Contact Tracing for Dummies

Last week, in an unprecedented partnership, Apple and Google released the first version of the Exposure Notification API. This technology will allow public health agencies to send you an alert if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

The question is: Will people use this potentially life saving technology?

I get it. Everyone is concerned with privacy, big brother and civil liberties. So before anyone starts to dust off their soapbox, let’s get up to speed on how the technology actually works.

Imagine that everyone you come in contact with, you give a tiny magic crystal to. They all look the same, and nobody can link you back to that crystal once you give it to them. Now one day you test positive for COVID-19 and decide that you want to let everyone you’ve been in contact with know. You cast a spell and all the magic crystals that you gave out all turn red, alerting everyone that they have potentially been exposed and to take precautions. They don’t know who the glowing red crystal belongs to, they just know they’ve been exposed.

That’s how it works. It’s brilliantly simple, anonymous and entirely opt-in by each individual.

I don’t want my location tracked!

The technology isn’t tracking your location and in fact location data PLAYS NO PART IN IT. It doesn’t need to. In fact to even use the API, apps must have Location Services turned off to further enforce this policy.

Honestly if you’re reading this on Facebook, LinkedIn, an iPhone or an Android.. if you use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Youtube, you have zero grounds to complain about privacy, you just don’t know it. If a product is free, YOU are the product.

I don’t want my data in the cloud!

Contact tracing data is only stored on a user’s device and is only processed on a user’s device.

But privacy?

Privacy is the tentpole of this technology. The Temporary Exposure Keys are randomly generated, encrypted bluetooth signals. Using WiFi at Starbucks is more dangerous.

But I don’t want to help my community!

Nobody is forcing you to use it. It’s all opt-in and you can decide to download the apps (when they’re ready) or not.

At A Glance

  • The entire system is opt-in
  • Other applications for contact tracing will be allowed in the App Stores; they can adopt Apple and Google’s API, but they must remove all Location Services features and adopt the privacy frameworks of the Apple and Google API
  • Contact tracing data is only stored on a user’s device
  • Contact tracing data is only processed on a user’s device
  • Public health agencies can define what constitutes an exposure event
  • Public health agencies can determine the number of exposure events a person has had
  • Transmission risk of positive cases can be factored into the definition of an exposure event
  • Public health agencies can contact exposed users based on a combination of the API and data that users voluntarily choose to input into the app
  • No news to announce yet on whether Apple will promote these applications, such as in the App Stores

Closing Thoughts

I hope when these apps become available you consider the benefit you’ll be providing to the community. It doesn’t cost you money, time, privacy, security, liberties or anything else. The only thing it costs you is the interest in protecting our communities.

Further Reading:

A Case Study in Scale

case study in scale

The Accounting Group (TAG) is an innovative and premier back-office accounting firm headquartered in La Jolla, CA. They offer, among other services, a high-touch bill payment solution to their clients. TAG wanted to find a way to scale the bill payment product line while improving the customer and employee experience as well as reducing the costs to provide top-notch service.

They knew technology could be developed to streamline this manual process and were ready to invest in a solution if it would help them:

  • Free up highly skilled team members from non-value-add type tasks
  • Eliminate the risk of human error
  • Streamline and optimize a manual / paper-based process
  • Provide virtually unlimited scalability without needing to hire additional staff

Lithyem helped TAG understand the possibilities, work through the options and ultimately designed a software platform, including mobile applications, that checked all the boxes for them.

We built a suite of web and mobile applications that automates and streamlines the entire bill pay process through a secure, cloud-based platform. The platform provides instant access for clients to their data and approvals, provides administrative capability to TAG and performs multiple secure data syncs to each clients’ Quickbooks Enterprise files.

What Lithyem accomplished with TAG was a true Digital Transformation of their entire Bill Pay product and allows them to scale that service without adding costs. The platform also provides a significant competitive advantage to them against competition who aren’t so forward thinking and innovative.

“Users are stoked, our partners are blown away, our internal team members are happy to have so many processes automated, and our new prospects are converting faster than ever. Huge win all the way around!” – Rob Scherer, CEO / TAG

Services We Provided

To learn more, download the PDF Case Study or view the case study here.

Upgrading Technology in a Downtown

Upgrade Technology in a Downtown

We are in a pretty unique time in history. As much as the pandemic and the economic fallout have caused difficulty and challenges for so many, it’s also a rare opportunity for forward thinking and innovative companies.

Many businesses have been put on pause in the midst of this downturn. Business models have needed to quickly adapt to social distancing while the economy has been flailing. But inside this dumpster fire is an opportunity.

The slowing down of business creates an opportunity to upgrade systems and technology for the inevitable reawakening.

“Invest more in R&D even during a recession, knowing that the market will eventually rebound and new and innovative technologies will drive future demand.” – Paul Otellini / former Intel CEO

When business is on fire, when things are jumping and deals are pouring in, how motivated are you to upgrade systems, processes and software? Internal projects get back-burnered and deprioritized until there’s free time. Enter 2020 and the gift of free time.

Guaranteed that you have been putting off upgrading an old outdated software platform, or streamlining a process that was a pain to manage, or implementing a new piece of technology but were too busy to find the time. What better time than when things are slow to level up and create a real competitive advantage in your business.

Benefits of investing in systems & tech:

  • Cost savings through automation and optimization
  • Improved customer experience
  • Improved employee experience & productivity

Consider these questions while things are slow:

  • What systems or processes are costing us time and money?
  • What internal projects have we been putting off?
  • Where is the risk in our systems?
  • What are the opportunities if we were to upgrade our systems / technology?

Keep in mind that the rebound is coming and either you or your competition is going to come out of this more prepared, with a better offering or a better customer experience. Who is it going to be?

Contact us to learn more

Are You Swimming Naked?

On April 1, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control emailed Nevada public health counterparts for lab reports on two travelers who had tested positive for the coronavirus. She asked Nevada to send those records via a secure network or a “password protected encrypted file” to protect the travelers’ privacy.

The Nevada response: “Can we just fax them over?


AP News published an article yesterday describing the absolute train wreck of the data supply chain supporting the COVID-19 response and guiding decision making. While it’s no surprise that many (most) organizations are running on legacy, and badly outdated systems, it’s rare to see the impact of such widespread technology debt exposed the way this pandemic has done.

“You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” — Warren Buffett

Well, the tide is out. Right now, data about this pandemic is critical to be accurate and up to date. It turns out that most state and local health departments still rely heavily on faxes, email and spreadsheets. This has seriously impacted the ability to gather and analyze data that peoples’ lives depend on. It’s exposing a symptom of a vast problem faced by most companies, even if the negative consequences aren’t as dire.

“The CDC during this entire pandemic has been two steps behind the disease,” Dr. Ashish Jha

Additionally, the White House has partnered with Palantir, in an effort to build out its data collection platform HHS Protect Now. Vice President Pence asked 4,700 hospitals to provide numbers on test results, patient loads, hospital beds and ICU capacity… daily. This is great in theory but in practice this has utterly overwhelmed already overworked hospital staff with administrative work.

Up to half the lab reports submitted for public health case investigations lack patient addresses or ZIP codes, according to a May 1 Duke University white paper co-authored by Mostashari.

Let’s face it, working to solve this problem while it’s happening is a monumental task. The solution is built of a few components, core of which are modern software systems. The implementation, nationally, is a different story.

The real lesson here is in how this relates to YOUR company. 

While your company is likely not using faxes these days (seriously), you are almost certainly relying on emails and spreadsheets as core components of your operations.

Do any of these symptoms hit home?

  • Email and spreadsheet overload
  • Double data entry
  • Lack of real-time dashboards, data and reporting
  • Lack of automation
  • Paper-based systems

Of course they do. For a moment consider the risks:

  • Cost of maintaining old systems
  • Wasted time & effort that could be spent on creative work or new business
  • Compliance or regulatory issues
  • Inability to work remotely
  • Scalability challenges
  • Security risks

Paper based and manual systems are NOT an option any longer. Businesses that don’t agree will be rendered obsolete. Here are a few lessons learned from the story above that you should consider for your business.

  • Legacy systems cost you time and money
  • Collecting data cannot increase the burden on the company
  • Collecting data must be foolproof
  • Data must be standardized and actionable
  • Automation must be applied to maximize efficiency

Don’t swim naked. (In business only).


If you’d like to chat about a technology strategy, systems improvement or software solution I’d love to have a conversation.

Roaring Out of A Recession, Examined

Roaring out of a Recession

In 2010 Harvard Business Review studied 4,700 public companies’ performance during the past three global recessions (1980, 1990, 2000) breaking down the data into three periods: the three years before a recession, the three years after, and the recession years themselves.

The full article can be found here:

It’s a great article with quite a lot to learn from the past.

“The past is a horrible master but a great teacher.”
-Unknown

Let’s look at the article by the numbers:
  • 17% of the companies in the study didn’t survive a recession: They went bankrupt, were acquired, or became private.
  • About 80% of the surviving companies had not yet regained their pre-recession growth rates for sales and profits three years after a recession.
  • 40% of the surviving companies did not return to their pre-recession sales and profits levels three years after a recession.
  • 9% of the companies flourished after a slowdown, doing better on key financial parameters than they had before it and outperforming rivals in their industry by at least 10% in terms of sales and profits growth.
  • Firms that cut costs faster and deeper than rivals don’t necessarily flourish. They have the lowest probability, 21%, of pulling ahead of the competition when times get better.
  • Businesses that boldly invest more than their rivals during a recession don’t always fare well either. They enjoy only a 26% chance of becoming leaders after a downturn.
  • Companies that were growth leaders coming into a recession often can’t retain their momentum; about 85% are toppled during bad times.
  • Companies typically combine three defensive approaches—reducing the number of employees, improving operational efficiency, or both—with three offensive ones: developing new markets, investing in new assets, or both. This yields nine possible combinations, some of which are more effective than others.
  • Few prevention-focused corporations do well after a recession, according to our study. They trail the other groups, with growth, on average, of 6% in sales and 4% in profits
  • Despite a focus on growth, promotion-focused companies’ post-recession sales and earnings rise by only 8% and 6% respectively.

The Winning Combination (Cost Cutting + Innovation)

One combination has the greatest likelihood of producing post-recession winners: the one pursued by progressive enterprises. They cut costs mainly by improving operational efficiency rather than by slashing the number of employees relative to peers. However, their offensive moves are comprehensive. They develop new business opportunities by making significantly greater investments than their rivals do in R&D and marketing, and they invest in assets such as plants and machinery. Their post-recession sales and earnings jump to 13% and 12% respectively.

Are you ready for rebound?

Lithyem has developed a FREE Assessment to help you look at your Remote Readiness. It will take 10 minutes, it’s free and it will help you look at your company through the lens of innovation, optimization and a distributed team paradigm.

Visit http://remotereadytoday.com/ to take the FREE Diagnostic and learn how you can optimize and innovate today.

The New Normal & Business After the Pandemic

The new normalThe COVID-19 Pandemic and the economic fallout has created a business environment that’s forced extremely rapid changes on businesses around the world.

Businesses have had to quickly shift operations to a remote workforce, with little to no strategy, planning and process around it. Compounded by the uncertain economic times, many businesses are left unprepared for the challenges and are also unaware of the opportunities in this new paradigm.

Many businesses will not make it through these difficult times. Some may just find their way through. Some, however, will come out with a massive head start against their competition. Those that will explode past competitors will have been smart by cutting expenses, of course, but what they will also have done is have invested in infrastructure, innovated their business models, improved service delivery and reimagined their companies.

Imagine a situation where the entire world was put on pause and you had the opportunity to optimize your business, innovate your business model and prepare for the rebound that’s 100% coming. That’s where we are today. We might be here for a while, but the fact is that the rebound is coming and you’re either skating to where the puck is headed or you’re playing a losing game.

If there is an obvious and in-your-face change that is crystal clear these days it’s that remote work is the new normal.

Remote Work as The New Normal.

Given the social distancing situation, nearly every single business today is having to manage significant change around a remote workforce. For MOST businesses, this is an entirely new mode of operating.

First, here are a few major benefits to a remote workforce:

  • Increased Productivity
  • Reduced Expenses (Rent, Equipment, Salaries) / Cost Savings
  • Larger Talent Pool / Geographic Arbitrage
  • Less Commute Time / Less Absenteeism
  • 24 Hour Production Hours (If Business Model Supports It)
  • Higher Morale
  • Forced Automation and Streamlined Operations

It’s not all roses, of course, and here are some of the drawbacks to a remote workforce:

  • Employee Isolation
  • Decreased Employee Visibility
  • Potentially More Difficult Collaboration
  • Work / Life Balance May Suffer
  • Challenges Developing Company Culture
  • Some People are More Suited to Remote Work than Others

With that all said, the benefits of a distributed team to many businesses can be huge. The challenge, however, is in the implementation.

Using ZOOM Does Not Make a Company a “Remote Workforce”

It’s not as simple as giving everyone a laptop and a camera. Here are 6 quick questions that need to be asked and answered:

  1. What’s the best way to adapt our systems, processes and operations for a remote workforce?
  2. What do we gain / lose with a remote team?
  3. Where is the RISK? (Technology, Operations, Security)
  4. How can we maximize the cost savings?
  5. How will our service delivery or product quality be impacted? Can it be improved?
  6. How can we help our employees to be productive, engaged and creative at home?

These are just some points to get you thinking about the new normal. I hope it’s been a helpful read. Stay safe and lead on!


If you’re interested in learning more, Lithyem has developed a FREE Assessment to help you look at your Remote Readiness. It will take 10 minutes, it’s free and it will help you look at your company through the lens of innovation, optimization and a distributed team paradigm.

Visit http://remotereadytoday.com/ to take the FREE Diagnostic and learn how you can optimize and innovate today.

Doing More With Less (thriving in uncertain times)

It’s a surreal moment in time right now with the entire planet uncertain about what tomorrow will bring. The rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic is causing fear and concern around the world.

The effects of the situation are not only health related, but economic as well. Businesses of all sizes are being severely impacted by market fears as well as by the logistical challenges of providing their services under these difficult circumstances.

One of the major challenges is the need to shift from in-office to a remote workforce to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Many, if not most businesses are not prepared for this shift. As a remote company ourselves, I wanted to offer some thoughts on the situation.

With the specter of a lasting economic downturn, and the need to implement “social distancing” strategies, you’ll want to consider ways of doing more with less and maximizing efficiency across the board. The good news is that even increasing the ABILITY to operate remotely has a trickle down effect on efficiency. 

To operate a company with a remote workforce, consider these points.

Improve lines of communication.

In a remote organization, communication needs to be bulletproof. It needs to be clear, persistent, streamlined and effective. Teams needs to be able to communicate quickly, maintain conversations and brainstorm. Communication must now be highly organized in a way that it doesn’t require in an office based setting. Not only are new tools likely required, but methodologies as well. Increasing the rhythms of communication is worth exploring, for example daily video calls between team members.

Some helpful tools to consider for streamlining remote communication are:

  1. https://whereby.com/ – I LOVE this tool for video chat. Requires NO software to install to share a screen which is a huge help in overcoming tech challenges. It has a free plan as well that’s great for up to 4 people in a chat.
  2. https://www.getcloudapp.com/ – This is a great tool for capturing and annotating and sharing screenshots and screen-videos. This the the most reliable, economical and easy to use solution I’ve found.
  3. https://slack.com/ – You know what Slack is. Of course if you’re a Microsoft type you have Teams.

Leverage all the power of the cloud including productivity, automation and collaboration tools.

You have a nearly infinite number of software options to select from to shift operations to the cloud. Implementing a cloud-based tool and automating operations means projects continue to progress without restriction on time and location. It also reduces operational bottlenecks and frees employees up to do the creative work that only people can do (for now). The cost savings through automation can be massive. Some of the tools to consider:

  1. Productivity suites like G Suite and Office365 for real-time collaboration on documents, email and files.
  2. CRMs like Salesforce and Pipedrive (or any of the million others) to synchronize and organize contacts, sales activities, etc
  3. Automation and integration tools like Zapier and Jitterbit to make nearly any software interoperable.
  4. Docusign and Hellosign for back-office and e-signature solution.
  5. DropBox and Box for cloud-based file management
  6. Structured project management tools like TeamWork or less structured like AirTable

Have clearer systems and processes in place to maximize operational efficiency.

When isn’t it a good idea to have well defined systems and processes in place? A great time, however, is when your team is operating from different locations and potentially different timezones. Systems and processes can be thought of as a means of checks and balances. Well designed systems are efficient, standardized, repeatable, transparent (who is doing what by when) and documented. Without them, you’ve got people duplicating effort, finding different (not necessarily better) ways of doing the same things and having difficulty tracking outcomes.

Read: Work the System for some great thinking on creating effective business systems.

Reduce the need for paper.

Pretty simple in theory, but for many businesses this represents a major shift in business practices. Keeping this one short because it’s a topic all to itself, I’ll leave you with this idea – that making an effort to reduce paper in a business will save money, save time, increase productivity, and (if implemented properly) increase security. You simply can’t operate a remote organization, or a maximally efficient business today with a heavy reliance on paper.

Conclusion…

Remember that some of the greatest companies have been built in economic downturns and challenging times. Stay lean, stay innovative and stay focused on the bright future.

I hope these thoughts have helped you consider some options for doing more with less and wishing you and your families all well in these uncertain times.

A 100 year old productivity method that is still bulletproof.

In the interest of efficiency, I’m going to make this a short post. I’m always interested in finding effective ways of increasing productivity with systems, frameworks, apps, etc. I’ve read about this 100 year old method many times and somehow just ignored it, maybe it wasn’t new or novel enough. That was a mistake. If you’re looking for a simple productivity system without bells and whistles, that just works, you won’t be disappointed.

The method is called the Ivy Lee Method, named after the famed productivity consultant hired by Charles M. Schwab as the president of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. More history here thanks to James Clear.

It’s as simple as this: Before you leave your office or shut down your work for the day, plan your most important tasks for tomorrow. That’s pretty much the gist of it.

The Basic Ivy lee Method

  1. At the end of your workday, write down the six most important things you need to do tomorrow. No more than six.
  2. Order your six tasks by priority.
  3. When you get into your work tomorrow, start on task #1 and don’t move onto another task until the first is complete.
  4. Do the same with the rest of the list and at the end of your day, transfer any unfinished tasks to your new list for tomorrow.
  5. Do this every day.

It’s simple, ruthlessly effective and easy enough to not get bogged down in systems, apps, or anything that you need to manage beyond a sheet of paper every day.

Adapting for Today

100 years ago I have to think that people’s days were less fragmented. Business moved slower, communication moved slower, emails, texts and calls didn’t slam into them the same way they do today. It’s a constant battle to stay focused in a world fighting for bits of your attention.

To make this simple system work for me I’ve added a simple tweak.

  • Estimate the time needed to complete each task and note that on your list.
  • Add an entry into your calendar for each task, for the estimated duration.

This small addition makes all the difference and puts up guard rails on your day. Now just commit to your calendar and hit those goals.