Four Ways Flexibility Can Be Your Company’s Core Competence

Business flexibility, Copyright: bloomua / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright: bloomua / 123RF Stock Photo

Flexibility can be a core competence for small businesses, if they can effectively exploit it. This involves being flexible in all areas, within the principles, values and aims of your business. Zig Ziglar, an author and motivational speaker, summed this up with his quote ‘Be firm on principle, but flexible on method’. Four great ways you can exploit this core competence are:

Product/Service Flexibility
Larger businesses often create and sell a specific set of standard products to their customers. As a small business, you can adapt, modify and tailor your products and services specifically to the individual customers needs. This bespoke approach may take a little more resources, but showing this attention to detail is repaid through happy customers and further work. We believe in providing bespoke solutions to our customers, and find the process of trying to ensure that they get the remote sensing product/service that best suits their needs an exciting and rewarding challenge.

Supplier Flexibility
Don’t assume you have to do everything in the business, outsource wherever possible. This allows you to focus on the things that only you can do to grow the business; i.e., you don’t need to be your company’s accountant, web designer, marketing expert, etc. Richard Branson said ‘Everything in your business can be outsourced … if you’re not emotionally attached to doing it’, and the final part of that quote is critical. Outsource the work, not the control; it’s your business and you need to ensure your outsourcing delivers what you want. This can be difficult where you have clear opinions of what you want to achieve; and you need to work with organisations who share your ethos and vision.

Similarly, don’t tie yourself into long term contracts; unless you’re sure it is right for your business. Being based on the Plymouth Science Park, one of things we like is that moving offices is relatively easy. We moved last week from the second floor to a larger ground floor office. We’re looking to recruit a web developer internship, and so we need more space. We’ve not needed so much space for the last eighteen months, so why pay for it?

Employee Flexibility
Traditional employment methods are recruitment through adverts and everyone working together in one office; technology has changed what’s possible for companies, but the traditional approach is also still hugely prevalent. Sam’s worldwide reputation in remote sensing means we’re often contacted by people who want to work with us, and so our recruitment often occurs via people approaching us. This results in placements and internships that are as valuable as conventional employees.

Equally, we don’t necessarily require everyone to be sat in an office all week. We’re happy for people to work from home, or other locations, if that is more suitable to what they’re doing. In our experience, wherever possible, it’s best for us all to be in the office at least once a week to ensure we’re thinking on the same wavelength. Otherwise, we tend to communicate by email and Skype.

Flexibility of Approach
Whilst being trusted Earth observation experts is Pixalytics overarching company objective, we’re also committed to promoting education and training. As part of this we’ve written a book, The Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing, which is due to be published towards the end of this year. This has taken a significant amount of effort, although getting a first draft out in 9 months is also quick for this genre. Will it bring us any work? We’ve got no idea. However, we do know it will promote, educate and inform people about remote sensing that will in turn support the overall values and aims of our company.

These are four ways we use flexibility to develop our core competence. How are you exploiting flexibility in your business?

Whoever controls the data, controls the service!

Like many people last week we watched the US Congress fail to pass the federal budget and shutdown the US Government. Putting aside the ridiculous scenario that the world’s largest country is closed and the financial hardship they’re inflicting on their public service workers; as a small company in the UK who currently don’t work for America or American companies, we didn’t expect to be impacted commercially. We were wrong!

NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Geological Survey (USGS) control a significant number of satellites and the remote sensing data streams from them. The federal shutdown has closed all their websites and associated structures; although NOAA has kept Weather.gov open for critical weather information only. You’d expect no satellites to be launched during this period, you’d probably expect that should anything go wrong it wouldn’t get repaired, you might even know that some data downloading processes require human intervention and could be impacted too. But surely that’s all? Websites can operate quite happily on their own can’t they?

Given the immense size of remote sensing data sets, in the region of multiple terabytes, many academic and commercial organisations download data when they need it; rather than have the cost of massive data storage facilities. This is where the real impact of the federal shutdown bites. These datasets are downloaded from websites which have been closed by the federal shutdown. It’s not that they aren’t being updated, it‘s a total shutdown. The websites simply have a front page stating that due to the lapse in federal funding the websites is not available; some specialist sites are still up if you know where to the find them, but even they say information may be out of date. Also, the Twitter feeds of NASA, NOAA and USGS have stopped tweeting!

Everyone assumes that the data is still being downloaded in the USA, and will be processed and made available once the federal shutdown is resolved. A little delay maybe but no major issue for research, unless of course something has gone wrong and data isn’t being downloaded. Will researchers in the future, have to refer to the 2013 Data Black Hole or the Federal Fault of 13 in their trend analysis?

However, what about time critical applications? Remote sensing is being used to provide services such as flood and disaster monitoring, crop watering and oceanographic applications. How many of those customers, or suppliers, realised that their ability to receive or deliver those services was dependant on the American government? Anyone relying on Landsat or MODIS data downloaded from a US website, are currently becalmed without a data stream. The European MyOcean service is reporting degraded and interrupted ocean colour products due to a lack of spatial coverage.

Companies who want to provide reliable, consistent and dependable remote sensing applications really need to control the data stream alongside the application. This essentially is having your own ground stations to receive data, out of the reach of most organisations.

This week has clearly shown whoever controls the data stream, controls the service. How much of your service pathway do you control?