Business Case

A Business Case for Going Green

Looking into the near future, I see low energy prices. As of today, energy prices are remarkably low in fact. They have dropped so much that companies, whose sole business model is setting an example of how sustainability is achievable, are losing money at a rapid pace thus making the outlook for the Green Industry quite bleak.

What is the Green Industry you ask? It was a term coined by the United States Green Building Council to certify buildings that are built to perform at optimal levels both in terms of construction and energy consumption. This plays directly into carbon reduction from decreased emissions. These types of projects are referred to as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED. There is often a premium that is paid for a building to obtain a LEED certification, which is then subject to maintaining the building certification status with follow up commissioning to verify that the building performance hasn’t lagged from the original design. The premium for this service can be in the range of five figures with little guarantee of a return on investment.

Energy Star is another certification that functions on a slightly different level focusing solely on building performance based on energy consumption with a heavy emphasis on mechanical engineering and project savings. Both of LEED and Energy Star certifications are useful in their own ways, but often times include relatively new concepts that may not be perceived as safe investments.

The Green Industry relies on sustainable construction practices and clean energy technologies for overall success. More often than not, the Green Industry at its core is met with serious adversity. This adversity hinders the advancement of an entire industry that fundamentally wants to help people consume less and save more. The clean energy tech that needs to be incorporated for these projects to make sense is not usually an easy pitch to investors for a number of reasons.

Take solar power or wind for example. I like solar power because it’s a very practical and abundant resource. I believe there is a great market in wind generation also, but the fact remains that the performance of these technologies is sporadic.

Solar power is great during peak hours of electrical demand, typically in the afternoon, but occupancy during those hours can be very low. Another difficulty is when clouds come over head. This can immediately effect solar generation having a tremendous impact on the output. It would make sense to cover high rise buildings with solar panels to decrease heat gain, while improving building performance. The problem there is roof space in the city is often to small for solar to make sense.

Wind power meets barriers because of the nature of the technology. It’s difficult to deploy on a small scale because of local municipalities and the hindrance of neighboring views. Not to mention the first cost. One important question concerning wind power is when it’s most useful? From a business perspective, during times of high electrical demand to reduce the load on the grid and reap the rewards of off-peak electrical costs. Sounds great in theory, but the highest peak demand is during the afternoon hours of summer months when wind blows the least.

Energy Storage seems to be the holy grail of clean energy. Without out it, the industry continues to sputter. Energy storage could solve most of clean energy’s problems yet it’s almost impossible to get a CEO to sign off on a multi-million dollar project that won’t pay for itself.

Historically, and I’m talking within the past ten years, lithium is the go to resource to create batteries for clean energy. However interesting and useful lithium may seem, it also has major drawbacks including availability of raw material – there is a finite amount in the world, lifecycle, possible environmental hazards, weight, safety hazards in regard to building codes, and mostly first cost. Lithium batteries are a very expensive solution to fixing clean energy’s drawbacks. The more I research energy storage the more it makes sense, but if people are charging thousands of dollars per kilowatt then the market will never take it seriously.

Sodium Ion (salt water) batteries are promising. They’ve only been on the market for a few years, but their price points are a fraction of lithium. They are also lighter, have a decent warranty, and can store over 6 hours of useful energy.

If programs like demand response begin to spread then energy storage will make total sense. That way even if clean energy resources aren’t available, business owners could charge the batteries during off peak hours, to reduce grid demand during “events”.

Events are a term used by Demand Response companies to describe a time of peak usage where they need to cut consumption in order to reduce the strain on the grid. Demand Response companies offer investment opportunities for customers who are willing to shed loads during

Team’s Creativity

Are Your Policies Getting in the Way of Your Team’s Creativity?

All businesses depend on innovation to stay ahead and thrive in an ever-more-competitive landscape, and all innovation begins with a creative idea. But many businesses have set up policies that actually make it harder for people to come up with and/or implement these vital creative ideas. Is yours one of them?

When I was the executive producer of Seattle’s sketch comedy TV show, Almost Live!, we had to be creative every week. That was our job. Now, here’s the thing about creativity. It doesn’t punch a time clock. Creativity doesn’t begin at 9 and end at 5. Sometimes creativity happens at 11pm, or at 2 in the morning. But the “policy” at the TV station was that every employee had to fill out a weekly time sheet, which assumed a 9 to 5 schedule. I spent 15 years trying to explain to the HR department that this requirement-the requirement that my team work 9 to 5-was actually stifling the creativity that was the lifeblood of the show. And for 15 years, I was unsuccessful. When the station finally pulled the plug on the show, the last thing all of us at the Almost Live! team did was fill out our time sheets.

So what about your organization? Granted, you may not be producing a sketch comedy TV show, but as a leader, you know that creative ideas are vital if you want to stay ahead of the competition. You want your team to come up with these creative ideas (right?). So let me ask you…

What “policies” does your organization have that might be stifling that creativity? What obstacles might, however inadvertently, be in place that are actually holding innovation back? For example:

“We always paint the walls beige.” (Even though research has shown that the colors blue and green-especially green-are much more conducive to creative ideas.)

“We’ll help finance continuing education, but only if it applies directly to your job responsibilities with the company.” (Even though the most creative ideas-the ones the competition would never come up with-are very often the result of an “outside” point of view. To take just one well-known example, where would Apple be if Steve Jobs hadn’t taken that calligraphy class as an undergraduate at Reed College? Still, good for you for supporting continuing education in the first place!)

“We have a hierarchy here, and all ideas have to go through the proper channels.” (Even though, as Vanderbilt professor Dave Owens points out, the chain of command usually turns into a “hierarchy of no.” This is because creative ideas that come from the “lower” levels of the hierarchy have to work their way up the chain of command, where each link has the power to kill the idea.)

I encourage you, as a leader, to take few steps back and look objectively at your policies and procedures. Are any of them, no matter how well-intentioned, killing your team’s creative ideas before they can even get off the ground? If so, you may be killing more than just ideas. You may be killing your organization’s future.

Business Look Like

What’s An Agile Business Look Like?

WHY AGILITY?

Life for businesses isn’t comfortable any more!

If you’re selling to other companies, you have to be ready to address their changing needs as they’re pressed from new regulations, competition, changes in their markets, and internal employee upheavals.

Are you selling to consumers? Competition from small, entrepreneurial business is increasing, carving out some of the most lucrative parts of your markets – and by nature those entrepreneurial businesses are agile!

WHAT IS AGILITY?

In essence, it’s responding to a need quickly and maintaining that response. When your customers see that you’re able to do that effectively, they will move more of their custom to you.

WHAT GOES INTO AGILITY?

Here’s the rub. Agility comes primarily from within the organization. Sure, direction as to where the agile change is needed usually proceeds from leadership, but the ability to change the business’s systems comes from within, and it includes everybody!

FOUR NECESSARY SYSTEMS

These include four systems within any organization: the system of direction, the system of team, the system of involvement, the system of measurement. And these four are intimately interwoven.

THE SYSTEM OF DIRECTION

Now you might wonder why I’m describing direction as a system and not just a statement made from leadership to the business. Leaders who spell out direction can’t stop at just saying “Here’s where we’ve got to go”, they have to have a listening plan as well. What’s that mean? It means that leaders have to be ready to listen to employees tell them why the organization ‘can’t get there’, and what will have to change internally to get there. After all, who can better answer that than the people who have to make the system work to meet the new requirements? So first of all, an agile business has to have interactivity between leadership and staff to make the changes in direction work.

THE SYSTEM OF TEAM

I’ve chosen the word team rather than teamwork, and there’s a reason. Leadership in a company has to build a sense of team – winning team – for a company to be agile. This is a combination of clear direction, involvement, and demonstrated results that clearly communicate to the whole company when we are doing things right and when we’re doing them wrong. When the balance among these is struck, the company becomes a winning team. And it’s a known fact that people love being part of a winning team.

THE SYSTEM OF INVOLVEMENT

There’s a great deal of misunderstanding regarding the shared involvement of leadership and staff in an organization, with all sorts of conflicting opinions and declarations in print. But the fact is agility means the entire organization is ready to change directions quickly and effectively, and staff involvement can’t be left out – it’s absolutely essential. Why is that? Because it’s the staff who make and deliver the service (or product) the company is providing, and they’re the only ones who understand the day-to-day details of making that delivery work. If they are NOT involved, expensive mistakes will result, along with frustrated employees and unhappy customers. This involvement is a combination of two-way communication, clear measurement, and trust between leadership and staff.

THE SYSTEM OF MEASUREMENT

Financial measurements are crucial for evaluating the health of an organization – but they happen after the fact. Discovering that the organization’s costs are rising or profits are dwindling doesn’t happen until well after the situation occurred that MADE these financials obvious. Both leadership and staff have to develop ways to monitor the key activities within the organization that affect these financials. Process cycle times,

responsiveness to customer inquiries or problems, and speedy dealings with internal failures are crucial to monitor daily, and the monitored results (measures!) have to be available to those employees who can fix the problem NOW.

SO WHAT?

When you budget the time to build these four systems into your organization you will see a reduction in these five areas:

A reduction in turnover
A reduction in conflict
A reduction in complaints from staff
A reduction in complaints from customers
A decrease in the time needed to deal with organization and staff problems
A reduction in operating costs

But that’s not all, at the same time, you will see increases:

An increase in staff and leadership morale
An increase in sales
An increase in profits
An increase in customer loyalty
An increase in employee participation in improvement efforts
An increase in the right people seeking employment in your company

Products Fail

Why New Products Fail

Pre-Launch Phase

Little market research has been conducted on the product and the market, or both!

In today’s industries, market research has never been more important. Because of the internet, consumers are extremely well-informed and will not hesitate to punish you for making hasty decisions. If you ever find yourself trying to decide between launching and conducting more research, ALWAYS go with more research.

The product is interesting but lacks a precise market.

Speaking of research, one of the most important elements of effective marketing is accurate targeting. Knowing who you are targeting allows you to tailor your product to fit the specific needs of your customer. Maybe you have a new energy drink concept targeted at young people, ages 18-25. That is a good start, but now we have to dive deeper. What KIND of young person are you targeting? Is it a gamer, who might prefer technology-themed packaging? Is it a college athlete, who would prefer an endorsement of their favorite sports hero? Answering these questions are crucial if you want to succeed as an inventor.

The marketing campaign is developed in-house by the manufacturer and lacks objectivity.

A lack of objectivity generally leads to what we in the business like to call “groupthink.” To summarize the mentality, people make stupid decisions when there is no one to challenge the group. It is always beneficial to have a fresh pair of eyes to help identify problems and brainstorm solutions.

Most of the budget was used to create the product; little is left for launching, marketing, and selling it.

A lot of customers I consult severely underestimate the costs that can accrue during product development, leading them to run out of money before the real marketing comes in. Proper budgeting is so important in many aspects of life and launching a new product is no exception. Take time to create an extensive budget so you know how much money you are working with when making business decisions. Plus, showing a sample budget can only help your case when pitching to investors!

Launch Phase

The product is launched too hastily and doesn’t work reliably.

It is so important not to rush a launch phase, mostly due to the fact that so many things could go wrong during the process. Identifying risks and developing possible contingency plans is a must. One possible risk is that your manufacturer cannot back up their claims; products could become defective, possibly dangerous if the defect is allowed to progress. A governing body such as the Federal Trade Commission could even pull the product, citing false claims. Even if none of the above occur, the consumers themselves will eat you alive with poor reviews!

The product has no trained spokesperson to educate the media.

This point is especially true for new or “first of its kind” products. Your customers need to understand the benefits of the product and how it is going to improve their lives; a job fit for a spokesperson! The friendly face of a famous athlete, an actor, or an average Joe can help educate the media on how your product functions, looks, and performs.

Management launches the marketing campaign before distribution is complete.

There is nothing more frustrating to a consumer than seeing a commercial for a product and not being able to obtain it, especially if there is not a high demand for the product. Making sure that retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, etc. are fully stocked and on the same page will definitely help in the long run.

Speech Analytics

: Unravel the Unknown for Enhanced Customer Service

In today’s digitally-driven world, organizations are putting their best foot forward to better comprehend, tote up, and respond to their customer-base with a clear intent to proliferate their brand presence and augment their sales stream. For this, they have started using the science of speech analytics to gain quick insight into customer interactions, technical glitches, fraudulent calls, and even to identify behavioral trends.

Up until relatively off late, for many – technology (computers) appositely comprehending the customers’ sentiments was an ‘out-of-the-box’ philosophy. The journey began with the automated menus that asserted callers’ to press the selected keys, and every so often ends up with – sorry, this input is not valid, please try it again. A sigh of relief for most as this haphazard and irksome practice has plunged into a “more refined” notion. And the good news is, it is bestowed with an array of newer capabilities that can easily replicate what we human beings can do. Typically, a speech analytics software encompasses an acoustic model, grammars, a language model and recognition algorithms.

Not to mention, by combining big data techniques with voice analysis, companies can promptly analyze the huge amount of call data to learn about their strengths and weaknesses. In this light, call center service providers equipped with speech analytics capability cannot only fathom, translate speech into text but also can gauge customer stress and appeasement levels.

This article attempts to highlight the significance of speech analytics software in today’s business landscape:

Opening/Closing Scripts: It enables to determine the preeminent ways that call center agents should adhere to and report if the set protocols are not being satiated at the agent’s end. In addition to this, it suggests the words and phrases that agents should not say while interacting with the customer.

Customer Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction: Here comes the power of speech analytics, which allows organizations to track customer satisfaction level. The role of data scientists shares the frame who apply their intelligence and specify word and phrases that express customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction level.

Agent Performance: Are your agents giving their 100% to address your customer queries/feedbacks? Maybe? Not Sure? Don’t panic! Again, this is one of the incredible attributes, which speech analytics software are ingrained with. It allows you to keep a check on your agents’ performance and analyze what they are up to. This, in turn, will help you to make a better strategy that complements your customers’ satisfaction criteria in a coherent manner.

Energy Industry

Using Ball Mills in the Energy Industry

Experimental studies on coals of different metamorphic grades and various fractional states were conducted in 2000 by the Institute of Thermal Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, at experimental thermal energy facilities. These showed that fine-ground coal, milled to a particle size of 15-30 microns, develops a highly reactive property that is analogous to fuel oil – to which it can become an alternative. The experimental facility was rated at up to 1000 kW, and equipped for use with ultra-fine ground coal (produced with an ultra-fine ball mill); burning (pre-furnace and furnace equipment); a plasma system and gas starter for ignition and supplementary firing; combustion control (an automated post for combustion control) and cleaning (a vortex scrubber). The results produced in these experiments can be used to establish the parameters needed in technological facilities for ignition systems and supplementary burning using coal-dust boilers – a replacement fuel for gas and fuel-oil boilers.

The conclusions from these theoretical and experimental studies pointed to the technical and economic viability of using ultra-fine ground coal as a new oil-free technology for the ignition and stabilisation of combustion in coil-fired boilers at power plants, in addition to the ability to replace liquid fuels in boilers.

The primary technological facilities for making use of this new technology are: equipment for ultra-fine milling (ball mills), and the supplementary equipment for supplying and combustion of coal. Technical designs for the supplementary equipment have been developed, which are essential for wheeling-out the new technology (muffle furnace apparatus, input nozzles for the coal dust, accelerating devices for igniting the primary fuel mixtures, feeders for fuel discharge, hoppers for storage, and so forth). Factories able to manufacture the new supplementary equipment already exist in Russia. The last-mentioned also produces milling equipment, and specifically ball mills for ultra-fine milling processes.

This new technology is low-cost, with a short return-on-investment cycle which will hit break-even in no more than 2 to 3 years. The additional financing costs are in producing the ultra-fine ground coal (the purchase of ball mill machinery) – the additional machinery also has a short investment payback cycle due to the economics of the fuel supply industry.

The new Plasma-fuel technology has now passed the final stages of certification – for pilot industrial use. This allows assessment of the risks of the new technology – and if required, it can be further honed to optimise its operation prior to finalising the business case which can be put to potential investors.

Converting oil-fired boilers to run on ultra-fine ground coal

The primary task is moving to rejecting the use of fuel oil by the facility in future. Of course, in places where it is available, it makes sense to change to using natural gas. However, where this is not an available option, then such facilities can be converted to run on ultra-fine ground coal. The economic result of making the change from fuel oil to ultra-fine ground coal will be in the greatly reduced cost of fuel. Over and above this, there is an environmental gain to be made – since there will be a marked reduction in the emission of sulphurous oxides into the atmosphere. This has a further economic benefit, in terms of decreased payments to be made for such emissions.

When making the changeover to using ultra-fine coal, the issue of disposal of the ash waste which it produces needs to be addressed. For facilities currently using fuel oil, this can be problematic. In the first instance, this issue could be resolved by making agreements to remove the ash and slag waste from the boiler room to nearby ash dumps or industrial sites. This process could lead to a loss of some of the cost benefits of making the changeover. But in a more positive light, the ash and slag waste can be recycled as a component in the manufacture of construction industry materials, mineral components, and similar by-products. Installing a production line for the recycling of slag and ash is not only a responsible way of negating environmental pollution – but can similarly cull in economic benefits.

This means that the issue of converting oil-fired power stations to run on ultra-fine ground coal can be easily resolved both technically and administratively. Each individual case for conversion should properly be put through a business plan, including a technical survey of the boiler equipment, and the prevailing economic situation.

Evaluating the efficiency

Energy efficiency can be determined by making a comparison with the costs of fuel oil operation (i.e. the current costs), against the projected costs of transferring the facility’s operation to ultra-fine coal (the current costs, plus the cost of additional equipment). To make these estimates for the