Changing the way the VA Innovates

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I have had the great pleasure of the last two years to be a part of a team that is working to support the execution of innovation projects for the VA Center for Innovation. The VA Center for Innovation “identifies, tests, and evaluates new approaches to meet the current and future needs of Veterans through innovations rooted in data, design-thinking, and agile development.”

This summer this program is taking a big step out into the public eye as it kicks of the VA Innovation Creation Series (May 15th to July 29th 2015). The VA Innovation Creation Series powered by the VA Center for Innovation aims to facilitate development of personalized technologies to improve care and quality of life for Veterans.

The launch of the Innovation Creation Series will take place at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center this Friday (May 15th). A curated list of challenge areas facing veterans will be posted from May to July on http://www.innovation.va.gov/challenge/ – powered by Innocentive and GrabCad, which are both online open innovation challenge sites.

Designers, engineers, and all other solvers can contribute initial design solutions to the posted challenges. The VA Innovation Creation Series will culminate in a 2-day “make-a-thon” event at the Richmond VA Medical Center where the online designs will be built and tested to showcase how they meet the needs of Veterans and servicemembers.

If you’d like to participate, get more information or learn more about this project please sign up for their mailing list and they will reach out to you with more information.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 reasons the cloud is more secure than you think…

6 weeks to Salesforce Nirvana

When you are in the cloud business (as we are) you get used to people making some pretty bold statements about scalability, agility, cost and all the other miracles that are supposed to come with “moving to the cloud.” However one thing that I think goes unmentioned often times is that enhanced security may be something that comes along with a move to the cloud. Despite the fact that security is among the biggest worries for new clients moving to the cloud, I think security is often enhanced when you move to the cloud. I’m going to base the following statements on the Salesforce model so please don’t think what I say here applies everywhere but I think some of the same concepts apply. Here are three reasons why:

1. Nobody wants to be on the front page of the Washington Post for the wrong reason. In the case of a FedRamp approved vendor like Salesforce that provides a “walled garden” approach to development in the cloud in the way AOL did for the internet so many years ago the cloud is truly a safer place. This is because Salesforce enforces strict security policies for development on all of its tenants. After all if MB&A makes a serious mistake in the way we build an application on the platform we may be in the story but Salesforce will be the headline.

2. All the solutions are built on one solution. Cloud platform vendors like Salesforce that have a consistent infrastructure, patching, and security model based on economies of scale and a relatively homogenous IT environment are easier to secure. Even when you do almost 2 billion transactions a day across 130,000 clients like Salesforce you still can have less complexity within your infrastructure than are involved in a place like the Department of Agriculture with more than 700 systems each with its own infrastructure, support contractors, and other unique elements.

3. They are watching the big picture and the little picture at the same time. At salesforce you can always go to trust.salesforce.com and see how the platform is performing across the platform. In fact because of their size and scale when Salesforce is watching its tenants in the cloud it is watching the big picture enabling it to meet the evolving security landscape. Also, because of the Salesforce community which enables customers across the platform to interact and share information issues that might not see the light of day are vetted by the entire community helping create a safer platform for all.

I’d love to tell you that we built ExAM4Government.com and ExAM4Inspections.com on the platform because of the security but we did it primarily on the basis of its many features from being natively mobile to scalability to affordability. The security angle is something we really came to appreciate after the fact. Now with FedRamp and the many security concerns that government customers have we are glad we made that decision. If you are interested in learning how we can help you move your Service Cloud or Salesforce platform implementation along in six weeks check out our offer at: info.mbaoutcome.com/salesforce/ if you are interested in how we help public sector clients manage inspections, compliance, risk and forms check out: try.exam4inspections.com/demo/

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton – This is Stones Throw Records

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton

I watched Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton – This is Stones Throw Records last night about avant-garde Los Angeles-based record label Stones Throw Records. As someone who has always loved music the movie is exceptional because it gives you some rare behind the scenes look into some of the better off the beaten path musicians that aren’t being pushed by major labels, but that are putting out some of the most unique and truly new music available today. However, as an entrepreneur and for anyone looking for the guts to see their ideas through to the finish this is a great film because of Peanut Butter Wolf.

Peanut Butter Wolf (Chris Manak) had a vision and stuck with it until it succeeded. This is very much a story about an entrepreneur who believed in his own vision through thick and thin. He continues to innovate within the music business to achieve success for artists who otherwise would probably not be able to get their music out into the mainstream…or at least as mainstream as Stones Throw Records audience is.

The film includes live concert footage, archival material, and in-depth interviews that show the charismatic leadership and innovative thinking that has powered Stones Throw for more than 2 decades as so many other independent music labels have been acquired, gone out of business or otherwise faded away. For myself and I think for anyone who has worked hard to build something on their own it’s always refreshing to see someone grinding it out, sticking with their vision and succeeding. Stones Throw is a great reminder that there’s more than one way to do things and that going with what everyone else is doing isn’t always the secret to success.

When we started ExAM a lot of people thought we should stick to management consulting…after all what do a bunch of strategy and technology nerds know about inspections and compliance. Two years later our software powers the second largest school district in the US, our Nation’s Capitol, the largest non-DoD public sector organization in the US and many other organizations large and small. If you haven’t seen it yet you can get a demo of our summer release here and save 10%.

 

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

A great business process re-engineering story hiding in a sales book

New appraoch to cold calling

I read Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into A Sales Machine With The $100 Million Best Practices Of Salesforce.com by Aaron Ross last night and came away truly impressed by the thought that had gone in the sales system he developed while at Salesforce.com. I’ve spoken quite a bit in these pages about Salesforce.com from the standpoint of the incredible force for integration it has become in the world. As a the reigning most innovative company in the world per Forbes and a leader in the cloud technology space there is plenty to talk about just from an innovation and capability standpoint. However, as I was running through some of the documentation they provide to enable partners I found a reference to Predictable Revenue and decided I’d buy the book. I’m always interested in people that are putting forward a system or method to doing things and I was curious about what I’d find between the covers.

Ten minutes later it was on my kindle and I was off and reading into the wee hours.

You may wonder why a sales post is appearing in a blog dedicated to organizational performance. It is here because the book is worth reading by anyone interested in how to drive organizational performance. The story may be about sales, but the substance is about developing a systems approach and implementing it with people, processes and technology. If you like re-engineering stories like Reengineering the Corporation: Manifesto for Business Revolution, A (Collins Business Essentials) or The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement you will like this story.

Aaron talks about his own disappointment as the CEO of an internet company which landed him in a sales job at Salesforce.com after running through more than five million dollars in venture capital. One of the most interesting things he talks about is the sense of empowerment he got from essentially being allowed to innovate on the job. This jibes with things I’ve read by Daniel Pink including my post about “Drive” where I describe the need to empower your people. Aaron decided quickly that he wasn’t going to succeed using the typical method of cold calling target companies and beating the gatekeepers into allowing him to talk to decision makers and then hammering them into taking delivery of the product. It simply was getting him nowhere fast.

Instead he decided to focus on finding the right people to talk to with customers that actually wanted his product. He talks about trying to find a match between your solutions and customer requirements and his approach to the roles and processes used for demand/lead generation is something everyone in sales should read. He breaks down the entire sales process from demand management through fulfillment explicitly including coverage of people, processes and technology; something anyone reading this column should be familiar with. I think too often people approach sales as a mystical area where sales gurus sell ice to eskimos and everyone else is stuck cold calling people that would rather dodge traffic on the beltway than talk to you. Interested in learning how to stand up new processes in a rapidly evolving organization? This is a great book on how to get it done and if you aren’t careful you may learn something about sales while you are at it.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Brainstorming dead end? Try doodling

Brainstomring

I keep a stack of legal sized paper, a pencil, and a couple different colors of pens on my desk at all times. When people first walk into my office and see the set up I’ll sometimes have people laugh at me but there is a reason for this. Whenever I have people in my office and we’re talking through a problem, I like to take a sheet of legal paper and just start drawing. I think part of the reason I’m getting laughed at is because I’m sitting at our high technology company and I’m pulling out a piece of paper to draw on instead of my computer; but I really think it’s one of the most powerful brainstorming tools at your disposal.

A pencil and paper gives you so much more freedom to make mistakes, to throw things away, and to just start over. The classic pencil/paper combo is also a timesaver across the board.  Being able to quickly sketch something out gives you that sense that remaking, erasing, crumpling up and starting over isn’t the end of the world because you’ve only lost a few minutes. I think there’s something to that. It triggers something subconsciously where you’re simply not as afraid to make mistakes and because of that, it encourages you to think outside the box.

If you insist on using your computer I’ve come to favor free form drawing tools such as Omnigraffle for building presentations. The best thing about this software is that it doesn’t come with any preconceived notion of what you’re going to put on a slide.  It is a tool that really allows you to have a blank slate and there’s lots of nice drawing tools at your disposal. Again I really believe that it keeps you from putting boundaries on yourself when you’re in the middle of brainstorming.  So the next time that you’re faced with a tough problem or you’re trying to do some brainstorming, maybe try writing on a piece of paper before you crack open that PowerPoint deck or start typing into Word. I really think your eyes will be opened to something new if you’re just willing to give it a shot.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Why we built ExAM (our Salesforce.com based Facilities Operations & Security application)

This is the story of how we got involved in developing the ExAM application for Salesforce and the problems it solves for facilities managers, security personnel and executives. Below is a transcription of the above video:

Yesterday’s Salesforce event at the Mandarin in DC got me excited to talk about Salesforce but I also wanted to talk a little bit what got us engaged in working with Salesforce. A few years back we were faced with a really difficult problem to solve. We had a client that had facilities all over the United States that had to be maintained, managed, and assessed for security. Unfortunately, the cost to fly to all those places, put staff on the ground, and get it all done in the time that was allocated was just not going to be feasible in the long term. So we started working with them and the first thing that we did was help them do a better job of capturing the data. We then helped them standardize it, looked at best practices around facilities management and security assessments, looked at the various guidelines that were out there within federal and commercial best practice, and began to develop an assessment that would enable them to understand how each of those facilities was being protected ad secured.

The next step was to figure out how to get the information to the right people. We had already figured out how we want to get the data in and we understand the information that we need to make decisions about physical security across these 200 facilities nationwide. Now we need to figure out how do we get it out to these people? How do we ensure that everyone has the access that they need, that they are able to do reporting across all of the facilities but yet still be able to understand their security posture on a facility by facility basis? So what we did was go out to the marketplace and we found Salesforce and salesforece.com. We realized this was really an incredible solution for the problem that we had. It enabled us, through a secure web interface, to deliver all over the United States. It allowed us to rapidly build value for the client because we were able to, in 90 days develop an enterprise application. Something that previously with the similar requirements had taken almost a year to develop. So it was just a very exciting discovery and we didn’t have to give up anything.

We were still able provide it to them in the exact look and feel that they wanted. It looked like the rest of their organization’s user interface. There wasn’t anything that they really had sacrificed to get there. Now they had this really incredible ability to understand their facilities nationwide in a way that they never had before whether it was looking at a map and understanding scoring at any particular school or just being able to glance at a map and see regular green and ask how am I doing and focus in there. It’s just a very easy way to accomplish that.

We were also able to tie in all that best practices and manage all the documentation that goes into one of these types of engagements. There’s always the why and not just why but how do I work with other people, so collaboration and understanding what other people are doing was also important. This tool gave us the ability to have teams be able to follow each other and understand that even if they weren’t geographically connected, you could understand what somebody else was working on. If they made a change to their assessment of a facility, added pictures, documents, or anything changed in their report, we were able to know about it. It was really groundbreaking when you think about it.

It wasn’t just us delivering a solution, it was us empowering those users to build reports for themselves and for them to be able to do their own mining of the data. You come in and you begin to understand this platform and yea, there’s some effort that goes into getting the information in and understanding what information you want to look at, but there really is an opportunity rapidly create value. You create this value not just at an enterprise level with analytics that mean something to the one group at the top that came in and helped work with us at the beginning of the project but for people to come in on their own. They can create their own analytics and make something that works for the way that they want to do their work. That’s the part that came out of the box with the Salesforce platform and we just leveraged it. So we were able to drop in all this expertise and subject matter expertise around facilities management, security, and BI but it was all enabled by the platform. So we were able to take what we knew and get there very rapidly and it’s an ongoing process.

The nice thing about this is it allows us to continue to tailor really rapidly. So when it becomes about more than just security assessments and you want to track visitors or you want to do something that is operational you can do that. You can have people come in, register through a kiosk, and then report out. You’re talking about something that was developed in three hours after a client conversation. Again it’s just a very simple way to get access to this so if you want to learn more about this go to exam4schools.com. That is exam, 4 the number, schools .com and take a look at some of the work we’re doing. This is specific in this case to the school environment but this is something that is applicable across all facilities. You could do this if you’re a large retail organization or a large federal organization. A lot of this is drawn directly on federal security standards. It’s all best practice so I hope you’ll get out and take a look at it and please share back what you think.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Trust us…Salesforce.com

 

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Photo by Micky Aldridge

I had the good fortune to go to breakfast with a group including Saleforce.com Chief Trust Officer Patrick Heim. Besides a great free meal at Old Ebbits, there was a lot of great conversation around the way Salesforce.com and Force.com are being leveraged by the public and private organizations and some of the problems it is helping solve. For those that don’t know Salesforce does a lot more than Salesforce Automation with thousands of solutions implemented by various organizations including everything from survey management to security assessment tools like our PSAFE application. Of course given the presence of Saleforce.com’s Chief Trust Officer a lot of the conversation was security related. I’d like to share a few of my takeaways from what I thought was a very valuable meeting.

  • Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service: Patrick Heim had an interesting take on these three models and noted that while platform as a service and software as a service can be transformational for organizations he did now feel as strongly about the infrastructure as a service model. His reasoning was that Infrastructure as a Service might lead to some efficiencies from a cost standpoint, but that it could also perpetuate and even accelerate some organizational problems by making it easier/cheaper to rapidly stand up new server instances, etc. This in turn simply adds to the complexity of what must be managed by the business, security staff, etc. With platform and software as a service there is a much more of a focused value proposition for the business and hopefully a better technology to business mapping.
  • Federal Implications for the Democracy in the Cloud: This is old hand for a lot of people that have been following Salesforce.com for a long time, but the implications of it are interesting particularly when looking at useful cases like public sector vs. private sector security requirements. Salesforce.com has consistently maintained a stance that as it evolves its business to meet evolving requirements in areas like security for example that the bar will be raised across all of its customers. US laws around federal usage mean that things like citizenship; monitoring and other issues may force Saleforce.com to evolve its democracy in the cloud stance to meet the demands of the world’s largest democracy. This may include having federal specific pods to handle federal transactions in order to maintain compliance while bringing their capabilities to the federal government.
  • Dealing with security questions: One of the big things customers get concerned about with the cloud is the multi-tenancy aspect of it. Essentially your stuff is right next to someone else’s stuff, so how secure can it be? Heim had an excellent way of presenting it, which is essentially that Saleforce.com manages a fairly homogenous technical environment. Basically,  Saleforce.com benefits financially by developing economies of scale around hardware, software and even things like skills/HR but that all of this lends itself to enhanced security because it reduces complexity and streamlines things like patching, etc. My first thought when he mentioned this was the 500+ systems that many cabinet level agencies in the federal government of the thousands of applications many Fortune 500 companies have within their organization. Most of these are built to purpose with limited standardization of hardware and software and diverse skill requirements. The level of complexity inherent in securing this is obvious when you look at it from this standpoint even before you think about the additional cost and inefficiency driven by this sort of environment.

At the end of the breakfast several of us stayed after to finish coffee and talk about how we are leveraging Salesforce.com within our organizations and the one thing that kept coming up is time to value. For us this is critical because there is so much focus by both our both public and private sector clients to get to value quicker. Saleforce.com and Force.com have enabled us to bring our customers secure solutions, quicker while reducing costs and alleviating them of the pain inherent in managing complex IT environments. I talked about this a bit in my post “SAAS and a tropical vacation- Their surprising similarities”, but this breakfast was real world validation of the change Cloud, Software as a Service and companies like Salesforce.com are bringing to the marketplace and how it is transforming the way organizations work. Has your organization looked at SAAS solutions? Are you using Salesfore.com or Force.com anywhere?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.