2009 by the Numbers

Well, 2009 has come to an end.  With that, I’m publishing my third annual ‘by the Numbers’ (here is 2007 and 2008) post that chronicles my travels.  Most travel is for business but there were a couple personal trips that made the list.

So, in 2009 I…

  • Flew 7,482 miles (I’m happy to say I didn’t have many bad airport experiences this year!)
  • Traveled through 5 airports (RIC, IAD, PHL, ORD, AUA) – PHL is still a nightmare
  • Stayed 133 nights in hotels
  • Stayed 3 nights in a corporate apartment
  • Rented 1 car – Hertz still has a questionable selection
  • Drove 8,505 miles – DC and back…a lot
  • Visited 3 states (NC, IL, PA) other than VA. Oh, and one island – Aruba!!

It looks like my travel for at least the first half of 2010 will be on par with 2009.  We’ll see what the new year brings though!!

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12Sprints – My take on SAPs Google Wave competitor

A couple weeks ago I was given access to the 12sprints.com Beta program (thanks @12sprints for listening).  12Sprints is SAPs answer to Google Wave for the enterprise that they’ve deemed a “Virtual War Room”.  It seems to be part of the Business Objects division (based on information from emails I’ve received).  In short, I’m VERY impressed with the service and opportunities I see it leading to.

I’ve held off publishing my review to ensure I gave my self ample time to review the different aspects of the service.  I will say that my final experiment (before publishing my review, that is) was performed on a Mac in the Google Chrome browser. I was greeted by a warning message that was essentially ‘browser not supported, proceed at your own risk’ but found no significant issues.  There were a few overflow errors (likely just CSS) but the service worked splendidly which excited me since Chrome is my browser of choice.

How I’m Looking at 12Sprints

So, I entered the experiment with limited exposure to Google Wave (I have an account but haven’t been that active) looking at 12Sprints purely from an enterprise operations standpoint.  How can the average enterprise use 12Sprints to succeed or make themselves better?  Four areas immediately popped into my mind with instant thoughts of SAP backend integration – purchasing, customer service, engineering and, of course, the executive suite.

Purchasing and customer service is probably at the top of everyone’s list.  The ability to collaborate across a multi-national corporation on large purchasing decisions or bounce a customers complaint around to different people in an organization with ease has incredible potential for the business and the consumer.  Combine the collaboration aspect of 12Sprints with integration to SAPs backend and the possibilities for process improvement are endless.  Ideally, I see purchasing and customer service being integrated with SAPs Records Management and Case Management solutions.

Engineering is something that may not make it to the typical list of use-cases but I think it’s important to call out.  An organizations ability to design products and reduce the overall time to market is a competitive advantage that I see 12Sprints impacting for the better.  Couple the collaborative nature 12Sprints with SAPs cFolders solution and I think you have a very interesting solution that will help reduce the time it takes for companies to hit the market introduction stage of a product.

Feature Set

12Sprints came loaded with a solid set of features for the typical enterprise.  Actions within 12Sprints are organized into what is called an ‘activity’.  Each activity can have any number of ‘tools’ such as agenda’s, responsibility matrices (ARCI, RACI, DACI and RASIC), Cost/Benefit and SWOT analysis, Pro’s and Con’s and even a decision tool that requires that you ‘lock in’ what was decided.

I think one of the really cool features is 12Sprints integration of the online note tool Evernote.  The process of adding content from my Evernote account was seemless and a huge draw for me personally.  I question it’s reach at the enterprise level right now (none of my clients are currently using Evernote) but at an individual user level I find it very useful.  User’s can also post content from their computers such as Excel spreadsheets,  PowerPoint presentations or that recently completed White Paper.

Missing Features

I think the biggest feature missing was the ability to chat with other members of an activity or your organization.  Collaboration on documents, decisions and the like is key (the major use-case here) so I don’t understand exactly why an embedded chat feature was left off the list.  My guess (hope) is that it is in the works for a future release.

Another feature that I’d like to see made more prominent is the services integration with various SAPs services.  Understandably, 12Sprints is still in beta (and I don’t have an SAP environment linked) but I couldn’t find any clues of it’s potential integration with an SAP backend system.

They do, however, have a call for developers looking to partner on the product so perhaps they’re attempting to build that ‘app store’ ecosystem where enterprises can purchase miscellaneous extensions to enhance the service.  I think it would be a great move to drive innovation and reduce the time it takes for 12Sprints to exit Beta.  It’s obviously too early to tell but given that the apps are the flavor of the day for platform roadmaps I wouldn’t be surprised.

All-in-all – two thumbs up so far and expect additional reviews as the 12Sprints team continues to enhance the service.

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Garyvee’s New ObsessedTV.com

So, I’ve seen mixed reviews of Gary Vaynerchuk’s newest venture, ObsessedTV.com.  Some love it and a couple hate it, but I’m not sure they’re really giving it a chance.  I must admit, when I first loaded it up I was a bit shocked at the direction he took but I think it’s a pretty solid play.  I mean, it’s different than we’re used to from Gary (hell, it’s not even 100% Gary) but he’s expanding his empire…what did you want him to do another wine show?!?  Perhaps something dedicated solely to Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer or Burgundy?!?  What gives!  He’s been there and clearly conquered that and while it will take time for people to adjust, I think it’s a step in a great direction.

Now, onto the show – I watched the Mark Bittman interview.  I’m not really their target demographic which is why the “set” probably wasn’t what I expected.  I can’t really take it to them for that though, it’s what I would consider a pretty standard set for interview format shows.  Overall, the episode seemed pretty “early stage” to me in that Samantha didn’t feel totally at ease, maybe even a little nervous.  Maybe it was the new setting but some of that may have been Mark who, in my opinion, seemed a bit snarky.  I think he’s earned a little of that right and I still think he’s a very interesting man.  Anyways, I look forward to future episodes as they just off the jitters and I can’t wait to see what kind of guests they can swing.  Knowing the little I do about Gary I’m sure they won’t disappoint.

In closing, I think it’s great idea that has real potential and it’s a bold move into a new demographic for Gary.  I want to see how it plays out but like I said earlier, he’s conquered wine and is making a play to expand his media empire.  For that my friends, you have to respect him.  As Gary would put it, he’s hustlin’ and you can’t get down on someone for that!  Keep up the great work Gary and I look forward to the other stuff you plan on bringing us.

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2008 by the Numbers

Well, we’ve wrapped on another year and in keeping with what I started last year I’d like to do a rundown of all the travel I got to do – mostly work but some pleasure.

So, in 2008 I…

  • Flew 70,000 miles (let’s not discuss how many canceled/delayed flights)
  • Traveled through 10 airports (RIC, CLT, IAD, PHL, ORD, SEA, BDL, SFO, BOS, DFW)
  • Stayed 123 nights in hotels
  • Rented 38 cars (comment still holds true about Aveo – I like the Mazda 6)
  • Visited 8 states (WA, NC, MA, CT, CA, IL, TX, PA) other than VA
  • I also stayed in a corporate apartment for 15 nights of 2008

It looks like my travel for 2009 will be quite a bit less.  I’ve taken a project that will have me only a couple hours drive from home.

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GrandCentral Forgot to Renew Their Certificate

It seems GrandCentral, the Google owned phone number consolidation service, has failed to renew their security certificate.  According to the Firefox connection message displayed when I tried to login, the certificate expired yesterday afternoon.  Maybe they renewed it but the configuration hasn’t hit the server yet?!?

GrandCentral Certificate Expires

GrandCentral Certificate Expires

January appears to be a rough month for the internet behemoth.  Last January, around the same time (January 23rd actually), someone at Google failed to renew the Google.de domain which brought it down for several hours after someone else registered it.

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Guaranteed Money

Ok, so the title may be a little misleading but let me explain.  I was reading February’s issue of Money magazine and it has a great article by The Mole titled “A Guarantee, Without High Fees” that essentially outlines how to create your own equity-indexed-ish annuity (ish meaning like).  Of course, this method doesn’t come with the annuity’s annual fees or surrender charges if you pull out early.  However, you should know that you will face some penalties for the CD portion of your investment if you withdraw it early.

Not sure what an Equity-Indexed Annuity is?  Check out this description from the Securities and Exchange Commission:

An equity-indexed annuity is a special type of contract between you and an insurance company. During the accumulation period – when you make either a lump sum payment or a series of payments – the insurance company credits you with a return that is based on changes in an equity index, such as the S&P 500 Composite Stock Price Index. The insurance company typically guarantees a minimum return. Guaranteed minimum return rates vary. After the accumulation period, the insurance company will make periodic payments to you under the terms of your contract, unless you choose to receive your contract value in a lump sum.

Now that we’ve got that taken care of let’s get into things.  We’re going to be splitting our investment dollars between a Certificate of Deposit (CD) and a stock market index fund.  I’ll leave the fund decision up to you but you want to make sure it’s low cost.  Keep in mind that purchasing through your IRA gives you the benefit of a tax break.

For all three scenarios, we’ll assume that we have a 10-year investment timeline with an initial investment amount of $10,000.

After some searching around the internet I found a 10-year Capital One CD that was yielding 4.25%.  Not a bad rate given the current economic climate but see my note below – toward the end of the post.  For the index fund portion of our investment we’re going to assume an annual 6% return.  I know last years tremendous losses may have you laughing at that assumption but keep in mind we’re investing long-term and investors typically make back the bulk of their bear market losses in the first year of a bull market.  I’m no economist, but I don’t see the current financial crisis lasting through our 10-year example.

Scenario 1:

We’re risk averse and want to insure that we have, at the very least, our initial $10,000 when we’re done.  For those of you that are reading along at home, this is the same scenario that Money walks through.  I’m just using more recent yields and including a couple additional scenarios.

Here’s our game plan – invest $6,600 in the CD and $3,400 in our index fund.  To determine how much we need to invest in our CD today to guarantee our target minimum is met we run a present-value calculation.  Money recommends the calculators at moneychimp.com which I hadn’t used before today but they’re actually pretty good (here’s a direct link – bypass homepage).

In 10 years, provided the index fund we chose hasn’t lost 100% we’ll have somewhere north of the $10,000 we started with.  If the fund doesn’t increase or decrease at all we’ll have roughly $13,400 (CD + initial index fund value) and if it achieves the 6% annual return we assumed we’ll have about $16,000.  It doesn’t make us the next Warren Buffett but not bad for minimizing our potential loss.

Scenario 2:

In this scenario we’re going to continue with the risk averse theme but make sure we earn something for our time.  We want a guaranteed payout of $12,000.  We have to have some growth otherwise it’s just not worth the effort.

The higher guarantee means that we have to put more in our CD which means less in our index fund.  Less money at a higher yield (6% versus 4.25%) means lower potential on the upside.  I think you may be surprised how little the difference is though.  Here are the numbers…

Stash $7,950 in our CD and toss the remaining $2,050 into the index fund.

If our fund loses everything we still walk away with $12,000 in 10 years.  If the fund doesn’t do anything we’re going to get $14,050 back which is a few hundred more bucks than in the previous scenario.  However, as I said earlier, we’ve got less money earning a potentially higher yield.  This means our potential take away if our 6% annual return is met is $15,650…a few hundred bucks less than in the Scenario 1.

Scenario 3:

Last one, I promise!

We’re young, we know it and we’ve got plenty of time to make up some losses so we’re more willing to take on some risk.  Let’s say we’re willing to take a potential loss of $2,000 in search of a higher payday.

In order to guarantee our $8,000 we throw $5,300 in our CD and $4,700 in our index fund.

We now have $8,000 guaranteed but we’re in an index fund so the chance of it losing 100% is slim.  If our fund doesn’t do jack over the next 10 years we’ll come clean with around $12,700.  But, if our index fund returns 6% like we’re hoping, we take $16,400 straight to the bank (read: to another investment opportunity).

It’s only a few hundred bucks more than our previous examples so is it worth the added risk?  Well, that’s up to you and your personal investment style.  Investments by nature are risky but they’re a necessary evil if you want to build that nest-egg.  You should sit down with your financial advisor and decide what works best for your situation.  On a somewhat related rant, I’m against all financial advisor’s unless they charge a flat fee – typically hourly.  I think advisor’s that make commission on sales is a recipe for disaster.

One thing to keep in mind is that the CDs I discuss in this post are fixed yields which means if interest rates go up, you’re stuck earning a 4.25% yield until maturity.  There are techniques you can employ such as staggering CD purchases but they carry risks of their own.  For example, rates could go down which means future CD purchases could drop you below your target guaranteed minimum.  They do have some benefits though, if interest rates go up you could achieve a higher guaranteed minimum and it also allows you to maintain a certain threshold of liquidity.

I couldn’t find the article on Money’s website but I’ll try to keep my eyes peeled so that I can link to it.  If you happen to have the February issue on hand…it’s on page 35.  It really was a very interesting article.

Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor and offer no warranty – implicit or explicit – to the investment approaches or thoughts outlined in this, or any other post on NathanHJones.com.  I am simply expanding on thoughts, experimenting with numbers and generally thinking outloud.

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