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Key Idea: Integrate Technology

It's never too late to find the right technology and the people who can make it work to streamline processes.

Key Question:


Buy as much technology as you can.

When we created this episode, Cloud 9's marketing efforts had been so successful, it could barely handle the business. Its next step was to select and implement technologies which will help them better serve the customer. With 100 vans driving all over the city, they needed a global positioning system to help the central dispatch office and they needed credit card processing to be integrated into the central office reservation system. With these new features, riders don't have to wait as long for a pickup and will spend less time in the van. Such efficiencies reduce operating costs by increasing the productivity of each van. Customers both in the van and waiting to be picked up are more satisfied. And, billing information is more accurate . There is less room for error and loss when the credit card information goes straight into the system as opposed to being carried around by the drivers for hours.

What comes to mind when you hear the word "technology"? For most of us, it's computers first, followed closely by the Internet. But technology's role in the small business is just as important as marketing and finance. Technology is the ultimate enabler. You can do more in your business and you can do it faster with less error if you incorporate technology in your everyday business operations.

Q: How does a small business use technology in the business?

A: There's lots of ways and many of them were only available to big businesses up until a short time ago. But new products and plummeting costs have positioned all of us to be more competitive in our respective market places with a minimum investment. We can analyze our inventory and learn what sells and what doesn't, in what quantities, to whom, with what seasonality, at what margin, and just about anything else we might want to know.

We can codify the intellectual capital of our organization, protect it, keep it organized and up-to-date, and easily search and retrieve what we need. It's all about the learning continuum, turning data into information and information into knowledge, then using that knowledge as the basis of the decisions we make in operating our businesses. Hence the term: knowledge management.

Our challenge as business owners is to figure out what data to store, in what vehicle (data warehousing) and how to access it in such a way that it provides meaningful information that is of real value to us in our business (data mining). We've used a lot of buzz words here; let's look at knowledge management, how it actually works, within a small business. There are a number of things that even the smallest business can do to capture, organize, and make available the intellectual capital of the organization. We'll focus on three here.

Establishing a Common Operating Environment (COE). Before you had computers at your office you kept documents in folders in file cabinets. Different people had access to those documents because they needed them to do their work. Sometimes people forgot to return the documents when they were through, and you would scout around the office until you found them. Sometimes two people needed the document at the same time and they would work something out, or make another copy of the document. The point is that every business generates important information, has processes that includes forms and templates, and shares these among a number of employees.

Now that you have computers, you still generate documents, you still keep them in folders, folders are kept within folders, and various people have access to them. Electronic filing systems can be vastly superior to paper filing systems if we remember to follow the business practices we used in a paper environment. Do you have documents on your computer or network server that are not in folders? How many? How does that compare to the number of documents you would have tossed into a file cabinet without filing?

The good news is that at least (a) the documents are listed alphabetically wherever they are stored and (b) we can always "search" for them if we remember the name, or the software application, or when they were last modified. Hmmm. There must be a better way. You're right! And it's called a common operating environment or COE. In a business with a network environment, where a number of employees have access to a central data depository, you:

1) Establish document naming conventions. As new documents are created, they are named in accordance with organizational policy. People looking for a document would have a good idea of the document name, even if someone else created it.

2) Determine the file structure. Folders within folders within folders. Organizing your information so that documents are easily located.

3) Grant access as appropriate. Security levels and edit rights, determining who can have access to what or not, when to permit "read-only" access, and who is authorized to make changes.

4) Safeguard information. Back-up systems, on and offsite, disaster recovery plans. If you do all of the above, provide training on the implementation, you will have established a COE. The benefits are enormous and immediate.

Using Databases to Work and Mine Data Most of us couldn't imagine functioning without word processing software and spreadsheet software in our businesses. We all use e-mail and a lot of us can use presentation software, some more rudimentary than others. Yet, for some reason, the database software frequently goes unused in the small business.

Digitize, Digitize, Digitize Maintaining our information in electronic form is critical to both the establishment of a COE and mining our data on an ongoing basis. Virtually all software applications allow for exporting data and importing data. So as long as you maintain your data electronically, you can take advantage of new software development in your industry without having to re-enter the information. Electronic files are easier to navigate and cheaper to maintain. Additional computers and memory are just less expensive than rent, file cabinets, and storage facilities.

Think about it

How far has your business moved along the learning continuum? Are you taking advantage of the latest technologies to codify the intellectual capital of your business? If you arrived at your office, and all your information OR all your money was gone, what would be more devastating to you? Now, compare how you safeguard your money with the way you safeguard your information. As you digitize your workflow, be sure you have adequate backup systems with offsite storage for all important information.

Clip from: Cloud 9 Shuttle

San Diego: Meet John Hawkins and learn about his company, Cloud 9 Shuttle; he threw out conventional marketing wisdom, pulled the company out of bankruptcy, turned employees into owners, and installed key technologies. It just doesn't get any better than this. Not that it has been easy for John and his team; it has been very tough. Yet, this is the great American success story. He may not have made billions of dollars, he did save a business and he instills confidence being a good citizen is good business.

Upon arriving in America's Finest City with her beautiful, cloudless skies and moderate weather, you quickly discover that there are ubiquitous clouds at city's airport, Lindbergh Field. Here, the clouds are "Cloud 9" vans, a shuttle service from the airport to anywhere.

But it wasn't always so perfect in this perfect city.

This is a turnaround story. It's a branding story. And, it is a love story. To begin this story we went to the airport to meet the man who knows San Diego better than anyone. John Hawkins just loves this community and her people. And because of his service, when we asked about a business to study, everybody recommended John -- the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Mayor's office, Economic Development and many others. 

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Cloud 9 Shuttle

John Hawkins, CEO, founder

3550 Kurtz Street
San Diego, CA 92110

Visit our web site:

Office: 858-505-4900

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1991

Integrate Technology

HATTIE: (Voiceover) The marketing strategy has been so successful, John has had to slow down expansion to put the technology in place needed to sustain more growth.

JOHN: We won't make it without added technology. And it's actually great that there is the technology so we can continue to grow. The way we communicate with our vehicles today is basically walkie-talkies.

Unidentified Employee #3: I need the last driver in the lot, please, last driver in the lot.

JOHN: (Voiceover) Somebody's inside our base and near the airport and our vans are all over the county. And that's fairly archaic. That's stagecoach and we need to be space shuttle.

Employee #3: ...983, stand by, sir...

MIKE FORBUSH: Yeah, we've grown as large as we can manually. We definitely need the technology to grow any further.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Mike Forbush started as a driver. He is now responsible for installing this new technology.

MIKE FORBUSH: The tracking system does three things. It tracks the vans for us, where they're at and how fast they're going, and if a driver gets lost we can walk 'em in because we can see exactly what street they're on and where exactly they are at live time. And it'll also send data through a computer screen to the driver telling them what runs to go, what time for the pickups. And the third part is the credit cards where the driver will just swipe a credit card like in a restaurant or something and the tracking system will process the credit card through for us.

HATTIE: So that's exciting.

MIKE FORBUSH: Yes. The drivers will like that a lot. The less they have to do, the better.

JOHN: Technology's not a bell or a whistle. It's not something sexy that we want to look good or have some fancy screen. It's an absolute necessity for us to continue to grow the business. And as long as there's demand, you know, your customers want to buy our products, we're duty bound to figure out how to create more product. So this is a breakthrough for our business and, you know, we never thought we'd--you know, it was always kind of, `Wouldn't that be great? You know, this is a bell and a whistle.' This is absolutely necessary now, so it's a huge investment, it's another one of those reach into your own pocket sacrifice for the good of the company, but, you know, it's the right thing to do long term.

HATTIE: One more year with no house.

JOHN: One more year with no house, probably. But that's OK.

HATTIE: Well, now does a person have to have an MBA to make it in business?

JOHN: No. Absolutely not. I mean, look back at history. The guy's who've made it haven't. Today, it's an advantage. It doesn't hurt you. But I think enthusiasm and will and hard work and all the old-fashioned things that, you know, you learned as a kid: work hard; work before play; all those things, that do your homework, the test will come out OK. You know, what made us successful was the will to get it done and the drive to not quit. Before you do it, you think, `Wow, this is gonna be easy. I can go out there and have the Midas touch and, you know, spin yards of gold.' In reality, it's harder. It's not as lucrative. Its highs aren't any higher. Its lows are much deeper. But it's exciting. You only get it once, you know. Just love it. Do it.

HATTIE: (In the Studio) What's in a name? Nothing or just maybe everything. Have you asked thequestion: how does my business name impact the bottom line? Maybe it's time for a change. We'll see you next week.


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