Stephen Smith's Blog

Musings on Machine Learning…

Posts Tagged ‘blogging

Our Sage R&D Leadership Conference at Newport Beach

with 6 comments

Introduction

This past week I had the privilege of attending a Sage Leadership conference that was put on for about 40 of the key Sage North American R&D Leaders. It was held over two days at the Newport Beach Hyatt Hotel. Newport Beach is a beautiful spot with Balboa Island and Back Bay in easy walking distance along with a number of good restaurants. The intent of the conference was to give people a chance to get away from the daily grind of problem solving and routine management to really concentrate on leadership. This is very important at Sage right now as the company is going through a large number of changes to adapt to the fast changing technology/societal landscape that we are now living in.

We had an artist drawing visually what we were doing, so in this blog posting I’ve added a few of her drawings on the relevant topics. They are really quite good and much better than getting an e-mail of PowerPoint presentations.

Sage Vision

The conference got off to a rocky start when the group was asked to stand if you could recite the Sage Vision statement and only a couple of people on the executive committee stood. This then led into a discussion about the Sage brand and the Sage Vision.

Just to be clear, the Sage brand isn’t just the Sage logo and the Sage Vision isn’t just some feel good marketing text that we put under the logo on our brochures. These aren’t about marketing at all, they are about defining the company that we want to become. The Sage Vision statement is:

To be recognized as the most valuable supporter of small and medium sized companies by creating greater freedom for them to succeed.

We then spent time breaking apart and analyzing this statement and then ensuring that what we are working on today aligns with this vision. Some of the key parts of this statement are that we will be recognized, that we do provide value in everything we do, it defines our market segment and defines our goal. We want to give our customers freedom from dealing with accounting matters so that they can concentrate on their real business whatever that may be.

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Leadership

After fully drinking the vision cool-aide, we then went about discussing and talking about leadership. A lot of this revolved around being a confident leader. In our ability to inspire our co-workers and to get all the cats moving in the same direction.

We discussed leadership attributes that we at Sage do well, but more importantly we spent more time discussing the leadership attributes that we are lacking and how to develop these.

The diagram then gives a good representation of what was discussed:

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Customer Connectedness

Rather than doing a Clint Eastwood and having the customer represented by an empty chair, we actually invited a couple of customers to kick off the second day. We started with a question and answer session to learn about their businesses, to learn about the problems that they are having, about what is working well. Not just for their ERP system but for their whole business in all its aspects.

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We were asked to take notes and then when the Q&A was over, the second part was to have our own Shark Tank show. Each table became a team (about five people each) and had 45 minutes to come up with a product idea to pitch to the sharks which in this case were our two visiting customers. They then judged the ideas and awarded a bottle of monopoly money to the team that they wanted to invest in.

This exercise was a lot of fun and was a good exercise of the creative juices. The winning ideas are then going to be fed into our innovation process to see if other customers also think they are good ideas.

It was interesting to watch, since this was entirely developers, that they fell into the same traps that we usually blame Product Management for, namely answering “yes it can” to every question and under pressure on pricing to keep lowing it until it’s a free service.

Innovation

A primary goal of the conference was to foster more innovation in everything we do. One fun exercise was to have all the tables go off into their own groups and put together a play or skit on a day in the life of someone using technology ten years into the future. I blogged on my vision of ERP in 2020 a couple of years ago here. Certainly my vision of ten years into the future was way more conservative than anything envisioned here. Center stage went to voice interaction and general direct input into the brain. In a way projected where technologies like Siri and Google Now along with Google Glasses will be in ten years.

The key theme is that no one will be keying in ERP transactions anymore. You will just do business by chatting and gesturing, sign contracts by shaking hands and all the debits and credits will happen magically (via technology) in the background.

Summary

The conference was a great deal of fun and highly successful. It was good to meet a number of people I’ve only dealt with via e-mail in person finally, as well as a number of people I didn’t know at all. It was good to ensure we are all aligned and working to the same vision and that we are all innovating together toward a common goal of really providing that freedom for our customers to succeed. But more importantly there are a number of things for me to start doing immediately on returning to the office.

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Written by smist08

March 2, 2013 at 3:35 am

Some Experiences from Blogging

with 3 comments

Introduction

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly four years now. I’ve written 175 articles and there have been 940 comments (many of these responses by myself). This is a bit of a self-indulgent article on my experiences blogging. Partly because I think blogging is a great communications mechanism and partly because I need a topic this week. I’ve managed to get my readership up to a bit over ten thousand views per month now, which given the specialized topics I blog on, I tend to think is pretty good. I get a quite varied readership with all parts of the globe being represented.

Format

I use WordPress. I didn’t do a lot of research to pick it, I just noticed several blogs that I liked used it and gave it a try. I found it really easy to get going and have basically stuck with it since. It’s important to keep your blog URL the same so people can continue to find you. I never paid for a personalized URL, so if I ever did want to switch away from WordPress it would be hard, since I would need to change the URL of my blog. I’ve only ever used the free version/functionality and never paid for anything, though WordPress makes some money off me by having a few adds on my blog now and then.

I write my articles in MS Word. Then I copy/paste them into WordPress. WordPress preserves most of the formatting so I don’t need to reformat things usually. Sometimes it messes up, but I tend to keep the formatting simple so I don’t confuse it. The pictures don’t copy across, so I need to insert them separately when done.

I don’t really like the contents/indexing of blog articles that WordPress provides, so I use the custom page feature to keep some tables of contents and directories of articles more in a way that I prefer.

Gaining Readers

When you start a blog and post it on a site like WordPress, even if you don’t do anything, you will still get a few views, even if it’s only a dozen a week. So how do you get readers? How do you keep them coming back? There are a lot of articles and blogs on how to promote blog readership, but these are a few things that I find work.

  1. Google is king. Most of my views come as the result of Google searches or Google image searches. Usually several hundred from Google and then one or two from Bing, Yahoo, AVG Toolbar, etc. Towards getting good Google results, check your page rank (using the Google toolbar or the Chrome application). If you’re not progressing (from 0 to 1 to 2 to 3) over a year or so, you might need to rethink things. Make sure you get your friends to link to your blog from any blogs or websites they have, since Google largely rates things by how many other sites link to it.
  2. LinkedIn is a great way to promote your blog. If you know your audience and can connect to your audience via LinkedIn, then they will see notifications of your posts on LinkedIn, as long as you set it up correctly.
  3. Posting notifications on relevant Facebook pages generates a few views, but at least for me, the audience is wrong and I don’t get many views this way.
  4. Reddit. Since Digg died, Reddit is supposedly the main referral site for articles. However most blogs are just rejected by the various topic editors and it’s very hard to keep good referrals here. I’ve only managed to do it once, but it did payoff with a record day. But generally I find Reddit too much work.
  5. Write regularly. If you write regularly then people will subscribe to your blog to be notified either by e-mail or RSS every time you post. Subscribing readers are the best kind of readers. Plus Google (see #1) favors sites that keep posting original content. It doesn’t take long for all that content to add up to a pretty sizeable set of reference material.
  6. Build a twitter following. Tweeting is a great way to promote your blog. I found Twitter worked better a few years ago. My theory is that so many people tweet now, that your posts tend to get lost in the general sea of tweets. Google is putting a bit more weight into social media references, so it can’t hurt.
  7. There are sites that claim if you pay them, they will find you all sorts of readers and send your viewership skyrocketing. I don’t really believe this and have never paid for such a service. I’ve also never paid for things like Facebook or Twitter to promote my posts.
  8. Have relevant keywords. But don’t go overboard. There has been so much abuse of HTML keywords, that most search engines just ignore them and go for the content. A few good keywords is good, but if you add every word in the dictionary it just makes your page slow to load and the search engines will ignore them. The search engines are much better at deriving these from your content these days.

Generally unless you are a celebrity (or blogging about celebrities), your number of viewers won’t be in the millions (or even hundreds of thousands). But getting a readership in the thousands or tens of thousands isn’t that hard. It just takes consistency, good content and a bit of perseverance. Also remember that if you are blogging on a technical topic, your whole total audience may not be that big, due to the high levels of specialization we see these days.

Geographic

WordPress now will categorize your readership by country. This is based on your IP address which isn’t perfect. At our Sage Richmond office, our internet is routed through Irvine, CA. So if anyone in the office (in Canada) reads my blog then it counts as US (since this is how the IP address is assigned).

My readership tends to follow proportionately where Sage 300 is successful. But there are a few anomalies. Strangely I get quite a few views from Brazil, even though we’ve never really sold Sage 300 there.

Stats

Blogging software like WordPress is great for providing you all sorts of statistics. Like tracking your viewers over the years, telling you which countries follow your blog the most, telling you who is referring people to your blog. I find keeping an eye on these statistics is very addictive. Plus it’s a great feedback mechanism where you can experiment and then get some real data on what the affect is.

Feedback

Blogs are a great way to get feedback. People are quite willing to share their thoughts with you. Generally it’s a good idea to prescreen comments to eliminate spam and other unsavory remarks. It’s amazing how many online scams try to propagate by posting comments on blogs.

Versus Tech Support

I do try to answer most of the questions posted to my blog. But remember it isn’t tech support. When you open a tech support ticket, it is tracked and they will keep working on it till it’s solved. For my blog I might not have any idea and not answer, or I might be busy and it falls through the cracks. Or it requires more back and forth than can be achieved via blog comments. Also remember that blog comments aren’t a replacement for on-line forums, these are much better at gaining answers from a community of people. One of the goals of my blog is to reduce tech support, but blogging on topics that give people trouble or by blogging on ways to troubleshoot problems. But in the end if you really do need an answer and you need things to be followed up and escalated then please do call tech support.

Summary

I find blogging a very rewarding activity. One saying that I take to heart is that you don’t really understand a topic until you can teach it to someone else. I find I learn a lot researching for blog posts and that it can really crystalize my thinking when going through the process of writing an article.

Plus it is enjoyable to attend conferences and have people come up to me and say that they regularly do read my blog.

Written by smist08

November 10, 2012 at 2:48 am