Computer Security Advice for Process Control Reps, Distributors, and Manufacturers

Fourteen years ago, a man named Bill Burr wrote a book on password security on behalf of the U.S. government. In the book, Burr suggested that to keep them from being guessable, passwords should include capital letters, numbers and non-alphabetic symbols like question-marks. He also advised that computer users change their passwords often.

Since then, corporate security watchdogs have insisted Burr's suggestions was the best way to protect access to computer networks and files. But this year, Burr admitted that he made a mistake. Instead of protecting access to systems, long passwords using hard to remember characters actually made them less secure.

In reality, when people are forced to use long, complex passwords, they tend to write them down and post them in places others can find. Meanwhile, these numbers and symbols weren’t helpful in preventing other computers from guessing these combinations. Also, asking users to change the password often backfired, as people generally change the original password by one character, which doesn’t discourage hackers.

Today, corporate security advisers recommend that people use long but easy-to-remember passphrases, ideally one that captures a memorable visual (such as “rabbiteatingcarrot”). Such combinations might take up to 1 trillion years for an automated cyber attacker to crack, compared with one minute for “P@55w0rd”.

Unfortunately, trends in technical security evolve, and standards that were considered gospel at one point may fall out of favor over time. Not only that, as new technologies emerge, they’ll call for security approaches. Even those who work full-time in industrial/process control IT security field can barely keep up.

That being said, if your company keeps up with the most basic of security practices – those that stood the test of time – you may already be better off than your peers. Good security hygiene can go a long way towards protecting your data and devices.

For example, teach your staff and sales people that when in doubt, they shouldn't click on attachments to email messages sent by people they don’t know. Ban the use of outside flash drives on all office computers, as they can contain viruses or other malware. Instruct them never to write down their password, much less share them with others (a task that could be made much easier by using the memorable password styles described above).

Industrial Companies: Look to Your Employees for Fresh Ideas

Employees for Fresh Ideas
Innovation and its inspirations aren't really as mysterious as they seem. The really great performance-enhancing ideas don't come from the research lab or the executive suite. They come from the people who daily fight the company's battle - those who serve the customers. Successful corporations that have developed a culture and reputation for innovative ideas have found ways to harness the creative energies and insights of employees across all functions and ranks. These companies have cultivated "innovation communities - work groups that tackle projects and problems in place of the traditional strategy to engage a team of expensive consultants. These groups provide the opportunity to give new shape and purpose to knowledge already possessed by those employees.

Companies establishing successful innovation communities share seven key characteristics and strategies:
  1. Creating the space to innovate. They designate time and organize effective meetings and communication mechanisms.
  2. Getting a broad variety of viewpoints. They deliberately cross horizontal boundaries to get input from all management (and non-management) levels, and they cross vertical boundaries to break down information "silos" and allow knowledge to spread among even unrelated departments.
  3. Creating conversation between senior management and participants. They require senior management to pay attention to what participants are saying.
  4. Pulling, not pushing, participants to join. They recognize that they can't force anyone to share the knowledge they have.
  5. Keeping development costs low by tapping unused talent. Participants usually continue to perform their regular roles even while working on the innovation project.
  6. Recognizing collateral benefits that sometimes equal or exceed the innovations themselves. Developing a "learning-organization" culture yields benefits that improve morale and company image.
  7. Recognizing that measurement is key. A company can sustain an innovation community only if it can produce demonstrable value. Successful companies keep track of how many innovative ideas make it from the communities' drawing boards to actual implementation—and measure the results.
Successful businesses - the superstars you read about in magazine - are invariably recognized as innovative organizations. One thing in common is that they tap into the collective brain power of entire business - from the "C" suite to the shop floor. We've caught glimpses of this principle inside top-performing industrial companies, too. When you walk through the front door of such companies, there is a calm efficiency that is downright palpable. Everyone seems to know his or her job, and they're discharging their duties with poise and confidence. Underlying many of these operations you'll find dozens - perhaps hundreds - of little ideas and innovations that have made the business run smoother. And a good deal of the ideas came from the employees - not the owner or the president. The business leaders were smart enough to recognize that the people who actually do these jobs know a great deal about the problems and challenges they face every day. The leaders have encouraged, recognized, and rewarded innovation from their employees, and it pays off in improved operations, higher morale, and a culture that consciously looks for ways to learn and improve.

Industrial Technical Sales - What Is The Purpose of Your Blog?

keyboard blogging button social media blog
A blog is an important part of a social media marketing plan
Does your company or organization have a blog? If so, do you know why? What is the purpose of the company blog? What is it supposed to accomplish?

Before you deep dive into this article, let me stake out the corner of the universe for which I am writing. You are a technical sales representative, with problem solving, personal contact, and technical prowess, the predominant parts of your job description. Here at CMS4i, many of our customers sell and service industrial process measurement and control equipment and instruments. Others are in the laboratory and research equipment field. As the writer, my intent is to deliver useful information and commentary to the group just described. Others may find the article useful, recognizing that the article is targeted at a trade specific group.

If you have a blog, you may have considered what the purpose of that chunk of your social media presence might be. Let's recap.

  • Generate awareness and interest in your company.
  • Highlight the products and services you provide.
  • Drive traffic to your website or other social media properties.
  • Promote the expertise and thought leadership of the organization.
  • Promote the discovery of your organization by new potential customers.
With a few tweaks, your own list will probably resemble mine. That's good. There is, however, one very important goal or purpose missing from the list.
The foremost goal of your blog is to get someone to read it.
Need I say that again? Without a reader, your message is undelivered and ineffectual. None of the purpose stated above will be accomplished unless someone is sufficiently enticed or motivated to read your posted article.
How do I get people to read my blog?
 Ah, the question of the modern age! You have so much to say, so much to share, but you are just one of about a billion bloggers out there. Face it, getting traction with your blog, especially if you are not an adept writer, can be very difficult and frustrating. Writing is a craft, with competence and expertise developed over time and trial....and error.
Here are a few tips.
Actually, more than a few, if you read between the lines. Before you lean into the keyboard, give thought to some of these points I share with you.

Think like a reader first, then write. Pretend you are the reader, a customer of your company, a user of the products your company sells. If you want to write about a subject, make sure you include what the reader will want to know about that subject. You can also intermingle your message, but be sure to...

Provide the reader something of value. What constitutes value depends on the situation and your reader, but your abiding by this guiding principle will serve you well in every interaction you have with a potential customer. Some help here....entertainment has value, so does information. Inform or entertain, that should be your credo. The information you provide can have greater value if it is not readily acquired by your reader from another source. This means that your article about how your company solved a problem for a customer might be of great interest. People in the same business tend to face the same challenges. A unique story has value. Any commentary that boosts your reader's knowledge or understanding of a subject related to the accomplishment of their goals can also be valuable in gaining interest for your blog and connected social media properties. As the writer, you can also have your blog serve as a source of industry news. If you aggregate and summarize current events into a single source, that being your blog post, you have provided value by efficiently packaging up new information for your customers. You saved them some time and probably are doing for them what they haven't the time to do on their own. It's perfect, but always be mindful that....

Presentation is important. Humans are sensory beings. Yes, we can read, but we are stimulated by pictures, by color, by change. Your blog post gets a boost when a high quality interesting image is included. The image can accentuate the message in any number of ways. This is art, not science, so let your own creativity work in your favor. Beyond images, make your article easy to read. Admittedly, your audience (remember tech sales rep) is likely to be skilled at digesting the written word, but delivering an article that can be read quickly and with good comprehension will work in your favor. And, I have to say this, no spelling errors allowed. Blog post presentation is a big subject, well beyond the scope of this article. The important takeaway is to be aware that presentation counts. It counts for more than you may realize.

Blogging can be a productive part of your social media marketing effort. It is content you create yourself, portraying a message in your own unique manner, or voice. Give readers something of value and they will give your their time and attention.

Follow, comment, reach out to me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we help small companies build their brand and web presence, so contact us anytime.

Advice I Gave to a Young Entrepreneur

outer space galaxies stars nubulae
No do-overs in this universe.
We don't get do-overs in this universe. What's done cannot be redone. Your successes and not-quite-successes stay on your private resume throughout your whole life. A young friend of my three sons, whom I refer to as my fourth son, is an engineer and approached me about getting some advice and guidance on starting his own business providing engineering and construction services. He knew I had some experience starting, operating, growing, and selling a business in a similar industry. We agreed to meet in a few days, and the prospect of discussing business formation and growth prompted me to consider what I had really learned from my (gulp!) many years of experience in the trenches.

I started musing about what I know now that could have been very helpful to me if I had known it when I was a cub business owner. I share my thoughts below in no particular order. Some might have some redundancy, but I decided to present it pretty much the way it spilled out with a minimum of editing. Perhaps you have some you might add.
  1. Every outcome has a probability. In any situation there are countless possible outcomes. Each has a probability. For the decision maker, it is important to avoid the false euphoria of being sure of an outcome. Other outcomes are possible, even though the likelihood of their occurrence may be very small. Recognize the range of outcomes that have reasonable probability and have a plan for their occurrence.
  2. Have a plan for succession or dissolution. When a business is started, the principals are often excited and full of hope. Nothing wrong with that, but a written agreement should be made that delineates the terms the govern if one of the principals decides to leave the venture. While the discussion is akin to a couple hammering out the terms of their divorce while attending their engagement party, having this agreement in place at the outset can avoid conflict at a later date.
  3. Avoid letting your hair catch fire. This is an expression, probably outdated, that refers to an overreaction to a newly presented problem. Problems are seldom solved by histrionics. Calm, systematic, and rational approaches will work best at overcoming challenges.
  4. Everything is fine – until it is not. Especially in contracts with customers, employees, and partners, outlining what terms and procedures shall govern when things do not go as anticipated can avoid wasted time, conflict, damages, and other occurrences which will negatively impact the business. This is especially applicable to informal verbal agreements or understandings. If the issue has a reasonable probability of occurring, better to solidify an understanding among all involved parties at the outset, before their view is impacted by actual occurrence of unforeseen events.
  5. Agree on things before they become things. The best time to reach agreement on anything is before anything happens. This is especially true when money is involved. People think and act more rationally when the object of the agreement does not yet exist.
  6. Do not underestimate the power of greed. Study and understand greed and how it can affect the behavior of your partners, employees, customers, and suppliers. Also examine how greed can impact your own behavior. People you know and love may do some pretty harsh and unexpected things when in its grip.
  7. Or fear. Everyone has fear of something. At a primitive level, it is what helps us survive. In a business environment, identifying your own fears, as well as the fears of those you work with, can be valuable in decision making and planning.
  8. If you want someone to do something, make them believe it is their idea. Don’t worry about not getting credit for the good idea. Your goal is to make money. If sharing or relinquishing ego boosting credit for success or an idea motivates an employee or partner to higher levels of performance, let it happen. Better yet, make it happen.
  9. Never discount the potential impact of luck. Luck, good and bad, is the occurrence of those events that, in your estimation, had very low probability. Luck can also be the occurrence of an outcome about which you were not even aware. There is a substantial amount of chaos in the world. Be aware of chaos, and as prepared as you feel is prudent. Oh, almost forgot, do not take professional credit for lucky positive events. Show some integrity and call them what they are.
  10. Recognize the most basic purpose of your business. It is to collect checks, revenue, money. The manner in which you go about collecting checks reflects your dedication, professionalism, and ethics.
  11. Marketing makes you money – create solid presence and discoverability. This has always been true, but the manner is which you go about it has dramatically changed. Presence and discoverability are essential for growth in the modern business environment. They lead to opportunities for contact and revenue.
  12. Revenue generation is paramount. For small businesses, I mean genuine small businesses with owner/operators that know the first names of everyone working at the company, keeping money coming in is the number one priority. Be sure not to forget that for even one day.
  13. Pay employees first, then taxes, then suppliers, finally yourself. Your business plan should have allowances for paying everyone, especially yourself. As owner, you are last in line to get paid. Your employees and suppliers put their trust in your integrity and ability to make everything work and generate the revenue needed to pay them for their contribution to your business.
  14. Revenue generating activities take precedence over everything else. There is never a shortage of things that need doing in a small business. Prioritizing and delegating tasks in a manner that balances all the needs of the business is your responsibility, Boss.
  15. Suppliers can be your greatest source of short term financing. Materials and subcontracted work can be a substantial component of the deliverables of certain businesses. Even terms of net 30 days gives you a month to complete work and get paid. Do not underestimate this value. Good financial relations with a partner supplier can pay off when you need a small extension for a big project.
  16. Take liberal advantage of opportunities to outsource. Your human resources have some level of specialized knowledge or skill that directly relates to your company's revenue generation. That is what their pay is based upon. Avoid applying specialized resources to tasks outside of their specialization. Their pay is based upon their value as a skilled operator. Make sure you leverage that cost and skill to its maximum level. Outsourcing frees up the time of the specialists to do the important work.
  17. Avoid growth into areas subject to automation and AI takeover….unless you are the one taking over.  In this case, I took a liberty and applied my past experience to the current times. A more generalized appropriate maxim might be "Don't forget to keep a keen eye on the future of your industry". Many areas of work are being changed forever by automation and AI. Learn to recognize tasks or projects your company performs mostly with human resources that might be targets for automation and AI invasion. You should either innovate into automation and AI, or avoid those market segments as potential areas of growth.
  18. Establish and describe the value each person brings to the business. This includes all principals, current employees and new hires. The description of that value is the baseline that can be used to assess whether their value has increased, or even if it is being maintained. It’s important not to keep paying people more money for doing the same thing. Pay should be commensurate with value.
  19. Examine and understand your risk tolerance profile. Your appetite for risk, or your aversion to it, will impact your decisions in ways you need to understand. Excessive tolerance or aversion can result in a failure to capitalize on growth opportunities, or getting involved in projects with elevated probability of a negative outcome. Knowing your risk profile will help you to temper your enthusiasm or reservations to make prudent decisions. 
  20. Put systems in place that can easily scale up 20x. When you start your business, everything is small except your expectations. Putting business systems in place that can remain in place and easily scale up as your business grows will save substantial amounts of money and help you avoid the disruption that comes from changing from one system to another.
  21. Be prepared for big opportunities. They usually come without warning.
  22. You will likely overvalue your business. If you ever reach a point where the sale of the business is in play, recognize that your own valuation probably includes some very subjective elements related to your personal experience. Don’t be offended by a potential buyer’s failure to share your enthusiasm. Be prepared to show tangible evidence that supports your valuation.
  23. Plans for growth and success should be based upon the use of human resources with average levels of performance. You are not going to hire a staff of super-humans. Companies with tons of cash will hire all the super-humans. Don’t worry, with the right plan, you won’t need them.
  24. Nobody will do it as fast, or as well, as you. Accept that and plan accordingly.
  25. Downtime away from work is where inspiration is found. Find or make time to let your mind freewheel. When your mind is not occupied by the daily grind, room for free thought is plentiful.
  26. There will always be more customers. You don’t need to work with the bad ones. Avoiding an overly risky project, or a customer that demands too much of your time, can be a positive move for your growth.
  27. Suppliers may be your most important business relationship. A customer is unlikely to have the power to put you out of business. A supplier might, though. You do not want suppliers talking badly about your company’s demeanor (through interactions with your employees) or its payment record.
  28. Resources are limited. If you give something, be sure to get a return. This applies to everything. The return need not be monetary. It might be information you can use to build your business. Have a simple plan for every contact that outlines a simple goal you wish to achieve that will constitute your return on the time or money invested in the encounter. 
Now my young friend is prepared for success!

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we help small companies build their brand and web presence, so contact us anytime.

While You Are In Pursuit of Success...

homemade chocolate brownies cut in squares
This image is actually related to the article.
Often enough, I catch myself pounding away at my business pursuits with that "I've got to get this done" attitude. For many of us, business takes up a big part of the day. In my work, I frequently rummage through articles and other content generated by others. This is mostly a quest to build and maintain my level of familiarity with the industries and companies that we serve here at CMS4i, but once in a while I come across a piece that stops me dead in my tracks and hits my reset button. This happened recently when I opened up the January newsletter from SVF Flow Controls. The company president, Wayne Ulanski, with whom I am not acquainted, penned up a list that he called "Little Rules of Life". I wanted to share the list with you, and give all the credit to Mr. Ulanski for a thoughtful and interesting list of things for us all to ponder. Sometimes it helps to step away, far away, from the daily mind grind and think a little about what we can do to make ourselves, and those we contact, a little happier.

Here is the list, and it's a little long but worth reading. There is something in it for everyone. You can also see the entire newsletter, or see what SVF Flow Controls is all about. My favorite, probably my credo, is number five.

  1. Sing in the shower.
  2. Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated.
  3. Watch a sunrise at least once a year.
  4. Leave the toilet seat in the down position.
  5. Never refuse homemade brownies.
  6. Strive for excellence, not perfection.
  7. Plant a tree on your birthday.
  8. Learn 3 clean jokes.
  9. Return borrowed vehicles with the gas tank full.
  10. Compliment 3 people every day.
  11. Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.
  12. Leave everything a little better than you found it.
  13. Keep it simple.
  14. Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.
  15. Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.
  16. Floss your teeth.
  17. Overtip breakfast waitresses.
  18. Be forgiving of yourself and others.
  19. Say, “Thank you” a lot.
  20. Say, “Please” a lot.
  21. Avoid negative people.
  22. Buy whatever kids are selling on card tables in their front yards.
  23. Wear polished shoes.
  24. Remember other people’s birthdays.
  25. Commit yourself to constant improvement.
  26. Carry jumper cables in your trunk.
  27. Have a firm handshake.
  28. Send lots of Valentine cards.
  29. Sign them, “Someone who thinks you’re terrific.”
  30. Look people in the eye.
  31. Be the first to say hello.
  32. Use the good silver.
  33. Return all things you borrow.
  34. Make new friends, but cherish the old ones.
  35. Keep a few secrets.
  36. Feed a stranger’s expired parking meter.
  37. Plant flowers every spring.
  38. Always accept an outstretched hand.
  39. Stop blaming others.
  40. Take responsibility for every area of your life.
  41. Wave at kids on school buses.
  42. Be there when people need you.
  43. Sing in a choir.
  44. Don’t expect life to be fair.
  45. Never underestimate the power of love. 
  46. Drink champagne for no reason at all.
  47. Live your life as an exclamation, not an explanation.
  48. Don’t be afraid to say, “I made a mistake.”
  49. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
  50. Compliment even small improvements.
  51. Keep your promises no matter what.
  52. Marry for love.
  53. Rekindle old friendships.
  54. Count your blessings.
  55. Register as an Organ Donor.
  56. Losing yourself in new surroundings is the best way to find yourself.
  57. Call your mother.

Hey Industrial Manufacturer's, Rep's and Distributor's: Consider Web SEO When designing Your Literature!

Bad Web PDF SEO (click for larger)
Just about every company we deal with makes the same mistake with their online literature. SEO titles and meta information is commonly overlooked.

Literature is always done on some form of desktop publisher (Word, InDesign, Quark) and generally always done by people with print publishing backgrounds (not web design). The nicely designed brochures, line cards, and engineering documents are then sent to printers for handing out, and outputted to PDF versions for the Web.

The problem arises during the conversion to PDF from the desktop publishing software. These software packages almost always default the creator's file name as the "meta title" of the new PDF, leaving an often cryptic and useless SEO document title.  For instance, seeing a document name like "Jan 2017 Line Card" or Jan 2017 Eng Doc", or worse yet seeing "Doc.01012017.3425" is of no value at all for Web indexing.

Good Web PDF SEO
Good Web PDF SEO (click for larger)
While Google and Bing index a PDF's full content, adding a good title, description, author, and copyright to these documents is very important for SEO.

Creators of literature need to be aware of these items before and during their design, and either input them to the right fields in the desktop publishing software, or later edit them in Adobe Acrobat.

Recommendations for good SEO for Web literature:

  1. Start off with a good SEO title for the document including the company name and maybe even good search terms. Ex: "Line Card Jan 20, 2017" should be something like "ACME-Rep-Company-New-York-New-Jersey-Process-Control-Line-Card-1-20-2017"
  2. Start off with a good SEO description for the literature. Ex: "ACME Flowmeter provides more accurate control in low flow applications". 
  3. Make the company the author of the document.
  4. Assign a copyright statement referencing the company, such as "All rights reserved ACME Widget Company".
These small steps during the creation of the PDF will payoff in much better search results for your products and company brand.

To discuss in more detail, email and we'll start a dialog.

What is the Purpose of Your LinkedIn Company Page?

LinkedIn logo
LinkedIn Logo
So, Small Business Owner, your marketing people or your nephew that's a computer wizard told you to get a LinkedIn page for your company. Without full understanding, or maybe with what you think is a full understanding, you have your internet marketing provider create a page for you. Check the box next to that item....done.

No, not done. While you may have completed the task, what you may not know is what that company page is really for. What is it going to do for you? Is it "just there", or do you need to have some ongoing program of posting, like with your other social media sites?
What is the goal of a company LinkedIn page?
Sell stuff, right? We want to sell product or service, somehow, through the presence of that company page., that's wrong. Very wrong.

Let me get right to it. Your LinkedIn company page is a primary public facing part of your organization. Your physical location continues be of less importance to potential customers when they are evaluating whether to bring you in to consult on a project, or offer your solutions to their challenges. Your customers want to make an assessment, before they meet with you, about whether you can provide or accomplish what they need. How they do that is by browsing through your online presence. Potential customers are getting their first impression of your company without your awareness, without even interacting with anyone from your organization.

Your online presence is comprised of your website, social media pages, blog, and any other internet locations identifiable and discoverable with your company name. Your website is of your own creation, but social media pages have general themes associated with them, each presenting your company in a different fashion. For example, Twitter is heavily weighted toward current events with it's constantly rolling news feed. Each location says something about your company that is presented to a visitor without any interpretation of context provided by a live company representative. Make sure that these pages present a clear and positive picture of your organization.

Back to LinkedIn. LinkedIn is all business, all the time. With great and increasing frequency, you will be judged by your LinkedIn page. In answer to the question posed earlier..
The goal of your LinkedIn company page is to show your company is professional, knowledgeable, capable, current, and involved.
Let's break that down.

  • Professional - We all generally have a concept of what "professional" is, but it is important to display those aspects of your company and its people that support a professional image. That can range through publicizing charitable activities, project completions, trade shows, awards, and much more.
  • Knowledgeable - Customers want to work with the smart people to solve their problems. Find ways to showcase, through posts on your page and articles that you author and publish on your page (underlined because it is important), the high level of industry specific knowledge that your company brings to each and every customer encounter.
  • Capable - How do you show how capable your organization is? Having all your employees linked to the company page is one way. Make certain that every employee's profile is well done, providing a positive image of the person and their skills. Another way to highlight your company's abilities is to write your own case studies, articles that describe a real challenge and your company's part in solving it. Your creativity will help you discover more ways to portray your company's value.
  • Current - This one is very important. Content on your LinkedIn company page, or any social media account, should show activity in the very recent past. A page with the most recent post being from a year ago looks like it has been abandoned. Keep posting and publishing, even with small items.
  • Involved - Present content that shows participation in community activities, trade shows, standards committees, whatever endeavors and activities that pertain to your target market or industry. 
A LinkedIn company page should not be viewed by you, Small Business Owner, as a graphic poster about your company. Do not allow it to be static. LinkedIn is where other professionals, potential customers, and potential employees will go to make an evaluation of your company. Your time and effort invested in making and keeping up that online presence will reap dividends.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we help small companies build their brand and web presence, so contact us anytime.