A Business Technology Place

Rethink email attachments

Ease of use wins the day.

Attaching documents to email is perhaps the most-used business workflow invention in the last 20 years. I don’t think this feature of email was intended to become so intertwined in business workflows. But it’s so easy to click, attach, and send that the procedure has become habit for us. Storing documents on a network location that the recipients have access to is complicated for both the sender and recipient. As security rules tighten it has become even more complicated to share documents. Hackers and Malware makers know this all too well. Email attachments are still one of the easiest ways to get past corporate firewalls.

Attachments could land you in email jail.Games-Go-to-Jail

There are a couple of undesirable effects from our attachment habit. Attachments are big and most people rarely consider the size of the attachment before clicking send. That file is stored in the sent mail of the sender and the inbox of the recipient. Eventually this results in a bloated mailbox size that exceeds the storage quota, aka mailbox jail.

The second issue is that email attachments make collaboration difficult. Document versioning is unclear and easily lost if multiple contributors work on the document simultaneously. The location of the most recent copy of a document is unknown or easily confused. Oh, and don’t forget the aggregate effect all those attachments have on the overall mailbox size.

Rethink email habits.

I think the first step to changing any behavior is awareness of the habit and the consequences of the actions. Here are a few ways to rethink how to approach email attachments:

  1. Use attachments for distributing final copies of document but not for collaborating on changes. This guideline is simple to remember and can reduce issues with email jail and versioning. There are many alternative ways to collaborate document edits with others such as group folders, SharePoint sites, or online cloud storage.
  2. Choose a recurring interval to clean your mailbox from unneeded attachments. The simplest way to do this is to sort the mailbox folder by size (don’t forget sent mail). The largest messages will have attachments. Remove messages over a threshold size, say 1MB, especially if you already have another copy of the file elsewhere.
  3. Take the time to understand what locations for documents are available outside of the email inbox and what types of audiences have access to those locations. To copy and paste a link to a document inside an email message is just as easy as attaching a document. Knowing the recipient has access to the link is the key to make it work. This may require some initial homework and setup time, but the later dividends are worth it.

Let me know how you approach email attachments.

Onward and upward.


Think to plan. Plan to think.

Time to think and plan is elusive.

During the normal patterns of a work week I tend to get pulled into the daily operational tasks of keeping the business running and solving for immediate needs. That stuff is ultra-important because it involves the daily interaction of servicing customers.  But what about the long term planning and more strategic thinking? I try to plan that into a work week, but it’s difficult to keep many weeks due to the daily needs of the business. I’m not alone. Others try to solve for this by having off-site planning meetings and management retreats. The common theme is that it’s difficult to make and keep time for thinking and planning when we are in our normal weekly routine.

Vacation for thinking?

As I write this, I am towards the end of a vacation and it’s been a great week to relax, see new places, and to get away from the daily grind of work. As I was pounding out miles on a treadmill it occurred to me how much easier it is to think while on vacation.  Maybe I’m an odd ball, but I get energized about my career during times of rest and relaxation. When I see others in the travel and entertainment industry putting forth their best effort it inspires me. The architecture, design, and preparation that I see with travel and entertainment services makes me want to spend time excelling in my professional field as well. But I can’t take vacations as often as I need to think more strategically.

How can I create time to think and plan during a normal work week?

Relaxation yields clarity of thought.  Vacation re-energizes me. That’s the point of vacation right?

My thoughts on some classic options to make time for thinking:

  • Block time on the calendar for thinking. That works until I violate my own reserved time or someone schedules a “must attend “ meeting.  This is option is what I make of it or what I allow it be. I have the same principle for writing/blogging. I use a set time during the week to think and write.
  • Use time at home for planning and thinking. That’s not really an option for me with a busy kid’s schedule at night. Working long hours like that isn’t really sustainable either, unless I want to give up something like good health or my family.
  • Get up an hour earlier. Use the time to think and plan. I do try this but have not been disciplined with it. Plus I mixed it with time to exercise. Maybe I should get up two hours earlier for both exercise and thinking?
  • Go off-site and sit in a coffee shop. Do it on the way to work or take an extended lunch break. I just hope my boss doesn’t call to find me because there is a major emergency at work. Seriously though, I think there are ways to accomplish this without interrupting my normal schedule.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed with all the elements of planning. Break the strategic thinking into smaller areas or smaller bits of thought. This approach isn’t as intimidating and allows me to accomplish it in smaller pieces of time.

Avoid the transactional disruptions.

A key for me is to avoid the short transactional oriented messages for a time so that I can think. This means not checking emails as they come in. It means avoiding social media traps. Ultimately these become distractions that get in the way of thinking.

Rethink rules that prohibit remote deposit

I love my credit union. I’ve been a member for many years and my relationship with them has steadily grown.  I use online banking for money transfer, bill pay, a personal finance manager (PFM), and even an integrated link to Turbo Tax. In return, my credit union gives me competitive rates on loans, better than average interest rates on share and draft accounts, great customer service, and no worries about nuisance fees.

Last year I opened a custodial share account for my daughter. She is the primary owner of the account but my name is on it until she reaches legal age. This account is not for her college education, rather it is her savings account for the money she earns. She can use it when and how she likes and that was the agreement when I took her to open the account. I want her to start managing how she spends her money.

Last week we experienced the first hiccup with her account. She received two checks for baby-sitting and wanted to deposit them. No problem I thought, we can deposit them through the remote capture service that is part of online banking. I use this feature frequently with my own accounts and have come to love the flexibility it gives me to make deposits after normal business hours.

Her share is allowed to access online banking.  But when we signed-in to send the check image I found that the feature was disabled for her account. That was disappointing to say the least, but I had another check to deposit into my own account so I decided I would deposit the two at a Credit Union service center the next day. (The nearest CU branch is 25 minutes away compared to five minutes to the nearest service center.)

When I tried to deposit the check into her account at the service center, the teller told me that she could not process the transaction because it was blocked (a second failed attempt to deposit funds). So I had to call my credit union from the service center to ask about the block. I guessed it had something to do with her age and I was right. What I didn’t expect was the reason.

The lady in Member Services told me that my daughter didn’t have a beacon score and thus she was not allowed to make remote deposits. However, after reviewing my status they lifted the block so that we would be allowed to make deposits for her from credit union service centers. I thanked her for this and then asked if she could do the same for the remote deposits via online banking. After placing me on hold for several minutes she came back on the line and told me that they could not lift this restriction because she did not have a beacon score. At this point I politely thanked her for researching my question and then completed my deposit at the service center.

On my way home I tried to think of a rational explanation as to why the credit union would enforce a rule prohibiting a deposit into an account.  The only thing I could think of was that it was a means to reduce the risk that someone would knowingly deposit a bad check.  But isn’t that what the two day hold on check deposits was to setup to achieve?

So I looked up “beacon score”.  Investopedia defines a beacon score as a “number generated by Equifax Credit Bureau to rank an individual’s credit-worthiness.” So in other words it’s the credit score to show how likely an individual is to repay a loan.  Beacon is the term used by Equifax and was replaced by the term Pinnacle in more recent years.

So back to my story and the reason for this blog post. It still doesn’t make sense to me why my daughter can’t remotely deposit money into her account. Justifying the policy on the basis of her credit score makes even less sense to me. This isn’t about a loan payment, a loan application, or a credit check. She just wants to put the money she earned into her bank account.

Remote deposit is a growing feature for account holders at financial institutions across the country.  I’ll admit the idea seemed risky when I first read about it years ago. But it’s a natural expansion of the Check 21 Act where financial institutions started using digital check images instead of mailing them to each other.  BankDirector.com listed remote deposit capture as one the top 10 technologies for banking in an article published last June. The BankDirector article also noted that industry leader USAA reported that members deposited more than 450,000 checks in the first five months of their mobile deposit capture product.

I’m trying to encourage my daughter to save her money and use a credit union. With the continued expansion of technology and capabilities her generation is sure to use physical branch locations less than my generation.  Restricting her from using remote deposit just doesn’t make good sense for her or the credit union. It’s time to remove this prohibitive policy and make remote deposit capture services available to all members.

UPDATE: A few days after posting this I received a call from the VP of Operations at my credit union. We discussed the basis for the business process described in this post. They gave my account and override to allow remote deposit. As I think about it now, I believe this kind of background check should be performed at new account opening (which it often is). If a person is worthy to have an account (based on risk score) then they should also be trusted enough to perform remote deposits.

Rethink customer fees

Last year I wrote about guidelines for charging extra fees on internet purchases. In that post I recorded some practical tips about how to explain additive fees on the internet in a customer friendly way. Fees have been on my mind again this week in large part because they are now an intertwined part of our society. Wikipedia defines a fee as “the price one pays as remuneration for services.” Yet not all fees are positioned this way.

No Choice Fees

Some merchants add a fee to a customer’s purchase process with no ability to opt-out. The fee is part of the requirement for a purchase. Ticketmaster is good example of a merchant using this technique with their infamous “convenience fee” on each purchase.

Fees for service

This type of fee is charged to a customer in exchange for providing an additional level of service. Customers have a choice whether or not they pay this fee. Airline baggage fees are a good example of this.

Hidden fees

Hidden fees are those that customers don’t see coming because they are stated in the fine print, overview of services, or some other hard to spot location. Handset upgrade fees for a cell phone are my favorite in this category. Apparently it’s not enough that you secure a new phone in exchange for a two year contract.

So how do we rethink customer fees?

Let’s first consider the paradox of fee charges. Customers hate to pay fees yet they are willing to pay for extra services if they understand and value the exchange.

With that in mind, it comes down to a simple rule:

If the fee is optional for the customer then allow them to pick the service during product selection and itemize the charge. If the fee is not optional for the customer then include it in the product price.

The focus of this rule is on the customer. If the fee is not optional then don’t surprise the customer by adding it to the total at the time of payment (checkout). If its part of the cost to provide the product or service then include it in the product price. In this way, the customer knows clearly what the expected price is for the service. The customer doesn’t really care about the fee, for their convenience or not. They just want to know what it’ll cost them to purchase.

If the fee is associated to an additive service or feature then itemize it by making it a selectable item during the purchase process. In this way, the customer agrees to and isn’t surprised by the fee. If the service is valuable customers will choose it!

Oh yeah. My disclaimer: Fees that are not part of a purchase process such as bank overdraft are obviously not covered by this rule. That’s more of a penalty fee and really an entirely different discussion.

Rethink text book distribution

Text books are made for the education and instruction of students in our society right? Well, that’s the academic answer at least. Certainly the amount of money in the text book industry is benefiting a load of people in the value chain. Authors, publishers, distributors, retail stores, etc.Text Books

But really. Have you seen a student lately? They carry around backpacks busting at the seams.  I weighed my son’s back pack tonight and it topped off at 20 pounds! Let’s be real, this can’t be healthy for the kids and certainly in this day and age we have other options for getting educational content to students other than over-sized printed text books.

Online textbooks or computer versions have been available for some time now and ocassionally offered in academic environment. These are good alternatives, but present a few problems:

1) They require reading the text book from a computer screen.  Large amounts of reading from a back-lit screen is hard to do and eye-stresser. I haven’t found anyone yet that really likes this option for heavy reading.

2) They are not portable. What if you need the book in the classroom and at home? Laptops are not available to everyone and while they are close to portable aren’t always convenen

So now it’s 2010. The Kindle and iPad are making waves and I’m watching my kids break their backs trying to get to the bus. Let’s rethink to the obvious solution:

Get each student an eReader and have them load their textbooks onto this device.

Here’s why it works for everyone involved:

  • The students – The most important people in this equation are the students. They create the demand for the entire value chain: schools, authors, publishers, etc. They benefit because they get a portable device for reading valuable content. It weighs next to nothing and can even take notes and create markup.
  • The schools – Take the budget for buying the printed versions and  use that amount to negotiate with the eReader providers and publishers for the eReader and eBooks. The student is assigned an eReader at the beginning of the year. If they lose it, then they have to purchase another one with their own dime (same policy today on text books). You could even require a deposit which is returned when the eReader comes back at the end of the year. Optionally offer the students the ability to purchase the eReader to keep and reuse.  For colleges and universities, you can require the purchase of the reader and purchase of the books. Basic eReaders today sell for the price of a single textbook. It’s a one time purchase and in the long run text books should be less expensive for the student. Just imagine an article about a college/university that is decreasing a cost to its students instead of a double digit gain each year.
  • The publishers –  It’s best to get involved in this game now and be a player rather than ignoring it so that the others determine a way around them and make their service irrelevant. They should continue to work with authors to make distribution easier.
  • The authors – Somebody still has to write the text!
  • The retailers – In a college and university environment they now sell eReaders and find a way to distribute the texts electronically. Their physical space requirements for textbook inventory just fell off the charts. So they can either refill that space with other merchandise or reduce their footprint and costs.
  • The trees – Yep, this is the environmentally responsible solution and the trees love it.

It’s really just a matter of time before this happens. Oh yeah, maybe, just maybe we’ll get the love of reading back into some of our students. These eReaders don’t have to be limited to text books. Students would be able to download and purchase any eBook they wanted to read.    So what are we waiting for?