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Indulgent Accordion Solo

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For the longtime readers (hi mom!) out there, you know that my "Steal this idea" series is where I give away innovation ideas that I've had - they're free for the taking by any industry, existing company, or entrepreneur. I'll gladly accept board positions or stock grants from appreciative organizations that I've inspired, but my ideas are free for the taking.

 

This week, let's look at a way to improve the personal banking experience.

 

Situation: Frequently, some component of our personal security is compromised and our banks find it necessary to send us a new credit or debit card. The old number gets canceled. The new card arrives. No big deal, right? Wrong. Anyone that has been in this situation knows that they likely have at least 5 or 10 companies hitting that old card number automatically. Who can even remember who is billing what card and when anymore?

 

My wife and a friend were both victims of this in the last couple days, so it's top of mind as an area ripe for innovation. This is a classic example of an area where the customer ends up carrying the burden, when it should be the company.

 

STEAL THIS IDEA:

 

Many ways to solve this one, I think, but here are a few ways that could result in a huge uplift in customer satisfaction.

 

1.) Lightweight idea: When they notify me of the breach in my card, or send me an updated card, provide me a report of vendors that appear to have recurring transactions hitting the old card. This prevents the surprise element of a declined transaction or a vendor calling my cell phone in the middle of a business meeting to tell me my card is coming back as invalid.

 

2.) Heavier weight idea: Selectively approve transactions based on purchasing history

This adds a very nominal amount of risk to the bank, but not much at all if they build the logic properly. In a nutshell, once your new card is activated, an approval request using your OLD number would trigger a query across your transaction history to look for identical transactions over a time period. If, for example, I pay my cable company 60 bucks a month on my bank Visa and they try to hit my old credit card number because I forgot to provide them the new one, my bank would automatically approve a new transaction (or queue it for my final approval) based on my documented history of a recurring transaction with that company over a sustained period of time in a consistent dollar amount.

 

Building on #2 above, it would be really awesome to just get a notice that a new transaction is pending on the old number, and allow me to log in to my online banking system and review a queue of transactions submitted for approval. I know this gets more into the gateway / interchange process and adds complexity, but there is too much competition for the entire financial services industry to not look at ways to move the needle.

 

3.) Heaviest weight idea: I was thinking about how even the USPS has had mail forwarding and "change of address" notifications for as long as I can remember, and quite possibly much longer. A few innovative startups have tried to centralize the process of updating tons of bulk mail houses and catalog companies when you move. But what about a change of credit card notification service? I'd like to enter my credit card number ONCE with a SINGLE VENDOR and then let them know which vendors they are allowed to communicate my information to. When my card changes, I update the information once, and the vendors systems are updated as well. Clearly, lots of security and trust involved here - but that's not going to change.

 

And yes, I think (daily) about ways to improve the customer experience at BMC, not just in other industry's. I would LOVE comments from readers on improvements they would love to see on BMC.com, or in any other component of your experience with our company. We're listening.

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I have designed some awful t-shirts in my life. In fact, I’ve started 3 different t-shirt companies in my life, my first at 16 (featuring some stupid quip about my virtual pet eating my family that even I don’t get anymore).  I realized today how much I have learned about business – and technology – in the eighteen years since I started out, and how different the relationship between the two is now. In fact, I posit that business and I.T. are now so intertwined that the companies treating them separately – with I.T. still viewed as a cost center, or perhaps as an execution arm – will get left behind, if they haven’t already. Hear me out.

 

When I started, the entire t-shirt business was pretty old-school. Yes, I sketched my artwork with a computer. But that’s where technology ended.  Everything else, from the printshop to the retailers I sold my designs through, were pretty much offline. Digital schmigital. People still paid by check. I still drove to the bank. My shirts were still sold in something called stores. The kind people actually drove to.

 

Today? A few years back I built a new t-shirt business from the ground up. I built an ecommerce site. I developed my own order and inventory management system, and a rudimentary CRM system to track my wholesale relationships. I integrated to shipping company API’s, built online order tracking systems, and drove visitors to my site through a tireless arsenal of paid search, social media, and press relations. I processed returns and customer service requests in a basic help system. My marketing database was tied to my customer order history and my email marketing system. All by myself, and all from behind a computer.

 

Whooptee freaking doo, right? Why does any of this matter?

 

I could never have done what I did – turned an initial $300 investment into a six figure business in a little over a year – without technology. The same stuff that enormous I.T. departments in Fortune 500 corporations do – enable transactions, track goods, support both customer and back-office facing services – I did on my own, on a much smaller scale, from a cheap laptop sitting on my sofa. Perhaps more importantly (for me, and many companies 10,000 times my size), I could never have reached the amount of customers I did a tsuch a low cost.  Sales and marketing –two pillars of the “business” – are now married at the hip to technology.  I moved $36,000 in t-shirts over 4 weeks from a single email social media engagement that made its’ way to CNN.

 

I.T. analysts talk quite a bit these days about business and IT alignment. I think it’s important to further qualify that idea a bit: everyone in business today is in the technology business.  The two may be kept separate from an organizational standpoint, but if your company is still suffering from or stoking tension between I.T. and your business units, it’s time to act swiftly and without mercy.

 

Examples of business/IT joint successes:

 

  • If you can shave a few milliseconds off a retail transaction time, how much faster does a line move? How much does customer satisfaction improve? How much more revenue does that earn? I shop at Target (almost) purely for the joy of watching my receipt print out the moment my card is swiped.
  • Brilliant business plans – like giving away games and earning through in-app purchases and advertising – are marriages between business and I.T. strategy. My daughter wants to buy smurfberries, or something like that, on her ipod touch. Smurfberries. She's 7.
  • Social media and the helpdesk - I love this one. Called a major web hosting provider and couldn't get my complaint resolved over the phone. Posted my problem publicly to twitter and their twitter support crew solved my problem in minutes. The business understands the importance of social media and ZMOT, and has clearly worked with I.T. to bridge the two - so much so, that the phone support guys may not have access to the same level of approvals to resolve customer matters.

 

I’ll argue (and I think win) that customer expectations have surpassed most company’s technical realities today.  I downloaded an airline app the other day that let me check in from my phone – but not access my boarding pass, which I was still supposed to collect at the airline counter or kiosk. Ummm, fail. Good business and technology idea, poor collaboration.

 

I’ve bought stuff online for “in-store pickup” recently where the wait for the in-store pickup line was longer than just grabbing the item off the shelves and going through the regular checkout. Meh, I’ll pass on that experience next time. Technology was there, but business process wasn’t in line (and as a result, neither was I).

 

One national chain lets me order my sandwich at the click of a button from my phone, and it’s delivered to me “freakishly fast.” The sandwich is honestly just okay, but the experience is amazing. I’ve spent hundreds with them this year. 

 

Why go the bookstore when I can flip on my Kindle?
Why buy any music ever when there is Spotify?

Why call anyone every for anything when you can do it online? And if you can’t, is it worth doing (outdoor activities and general human involvement aside)? 

 

Can’t pinpoint a similarly revolutionary experience in your industry? Good for you. Put I.T. and your business together in a room and be the one who comes out winning.

 

A few companies are setting the bar so extremely high – many of them scrappy startups with multi-billion dollar valuations overnight, a few of them very established companies that saw the vision early and smoked out the dissenters in the ranks – that customers are now disappointed by what was considered an acceptable experience just a couple years ago. We want our coffee before we order it, dammit, and that’s hardly a joke. I researched, decided on, negotiated, and financed my car purchase last month entirely online. If the car companies are listening, let’s go the extra mile: why do I need to sign 50 papers and wait in your lobby for two hours? Why do I even need to wait for an email response to my offer? Can’t we set business rules and let technology barter with me?

 

In short, It’s everyone’s job, mine included, to catch up to our customers. And knowing that, why wouldn’t your business and technology strategies – and leaders – to be joined at the hip?

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Last night, curled up in bed with my ipad (more on that later), I read an interesting article (“Let the Robot Drive”) on Wired.com about Google’s self-driving vehicle project. You’ve probably read about it by now; Google has a fleet of Prius’s navigating the Bay area that are teaching themselves how to drive.

 

So do most major automotive manufacturers. We already have self-parking technologies, lane-drift alerts, proximity sensors, sleepy driver warnings, and a myriad of other technologies in production vehicles (albeit usually higher-end cars at this point) that will help bridge the gap between humans driving and simply going along for the ride.  In the article, one analyst predicts self-driving vehicles in production by 2020.

 

A major question posed in the article really stuck out to me. What are Google’s intentions? Is it signaling a potential entrance into the fickle business of automotive manufacturing? Perhaps. More obvious to me, though, was what digital media companies like Google have been plunking away tirelessly over the last decade; stealing just a bit more of our time away from one thing, and redirecting it at (advertising and transaction rich) screen time.

 

If you no longer drove your car, but just rode inside of it, the “computer” part of cars that has long been prevalent in unseen places wouldsurely migrate in a major way to the cabin.

 

Since people would no longer have to split their driving time between actually driving, recklessly texting, and trying to pay attention to a conference call, they could afford to work a bit more digital interaction into their commuting experience; reading the news online, shopping, clicking on some valuable ad impressions, and even more likely, being advertised to based on geolocation within their commute, business the car knows it frequents, etc. All, in of course, a very tasteful and seemingly unobtrusive way, right?

 

Advertising has grown so smart that if you simply look at a product once online, you will likely find your next few months of surfing populated with cleverly placed ads for something you looked at once. For me,it’s the Xetum watch.  I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a little bonus money in my pocket one day and decide that maybe I DID need a respectable watch, one with at least an automatic movement. The Xetum had a nice design, what I’m told is a nice movement, and comes in at a fraction of some comparably built watches. I was intrigued, but at the end ofthe day, not intrigued enough to part with the $1,000 asking price, which I decided was money better spent on something other than telling time.

 

Point being: Xetum follows me everywhere now. When I check my personal email online, shop for anything, check my email, log in to Facebook. . . there’s a Xetum ad. And I don’t even want the watch (too much, at least).  I spent $980 dollars less and got something that will much more adequately represent who I am in the boardroom, should I ever get invited to serve tea and crumpets to the members one day.

 

photo.JPG

 

So that’s a really long intro to a pretty simple thought I wanted to share today. It’s about the value of unplugging in an increasingly plugged-in world.

 

I realized not long ago that the last thing I did before going to sleep was read on my ipad, and the first thing I did when I woke up was read on my ipad. News. Books. Facebook feeds. I was bookending the most restful and relaxing parts of my day with screen time.  It’s actually been a struggle to ween myself from this – our brains are already being reshaped by the constant access toinformation, and too much time without it seems like idle, wasted, time – when in fact, it’s quite often the other way around.

 

If we move to self-driving cars, or self-shaving faces, or self-tossing salads, we’ll only have more time to do something else. But we’re at a critical point where we can train our brains on how to allocate that time, rather than let marketeers with billions on the line frame it for us.

 

At the top of my list to “calm” my digital lifestyle are a few simple tips:

 

  1. Be in the moment. When you are on your smart phone all day, you’re not in the moment.You’re not in the room with your family if everyone is glued to a device at dinner, texting and typing and tapping. As best I can, I set my devices aside from the moment I enter my home – and make a conscious effort to divert the nagging cries inside me to check email, facebook, etc. to playing with my kids,or my dog, or just stepping outside and looking around and observing my surroundings. Touch a leaf, crunch it in your hands, and make an active effort to remain a tactile person that does not see the world from a retina display.
  2. Recognize when you are being “gamified.” I’ve written in the past about the principles of gamification – reinforcements and incentives that can frame the way you behave.  Point systems, coupons for “checking in” places, unlocked levels, etc. Be conscious of the fact that there is an actual science devoted to making you behave in a certain way –spend more time on a screen. Farmville is quite a bit less fun when you are conscious of the fact that there is more than one person on the payroll at Zygna making 6 figures for tricking you into spending a few more minutes on the screen. For me, this is liberating.
  3. Not all digital replacements are equal to their analog counterparts. I used to write a journal, a personal diary of sorts, that was written for me – nobody else. Blogging adds an audience, no matter how small, into the equation – and often reframes your intentions. What may have started as a place for you to document the small, beautiful things in each day turns into something where you are more focused on the number of subscribers, comments, reposts, likes, and advertising dollars you are getting. I’ve returned to my personal journal, where I write simple observations (like how my 3-year-old daughter says “I just made a tiny bless you” when she sneezes).  Blogs create a sense of obligation for me – that I am letting someone other than myself down by my inactivity. Others may not have this problem, but look for areas where you have substituted a digital product or process that may have complicated, rather than simplified, your life (alarm clocks, schedules, etc).
  4. Still have fun. Give yourself permission to use and enjoy technology.  It’s why I got into a career in technology in the first place. It’s amazing, the things we can do and will be able to do through technology.
  5. Churn butter on your front stoop. Okay, so not really, unless you have A.) a butter churn and B.) a stoop (and an insatiable taste for butter) to begin with. But this last tip ties in very closely to #1, about being in the moment. In fact, it’s just another reinforcement of the importance of stopping for more than just a few minutes each day, and looking up and around. Doing simple things. Having hobbies other than Hulu and Facetime and Pinterest.   Think about this video from the Washington Post, where they placed one of our nation’s greatest violinists in a transit station and observed as people walked right past him without paying attention to the beauty and magnificence of the piece he was playing.There are plenty of moments of beauty in your life to capture inside of you not just on your smartphone camera. Yes, Instagram is cool. But not as cool as just being there to begin with.
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Why do I have to go to iTunes and Amazon's music store to see who has the lower price on a song I want to buy before I purchase it? To be honest, I don't care which store I buy it from - I just want it at the best price, and I want it to download seamlessly into my music library and obey my naming and organizational conventions.

 

This is an open plea for someone to build that app for me. Not a price comparison app, those still require me to make decisions. I just want an app that lets me browse for music, click "buy", and it automatically procures my shopping cart selections for me at the very best prices. I configure it once with my account information for multiple music stores, and it does the rest. I'd pay 5 bucks for that, certainly.

 

Which brings me into the cloud for a moment
All this talk about cloud storage and cloud capacity and virtual machines lately has me thinking again, which means not sleeping enough and in general getting a bit dorkier every day (which my image can't really afford, I'm afraid.)

 

But seriously. . . why shouldn't cloud storage and processing (and whatever else you cloud people do in the cloud) be procured in the same way I point out above for music? Let's look at an ITSM workflow for a crisp example of my thought process here:

 

1.) End user hits the service request manager and browses through a list of services (populated by the service catalog, of course) and finds what he/she needs. Let's say it's storage, for the sake of ease.

2.) During checkout and approvals, or wherever the people much smarter than I that build this stuff deem is the appropriate place, a service is pinging pre-approved vendors and / or comparing its own historic purchase data to see where the best price is.

3.) It doesn't stop with price. It also looks at availability - how has each vendor performed? Where have there been outages? Where have transfer speeds been best across all instances deployed?

4.) Using a fancy equation also built by someone smarter than I am, it makes an informed decision about the best place to procure the resource (based on the defined business requirements, historic performance, price, etc.) and automatically procures the resource.

5.) Where the resource (storage) was procured from is, of course, tracked in the CMDB.

6.) Workflows for configuring / managing the instance are seamless

7.) When and if performance degrades below defined thresholds, or price escalates, or competitive pricing decreases substantially, the system may choose to automatically migrate resources - first deploying the new instance, verifying it is up and running and stable, then putting it into production and de-provisioning the previous instance - seamlessly (and updating the CMDB, of course)

 

So that's all I want. And I want it now. Kidding, of course. For all I know, it already exists.

 

And to be clear: this would work with hybrid clouds brilliantly, as well. Can something be provided cheaper and more effectively from the internal cloud? Dynamic resource procurement (as I am calling this, for lack of my knowledge if an industry term that has probably already been invented and I just don't know yet) would let internal and external resources compete against each other and procure only the best, and make sure things get moved when they are no longer the best, and that tracking and compliance etc. are all up to date.

 

Other ideas on pushing the idea of dynamic IT management and automation even further? Don't be shy.

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I remember reading an article back in 2009 suggesting that Twitter would make a great place for teams to monitor error logs for web applications. The argument went that you could use PHP to post errors as they happened to a Twitter feed, which entire teams could monitor.

 

Clearly, with Twitter being such a public venue - and a notoriously unstable one, at that - the idea was dead in the water the moment it was had.

 

But it was interesting. From pretty much the day I started using Chatter from Salesforce.com internally at BMC, I have noticed great value. I not only communicate better with my employees, but with the members of many "virtual teams" I am a member of - and through conversations I have stumbled onto, I have had a seat at the table in dialogues I would never have known were happening. As a marketing guy, it's cool to suddenly find yourself talking with a bunch of R&D guys and trading ideas, or fielding a question from the sales team.

 

Since Chatter is basically an internal-only version of Twitter, and is therefore a bit more secure, I started thinking about revisiting the brainstorming session about ways to use it. Could web apps or IT services or even hardware each have a Chatter account where they post their goings on? Certainly, they could just maintain their own feeds - logging error messages to a place where larger teams could see them, comment to each other, and collaborate on resolutions.

 

I don't think it's about changing what our technology is saying - to itself or to other technologies. It's about bringing that communication into the most robust and usable communication platform. BSM does that in so many ways, bringing all IT disciplines into a common platform which can dramatically simplify IT management. At the center is the CMDB, which in so many ways is an internal Chatter feed, but unless I am mistaken (again, I am a marketing guy with enough tech knowledge to be fooolishly passionate and clumsy), it's a one-way, 1:1 feed of information.

 

I'm interested in ideas for one-to-many communication, and more importantly, how those conversations - among people, processes, and assets - get brought to the forefront, where problems can get solved, new ideas hatched, and efficiencies gained in the same way the Chatter dialogues I have had over the past few weeks have done for me personally.

 

What are your thoughts? What already exists, and how can we push it?

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"What year is your ride? It’s really beautiful."

I turn off the car and hand over my my license,

consider what to do with an

out of place compliment.

 

He asks if I know why he pulled me over.
Because an asshole wouldn't let me in
so I took what's mine with no regrets. 
"No," I say.

 

The citation comes in quadruplicate,

an unsafe change in lanes.

Love the red interior, he says,

be safe.

 

I pull away carefully,

wondering what carbon paper costs these days

and how it would survive

without constables.

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Sorry in advance for a long post. I'm not a big believer in hoarding ideas - I have many more than I will ever use, so I like to toss them into the public domain in the instance that someone else wants to steal one of them. If you use any of these ideas, feel free to throw a small equity stake my way :-)

I'll be making this a regularly occurring series, as new ideas bubble up, so stay tuned.

 

I've tinkered with a ton of iphone and ipad apps in the last few years. You'll know from my recent post on game dynamics that I've been keenly interested recently (thanks to a SXSW panel I attended) on how clever application designers are earning our loyalty (obsession / compulsion?) by employing the same principles that good games do to keep us enthralled.

 

Case in point: Apps like Foursquare, that reward us points for checking in to dining and shopping establishments, and increase the points they dole out to us based on frequency. The "status" game dynamic is strongly employed by awarding "mayorships" for the most loyal patrons, and often showering the mayor with freebies or exclusive deals for their loyalty. Players compete against each other to steal back the mayorship. Friends compete against each other to be the most active, checking in at the most places. In short, it's an app that unabashedly rewards consumerism.

 

Swipely takes it a step further, allowing you to publish a news feed of all the places you swipe your credit card. Seriously. As I understand it, they leverage Yodlee's API to gather data on the purchases you make and publish them to a feed that your friends can subscribe to, comment on, etc. Which might be great for a gal that wants to brag about some new Christian Louboutin shoes, but not so much for a guy like me who is likely to be buying an 8-pack of toilet paper and a Mountain Berry Powerade at Walgreen's.

 

I don't need any more help spending money, thank you. My wife and I spend enough money eating out to each month to seriously support another family altogether. It's shameful, we know it, and while our kids will still get to go to college, they may have to check their textbooks out from the library instead of buying them, because mom and dad took everyone out for a few too many cheeseburgers when they were little.

 

Steal this idea #1: Don't help me spend money, help me save it

What I'm looking for is a killer app that does the exact opposite - helps you stop spending money. If game dynamics can encourage you to hit up Starbucks every day for two months until you become the mayor, surely we can embrace the same principles to reward you for every day you don't go to Starbuck's.

 

Mint.com does a pretty good job of letting you see what you've been up to, integrating all of your finances into a single view, allowing you to create budgets and compare actual spending against them, and quite a bit more. It falls short of actually encouraging behavioral changes, though. I want an app that lets me acknowledge my spending weaknesses; since I drive through McDonald's nearly every morning for a sweet tea and either an oatmeal or a yogurt, that's $2 - $3 dollars per day, Monday through Friday, that I know I shouldn't spend. If I could flag McDonald's as a "vice purchase", then let the app and game dynamic principles reward and encourage me for every day I didn't go there, I'd be well on my way to finding financial app bliss.  It's the reverse of Foursquare. Instead of rewarding me for checking in and spending money, it rewards me for NOT checking in and spending money.

 

Expansion opportunities abound. Let me automatically invest the savings from the days I achieve my goals into an investment, or toward a goal. Let me connect socially with my friends who share common goals, and let us compete against each other - or better yet, work in tandem - toward achieving the goal. Maybe we agree that if we ALL stop smoking, all the money we would have spent on cigarettes goes to a group vacation, and the app helps keep us honest and also tallies the amount of money we are collectively saving toward the vacation.

 

I would also like to see an app tackle debt payment more effectively. It's shocking that Dave Ramsey hasn't turned his debt snowball, and his money management ideas in general, into an app. Seems like Yodlee would jump to help someone with his reach build an app that taps into their data sources and take a cut of each app store download.

 

Steal this idea #2: Fractional Investing in Charitable Causes

This one doesn't even have to be a mobile app. The web would do quite nicely, thank you. Point is, I like to give money to good causes. Most of us (hopefully) do. But I'm inundated with causes, and it gets a bit overwhelming. I'd like to centralize my giving, in the same way that I have centralized my investment portfolio. I don't go individually to every company I want to buy stock from and buy and manage my investments separately, I do it all from a broker.

 

Taking it a step further, and using the stock world as a model, I love what ShareBuilder offers. For people who might not be able to buy large quantities of shares at once, or that like to split small amounts of money among a handful of investments, they allow you to purchase fractional shares of companies. In the non-profit world, I'd love to be able to allocate a fixed monthly contribution - say $100 for example - and then choose a "portfolio" of causes I would like that money split between. Clearly, I understand that administrative and payment processing  costs might dillute the amount of money the charity gets in the end, but I'm leaving that to someone else to work out. These are free ideas, after all :-)

 

The ability to change your percentage allocations on the fly would be a must. When tragedy strikes, I may want to move Red Cross to the top of my list for a few months.

 

I'd also like the service to centralize and automate all tax documentation I need for end of year filings (though in my instance it never amounts to enough to matter, I view the function as a necessity to help much more well-financed donors).

 

Steal this idea #3: Fractional purchase of airfare (my favorite idea, btw)

Airfare is expensive, right? Families that aren't in the upper echelon have to save for quite a while to afford plane tickets for the whole gang to visit relatives, take vacations, etc. And with prices constantly fluctuating, you can miss out on tremendous savings (and the airlines can miss out on your money) because you don't have ALL the money you need to purchase the trip up front.

 

This model would turn airfare into a commodity you could invest in over time. A plane ticket would be comprised of a fixed number of "points" or "shares," similar to the way the loyalty programs work. But the points could be bought any time, in any quantity, at market prices for that day and moment in time.

 

For example, a coach ticket from Austin to San Francisco, round trip, requires 200 points. On the day I am shopping, the fare is $540. Each point, then, is worth $2.70 ($540/100). If I thought the fare was a really great deal (it isn't, btw), I may decide to go ahead and invest 50 bucks today, since that is all I can spare but know I want to make the trip this year. My 50 bucks gets me appx. 18.52 shares of the 200 I need to cash in for the ticket.

 

A week later, the fare drops to $380, and I have just received my paycheck. I decide to invest $200 and get 105.26 shares (this time at $1.90 each), bringing my total ownership to 123.78 shares at $250.

 

A month later, it's getting pretty close to when I would like to travel, so I buy the remaining 76.22 shares at $2.15 each (based on that day's fare price of $430.)

 

Thanks to dollar cost averaging, my full ticket price is appx. $413.87 - right in the middle of the highs and lows from the days I invested - and I was able to set money aside for travel while locking in pricing on my own terms.

 

Clearly, the idea has potential for all sorts of resale and brokering opportunities, as well. There are many complexities. Again, yours to work out if you so choose. For me, the potential for families to save for airfare while locking in pricing - and passing much needed dollars over to the airlines - is a win/win. It could also put airlines out of business, for all I know.

 

Steal this idea #4: Make my grocery shopping experience better

Target, the big box retailer, marveled me when what has to be at least a decade ago, they started listing the aisle numbers that items on baby and wedding registries were located. This effectively ended the age-old "hunt for ambiguously named product" dance we all did when shopping for gifts. While the items were still fairly ambiguously named, we at least could focus our search to one aisle instead of an entire store.

 

But little progress has been made since then. I can order a sandwich and have it delivered to my house from my iphone (thanks, Jimmy Johns). I can manage my entire retirement portfolio. But I can't see what aise the macaroni and cheese is kept at while I am grocery shopping?

 

I've seen some pretty cool apps for grocery lists - but I wonder why the stores themselves don't put out apps. Here in Austin, where HEB is our major grocer, an HEB app would get huge uptake. While I am in the store, I could search for an item and instantly find where it is kept, the price, and the in-stock status. While I am at home, I could build my shopping list, choose the store I am going to, and have my list automatically sorted in the order I walk the store.

 

Sure, the macaroni moves around. But the store employees and manager always know where it is. Product placement is an enormous part of grocery store and retail strategy. There's no reason the data can't be easily shared.

 

I imagine that groceries might think that more impulse purchases are made when people DON'T have this type of information at hand, when they are looking at the shelves instead of at a list. And maybe they're right. But it will only take a store opening that embraces these principles for me to abandon loyalty to the stores that want to cling on to old ideas. We're entering an era where consumers demand access to information, and expect transparency from the stores they frequent.

 

Plus, if I'm staring at YOUR app in YOUR store, you have a captive audience. You can give me coupons, you know what's on my list before I even get to the store (for inventory and stock projections), you don't need a loyalty program to know who I am every time I enter the store, you know even more about my shopping patterns, how long I am on an aisle, etc. Use the data.

 

 

Steal this idea #5: Receipt itemization

Somewhere, someone is already working long hours on this one, I am sure. But maybe you have a better idea of how it can work. I mentioned earlier how much I've liked the ideas behind Mint.com. I also checked out Shoebox.com not long ago, a pay service for scanning and archiving receipts, business cards, etc. And I read an article somewhere on the "interwebs" that suggested possible integration between Mint and shoebox. Cool, but not cool enough.

 

Here's the challenge. My wife brings home a receipt from Target for $150, and I have to figure out how to itemize it in Mint.com. Is it shopping? Is it household? Is it gifts? Is it personal care? Is it entertainment or clothing? The answer is, it's all of those. Unless I want to go to the painstaking process of manually splitting the transaction and calculating the portion of tax associated with each item and re-categorizing 20 or 30 different line items, I'm stuck picking one master category. How can you effectively set and follow a budget when you have to force long receipts into generic categories?

 

I'd like to be able to opt my credit card into a service where more information is transmitted than just my total. Seriously. Retailers already store every detail of every transaction. They can scan a barcode on my receipt, or even swipe my credit card in the store, and tell me what I bought and when, and issue me refunds, etc.

 

A cool 3rd party service would integrate with major retailers and POP systems to be warehouse customer receipt / purchase info, then feed into services like Mint.com or even Yodlee to make that information accessible within their products to the end-consumer that wants full purchase itemization and receipt downloads. Perhaps to protect privacy the data would only be recalled when the card holder opts in or requests transaction details. But I want to see my Target purchase on Mint.com, click for more details, see an itemized receipt, and have the items already categorized for me. I could change the categories as I see fit, of course.  Since products already carry SKU's, it's a matter of a relational table that maps categories to the store's inventory.

 

Stay tuned for "next time"

 

And that's round 1 of "steal my ideas." Please point me to working examples of apps that already do these things, and share your ideas for how to extend or improve on these ideas, too. Hell, share your own ideas here. Nothing would be more flattering to me than to have a successful business or app originate from my blog.



 

 


 


Joshua Merritt

Screw best practices!

Posted by Joshua Merritt Mar 22, 2011
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Screw best practices. I really mean it. Well, mostly, at least.

 

We hear the phrase a hundred times a day, no matter what field we work in. IT, sales, marketing, finance - everything is about following best practices, taking a "best practices approach," learning from industry best practices, blah blah blah blah.

 

Here's my beef(s):

 

  • If we all follow best practices, who will ever do something new?
  • We are all too quick to assume "best practices" are final and definitive, and that there couldn't be an even "better" practice that is either untried or less successfully publicized.

  • There is no regulation on the use of "best practices." Anyone can make up a best practice and declare it as such, as I am doing now by formally declaring it a best practice to slip a poop reference into any conversation you have with someone senior to you in your place of employment.

 

In marketing, the quickest way to get me to vomit directly on you is to say "but best practices say" when I am talking about an out of the box idea. I like to take calculated risks. I like to push how we might do things tomorrow, not base them entirely on how they were done yesterday or today. I know there are similar thinkers in IT and all other industries, or we would all still be churning our own butter manually and I'd be writing this with a chisel.

 

In perhaps the ultimate example of hypocrisy (and tongue in cheek wit), here are my best practices for using best practices:

 

  • Identify what you get by using them. Seriously. Then look for gaps against what you hoped to deliver. I.e. if best practices tell me that a headline should be 5 words or less, and I write a headline that fits the bill perfectly - but doesn't make sense, or is no longer exciting - is the best practice serving me well?


  • Decide whether the area is one in which you would like to lead or follow. Sometimes, following the masses isn't bad. Maybe you don't want to stand out.
  • Setting, or even challenging, best practices are great ways to demonstrate leadership - as long as you get uptake. The risk is that you end up the BetaMax, marching to your own drum without anyone else behind you.
  • Never assume that what works best for someone else will by default work for you. Test things. Be inquisitive. Sip the kool-aide before you drink it and serve it to your friends.

 

Lastly, in an ultimate conspiracy theory, I'll leave you with this: can best practices be used as weapons? I can envision a scenario where seemingly "best" practices are promoted into an industry, then while most major players are adopting and practicing them, a much more devious and brilliant competitor is going against the grain and truly differentiating themselves. Maybe a clever ad agency starts pushing social media strategy as the key place to focus marketing dollars, then uses the downturn in email volume to win big in prospect's inboxes. Any real world examples?

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I open a new browser. Type in my destination: Evernote.com. Access denied, "This website has been deemed inappropriate in a business setting."

 

Okay, let's try dropbox.com. "Access denied, "This website has been deemed inappropriate in a business setting."

 

Hmmm. What about Google Docs? Access denied, inappropriate.

 

It appears I am being "policied" out of partaking in the cloud collaboration revolution. Any page I hit that has even remote possibilities of online storage is clearly defined as a no-no. There's a link at the bottom of the warning page that encourages me to submit my case if I believe there is a compelling reason to use the site in a business setting. I decide instead to blog about it.

 

Full disclosure: Half my front yard is a vegetable garden. I live on a busy street in an urban setting, where foot traffic is heavy and crime rates slightly elevated. I could build a fence around my garden, but someone determined to steal my veggies will still do it regardless.

 

My point? People that want to steal will steal - with any tools they have, or with no tools at all, despite any obstacles Corporate secrets can go out the door on paper, or even less traceable, in minds. By cutting off access to new tools, we're not protecting our companies from loss, we're locking ourselves out of innovation. 

 

A company's cloud computing strategy should be much more than just focused on how IT will use cloud resources to become more efficient. It should include how employees across all areas of the business can embrace new technology possibilities to become more efficient and innovative. Indirectly, cloud computing has the potential to improve trust and job satisfaction.

 

  • Don't opt for a one-size fits all approach. Your people and your company have unique needs. Dig deep to understand them, and build a plan that accommodates them.
  • Make sure all business leaders are in alignment, and that the message the company is sending about cloud adoption is reinforced, not contradicted, by the user experience. When you announce your company has saved millions by cutting down on physical servers, or is deploying new services faster due to cloud provisioning, other employees will naturally begin to wonder how they can help make the company better and more profitable. They will look at their own usage patterns and think about changes. Let them help you.
  • If compliance is a concern, use education to help employees understand if their are compliance challenges they need to be aware of. For example, saving financial data or private customer information to a personal cloud storage account is a no-no. Collaborating on a presentation or using taking more accurate and organized meeting notes may not be.
  • Lastly, remember that cloud computing itself represents not only a technological shift, but a cultural one. When people can carry their entire music library with them everywhere - all stored in the cloud - they will wonder why they can't do the same with their work documents. Whenever possible, create reasons why, not why not.

Use your cloud wisely. 

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The McDonald's at Braker Ln. and 183 in Austin, TX - conveniently located down the street from the BMC office - just expanded their drive-thru line to include two separate lanes.

 

There is an inside lane and an outside lane for placing orders, then the two lanes merge back into one for payment and order pickup. Which begged the question (for a small yet inquisitive brain like mine): How do they know which order is mine since they don't know the order in which the traffic from the two lanes has merged?

 

So I asked. Not once, but twice. The first time, I asked a gentleman at the payment window. "We take your picture when you place your order," he said, quoted loosely. "Then I can see the pictures on my register and match you to your order."

 

Wow. Could this be true? I posted a question on Yahoo Answers to see if a McDonald's employee would verify. Arguments ensued, since apparently some McDonald's have this technology and others do not. So I asked again the next time I paid for my order. The young cashier said, "We take a picture of your car."

 

Confirmation. It might not be a picture of your pearly whites, but they are at least snapping a shot of the front of your car. I won't ask the question of how they tell the difference between 5 identical Ford F350's here in Texas, but presumably the photo captures a bit of the driver or passenger as well.

 

Which gets me all sorts of excited about the technology possibilities. Here's what I am thinking:

 

They should capture your license plate. Easier done in states where a front plate is required, but still possible to snap a rear shot as you pull away from the order kiosk. Why? Your license plate is a unique identifier. Technology in place by police departments, toll road authorities, etc. is so advanced at license plate recognition that you don't even need someone to manually decode the plate; software will analyze the photograph and convert the letters and numbers to text.

 

So what then?

 

They could create a massive database that tracks order history by license plate. Not very useful for historical analysis, I agree. But VERY useful for what I will call predictive ordering and assembly. If the same car goes through the drive-thru every day and orders a large coffee and a hash brown, and the order never varies, you can predict that they will order another large coffee and a hashbrown before they even order it. Do you pull the order before they place it? Maybe not. But on very busy days, the system could help better forecast what inventory to have prepared or assembled.

 

Additionally, they would be better armed to upsell. Asking me if I want an apple pie after I place my order - when I have NEVER ordered an apple pie in my entire life - is pointless. But if they know I have a weakness for hot fudge sundaes, asking me if I would like to add one of those has a much better chance of getting my dollar. They could also encourage loyalty by triggering discounts automatically for frequent visitors.

 

They could partner with social media apps like Foursquare or Gowalla. By allowing you to enter your license plate number in your profile settings (kept private, of course), they could automatically "check you in" when you drive-thru locations that have the recognition technology enabled.

 

Maybe some of this is scary. Maybe it's unneeded and not valuable to McDonald's. From my take, if they are going to take pictures for every customer that drives thru, they should figure out how to monetize the data.

 

How else could they use your picture? How do you feel about them taking it?

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First and foremost, this blog entry is fresh content. It’s not compiled from 15 other blog entries, hasn’t (yet) been turned into a “Top 5 Tips” list, is not also a podcast, and was not promoted last week via under a different title and byline.

 

Do you really care? Or more precisely, would you even know?

 

Marketing Sherpa released a chart showcasing the top tactics for developing effective marketing content and it should be no big surprise that repurposing and reformatting existing content came in at numero uno. Before you upcycle every has-been whitepaper in your "collateral tree" (my second least favorite tree, 2nd only to cedar) into a mish-mash of undigestible bullshit, I thought I would add a healthy dose of caution into the conversation.

 

Two points:
1.) We're all smart enough to know this, but I'll say it anyway. Repurposing content does not make the resulting content inherently effective. This is where the sherpa's may have over-sherpa'd a bit in the title of their article. "Top tactics for developing marketing content" would be a more accurate title, since their is no evidence in the chart to qualify effectiveness.

 

2.) Crap in, crap out. Bad content is bad, no matter how many different spins you put on it.

 

Now for a couple practical suggestions that I think even the sherpa-y-est of sherpas would agree with.

 

  • The fact that you have a bunch of content sitting around does not mean it needs to be repurposed. Instead, look for buried gold. At BMC Software, we have trillions of white papers that range from brilliant to, well, dumb. There aren't many dumb ones, but there are plenty inbetween. If I dig for gold and only come up with a couple shades of dirt, I keep moving.

 

  • Strive to make something truly new out of the old materials you work with. Etsy craftspeople aren't successful because they take an old men's shit and change out the buttons. They turn the old men's shirt into a woman's dress. The result is exciting and different and you can't even recall what the piece originally looked like. I also can't tell you how many times I've caught publications and companies in the act, reading an article today that I know I read yesterday with a slightly different headline and ending. This is called fraudulent content. It's plagiarizing yourself. It's not a trust builder.

  • Create every piece of content assuming it will be read and remembered. You and I know it won't. But if you create it under that assumption, you protect your brand's reputation from becoming a content mill like articlesbase

  • Never promise what you won't deliver. A major strategy over the last few years, in both marketing and media, is to give something an incredible headline that makes the user click - and then deliver an article that only scratches the surface of what the title hinted. It's the content version of a bait and switch, and if I could drop everything I am doing and be profitable litigating content creators for baiting and switching, I would start that legal firm in a heartbeat.
  • New topics deserve new, original content. Don't muddy your brand's position on a "trending" topic by rehashing messaging and content that is still "somewhat applicable." Demonstrate your leadership with new thoughts, things people haven't heard before, or at a minimum said in a way that they haven't been said before.

 

There is no denying the potential value of reusing - as one trick in the content arsenal. Just remember to ask yourself first if you are repurposing for a reason, or just repurposing. Your answer will be a major determiner in just how effective your content strategy is.

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Actually, the guy in front of me in line at Potbelly does. Kristina doesn’t seem to be with him, which doesn’t mean she isn’t at home waiting for him, but it doesn’t mean she is either. While they make my original turkey on white with swiss cheese and no mayo, I wonder what single word I would tattoo on my neck if I had to.

 

Since my wife’s name is Kelly, I rule out Kristina. I have two daughters, so I can’t play favorites and pick one over the other.

 

I think I will go with “neck.” It’s accurate, and makes people wonder if I have labeled other parts of my body.

 

Here's some neck tattoos for you to peruse at your leisure.

 

imagesCA20GMLM.jpg

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A controversial title, yes. And no, I don't believe BMC or any other company other than the health insurance companies are profiting from our use (or lack thereof) of healthcare coverage.

 

I CAN tell you that in light of so many changes to healthchare benefits structure (not just at BMC but across the board, at least in the United States), I wonder if the term benefits shouldn't be changed to a phrase more like "possibilities" or "maybe's" or even "hopefully not's." The trend, to keep healthcare costs down and profits up (which I certainly advocate for, btw) is to implement a complex series of FSA's and HSA's that require us to set aside a buttload of our own money upfront and gamble on the costs of our future health expenses. In the event we are healthier than we anticipated or exercise extra discipline and restraint in going to the doctor, we lose the remaining money and it often goes directly to our employers. Hmmmmmmm. . . in what world is it a benefit to me to fork thousands of dollars back to my company?

 

To add insult to injury, there is no standardization nationwide on all the rules of using FSA money. Some companies allow you a grace period for spending flex money. I found out today that while I have until tomorrow to submit receipts for my 2010 FSA funds, the money had to be spent prior to December 31, 2010. This is different than many other companies, who allow the FSA administrator to accept purchases made in the first couple months of the new year, as a grace period - in this instance, up until March 15th, 2011. A small misunderstanding on my part around a poorly documented clause that varies from company to company will cost me to lose $2,000 from my 2010 FSA account - and subsequently means that the $2,000 I just spent on new glasses (thinking I was depleting my 2010 funds) have actually depleted my 2011 funds. Basically, a $4000 oversight - and $2,000 into BMC's pocket.

 

Don't get me wrong. As a shareholder, I would much rather that money go to BMC than to the insurance company. At least I benefit indirectly from cash in the coffers at BMC. But what I would rather have is access to my money, and a more clear and simple way to navigate through all the crazy if/then scenarios.

 

Sure, the major insurance companies have all come out with apps that let you see your account balances, etc. They're basically just alternate access points to data you can access on the web. Maybe I'm the only other employee on the planet that feels this way, but taking advantage of my benefits often feels like a game in which I am the only one not privvy to the rules. The providers get it, the insurance company gets it, the HR guys get it - and I am competing directly against them without a copy of the rule book.

 

I'm begging for an app that would let me dial in any scenario and get real feedback in return. It would know my coverage - ALL of it, from FSA and HSA accounts to my actual health care insurance, vision and dental benefits, etc. Before I, oh, say fork out 2k for glasses I will not get back, it would be nice to open the old iphone and enter:

 

I would like to:

>Spend $2,000 for glasses

> Go

 

The app would come back to me and tell me how the coverage would be applied. Sample result would be:
> Submit $400 to VSP Vision Insurance for frames and lenses
> Submit $1000 to 2011 FSA
> Pay 600 out of pocket or from 2011 HSA

 

The app would include push notifications that alerted me to looming deadlines. And as cellular phones increasingly become positioned as payment devices, it would eventully integrate in real time with my mobile / digital wallet. When I pay for a health care expense, the expense receipt would automatically port to my benefits app and get placed in the appropriate queue for filing or reimbursement.

 

I loved my PPO plan that I used to have, because it was easy:

  • I didn't need a finance degree to calculate how much the plan was really costing or saving me.
  • There was no claim submission dance where I had to lay out a chart of permutations and wait until a daytime lunar eclipse to submit a claim
  • I knew my how much it was costing me. There was no risk at the end of the year of losing something.
  • More than anything, it FELT like a benefit to me and my family. When you work hard, shouldn't your benefits feel like benefits, not puzzles you can't solve?

 

PPO's have become inaccessible to many of us, due to the high costs of coverage. Employers believe that FSA's and HSA's put financial responsibility into the hands of the employee, preventing unneccessary trips to the doctor and encouraging preventative care. When you look at charts and graphs in dollars and cents today, they are likely right.

 

I would argue that people with a propensity for putting off health care will just put it off further - compounding the problem and costing us all more in the end. In the more short-term, what is the value of employee happiness and peace-of-mind? How many hours of productivity did I lose today doing the health care do-si-do and grieving the loss of thousands of dollars?

 

At minimum, I'd love all of our employers, across high-tech and other fields that attract talented, hard-working, dedicated employees, to audition potential benefits against the word "benefit" and take a "gut-feeling" test. If things have to be complicated, though, I would urge some more high-tech tools to help us make better decisions. I've navigated 3 different websites and chatted with multiple reps from two different benefits coordinators, and I can only tell you I feel a bit stung today. I lost a lot of money. And I still can't find the fine print that warned me against it.

 

This blog is about everything even loosely relevant to a technologist - from pointed articles about ITSM to cool pictures of laptop bags, funny memes, and more. The technology behind our healthcare benefits, and how it can help guide us to financial decisions that benefit not only our companies but ourselves is highly relevant. I'd love all manners of feedback - including those that tell me I'm just a sore loser and a bad budgeter. It's all fair play at Accordion Solo :-)

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Apparently nobody reads  words anymore, so I've been deconstructing for an hour now to shorten the hemline of this post a bit. How do its' legs look?

 

Anyway, the big hooplah at SXSW interactive this year is social gaming. Zygna (think "Farmville") is making mega-bux schlepping ads in fake worlds that stay-at-home moms escape to for over 60 precious minutes per day. My own wife plays. Honey, if you're reading this, don't forget to water and feed the real children.

 

All this leads to Seth Priebatsch, CEO of SCVNGR, and his prediction that the next decade is all about the "game layer," which could be 10x more impactful than the social layer. All these layers make me want to eat cake real bad, I'm not even gonna lie.

 

Here's the (kosher) beef:

 

  • The game layer will be about "using dynamics and forces to influence the  behavior of where you are, what you do there, and how you do it"
  • Game dynamics are not the same as loyalty programs like frequent flier clubs and credit card incentives, which do use some basic tenants of gaming but still "just suck."

 

So the game layer will be about making us all act even more like alcoholic lab rats and tricking us into doing things which may or may not be in our best interest. At his recent TED talk (embedded above), Priebatsch said, ". . . with 7 game dynamics you can get anyone to do anything."

 

I've taken the liberty to watch numerous Preibatsch keynotes so you don't have to wonder whether he ever washes the orange shirt or puts the orange sunglasses on his face instead of the top of his head. As best as I can tell, the answers are no and no.

 

A few of the top secret "7 gaming dynamics" that Priebatsch and team will use to establish an all-orange national dresscode:

 

  1. Appointment dynamic - a dynamic in which to succeed, one must return at a predefined time to take a predetermined action. (Think restaurant happy hours, or in Farmville, crop maintenance.)
  2. Influence and status dynamic - the ability of one player to modify the behavior of another's actions through social pressure (American Express Black Card, Modern Warware (I'm a level 4 but deparately want to be a 10)
  3. Progression dynamic - a dynamic in which success is granularly dislayed and measured through the process of completing itemized tasks (LinkedIn: Your profile is 85% complete, seeing how many cups of coffee you need to buy to get a free one through a loyalty program)
  4. Communal discovery - a dynamic wherein an entire community is rallied to work together to solve a challenge (Digg, which uses a community to find and source the best news, for example)

 

There's much discussion already online about what the remaining 3 dynamics are, at least one of which is likely the viral dynamic (and others theories suggest scarcity, social dependence, etc.) Read the banter here.

 

The game layer and ITSM

So how we embrace the coming game layer and create an opportunity for help desk customers (or the employees that respond to tickets all day) to  "level up?" I loved Priebatsch's assessment of why our school system is broken. He says school is already a game, it's just not a very good one. The rewards are arbitrary letters (A, B, C, D, F) and you can fail. Instead, in riebatsch's view, students should earned experience points based on milestones, and we should swap the negative reinforcement with positive.

 

Here's a short and by no means exhaustive brain dump on incorporating game dynamics into ITSM:

  • Perhaps tickets themselves are akin to crops in Farmville, and resolving them is much like tending the crops. Changing the UI for help desk workers to make it look more like fun and less like an intimidating (and seemingly endless queue) of mundane tasks could encourage participation and job satisfaction. Fast-food chains time employees on how quickly and accurately they serve each customer. To an extent, the employees are playing a game.
  • Allowing the next-gen help desk employee to "level up" by solving more tickets, unlocking advanced tickets and problems for them to solve, and perhaps even basing real-world rewards like vacation time on "in-game accomplishments," employees might be less likely to burn out and more likely to strive for higher performance
  • Can users be similarly rewarded? Could they earn experience points for turning to a user community or a wiki before they open a ticket? What do they get in exchange? Perhaps priority service when they DO open a ticket? Yahoo Answers and other "crowdsourcing" question and answer sites grant points to community members that correctly answer another community member's question. Points are meaningless if they don't carry perceived value, whether it's status or the ability to redeem them for something.
  • Apps like Four Square use badges to encourage repeat behavior. The person who "checks in" the most at local coffee shops and restaurants can become the "mayor" of that establishment, often unlocking sponsored rewards from that business. Could help desks use badges or equivalents? You could unlock a "user helping users" badge, or badges in very specific content areas. With each badge, your status in the community escalates. Community status could translate to things like higher perceived value in the marketplace in the future, unquestionably.

 

Perhaps the scariest / most exciting thing is that the concept CAN carry over to so many aspects of our professional and personal lives. I, for one, would LOVE to see some healthy competition - perhaps embracing the progression dynamic - around starting and ending meetings on time. Since I have my own unique conference calling code, when I schedule a meeting with others it should include a meter (a la the trend with airlines to report the on-time percentage of flights during booking) telling them my meetings start on-time 99% of the time. Similarly, I could see how often my invitees dial in on time, and we would all be more attentive to our schedules in an effort to preserve our scores.

 

How else can game dynamics drive positive behaviors in IT service management? Is the greater potential impact with the service requestor or the provider?

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MyCareerWeb is a new web service (currently in beta) that promises to do for your online presence what credit scoring bureaus like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion have done for your financial life: assign a number to it. The currently free service analyzes your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profiles, compares the data against a "fact checking" search of the web, and spits out a number between 350 and 850, with the current "average" score being 589.

 

The goal? To help you build your "personal brand" and be in control of how you appear to prospective employers, most likely. How (and if - they're currently at just 4000 users, a number that Facemash surpassed in an hour or two online if anything from the movie is true) they will monetize the service is what worries me more. Sure, there's the opportunity to sell individual users a score monitoring subscription service, or one-time access to a score, like the major credit-reporting companies do. But they could also sell reports to employers, who might actually use this nonsensical number to make human resources decisions.

 

So how did I fare? I went ahead and signed up for the beta - you can use your LinkedIn or Facebook sign-in to get started without creating a separate account, which is a nice touch. One you sign it, it automatically tablulates your score, but it's only looking at the initial account you provided. For instance, I logged in using my LinkedIn ID, so my first report was based exclusively on the data from LinkedIn, without factoring in my other social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) I had to go back and add each of those separately, each of which inadvertently factored into my revised score. Here's the final results, considering all 3 of my accounts:

 

credit2.jpg

 

Congrats to me. I'm a 667, which puts me squarely in the lower half of the above average segment (UPDATE: See the bottom of this post for info on how I boosted my score to a 697 in just a few minutes). I haven't taken a deep dive into the methodology used to arrive at that exact number, but it seems to look for how many people you are connected with, how many of those people have worked with you in the past or present, the types of content you post and others post on your "wall", validation of information you display on your pages through a web search, etc.

 

I've used my Facebook page largely for personal enjoyment, not professional advancement. So it didn't surprise me when my score was docked a few points because they found "inappropriate" content on my wall. It likely won't surprise any of my coworkers, either. Here's what the report said:

 

credit3.jpg

 

When I went to the "Go To MyData" link it suggested to review the offending Facebook wall posts, I was able to scroll through the last 9 or 10 months of posts made to my wall. It instructed me to review the highlighted posts to find the offenders, but no posts were actually highlighted, so I guess I will never know.

 

A few of the reports you can generate were actually quite interesting. I liked this one, which showed me the distribution of my LinkedIn contacts across industries:

 

credit4.jpg

 

Again, no major surprises. I work in the computer software industry, in marketing and advertising, so it makes sense that more than 75% of my contacts would be comprised of those two categories, along with Information Technology. It did serve as a good reminder to diversify, though. If the tech industry took a hit (which has NEVER happened), my skills could still be quite useful in other segments, but I would lack the contacts I need to effectively network.

 

It would be awesome if MyCareerWeb took the analysis and recommendation to the next level - perhaps offering recommendations like the one I inferred above about diversifying my contacts by expanding into new industries. Maybe we'll see that level of thought when (if) it comes out of Beta.

 

It should also include the ability to link to your blog for it to extract information like frequency of post, number of commenters and audience engagement, etc. You could have a blog with 10,000 readers and not tweet, but this score would be blind to how established and reputable you are in the "blogosphere." Not that I am there. I'm just grateful that 20 people are reading :-)

 

UPDATE: I followed up on one of the suggestions MyCareerWeb made and added my employment information to my Facebook profile, and my score surged 20 points to a 687. Apparently, a "free" account allows you to update your score 3 times. I've used one of them. I will go back and make a few other adjustments based on their recommendations and see if I can break the 700 mark and report back to you.

 

UPDATE 2: I added two more of my previous jobs to my Facebook profile, and updated Facebook with which of my friends I had worked with at each of these jobs, and boosted my score another 10 points to a 697.

It's amazing what I.T. was meant to be.