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Key Idea: Deliver 24 X 7

Ron's timing was perfect in the Fall of 1998 to turn his firm toward international work. With the Internet, customers can be served around the clock.

Key Question:


In the case of Altoon + Porter, with technology it can work for customers 24 hours a day.  Partner, Carl Meyer, explained that work is done in Los Angeles then when people go home for the evening the document is sent as an email attachment to the Sydney office where work continues, then those folks go home and send it on to Amsterdam then when they leave for the day the document goes on to Los Angeles to complete one cycle. This level of technology has been enjoyed by big companies like IBM for many years but now any business can afford to operate in this manner.

Q:  Why do employees have their own chair and computer but not their own office? 

A: The whole idea of no permanent work space can be unnerving to some and stimulating to others. Consider this strategy a metaphor. At Altoon + Porter teams of people work on projects. When a project is complete, the people are assigned to a new team. So, physically putting the teams together is a great idea. People today need to learn that nothing is permanent. And, to think that when you take a job, it won't change is an unrealistic expectation. For the knowledge worker having your own computer is more important than having your own office, so, in a way Altoon + Porter is giving the worker the most important tools but saying there should be no value placed upon an office in a certain spot.

Do you remember reading a book called, Power: How to Get It How To Use It? There was a chapter about how important a corner office is. The author said, the more glass you have, the more power you have. Today power is more attached to your knowledge and your ability to be mobile is a status symbol.

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 to achieve digital workflow?

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? Compare how you safeguard your money with the way you safeguard your information and honestly answer this question:  Do you have adequate back-up systems with offsite storage for all important information?

Clip from: Architects Altoon + Porter

Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Amsterdam : They worked for Frank Gehry and found that it had limits. So, architects Ron Altoon and Jim Porter started their own firm and today they are quite literally changing the world.

They do not try to cultivate "star power" but brain power. The result? This professional practice went global virtually overnight. Brain power translates into  extraordinary product power in any language!

Every customer and every architect is a star. Keep your egos in check.  Focus on customers and  growing your team. The result?  This firm now has ongoing work in 16 countries with more international work on the drawing boards for the future.

Like so many of our businesses that go global, they have proving that the world does want American products and services!

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Altoon Partners

Ron Altoon, Senior Partners

617 W 7th St #400
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Visit our web site:

Office: 2132251900

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1984

Deliver 24 X 7

(Voiceover) The firm employs 50 people, who mostly office in Los Angeles, with a few scattered around the world.

RONALD: Well, it's very important in the creative business that you assemble the very best team, the appropriate team for a project. Therefore, the designer of--the intermediate designer, the project manager, the project architect, all the people that come together bring unique skills that they've developed over a career. We, in this firm, assign the people that are most suited to a particular project, to a particular client, to a particular venue. And because we depend so much on inter-team communications, we move them so they can work closely together, and hear each other's conversations on the phone with other people.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) At Altoon and Porter, employees have their very own chair and their very own computer, but not their very own office space, which means work spaces change often.

RONALD: It's really creating a space that you can recreate yourself for the need you have that particular day.

Unidentified Man #1: No, for me, it's exciting. It's--I have a short attention span in my work, so I like to jump from job to job, and...

CARL MEYER (Partner): The barriers that may have existed 10 years ago really, really diminished dramatically. We've discovered that electronically, we can communicate in ways that are absolutely revolutionary.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Partner Carl Meyer explains how they use their Web site as a virtual office.

CARL: We'll be able to really be a 24-hour organization.

HATTIE: OK. How will that work?

CARL: Not only will our switchboard, when it closes here in Los Angeles, transfer to someplace like Australia, and then when Australia closes after eight or nine hours, it'll go to Amsterdam, and then back to Los Angeles, but our work itself, the work, the project that we may be working on, drawings, then can--when the crew finishes working on it here in Los Angeles, the night crew, if you will, in Sydney can pick up on that work and continue to work on that.

HATTIE: Your night crew or their day crew?

CARL: Their day crew.


CARL: And when they finish it, it goes to Europe. And when Europe finishes it, it comes back to here. And so while we've been sleeping in Los Angeles, two crews have worked 16 to 18 hours on those drawings, and we're a whole jump ahead.

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