Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Around The Corner

It's December.  I almost forgot that this blog has turned one year old already!  I just read the original post, entitled "December", and it was amusing to read that back then, I was writing about renovations.

Much changed since then.  A major renovation actually happened (although it's not quite finished).  The vibrant blue of our office gave way to a lighter shade of pale.  The garage is now actually empty, and almost setup for residence.

And then again, there are the people.  We've experience the highest rate of employee turnover over this year, due in part to improvements in our processes and better checks and balances.  Some key personnel have left to chase their dreams or to look for peace.  They will be sorely missed.  More have moved on to other work where they have found their new homes.  To them, we wish luck and a better life.

Meanwhile, with Christmas around the corner, everyone has turned busy bee for the Christmas preps.  Perhaps with all the changes that have happened, the Christmas party is one more comfort for our restless minds.  After all, we managed to miss the Team Building event this year.  At least the year-end party is a vestige of the days merry past.

It's been a difficult year.  But we have higher hopes still.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Moved In!

Finally, for what felt like a long time, we've moved in to our new office!  It's still the same location, right by the precarious intersection of Mayon and M. Cuenco, where a Florida bus once hit the corner of our humble store, by the border between Quezon City and Manila.  But with a new paint, wiring and cables, new tables and chairs and partitions, and a much more sensible arrangement for employees, our office felt imbued with a breath of new life. 

Right now, it's not yet a 100% done, mission accomplish project.  There are still the oddities from our office's previous iterations like the uncovered section of the aircon's vent as well as the out-of-place legacy PBX hopelessly visible and the unchanged long haul cabling up and about the office and nearby departments.  There are still undefined or temporary locations for telecom and printing equipments.  And people places will still be changing with time.  We still have lots of ideas to improve.  This may be a relatively short term fix for capacity stress.  But fixing we will do.  For us right now, we can accept and embrace the changes moving forward.  And we like it like that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Office Renovation

For a lot of people who've seen our Metro Manila office, one thing obvious was that it was very crowded.  That impression is amplified on those mid-morning hours when everyone was there -- on those times, it was a market place. (Not on those times, it was just an internet cafe.)

Over the past week, however, it's been desert empty, save for the workers and the dust.  We're finally on our scheduled major office renovation!  We're expecting the project to finish in a couple of weeks or so.  In the mean time, we've moved half of us to the obliging service department next door, and the other half to the training room of our sister company Thermovar Pipes.

Moving and subdividing our office to nearby locations is not without challenges.  We had to minimize phone, fax, computer and network downtime as we reshaped our infrastructure for our ad hoc relocation.  Fortunately, with just a little shuffling, network cabling wasn't too hard; we were able to reuse most of our network cables.  Sales executive Alexis Garcia, our resident telecom expert by night, managed the rewiring of our phone and fax system to working order.

This project is a major makeover that's long overdue.  There's been so many changes over the years that has stretched our office capacity to its limits.  With this over, we expect to maximize space in our humble office and to increase overall efficiency in our operations.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Walk-In and Phone-Order Sales

Early this year, we started diligently classifying sales whether they're sales booked by agent, ordered through phone, or walk-in sales.  We have a lot more sale types like "project" and "key" but we haven't yet discussed the "proper" classification of sales.

I primarily requested due diligence in proper sales classification to measurably monitor an aspect of customer satisfaction.  Since we have stocks at two different locations -- our in-store "walk-in"cache of popular goods and our 15-to-20-minute-away warehouse, I wanted to know how often do we make our walk-in customers wait a long time for their orders to arrive.

How do we know if a sale should be a walk-in sale?  The question seems simple enough.  But there are some aspects that need clarification.  An unannounced customer literally walking-in on our store is obviously a walk-in sale.  But what do we do about customers we got to talk on the phone or email?  For these "announced" customers, if their order is vague or unclear during previous dialog, we still categorize them as walk-in sales.  But if their order is known before their arrival, we consider that as phone-order booking.

It is still a question if we should even segregate walk-in sales from phone-order bookings.  Phone-order bookings have a propensity to be changed upon customer arrival.  Based on our records, phone-order bookings and walk-in sales constitute less than 2% of our sales.  That is still substantial however, and surprising for our humble office with hardly space to accommodate waiting customers.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

15-Minute Warehouse Logistics

Within the last five years, our company has enjoyed excellent growth.  A lot of our growth can be attributed to expanded market as well as a more national presence in the Philippines.  This growth however also meant an inventory level our humble office could not quite adequately handle. 

Over the last few years, we've tried several setups to balance operational efficiency and customer service.  We still maintain our sales and administrative office here in Mayon.  But we've gone through several warehouses and process changes along the way.

At first, we only just had most of the bulky items moved to our main warehouse.  We still have a lot of items in our smaller stockroom here.  In our computer system, we maintained two separate inventory levels for both facilities.  Unfortunately, this system made physical inventory counting difficult.  Worse, a lot of our transactions require stocks from both facilities.  This made fixing the paperworks difficult and needlessly complex.

So we decided to setup our one true warehouse.  Everything should come out from there.   This way, we only maintained inventory level in one facility.  All our transactions would be under one facility.  It sounded simple and mechanic.  But one constant reaction we got was the dissatisfied look from our walk-in customers as they waited for items from our 15-minute away warehouse.  Walk-in sales is not big percentage-wise, but each one interacts with our office people more closely than most agent and call-in bookings.

Last year, we changed things a bit to improve our response time and hopefully our customer service.  It's actually much more complicated, but that's what you get when you try to put more intelligence into the system.  We would now maintain two facilities again: our Main warehouse and our Walk-in "warehouse".  Our Walk-in warehouse should be a very small representation of the top 30 SKUs most ordered by Walk-in/Pickup clients.  For each SKU, there would be only 1 unit, except for a couple of SKUs people order by 3s or 4s.  Every week, we refresh this lineup to refill the blanks.  Ideally, the Walk-in items are visually countable in just a couple of seconds.  We're not there yet, however, due to space reasons.  Our main warehouse contains the rest of our inventory.  This system requires that we differentiate walk-in and pick-up sales from booked sales.  All booked sales should get their items from the Main warehouse.  For any one sale transaction, items should only come from one facility.

We made another optimization soon after that.  We moved small items and spare parts back to our diminutive Mayon office.  Now that almost sounded like we went back to square one.  The difference was that we did not add another facility.  We still only have Main and Walk-In.  Only this time, we partitioned Main to Warehouse and Mayon.  Any one SKU under Main will either be in Warehouse or Mayon, but not both.  Our pick list now denotes the location of the SKU under the Main warehouse. 

This current setup improves on our customer response time.  It also helps our Service department because spare parts are now closer at hand.  Due to space reasons, counting is still a challenge.  But the enforcement of only one location per SKU diminishes this problem somewhat.

Over time, as we continue to optimize our processes, there will be more changes to improve how we can serve our customers better.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Clean Up Day

Today was a long overdue General Clean Up Day in Amici Office.  The last one was 11 months before, which as cleaning goes is ages ago.  One can imagine what sort of junk had piled over the year, not to mention the little critters who enjoyed a relatively peaceful colony as pests in the shadows. 

We had a much more concerted effort in the clean up process today.  Whereas before when there were but few cooperative persons who participated in each Clean Up Day, this whole afternoon was a whole team effort among various departments.  That was necessary after all.  It was not about tidying up our microscopic world which is our own tables, sometimes hiding under the rug the things we didn't know what to do with.  Our office wasn't big to begin with, so any mess around was a mess shared with everyone.  From now on, we'd prefer to have a great clean office we can enjoy each day. 

To celebrate our humble victory, we capped the day with two boxes of pizzas.  Of course, this time, we made sure to tidy up after eating.

There will be more Clean Up days to come.  But we don't have to wait for that long.  Instead, we hope to treat each day an opportunity to stay clean and maintain orderliness.  5S -- I still remember somewhat attending a seminar on that a couple of years ago.  Only four of us attended that seminar with DTI, and only I am left in the same office now.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to implement much of what we learned then.  But it's never too late for that.  A company wide training session on 5S will be most beneficial.  And to make it part of our company culture.

We thank Gay who scheduled and directed the event, as well as Lisa and Michelle who procured necessary supplies beforehand.  We thank everyone who participated in making our little office just a little bit more habitable.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Juggling on the Sides

Sidelines are jobs or work we do outside of our primary line of work.  For regular or contractual workers, our primary work will be the tasks we are employed or contracted to do.

In Amici, we do have people who goes into sidelines (from the company's point of view).  People go into it mostly to augment their income.  Sometimes, people do it to satisfy their cravings and interests, or for experience.  It may even be for free.

There have been micro-businesses selling cellphone load, seasonal hawking of food or apparel, or graphics, computer, or professional services.  It maybe teaching summer classes at our Alma Mater.  It maybe stock market trading or the weekend garage sale or even a trade fair.  It may be the occasional quick double-your-money scheme that is hopefully not going to lighten your wallet instead.  It may also be the same thing we do in our primary work, just that we do it on our breaks.

Logically, nothing should be wrong with trying to earn for our needs.  It's our right to go into business and make money.  We might be able to juggle our time and efforts to get more output for our own bottom line.  However, things can get messy if we are not careful. 

We juggle different things at the same time.  Each has expectations and goals.  What happens if we mix them up?  We might start slacking off our "real" work during our "real" work time so that we can do other performances.  This is a major issue in work ethics.

What if we juggle the same kind of work, only some are for our primary work, and some are on the side?  If we do the sideline outside of work schedule, will there still be a problem?  Unless the employer gave express permission for the sideline outside of work schedule, there's a conflict of interest somewhere here.  Here we maybe competing with our own company.  Competition can go from healthy to downright ugly.  This happens when our company is left unaware of the little competitor inside being paid salary and given marketing support and leads, who may have the means and the nerve to misrepresent the company, mislead customers, or even sabotage company activities.  We must remember that we are associated with our company.  What we do reflect on our company, even if without the company's blessings.

Finally, we might decide to juggle just a little too fast, too much.  We have our limitations, and as we get near that, we strain our focus, our energies, and we sacrifice  performance for mediocrity that does not impress.  When we do sidelines beyond our means, we tend to do poorly on our primary work.  We lose sight of our intended goals, and just see the blurry motion of all the works we put into our own hands.  Soon, we will make a mistake and we are left with a mess on the floor when things just crash and fall apart.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Weathering Storms

Due to the typhoon that brought down heavy rain and strong winds in the wee hours of July 14, we lost electricity for almost 24 hours.  It wasn't as bad as Milenyo of 2006 which brought about more than 3 days of black out, but it's not the ordinary 1 to 3 hour brown outs we get every other time a storm passes by.

With our increased usage of technology for our company operations, from accounting and requisition to inventory and sales, and service tracking, our customer and product databases, as well as our everyday use of email, computers, fax, PBX, and mobile phones, we have become fearfully dependent so much on electricity that we get into a disorderly mess to put our operations back "online", if only on paper.

We have not been able to formally draft contingencies on brown out situations or other unusual circumstances for that matter.  Fortunately for us, we had a generator in our storage room, courtesy of last year's Ondoy.  We also had people who know how to use and wire them.  They just needed a little mobilization, and by late morning, just shortly after our PBX UPS gave up on our phone lines, we were running on diesel, and operating somewhat decently, albeit without email and mobile phones.

Moving forward, we should be planning ahead to prepare backup and redundant plans to keep our operations smooth and durable.  This means redundant internet services, backup servers, adequate supply stocking, and documentation.  We lasted a day without much hiccups.  Next time, we can do even better.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Uniform Colors

Today marks the first day most Amici office people get to wear uniforms to work.  The rationale on the new regulation set down a month or so ago regarding uniforms is not clear to me.  An unlikely possibility is the reason that schools used to give to enforce uniforms -- to lower the average costs of clothing of students.  More plausible is to ensure everyone's at the minimum presentable and to diminish the chances of people standing out for good or for bad, thereby instigating envy, ridicule and chaos.  Perhaps it aims to foster internal solidarity, or to present a unified front to outside folks.  Or perhaps someone saw a sales team from a competing company in some nice uniforms and thought they looked fantastic.

Our uniforms wouldn't be lowering the average costs of clothing for employees.  One, we've been wearing clothes for the past number of years and everyone seems fine with it.  In fact, that a lot of people have invested on so many inexpensive Amici polo shirts over the last two years actually may mean a net loss of investment for them.  Two, there's actually an instituted penalty slash fund raising program for not wearing uniforms.  (I'm not very fond of monetary penalties for personal ethical reasons ).  But at least funds raised out of uniform penalty will go towards bonding moments.

Our uniforms are supposed to make everyone presentable.  It's a given however that the style of our uniforms will not win a fashion contest.  Moreso, the colors have the misfortune of being bland and, well, quite similar to a lot of uniforms everywhere.  No single person needs to be a point of an ugly joke anymore. Now, it's us making fun of ourselves.  We may have traded our freedom of expression for a united colors of dubious blue.  Say goodbye to the Fashionista award. 

Uniforms have their purpose.  Judicious use of uniforms go a long way towards improving our appearance as a company.  Uniforms convey discipline.  Practically, they make the role of their wearers easily identifiable.  When uniforms convey roles, it adds to the professionalism of a company and gives a close knit sense of belonging in and out of each team.  Creative designs lend creativity to our company asset.  Nevertheless, too much reliance however may indicate a disease in bureaucracy, inflexibility and martinet leadership.  A bad looking uniform says a lack of creativity, or worse a half-baked approach to getting things done.

A graceful execution of this uniform project will have a lot of benefits to our company.  Supposing our underlying aim is presentation, we should actually be satisfied with the appearance of our uniforms.  Perhaps a dress code maybe better in the long run as it balances unity and individual expression.  Uniforms then will have distinct roles to play, used to maximize their benefits.  And when we wear them, it is with pride that we show where we belong.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Shoes To Fill, Hats To Wear

Our young, resident graphic designer and marketing manager, Ms. Lorraine Cheung, has now officially left Amici Land for pastures a bit less blue.  With her departure, she has left a large void in our midst, not just because of her multidimensional duties and versatility but also her unforgettable and inspiring presence.

Through her short but significant career in Amici, M'am Lorr has shown excellent multitasking talent, versatility and discipline, and a much desired OC predilection sorely lacking in our otherwise chaotic office.  These are valuable traits in a small business as we are that we will surely miss.  Her leaving has left extra-large shoes to fill and a colorful array of hats to wear.  She has held her own managing company events, retail sales, office sales, accounts receivable, doing HR and SEC stuff, while doubling as backup to invoicing and collection.  She was also responsible for our graphic and print designs including our catalogs, brochures and other paraphernalia, exhibit and store booths, signage and modules, for making IDs and calling cards, posting cute birthday lists, and even ordering and distributing company shirts.

Despite her already tremendous help in our operations, she may be most missed because of her sunny personality and character.  She has brought color, warmth, and lots of cuteness in Amici Land, the little things she bring with her that inspire in others smiles and optimism.  She has also played the guidance counselor to a number of people here.  It is with our sense of pride and love in her that we cooked up a surprise farewell party especially customized for her last week.  It's our way of saying "Thank You" to her.

We thank her for her much valued contributions to our company.  We believe in her exemplary abilities and wish her the best of luck as she pursue her promising designing career.  We look forward to working again with her in the future for design requirements.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


As a business making daily purchasing decisions, we are sometimes overwhelmed with the systemic complexity of the products we acquire and the schedules we abide to provide good service to our customers.

Ill-planned project schedules as well as highly technical products we have no idea about but are tasked to purchase lead overall to more expensive or subpar purchases.  In those cases, we only have so little time to canvass for well-priced items, or we are unable to make good judgment about product specifications because we do not know what are defined good or even good enough.

To obtain better results at purchasing, we first must cover the basics, an honest pro-company Purchasing Unit.  Such would have a sense of ownership to the company and be accountable to purchasing decisions, so that choices are made to minimize cost and maximize value, while serving the company's requirements promptly and adequately, and all the while promoting a company's mission and values.

We have heard too often the stories of the dishonest purchasing officer who insists that the company they work for, the company that provides his salary, be overcharged to compensate for commissions.  Philippines is rife with such.  It may be for this matter that we do not strongly engage the government as a customer.  But it may come as a surprise that the graft and corruption we gripe about in our government are just as unavoidable in the private business industry.  So when we are designing our Purchasing Unit, we must take special care to foster honesty in our personnel, implement checks and balances, and do frequent attentive reviews.

Our purchaser must also be pro-company.  She has a sense of ownership of the company in that her choices must have the company's best interests at heart.  Purchases are qualified based on their contribution to the company's performance.  We do not shop impulsively for unnecessary toys or expensive gadgets that have marginal benefits.  This, even if the items considered are actually good values to companies with the right requirements.  If we are not qualified to make sound judgment on need purchases, we must consult with trustworthy people who are.

Resourcefulness is trait we cannot overlook, especially during canvassing.  For obscure or highly niche products, it takes more effort to find the best deals.  We might have to go through tens of entries from the yellow pages or do a lot of googling to get to the top of the chain.  And we shouldn't forget that, sometimes, we just need to ask our more knowledgeable colleagues.

Finding good purchasers is necessarily difficult.  This is true for most any jobs.  Resumes and tests are not indicators of the values we espouse.  But we start with the basics -- capable people working in a competitive company that values, practices, and trains integrity and professionalism.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A.O. Smith's Renewable Energy Water Heaters

A.O. Smith, the world's largest residential and commercial water heater manufacturer, is off to a rather late if welcome start with heat pump water heaters and solar water heaters.

Since 2005, we've been promoting Fireflux heat pump water heaters and SolarActive solar water heaters coupled with A.O. Smith's hot water storage tanks to elevate energy efficiency in the hotel and resort industry in the Philippines.  We've since lead the energy efficient water heating industry with  perhaps more than 200 heat pump installations to various hotel chains and three to five star hotels.

The past two years, however, brought the giant that is A.O. Smith into the forefront of renewable energy water heating solutions.  A.O. Smith Netherlands started with the development of solar direct and indirect tanks.  Meanwhile, A.O. Smith China introduced an award-winning solar heater design for high-rise condominiums.  A.O. Smith's purchase of Applied Energy Recovery Systems Inc. (AERS) last year finally brought heat pump technology to the table.

Among A.O. Smith's newest water heaters include the Voltex Hybrid Electric Water Heater, an integral heat pump water heater that makes installing heat pump easy and works as a drop-in replacement to traditional water heaters.  A.O. Smith China is also introducing even smaller heat pump water heaters with only 15 to 20 gallon storage capacity, suitable for residential or low volume use.  The push to make heat pump technology available with smaller capacities helps in making this environmentally friendly technology more affordable and ubiquitous.

As the distributor of A.O. Smith, we are very excited to see innovations and development of this fast maturing alternative technologies.  We've learned a lot the past five years in this complex water heating systems serving the most demanding high profile clients.  Now, we hope to leverage as well the technological and manufacturing prowess of A.O. Smith to further spur the country's move towards renewable energy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Congratulations Admin Team!

It was the obviously inevitable match up, between Admin and Service whose games between were consistently close over the regular season.  Both teams got 5-1 cards at the end of the tournament, and both played their strengths throughout.

Just an hour ago, however, ended Game 2 and the championship tournament.  It was a best of three tournament, but Admin managed to eke out wins against the Service team in both closely contested games 1 and 2.  Both games ended with too close scores near the dying seconds to give spectators bits of excitement and uncertainty. 

In Game 1's final possession of the Service team, they could have overcome an arguably easy two-point lead of the Admin team, but alas, an inbound interception sealed the victory to the champion. 

In Game 2, Service could have tied the game with two free throws with 3 seconds left.   The first free throw miss lead to the difficult scenario of requiring an offensive rebound that did not materialize.  Service was given an accidental final chance when they intercepted the last inbound pass.  Nevertheless, time and distance proved insurmountable.

In the end, both teams gave their all, but only one can win in this competitive game of skills, luck, effort and most of all, teamwork.  Congratulations to the Admin Team for winning 2010's Amici Basketball Tournament!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Basketball Round 5

Last Friday was round 5 of Amici's basketball tournament for 2010.  I don't actually know how many rounds this goes, though with only four teams, there shouldn't be any kind of playoff.  Nevertheless, the standings are definitely showing some obvious match-ups:

Admin 4-1
Sales 1-4
Service 4-1
Thermovar 1-4

Last Friday's Game 1 between Service and Sales was not an obvious runaway win for the Service team.  For most of the game, Service was able to hang to a lead against Sales.  Sales however was able to lead the game a number of times or at least stay close for the rest of the game.  Sales put a lot of effort in defense, regrouping every time a breakdown occurred, at the expense of their timeouts.  The last few minutes of the game gave Sales a 3-point lead that, combined with the seeming consistent game play Sales was showing the last quarter, seemed to guarantee an upset victory for the Sales.  Celebration however was too early then, as Service was able to capitalize on offensive lapses that broke the tempo, and gave the Service the comeback win.

Game 2 however was a rout for the Admin team.  Despite a first half double digit lead by the Thermovar team, the Admin team regrouped with consistent and effective defense to gain the lead and the momentum for the rest of the game.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jump for Joy

Jump for Joy is a six-week free summer class program for English, Math, and Science from Grade 5 to fourth year high school students attending the local Sta. Teresita Parish in Mayon St., Quezon City.  Now on its 3rd week, it was formerly a "top secret" extracurricular project for Amici and Thermovar folks, an avenue for giving something back to our neighborhood and society.

Jump for Joy is a brainchild of Alex Yao, Amici Water Systems operations manager.  But it roots back to a summer tutorial program by Lola Paula Vergara at the same parish.  For several years, she steadily taught English to kids at a spacious room in front of the parish office.  It was then that Alex met her and volunteered to help in teaching kids.  However, the program soon ended due to health concerns. 

Lola Paula had stopped teaching a few years back.  Nevertheless, her legacy remains in all the students that she helped.  After a five year hiatus, our operations manager thought of continuing the summer class project.  He privately enlisted help from Amici people, and from there, Jump for Joy sprang to fruition.

Jump for Joy can be demanding of time with 3 to 4 classes scheduled daily.  Because the schedules conflict with our work hours, we make do with the additional load and we depend on each other for help.  Even so, some find the joy of teaching inspirational, finding the challenging experience uplifting.  Some of us find our own classes as a sort of review.  Some simply love kids.

It is with hope that we touch the lives of and learn with our students.  We might not be the best teachers, expert in the subjects we strive to teach well.  But it is our joy to see our students find love in learning, and our joy to learn from them, how to reach out, remembering how we were back in school, and appreciating the value of giving.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

2010 Basketball Round 4

2010 Basketball Standing

Admin 3-1
Sales 1-3
Service 3-1
Thermovar 1-3

I heard last night's games were particularly exciting.  Game 1 between Sales and Thermovar finally gave the Sales team a win.  Game 2 on the other hand gave the Admin team their first loss in the series.  That loss though gave some sense of pride to the 5 admin players who played last night.  Admin with no bench at all to field against Service's bottomless bench lost by only 2 points.  That's not an easy feat, if I say so myself.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

2010 Basketball Standing

Round 2 and 3 came and went and here are the standings:

Admin: 3-0
Sales: 0-3
Service: 2-1
Thermovar: 1-2

Round 4 comes this Friday.  Good luck, guys!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

2010 Basketball Round 1

Last year, Amici Sportsfest  2009 was abruptly postponed due to the Ondoy flooding.  While there were plans for chess, badminton, bowling, basketball, and mayhaps table tennis, we only managed to play Bowling.  (Ironically, the winner then was the Laguna team, which has since been dissolved and reorganized due to strategic reasons.)  Among many of us however are sports lovers who can't let the big let down hold us back forever.  And so, we're back to our 2nd set of games, basketball.

We had our first round of basketball last Friday.  Game 1 was Thermovar vs Amici Sales, while Game 2 was Service vs Admin.  I arrived late for the event while playing chauffeur  for my sister because our regular driver was on time for basketball and missing from overtime work.  Luckily, I just got there in time for the 2nd game with the Admin team.

There aren't a lot of guys in our Admin department, so the basketball tournament organizer, our service head manager, managed to stack our deck a little.  Service managers belong to the Admin group.  It's arguably fair, what with the Service team packed with big guys and a big bench.  The Sales team, however, have it against them, because a number of their players are really first time players. 

I didn't play a lot of minutes -- I managed to get 2 fouls, 1 assist, 0 out of 1 field goal attempts, and perhaps a rebound or two. There wasn't much seesaw in the scores.  It was an exciting game nonetheless.  For the first quarter, Service team was mostly leading by five points or so.  From the 2nd quarter onwards, our Admin team was leading.  Admin's lead had ballooned to almost 10 during the 3rd quarter.  But late during the 4th quarter, Service has managed to trim their deficit to two points.  The last minute was tense, but a turnover by the Service team that time sealed the win for us.

Tomorrow marks the 2nd round of basketball.  Game 1 will be Admin versus Thermovar, and game 2 will be between Service and Sales.  Stay tuned for more sports update.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Worldbex, Then and Now

Last Thursday, I took the rare opportunity to go out of the office to take a peek at Worldbex.  Worldbex is one of the major construction exhibit in the Philippines.  We have been showcasing our products in these exhibits for a number of years already.  This year's was very different from the previous years...

The first exhibit Amici has joined that I can remember was Philconstruct 2002.  I was then working in Canon Information Technologies as a software engineer, and I remember having to leave work at 4pm to get home on the way to the World Trade Center in Buendia.  (No, I didn't do under time.  I was usually at Jollibee Plaza in Ortigas by 7am then, so I could leave work when the clock strikes 4pm.)  It was my first time to commute to WTC.  Luckily, it was just a jeepney ride away from Dapitan St., using the Mabini-Buendia route.  I got down Buendia, and it was just a nice short walk to the exhibit.

Our booth was part of the USA pavilion, showcasing our A.O. Smith Water Heaters.  Laptops, LCD TVs, projectors were not popular then.  Instead, we had a small TV with a built in VHS player showing to visitors factory production of A.O. Smith water heaters, including the application of glass lining to heater tanks.  I cannot recall if we even had heaters on display.  But storage heaters being storage heaters, they are notably unremarkable.  Then, our booth was manned by my dad, my uncle, my cousin, and me.  The exhibit organizers were generously offering red wine, in which I was exquisitely interested, but when offered I refused, as shy people are wont to do.

That was back in 2002.  Our exhibit was more a haphazard experiment in marketing.  It's unexplored territory.  We didn't have any good way of measuring the impact of the exhibit.  And for the next three years, we did not join any more exhibits.  A competitor supposedly remarked in 2005 that we were just a small "store" selling water heaters.  Three years before that, we probably didn't exist at all, for all that same competitor cared.

I think it was in 2006 when we started joining exhibits after that.  It was also that year when we joined the most exhibits in a year -- Worldbex, Conex, Philbex in Cebu, and Philconstruct.  We were once again aiming to leverage exhibits as a marketing channel, and we were game to try all of them.

For Conex, we invested on a rather expensive but reusable module, hoping to attract more people with a nicer booth.  We have up to four sales personnel entertaining clients.  And we have a nice display of storage heaters and pumps.  The storage heaters are as unremarkable as before, except for the high efficiency Cyclone storage heater, which brought us some trouble transporting, but nonetheless brought a lot more attention to our company.  On the night of the last day of the exhibit, we still had a project completion meeting (aka dinner at Napoli's at Tomas Morato) to reflect on the days' successes and challenges.

The same year, I had my first trip to Cebu for the Philbex exhibit.  It was not normal that I was part of the Cebu delegation.  But I had a foreign friend in Cebu then, for whom I took the opportunity to tag along.  Our booth was simple.  We again had a display of our wares, this time focused on instant heaters and swimming pool products.  Instead of our expensive module (which early on showed its age due to wear and tear), we opted for the more portable posters and tarps.  Philbex was the prelude to our company opening a new Amici Water Systems branch in Cebu.

The exhibits followed brought repeated performances.  We started having a formula.  We have the registration forms for interested clients.  We have a fairly stable product make up.  We have pictures and designs of our projects we can show off.    We were also more conscious about our expenses.  We cut down our exhibits to the essentials that prove effective.  We were a bit stingy with our meal allowances.  And we didn't have our project completion meetings any more. 

Worldbex 2010 had just come to a close.  I was only there last Thursday and again on the Saturday.  In some ways, it reminded me of our first exhibit in 2002.  It was again a small adventure, commuting to WTC and back, to see what's there and what we're cooking.

Gone were our rubber stamp booth of the last few years  that looked like a market place with our water heaters, pumps, and other products.  We didn't go with an expensive outsourced module, but we had a nice, creative booth thanks to our fantastic and versatile  industrial designer.  We had an interesting set of videos to show, no longer through a TV-VHS combo but now through an LCD TV and DVD player.  We had an aquarium with a manually operated wave ball toy, to get the idea across.  We're here again to exhibit,  like our first venture, to introduce a product, this time quite different and innovative, this time from France (though we were not in a French pavilion) -- the Wave Ball wave generator

It was a frontier once more, a revolution of sorts for our company, a reset of our exposition in water technology.  We're here to make waves.  It's a Wavolution.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wave Generators

Last September, we posted in our website a rather vague product page on wave generators for swimming pools.  The product here is the Wave Ball, an innovative wave generator in the form of a ball that works through the principle of resonance.

The wave ball is an energy saving alternative to traditional brute-force powerful wave generators.  The wave ball is an engineering feat, devised through expert knowledge of wave behaviour, computer technology, and precise manufacturing.  Its energy saving feature is due to "reuse" and adaptation of reflected waves within the swimming pool to create desired waves up to 1 meter high.

Yesterday, after nearly six months since initial posting and information gathering, we have formally introduced the Wave Ball to our sales force.  Due to its rather expensive initial costs, it is a special niche product.  However, we believe it has tremendous potential through huge operational savings.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Service Desk Soft Start

A month ago, I talked about an information systems module for our service department.  Since then, Amici's IT and Service department have held a few meetings on expectations and mock ups of the module, not surprisingly called Service Desk. 

Service Desk was designed after our company's short-lived experiments with Request Tracker and OTRS, both open source web-based issue trackers.  We did not push through with web-based issue trackers because we needed a customized system well integrated with our current stack.  We were not looking for a help desk system, but instead a service and schedule management system.  OTRS felt too IT-ish, which our company is not.  Request Tracker lasted longer (two weeks) but lack of integration to our CRM proved cumbersome.

That was two years ago.  Service Desk collected dust instead of improving our service because the process to interface with it, the overall structure of our Service Department was only to be stabilized two years after.

Last Saturday, we formally introduced Service Desk to our sales force.  Rather than the original rudimentary table design that stressed outstanding service requests, it sported a new employee daily schedule interface that gives focus on scheduling constraints and resource management.  The table design is still available as an alternative view, but for the main target users, our service managers and our sales team, the daily schedule view remains the obvious choice.

Sales brought up an obvious request.  Should not Sales be allowed to create the service requests themselves?  Then, our service managers need only to monitor outstanding requests so that they can schedule them appropriately.

This option is readily available, should service request processes be revised.  In fact, this was the original design of the Service Desk.  However, it remains to be seen whether the size of our company shall warrant the process change.

Right now, when Sales request services, they usually call any one of three service managers to relay details and wait for an SR number.  Sometimes, it's easier to jot down details on a small sheet of paper and to hand that personally to our service managers.  Unfortunately, in practice a lot of waiting may have to be done either way.  Jotting down details on paper also duplicates encoding of the service request.

The proponents of the separation of duties for Service Requests and Job Orders espouses the advantages of the analogous Sale Order and Sale Invoice system.
 The requestors will themselves encode their requests, reducing the encoding bottleneck  by a factor up to 7 (20+ people to encode their own requests, rather than 3 to encode everyone's requests), and also reduce typical errors such as misspellings.  A standard work flow for requesting service is simply clicking on a Service button from the related Sale Invoice to automatically fill up fields and link the sale to the service request.  Service Managers can then focus on providing appropriate schedules for all outstanding requests.

The communication pattern between requestors and service managers will be different.  Instead of the current poll-waiting method whereby Sales busily waits for an available Service Manager to communicate his requests, a message passing, event-driven methodology becomes natural.  This is akin to email instead of the telephone.

Requestors will not have to wait for an SR number.  The computer system automatically provides a request ID and even notifies requestors via email any updates on their requests.  Service Managers will be notified of any pending requests and are free to schedule them.  Scheduling those requests in turn automatically notifies requestors of the new schedules.

I believe the SR <> JO system is appropriate especially for big companies.  The poll waiting communication pattern is obviously inefficient for large volume of issue/service tickets.  For our company however, our lower volume might not  give enough points to either methodologies.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

IT and You

As a small company in growing pains, Amici has grown accustomed to incessant process changes in constant search for the best way of doing things.  Some changes though not merely whims without reasons are due perhaps to hypotheses and not so scientific methods of experimentations.  Most will have foundations in text book analyses and prescriptions of friends in or out of the industry.  It should be good then that we are not so big as to be inflexible.  We strive to be agile.

Information technology is one pillar our company leans on to improve itself.  And as much as changes live and die and evolve through generations, information technology only outlives itself due to constant makeover.  Processes such as counting inventory, tracking serial numbers, monitoring expenses, preparing our next orders, etc. find themselves renovated as ideas and plans come into fruition in every next iteration of our information system.

People, whether cooperative or antagonistic towards each and every change, play the bigger part in moulding our company evolution.  IT changes that find huge backlashes are commonly flawed in design or expectations.  People are the users who swear by the strengths of and curse the weaknesses of our system.  They demand change more demandingly than mere routine pro-activeness.

There is however a natural wall between people and IT.  On one side, a lot of people do not know what to seek from IT.  They live with what's there, and dismiss inefficiencies as way of life.  And then on the other side are people who see IT too magically, without practical consideration to time or budget.  IT though materially inexpensive costs time and manpower.

Also, the software developer who receives requests from users is too often distanced to understand what users expect.  Users themselves do not know too well their requirements, and the software developer challenged in communication is only happy to guess usage and expectations.

The solution of course is a comfortable entanglement between IT and users.  But before that, Amici IT should seek organization and sustainability.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Number Business

Like any normal business, we work with numbers here in Amici Water Systems.  Sales agents compute discounts and totals for each of their sales; the collector or cashier computes change for the customers; sales supervisors add up her group's sales for the quarter and their expenses; HR handles the intricate payroll in a very complicated spreadsheet in; marketing does forecasts for her latest marketing project; service and project managers work with limited sets of resources and time to prepare service estimates and project schedules; managers and accountants look at financial statements.

Unlike a lot of businesses however, our major products are heavily about numbers.  When we size water heaters for your home, swimming pool, or a hotel, we may need basic numbers like the number and flow capacities of showers, the number of bathtubs, the dimension of your pool and the ambient temperature of water and atmosphere, or the number of rooms in a hotel or occupancy rate during peak hours for water heating.  The number of solar panels needed, the output capacity of heat pump water heaters, the storage capacity of hot water tanks form a system to provide enough hot water at a desired temperature for however your business uses hot water.  Pumps and tanks are sized according to required volume and pressure as well as horizontal and vertical distances between water source and installation site.  The appropriate models of swimming pool pumps and filters for your swimming pool depend on the volume of your swimming pool as well as its usage.  Our products are technical.  They are a number business.

Due to the nature of our business, it is important for our people to know their math, and do it well.  Though our various product trainings cover to a degree specific product physics informally, there is so much room for improvement in our technical training program.  Formalization of the program, including gradation and tests, will be helpful in the long run in educating our people.

Arming our people with efficient tools are just as important.  While the old-fashioned basic calculator is still the preferred equipment of many, due to its convenience and portability, the versatile spreadsheet and other computer programs are available for more advanced computations.  Our product catalog has a few pages devoted to conversion tables.  We have a compilation of spreadsheet/form templates for various common calculations in our day to day business to speed response time.  At one point, I've even written a small unit conversion tool to help convert basic units of measurement we use in our company.  Nowadays, with internet access being almost a given, Google's built in calculator has been a boon to quick and easy calculations.

My personal favorite calculator, however, is Qalculate.  Unfortunately for Windows and Mac users, it is only available under Linux.  (Fortunately for our company, we use Ubuntu, a fairly easy-to-use Linux distribution, in which installing Qalculate is just a search and a few clicks away.)  Qalculate not only features a robust scientific mode but also unit conversions, currency conversions, and even calculus.  As an example of its power, you can enter 6 kilowatt hour to Btu and it gives you 20.472747 kBtu.  Computing the desired gpm pump requirement for a residential swimming pool 10 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 5 feet deep is simply entering the following expression:

10 meters * 6 meters * 5 feet / 8 hours to gal/min

It gives an answer ~ 50.324776 gal / min.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Our company as organizations do grows its traditions with age.  Though our company history is more than 30 years already, more than half the average lifespan of a corporation, our company in its current form is very young. 

The first five years have been about products.  With a small office for three people, our company grew slowly but steadily, selling good products at fair prices while maintaining low overhead.  Tradition has been opening at day and closing at night, and the year-end inventory.

The next years after up to now however have brought dramatic changes.  Leadership developed and luck blessed our company.  Now, it's really about the people, good people, selling good products.  More social traditions followed.

Some of our major company events such as Christmas parties and Team-building are recent traditions.  They do not make much sense in a company of 3 or 4 persons.

Some haven't earned their keep to be called traditions.  This new year's company outlook missed this year (Or I missed it somehow.)  Last year's sportsfest and moon cake festival were unceremoniously aborted after typhoon Ondoy.  Nevertheless, this year holds promise for the sportsfest's continuation with an already scheduled chess tournament.

These recent company traditions arose from normal progressions of relationships.  As our company focused on people, relationships among develop to form cohesive groupings.  Working with more people preludes socializing with more people.  When there's stability, social interaction in and out of office contribute to  each other's growth and group cohesiveness.  Lack of maintenance on the other hand brings about apathy and division.

It would have been lacklustre if traditions were to arise only for its own, as a pure business decision without magic of innovation and communication, with a goal first and foremost to promote bonding as if it can be plasticized so conveniently.  (But one can still grow from there, giving probably adaptation and creativity.)

Our sportsfest (or the idea of)  have been borne in part from common sports played by fellow officemates.  Our weekly basketball have been quite steady for the past year.  Badminton, though it hasn't caught on, has fans such as yours truly.  Chess?  Table tennis?  People among are finding common grounds of activities, on which to share and find unity.

As an young, agile company, we can expect traditions to come to show the Amici way.  More people coming in means more possibilities of formation.  When people go out, we expect changes.  We must be alive to maintain the best traditions and let bad traditions die quietly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Service Now Next Door

Along the restructuring of our service group this early came well thought plans, wishful experiments and wide-eyed thinking.  Within a few days from conception, we now have service request forms printed in triplicate, serialized, carbonized, glued, and in archaic colors.  Our service team has left the cramped office for a more spacious room.  They got some local phones sometimes working and then some.  Internet connection and wiring was assisted by yours truly.  And just today, they have another computer to play with!

The service request forms serve to put in writing whatever service is tasked to do.  And by that, I mean anything.  It actually surprised me the first couple of times I saw some non-operational tasks put in the service forms.  The service request forms (which I secretly call Job Order forms (because that's what I called them back in July last year in its computerized version)) are creatively colored white, pink, and yellow.  Not.  They're also conveniently segregated into two series: A and B.  I'm not sure which service group is A and which is B, but I'm pretty sure the service group has that written somewhere.  Last week, I was trying to encode some of the forms in the computer.  Unfortunately I encountered quite a number of cacographical issues.

I think they'll have to have some kind of filing cabinets sooner or later.  Although from what I see with the implementation so far, you wouldn't want to browse through them just to look for one particular form.  Thinking about filing so much data makes me want to study library science some time.

The service team has finally left our office, to the rightful dismay of office mates who habitually answer the phones.  One thing that made service a bit problematic was that it can be hard to get in touch with them.  Sometimes, you can't get one complete sentence from them without some preemptive phone call to distract them.  Although the communication issue is with much merit, the space problem is just as big an issue.  We have now three guys (1.4 + .75 + .85 = 3) sharing one chair, one table, one computer and half a phone.  When they get visitors (and they get lots of them), it can be crowded.  So moving them out sort of won that one.  At least temporarily.  I think the communication issue can be fixed in more creative ways.

Which is why they now have two local numbers.  Three would have been better.  But right now, the two are not yet perfectly working.  So let's work that out first.  It would have been fantastic if they can have a sort of local trunk number which our main office can dial to ring any available phone on their side.  That is certainly plausible if I can convince management to invest in an Asterisk server to replace our dinosaur of a PABX.  Other options include video intercom and instant messaging.

What happens if you've got 3 computer novices in an air conditioned room, well hidden from prying eyes, and  two computers with internet?  Chess death match anyone?  Well not really.  They haven't gone that far except for the nearly ubiquitous Facebook.  Now one is helping the other how to do some Empathy, while having fun with Cheese.  Then there's the question of how to shut down.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Service Revamp

This morning held a much awaited sales-service meet.  I would say much awaited as I've been expecting a major restructuring of service for a while now.  Our company has met much difficulties the past couple of years, ballooning in expenses and manpower, as well as service requests and back orders.  We've gone through several persons each doing his or her best to take on the daunting role of the service manager.  There were high expectations to be met.  Some have gone their separate ways.  Some have shifted to roles a bit less challenging.  And then some have persevered through thick and thin, goals met or unmet.  We've added people with different levels of training.  But after the past year, we still aren't there.  We're in much need of foundational and procedural improvements.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to join in much of the meeting.  Actually, I might have missed the session completely if not for perky ears on an early curious morning.  I did my best to attend, even if I felt somewhat uninvited, although I skipped the delicious breakfast of tuyo and salted eggs -- dietary compulsions. Alas, with other important things to attend, it seems I only got to the intro and finale.  It might have been exponentially interesting to get to the gist of the meeting.

What can we expect?  From what I see, there will be papers and more, and trees crying.  Service order forms,  return forms, differentiation of repair and delivery/installations -- seems standard fare in traditional companies.  They will do much good in making our service operations measurable -- as long as they're properly implemented.  Splitting the service group to Repairs and Delivery/Installation can help in response times and specializations.  Ultimately it will be about customer satisfaction.  Expect things to become much much better.


As a side note, it seems I can't say much given how out of the loop I sometimes feel now about various company processes.  As I'm more of an IT and Supply Chain personnel, I'm still trying to see how the changes will fit in the overall scheme.  On one end, it's disheartening not to have input about the changes being implemented.  I've already wrote a service module in our in-house enterprise system, though it needed more love and attention, and actual use and tuning.  (I'm all for evolutionary programming, although right now I'm by myself.)  On the other end, I'm still excited to work on redesigning the service management module.  The past month, I've been contemplating on getting more hands-on service management experience.  There are naysayers on implementing it through computers, valid reasons all -- personnel "computational complexity", keeping things simple, etc.  But I don't really see the conflict.  It's a design problem.  That's the exciting part.