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.