March 1, 2012
Letter from Jeff Lem President
Dear Valued Customer,
As you may have read in the adjoining press release, qdata is merging with Viascan to create the largest data collection company in Canada. When completed we’ll offer services in both official languages with offices in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, and very soon Calgary.
As you know it’s not about being the biggest it’s about being the best. And I define that as being able to serve our customers like no other. Denis Kurdi, one of my new business partners, said it best, “It’s a merger of value, and together we will be able to deliver the widest array of services and data collection products at very competitive prices. In the process, we’ll redefine the buying and servicing of data collection products and systems.”
Our new company will operate under one name: Viascan and I’ll become the CIO and VP of Systems & Solutions. ...Full Article
January 13, 2009
My Top 10 AIDC Resolutions for 2009
By now most of you have made your New Year’s resolutions and if you’re like me have already broken a few. From an auto ID perspective here are my top 10:
1) Implement that #&*@!Barcoding System. Irrespective of whether you’re right sizing or freezing headcount right now; bar coding follows this simple rule: it makes people more productive, makes data more timely and accurate and improves decision making.
2) Get your Printheads cleaned. It takes less than 30 seconds per printer – not only do your bar codes come out clearer but the print head will last longer too.
3) Replace or upgrade your location labels. I’ve lost count how many warehouses I’ve visited that have worn or missing labels. And while you’re at it try using colour codes to differentiate levels or zones – you’d be surprised how that will cut down on handling errors.
4) Fix that RF Dead Spot in the Warehouse. Everybody has a forbidden zone where the wireless network has no coverage. Maybe it’s coincidental but materials often make their way into those very spots. A warehouse’s RF profile changes over time due to racking movements, inventory, and aging ...Full Article
December 3, 2008
T'is the Season to Take Stock
As we approach year end a number of companies are preparing for the dreaded inventory count. For many companies, not using a barcoding system, it means shutting down early on a Friday and then counting all through the weekend and sometimes into the following week. It also means overtime for all warehouse staff, salespeople, and clerical staff not to mention putting on an inventory freeze so nothing moves out of the building.
When I visit companies I ask them how frequently they are supposed to do their inventory counts and the answer is quarterly but many admit that they get around to it once per year. This is what management, bankers, and auditors hate to hear as inventory usually represents a material amount (accounting speak for important) and is used by companies to support operating lines of credit.
When companies finally complete that count they’re faced with any of these issues: excess product that inexplicably went missing earlier in the year, write downs due to obsolescence or missing product, re-counts due to unacceptable variances, and ordering of more inventory to restore buffer stock levels and/or replacement of expired or obsolete products.
Little wonder that a lot of companies often ask about a standalone inventory count solution and not our full blown warehouse management system (WMS). Speaking from experience, several clients who have implemented our system have told me that the inventory count feature ...Full Article
November 5, 2008
Taking Some of the Mystery out of RFID
This week's article comes courtesy of Greg Dow, Systems Specialist at qdata. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luckily, RFID isn't rocket science. In fact, it isn't even that new - there have been RFID industrial applications for decades. So let me try to make it simpler and friendlier to everyone by drawing some analogies against the humble barcode.
As I mentioned, both technologies have been in use for decades, for the same basic reasons. All that they do is replace key entry of repetitive data. They are fast and accurate ways to get data into a computer.
So let's look at some differences. To scan a barcode, the scanner needs see the barcode. So the barcode has to be presented to the scan beam. And the scanner can only read one barcode for each pass of the beam. RFID readers, on the other hand, have three dimensional read zones where scanning portals automatically read and are able to read multiple tags in random orientations through many types of materials. So RFID technology excels at reading large volumes of data with no operator interaction.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the perception that RFID is more expensive. It's true that RFID hardware and supplies are more costly. But given that RFID tagged items can be automatically read without human intervention for example a skid of product passing through a portal or a self check in/out process with the customer doing the work. Then all of the sudden the RFID application comes with some major labor savings and sometimes improved customer satisfaction.
Some other insights:
RFID is on the radar of the C Suite. Not only are the rank and file interested in RFID but we’ve found senior management very keen about the ...Full Article
October 16, 2008
Innovation – its not just about the Product
The talk these days is all about innovation and how it can save North American industry. One need only look at how products like the Blackberry and the iPod changed the fortunes of RIM and Apple respectively. In these instances innovation allowed RIM to become the dominate player for wireless email while innovation saved Apple from becoming an interesting historical footnote for having developing the first commercially available graphical user interface.
By the same token in many people’s minds innovation means new or enhanced products. In reality innovation is not limited to just new technological breakthroughs. The September 22 issue of Business Week “Keeping America Competitive” contained a great article on innovation where it was defined as: products, processes, customer experience, and business model.
The media loves to cover new innovative products maybe it’s a function of being a consumer orientated culture or reflects how everybody loves their toys. However product innovation only generated on a 3.1% return.* In fact the biggest returns according to the Business Week article came from business model innovation at 16.6% .
My own theory is that it is relatively easy to achieve incremental improvement on an existing product. However it is very hard to change a business model – it is the riskiest but also provides the greatest return.
Which brings me back to the title of this blog. Companies have to innovate but not just their existing products – it more or less maintains the status quo (think of running on a treadmill). IBM started corporate life as a time clock manufacturer, 3M started off in mining, and one of qdata’s competitors started off a hundred years ago operating electric streetcars. Expanding to global markets, outsourcing non-core functions, creating new joint venture partnerships, and changing how customers pay for products/services (think pay for use) are just some examples of how qdata is innovating. We’re still improving our products but we’re not ignoring the harder types of innovation; these ...Full Article
October 10, 2008
Learning to Make Lemonade When All You Got Are Lemons
It’s no longer a question whether North America is headed into a recession the question is now long and how deep this recession will be. With the stock market hyper sensitive to any bad news, one thing everyone can agree upon is that this is just the beginning. So what is qdata doing to prepare itself in this downturn? Actually we started almost a year ago planning for such an eventuality (if only I were as proactive with my stocks!). It began with our Board of Advisors to whom we pitched the question: what to do in a downturn? Given the pedigree of the Board they came up with some great suggestions. Here they are:
Service – in difficult times, companies will less likely replace and simply maintain. In this regard qdata has recently expanded and opened a new service center in Markham. So far in 2008, business is up close to 300% over 2007.
Focus on Recession Proof Industries – we are increasing our focus on healthcare, pharmaceutical, and food distributors. As well we are ramping up in British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec as we need to lessen our geographic dependence upon Ontario.
Stay Close to your Customers – we are doing email blasts, surveys, executive outreach, and just making sure our reps are in constant contact with our customers. Our saying around at qdata: ‘your barcodes, our passion”.
Develop Complementary Lines – we need to sell more to our existing customers. While everyone is doing this; the key to doing this successfully, at least for qdata, is making sure the new products make sense, we can service it, and pricing is not out of line with what we have billed in the past. So far this year we have added Powercart and the Jennifer voice system to our existing inventory control software program.
Develop New Business Partnerships – this opens the doors to more opportunities but this is a two way street. Your new partners will want access to your customers as well. We have over 4,000 customers across Canada so there is no shortage of companies that want to work with us. So far this year partnerships (both opportunistic and strategic) have brought in over $2M in sales.
We began our company in a recession so it feels like déjà vu. The silver lining is that it forces us to get back to business basics like managing cash flow. Companies that haven’t forgotten these principles will only get ...Full Article
October 4, 2008
How We’re Taking qdata to the Next Level
I just returned from our annual company retreat called Roundup and this year’s theme was “Taking it to the Next Level.” This was our most successful Roundup ever helped no doubt by holding the event off site with all employees staying at the Nottawasaga Inn resort. In my view what made this event truly successful was the focus of the event as we chose to not only share our vision of how we were taking qdata to the next level but how our people could take their LIVES to the next level both professionally and personally.
Day one and two focused on our corporate results, update, and roadmap for 2009 as we unveiled our exciting vision of the future. However on the third day we focused almost exclusively on our people.
For inspiration we assembled a panel called ‘Everyday Heroes” – people who have taken their lives to the next level. We heard first hand what’s it like to be on the front line in Afghanistan from Sergeant Jamieson Murray a decorated soldier; Erika Van Noort showed a different grace under pressure as a Director for Bell Canada in charge of their call centers; and Louisa Nedkov totally re-invented herself as an executive wellness coach after losing her business in 9/11. And in another session we had Dilshad Avi, who operates a rehabilitation and acupuncture clinic in the GTA, describe a holistic approach to maintaining your health with a foundation of proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise habits.
Great companies don’t happen without great people; management can plan all it wants but it’s like leading a horse to water. A compelling and exciting vision for a company is critical but it’s just ONE component; a company needs to engage its people and challenge themselves to be better. This has to happen first and the company needs to go beyond professional training by leading the way in personal development. Once you create this connection then I believe you’re well on your way to the Next Level. We returned from Roundup 2008 a changed company as everyone saw the connection between personal and professional development - one can't happen without the other. See you at the Next Level!
September 12, 2008
So What’s holding our Economy Together?
I pondered this question as I drove into work today after hearing on the radio last night that gas was going up 12 cents a liter. While qdata had a very successful year (our fiscal is July 31), we experienced a lot of choppy results in fiscal 2008. Some months were great as in July and then August hit us like Hurricane Ike and we recorded the lowest sales in over two years.
So I thought to myself how long is this going to last? Right now there is a lot of economic turbulence. First we have our big neighbor to the south teetering on a recession and now the rest of the world is dealing with the fact that their best customer can no longer afford any new toys let alone their mortgage. On top of this oil is still very high over $100 a barrel having risen over 30% in the last year for everyone (unless of course you happen to live in the Middle East). Which brings me to my earlier question – what is holding our economy together from sinking into a recession like the U.S.?
In two words: interest rates. As long as rates stay low and I mean around 4%, people will continue to spend. This means companies like qdata which are dependent upon the business cycle will be OK. And when the U.S gets out of its mess which is likely in 2 years, good times will return. So in the meantime what’s to stop Canada from joining the U.S. in terms of hurt?
In a word: Oil. If oil prices continue to rise then inflation will follow. While the Bank of Canada has held rates low through all this turbulence, they have shown no mercy when it comes to inflation.
I know this is simplistic but as long as interest rates stay low and oil doesn’t go back to $140 before the U.S economy recovers then I believe we’ll muddle through.
In the meanwhile I’m going to use this time to change my ‘gastly’ consumption habits both in business and personally. A not so quiet revolution is taking place and over the next two years we are going to be seeing some very exciting developments in energy alternatives and major energy saving incentives from our leaders in Ottawa. The Green party getting on the televised debates is a sign that times are changing.
September 5, 2008
The Value of Single Sourcing your Barcoding Solution
Hope you had a good summer!
A customer recently asked me why he should consider buying his bar code scanners, printers, service, and software all from qdata when he could get better pricing if he purchased item from separate vendors.
My answer (or in this case question) is how much effort and time do you have to integrate all these disparate pieces and who are you going to call when the system goes down? Unless you are working everyday with this technology chances are you’ll quickly forget all the small little details like the SSID code for your wireless network or remembering where you bought that printer from. But let’s go beyond simple issues and look at the technology itself. Despite the appearance of uniformity in data collection such as Windows Mobile on all devices, WiFi radios , and Bluetooth – not all devices work equally. Without naming names, we found a wide disparity in functionality in how the Bluetooth works on different devices; one unit worked great while another was a complete power hog when it wasn’t locking up the device every now and then. In another situation the same device that was terrible with Bluetooth had an awesome phone – great clarity and reception. That’s just for starters. What happens when you integrate the handheld device with a portable printer or use it on your Cisco wireless network? There are settings that optimize MOBILE wireless users versus fixed wireless devices such as workstations.
But let’s assume and you persevere and manage to get everything working. And by that I mean you did the testing, integrating, training, support, and tweaking that goes with any IT project (don’t forget the documentation!). You’re about to take a break from data collection when your boss tells you she just bought a new warehouse…
Ask yourself – do you really have the time to roll this out to another facility given all the headaches you encountered first time around? Chances are if you’re like everyone else these you have better ways of spending your time.
In summary going single source with a proven vendor means:
- getting an integrated solution, your vendor will be able to recommend and assemble the pieces that have been proven to work together and it’ll be something that he can support
- quicker project implementation
- having one number to call for support
- redundancy; you can go on holidays and not get calls
- ability to focus on other key projects that will move your company ahead
- and my favourite… sleeping at night
In end expect to pay a little more but you’ll recoup that extra money in saved time and better sleep!
July 23, 2008
Small is the New Big
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on how small is the new big. I was one of four companies who were invited to talk about how small or acting small can be a competitive advantage. The panel discussion was very well received so I’m sharing some of the highlights and insights.
Q. What would you say your firm is doing "different" that is making the "difference" in your success?
- back to a more personal focus on the customer; spending more time out in the field and just speaking with them
- adding complimentary lines that allow us to sell more to the same customer
- get more certifications so we can do deliver value add services
- going geographic – go where the action is
Q. Would you agree that "customer intimacy" is central to your success and, if so, what are you doing to better understand what your customers need and to more effectively deliver on those needs?
- Executive reach out - informal survey
- Formal survey – use a marketing firm
- Spend time out in field
- Take a support call; get to understand a customer’s pain and how your solution fixes that
Q. Sourcing and retaining great people is essential to any great organization. Can you share your success in this area and describe how your organization approaches these critical human resource issues?
- have a bench of talent (competitors, suppliers, acquaintances)
- use social websites like Facebook
- flexible start finish schedules
- flexible benefits package
- Hire good managers – people leave their managers not the company
- Walk around mgmt – you'd be amazed what you'll learn
Q. Big organizations have "big things" … they occupy large spaces and make use of extensive physical resources. Have you managed to scale your business without the need to make extensive use of "big resources"?
- greater use of technology to communicate e.g wireless, VOIP, webex, salesreps work from home
- VPN and remote desktop, Citrix
- Greater use of web technologies
- Hire people who are smart, have initiative, and can grow into different role
Q.What key message would you like to leave with our audience about what they need to do to thrive as a small business in today's business environment?
Your customers are always changing so stay close to them by investing time and listening – don’t assume the big things as tradeshows, print advertising, web site, and golf tournaments are making a connection. Above all be passionate – people want to do business with people who care.
June 29, 2008
The Joys of Materialism
In today’s consumer conscious environment we are all striving to have a smaller footprint. Whether it means saving on gas, electricity, or money. Conspicuous consumption is out and politically incorrect. Well I’m going to buck the trend and speak out in support of materialism and spending. I’m an avid cyclist (of the pedaling kind) and recently purchased a new Cervelo road bike. It’s very similar to what the pros ride and priced north of $7,000 – fortunately qdata does work for Cervelo so I got a vendor discount. Buying the bike itself was a great thrill because I got to test ride a bunch of bikes and configure it exactly the way I want but the real joy is on the road itself. This bike (a.k.a Betty) lives up to it’s billing and more. First Betty weighs only 15.5 lbs and is super responsive, so the delay between action on my part and her moving forward is almost instant. Given that I’ve been riding a relative clunker at 22 lbs, it's like going from a Passat to a Porsche - mind you the Passat is a very decent car just like my old bike.
So what did I learn from this experience? Spending money is good for the soul provided the real thrill comes from using the product. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not a big spender but on this occasion parting from my hard earned dough actually felt better than saving it. So call me a materialist slob and say hello to Betty!
May 30, 2008
Business Networking – getting the most out of it
This has come up a lot lately only because of my volunteer work on various committees and councils. According to surveys, this is the number one reason why people join alumni or technology associations with Learning coming a close second. It’s one thing to be physically there and it’s another to really get something out of each networking event.
Here’s what works for me:
1. Attend industry events especially if your suppliers are attending. This is a great source of industry news and gossip because they’re dealing with your competitors and customers everyday. They may even give you a lead or two – it’s all in the timing as they say.
2.Attend events where you have something to contribute or sincerely want to learn. You gotta have something valuable that someone in the room would want to hear. Also if you’re looking to acquire information, this too makes you enthusiastic and that alone makes you interesting. The more interesting you are the better you’ll connect.
3. Bring business cards and a small notepad. Most people just bring business cards but the best way is to write it down if it’s something you don’t want to forget. People are flattered when you write something down and it makes you more memorable. Plus it’s hard writing on business cards – some people actually consider their cards a work of art and get upset when you mark up their cards.
4. Quality over Quantity. Don’t worry about talking to everyone, unless you’re the host. For me a couple of great conversations and connections is better than a lot of light cocktail type conversations.
5. Mind your Manners. When you’re done or sense the conversation is starting to wane, excuse yourself and remember to say thank you. As a rule don’t break in on two people talking unless you happen to know one of them. It’s easier and more polite to join a conversation of three or more people.
May 19, 2008
Thank you Motorola Partner Advisory Council
As my term on the council comes to end, its time to reflect how my participation on this council has helped qdata grow and mature. I started on the council in May 2005, and we just completed a painful acquisition of a competitor. We were going through huge growing pains from having to scale operations to handle 300 percent more orders to managing a newly acquired workforce spread across the country. At the time Symbol Technologies (as it was known before Motorola acquired it in early 2007) was transitioning to a channel centric model not to mention getting us resellers to lead with and sell more Symbol gear.
My participation with the council couldn’t have come at a better time. Just the act of removing myself from the office every four to six months allowed me to gain perspective on our growth issues as I was able to meet other council members and learn what they did under similar circumstances. Also Symbol’s direction meant that they would need to partner more closely with the channel. At the time qdata rarely engaged our OEM partners in the field, we more or less left each other alone and they provided technical backup when needed. Collaboration, openness, and cooperation were alien concepts.
However my thinking changed when I saw first hand how sincere and real their intentions were. So I embraced the new model of partnership and took advantage of the free courses and consultants being offered by Symbol to help us through the transition. Today it is an automatic consideration to engage Motorola whenever a large opportunity presents itself. We have since taken the message of collaboration a step further and thanks to Motorola’s eco-system of partners we’ve developed several successful partnerships with council members resulting in new business that we wouldn’t have won on our own.
Data collection and wireless mobility is being adopted into all facets of business and with the acquisition of Symbol by Motorola this will only accelerate. Resellers in our industry will have to embrace this new enterprise mobility model which means developing or partnering to create more complete solution sets, investing in service at both a skill level and geographically, and staying abreast in areas such as RFID and Unified Communications.
As our industry leader, Motorola’s move in this direction is raising the bar for its competitors and its resellers. This direction will continue to keep our industry relevant and for those partners who can follow - profitable. Thank you Motorola and the Advisory Council for making qdata the company that it is today!
May 9, 2008
Project Rollout Approaches
I’m often asked by customers how to best implement new projects. Often a process review (see April 28 2008) will identify which approach works for them. In absence of such a review you need to carefully consider not just vendor capability but that of your team’s which is by far the more important consideration. Here are some ways:
1. Big Bang. This is a swing for the fences implementation that will see all essential requirements being deployed all at once. Venture forth if you or your team has prior experience with the technology or you’re not prepared to live through multiple go lives that a phased approach entails. Don't consider if you haven't done across the enterpise use case and systems integration testing prior to go live.
2. Phased. Here’s where you break up the overall project into more manageable steps each tied to a specific measurable target. Venture forth if you’re low on resources both in time and money and want to build upon small successes or the team faces a steep learning curve due to unfamiliarity with the new technology. Don't consider if your company has a history of starting a project and only going 1/2 way, chances are history will repeat itself and the maximum ROI will be just that much longer to reach.
3. Pilot Project. Typical in situations where the technology itself is unproven or it represents a dramatic departure from your current processes. This is more of a proof of concept with little or no impact on operations if it fails and likely can't be rolled forward if a real project comes out of it. Venture forth if you have the time and can’t afford to get this wrong because the bet is ultimately a big dollar amount. Don't consider if time is not on your side such as the company's competition has already done this or you need to do this to sustain growth without adding a lot of new headcount.
May 2, 2008
What's Chargeable vs Not Chargeable
A major sticking point in any customer–vendor relationship is extra charges. Vendors routinely access additional charges for items that are not in scope, while customers argue that they are part of the project. Before I start any project I have a discussion with my customer and provide these four points when it comes to extra charges. These points have saved more than one relationship and certainly allows me to charge extra while maintaining trusted and respectful relations on both sides.
1. Semantics. You may say ‘tomodo’ and I say ‘tomayto’. In these situations I will absorb the extra costs because it is really up to the vendor to decipher the hidden meaning when words are taken out of their normal context.
2. I should have known better. As the ‘expert’ in bar coding, the customer is leveraging my experience and expertise and I should have known better or at least asked more questions. In this situation we usually absorb the cost as well.
3. Overlooked Exceptions & Features. This is often very hard to anticipate or remember, as our customer will have an important client who has special needs which results in a unique customization or modification. This is typically chargeable 80% of the time. What I do is look for is a a trade-off of another feature or product with our customer to minimize this impact of this sudden cost.
4. Business Change. The business changes with an acquisition, new products, or facilities. This is chargeable 100% of the time.
There you have it, it’s simple but it works. It won’t cover every situation but provides me with a starting point for discussing extra charges.
April 25, 2008
A Case for Process Reviews
So you’ve decided to move forward with a new bar coding system – congratulations! The excitement level with the company has risen quite dramatically and all of a sudden everyone can’t wait for the new baby to come home. But maybe you should take a little time out…
In my fifteen plus years of implementing bar coding systems, the best projects are the ones where a study or review has been done prior to implementing bar coding. The reasons are simple: a review of your current business processes will pinpoint other areas that are bottlenecks, labour intensive, or error prone – not just the ones everyone knows about. It will identify gaps in your current infrastructure from a facilities, software, computing, and network perspective and highlight training requirements of the people who will be using the bar coding system, and most importantly set a common expectation level for the new system. I have found companies who have gone through an ISO 9000 certification are also the easiest to work with because their key processes have been documented though not necessarily efficient.
As you perform this study, you’ll see the emergence of a new vocabulary set and this will provide more meaning to every conversation and meeting between project members. So words like ‘bar code’ becomes ‘location label’ or ‘inventory’ becomes ‘raw materials or finished goods inventory’. This new vocabulary is a sign that your team is in fact becoming a team and is an essential step towards buy-in. In the end even if you don’t implement a bar coding systems (maybe you found a low tech work-around), a process study will give people a better appreciation their jobs and keep your company on the path of continuous improvement.
April 8, 2008
In Praise of Award Shows
On April 5, I received the Award of Merit from the Association of Chinese Canadian Entrepreneurs along with six other category winners. This was the 12th year of the event and was well attended by 800 people including politicians and the media. In the past I've shunned such events as gigantic acts of self promotion, thinking I don't need an award to prove my self worth. But a funny thing happenned on the way to the award show; they can be an opportunity to really thank those that made it possible and to inspire someone to start living their dreams today.
So let me start with the thanks:
To Randy, my business partner and (still a) great friend of 15 years
To my employees and especially the qdata management team who really make it happen for our customers
To my parents who taught me the value of hardwork and self-sacrifice
And to my family who truly make it all worth it.
As for my words of inspiration: don't let a lack of industry specific skills, experience, contacts, or money stop you from going for it. The single most important skill you can develop is the ability to work with others. All the Best!
March 17, 2008
Selecting the Right Vendor
Figuring out who’s the winner in your beauty contest is not just choosing the best price or best product/service. Here’s my spin; I guarantee you won’t be finding these on any ‘how to buy’ guides:
1. Understand a vendor’s true strength(s). Is it marketing, customer service, software development, product knowledge, experience, or process re-design. Hint check out what they tout the most when you ask them “why should I buy from you” or “what is your competitive differentiation?” Talking to their customers also helps. For example qdata’ strengths are process re-design and best practices.
2. Understand your weaknesses in context of the anticipated project. Do you have experience in the technology being purchased? Is your IT team more or less just network and help desk personnel? Do you have resources in the location where the project is being deployed? What is your company’s general attitude to this project – optimistic, fearful, suspicious, or not interested. Do you have the internal resources to do this project?
3. Gap Analysis. If you answered the questions in 2 accurately, you are now in a position to articulate what ELSE you need from your vendor. Also don’t take the vendor’s word that they can offer these extras – ask for proof and examples where they’ve done this before.
4. Map it out. Create a matrix identifying where the various vendors match up in terms of offering you these extra but essential services along with the cost if any.
5. Go back to your original list and now add this matrix to your selection criteria. You may be surprised!