Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Affiliate Marketing and Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive Innovation is a term that is attributed to Clayton M. Christensen in 2003. Basically, it refers to what occurs when some type of significant innovation (new technology, business practice, etc.) is developed that dramatically affects an existing market or industry. Often a significantly disruptive innovation will eventually force an existing industry to either adapt or become obsolete. Some of the most obvious instances of disruptive innovation involve a new technology completely turning a pre-existing industry upside down. A couple of historical examples would be the invention of the printing press which disrupted the traditional 'industry' of hand copying books and the invention of the automobile which disrupted the established horse and buggy industry. More recently, we have the development of digital photography and the traditional film photography industry, digital music and the recording industry, wireless cell phones and the legacy phone companies. You get the idea.

The rise of the internet and digital media in general created massive disruption of numerous legacy markets and industries. In fact, affiliate marketing could easily be viewed as a disruptive innovation affecting the traditional advertising and marketing industry. The interesting thing about disruptive innovations is that the most successful ones (that eventually replace a pre-existing industry) then become targets for future disruption themselves. Put another way, yesterday's disruptive innovation is tomorrow's legacy industry that is destined to be disrupted by some other innovation.

Historically, major disruptive innovation seems to have taken place over longer periods of time. The automobile didn't replace the horse drawn carriage overnight (it took the additional development of mass production to really speed it along). But, much of the innovation we see happening today happens more quickly. In the purely digital realm, we see a company like Twitter rise seemingly overnight and change the landscape for the social media and search marketing industries.

The marketing industry has been in almost a constant state of disruption since the dawning of the internet. Since one of the foundations of the industry is based on how consumers communicate and access information, any new development that changes consumer behavior in these areas becomes a new challenge and opportunity for marketers.

As online marketers, we have leveraged new technology and helped to drive the massive disruption of traditional advertising. In fact, many online and affiliate marketers seem to thrive by closely following the latest disruptions. Far from the old-school advertising execs who initially resisted the online medium because it was new and different (and therefore a threat to the status quo), today's successful affiliate marketer is quick to take advantage of the latest developments. The rise of social media wasn't viewed as a threat to our current business model, but rather a new opportunity to grow and become even more profitable.

This strategy of looking for ways to leverage new technology and consumer communication trends has served the online marketing industry well in an environment where change happens incredibly quickly. The fact that we have basically grown up with constant change will likely serve us well in the years ahead as our industry continues to evolve to meet consumers wherever they go (mobile anyone?).

If there is any lesson for affiliate and online marketers from looking back at other examples of disruptive innovation, it is that if you get too comfortable with the way things are today and aren't ready to adjust your thinking and tactics to accommodate surprising changes, you risk being left in the dust. If you didn't adjust your search marketing programs the next time Google changes its algorithms or tweak your email initiatives to accommodate new filtering technology, you would end up as becoming as obsolete as a VCR. The better you are at actively identifying new disruptions as they emerge, the more successful you are likely to be in affiliate marketing.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bosch Prints

Hieronymus Bosch was a famous Dutch artist within the 15th and 16th centuries at a time when European art was in a transitional stage on the path to the contemporary art movement that we have today. This article covers Bosch prints in full and details some of his best known paintings. Bosch's most famous painting was certainly the Garden of Earthly Delights triptych. In fact, Bosch is particularly well remembered for his work on triptychs, a medium which is rarely seen today because of the lack of religious-style architecture requiring decoration in this way.

Bosch is one of several well respected artists who devoted years of their life to the medium of triptychs, with other notable artists who also experimented in this area including Simone Martini, Robert Campin, Hugo Van Der Goes, Peter Paul Rubens, Max Beckmann and Francis Bacon.

Bosch comes from the exceptional past of Dutch art which included the famous set of painters termed the Dutch Golden Age. Although the Netherlands was not technically around in the same form during the career of Bosch, he remains one of the most influential Dutch painters since the Middle Ages.

Hieronymus Bosch has been compared to many other significant artists of more recent times thanks to the legacy that he left and how it influenced many who followed. Pieter Bruegel the Younger and Elder are two such artists whose style was extremely similar to Bosch, with large numbers of active characters strewn over complex and powerful backgrounds.

Bosch liked to portray characters within complex landscapes in order to get across certain moral issues that he felt important at the time. In some cases, Bosch also tackled major religious themes as well, as shown in The Last Judgement and Hell.

The most famous paintings by Hieronymus Bosch that make great art print reproductions include Garden of Earthly Delights, Temptation of St Anthony, Tondals Vision, Ascent of the Blessed, Concert in the Egg, Ship of Fools, Hell and Last Judgement.

Many still choose to buy Bosch reproductions online even today as his reputation remains strong. The most popular include framed prints and unframed art prints, posters and stretched canvases. Tapestries are also available in some cases, but the level of detail included in most Bosch paintings makes other mediums normally a better choice.

In conclusion, Hieronymus Bosch prints arean excellent way to enjoy classic art within your own home and it should be remembered that Bosch was a very important artist who laid an important legacy for future generations of European artists. Paintings such as The Garden of Earthly Delights will remain important parts of any comprehensive art history course for many years because of the role played by Bosch during the early parts of the rise of European art from the Middle Ages.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to Capitalize on Emerging Insurance Claims Management Technology?

Is your current core claims system constraining your business? Small modifications and changes can begin to amount to large dollars being spent in IT on claims system adjustments, because completely replacing a legacy product is trying to be avoided. However, not completely diving into modernizing your claims management platform can be causing insurers to begin to waste company dollars, rather than grow the business. Replacing a claims management system can be looked at as a daunting process, but to ease the software selection process it is critical to be meticulous in the decision making process.

Your goal should be to deliver an agile yet simple technology solution for your adjusters, and customers. A system that brings efficiency and effectiveness not only helps with the bottom line but keeps adjusters providing optimal customer service.

Prepare a detailed prioritized list of what are the most important items that need to be addressed. Your list should include enhancements such as:
Manage Claims Efficiently/Updated Workflows
Improve Customer Service
Business Intelligence
Reduce Claim Costs
Improve Fraud Detection
Compliance and Regulation Guidelines

What is your success criterion?
Knowing the 'why' is just as important as calculating the 'how'. This knowledge will help you guide the search. A uniformed goal will assist in providing a practical approach. If your success criterion is to be able to better identify trends, then it's clear that business intelligence, and capabilities to access detailed data to make informed decisions should be numbers one or two on your priority list.

What is your commitment level?
Are you mapping out a full workflow starting with the frontline, all the components, and players that take part in each claim? Have you fully reviewed the IT resources needed to maximize your IT support without increasing requirements on your existing IT department? Modernizing an antiquated claims process is no easy fete and all areas should be fully assessed with a multi-functional perspective that takes a strong commitment to making a major system change.

The union of a very mature vendor landscape, and antiquated legacy has created an environment where insurers view claims management system transformations as an essential and accessible initiative. Most insurers have inflexible systems that constrain their ability to respond to market changes and new business needs. A practical approach with a detailed outline will help in creating the right business technology partnership, and maximize your ability to respond to business changes effectively.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Feng Shui

A Brief History

Feng Shui has been practised in China at least since the Tang Dynasty.

The most ancient master in this art is generally believed to be Yang Yun Sang who is universally acknowledged as the Founder of Feng Shui.

Master Yang left a legacy of classic that have been preserved and continuously studied to this day.

He was the principal advisor of the court of the Emperor Hi Tsang (A.D. 888), and his books on Feng Shui made up the major texts on which succeeding generations of practitioners based their art.

Master Yang's emphasis was on the shape of the mountains, the direction of water courses, and above all, on locating and understanding the influence of the Dragon, Cha's most revered celestial creature.

His doctrines were detailed in three famous classic works that wholly describe Feng Shui practice in terms of colourful Dragon metaphors.

The first of these, "Han Lung Ching", contains the "Art of Rousing the Dragon".

The second, "Ching Nang Ao Chih", comprises the methods of determining the location of the Dragon's lair.

While the third book is "I Lung Ching", translated under the title "Canons approximating Dragons".

This third book provides the methods and techniques on how to find the Dragon in areas where they do not prominently stand forth.

Understanding FS

Modern science has only recently discovered that the earth's atmosphere is crowded with powerful but invisible energy waves and lines that enable us to enjoy telephones and radios, fax machines and satellite communications.

The ancient Chinese scientists discovered the existence of these energy lines many centuries ago.

They described these invisible atmospheric lines of energy in symbolic terms, referring to them as the Dragon's cosmic breath if they were beneficial and as its killing breath if they were unfavourable.

Feng Shui was the name given to the practice of beneficially harnessing these energy forces.

People of Chinese origin have long known about Feng Shui. Over the centuries it has been passed by word of mouth from generation to generation, so that those ignorant of its philosophical underpinnings, have come to regard it as superstitious practice.

Feng Shui is the art of living in harmony with the land, such that one derives the greatest benefits, peace and prosperity from being in perfect equilibrium with Nature.

Feng Shui holds out the promise of a life of meaningful abundance to those who follow its principles and precepts when building their homes and workplaces.

Perhaps it is knowledge and practice of this ancient science that has enabled Chinese immigrants and their families all over the world to succeed and flourish, building respectable businesses for themselves, and living in harmonious interface with their neighbours in their adoptive lands.

Feng Shui cannot be viewed narrowly either as a science, with "magical" formular, nor as a art based totally on instincts.

It is a flexible mixture of both, and to practice it effectively, conceptual principles extracted from ancient classical manuals must be applied in consonance with the thinking man's intuition and personal judgements.

To further complicate the practice, there are also elements of superstitious beliefs superimposed on the whole body of Feng Shi principles.

These cannot be ignored nor forgotten.

Indeed, today's Feng Shui veterans frequently and successfully employ symbolism and village-type superstition.

Form & Compass School Feng Shui

Master Yang's principles came to be regarded as the "Form School" of Feng Shui, which rationalises good or bad sites in terms of Dragon symbolism. According to this school, good Feng Shui locations require the presence of the Dragon, and where there is the true Dragon, there will also be found the White Tiger.

Feng Shui Masters who subscribe to the Form School begin their search for favourable locations by first searching for the Dragon. Emphasis was thus put on landforms, shapes of hills and mountains, waterways, their orientations and directions.

While Dragon symbolism was the principle mainstay of the Form School, there eventually emerged a second major system that approached the practice of Feng Shui from quite different perspectives. This second system laid stress on metaphysical speculations, using the symbols of the I Ching - or Book of Changes, and the Trigrams and the Hexagrams - three and six-lined symbols to calculate good and bad Feng Shui.

The Trigrams were placed around an eight-sided octagonal symbol called the Pa Kua, and according to where each of these eight Trigrams were placed, other corresponding attributes and symbols were further identified. These refer to colours, to different members of the family, to specific compass directions, to one of the five elements and to other attributes.

Each of these symbols and attributes were supposed to offer "clues" for designing homes, for allocating different rooms, for different purposes and for assigning different members of the family to different corners of the home in order to maximise auspicious Feng Shui for the entire family.

This second major system came to be collectively referred to as the Compass School of Feng Shui, and depending on which branch of this school is being practised, the calculations took on different equations and methods.

Certain branches of Compass School also emphasized the influence of the planets on the quality of locations. In contrast to the Form School, it assigned only minor importance to landscape configurations, relying heavily instead on complex calculations of actual dimensions, compass directions and sectors of main entrances and important rooms.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, the two schools had merged completely. Theories of the Form School including beliefs in Dragon symbolism gained wider acceptability and practice amongst followers of the Compass School. Today, Feng Shui practitioners in Hong Kong and Taiwan customarily practise a hazy combination of both schools.

Between the two schools, the Form School, with its heavy emphasis on the natural landscape, requires a greater amount of intuitive insight. It is therefore considered harder to practice even though the Green Dragon/White Tiger symbolisms are relatively easy to comprehend. The Compass School method is harder to learn and its formulae more difficult to grasp, but once mastered, is considered easier to practice due to its more precise methodologies.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Undervalued Cars in Today's Market

There are so many cars on the market that it is hard to know what to choose. Depending on your needs, here are three new cars that are currently on the market that are undervalued in what they can do. This isn't just a list of three of the hottest cars or three cars that are undervalued because they won't pull as many hot ladies as you want. No, this list is simply three cars that are undervalued in their price sector.

In the economy car sector, we have the Suzuki SX4. While you may have heard of the motorcycles that Suzuki is famous for, they are also big into making small cars that are actually not too bad. While this car won't win any beauty contests, the Suzuki SX4 isn't trying to win anyone over. And although the styling may not grab you, the fact that this is the lowest priced, new all wheel drive vehicle that you can buy, should. In fact, given that the Suzuki actually has a very decent reliability record, and that it returns an impressive - for an AWD vehicle anyway - 22 city mpg and 28 highway, this car should not be overlooked. The engine is tiny though, at only 2.0 liters and pushing out only 143 hp. The main problem with this type of engine is the transmission and the Suzuki does itself no favors with the four-speed automatic. It is pretty much a dog with this, and the best bet is to stick with the manual. For around $16,000 you can have a small, AWD vehicle that has good reliability, sure footed handling in all weather, and even have the option of an integrated Garmin navigation system.

For those who want a little more space for their families or, simply to carry more things, there is a very, sorely undervalued sedan on the market right now. The Subaru Legacy has been around since the late 80s, but it has never had the mainstream success that Honda and Toyota have had. So why is this? For starters, Subaru does not do as much advertising as the other two giants. Plus, Subaru is pretty much an independent when it comes to the automotive world, being a subsidiary of Fuji Heavy Industries, and does not have the budget, or the large scale operation to try and take on the heavy hitters dollar for dollar. Where the Legacy really succeeds though, is in the drive. This car is much more involving and fun to drive than either the Accord or the Camry. Both of those cars have their merits, but none of those merits come down to fun. The Legacy also offers a wide range of specifications for the driver. The current model features three different engine choices and three different transmission choices. The base model features a 170 hp, 2.5 liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine with a standard six-speed manual transmission. You can also opt to get a CVT, or continuously variable transmission, as well that will give a boost in fuel mileage. In fact, with this engine and transmission combo, the Legacy will return over 30 mpg on the highway. That's particularly impressive when you factor in that it is a full size sedan and that it comes standard, like every Subaru, with AWD. The other engines include a 3.6 liter six-cylinder with 256 hp (on 87 octane by the way) as well as the always enjoyable, and driver's favorite, 2.5 liter turbo engine with 243 hp. While these engines may not get the same sort of fuel mileage as the smaller one, they do return a much bigger smile. These engines give the whole range a larger flexibility when it comes to buyer preference as well. Honda and Toyota both offer various engine choices as well, but neither of them offers a full on turbo charged, manual transmissioned car for the automotive enthusiast. Subaru is trying hard to make sure that everyone has a choice when it comes to getting into the sedan sector, and thanks to the different choices on offer, everyone from the fuel miser to the canyon carver can be satisfied with their Legacy choice.

Moving up the car spectrum even farther we come to the big hitters. The supercar segment took a big hit when the economy went into the toilet, but they are still out there and they are still very much alive. In fact, there are probably more choices out there for the new supercar buyer than ever before. But what should you buy? Well, most people will say, get a Lambo, or buy a Ferrari, but I have another Italian in mind. If it were up to me, more people would be driving Alfa Romeos. Now I know that Alfa has not been part of the American car landscape for a little over a decade, but they will be making a come back in just a few years. And, as of right now, there is one Alfa that stands above all the rest, and that you can actually buy in America right now. That car is the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. Some have said, and rightfully so, that this is the most beautiful car on sale today. I can't agree more, though most Alfa cars are very lovely to look at anyway. But they went above and beyond with this model. The long, swoopy front end flows over the top of the car and ends in a beautifully stubby tail that recalls GT race cars. When you combine the short front and rear overhangs and the bulging, muscular wheel arches, you end up with a car that can do no wrong cosmetically. And under the bonnet things get even better. The engine is a Ferrari-sourced 4.7 liter V8 pumping out 450 hp that makes one of the best noises you will ever hear. From a burbling grumble on start up to a high pitched wail nearing the red line, the whole thing is a symphony of sound wrapped up in one of the loveliest shapes there is. Of course, this does mean that it costs a pretty penny. In fact, the car itself costs around $300,000, but there will only be 500 of these ever made, with only 84 in this country. Sure it doesn't accelerate the fastest, it isn't the most powerful and it won't blow people away when the road gets twisty, but for the looks, sound and exclusivity you get with this car, nothing else is going to matter to you.

So there you are. Three cars that are undervalued in their segment and three cars that are actually a good bargain when you consider the value that they will give you. In the case of the Suzuki, it means having the surefootedness of AWD in a compact car. The Legacy is there for those who want more driver involvement in the sedan category and the Alfa proves that buying a car with your heart makes more sense than ever.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Data - The Poor Relation With a Big Say

To some use of the word 'data' signals the beginning of one of the most boring, technically esoteric and generally useless topics of discussion they can imagine. Data model, data dictionary, data schema, data cleansing, data coding & classification.... or just plain old data.

HELP! How much boredom and technophobia can one person be expected to cope with! Can't those sad techie's keep all that gobbledy-gook stuff to themselves and just talk to the rest of us about normal business things?

Oh dear, a response common to many technophobes we know. We even have some sympathy for this perspective. However, we also know from hard experience that the technophobes are dead wrong to place this conversation on one of the lower rungs of technical hell.

Unfortunately, although we'd never claim the topic was scintillating to most listeners, we know how fundamentally important good data is to modern organisations. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that without it they are lost with little hope of rescue!

You see, business processes, functions, workflows, metrics, org charts, etc, etc change quite regularly... sometimes at the whim of a passing management fad. Where-as base data on the other hand generally changes relatively little on the whole... while underpinning all the rest of the faster changing artefacts that rest on top of it.

To understand this, while trying to avoid the more technical aspects, it is useful to think of (business) data as being split into three camps: meta data, static data and dynamic data.

Meta data is simply data about data. This camp covers such things as should data be ten digits long or fifteen digits long. Should it be numeric or alpha-numeric. Should it use an existing classification system (e.g. NATO schema) to group and relate items or one you invent for yourself. These basic decisions underpin every data structure (e.g. database) ever devised and are essential to being able to speak a common data 'language' that uses consistent definitions and formats.

A very common business example of meta data is the structuring of an organisation's financial chart of accounts... i.e. what locations and functions, what departmental / budget codes, what time periods, what currency, what consolidation roll-up, what accounting standards, etc.

Look more widely and you will also see that the concept of an invoice, an order, a requisition, a product, a part and many, many other familiar business artefacts are also meta data entities. That is, an object or item with an understood set of data attributes and rules that define and specify it and its relationship to other data entities. In fact, a map of such things is known as an entity relationship diagram or data schema!

Once the basic data entity building blocks are defined, for both operational and maintenance purposes, they are often then divided into two further camps... static data and dynamic data.

Static data, as the name implies is data that either does not change, or more typically, changes relatively infrequently. Into this camp we can place data items such as products, customers, suppliers, BOMs, routings, etc. It is not that these data items never change, but that once created they commonly change little and infrequently... for some organisations, sometimes verging on never... which can be a problem in and of itself!

Finally, we have the camp of dynamic data. As this name implies this is data that changes fairly frequently. Into this camp we can place data items such as quotes, orders, requisitions, GRNs, invoices, etc. These items by definition change regularly as part of the normal cycle and rhythm of conducting business.

However, lets now circle back to our original point... that base data changes relatively little on the whole. How does this reconcile with the idea of dynamic data which changes regularly for instance? Well, as for most things, the distinction is in the definition and the use of the qualifier 'base' in base data.

The point is that while dynamic data changes regularly (e.g. new invoice number, new requisition number, etc) and static data from time-to-time (e.g. new supplier, existing supplier address with a new address, etc) the meta data that defines those entities (e.g. the fact that there is an invoice number or address field) almost NEVER changes!

When is the last time for instance that you can remember a basic data concept like that of an invoice being introduced for the first time?

Hence our use of the phrase 'on the whole' when describing the low change rate of base data. It also explains our desire to illuminate the distinction between the data camps as we did to explain things a bit more clearly and accurately.

With your new understanding of these three data camps... keeping in mind that these definitions have a wide general applicability, but if you went outside the realms of business (e.g. scientific research), you would find far more data camps in use than just these... you should be beginning to see how fundamental data is to everything built on top of it.

And for common business concepts like P&L, ROI, management reporting, project status, etc... that is almost EVERYTHING!!

Now perhaps it is becoming fully clear why an apparently boring and technically esoteric topic like data is actually of PARAMOUNT importance to any business!

After money, it is arguably the lifeblood of any organisation in terms of understanding and deciding where it is, where it needs to go and how well it is progressing on that journey. Without good quality data a business is quite literally lost... even more dangerously so if it actually believes it knows where it is (i.e. based on access to 'bad' data) but in fact does not...

This observation leads the conversation nicely to a few additional important facts about data. Namely, once you have some data, you also need to ensure that it is as:

  • Accurate - plus or minus how much?
  • Precise - to how many decimal places?
  • Timely - when am I going to be able to get this?
  • Available - How will I be able to access it?
as it needs to be (i.e. as opposed to as much as it 'theoretically' could be) to fill your legitimate business needs. There are many approaches to accomplishing this list of requirements, e.g.:
  • use of mobile technologies (e.g. handheld devices, laptops, etc)
  • use of automated technologies (e.g. bar coding, RFID, etc)
  • use of rigorous routines (e.g. perpetual inventory / cycle counting, stock counts, trial balances, month-end closes, etc)
and many others too numerous to quantify here, but the message is the same.

If something is important to the organisation then the relevant data relating to it also needs to be defined, instantiated, collected, collated, accurate, precise, timely and available to a level of quality matched to the importance placed on it by the organisation!

The number of times we have seen managers puzzling over 'mysterious' business project failures... especially in the context of large, multi-site, multi-function transformational change programmes... is nothing short of astounding. Failures in which they resolutely believe they broadly got (and perhaps did get) the strategy, processes, metrics, people, systems and other dimensions of change right, but still fell short somehow.

Although not on every occasion of course, but with frightening regularity all the same, one of the most obviously missing considerations in our experience has been a good understanding of the quality of the underlying legacy data landscape.

Had they (i.e. management, not the 'techies' who often do understand but whose views are often not sought or are 'unwelcome') deigned to look, it being a low-level techie subject and all, they might have actually seen (shock horror) that the data landscape was not fit for purpose.

They might have even found that it never had been and was thus never going to be capable of supporting the level of integration of processes, metrics, systems, reporting, etc that everyone had been working towards!

Unfortunately, given its lowly 'techie' status, looking at the data landscape is not a high priority on many a corporate transformational change programme agenda.

And although data is often not the only issue needing attention... it is one of the most commonly overlooked, and thus one of the most inscrutably responsible culprits for the failure to achieve the expected results!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Awesome Family Summer Travel Destinations

The world is full of amazing and awe-inspiring sights and sounds. To squeeze all of Mother Nature's extravagance into the top ten great summer travel destinations for families is a daunting task. Summer brings everything outdoors; the furniture, toys, children and every kind of outdoor activity one can imagine. However, one of the best ways to enjoy one's summer vacation is to pack up ones family and go discover the world. Now, you may be wondering, isn't that what the rich do? Well, today you can find cheap flights to almost anywhere, and once you arrive you can rest assured there are one or two reasonably good cheap hotels to stay in. That said; spoil your family with a vacation to one of the following great summer travel destinations for families:

Costa Rica
This beautiful south Caribbean tropical paradise is located in Central America and bounded by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea to one side and Nicaragua and Panama on the other. Amazing white beaches and tropical flora and fauna adorn this country making it the perfect tropical paradise to visit. What's more, many budget airlines that fly to Costa Rica offer discount airfare rates especially when advance bookings are made.

The Hamptons
Located conveniently on the east end of Long Island, NY, this historical summer getaway is great for domestic tourism. Accessible via domestic couriers that offer cheap airline tickets to locals, enjoy the long stretches of beach, sprawling vineyards and magnanimous estates. In addition, experience the unique historical seaside villages that dot the Hampton coastline and make for a great family travel vacation.

This prehistoric island off the Southeastern coast of Africa has some fantastic and extraordinary creatures and plant life. Perfect for a summer vacation eco tour, this country has all sorts of great flora and fauna to keep everyone excited. Popularized by the Hollywood movie, Madagascar, this destination will definitely live up to your expectations. Hospitable locals, exuberant landscapes and cheap hotels all go towards making this a perfect summer vacation destination.

Abu Dhabi, UAE
Tipped 'the richest city in the world' (Fortune and CNN) this rapidly growing capital of the United Arab Emirates is fast becoming one of the premier destinations for summer vacationers. Multicultural and super urbanization features characterize this area. As the Emirati begins to diversify the economy of the area, tourism has become a key building block for the developing economy. With cheap flights from the numerous carriers plying the Middle East, experiencing this new city f the world has never been easier.

Located in the Eastern Mediterranean sea, Cyprus is a great summer vacation destination for all. With an excellent economy to match the excellent Mediterranean climate, Cyprus has a booming tourism sector and great packages for the interested traveler. The Mediterranean climate provides warm to hot weather all year round and the azure waters surrounding the island are a great way to kick back and relax.

This continent 'down under' has a great adventure awaiting the intrepid traveler. Arrive in style in either Sydney or Melbourne and embark on an Aussie adventure in this expansive country. Camel hikes, dune bashing, or seaside holidays are all on the itinerary. Once in the country, get some cheap airline tickets form one of the budget airlines in the country and hop from one area of the country to the next, you'll have a whole continent to explore to your heart's content.

Home of the safari, travel to the renowned Maasia Mara or recline on the white sand beaches enjoy that perfect summer vacation. Hospitable locals, a vibrant, cosmopolitan capital and numerous options available to access, a summer vacation to Kenya would be a different experience altogether.

Well, you may be wondering, Scandinavia is not a country; exactly the point. Take a summer vacation to one of the Scandinavian countries and simple hop onto a bus, train or cheap flight and in no time, you are in the next Scandinavian country. Offering great summer travel destinations for families, the kids will get a lesson in European geography as well as have a great time.

Tuscany, Italy
Home to the true Italian Renaissance; walk in the neighborhood of great artistic leaders such as Dante, Botticelli, Leonardo De Vinci, and Galileo Galilei amongst others. Breathtaking landscapes add to the rich artistic legacy to create a holiday vacation like no other.

Two billion people call this country home and so there must be something to it. In deed there is; from the Great Wall of China to the Yangtze River, China has such diverse landscapes it will leave you wondering if you were in one country or ten. The top vacation destination in Asia, China offers eco-cultural tours like no other.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Strategic Planning - Steps For Trailblazing a Path to Long-term Business Success

Companies often have trouble maintaining growth, even in favorable economic conditions. The modern business landscape is ever changing: The information highway remains supercharged; technology continues to develop at warp speed; distribution channels change unexpectedly; and new competitors spring into action every day. And if growing a business wasn't challenging enough, business leaders now face another uphill battle as we face one of the toughest economic environments of our generation.

In today's complex business environment, strategic thinking is essential for sustaining a long-term competitive position. Corporations recognize this necessity and invest ample resources towards strategic planning efforts. However, small-to-mid-sized companies often fail to engage in strategy development activities. As a result, subtle changes in the competitive landscape go unnoticed and once a new technology, process or change in cost structure enters the marketplace, the incumbent's competitive advantages disappear. In response, the corporation goes into reactive mode and ends up playing catch up instead of proactively embracing new opportunities.

The dearth of strategic planning in smaller-sized companies is often attributed to an absence of time and understanding. Owners and company executives tend to become absorbed with the daily operations of the company and focus on immediate tasks instead of long-term goals. Some company owners may recognize the importance of strategic planning but simply lack clear understanding of the process. While vast libraries exist on the subject of strategic planning, many authors focus on the concerns of large corporation and key in on issues that non-applicable to smaller organizations.

Strategic planning shouldn't be complicated. In its simplest form, a strategic plan is a clear vision of a company long-term position based upon the value-add it provides to customers and shareholders. Strategic plans require knowledge of fundamental industry shifts and how customers and competitors are expected to respond to those changes. Flexibility is an inherent characteristic of strategic plans, which should be easily adaptable to the current market. Evaluating strategic options is based on identifying choices that are most capable of providing value for all stakeholders and align with the organization's vision and core competencies.

So, where to begin? First, become aware of the major changes impacting your industry and begin to align those changes with your organization's core competencies. Your answers to the following three questions can help develop your starting point.

1. What business are we in?
The answer to this question isn't always the most obvious. It is not necessarily tied to the product or service your company offers. For example, insurance companies have long recognized that they are in the business of selling security and assurance. Small retail outlets such as 7-Eleven stores understand that they are in the business of selling convenience. Whole Foods realized that it was in the business of social responsibility and identified a large consumer base that would respond to this message. As a result, the market chain has been rewarded with higher margins than commonly seen in a traditional grocery store. Companies who understand what business they are in are more adept at identifying niches, following trends and responding to market demand. This flexibility makes them more successful at formulating sustainable businesses models.

2. What changes are occurring in our industry?
New technologies can change the competitive landscape overnight. Moreover, competitors may emerge from the most unexpected places. Today, candy bar companies compete with digital music providers for teenagers' discretionary income. Make it a point to maintain a constant dialogue with your customers, suppliers and industry experts. Schedule quarterly meetings with your sales staff to learn what they are hearing in the marketplace.

3. How can we continue to make money?
Recognizing the core competencies of your organization is critical to building strategic flexibility. The best way to preserve your competitive edge is to continually innovate. Upgrade your technologies, hone your internal processes or develop more efficient distribution channels. Core competencies can be repackaged, stripped down, re-bundled and reconfigured in order to appeal to a changing marketplace. Technology companies have a firm understanding of this concept. New electronic gadgets are introduced to the market and are quickly followed by advanced models. These products are in turn succeeded by stripped-down, less expensive models that appeal to a large consumer base. Fast food chain McDonalds built an entire marketing campaign around the Happy Meal, a shining example of a product bundling strategy at work.

By answering the three questions above, your organization can begin to think in a more strategic manner. Independent of size, all companies must participate in strategic planning activities. In the new economy, knowledge has trumped raw materials as the essential business resource. Strategy development and execution is crucial for long term business success. Don't get blindsided by your competition. Playing catch-up has never put a business in a good position.

Markets are not destroyed overnight, even though executives may feel that a loss is swift and unexpected. Markets deteriorate slowly over time and leaving a trail of clues along the way. More often than not, these clues go unnoticed. Usually the cause of a company's failure was a inability to identify looming changes in the business environment and adjust corporate strategy accordingly. One of the contributing factors to the lack of business acumen is an executive's false belief in continuity. Companies are firmly convinced of their own perpetuity, and envelope themselves in a misguided sense of security and invincibility. This is especially true of generation businesses or legacy organizations. Where once a business model could be counted on to provide a successful foundation for at least a decade, today's companies may need to revamp themselves in as little as a year or two. Creative destruction is constantly reshaping our business landscape. As a result, companies cannot expect to operate from a position of assured continuity.

Financial Considerations
Strategy without financial analysis is incomplete and subject to failure. Continual growth under any economic condition requires a strong financial plan. CEOs often find themselves in right-brain, left-brain quandary - how do you commingle visionary optimism with cost-conscious pessimism? Executives often adopt strategies that do not consider the financial implications. Ineffective strategic plans are void of comprehensive ROI analysis. Smaller firms are particularly at risk, since they may lack a qualified CFO. Controllers with only basic accounting procedures are missing the advanced analytical skills that are required for close financial examination of a strategic plan.

Industries are not created or destroyed equally. Some companies are better positioned for economic uncertainty. Executives who strive to become increasingly strategic in their financial decision-making and engage in vigilant oversight of the company's financial condition have an edge over their competitors. Financial vigilance includes evaluating the company's fundamental economic position by analyzing the industry, customer profitability, financial performance, cost structure, availability of capital, debt leverage and retained earnings.

The balance sheet will reveal your debt leverage and the strength of your borrowing power. Retained earnings examine the past performance of your business model and your management team. If the retained earnings reveal past negative growth, the business model's ability to take an additional hit will be questionable at best.

Revenues and costs should be carefully monitored. A revenue loss may be attributed to an overall reduction in demand or foregone market share due to a competitor's introduction of a new product. Operationally, the cost to bring the product to market may increase or it may become necessary to invest in new technology or human capital. If additional costs cannot be passed onto the consumer, pricing power squeezes margins and net profit is ultimately reduced.

Cost structures delineate your profit margin and your company's ability to absorb overhead costs. Higher margins allow greater cost flexibility. Additionally, a reduction in overhead may be easier than cutting production cost, particularly if inflation is a competing factor.

In the case of a company with less favorable financial position, innovation may be the only solution. Since negative growth and declining retained earnings impact the balance sheet and reduces a company's ability to obtain debt or equity investment, your company may need to form a strategic alliance or joint venture to allow reorganization without a substantial reinvestment of funds. So how do you ensure that your firm's desire for high product quality and superior customer service transfers to the entire partnership? Incorporate best practices and monitor processes as you would if they were operating directly under your sole supervision. Meet with each partner to share your goal of creating a seamless existence and work together to adopt common procedures, forms and processes across the organization. Your partners will likely be more than happy to support the goal, since it is in their best interest to do so. If conformation proves impossible, look elsewhere. There is always another firm willing and capable to take their place.

The following outline provides a brief summary of key takeaways to help you develop your company plan:
-Watch for future trends and be prepared to change your strategy
-Use technology to reduce cost and drive efficiencies
-Strategic alliances (if well formed) can provide a competitive advantage
-Keep a close eye on your financial position
-Profit margins are not guaranteed - competitors can change everything.

What's the bottom line? Regardless of economic conditions, your industry, business model or financial position, company executives should have a growth strategy that is inclusive of financial performance measures.

©2009 LW and Associates