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Overheard in the Metro October 17, 2011

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Accountability, Business Improvement, human resources, Improving Personnel Performance.
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I was riding in the metro this evening and the conversation of the two guys standing next to me went something like this, “Can you believe how ______ treated our co-worker this morning?” “Oh, that’s nothing, he/she laid into ______ the other day for absolutely no reason” “I guess that’s why they call him/her ‘The Viper’.” “Well, you know he/she has always been like this, even to some of the Vice-Presidents…..”

We all have (or have had) someone like this in our workplace. A source of constant tension and poison that degrades performance and negatively impacts the company’s culture. Yet, no one chooses to do or say anything. Why?
Being me, I asked the guys, “Why has this been allowed to go on”. One of the fellows said, “Well, he/she has been with the company a long time and everyone is scared of him/her.”

Sure, confronting this person would not be at the top of anyone’s list (nor recommended), but you have a duty to yourself and your company to try and figure the problem out. And it doesn’t have to be confrontational. Sometimes people like this have worked themselves in a rut and don’t know how to extricate themselves. Changing their behavior is going to require you to be friendly, accommodating, and genuine. You will need to invest significant time trying to develop a relationship with them. Even if they berate you, stand tall, be professional and work through the anger. In the long run, everyone will benefit and you may develop an ally.

Steve Jobs – What I learned October 6, 2011

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Business Improvement, Customer Service, human resources, Improving Personnel Performance, Internet, Marketing.
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Steve Jobs passed away on October 5th, 2011. It’s hard even writing this fact down – the loss is so profound. I remember when I was in training at Apple in 2002, Steve came into the Apple Café and the Director of our program freaked out, warning us NOT to go up to him or talk to him. So we all, myself included, passed on speaking to the fellow who has revolutionized and changed our life.

Crazy isn’t it?

I am an Apple. Having been on the platform since the Apple II (and I may still have it somewhere), I have taken a lot of grief from the naysayers. The detractors said: its a toy, no IT department would adopt it, you could buy three PC’s for the price of one Macintosh, it doesn’t run any good software, blah blah blah. Now look at Apple’s market share and even more importantly, the charged-up, ecstatic, crazy customers that love everything Apple.

It is sad that many people will just get it today that Apple is and will always be something special. Born from a dream by someone who was a college dropout and described as directionless, Steve pursued his dream with fellow entrepreneur, Steve Wozniac. Steve didn’t make computers, he created tools that let us extend our current lifestyles and imagination. Seth Godin made a great point in his blog yesterday when he challenged all of us with the call to action, “What are we going to do with it?” The “It” is this wonderful tool that Steve and the other great folks at Apple have given us.

Now we just need to do like the Nike commercial and “Just do it”!

P.S. if Steve Jobs chose to invent the elevator, it would have a touch screen allowing you to deselect an incorrectly chosen floor AND the door open and close buttons would work! The iElevator would let you select relevant content about the building clients or local events thus helping passengers avoid those unnecessarily awkward elevator stares. The floor would have a small section that vibrates to sooth tired feet. You get the picture. Soon everyone would look forward to riding in an elevator again!

P.S.S. No, I am not an Apple snob – I have a PC and use it – mostly for Excel and VBA. If I were to liken it to a tool, I would call it an allen wrench – very good for very specific tasks. But I don’t carry an allen wrench with me all of the time….. I do, however, carry a MacBook, Ipad, and Iphone 24/7

How not to handle a people problem October 4, 2011

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Accountability, human resources, Improving Personnel Performance.
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I spend significant time in Starbucks – love the coffee and the atmosphere. Occasionally, I meet someone who is just off the scale intelligent offering insight and wisdom. Today, wasn’t such a day and I believe you it is significant to speak about. Three folks came in and began a conversation right next to where i was sitting. #1 proceeded to bad mouth a slew of co-workers that he/she had. It appeared that #1 was a manager, quite intelligent in conversation and passionate about his/her work product. I was shocked that #1 spoke so openly about his/her co-workers in a negative manner and in a very public environment. #2 and #3 mostly listened to #1 as he/she droned on and on and on spewing negativity.

The point of this post is to encourage folks to discuss negative and positive issues directly with the person who is the causation of their pain OR not say anything at all and work around or through the problem. I cringed as I listened to #1 thinking why he/she would carry on in such a manner. Perhaps, he/she was unhappy in their career or felt threatened by his/her co-workers. Maybe it was just frustration – I have no way of knowing and I really wanted to ask #1 why? so I could gain some insight.

I hope you will think in advance (just as I will) before opening your mouth and speaking negatively about anyone. Ask yourself, what positive benefit is your conversation going to spark?

HR can be your biggest asset! April 14, 2011

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Accountability, Business Improvement, human resources, Improving Personnel Performance.
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Nothing probably influences your company more than Human Resources. Our consultants have found a plethora of opportunities involving HR which not only lead to cost savings but more importantly keep good people employed and provide remedies for marginal performers. First a quick list of do’s and don’ts, and in Part II we will delve into more specifics.

Do’s and Don’ts

1) Do not hire relatives of employees – never have we seen a situation where this is a positive. The worst example was a company that had thirty relateds working in various departments. Supervisors were not allowed to correct bad behavior, their team participation was weak and salaries were skewed high similar to their peers. Needless to say this sent a rippling effect throughout the company that you did not have to perform well in order to get a job, keep a job or be promoted.

2) Do not put up with poor social behavior. Party animals are only entertaining when you are in college – there is not a good translation for them in the office. The same holds true for office romances. The worst example I have come across was a VP having an affair with a senior salesperson. Everyone knew about it including the execs and HR. His wife found out, there was a divorce, she took the kids out of state but no action was taken by HR. A bigger problem was the entire company knew about the moral breakdown and because it was condoned by management, guess what, the problem multiplied like bunnies in the forest. This was distracting at the very least to the important tasks and responsibilities that should have been going on – the VP commanded no respect and it sent a negative message to the associates.

3) Create detailed job descriptions and metrics (KPI’s) to measure desired results. Don’t expect your HR department to do this in a vacuum – the effort should be led by the department manager or executive staff with HR oversight/comments – after all, who knows more about the job than the first line manager/director.

4) Be consistent about compensation. This starts with the detailed job descriptions and needs to be administered by a competent compensation analyst. If you think folks don’t know what everyone is earning then you are just kidding yourself. Regrettably, our consultants report that there is still a gender gap in pay – make sure that your company isn’t setting themselves up for failure – equal pay means just that and a logically managed compensation program is the best thing in the world for morale and productivity.

4) Work with HR on making hiring decisions. You should insist on looking at every application/resume or at least a representative sample. It is a good practice anyway as a hiring manager you need to know what type of applicants are out there in the world.

5) Use group interviews and at least two rounds of them. Developing a standardized set of questions for the applicants and for references and make sure to call them. Qualifications and culture fits cannot be ascertained from the initial interviews. Keep in mind that 50% or more of marriages fail and oftentimes these people have been dating for months – how can you expect to make a good hire unless you take the time to know your applicants.

6) Have a comprehensive semi-annual review program. You can’t expect one size to fit all so tailor the questions to the position. Use Key Performance Indicators, Objectives-Goal-Strategies-Measurement or other system to quantify the accomplishments of the employee. Use a blind system and average the results to assign a numerical score based on qualitative data so personal bias is minimized.

7) Be accessible and customer-centric – Engage your employees. Find out what is working and what is not working and take special care to bridge the gap.

8) Have a system of organization for all new hires. Use document scanners to keep files in an electronic form because paperwork loss is the chief HR complaint that should never happen. In a perfect world, if your company is big enough, you could install a full blown HRIS system, but for many companies you can build a database (yes, anyone can do this, you don’t need a service) using one of the many web-based systems to keep thing organized. Besides, file rooms are a thing of the past and they never get cleaned out. Electronic documents are universally recognized as a legal method of storage and they are a lot easier to search, mine data, build performance dashboards and reduce/eliminate the flow of paperwork.

9) Many HR departments have taken on training as there are several issues that fall under HR purview – new employee orientation, harassment, safety, etc. Many successful HR departments have one trainer who creates reusable videos and elearner instead of trying to deliver live training. This standardizes and then use a free survey tool (from the internet) to ask pertinent questions to make sure your audience was paying attention. Instantly, you will get better consistency of delivery, validation of results and you can keep your training department lean and efficient.

10) Send communication back to every person who puts in an application. Why? because everyone is a potential customer and everyone talks – you want them talking positively about your company. One of the best I’ve seen comes from Scripps Networks and goes something like this:

Dear First Name,

Thank you for your interest in employment with Scripps Networks, and the position of ______________. The selection of candidates requires difficult decisions and at this point it has been determined that your background is not a match for the specific requirements for this position. Accordingly you will not be considered further for this particular opportunity. Please do not consider it a poor reflection on you; rather, it is an indication that another candidate has skills that better fit the role.

We encourage you to periodically review the list of available job opportunities provided on our web site and follow the application process described. Thank you again and best of luck with your career search.

11) Have a senior exec (not in the chain of command for HR) conduct a semi-annual survey of all employees which polls the performance of Human Resources. Then release a summary of the report with action items so that positive steps can be taken to improve the level of service.

More to follow in Part II

Yours in procurement,
Steve

Steve Gordon specializes in procurement, logistics, cost saving and business process improvement initiatives – call him today at 865.356.3575

Remember what the Aberdeen Group says……….

“For a typical enterprise, it takes an increase
of $5 in sales to equal the impact of
a $1 reduction in procurement costs.”

Solutions is happy to complete a complimentary audit of your firm’s expeditures. Just call or write to get started.

If you want to learn how to save money on a particular commodity, just send me a comment or email me directly. I will do my best to answer your request in a future post.

Respectfully,

Steve Gordon
Senior Consultant
Solutions Business Consultants
http://www.costavoidance.org
__________________________________
”Bringing Service, Value, and Efficiency to the Supply Chain”

steve@costavoidance.org
(865) 356-3575
Skype: stevegordskype
Blog: https://innovativeconsultant.wordpress.com/
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/stevegordonthecostsavingsguy

The Power (or lack thereof) of Purchasing Departments April 2, 2010

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Accountability, Improving Personnel Performance, Increase Profitability, Procurement.
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Recently, I read an interesting post by Mark Hunter on PowerHomeBiz which paints procurement departments as a weak link which can be easily marginalized. Since Mark trains thousands of salespeople on how to increase their productivity, it is important to not only understand his perception of procurement but the work that must be done in the future by your procurement department in order to successfully fulfill its mission and fiduciary obligation to your company.

While his entire article can be found on his website, http://www.powerhomebiz.com, I will pull a few excerpts and comment below:

“One of the most difficult parts of a salesperson’s job is dealing with purchasing departments. Whether you are a new salesperson or a seasoned veteran, you likely will agree that dealing with a purchasing department can create a tremendous amount of stress for a salesperson. Unless you are truly unprepared, there’s no reason for anyone to fear dealing with a purchasing department.”

“A purchasing department is nothing more than a group of individuals assembled for the sole purpose of trying to save money for their company…..”

* Rarely does the purchasing department have huge amounts of power in a company. This means they’re not at the top of the food-chain. As a result, they can’t afford to upset those above them….

“Purchasing agents love to bluff people….”

“(purchasing knows) how expensive switching to a new supplier can be.”

If you are involved in a purchasing role or responsible for a departmental, business unit or division’s bottom line, this type of “trash” talk should really get your attention. The article reduces your procurement process into a ‘price only’ play and actually encourages salespeople to do an end around the purchasing department. Further, it creates an adversarial atmosphere between suppliers and purchasing which we know is totally counterproductive.
After all, a company is only as strong as its weakest supplier.

Before I go further into the role of purchasing, I want to point out that Mark is correct in his analysis that there are companies which do not adhere to best practices of management and the type of activity he describes has become their de facto behavior. And this “bad” behavior is not confined to small and medium firms. Some of the most respected larger companies which have installed the latest and greatest versions of Oracle, SAP, Ariba and other platforms have failed to embraced a culture which properly blends the business operations knowledge of a department manager with the third party detachment of an independent purchasing authority.

What do I mean by this statement. Good purchasing requires adherence to best practices, leveraging core competencies and sourcing solutions so the outcome is a positive return on investment for the company. And it may be said that any given department of a company has needs that are unique to that department and those needs can best be solved by subject matter experts who work within that department. That’s right – the answer to a business problem oftentimes lies within the department and not in purchasing. So why do we even need an separate purchasing department? You might think that (purchasing) is probably going to get in the way like some type of government red tape. And this would be true if purchasing is only allowed to become involved only at the very end of a transaction, after the problem was allegedly solved and a supplier was selected. Purchasing would only have price to dicker about and perhaps delivery or payment terms to negotiate as their only function and you can only toy around with these variables so much until you get an inferior product or put the supplier out of business.

Purchasing exists because there needs to be structure within a company that ties company mission statements, goals and budgets to the needs of each department in a way that gives value to the company and its investors. After all, it would be unheard of for a department head to hire a manager without going through human resources. Or a salesperson to offer a new product feature set without the blessing of marketing, manufacturing and operations. In a similar manner, purchasing leverages the best practices of buying goods and services by creating a organized medium for bringing new suppliers into the company, setting delivery, quality, terms, supplier expectations and hundreds of other variables which would be impossible for each individual department to pull this off in a standardized way.

And remember that most department member(s) are constrained by the amount of time they have to invest on trying to figure out how to solve purchasing and logistics problem and oftentimes have to cut corners in their supplier sourcing, bidding and negotiations. Many choose to rely on suppliers they have used at previous companies, friends or a quick internet search. So they either propagate a previous bad decision, put themselves in an awkward situation or blindly accept Google’s paid search results.

So take the points that Mark made and my comments as your marching orders. The procurement function today is more important than ever – don’t let anyone marginalize it.

How to Manage the Barrage of New Suppliers Knocking at Your Door January 1, 2010

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Improving Personnel Performance, Increase Profitability, Procurement.
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I receive hundreds of solicitations “to buy” every week. Some are directed to me, others are forwarded to me by clients. The amount of time required to answer phone, cell and email solicitations is significant. Fortunately, the solution to this barrage requires little in the way of resources and time. I implemented this idea in several engagements and in each case it was monumental in payback. Try this method and save hundreds of staff hours each year.

Every Tuesday, we institute “Open Vendor Day”. Actually, we put aside one or two hours depending on response and had a procurement staff member (we rotate between everyone in the department) conduct five minute meetings with potential suppliers. The format was simple and was given out to the suppliers in advance so that they would not be caught off guard. This technique was conducted on an “in-person” or “conference call” basis depending on the supplier’s location.

Here is what we ask:

1) What products/services do you sell?
2) What is your company’s competitive advantage (i.e. what can you do that others can’t or won’t)?
3) How is this going to benefit my company – what’s in it for me? (i.e. streamline process, cost savings or avoidance, value add, etc.)
4) We expect a proof-of-concept or a “try before we buy” before we will do business with any new supplier and we prefer a transparent relationship – do you have the resources and willingness to do this.
5) Provide us a price list of services and recommendations from other satisfied clients.

Yes, there are a lot of other great procurement/purchasing questions, but we really wanted to keep the meetings short and productive. This is why we sent the questions out before the meeting along with the assigned call-in time. While we could have sent the questions via e-mail, I have found that personal communication is important to gauge the knowledge, sincerity, and culture of the supplier, and it is key for relationship building which, as you know, is the cornerstone of all successful supplier relationships.

Call-in times were actually scheduled 10 minutes apart to allow for time overages and note-taking.

Suppliers that survived this gauntlet would then be invited back for a more in-depth discussion with the appropriate category buyer. It should also be noted that suppliers love this idea. Oftentimes, new suppliers have no way to reach a decision-maker in your company. On more than one occasion, we were able to speak to suppliers who had been previously blocked and whose services we desperately needed – a true win-win.

Remember what the Aberdeen Group says……….

“For a typical enterprise, it takes an increase
of $5 in sales to equal the impact of
a $1 reduction in procurement costs.”

If you have a topic of interest you would like me to discuss in our blog, “in-person”, or see a typo, just send me a comment or email me directly. I would like to hear from you!

Respectfully,

Steve Gordon
Senior Consultant
Solutions Business Consultants
http://www.costavoidance.org
__________________________________
”Bringing Service, Value, and Efficiency to the Supply Chain”

steve@costavoidance.org
(865) 356-3575
Skype: stevegordskype
Blog: https://innovativeconsultant.wordpress.com/
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/stevegordonthecostsavingsguy

Engaging Your People! September 27, 2009

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Accountability, Business Improvement, Improving Personnel Performance, Increase Profitability.
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A common theme has cropped up in several of my recent engagements. A perceived (and actual) communication gap between direct reports and their supervisor.

Here are some actual quotes, “I think John is here only to draw a paycheck”; “My boss has no idea about what is going on in the business and doesn’t have a clue as to what I do. . .”; “I wonder if my company really has a game plan.”

These issues didn’t happen overnight but they can be solved in a relatively short period of time. Here are a few tips. . .

1) Manage by walking around – If you live in an office with a door, make sure you spend no more than 20% behind closed doors and the remainder (outside of meetings) with your direct reports and internal/external customers. Ask what is going on and how you can help facilitate their mission.

2) Communicate clearly what the company (and your department’s) mission statement is.

3) Have regular (agendized) formal meetings with your staff as well as brainstorming and social (lunch or outside the office) sessions. Make sure you are getting and giving feedback so people don’t think they are working in a vacuum.

4) Compliment and recognize those that are doing a great job.

5) Collect and post KPI’s for your department.

6) Use the phone or in-person approach instead of relying on email or memos.

Today, every department is running lean so it is easy to disengage from your staff. Take the time to put the “human” back into Human Capital by engaging your staff!

Steve
costavoidance.org

Solutions Business Consultants are specialists in cutting costs and expenses without sacrificing employees™. We take an enlightened look at a company’s spend and create innovative cost savings methodologies which bring money to your bottom line!

Is there any Passion Left? or I love my job! May 5, 2009

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Business Improvement, Improving Personnel Performance, Increase Profitability.
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A while back, I spoke about customer service and illustrated my points with a couple of concrete examples. But that didn’t solve the customer service meltdown we are experiencing in the States.  This post speaks about the underlying causes of poor customer service and poor employee performance and most importantly, offers some solutions.

Recently I was reading comments in Facebook that had been entered during working hours, it is amazing to me the number of people that are counting the hours, minutes and seconds until they can leave their job for the day. It was as if they were being tortured and at 5pm the prison gates would swing open to freedom. What truly amazes me is that we are in the middle of an employment crisis and today I still heard those magic words in a Starbucks, “my job sucks”. I asked the employee if she just said “her job sucks” and she turned a little red and dismissed her comment. I wasn’t fooled – hopefully she wasn’t either.

Understand that I am not one of those people who lives to work but I have to ask, “Where is the sense of obligation of today’s employees, the passion to do something great, the joy of solving a difficult problem or innovating a new process. Why would you drive 5 or 6 days a week to something you hated?

Incredible yes? But this issue is completely reverseable with a paradigm change from two departments….HR and Senior Management. Before your hairs raise up on your arms you have to understand that I am not here to slam Human Resources or Senior Management (they are usually the folks that hire me) but for today I am saying that things must change  if you are wanting to maximize productivity, create a culture of innovation and retain good employees. The solution is relatively simple and involves an old management concept aptly named, managing by walking around. In many companies, HR and Senior Management types typically hole up in their silos and await an triggerin action by an employee. “I need an insurance form”; How do I apply for FMLA” or “I appeal this write up by my no-good supervisor” or “I have this idea I would like to share with the President”.  If Human Resources and Senior Management would  come in early and talk to folks getting their morning coffee or while they are settling in their cubes or if they would stop by at the end of the day and ask questions – both personal and business – the results would be amazing.

Examples of questions:

1) How is the family?
2) What project are you working on?
3) What roadblocks are you running in to?
4) What could the company do to help your team operate more efficiently?
5) Would you mind if we spoke more in detail at a later time.

Now you wouldn’t ask all of these questions to each person nor would you get perfectly honest answers initially but you get the picture – over a period of time you will meet your most important asset – your employees. And you would give them a gift far greater than money – you will bestow them with a sense of belonging, supply them with someone to connect with, and show they that the folks upstairs really care about them and their work product.  And as a free bonus, you will find out quickly what can be done to better your company.

It is important to remember that everyone who works at your company begins with passion.  After all, they send a motivational resumé and cover letter, beam during their interview and promise that they can fulfill the companies goals and objectives.  Their passion is fueled during  the orientation week as they are introduced to the company, staffers, leadership, their department and their new desk and duties. Sometime between that magic hire date and six months to a year later, things can start to turn sour. The pox may be unclear goals or multiple unachievable targets; it could be an already vexxed employee who actually poisons our new recruit; many times it is a supervisor who knows the technical skills of the job but lacks the people skills (nurturing, training, listening, advising, mentoring). Companies that fail to manage by walking around are condemned to never know what is happening around them as they sit around and wonder why they are the last to know when a staff member decides to terminate their employment or why their latest IT project is six months and $40 million dollars behind

Some of the most critical solutions in running a successful company are the simple ones and they involve key players investing precious time in their staff. Starting is easy and can begin tomorrow.

Steve
costavoidance.org

Solutions Business Consultants are specialists in cutting costs and expenses without sacrificing employees™. We take an enlightened look at a company’s spend and create innovative cost savings methodologies which bring money to your bottom line! Many of our services can be enjoyed on a contingency basis – based on our success!

What’s in it for me? February 10, 2009

Posted by solutionsbconsultants in Accountability, Business Improvement, Customer Service, Improving Personnel Performance, Increase Profitability, Marketing, Travel Policy.
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I have had numerous requests asking “What can Solutions Business Consultants do for my business” In response, I have prepared a brief summary of what we do. If you learn anything from this post, it should be that we offer a complimentary initial consultation – let’s talk and discuss your issues… I have been known to successfully solve a problem or two on the phone call and if our conversation leads to an engagement or referral then we have a win-win situation we both can be proud of.

Businesses exist in a state of flux depending on 1) market conditions, 2) goals/objectives  of the company and the 3) internal and external processes the company employs to operate.

Business inefficiencies occur when #1, 2 and 3 are out of sync. My job is to help businesses redefine and understand the current market, modify goals and objectives to meet the challenges of the current market and then align the company’s processes making them more relevant and efficient.

To better understand the aforementioned explanation, I am listing recent categories of consulting business that I have completed. This should not be viewed as a list of services because every business is different and I will tailor my approach and execution dependent on your needs.

Business Development/Customer Intelligence: I assist businesses in understanding who their ideal customer is. Not all customers are born equal and profitability is key – minimum volume generation, product mix, sales/service support and infrastructure requirements all have to examined and possibly modified. Once the ideal customer is defined, it makes it much easier to focus efforts on new customer recruitment and proper servicing of existing customers. I show companies how to leverage this information to then go out into the field and develop new customers.

Cost Reduction/Expenditure Management: I assist companies in tackling and bringing their expenditures under proper management.  Expense control, vendor selection and negotiation, bid processes, travel policies and an intensive look at purchasing always results in a stronger organization and bottom line savings. Lenders and investor/shareholders alike are impressed with the results.

Website Analysis/Logic/Design and Search Engine Optimization: I assist companies in taking a customer-point-of-view analysis of their existing or proposed web-site focusing on simplicity of navigation, ease-of-use, goal maximization and sales effectiveness. Additionally, I focus on low-cost, no-cost methods of promoting your web site using social media, podcasts, key word/phrase selection, promotion and research tools.

Business Processes: I assist companies in tweaking their infrastructure processes to maximize staff utilization, customer experience, defining goals and objectives, creating business policies, correcting bad or faulty operations and more. . .

The best part about what I do is the diversity of the challenges- I have helped small companies, large companies, small projects, multi-departmental software implementation – the variety is endless, fun and productive. As always I look forward to our initial complementary consultation. Call me at 865-356-3575 or email me at steve@costavoidance.org