw using Google Drive clicking the “Create New” button. Get access to Google Drive, you’ll need a Gmail account (or any Google account). If you don’t already have one, you may sign up here: www.google.com/drive.

Friday night workflow, part 1
Low-Key Friday Night Workflow, part 1

As you can see above, I used Google draw to just create boxes that represent each of the steps in my new workflow. So far, this doesn’t look like much, but in the next step, I will add the actual logic to the workflow. Note that the first box is a different color than the other boxes – I consider that the entry point or starting point into my workflow (i.e. the first step).

Step 3: That’s pretty illogical.

At this point, we need to stat adding some logic to our workflow diagram. So far, all we’ve got are actual steps, but in between some of these steps are decisions that determine which step we will take next. For instance, if there is a Netflix movie in the mail, then a movie will be watched, otherwise, it looks like a quiet night with a book. (Obviously, we could also watch TV, but except for NBA playoffs, Friday nights are generally pretty crappy.)

Low-Key Friday Night, part 2; Usually wine and movie go together, but you get the point...
Low-Key Friday Night, part 2; Usually wine and movie go together, but you get the point…

As you can see from the example above, the workflow of the evening is beginning to make a lot more sense. The logic I added accounts for the availability of a movie to watch as well as whether or not I purchased all of the necessary ingredients to make a nice dinner. The one thing it doesn’t account for is that wine is usually paired with a movie or a book, but we can always chalk that bit up to “wingin’ it.”

What’s the point again?

Obviously, my example is somewhat nonsensical. If you need a workflow to step through a Friday evening, then you don’t really understand the point of a Friday evening. However, by using the same process above, you could easily create workflows for some of your more intensive business processes. Say for instance you have a sales department. It would be good to know how leads are generated,and how they are processed once they come in contact with your team. You could map out each individual person’s workflow or the entire process from beginning to end. Heck, you could even make a workflow about how to make workflows (feel free to use this guide as a base) – a kind of meta-workflow… trippy.

The whole point of documenting processes is so that you can more easily understand what is going on. With the “Low-key Friday night example” above, it’s obvious what’s going on – I’m going to turn off my phone, eat something delicious, and get blotto. However, in a complex organization, it’s somewhat difficult to know how things work. By documenting workflows, you can better understand how an organization works, how you can improve the process, and what sort of technology you can use make everything run more smoothly.