Thales: Pushing technology into the future

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Thales has continued to grow as an industry leader over the past few years, especially in the realm of transportation and cybersecurity technologies. Always among the first to innovate, Thales has built a reputation for pushing technology into the future. Their activities in Canada are of particular interest recently, and are likely to influence the transportation sector significantly.

Thales Group is a multinational company that was originally founded in France and is partly owned by the French government. The company has expanded into many countries and major cities around the world, from New York in the West all the way to Singapore in the East, and many other locations in between. Their work in the rail signaling sector is of particular note, and their systems are implemented the world over.

66196 In Canada, one of Thales’ most important recent projects is the implementation of a new rail signaling system for some major metropolitan areas in Ontario. The local government plans to inject up to $12 million into the development. Mark Halinaty, CEO of Thales Canada sees the new signaling system as an “evolution” that builds upon their past success.

With the support of the government, Thales hopes to innovate in some major aspects of train control, creating a larger client-base that they can service. As far as company goals, they are seeking to always work more efficiently and reduce costs, but the core of their plan is innovation and constant improvement for their customers. Experimenting in the train control realm will help Thales to improve the overall client experience, both for those running the trains and the passengers who will use them.

One of the keys to this approach is data collection. “We can use data coming from our train control to enhance the passenger experience, be it in passenger information, planning and interfaces, to automated ticketing,” says Halinaty. While Ontario will provide critical funds towards this project, Thales is making a significant investment itself.

Being a physically large and expansive country, Canada has invested heavily in its transportation infrastructure. However, Thales is concentrating its efforts mostly in the Toronto area, where the local government—specifically, the Toronto Transit Commission—has already spent major resources developing their transit system. Though this is Thales’ current focus, the rest of Canada’s transit systems are certainly not out of the realm of possibility in the future, especially in major areas like Montreal. Partnerships between Thales and local transit systems in Canada are nothing new, as they have serviced British Columbia’s SkyTrain in the past.

For now, Thales is putting most of its resources into the bigger metropolitan areas simply because this is where the highest concentration of potential end-users exists. To serve the largest population, cities like Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto are of particular interest. In the near future, though, other less populous areas that show potential for growth, such as Calgary, may receive some attention.

The end-game is much more expansive than simply serving Canada, however. Canada may become the ground floor for many of Thales’ innovations in transit, but many of these changes can be easily transferred to other transit systems around the world. Indeed, what occurs in Thales Canada may end up influencing rails in Europe and other parts of the globe. Thales’ hope is to also use its experience in Canada to expand beyond traditional train control systems.

Customer demand has driven improvement and innovation in this field for years, and Thales has taken that demand seriously. “[The customers] are the ones looking for enhancements to the technologies we provide,” Siegfried Usal, Thales Canada’s Vice President of Strategy and Communications, says. As technology improves the bar gets higher and higher, and customers expect more cost-effective systems. For instance, Thales makes heavy use of their analytics systems to examine the efficiency of their systems, which allows them to find strategies to lower energy costs as well as reduce the carbon footprint. This close monitoring allows them to take a proactive stance when it comes to maintenance and anticipating problems before they occur.

Thales has also taken an efficient approach with its innovations by creating enhancements that are compatible with existing systems. This allows for a more seamless evolution, lowers costs for the customer, and allows those who already have a system in place to benefit from the latest upgrades. According to Halinaty, this is a core value of the company, and their aim is to always push technology forward, but to never leave their loyal customers with older technology behind. “We want to be able to take these new features and have a pathway for existing customers to be able to take advantage of them,” Halinaty says. Part of their strategy in developing the best paths to new technology for their clients is the company’s habit of taking customer feedback very seriously. This is the core of how Thales Canada decides where to focus their efforts.

66206Early in 2016, Thales Canada found a new direction in which to find growth, signing a $35 million deal with Seaspan’s Vancouver shipyards. Halinaty and other major executives decided that Thales could expand into the naval business and see profitable results. Thales Canada will work with Seaspan on their shipbuilding efforts, and will help them produce several major non-combat vessels. Their role in the venture will be coordination efforts, funneling the parts from various suppliers and ensuring that every component during the building process works well with every other. It is possible that in the future, Thales could go on to work on combatant vessels, using the experienced gained from these current ventures.

Since the Canadian government is interested in updating their naval fleets over the next few decades, Thales can expect activity in this domain to go on for many years. “For us, this is a long-term endeavor,” Halinaty says. Similar to Thales’ strategies in land-based transit, they hope to create a long-term business out of continued support for the ships that they help build.

Thales’ commitment to long-term strategies and their focus on innovation has made them one of the top R&D investors in Canada. Their focus is on the leading edge of the industries that they touch, and they are attempting to develop new technology is several areas. For example, in order to respond to the conditions of our increasingly digital society, Thales has been pouring resources into making innovations in cybersecurity. According to Halinaty, this will be an increasingly critical component of the digital revolution as time goes on. “As everything becomes digital the sensitive data must be protected,” he says. This is a promising new area of growth for Thales Canada.

More importantly, cybersecurity is a core concern that touches nearly every sector of Thales’ diverse business. Regardless of the specific realm of a given project, Thales is usually implementing new and efficient digital technologies. As information and the technology to access it grows at a geometric rate, keeping on the leading edge of advancements is critical. Their hope is to help push their clients forward into the future and more closely match the breakneck speed at which knowledge and digital technology is growing. Thales is committed to not being left behind in this race, so they encourage their clients to let go of fears and become early adopters.

Of course, this is more than simply a problem for private firms. Governments too can drag their feet when adopting new technology and this can cause problems for their constituents. Through its influence in the government sector as well as the private sector, Thales Canada aims to keep the country up to date.

Especially when it comes to cybersecurity, it is imperative that governments as well as corporations take a proactive approach because attackers are constantly innovating, and the honeypot of valuable information or resources that can be stolen only grows larger. “Technology has no frontier right now,” Usal says. “That’s why you see more cybercrime being effective. Those organizations cannot keep the pace with protective technologies.”

Not every area of expansion for Thales is quite so dreary, however. When it comes to expansion of its various transportation endeavors, Thales has its eye set on Asian and South American markets, where many countries are starting to boom with new development. This creates a need for better and more extensive transportation infrastructure. The potential is huge in these sectors, and is a major part of Thales’ long-term plans.

66200Back in Canada, however, Thales is continuing to expand its partnership with the Canadian government and is one of the leaders in the defense industry. Its diverse reach has allowed Thales to be in a unique position to deliver new technology for many different industries, and Halinaty appears to be very optimistic. He hopes that Thales Canada will be able to double its revenue by the end of the decade, which is no small task, but seems feasible considering their recent history of expansion.

Halinaty believes that the fastest area of growth will be in cybersecurity, and that the major challenge in the next decade will be to help companies implement security that keeps up with advancements in technology. This can be difficult, but he remains optimistic as the population becomes more aware of the need for cyber defense, especially those who grew up in the Information age. “Our customers are getting smarter as we go forward because the young generation is getting it,” Usal says. “One of our challenges is to strengthen our relationship with customers in the way we design, develop and provide our solutions.”

Though the path of Thales Canada is indeed extremely ambitious, their plan seems very feasible thanks to their already strong foundation in various industries. This diversity—strong, healthy roots—is sure to help Thales shoot upwards into the future.

Canada Post: Recognizing the need to innovate

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Canada Post is a government corporation and the country’s primary mail service entity. As such, its history is deeply intertwined with that of Canada itself. Though there was unofficial mail service in parts of Canada in the 17th century, it was not until the 18th century that a true official mail service was born through the British government. After Confederation, Canada established the Post Office Department—whose operating moniker would be Royal Canada Post—the ancestor to the modern-day Canada Post service. The service began to modernized more during the early 20th century, starting an air-mail route and eventually forming a contract with Trans-Canada Airlines. By 1939, Montreal and Vancouver would be connected with a daily air-mail service. Automation would also help push Canada Post into the future and increase its efficiency by the late 1950’s through the use of automatic mail sorting machines.

Canada Post only broke away from the Post Office Department and became a crown corporation in 1981 when the Canada Post Corporation Act was passed. After dealing with a series of financial setbacks as well as heavy competition from the private sector, the Canadian government decided that the postal service would be more cost-effective and efficient if it ran as an independent entity rather than as a section of the government. It was shortly after this, in the mid 1980’s, that the new corporation began to slowly introduce community mail boxes in new neighborhoods in order to reduce the costs of delivering mail door to door. This door-to-door service is expected to be phased out within the next decade, and they expect to roll out these changes in three phases, starting with suburban housing complexes. Canada Post is still legally obligated to provide mail service to all Canadians, anywhere in the country.

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Ever since the late 1990’s and the increasing adoption of electronic mail, physical mail has become less and less relevant all over the world. Canada Post has experienced the brunt of this change, and has seen unprecedented drops in paper mail usage—and along with that, a significant drop in revenue. A change in leadership, however, appears to have begun reversing this trend, with an innovative focus on parcels and working closely with e-commerce retailers, an approach which was implemented by Canada Post’s most recent CEO, Deepak Chopra. In addition, Canada Post began to charge much more to mail letters, a move which was largely resented by the public, but which served to help stave off some of the negative cash flow that the Crown corporation was experiencing. Over the next decade, Canada Post also expects to cut thousands of jobs, mostly by failing to replace retirees as they leave the service. As things are now, there are fewer people working for the company than there are people collecting a pension, which certainly creates an unbalanced situation.

Though implementing radical changes to face a new frontier in delivery service, Chopra is extremely experienced in this sector. “I have spent […] well over 25 years in the mailing industry. I don’t really talk about other things or think about other things.” The big question is, what can Canada Post do to slide away from its past and into a bigger, more promising future?

Nowadays, Canada Post’s focus is on adapting to the massive changes that have occurred in the parcel delivery sector since the introduction of online shopping. They wish to first and foremost serve e-commerce shippers and their customers, offering reliable service at competitive rates. This transition has not necessarily been smooth all the way, however. Chopra explains: “One of the biggest challenges [that] the team was dealing with was not that they needed a multimillion-dollar project to fix this. We just had to decide that we have a sense of purpose and that we wanted to be the number one [firm] in e-commerce.”

A huge technical problem was the tendency for parcels to be put on the back-burner in relation to other pieces of mail. As flats were sorted and moved, many times packages would be left behind to be delivered the next day or on the next truck, and the parcel being shipped would miss the estimated shipping window. If Canada Post was to cater to the e-commerce sector, it would have to give priority to parcels.

Under the leadership of Chopra, they turned things around fairly quickly by examining the logistical issues from the ground up. It took little more than a simple change in their communication philosophy, and their parcel delivery times improved immensely. “We did that, literally, in 90 days,” Chopra says. “A lot of the times, the challenge is [that] the sense of mission, the sense of purpose that we have at the top never makes it down to everyone. I in fact used to walk around in a depos and I would joke around and say, ‘Have you hugged a parcel today?’ People used to laugh at it, but that started the conversation about the future of parcels.” Chopra stresses that a strong connection between the leadership and the workforce is critical and that many times logistical problems originate from lack of consistent aim more than technical issues.

cmbleavesdesignAs Canada Post moves forward and modernizes, many of their former liabilities appear to have been transforming into assets. One of those former problem areas that have seen some turn-around and given Canada Post a competitive edge is their vast network of retail locations. “From the early days of working with some of the brands, who would say ‘Well, our products and our brand is too prestigious to travel on Canada Post,’ all of those brands over the last three years have come along to Canada Post because 35 to 40 percent of Canadians are not home during the daytime. And when you’re not home you have to go drive to the airport to pick up your package. But suddenly, the 6,300 retail locations […] became an asset.” Not all of Canada Post’s retail locations are actually profitable, which Chopra admits to be a problem, but the infrastructure that all these convenient locations provide has helped Canada Post become a major partner with Amazon and other e-commerce giants. “We compete in a highly, highly global marketplace against the likes of Fedex and UPS, where we have to be competitive.”

One of Canada Post’s major aims is to bring products to the masses more easily, especially to the less urbanized areas that may rely on parcel services in order to introduce better choice into the retail market. Without being able to receive parcels reliably and efficiently, consumers in those areas would be left with very limited options. “This e-commerce revolution has opened up communities that were left behind,” Chopra says. According to him, locations like Yellowknife receive high amounts of parcels via Canada Post, and the corporation has allowed residents to reap the benefits of the digital revolution just as people in more urbanized areas have. “All of that would not have been possible had we not moved the focus.” Thanks to changes in processes and expansion of Canada Post’s parcel service, the company was able to deliver 20 million packages during Christmas of 2013 and has grown from there.

That being said, Chopra insists that Canada Post is still dedicated to its work as a major mail delivery service. “Mail continues to be a three billion-dollar business for us,” he says. “It continues to be the single largest core business that funds a lot of the fixed-cost network.” In spite of recent price hikes, Canada Post has not abandoned the business that led to its rise in the first place.

What can Canada Post look forward to in the immediate future, though? Besides an increasing focus on parcel delivery and a continued compliance with the Crown corporations obligations to deliver mail, Chopra is hopeful that the industry as a whole can change for the better. “To me, the institution has incredible capacity to reinvent itself over the last 251 years. I wholeheartedly believe that institutions are bigger than individuals, and you have to draw on the strength of the institutional knowledge that allowed us to reinvent back in [the] 1800’s,” Chopra says.

This evolution could include the adoption of new technologies, and Chopra himself seems to be eager to innovate with new mail delivery and tracking systems. “I was instantly impressed with their passion and desire to haul Canada Post into the 21st century,” Chopra said of the innovation team at Canada Post, whom he met with shortly after becoming CEO. They were responsible for the development of an iPhone app that could help track packages, and Chopra’s approval of the project has been just one of the changes that has helped Canada Post survive in the midst of a fast-changing world. The fact that the project was almost killed by the previous leadership before he became CEO made him realize something: “Inability to innovate was not the biggest threat to our future – it was a failure to recognize the need to innovate,” Chopra says.

Under Chopra’s guidance, it does indeed seem that Canada Post is beginning the recognize the need to innovate, and is finally stepping into the future.

Infrastructure Ontario: Providing the necessities

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A province’s economic prospects are only as good as its infrastructure will allow, so it is extremely important for a given location to have the resources that it needs and the ability to use them effectively. In the case of one of Canada’s major provinces, the Crown corporation most concerned with these issues is Infrastructure Ontario (IO). IO’s main goal is to build and update infrastructure throughout the area, working to produce high quality public facilities, and it is responsible for the handling of tens of billions of dollars of public funding.

Regardless of who you are, public infrastructure is extremely important, and much of public property is used to facilitate the daily activities of citizens. People may use roads, bridges, public transportation, or government facilities such as clinics or courthouses. Infrastructure Ontario works closely with local governments and other Crown corporations in order to create and maintain the needed infrastructure. Its relationship with private corporations also helps to keep costs low, using the profit motive of business to yield better and faster results than most government agencies would produce on their own.

One of its most successful models for forging this connection between the private and public sector has been its Alternative Financing Procurement (AFP) partnership, which has provided a backbone for many projects. Since IO’s birth, costs on public projects have lowered significantly, and even very complex endeavors in infrastructure have proven to run most efficiently, their budgets and time tables honored. By contrast, before IO’s presence, local government was frequently unable to avoid going over budget or facing frequent delays in development, which mired many infrastructure plans in uncertainty. The CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, Bert Clark, calls these problems “embarrassing” and asserts that the greatest value that IO has provided thus far is a renewed faith in the ability for the province to actually carry out its plans and keep its promises to the public. “As Canadians we are very modest but I think what we are doing in Ontario when it comes to infrastructure is truly at the forefront of infrastructure renewal,” Clark says.

Some of those major issues that IO has addressed over the past 10 years is the poor infrastructure that existed in the realm of health care, where there was a distinct lack of capital. Using their AFP method, they were able to make a huge difference in this sector, using delivery techniques that would lower costs and the chances of delays. IO sought to undo some of the basic problems that the provincial government would face when attempting huge infrastructure projects like these.

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One of the biggest concerns was budget problems. A huge contributing factor that would cause projects to run over budget was the government’s tendency to break down its major products and hire many different contractors. In addition, the local government would follow a process wherein they produced their design and allowed contractors to bid on the project. While reasonable on the surface, this would often cause delays due to unexpected red tape that the contractor might encounter with the design—but because the design was not produced by the private firm itself, the contractor could not simply modify it himself and would have to wait for modifications from the government.

The practice of using many different contractors and dividing large projects made matters even more complicated. Projects of major scale could suffer from lack of integration, and all of the integration risks would fall on the shoulders of the public sector if problems arose. IO takes a different approach, offering the projects as one large, single endeavor and requiring the private contractor to bear all of the integration risk. In addition, the contractor is responsible for the design of the project, so any flaws or modifications are their responsibility. This greatly reduces bureaucratic delays and the squandering of public funds, and makes projects much more straight forward and efficient.

Another approach that IO has taken that differs from past government efforts is the way that it pays its contractors. Rather than paying for the construction costs up front and offering the contractor a monthly payment, IO generally withholds most of the payment until the job is finished. This allows them an advantage when dealing with disputes. This also requires that contractors take on the burden of the upfront costs much more, which gives them an incentive to get the project done correctly and in a timely manner, as a substantial investment of their own capital is at stake. Using terms like these, IO has successfully tipped the negotiation power in their favor and has induced contractors to be more committed to the projects that they are working on.

IO also handles legal issues very carefully and makes use of an extensive in-house legal team as well as qualified external firms during each project. “The legal department is involved from beginning to end on each and every one of those projects,” says Executive Vice President Marni Dicker. This saves IO a lot of problems and delays and ensures that their projects get done on time and with as little bureaucratic challenge as possible. The core of dealing with legalities is good communication, and Dicker comments that this is why the IO communications team is a group under their legal division.

Another change that IO had made that contrasts the old government model is that they tend to require contractors who are bidding on large projects to have local knowledge and experience. They found this to be extremely beneficial because contractors were already familiar with the environment.

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Over the past few years, IO has been shifting its approach, not only in accepting more private financing, but also in the focus of its infrastructure projects. While in the past IO mostly spent its efforts on construction of buildings, it is now starting to switch its aim towards expanding mass transit. “The major [projects] that we would be focusing on right now would be transit and transportation-related,” Dicker explains. For example, “Finch Light-Rail Transit […] is in the works.”

Regardless of the specific type of project, IO’s endeavors can be found everywhere in Ontario, from highways to public transit projects to hospitals. “There is a very good distribution of projects right across the province,” Clark says. The number of these projects is, especially in the transportation sector, only expected to increase if IO’s positive track record continues.

The government, for its part, has offered billions of dollars in public funding for IO’s various projects. According to Clark, local officials have been supportive, and the government has been fulfilling its role of determining what infrastructure projects need to be done and at what cost. IO, for its part, has been fulfilling those requirements quite efficiently.

IO’s most celebrated projects of late include new public transit infrastructure, housing for students and low-income residents, a YMCA, public parks, and even market-price condominiums. Along with those projects and many more, IO is attempting the ambitious extension of Highway 407 that will relieve traffic congestion in Toronto.

One of IO’s proudest achievements is the Humber River Hospital, which is only one example of the health care infrastructure that they created over the past decade. Patients and workers alike are enamored with the facility, which is extremely modern, and is frequently referred to as the first all-digital hospital in North America. This hospital offers state-of-the-art facilities where patients can receive care for a number of issues. Patients can receive cardiac care, cancer treatment, dialysis, and emergency services, among many other kinds of medical help. “There are a number of incredible new technology features there,” Clark says.

Best of all, this hospital was built on time and without going over budget, in spite of the huge complexity of the project. Most of IO’s hospital projects follow a similar pattern of efficiency.

Infrastructure Ontario has made projects like these much cheaper. In the past, not only would complicated infrastructure projects prove to be costly, but they may have been completely unfeasible in general. Part of this is due to IO’s improved project management techniques, but part of this is also due to an increase in the technical ability of modern contractors. As technology advances, fueled by private and public funding, more projects like these may become possible.

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Clark remains optimistic about what the future has in store for IO, and how his company may deliver better, larger, and more efficient infrastructure to the public. In particular, he has his eye on public transit and improving the experience of commuters in Ontario. “I think you’ll also see a lot of work underway on the province’s regional express rail program which involves the electrification of the Go corridors and various improvements to increase efficiencies and customer service,” he says.

These improvements and expansions will not be possible without investment in the people behind the projects and their creative ideas. Clark says that he is dedicated to improving the specialized skills of the workers who execute their projects, as well as spending effort in crafting the best, most efficient solutions for Ontario’s infrastructure needs.

Integrating Google Apps for your business

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Just about everyone these days uses at least a few of Google’s many useful services, both for personal use and for business purposes. While their crowning jewel is still their search engine technology, Google is much more than that these days. In fact, they have many products—most of which are free or inexpensive—that you can use to make your business life easier.

One of these products is a web software suite called Google Apps for Work (formerly known as “Google Apps for Business”) which professionals can use for a host of functions, and that can be had for a paltry monthly fee. Google Apps for Work can streamline many processes in your business, especially when it comes to the human element, in a number of ways:

Information Sharing

Apps for Work offers a huge amount of storage, from 30 GB to virtually unlimited space, depending on the plan that you decide to go with. All of the material that you upload to Google Drive would be available to other members of your team, so there’s a central location to store important information and there’s no need to fiddle with e-mail attachments quite so much. In addition, you can maintain a communal schedule on Calender to keep everyone on the same page.

An E-mail Address on Your Own Domain

It’s not terribly difficult these days to buy your own domain and set up an email account, but Apps for Work integrates this process with Gmail, so you can use the familiar interface that you already know.

Collaboration Apps

Working with other professionals on documents and presentations the “old fashioned” way can be cumbersome. Normally, you would work individually and then attempt to combine results, but since Apps for Work is completely web-based, you can get things done much more efficiently. Multiple users can edit text documents, slide presentations, spreadsheets, and more at the same time. These apps can be accessed from just about any modern browser as well, so users on multiple platforms can participate.

In addition to the ability to work together on projects in real time, members of your team will have access to Google’s multi-faceted video conferencing app, Google Hangouts. You can use this to stay in touch via voice or video during every step of the creative process.

Security and Archiving

Many businesses need to keep records of communications received from clients or exchanged between team members. Often, this information is sensitive, and needs to be kept away from the easily-accessed, collaborative storage areas. This is where Google’s Vault comes in. For a small extra fee, it can be added to Apps for Work’s suite of tools, and it will store emails, chat logs, and other data safely until a time is specified for its deletion. The communications are also easily searchable, which makes looking for long-forgotten information simple and fast.

Google Apps at Work has a lot to offer to business professionals, especially those who are looking for a lean, inexpensive solution that addresses common inefficiencies. It is less expensive than Microsoft’s offerings, and largely platform-independent, so at the very least it is worth a try if you need to keep your team in constant communication.

Written by Raul Betancourt.

Understanding Google Analytics

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It’s not uncommon for business owners to leave the IT matters to others, but in a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by technology, it helps to have a firm grasp of the tools that will turn your Internet marketing efforts into a success. Without staying on top of who is visiting your website and how long they stay, as well as other important demographic statistics, you will be at a definite disadvantage when it comes to streamlining your online presence to better serve your customers. You need to know if your website is effective and if it’s converting visitors into clients.

Keeping and analyzing stats doesn’t have to be expensive, however, and in fact it has been greatly simplified over the years thanks to Google. Their analytics software—aptly named Google Analytics—provides a host of features that you can use to track potential customers who visit your company’s site. It is also very easy to get started, and involves only a few basic steps:

Installing Analytics

It takes little more than access to the back-end of your site and a Google account to start collecting valuable information. Make sure that you choose a secure account that only you have access to and visit http://www.google.com/analytics/ to sign up for Google Analytics.

You will be prompted to answer a few basic questions about your website, and from there you will be offered a tracking code that you may copy and paste directly into the HTML of your site. Normally, you would place this in the area between the <head></head> tags; however, if you are using content management software of some kind, there may be other ways to insert Google’s script that doesn’t require you to dig into the source code of your pages.

Using Analytics for the First Time

Google Analytics has a multitude of useful functions and can be overwhelming at first, so it’s best to concentrate on a few key areas when you’re getting started. As soon as you have had enough traffic trickling in, you will be able to see on your Google Analytics dashboard where in the world your traffic is coming from, the general age groups of your traffic, and what other sites on the Internet your visitors have been coming from. This in and of itself is valuable, but there are many more features.

One of Google Analytics’ best traits is its real-time reporting. You can view statistics on specific visitors that are currently perusing your website, and you can even set Analytics to alert you the moment that certain events—such as your traffic reaching a certain threshold—occur.

Customize Analytics for Your Goals

Every business will have different goals for its site, and you can tailor Analytics to suit yours. For example, if you are concerned with a new sign-up form for your mailing list which you are A/B testing, you can set parameters to track the conversion rate. The same can be done when it comes to e-commerce sales on your site, or any other task that you are inducing your visitors to perform.

Google Analytics is a versatile tool that is invaluable for any business that generates sales through its website. If you don’t already use this popular web application, it may be time to go through the short and simple sign-up process.

Written by Raul Betancourt.

How to help others see your vision

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One of the hardest tasks that you will be faced with in an entrepreneurial endeavor—or any journey that involves leading others—is helping people to see the end product of the vision that you have in your mind. Since you cannot simply transfer your thoughts into the minds of others, you have to face the non-trivial challenge of communicating past their personal biases and individual perspectives. No two people see the world in exactly the same way, but you must find a way to help others see at least a glimpse of your inner world in order for them to understand the bigger picture of what needs to be done.

Hiring purely obedient contractors or employees that have no commitment to your larger story, and don’t really care about the end goals of their work is fine in some cases, but you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle to get people motivated and to understand the meaning of their role in it all. On the other hand, a person who sees your vision is much more likely to not need to be micromanaged, to be more adaptable to changes, and to understand intuitively what it is that you are looking for.

In order to guide people towards your ends and help them to see your vision, it takes more than simply rational explanation. As much as the pieces seem to fit perfectly well in your mind as a logical whole, the truth is that people need a narrative to be the emotional glue that will hold all of these truths together for them. How do you do this, though? How do you induce people to see your project the way that you see it? Nothing you can do will guarantee it, but there are a few tactics that you can employ to help communicate your intent in a much better way than simply relaying a linear set of instructions day after day:

1) First, establish the team’s identity.

People have much more of a sense of mission when they identify with their role. This sort of thinking is both a positive and negative trait in human beings; it has built empires as well as destroyed them. Use this powerful source of motivation to your advantage. Tell your team stories about what kind of people you are and what sort of character your organization has. Tie this identity to the kind of goals that you want to achieve.

Take a cue from the likes of Walt Disney, who was very specific in that his company produce media that embodied a quality of childlike wonder. Observe Steve Jobs and how he demanded nearly inhuman results from his team of “pirates” during the microcomputer revolution.

“Who am I?” is a very important question to every person, and if you can at least partially answer that question for members of your team, you will gain devotion in return.

2) Explain the path towards your goal as if it has already happened.

Describe things as clearly as if the finished product were sitting before you. Even if plans change, people work best when they feel that there is always a direction, something definite to shoot for. Speak in concrete terms, and see the goal the way you would if it was already done. A little haziness can happen sometimes, but you can’t expect people to latch onto fog. Tell them stories of what you want and exactly how you plan to get there.

3) Allow your team to give input every step of the way.

People can get behind something much more easily when they feel a sense of ownership. They are also much more likely to understand what your goals are if they are an active participant in discussions on how to get there. Reward your team members for good suggestions and constantly ask for their input. This might even help you to expand your own limited perspective when it comes to your projects.

4) Show concrete examples of what you want.

Sometimes your vision may be for something that does not yet exist in this world, but a case like this is very rare. More often than not, there will be examples of other companies with similar goals who have achieved their ends. Offer real-world examples of the results that you want, and the members of your team will have a much easier time understanding you. As you compare the abstract ideas floating around in your mind with the concrete results of other organizations, you may even realize that you didn’t have it as well figured out as you originally thought.

5) Give your team a big “why.”

You can try to communicate the path to your goal, and you can try to influence your team to personalize their roles, but ultimately this may not be enough if the individual members don’t have a big enough “why.” You may have observed that morale is particularly low in people who feel that their work has no meaning. If your team is struggling to find a meaning to what they’re doing, then they probably don’t understand your vision well enough. Sometimes the very thing that will snap everything else into focus is revealing why you are ultimately pursuing your specific goals. The why is what determines the how, and so it will allow your team members to better understand the anatomy of your goals.

For example, if you decide that your business should enter a very untested market, then explain to your team members why you think that you will meet success on the other side. Give specific reasons and share all of your research with them. Do not let the direction of your projects be a huge mystery while you play the dictator. No one works well if they believe they are being led to their possible doom.

Ultimately, though, the best thing that you can do to clarify your vision to others is to first clarify it with yourself. As you write down your plan, think of all the details as carefully as possible. Does anything seem fuzzy? Are you having trouble putting something into words? Do you have any negative gut feelings about possible obstacles in the future? Perhaps these are areas where you are not yet clear yourself. Once your vision is fully articulated in your mind, it is much easier for others to get on board. An obvious confidence in what you want will almost always induce others to follow, and you might find that your actions and demeanor will do much more to explain your vision than your words.

Written by Raul Betancourt.

How to handle conflict among your employees

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In a perfect world, every person you’ve ever hired is a completely mature adult who is very socially aware, takes almost nothing personally, and has a nearly super-human ability to turn the other cheek when others don’t display similar qualities. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world—we live in this one. Sometimes you will be faced with having to deal with professional (or unprofessional) conflict among your employees, conflict that may even detract from the normal productivity in the workplace.

While you may feel, as many do, that you can’t be bothered with your employees’ personality clashes, these are the sorts of problems that can escalate and affect the company’s reaching its goals. Morale can slowly erode over time as problems are left unaddressed and your employees start working against each other instead of as a team. Workplace politics can be very costly, and you will want to limit this kind of inefficiency as much as you can. So if you find that employees turn to you when they feel that there are unresolvable personal issues on their level, you might want to step up to the challenge and stamp these problems out at their root using some tried and true guidelines:

1) Don’t paint a rosy picture.

It’s easy to delude oneself that a conflict doesn’t exist by sweeping it under the rug. For many people, this is their very definition of “professionalism”–to essentially pretend as if human nature and conflict is non-existent, rather than to address it directly in a mature way.

You may be tempted to simply chastise your employees for their in-fighting, or to encourage them to ignore the seething problems underneath, but this will only lead to the illusion of peace. You might very well find over the long-term that your denial will come back to haunt you. Allow your employees to be honest with you about what is happening, and don’t try to compel them to sugar-coat things.

2) Strive to be non-judgmental.

Do you want the truth? If you do, then your employees need to feel that you won’t over-react or otherwise make snap judgments about what they will share with you. Get both sides of the story during conflict-resolution, and try to remain as impartial as possible during your information-gathering phase. Even if you hear about an employee doing something highly inappropriate, suspend your reaction for the moment, and listen carefully. This will encourage people to tell you the whole story, rather than just what they think you will be able to tolerate well. To truly get to the root of the problem, you will need the whole story.

3) Examine issues as quickly as possible and as they come.

If you preferred to ignore conflict in the past, you may have noticed how it can seethe and blow up over time. Sure, some problems can “take care of themselves,” but this isn’t usually the case, so address conflicts as you become aware of them and smother them before they become bigger problems. If John comes to you complaining about how he thinks Karen took all the credit for the last major project, take this small resentment seriously and bring it out into the open before it turns into an all-out war of egos between two employees.

4) Help your employees see their common ground.

When discussing the problem with your employees, try to see where they might agree amongst the disagreement. Using this starting point, you might actually be able to discover that the conflict was due to a misunderstanding. Often times, it is exactly as the cliché says: 10% of arguments are due to a difference of opinion; 90% are due to a wrong tone of voice.

5) Make a plan together that ends the tension.

Ideally, all parties are involved when you come to a decision about some kind of resolution. Beware, however, of “compromise,” as it has a tendency to give both sides of the conflict less than what they want. It is much better to think win-win, and try to find a way for all employees involved to save face and have their needs met if possible.

6) Be pro-active about conflict resolution.

One of the best approaches is to simply address problems before they even happen. If you see an employee being negative, stepping all over the boundaries of others, or simply behaving in a way that invites conflict, bring it to his attention. Many people aren’t aware of how they affect others, and they may not even realize that the way they act causes the people around them to resent them.

In particular, examine employees that are in leadership or managerial positions. Power—even in relatively tiny quantities—can enhance personality problems, and an accumulation of small injustices against employees that are lower in the hierarchy can be disastrous for morale. For these sorts of people, do your best to encourage self-awareness.

7) Screen problematic people from the beginning.

When assembling your team, it is extremely important that you take personalities into account as much as you do technical ability. It would be great if people could always put their differences aside and focus on their work with the precision and depersonalization of a fleet of robots, but technology is not yet that advanced. In the meantime, you will have to screen your employees as best you can before you even hire them.

While you are interviewing potential team members, ask them about their personal relationships with coworkers at their previous place of work. Ask them about conflicts they’ve had in the past and how they handled them. If your prospect seems to pit the blame on others and seems to take no responsibility for his hand in things, then think twice about bringing him in.

8) Lead by example.

As someone with a lot of influence, you could easily out-muscle anyone who disagrees with you by invoking your rank. Instead, show understanding towards others. Don’t take things personally when your employees have differing opinions from yours, and give each idea respect and consideration, even if you don’t personally agree.

Mediating conflicts between employees and dealing with other similar human problems can be one of the more difficult parts of being in a leadership position. Simply remember to remain calm and address the problems directly, rather than trying to ignore them, and half the battle is already won.

Written by Raul Betancourt.