Thursday, March 27, 2008
Also I noticed our Aussie cousins are doing a better job keeping their website updated than we are - you can check it out at http://www.comptroub.com.au/html/home.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
WBT-AM 1110, Charlotte, NC, 3/23/2008 at 7:50am
WWBA-AM 1040, Tampa, FL, 4/26/08 (airs during the following week)
"This Week in America" (syndicated to 100 stations), 4/12 to 4/20
WJW (Fox), Cleveland : April 16 during "That's Life"
WKYC (NBC), Cleveland: April 17 during "Good Company"
WJBK (Fox), Detroit: May 5 during "Fox 2 News Morning"
TFM blog: http://todaysfacilitymanager.com/facilityblog/2008/03/seven-steps-to-healthy-computer.html
Florida Weekly: http://www.floridaweekly.com/news/2008/0221/Top_News/010.html
SMB Nation East conference: www.smbnation.com (March 29 & 30)
Monday, March 17, 2008
(Here Dave explains his theories on time travel)
Like the conference that started my trip in South Africa, much of the focus here was on ways to work smarter and provide better support for our clients - namely through B.E.S.T., which came up in several sessions. We also had some great vendors participating in the event, including our global partners AVG, OnTrack, and Microsoft.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
I called my brother to make sure they're all OK, and apart from spending some time in their basement as the tornadoes come through they're all fine. The weather report right now looks like the worst is over, which is good news for me since I hope to be landing at the Atlanta airport in about 48 hours.
For more storm news and photos see www.ajc.com.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Steve has a nice, highly visible shop for handling computer service requests in Botany (his territory). Its' on the corner of two main streets, and the green & orange CT logo stands out well.
Afterwards I spent some time with Wilson & Suzanne at the airport before they left on a 3:30 flight back home (they live in Coffs Harbour, a vacation spot in between Sydney and Brisbane). I sat around waiting on what I thought was a 10pm flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. However, long story short, it turns out my flight ARRIVED in Christchurch at 10pm, it actually DEPARTED Sydney at 5pm, which is about an hour before I actually bothered to check on the flight. So I realized I'd be spending an unexpected night in Australia!
The problem with unexpected overnight stays is finding accomodation. And it doesn't help that I'm a pretty cheap guy - until this cropped up I was proud of the fact that my 21-day, 7-country trip was going to cost less than $7000 total (mostly for the airfare). So after some internet research (because the airport hotels were more than I wanted to pay, or were full) I found a lovely run-down motel in Blakehurst for only $80/night. Plus $25 for the taxi ride out there. Plus whatever medications I'll need later on for whatever diseases I'm sure I caught from the lovely lopsided motel bed. Seriously, this place was bad - the TV got 7 channels of static, several light fixtures were missing, and there were many mysterious stains around the room in all sorts of intriguing colors and shapes. I didn't sleep well. BUT I've been in worse places, and I did meet some interesting people. One gentleman who was checking in behind me offered to give me a ride to the airport the next morning, which I accepted. Turns out he was driving a 23-seat bus, so there was no shortage of space. He and his wife do tours for visiting university students in Australia and New Zealand, and he'd just dropped off a group (along with his wife) that day so they could travel on to NZ. Very nice guy - we had a nice chat on the way to the airport at 6am, and it saved me $25 in taxi fare!
(my motel room was equipped with state-of-the-art 1974 technology,
including this handy bank of switches next to the bed, for switching on and off
some of the working lights, the TV with no reception, or the leaky air conditioner).
The benefit to my overnight detour is that I wound up on the same flight as Australia's CT Director, Nick Roche. Nick's a great guy, and so we were able to talk some business on the flight and share a taxi once we arrived in Christchurch.
The exciting thing for me though is that Christchurch is my last stop before I head home. Three weeks on the road is starting to wear on me a bit, and I admit I'm looking forward more and more to my own bed and a better selection of clothes!
Next Stop: Christchurch!
Great job John!
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
India is a challenging country because of it's dynamics. In the last decade India, and particularly Gurgaon, have become the "back office" for every major corporation in the world. Indians answer phones, prepare tax returns, and provide technical support, and the volume at which this transformation is occuring is staggering to see up close. Skylines are changing overnight, with at least a dozen large buildings (some larger than cruise ships) growing up from the ground within a mile or two of my hotel. The city is busy 24/7, and it's clear that the infrastructure is struggling to keep up. Traffic is terrible, power outages are very common (I experienced at least 20 in my 3-days here), and it's clear that roads and sewers and amenities in general have a long way to go.
India has been a challenge for Computer Troubleshooters as well, and while our traditional "break/fix" model has some limited success here, newer models like BEST simply aren't working yet. The key is India's low but changing labor costs, and the effect this has on our target customers. Technicians can be hired full-time for around $150 USD per month, so many larger small businesses just hire their own. Smaller businesses frequently take advantage of the AMC or Annual Maintenance Contract offered by their PC seller for a few hundred rupees, which is often interpreted as unlimited onsite PC support for any issue (even though it's not specified that way). But things are changing.... IT salaries are increasing 15% per year on average in India, so the traditionally low labor rates of the past may not last much longer.
During my stay I was able to interview our Master Franchise, Vikram Chopra, and meet some of his own technical team in New Delhi. I also met with several other current and former IT business owners to get their perspective over what works and what doesn't work in this marketplace. We also met Ajay Budhiraja and Vinish Kathuria of BuyBizSellBiz (an Indian affiliate of our sister-brand Sunbelt Business Brokers). Using their information and advice Vikram and I sketched together a new variation of our BEST plan which takes advantage of the parameters of the Indian marketplace to provide better benefit to CT and to our small business customers. I'm very excited to see that new model go through the R&D stages over the next few weeks!
pictured: Myself, Vinish, Vikram, Ajay
Next Stop: Malaysia!
Friday, March 7, 2008
My goal for our time together was to review their progress and offer my advice to help them get back on a path for growth. What I found is that they've embarked on several different strategies to promote the Computer Troubleshooters brand in Egypt and to drive business to their franchisees, but that perhaps because they have so many good ideas there was some confusion over exactly what CT-Egypt as the Franchisor should be doing for their franchisees. So we worked on structuring the value offering for the local market, which due to the cultural and economic differences is in many ways uniquely Egyptian.
Computer Troubleshooters is in a great position to dominate the IT services market in Egypt, and to accomplish that they're developing a plan similar to the ones we use in other countries, including elements such as:
- Service Plans (our traditional CAP and VIP plans, possibly with remote management tools incorporated, although Managed Services plans per se don't seem applicable to the local market at this time).
- Business Management Tools (our own TOPS application, customized for the Egyptian market).
- National Promotion, primarily through a shared marketing fund (all franchisees contribute to the fund, and unlike other countries CT-Egypt also contributes to the fund in a matching contribution). National Promotion is also done through a uniquely Egyptian and uniquely effective National Clients program, which I'll discuss below.
- A central 0800 call center with direct call transfer to the nearest franchisee (for national advertising).
- Training, Coaching, and Support (including central technical training classes every Saturday, another uniquely Egyptian benefit).
On top of those items, CT-Egypt is also developing some very impressive new programs, including a Services Catalog and their National Clients program.
(myself with some of the CT-Egypt team: Mr Ahmed Taha El Saadany (Financial Director), Mr Mostafa Selim (Managing Director), and Mr Islam Mahmoud (Director, Hospitality Division))
Because there is a strong attitude among many potential customers of "I'll fix it myself", Ct-Egypt has developed a Service Catalog with specific targeted IT solutions (similar to the Enhanced Vendor program in the US). CT-Egypt will produce a high quality, full-color catalog of the solutions which CT's can review with customers and potential customers to help make sales, and CT-Egypt will also make available training and support for each solution to help franchisees get up to speed on each one.
The National Clients program in Egypt is very well developed, despite the long lead time often needed to develop these sorts of nationwide partnerships. Mr Mostafa Selim (Managing Director, CT-Egypt) works with Mantrac, a company which sells thousands of PC's each month mostly through Egyptian schools. CT provides support for all those PC's, which leads to work for both CT-Egypt and the franchise owners.
And an entirely new division, organized and designed by Mr Islam Mahmoud, targets hospitality businesses, especially hotels. Through this new division Computer Troubleshooters offers wireless and wired internet access, video-on-demand, Voice-over-IP phone services, and more to hotels and their clientele. They have already completed the contract for a major install at a resort by the Red Sea (see my last post about publicity).
Overall I think the future of Computer Troubleshooters is very bright. Mr Ahmed Shaheen, owner of CT-Egypt has assembled a top-notch mangement team which includes a good mix of IT visionaries (like Mostafa Selim), managers (Islam Mahmoud), engineers, technicians, and sofware developers, and most importantly the group is kept well organized by Nancy Samy and by Financial Director Mr Ahmed Taha El Saadany. The key now will be to harness all of this talent in a way that yields great profits and success for the Computer Troubleshooters franchise owners and for CT-Egypt, and in that regard I'm very certain they're on the right track.
(Most of the CT-Egypt team)
Regretfully all good things must come to an end, and so it was for my latest visit to Cairo. On Thursday I headed off to the airport and on to my next destination: India!
Thursday, March 6, 2008
pictured: Mr Ahmed Shaheen, owner of CT-Egypt (top),
Mr Islam Mahmoud, director of the CT-Hospitality division (bottom right)
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Nonetheless, I found the Rwandan people are moving forward in a remarkably positive way. Hundreds of aid organizations provide assistance in various forms to the country, and Jean's' ARDR was created after a Japanese NGO pulled out of Rwanda in 1999. The rural parts of Rwanda in particular are struggling more than the urban areas (Kigali), and there are many widows, orphans, and child-lead households as a result of the past problems. ARDR works with these groups in an association/cooperative format: members pay $2USD per year to join the association, and from that $2 they get health insurance for a year (including full retrovirals for HIV treatment, thanks to the Rwandan government), functional literacy training, agricultural traning and support (bannana and pineapples are plentiful here), and other support. I'm pleased to announce that Computer Troubleshooters will join ARDR as their first business member, and I've also joined as a personal member (we both paid more than $2 of course) and I'm looking forward to providing whatever support I can to assist in this very worth cause.
After a quick nap at my hotel (Hotel Dereva, in Rwamagana, which is a lovely place and I'll definitely stay there again, but it does make you appreciate some amenties other hotels have such as hot water, toilet seats, and no bed nets!), we toured some ARDR field operations. I met a woman who grows bannanas on a good sized plot of land (several acres). And we visited a group of women who were making crafts as another way to be self-sufficient. I wasn't expecting it, but they had prepared a reception for me including a presentation of some woven baskets & containers they make (which are quite extraordinary), and also some singing and dancing (in which I had to participate, but fortunately there are no photos of this). I did get some video of the girls dancing, so I'll post that eventually.
We also visited a kindergarten ARDR supports, where the children were learning to count by moving rocks on a bench:
That evening Jean and Janeen hosted a dinner at the ARDR offices, which included members of the Gideon's organization in Rwanda (which Jean recently became involved with), and the pastor of Jean's church (Jean and I originally met at my church in the US, while he was in the country part of last year). The food - everywhere in Rwanda actually but especially at this dinner since it was prepared by Janeen - was wonderful, the people were very friendly, and enjoyed the time thoroughly.
The next day we drove into Kigali and visited the Genocide memorial. This is something you have to see, but it's not for the faint of heart. It's hard to convey the feeling of what that time must have been like, with a significant portion of the population targeted for extinction by their friends and neighbors and even family members of the other tribe (Hutus vs Tutsi's). The images are painful, especially an exhibit which showed the photos of smiling children, and included facts like their favorite foods, their favorite songs, the games they played.... and the way they were killed (hacked by machete, grenade thrown in their room, etc), their last words or last images, etc. Very painful. More painful is the portion of the exhibit that shows in great detail how the international community knew what was happening and wouldn't respond. Again, very painful to see. The genocide touches every aspect of life in Rwanda today, but there is encouragement in how quickly the people have moved past the problems of the past and learned to work together to build a better life for themselves and their progeny. Rwanda is rapidly growing, and improving, and can teach all of us alot about forgiveness.
After a brief tour of downtown Kigali (including a failed attempt to use Kigali's first ATM machine), it was time to go. Jean dropped me off at Kigali airport that afternoon, and we said our goodbyes but I'm hopeful I'll be back again soon.
Me & Jean relaxing on the Hotel Dereva's patio
Monday, March 3, 2008
Back at JNB I met some very interesting people - an army officer from Rwanda, a retired gentleman from Burundi, a former South Dakotan woman who now works for USAID in Kigali, a South African engineer working on power generation ideas for Rwanda, and a travel agent from Canada on a three month African vacation by herself. But I also learned that Rwanda Air (our airline) had not had a successful flight from JNB to KGL in over a week, and that the previous two attempts had been cancelled so many of the people I met had been in hotels around the airport for several days now. I began to get worried that this flght may not happen either, which would jeopradize my entire itinerary since the next scheduled flight was for Wednesday and by then I needed to be on my way to Egypt. Rwanda is the only non-business stop on my trip, and it was the stop I was looking forward to most, so I was worried I would miss it entirely. I was also concerned about what to do if I arrived late, since Kigali is not a 24-hour airport, and if we landed at 3am (instead of our planned 9pm) I wasn't sure I could get a taxi or a hotel room for that matter.
Eventually things worked out, at least for me. After many hours of excuses and waiting, Rwanda Air found another airplane (which I don't want to guess the age of) and we left Johannesburg around 1am and headed out over the jungle. We arrived in Kigali around 5am, much to the disappointment and concern of my new friends from Burundi since we skipped their stop entirely (and Rwanda Air did not help the situation by refusing to make allowances to put them in a hotel in Kigali or accomodate them on a flight back to Bujumbura - in case it's not clear from the rest of this post, I DO NOT recommend Rwanda Airways to anyone, anytime).
But for me, I was thrilled to see my dear friend Jean and his wife Janeen had in fact waited all night at the airport for me, and they were there to meet me when I landed. What a relief!
(Kigali International Airport, in the daytime)
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Mothabenga is rural, and although the lodge is beautiful and the staff could not possibly be nicer, there is no high speed internet and even the dial-up can't get past 14k bps. Fortunately my new blackberry is picking up 3G signals most of the time, so I'm not entirely without email!
I'm here primarily to participate in the first South African Computer Troubleshooters conference. The event is to be Friday & Saturday, and I'll give four presentations during it, including the frequently requested overviews of our BEST managed services program and our ENGAGE marketing program. But Thursday is mostly spent trying to get over the jetlag from a 22 hour flight, so I woke up, had breakfast, took a nap. Woke up, had lunch, took a nap. It was a very stressful time! :)
Thursday afternoon Peter and I (who had the entire lodge to ourselves at first) were joined by Hugh and also by Arjen Van Zwieten. Arjen was our original master franchise for South Africa, but made a smart decision to include others in his team last year - I'll share more about that in a minute. Together though the four of us went to Pilanesburg National Park that afternoon, which is South Africa's 2nd largest game reserve and requires several hours if not days to completely tour. We drove around the park for about an hour and got some good photos of hippos, zebra, elant, wildebeest, and other game animals in their natural settings, but we also came back later on Sunday hoping to see elephant, lions, or giraffe. On the latter we were not disappointed:But the main event was the conference itself. Saturday morning we were to start at 10am, since many participants were driving in from all across South Africa and Botswana. About 30 people were expected, but at 10am less than 15 were present. We heard stories about a traffic problem which was holding people up somewhere. As we were standing around outside the conference room, suddenly they all arrived at once, lead by 4 of the fully-branded CT Vans which South Africa has standardized on. It was really impressive seeing that "fleet" of identical vehicles all arrive together -seriously, I got goosebumps! We tried to make some video to recreate the experience, but it's not quite the same: you can download it from http://www.comptroub.com/sa_van_fleet.zip.
The conference itself was wonderful, and remarkable in several ways. We had 100% attendance of all franchisees in South Africa and Botswana for starters, representing 13 locations. In the US we tend to only get 50% to 70% attendance at our conferences, so this was impressive. But also there is a great energy in South Africa, especially since they've grown from 3 locations to 13 in just the last 12 months, so many locations are new and excited and growing fast. That sort of growth is also remarkable within the CT system, and can be attributed to Arjen's decision last year to include Peter and Hugh in his management team, and to the new recruiting strategy they developed together (I'll be sharing that with other CT country directors too).
At the end of the conference we held a feedback session and people were enthusiastic about BEST and ENGAGE and many of the vendors (Microsoft, WSI, and others) who came for the event, but the comment heard over and over again was that everyone was most excited about being able to work together as a team to share ideas, support each other, and dominate the South African computer support market.
I really enjoyed my brief stay in South Africa, and I learned alot from them and hopefully was able to share some knowledge as well. They have a great team, both at the national level and across all thirteen franchisees, and I'm hoping to come back next year to see what they accomplish next.
(Group Photo from the first South African Computer Troubleshooters Conference:
Kneeling: Hugh, me, Arjen, Peter)