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20 Tough Questions to Better Select, Compare & Evaluate Any Software / Cloud Vendor

Questions for Software Vendors

There is nothing more frustrating than signing on the dotted line and then regretting it. Selecting a software or cloud vendor is a major decision for any company and Giva has designed a whitepaper to assist you in becoming more informed and educated by reducing the complexity of the cloud or software vendor selection process.

This whitepaper provides twenty penetrating questions to ask cloud vendors in order to become a more informed buyer. It provides practical "how to" advice to help avoid mistakes that even the most experienced professionals make, ultimately costing them a lot of time and money. Use these questions early in your selection process to poke and prod at your list of cloud vendors.

Some topics covered include:

  • Using uptime and support service level agreements to manage our relationship
  • How to qualify the reliability and security of a data center; SSAE 16 (formally SAS 70), Trustwave PCI Certification and SysTrust Compliance
  • Access to your data and rights in the cloud
  • Source code escrow rights and responsibilities
  • Termination clauses, contract term commitments, discounts and hidden fees
  • What if my company is dissatisfied?
  • What if my company finds better technology?
  • Deployment "out-of-box" vs. time and cost of customization/configuration
  • Preparing and comparing the total cost of ownership (TCO) of all alternatives
  • Most overlooked critical fine print in software maintenance agreements
  • Vendor product roadmaps and commitment
  • What are the costs for post-implementation customization/configuration?
  • What qualifies as routine technical support vs. professional services fees?

To view the whitepaper in its entirety, please see Twenty Tough Questions to Better Select, Compare & Evaluate Any Software or Cloud Vendors.

Impact Investing

Impact Investing

What is Impact Investing?

Impact Investing is a new trend in corporate philanthropy that blends investment strategies from the business sector with social and environmental impact strategies from the public sector. It allows social and environmental causes to tap into money and other resources that may otherwise be lacking. Simply put, impact investments are made into companies, organizations, and funds in order to generate positive social and environmental outcomes. Investors not only expect to create social value from their investments, but also to get a financial return on capital. Impact investments provide capital to support solutions that create positive impacts, rather than solutions meant to avoid harmful socio-environmental impacts, making them unique from other forms of "socially responsible investment." They also serve as unique catalysts to emerging and developed markets in social and environmental change, enabling recipients to harness the power of enterprise to achieve positive outcomes on a much larger scale than before.

More on Measurement

An important part of impact investing is measuring the social impact created by the organization, project, etc. of choice. There are a variety of approaches taken when measuring impact. Generally, measurement will closely relate to an investor's goals and intentions for their investments. The Global Impact Investing Network gives a general guide for impact measurement best practices (under "Core Characteristics of Impact Investing"):

  • Establishing and stating social and environmental objectives to relevant stakeholders
  • Setting performance metrics/targets related to these objectives using standardized metrics wherever possible
  • Monitoring and managing the performance of investments against these targets
  • Reporting on social and environmental performance to relevant stakeholders

Investments are evaluated to determine if the capital provided has been used as originally intended, has achieved the impact intended, and how any generated impact compares to earlier performance prior to the investment. Investors want to see reports that show hard evidence of the social or environmental value of the programs in which they invested. They also want to see an outlook on the future with consideration given to areas of growth and improvement, where future investments may be allocated.

More about Returns on Investment

For something to be deemed an impact investment, the investment must have a financial return that is at least equal to the principle invested, if not more. In the growing world of impact investing, there are three main providers of capital, or investors: professional investors, specialized funds, and governments.

Impact investors are socially motivated; they value the social or environmental outputs generated from the enterprises in which they invest, as well receiving a financial return from their investment. Investors vary in their expectations for financial returns. In their article, Unpacking the Impact in Impact Investing, Paul Brest and Kelly Born explain that "Non-concessionary investors are not willing to make any financial sacrifice to achieve their social goals," and "Concessionary investors are willing to make some financial sacrifice—by taking greater risks or accepting lower returns—to achieve their social goals."

Impact Investing is an innovating strategy for addressing some of the world's most pressing social and environmental issues. As organizations work to address causes and generate positive social and environmental impacts, socially responsible investing provides much needed capital to advancing these causes and driving stronger and farther reaching impacts. It is becoming widely acknowledged that the private and public sector will need to cooperate together to generate the tools, funding and intellectual resources necessary to truly address issues such as poverty, disease, and other issues affecting society and the world. Impact investing is one rapidly expanding approach to achieving widespread social and environmental impacts.

To learn more about impact investing, please visit the following resources:

The Rockefeller Foundation Innovative Finance The Rockefeller Foundation founded the concept of impact investing in 2007 and has since been expanding their reach and research in this area. Their website offers a number of publications about impact investing, social impact bonds, and an event page with information on upcoming forums as well as videos and summaries from past events.
Global Impact Investing Network The Global Impact Investing Network "is dedicated to increasing the scale and effectiveness of impact investing." Their community of impact investors is the largest in the world, including asset owners, managers and service providers engaged in impact investing. They provide access to a number of resources, from research publications, news articles, and event calendars, to investor tools and training information.
The U.S. National Advisory Board on Impact Investing "The group's purpose is to highlight key areas of focus for US policymakers in order to support the growth of impact investing and to provide counsel to the global policy discussion." Review their 2014 report: Private Capital, Public Good: How Smart Federal Policy Can Galvanize Impact Investing - and Why It's Urgent
Impact Investor UK Impact Investor UK is a portal providing users with in-depth information and content on: impact investing, measurement strategies, types of impact investments, opportunities for impact investing, and a wealth of related news articles and other media publications.

Saving You Money: Selecting The Right Help Desk Staffing Model, Part Two

Help Desk Staffing Models

To understand the financial impact of the various Help Desk staffing models discussed in Part One, the important question to answer is, "How many Help Desk staff are required for your call volume?"

The Meta Group and the Help Desk Institute have calculated the cost per call resolution at the various levels of support. These studies show the real financial impact of the different models. In all cases, the Generalist Model is about 48% more cost effective.

The following are methods of determining how many Help Desk staff are required for your volume:

  • Determining Direct Labor Requirements. How calls are submitted determines the biggest impact of labor requirements. The percentage of calls actually being resolved at the Help Desk have a direct impact as well.
  • Determining the Number of Potential Direct Labor Hours Available. It is unrealistic to think that anyone who works a 40-hour week will be available for all 2,080 theoretical hours in the year. When you factor in and deduct hours for company holidays, vacations, sick time, training, etc., the net number will determine the potential direct labor hours available.
  • Utilization Rate. This rate reflects the fact that inbound calls arrive randomly. Rarely does a new call arrive at the exact moment an open call is concluded. The level of service required of analysts determines an "appropriate" utilization rate.
  • Sample Formulas. Calculations to determine:
    1. Total numbers of hours required
    2. Number of potential direct hours available
    3. Actual number of direct labor hours available
    4. Gross staffing level

For these formulas and much more in-depth information, please refer to Giva's Whitepaper on Help Desk Staffing Models.

Saving You Money: Selecting The Right Help Desk Staffing Model, Part One

Help Desk Staffing Models

Studies indicate that 80% of the typical help desk budget is salary. Frequently, Help Desk managers worry about staffing levels more than any other matter. These managers need a methodology to determine said levels. The usual Erlang formulas from queuing theory do not always work because of the wide diversity of Help Desk entry points (phone call, e-mail, fax, etc.). This theory is helpful for some call centers but not for the more complex Help Desk environment. Therefore, staffing appropriately has a major impact on the business and the bottom line.

Understanding the Different Call Flow Design Models is Key

Gatekeeper Model

This model can be staffed with a single person or a few. It is designed to make it easier for the customer to have one phone number to call. In most cases, however, this model creates more problems than it solves; most often the "Gatekeeper" cannot solve the problem, creating a bottleneck instead, resulting in very low customer satisfaction.

Call Sorting Model

This structure sorts the calls into special groups using technology rather than people. Each call is then transferred to someone who can solve the customer's problem, a "specialist." With this model, additional staff is required in order to resolve the issues in each category; and, due to the fact that call volumes are not predictable, a lot of time can be wasted. Often, customers have more than one problem they are calling about which is a big drawback to this design.

Tier Structured Models:


  1. The Specialist Model is the filtering of calls, commonly known as a tiered specialist structure. Often, the Desktop Support group receives the calls in order to solve more customer problems on the first call. Because of payroll expense for the "specialist," phones are not manned 100% of the time prompting customers to leave a message.
  2. The Generalist Model is where the "generalists" answer the phone, e-mail, log the calls, answer what they can and transfer the rest to the second level (tier). This model resembles an ER triage process. This triage call handling process is the most effective for most help desk operations. The majority of good help desk analysts can solve 45%-65% of all calls allowing the second level (tier) to solve the more challenging issues. Customer satisfaction is often very high because the Help Desk operators "own" the problem even though they may not be the one to handle it, similar to the first nurse contact in the triage of an ER

In part two, we will discuss the financial impacts of various Help Desk staffing models!

For more in-depth analysis, please refer to Giva's Whitepaper on Help Desk Staffing Models.

Internal and External CSR

Internal & External Corporate Social Responsbility Flow

Our blog post on Good Corporate Citizenship was concerned with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), an important aspect of contemporary business given its role in determining reputations. We also discussed some of the top performing corporations in a Reputation Institute study focused on CSR practices. Emerging from a discussion about these top businesses is an understanding of the different forms CSR can take. Specifically, larger businesses have made CSR both an internal and external practice.

For example, Microsoft engages in many commendable forms of external corporate altruism. Their Technology for Good program has provided 62,000 nonprofits with affordable access to technology; and their Microsoft YouthSpark program has sought to provide hundreds of millions of youth with opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship. But, they also apply CSR values in their internal operations. Their goal of becoming a carbon neutral company by applying an internal carbon fee is one such example. The actions of other large companies like IBM's "Smarter Planet" and "Smarter Cities" campaigns reflect this embracing of CSR principles in regular business operations.

In general, these examples are a reflection of the varied and customized applications of CSR and the exciting new ideas coming from this emerging field.

10 Tough Questions to Help Evaluate Software Vendors

Questions for Software Vendors

Customers interested in purchasing software or cloud services can encounter myriad of problems and obstacles during the purchase process. Your company can reduce the complexity of the software or cloud buying process by asking the following 10 penetrating and informed questions of your potential vendors:

1. Dissatisfaction with product: After my company pays for your software licenses, what if we become dissatisfied?

2. Better technology: What if better technology comes along after we purchase your software licenses?

3. Deployment "out-of-box" vs. time and cost of customization/configuration: How quickly can we be up and running on your product? Does it work "out of the box"?

4. Preparing and comparing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of all alternatives: What is the estimated Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of your product over four years? Consider all the acquisition and lifetime costs of ownership.

5. Most overlooked critical fine print in software maintenance agreements: What exactly is included in annual software maintenance?

6. Costs of post-implementation customization/configuration: Our CFO is concerned about commitments for ongoing fees. Can we stop paying software maintenance any time we want, but continue to use the software licenses?

7. Vendor product road maps and commitment: What is your road map for future development?

8. Using uptime and support service level agreements to manage our relationship: Does your company charge professional services fees if we have support issues that require reconfiguration?

9. Routine technical support vs. professional service fees: If we want to do additional customization and configuration work after the initial deployment, does your company charge professional fees?

10. Termination clauses, contract term commitments, discounts and hidden fees: Does your company provide Respond and Resolve Service Level Agreements for support service requests that your company is committed by contract to meet?

For a more in-depth look into these questions, see Giva's Whitepaper Ten Tough Questions to Better Select, Compare & Evaluate Any Software or Cloud Vendors.

Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a CSR Program

CSR Initiatives Successes or Failures

When dealing with something as beneficial as a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) program, it becomes important to discuss how these programs can go wrong, and how people can go about creating them in the right way.

On the website MarketingProfs, Alyssa Dver posted the article, "Irresponsible Corporate Responsibility: Doing Good Isn't Always Done Well." She notes that often corporations will focus on only one aspect of CSR. It is important to be well-rounded in the social responsibilities that the company has taken on. For example, if a company aligns more with saving the planet and being environmentally friendly, while noble, it is important to make sure that this does not deter from donating to certain charities or respecting human rights issues. Another issue is a misalignment of the cause with the company. For instance, it would be strange if an animal slaughterhouse were to donate charity money to a vegan non-profit. While an exaggerated example, the point is that it is much more effective to align with a non-profit that can utilize the skills of your workforce.  FedEx does this by allowing for disaster relief and organ transportation programs to make use of their transportation services during emergency situations.

Another issue that often transpires within failed CSR initiatives is the lack of internal communication. If none of the employees know about opportunities to volunteer or the companies' different CSR initiatives, then the initiatives will not be sustainable. The article states that the best companies use different techniques from putting notices on paystubs, newsletters, voicemails and even text messages. This way, different demographics, sectors and levels of employees are all aware of volunteer opportunities. Moreover, besides internal communication, ineffective external communication can be problematic as well. Communication with stakeholders and customers should be transparent and have depth. There are multiple avenues to go about accomplishing this, via websites, web videos, billboards and increasingly social media.

With most initiatives, it is fatal to not have a plan with milestones and general goals. Many parts encompass CSR initiatives, like branding, marketing and strategy, so that if there is not a clear path that the initiative is on, important components of the initiative are going to be left out, creating an unsustainable program. Along with this comes giving without any rules. It may seem like a good idea to just donate to multiple charities, or to donate a large amount to a charity that the CEO is personally aligned with, but this can lead to larger issues within the company. If the best customer of a corporation makes a statement about their favorite charity, it will be difficult for the company to say no if there are not any clear guidelines on how and to whom donations will be made out. Creating rules will make it clearer on how best to make these decisions.

Entrepreneur also has ideas on how CSR initiatives should be created. Lain Hensley wrote the article, "Corporate Social Responsibility Done Right: 5 Ways to Help Your Company Shine." One of the ideas that Hensley found invaluable is that more effective CSR initiatives crowdsource ideas. It is important for CSR initiatives to be backed by the CEO and top management because employees are more willing to care if they can plainly see that top management is interested in social responsibility. At the same time though, top management cannot generate all of the ideas, an issue which can be solved by soliciting employee ideas on what the goals of the initiative should be, which will lead to more employee participation as well. Further, combining philanthropy and corporate training, having philanthropy strongly interwoven into the identity of the company, will keep the company from missing out on opportunities to give and grow.

CSR initiatives can help and be effective and worthwhile, and so it is important to be aware of the traps that will cause an initiative to fail.

Business Benefits of CSR for SMEs (Small/Medium Enterprises)

Business & Community Working Together

In this blog, Giva has detailed some of the business benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Implicit in much of this analysis is the assumption that the company being addressed is quite large and has the resources to implement certain policies. One is right to ponder whether these business benefits of CSR are the same for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). A report titled "Opportunity and Responsibility" compiled by the European Commission helps answer this question. It details some of the most effective CSR investments for SMEs and highlights the benefits that can only be achieved with scale.

As one might expect, many of the business benefits of CSR are the same for firms of all sizes. Companies stand to gain engaged staff, an enhanced reputation, and lower long-run costs. But, small businesses in particular may be interested in some other benefits. For instance, SMEs with great CSR policies (particularly strong sustainability measures and labor practices) may be more likely to win contracts from larger businesses. Those with strong CSR reputations are poised for success as more and more large companies hold their entire supply chain accountable to certain ethical standards. In general, small businesses may find that investors are partial to companies with great corporate citizenship policies.

SMEs in the same industry are much more likely to cooperate with one another on a CSR initiative. Unlike their larger brethren who might tend to avoid this kind of cooperation, small businesses are more comfortable working together to solve a community problem. In one instance, a group of 77 shop owners in a section of Copenhagen worked with the Ministry of Education to design an apprenticeship program for young people. The program was designed to confront a rise in youth crime while having the added benefit of increasing the number of skilled retail workers. These kind of joint initiatives give small businesses the opportunity to have an impact comparable in size to that of large multinational enterprises. They are often community focused and help to improve the local business climate.

Moreover, thinking of creative CSR policies and social entrepreneurship can spur incredible innovation. Today's economy is increasingly knowledge driven. Companies of all sizes are reliant on their employee's creativity. For a small business that does not have an extensive research and development team, thinking about CSR can be a great way to transform the business and its products with fresh ideas.

Surveys continue to indicate that ethics and morals are the primary drivers of CSR in small business. This finding is important. Ultimately, great CSR is born from great ethics. But, that does not exclude CSR from being great for business. Corporate Social Responsibility can improve local communities, lead to new business partnerships, and spur innovation. Ultimately, these benefits improve the business.

Job Loss From Data Breach

Data Breach

With new technology comes new dangers. Data breaches are a crippling threat to businesses nationwide for multiple reasons: business security has failed its customers and their information is unsafe (whether it be financial or medical), companies lose money when it is time to repay or monitor its customers by hiring third parties, and employees actually suffer job loss from these devastating breaches.

The Identity Theft Resource Center's Data Breach Reports defines a breach as "an incident in which an individual name plus a Social Security number, driver's license number, medical record or financial record (credit/debit cards included) is potentially put at risk because of exposure. This exposure can occur either electronically or in paper format." As of December 16th, the ITRC recorded 744 breaches with over 81 million informational records compromised. Big businesses such as Home Depot, Target, Michael's, Neiman Marcus, and Bebe are victims of data breaches.

Firstly, data breaches can cause massive monetary damage. Elizabeth Weise from USA Today says, "Companies need [breach insurance] because they have to pay up when their customers get hit." The average monetary loss is $188.00 per customer hacked, which the company is required to pay back. Even a small business of 1,000 customers is then required to pay $188,000. Breach insurance can be expensive, but so can being the victim of a cyber attack.

Insurance and monetary compensation are possible solutions. However, most people do not realize the effects of security breaches on those in charge of business security. Data attacks can result in job loss. These job losses include Beth Jacob, CIO of Target; Maricopa County Community College District director, Miguel Corzo; head of Utah's Department of Health's technology department, Stephen Fletcher; and an Accretive Health employee responsible for the loss of an unencrypted laptop filled with sensitive healthcare information on over 23,000 patients.

When it comes to data breaches, there seems to be a greater margin of job penalty in the field of healthcare. Aside from the few mentioned above, Goold Health Systems fired an employee this year for downloading patient information onto a USB drive and then losing it. Highmark, Inc. fired a mail room employee for an error which disclosed over 3,500 patients' Medicare information without authorization. Two Georgia Hospital employees were fired for improperly disposing of an unencrypted desktop including information on over 6,500 patients. Boston Medical Center fired a third-party vendor after realizing they had posted data from 15,000 patients to the website without password protection.

Whether via carelessness, accident, or the work of a hacker, customer information must be taken seriously, especially when it pertains to healthcare. The lack of security can result in job loss. This is not a new issue: in 2006, four healthcare employees of Providence Health Care were fired for the theft of 365,000 healthcare patients' medical records. Thankfully, a security vendor was hired, and patients could sign up for information restoration and monitoring.

However, the healthcare business demographic accounts for almost half of ITRC's recorded data breaches, with hacking as the cause for more than a third of these breaches. Healthcare records provide a wealth of information, making them a huge target for cyber attacks. Because of this, federal law and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (also known as HIPAA) require security methods such as encryption of medical data to ensure a company remains protected from a data breach.

Businesses are going to have to continue to be vigilant in implementing their security strategies.

With Giva, security is of the utmost importance.  This is why Giva is has worked to become HIPAA-compliant, with its cloud software complying with strict regulations, helping keep their healthcare - and all - customers' information safe.

Save Money, Perform Better: The Benefits of Improving First Contact Resolution

Contact Us for First Contact Resolution

When it comes to providing high quality IT service, having a high First Contact Resolution (FCR) rate is essential. High First Contact Resolution rates allow for resolution to be delivered quickly and closely to the customer, minimizing inconvenience and building customer satisfaction. Successful Service Desks are able to resolve routine requests and incidents enabling engineers on levels 2 and 3 to focus on more demanding and specialized tasks.

In order to improve your FCR rate, you will first need to measure your Service Desk's performance. Metrics should not be used as a one-time performance indicator or point of reference; best practices for improving FCR require using metrics for continuous quality improvement.

Metrics should be developed with your Service Level Agreement (SLA) in mind, and your end goal as a point of reference. Not only should metrics help you to analyze black and white aspects of your service such as call volume, FCR rates, etc., but also 360 degree feedback measures like client satisfaction or operational maturity in regards to individual and team performance.

Knowledge management is important for improving First Contact Resolution. Generally, this involves gathering environment-specific knowledge regarding systems, configuration, dependencies and failure points. Use this knowledge to identify opportunities for improvement, and establish a system and culture for sharing knowledge and new techniques. Some effective models for improving knowledge and knowledge sharing include:

  • Regular observation, coaching and feedback sessions with staff
  • Creating a knowledge base that allows for easy searches for information
  • Regular status reports including lessons learned, achievements and obstacles to overcome

High First Contact Resolution rates equate to money saved. The estimated cost for resolving a ticket on level one is around $32 versus $60 for an escalated ticket, hence, thousands of dollars can be saved by improving FCR levels. As an example, a Service Desk that averages 4,000 calls per month will save an estimated $28,000 by improving FCR from 50% to 70%. Beyond financial benefits, improved FCR enhances end-user productivity, job satisfaction for both Level 1 and 2 engineers, relationships between teams, and, of course, customer satisfaction!

Please see Giva's whitepaper on service desk optimization for a much more in-depth review of this subject.

 

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Client Success

  • 50% reduction in time to deploy Giva's change, incident, problem, asset management and knowledgebase modules
  • 60% reduction in the 5 year Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • Saved at least 1 FTE due to lower ongoing administration
  • Saved 1 week per month due to easy to use reports
  • Increased to 90% achievement in meeting service level agreements
  • 70% reduction in generating reports and admin; eliminated 35 hours/month
  • 50% faster to create/assign a service request
  • 60% increase in information captured during the initial phone call
  • 50% increase in the number of service requests created due to intuitive design
  • 80% increase in productivity by using Giva's dashboards and reports
  • 60% increase in meeting service level agreements
  • 45% increase in the number of the calls logged due to Giva's intuitiveness and ease of use
  • 50% increase in productivity by using Giva's integrated custom forms