Wednesday, April 30. 2008
.....for which we are very, very grateful.
After Monday's horror show Tuesday turned out, at least for the time being to be the proverbial 'walk in the park'. Everything that was 'impossible to do yesterday' magically became either doable in the next day or so or we actually got it 'done'. So we have now accomplished almost everything we came to do:
1) Got agreement that all details had now been finalised and we have an appointment to sign the lease tomorrow.
2) We actually managed to open a foreign currency bank account despite not conforming to any of the bank's rules.
3) We found a perfect apartment for the person who will be coming from Australia within our budget and within a short walk from the office.
4) We finalised the schedule for the registration of the Sri Lankan company and also for getting BOI approval for operating the company tax effectively.
5) We finalised the revised office layout and furnishing details together with obtaining a lower cost for the fit out.
An amazing turn around from the day before.
Perhaps it was last night's gigantic thunder storm over Colombo that cut the power to the whole city that also blasted apart all of the mental and other road blocks that made the first day so horrendous. (I've never experienced such a fantastic tropical storm with up to 8 separate concurrent lightning strikes (and the consequent thunderclaps blending in to each other making a deafening and continuous row for ten minutes) happening all round the hotel and out to sea and getting this superb view of it from the 17th floor.
It's interesting driving to and from our hotel to meet with the various people we need to see as the President of Iran is on a visit to Colombo and is staying at a hotel a couple of hundred yards from where we are staying (he couldn't stay at the Hilton because of its US ownership so we were told). Apart from the impressively long motorcade he is transported in, the fact that the military just close whole streets on no notice to ensure his ultimate safety is a little disconcerting. We watched in amazement last night as the whole of the centre of Colombo was brought to a halt for over two hours to ensure there was no disruption to his progress. Even today we were brought to a sudden halt as the road we were travelling down was suddenly closed as soldiers stepped in to the traffic flow with arms raised to halt the traffic and then rolled crash barriers across the street and then drove army trucks parallel to the crash barriers. We were only halted for ten to fifteen minutes but our driver said it was happening all over the centre of Colombo many times a day.
Just another joy to add to the pleasures of negotiating the normal terrifying traffic jams and driving craziness that is Colombo.
.....and talking of the joys of Colombo, I'm continually surprised by the incredibly low cost of food and alcohol in every outlet type - including the restaurants and bars of the hotels. Lunch today of two curries and two soft drinks in the hotel's second most expensive restaurant would have given change from a $A20 note. Similarly premium Scotch is $A4.50 a generous 'shot' in the best bar in the hotel. Even our mini bar is stocked with items that are cheaper than at a Sydney super market (300 ml coke for $A1.20 as an example).
So the day has been very actually successful and, assuming events go as planned tomorrow then the trip will have met almost all of its ojectives with a day in reserve for 'emergencies'.
We met with the very competent, helpful and friendly contact from the Australian High Commission for a drink and a catch up and got a good update on the general conditions in the country. We were appalled to listen to his description of what it was like being a Tamil living in Colomo and it couldn't help but jerk you back to understanding the difference between living in different political environments.
Although it's still only relatively early here my body is insisting that its after 2 am on the time scale it's used to so it looks like being another 'early night'. However before my brain gave up the ghost I read Paul Sullivan's beautifully articulated and exhaustively referenced address on the future of the current federal Government's adventurism in to broadband 'tendering':
Nicely put and very cogent. It will be interesting to see Telstra's rebuttal.
Here's to a better broadband future........for every Australian..
Tuesday, April 29. 2008
....and all sorts of other professions, skill sets and abilities that I not only have ever had but none that I coud ever conceive of having.
However, apart from the first four, the other three were desperately needed in large measures today as Annette and I wrestled, largely unsuccessfully, with real estate agents, tax and audit accountants and two different types of lawyers as well as dealing with quite significant language problems.
After getting up at the equivalent of 3 am in the morning and flying for four hours, negotiating the dreadful trip from Colombo's airport to the hotel and then spending the next ten hours in shuttle diplomacy with the aforementioned real estate agents, fit out contractors, lawyers, accountants, government departments and the central Colombo traffic nightmare linking the disparate parties and realising that at least 70% of what was said by any party wasn't really understood by any other party and returning to the hotel to email all parties concerned with what the various meeting might have (if I had understood what was being said correctly) agreed to do to progress the various issues.....I am suffering from terminal mental exhaustion.
Irrespective of the professional shortcomings in the areas of Sri Lankan corporate law and basic legal contract skills the inabilty to either understand what was being said to me or to communicate even the basics of what I wanted to say was truly a major and most distressing problem.This for a person who always thought his ability to fully understand what wasn't being said as well as what was being said is quite crippling.
I also was completely 'defeated' by my total inability to communicate either in words or in writing what it was that I believed needed to happen. As someone who has made a career by being able to commnicate difficult concepts to a wide range of different people of different levels of understanding this was a truly 'bitter blow'.
I can't remember the last time I have felt so inadequate in dealing with commercial situations and the harder I tried the more inadequately I dealt with each issue that arose - and the more frustrated everyone became.
So, after ten very exhausting hours we finally called it a day and headed to the hotel bar for chemical relief.
The worst (weakest) Martini I've ever had failed to put any sort of perspective into the day but two enormous Scotches in a different bar set the world to rights as they usually do. How sad that alcohol plays such a disturbing part in making the world an easier place to reside in and deal with the people in it.
Anyway, Annette and I had a nice, if rushed and short, curry dinner in one of the hotel's restaurants and went back to our room - Annette to crash out after her exhausting last overly demanding 24 hours and and me to quickly scan the financial and industry news and the Exetel daily figures.
I'm sure there are still some people who think business travel is exciting and perhaps there are even still some poor souls who think it's somehow 'glamorous'. If those people could somehow have shared the experience of looking in the hotel's bathroom mirror a few moments ago as I sluiced my face in an attempt to revive myself then perhaps they would form a different view.
Annette has sensibly gone to bed and I'm struggling to finish the day's work by replying to my outstanding emails and dealing with what I see from the latest status reports from our reporting systems.
It's only a little after 8 pm here but getting on for 1 am Tuesday morning in Australia but I'm too tired to make much sense of what I'm seeing. It seems Exetel had a very good order day across several of our product/service offerings (only to be expected after a long weekend) and the financial situation around the world looks as foreboding as ever. I briefly turned on CNN and got the same impression.
Sorry about this even more incoherent effort at writing about the day to day operation of a small Australian communications company - assuming anyone has wasted their time in reading this.
Monday, April 28. 2008
Annette and I flew from Sydney to Singapore yesterday to make the connecting flight to Columbo out of Singapore at 7 am this morning - necessitating a 5.00 am early morning wake up call to ensure we made the flight. Never a pleasant start to the day.
We had a pleasant flight yesterday and, as usual, I slept/dozed most of the time as I just have to walk in to an airport to start yawning. However my dozing was occupied with thinking about ways of achieving considerable growth in Exetel's business and longish airline flights are ideal times to 'toss and turn' in a semi comatose state while considering how this could be brought about. What I would really like to do is to find a 25 year old 'John Linton' (please excuse the vomit inducing self indulgence this implies) to drive the sales efforts that are needed to make the advances we need to achieve over the next 18 months.
I suppose what I really am trying to put into words is that Exetel needs is a sales impetus that can only be achieved by someone who wants to achieve results that most people around him/her will think aren't possible. Annette and I desultorily discussed this when we reached Singapore in the very nice bar of our hotel and failed to reach any sensible conclusion. The Martini's (for me) and Singapore Slings (for Annette) were of the highest qualities but our conclusions didn't begin to meet the bar staff's standards.
It's still pitch dark in Singapore as I type this entry waiting for the time to quit our overnight room to catch our flight to Sri Lanka. The issue is that to keep a company growing, when everything else is taken in to consideration, are the initiatives/processes that it has in place to generate interest, and ultimately, sales of its services. To date Exetel has used 'word of mouth' and an agent network to achieve this - and that strategy (if that word is appropriate) has been successful enough to grow Exetel from zero to 70,000 customers of its different services.
If we now need to double the current customer base to 150,000 over the next 18 months we will have to do things very differently to the way we've done them over the past 4+ years and that, almost inevitably, means we have to put in place a sales force under the influence and control of an excellent sales manager. Not a particularly innovative scenario nor a particularly difficult thing to do - at least traditionally in terms of the sales scenarios that I have been involved with over the past 4 decades.
The problem, to me at least, is that as I review the resumes of "top" sales reps and managers I just don't see the actual and real qualities that I have become familiar with over so many years of being part of successful sales teams and operations. I don't think I'm stupid nor do I think I'm "living in the past" in terms of evaluating sales people. I just don't see the required characteristics I thought were essential in the people who are paid a lot of money to produce what I would have thought were very mediocre sales achievements.
So, no offence to Singapore Airlines for their excellent passenger comfort facilities, my conclusion to reviewing some 20 'top sales resumes' was that none of the applicants were worth half the money they were, apparently, currently being paid - and I had advised the 'head hunters' that I'd briefed that Exetel was happy to pay up to $A250,000 in the first year of the job against a very modest, in my view, sales targets.
Perhaps I have it all wrong in my conceptions of how sales are made these days and the characteristics required to do that. Perhaps small companies like Exetel aren't going to be seen as good opportunities for competent sales people to advance their career with - I think that's more likely.
So, from what I can see it seems unlikely that Exetel will be able to recruit suitable sales people or even a key sales manager - irrespective of what we pay as our company isn't seen as a career development - this is all I can make of the resumes sent to me by two head hunters who determined their choices based on "people who would be suitable to work with Exetel".
My current view is that, one more time, I'm going to have to buld a sales force from the ground up out of the 'raw material'.
I'm really too old for this ****.
Sunday, April 27. 2008
Yesterday morning I heard Ted Turner make an address on behalf of International Malaria day from the NYSE where he rang the closing bell before addressing the people there. I ‘met’ Ted Turner many, many years ago when I was in Atlanta and a friend and I were outside the old Fulton County Stadium on our way to a ball game and, he was clearly ‘taken’ with my companion (he has a life long reputation as a ‘womaniser’) and offered us seats in the Atlanta owner’s box which we gratefully accepted and became life long Braves fans ever since.
His address yesterday was his usual forthright and cogent set of statements encouraging his audience to pony up $US20.00 to send a mosquito net to an African family.
Towards the end he made reference to the problems being caused to the environment by people travelling to work pointing out that commuter travel (car, bus, train and air travel) was the single largest contributor to global warming and making the point that he had eliminated his own contribution to that problem by living in an ‘apartment’ on the top floor of the building he works in and therefore taking one flight of stairs to and from work.
I found it ironic that Exetel in Australia has been gradually developing the systems and processes to allow people to work from their homes should they choose to do so and, currently 15% of Exetel’s personnel actually work from home either full time or for large parts of it and, yet, this morning Annette and I are going to Sri Lanka to (among other things) finalise the lease for office premises that will, eventually, mean that our current four Columbo employee’s will move from working from home to commuting to an office.
In the longer term, late 2009 to early 2010 we will revert to the work from home methodology in Sri Lanka and, by that time, we will have increased the percentage of work from home Australian employees to close to 50% if we continue to meet the objectives we have set.
My hesitation in making the main telephone support function not a work from home process in Columbo, and it would be the same in Australia to a lesser degree, is that power outages and storms seem to affect the local ADSL residential services more acutely than they do in Australia. Therefore to make the long transfer of some support functions from Australia to Columbo it’s going to be necessary to take a very conservative approach which, by definition, has to include business grade data lines and duplicating the lines with a second carrier on a second infrastructure.
That isn’t possible to do on a ‘work from home’ scenario.
There is also the need for us to hire personnel on a continual basis and to train them in a ‘live’ situation. For the first four engineers we employed we did this by bringing them to Australia for 3 weeks initially and then 2 weeks a year or so later. Once the Columbo operation is set up we will do it using the central office facility.
I’m looking forward to going back to Sri Lanka and although the schedule is very busy it isn’t as mercilessly punishing 10 – 12 meetings a day we put ourselves through last time. Of course, just as were preparing to pack the news showed new attacks in Columbo and despite some misgivings we have decided to stay right in the centre of city to reduce the to and fro travel time. It's an inconvenient trip from Sydney to Columbo bec ause there are no connecting flights and it's necessary to break the journey with an overnight stay in Singapore and then getting up at 5 am the next morning to get the only flight to Columbo which leaves at 7 am in the morning. The alternativeis to have a 9 hour flight and then wait 7 hours at the airport - not something I'm prepared to do at this time of my life.
I had expected to be further advanced in settling all of the lease/legal/accounting/banking issues after we made so much progress on the initial trip in February but that has not proven to be the case. Hopefully we will be able to get past all of the current ‘road blocks’ over the next few days and get this important project back on schedule.
Saturday, April 26. 2008
Exetel has, to date never done any advertising of its services and has reled on word of mouth and a slowly growing network of effective agents to generate new customers. This has worked well for the growth of the residential business for over 4 years now and has yielded 50 consecutive 'record' months in terms of revenue growth.
In obtaining 'business' customers we have used fax outs to around 15,000 companies and, again, a network of very effective agents.
Other than the fax outs which have cost us 1 cent per fax, we haven't spent any money on promotion or advertising.
Our major objective over the coming 18 months or so is to bring our 'business' revenue to a 50/50 share of our total monthly recurrent revenue from the approximately 15/85 it is today.
We obviously need to either develop or hire sales personnel capable of reresenting Exetel to business customers and I have been fiddling around with ways of doing that over the last 4 - 5 months with no success - partly becasue I was fiddling rather than putting a real effort in to it. I will actually put some real work in to recruiting/developing a competent corporate sales force once I return from Sri Lanka in early May. If that isn't possible to do then anything else we may decide to do would be largely money wasted.
We have decided to see if we can derive any benefit from using advertising to promote awareness (and of course sales) of our business services which have slowly built up in volume from zero to around $500,000 a month over a period of 4 years with very little emphasis or effort on our behalf - though we have had one dedicated person for almost two years now due to the volume of sales enquiries from our fax outs and those agents who use our services as part of their total offerings to their clients.
As someone who has continually expressed very negative views of advertising this may seem surprising, it certainly surprises me. However, and this may well be based on my almost total ignorance of everything to do with advertising, it seems to me that there may be a possibility for a small company (with a correspondingly small budget) to use some sort of finely targetted advertising to make the really useful and really low priced services that are currently bought by business customers better known.
There are two reasons why this has come to mind at this particular time.
The first is that each service sold by Exetel is now profitable, and sustainably profitable, in its own right based on recurrent revenue - in other words it doesn't need 'financial support' from profits made on activation/set up charges for the service to deliver a profit over its 'lifetime'. This has already allowed Exetel to provide many of our services with zero activation/set up fees.
The second reason is that from June Exetel will begin to get the financial benefits from the large reductions in IP band width charges that will result in monthly operating cost reductions of well over $A100,000 from August onwards and, for the first time, gives us some 'disposable income' that we can have a choice of investing in things other than the core requirements of delivering services. (we are already spending the first $20,000 a month of this money on Australian fauna and flora protection programs).
Part of this money will need to be spent on salaries/commissions for sales personnel (assuming they can be found) and some of the rest of it can be used for advertising if we can find suitable 'conduits'. We will spend a modest sum of money on a VoIP ad in a NSW regional business magazine as a 'test' of what we might be able to do on a wider scale. The draft ad can be found (used for another purpose on the Exetel web site) here:
Our main 'strengths' in terms of our business customers to date have been our low priced SHDSL and Ethernet services. However an increasing number of business customers are buying our SMS services and now VoIP from Exetel seems to be becoming more attractive. We probably have as much, if not more, expertise in providing VoIP and integrated data base VoIP services than any other Australian 'consuting company' based on our own very advanced and very sophisticated use of VoIP, SMS and Asterisk based services.
In any event it seems to be an opportune time to focus on building our 'business' revenues based on a 'best of breed' set of business services that also can be provided at lower costs tan any of the competitor's service I've looked at over the past six weeks.
It will be an interesting exercise to see if we can make advertising work for us now that we have the 'discretionary' spending that wil lallow a half decent budget to try and make it work.
Friday, April 25. 2008
Forgetting that it was a public holiday today, earlier this morning I read the Australian financial press. I read the piece by Michael West on page 41 which largely dealt with the woes of Commander. At the conclusion of the article he sums up Commander's situation as:
1) Commander owes it's banks $A360 million
2) Net Assets are $A20 million
3) For the latest half year it had lost $A100 million in cash flow
4) It has disclosed, a previously undisclosed, off balance sheet debt of a further $A75 million
West's observation is that Commander's banks are "in denial" and should have pulled the plug long ago. How a once enormously profitable 'division' of Telstra could be sold off to private investors and, within ten years, be mismanaged into this sorry story is very difficult to imagine. It further illustrates the extreme dangers of borrowing when rates rise and banks find their own sources of funds shrinking and becoming much more expensive.
No matter what form of denial anyone might choose to employ the current facts appear to be that 'retail spending' is shrinking and business spending is 'on hold' for many industries and in many States (even the ACT economy will decline rapidly now their own version of the mining boom (the ACT building boom) is finally at an end. Earlier this year we decided to put our own, modest, capital expenditures on hold - we withdrew our offer to buy 450 square meters of floor space in the Sydney CBD and shortly after that indicated to the DSLAM provider with whom we had been 'negotiating' for a long time that we wouldn't be proceeding with the purchase of around $A5 million of their products.
Since then we have carefully evaluated the effects on our small business of the deluge of bad financial news delivered hourly both in Australia and around the Western world. From what I understand of what I’ve read both the US and UK banking systems are on life support by way of their central banks continually feeding them money (by buying up their suspect assets, to allow them to keep functioning. Something similar appeared to happen in Australia over the past ten days.
From what I can see so far there has been no negative effect on Exetel’s business (not in any one of the ten service types we provide) and in fact there has been a marked upturn in most of ur service types – particularly over the past few weeks. It now seems that the RBA will increase interest rates again in late May and that may be the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ and we will then see a downturn in our business. We had considered taking a deeply conservative ‘view’ of the coming 18 months in terms of planning and operation based on the many negatives being reported.
I still have very little doubt that (as in the case of Commander) that will be true and many businesses that have any form of serious exposure to debt will either fail or find the coming months very difficult. However, subject to what may transpire if there is a further rate rise in May it seems to me that, for whatever reason(s) our small business is positioned to avoid the worst of any ‘fall out’ from even tougher economic times and maybe, as the text books suggest, we should take a counter-cyclical view of our market places and aim to take advantage of the, forced or self determined, more conservative actions of our competitors.
Perhaps being the lowest priced supplier in tough economic times is the ‘magic bullet’ when money becomes less available?
In any event, partly because of circumstances ‘wished’ on us by things like a feeling that Optus may withdraw their ADSL1 wholesale services and partly because we do have a need to increase our business in some areas in which we operate we have already committed to activating more PoPs and therefore incurring significant back haul costs and we have already started the $US150,000 investment in Sri Lanka. Seeing the continually rising number of ‘churns’ to Exetel from other ISPs has encouraged us to make almost all of our ADSL1 and ADSL2 plans even more attractive in terms of download per customer dollar spent as well as adding a slew of new add on services for most of our ADSL and Wireless offerings.
We will also actually spend some small amounts of money over the next three months on business product/service advertising for the first time!! All of these activities, individually, are quite small and low cost but the sum, looking forward, becomes considerable over the next year. Of course, unlike large borrowings on capital equipment or real estate, these expenditures can be more easily reduced if things turn out differently (negatively) with the exception of the new back hauls.
I hope these don’t turn out to be “very brave decisions.”
Thursday, April 24. 2008
An Exetel employee sent me this link yesterday:
http://torrentfreak.com//images/vuze-pl ... esults.pdf
as it amused him to see what seems to be the 'outing' of several 'high profile' Australian ISP executives as having lied to the industry and their customers for some considerable time about whether or not they treat P2P traffic differently to other traffic on their parts of the network.
If you've been involved with, or an observer of, Exetel for any length of time you may recall the torrent of abuse and derision heaped upon our small company when we publicly announced that the rapid, and increasing growth in P2P traffic had to be addressed by us as it was 'swamping' our available bandwidth at peak times - mainly at night on week days between 8 pm and 1 am. This was mainly on third party forums and predominantly 'authored' by the psychologically challenged fanatical supporters of other ISPs. However much of the 'forensic' attack was written, usually anonymously, by ISP employees and in several cases by very senior ISP management.
The reasons for Exetel using technology to identify P2P traffic and restrict the bandwidth made available to those protocols were simple, blindingly obvious and absolutely commercially necessary at the time we introduced them. They were, in fact, so blindingly obvious and commercially necessary that I made the comment at the time that EVERY ISP in Australia would now do the same as Exetel planned if, in fact, they had not already done it.
....and, of course other ISPs had already done so and over the succeeding 12 months EVERY ISP in Australia that had not done so followed Exetel's 'lead' and bought the same equipment that Exetel 'pioneered' in Australia or equipment from other similar companies.
ALL other ISPs continued to deny that they were, or ever would, do what Exetel had publicly stated it would do and made condescending comments about "little' ISPs that 'didn't have the money to provision a network properly" - and much worse than that thereby encouraging a more widespread encouragement of written abuse in the various on line and even print media.
It never concerned me as it did no damage to Exetel's short or medium term business and I took great pleasure in the public squirming and verbal 'back pedaling' that the various other ISPs who had so vehemently denied using P2P controls when they were exposed as pointless liars by events and the evidence of their own user's.
An extraction of Australian ISPs from the article referenced above gives the following:
ISP: Median Reset Rate
Adam Internet: 13.33%
Telstra Bigpond: 11.31%
If this information is to be believed, and I'm not sure that it is correct (I'm not technical enough to know one way or the other but I actually don't believe that Exetel uses the sort of processes described in the article) then the ISP who made the most 'attacks' on Exetel about P2P controls and who persistently went to great pains to publicly state that "we do not constrain P2P traffic in any way on our network"
appears, from this article's analysis, to apply greater constraints than Exetel does.
I have no idea whether that's true or not but what I do know for a fact is (based on seeing the equipment in their racks at Data Centre's Exetel employees visited) is that several the ISPs who were so emphatically denying that they were constraining P2P traffic had installed either the same manufacturer's equipment as Exetel had done or equipment form a similar manufacturer.
Does it really matter?
Not remotely from my point of view......
.....though you do have to wonder why so many, apparently senior managers within Australian ISPs, seem to believe they can and should lie so obviously about something that will, sooner or later, demonstrate them to be untrustworthy public spokesmen for their companies.
Ironically, as no-one who so publicly criticised Exetel bothered to understand from the announcement on P2P controls made by Exetel (and I have to confess that I did try and write that announcement in a way that the information may have been missed by the more strident idiots who, for reasons known only to themselves, seem to only exist to make derogatory remarks about our small company) P2P controls were simply a first, and transient, phase of dealing with the effects of P2P on network management and provisioning.
Since that time Exetel has put in place the second phase (P2P caching) and will complete the third phase by the end of this year.
In the mean time the amount of 'constraint' on P2P traffic continues to decrease month by month, at least as implemented by Exetel, and in any event the actual implementations over the time we've had them in place have made only minimal differences in download speeds to the vast majority of P2P users of the Exetel services.
There will continue to be challenges in adapting networks to handle multi-thread processes which are just one more challenge to be handled by any organisation that provides network based services.
Wednesday, April 23. 2008
I read the most recent AT&T financial results with more than usual interest earlier this morning. A summary of those results is reported in the SMH and an on line version of that article can be found here:
Three comments caught my eye particularly:
"The wireless division added a net 1.3 million subscribers, for a total of 71.4 million, even though it lost 330,000 subscribers due to the shutdown of an older network. Revenues were $11.8 billion, up 18.3 percent from a year earlier. During the quarter, AT&T spent $6.64 billion for spectrum licenses it will use to expand its broadband services."
"AT&T started raising prices for DSL service by $5 per month in February, and those increases are spreading across the service area, but demand is still "solid," Lindner said."
"The company said last week that it plans to cut about 4,600 jobs, or 1.5 percent of its work force, to shift resources from the traditional phone operations to growing parts of its business, like wireless."
I suppose it puts Labor's/Australia's proposed FTTN project in perspective when one, of many, US carriers spends almost as much money in a single three month period to add wireless broadband spectrum than the FTTN project is 'budgetted' to spend in five years to put some more wire in the ground - oops, sorry, fibre it just terminates on wires.
However the fact that AT&T are increasing their emphasis on both money and financial investment in wireless (while continuing to acknowledge that their fixed line business continues to 'migrate' to cable and wireless) and the fact that they feel able to increase their broadband prices across the board in a market that is fiercely competitive, again, seems to emphasise that a large part of broad band's future is not going to be related to fixed wire implementations - at least in the USA.
Exetel continues to struggle to put in place a wireless data service and we continue to take one step forward and then gradually slide back to where we were, just as we have been doing for over 18 months now. It would be nice to operate in the USA where AT&T (who obviously have real competition from Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint/Nextel and provide realistic Wholesale/CLEC pricing because they, like the rest of the world, understand that wholesale is a sensible and profitable part of doing business.
I believe Exetel will be able to begin offering a data over mobile service in the not too distant future which will be suitable for a business user who travels and, if that works out, we would be able to offer a data over mobile service that would suit some residential customers early in FY2009 - and I realise I have thought this would happen several times in the past 18 months - only to have been proven incorrect.
It seems, at least to me, that the mobile carriers are in easily the best position to provide usable speed data/internet services to all Australians outside the capital cities and for a fair percentage of Australians who live in capital cities. Their mobile phone networks are 'mature' - in the sense they have been built over more than a decade and are robust enough to provide virtually fault free service all of the time. Assuming that the 'spectrum' and back haul issues continue to be addressed then its easily the most obvious solution for general residential use.
Will there ever be sufficient 'spectrum' for very high speed data and large download allowances at realistic prices to be provided remains the only issue likely to mitigate against wireless becoming the data service of choice for all non capital city dwellers in Australia.
I think the AT&T first quarter report adds emphasis, if not impetus, to the need for a small company like Exetel to forget about a 'wired future' and find a truly viable wireless data service solution.
Tuesday, April 22. 2008
….possibly the best indicator of what’s going to happen for the balance of 2008.
The Michigan Consumer Confidence Index:
Is at its lowest point (63.2) since March 1982 – at the time that the USA was in the middle of a recession and confirms what most US economists already believe – that the USA is already in recession.
Business is very tough for all of my business friends and acquaintances and, from what I read in the press and what I pick up from conversations with Exetel’s suppliers and ISP ‘acquaintances’, it seems the communications/ISP business is also starting to be negatively affected.
Doubtless some sections of industry and parts of Australia remain unaffected by the problems in many parts of the rest of the world (will the now fabled “mining boom” ever end?) but I see too many signs of tough financial times to think that there won’t be problems either right now or very shortly.
I live in one of Sydney’s more pleasant suburbs (Balmoral) which ‘accumulates’ householders who can afford more than the average price paid for a house in Sydney. Balmoral, and the slightly wider area of Mosman, has benefited, along with most suburbs around Australia from the rapid increase in house prices over the length of the stock market bull run which ended a few months ago after six years of big increases.
In the weekend papers there were various articles on slumping real estate prices and the ‘pain’ that higher mortgage rates were causing so many Australians. One of those articles almost took my breath away (and I assume its data was factual) which reported that there were 332 residential properties for sale in Mosman (which is a very small suburb) compared to an average of 85 properties over the past two years.
Perhaps more worrying was the erection of the first ‘mortgagee sale’ sign within 100 meters of where we live and I noticed another one as I drove home yesterday almost as close. I have never seen a mortgagee sale sign in Balmoral in the approaching 17 years we have lived there.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of tougher times is the almost trebling of approaches that Exetel receives from people with whom we don’t do business at the moment – particularly modem providers. Exetel has only ever sold Netcomm modems since we first connected an ADSL customer a little over four years ago and over that period we have been approached by virtually every other modem supplier once or twice a year.
However, over the past 4 – 6 weeks we have had approaches from 7 modem providers and, although we have indicated no interest in making a supplier change, all but 2 of those seven have made multiple approaches with ‘deals’ that are stunningly financially attractive. With very little ‘cross questioning’ each of those suppliers has said that they have an ‘over stock’ situation due to their usual customers not taking up their ‘usual forecasts’. I can only assume that a lot of ISPs, including some quite big ISPs, aren’t making as many new sales as they forecast they would.
I think at least one not so big ISP has some quite real financial difficulties as an early sign of such issues is increasingly late payment of operational supplier bills usually starting with those suppliers least able to exert collection pressure. ISP agents are one category of a ‘supplier’ who can’t really exert any financial pressure so when you receive an email like this:
”I’d like to become a residential Agent for Exetel, I have been an Agent for several ISPs during the last 6 years, starting with Ozzienet, Planet Netcom and currently XXX. Some have been purchased by other companies, and XXX for which I have been an Agent up till now, it looks like they are going "broke" as they have not been paying me my commission for over 6 months, now worth over $500. Therefore I'm not willing to setup any more customers with XXX.”
it makes you wonder – especially when you see a significant increase in churns from that particular ISP and you hear from a supplier that some of their ‘public statements’ are far from the truth.
Maybe the often talked about “ISP consolidation” will claim one more victim in the near future?
Monday, April 21. 2008
I would think, for all the obvious reasons, that the communications industry, in any country, would have the highest level of automated systems of any industry - simply because of the nature of its services and the need to diagnose and maintain those services - similar to those used to control electricity grids and atomic power stations only easier because the basic communications structure to monitor and maintain communications is inbuilt in to the end user service.
I'm sure that's the case.
What I'm equally sure about is that the internal and customer support systems that many of the carriers and other communications suppliers that Exetel deal with are certainly not "21st Century" and, from what I've become all too well aware of over the past 18 months, not even late 20th Century.
Exetel will 'finish' the implementation of the company wide/service wide/discipline wide automation of every aspect of operating a small communications company sometime towards the end of 2008. It will have have taken us almost 5 years of building systems from the ground up using open source software (Linux, MySQL) but it has resulted in this sort of comment from new users:
"I'm a recent Exetel convert, I ordered an ADSL2 INCPHONE C service back in February and have been using the service for almost a month now.
I am extremely happy to report that absolutely everything went smoothly with the provisioning of the service and I was blown away by the level of automation and the excellent communication throughout the process.
The forums, usage widgets and online reporting tools are outstanding if you take the time to read and use them properly.
All without having to speak to a human! "
I doubt that we could have achieved the level of automation that is now in place if we hadn't been prepared to take some pain, sometimes extreme pain, throughout the building process and didn't have extremely tough minded management and investors able and prepared to accept the cost of that pain - both personally and financially.
Our major remaining 'build' now is to complete the automation of the personnel management and task/process management system that will provide the overall reporting management of every aspect of Exetel based on the Director's agreed business plan that is then 'automatically broken down into the individual minute by minute objectives for each aspect of Exetel's operations and for the minute by minute monitoring of each person and supplier involved with delivering those objectives.
We have made a solid start to the 'final implementation' of this system and are planning to have Support fully functional by the end of this month with the other 9 'departments' fully implemented on a, roughly, monthly schedule before the end of 2008.
Effectively the only things to be done are to continue to build the data collectors that the system requires to 'feed' the display of data relating to the performance of an individual or the ongoing achievement of a task.
This is, of course, easy to do for data base 'elements' such as number of applications received for different product and service types.
It's also pretty easy to take data from Cisco and Foundry hardware as they have management interfaces designed to provide data to other monitoring programs.
It's slightly more difficult to do for, say, the Mitel PBX or the Cerberus help desk software where we have to take raw data from a third party product and system software that isn't designed for easy transposition.
It gets more difficult again to access our bank's reports to us (versus our reports to them) to get 'instantaneous' cash flow data.
....and, of course, there are some even more difficult data collectors than those.
However, at the end of the day they are simply programming challenges that will be overcome with some ingenuity and programming skills.
It's by no means certain that we will succeed in putting everything in place, 100%, by the end of this year but it looks as though it will be possible to get in the high 90 per cents of a complete implementation by then which will 'revolutionise' the levels of efficiency that a commercial enterprise can achieve.
Apart from the obvious advantages of having true 'exception reporting' for every required task within a relatively complex operation it has been designed to both enhance personnel development and management while 'slashing' personnel management time. As Exetel continues along the 'path' of personnel working remotely this is going to be a key 'pay back' for managing a diversely located work force that also has to work in tight integration in terms of their daily jobs with other diversely located personnel. (already we have people working in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Mosman, Canberra, NSW Central Coast, Perth and will be continuing that process as we move forward.
We will also make this software available to any other organisation that might want to use it on an Open Source basis once it's sufficiently complete to be useful and will continue to publish updates on what level of usefulness it's reached here:
We would welcome other people's input in to how to further develop and improve the effectiveness of this system and we would especially appreciate an exchange of data collectors for different devices beyond the ones we will keep developing for ourselves.
Who knows - one day our suppliers may be able to actually do things as efficiently as their small wholesale customers do things?
Sunday, April 20. 2008
I did some work on Exetel's 2009 and 2010 business plans yesterday in between other things as, being a tidy minded person, I have always tried to have the next financial year's business plan in place before the end of May of the previous financial year and the detailed estimates for the year after next completed by mid-June.
The current uncertainties in terms of whether or how fast there will be a FTTN service available and to what geographic 'spread' and just how far LTE and its derivatives will have advanced and by when make planning tougher than usual; not that it's ever easy to do realistically.
I don't know whether it makes any differemce as to what the total markets will be for any particular technology - for instance will there be any ADSL1 services in two years time given the current Telstra roll out of ADSL2 currently claimed by Telstra to provide ADSL2 to around 80% of Australian households.
ADSL1 would have an estimated 3,500,000+ users at the moment and it would be logical to assume that all of those ADSL1 users who can get ADSL2 will move to ADSL2 over the coming 24 months. So that would mean that the total Australian market for ADSL1 by the end of, say June 2009 would fall from around 3,500,000 subscribers to less than 600,000 subscribers.
Scary thought for a small company like Exetel that has over $1,000,000 invested in ADSL infrastructures and monthly circuit bills of another $450,000 a month at the moment. The take up of ADSL2 by people buying from Exetel is less than 30% of the total ADSL1 and ADSL2 applications although that percentage slowly increases month on month.
A FTTN solution, depending on how it's priced of course, will have some sort of impact, probably greater rather than lesser, on the combined ADSL1 and ADSL2 user base when/if it becomes deliverable and you can be pretty certain that, whatever anyone may say do or think, the overwhelming majority of customers transferring to any future FTTN solution will be to Telstra.
If you don't believe that then all you have to do is to consider who currently buys the most, by a factor of tens, cable and other modems in Australia and who would be able to offer "free cable modem/free activation" for any future FTTN solution. (no 'churn' process will obviate the need for a new modem).
The long term 'lock in' contracts to current ADSL2 offerigs (and for some strange companies - ADSL1 services) will become more 'stridently' "pushed" from now on but will be of little use in preventing whatever Telstra will put in place to promote migration from the "obsolete copper technology".
So I used the 'magic' of spreadsheets to 'model' different scenarios and after several iterations I settled on the most likely currently predictable outcome as being ADSL1 declining to zero by December 2009 and ADSL2 declining to 15% by December 2010 for the major residential marketplaces.
A dismal picture in some ways - but then it's a given with only the time frame being an issue - it's quite likely not to be within the two and a half years in my scenarios but it could be.
Having pretty much decided that, irrespective of the timeframe, there was not a lot a small company could put in place that would have any real influence on what could be offered to the residential marketplaces after December 2009 (I discounted the effect of LTE in this iteration of planning but realised that it would be the only way forward in the medium term for Exetel in providing residential data services) I spent some time on the business marketplaces which Exetel has been slowly building since February 2004.
A much brighter picture.
Firstly the impact of both ADSL1 and ADSL2 on businesses in the State capital cities and an increasing number of regional centres is practically non-existent other than for very small offices. Even where it does play a part the value added services such as VoIP, SMS, Hosting and 'Consulting and Support' play a far larger part in the decision making processes than any giveaways included in ADSL deals.
Secondly, wireless 'Ethernet' is aready playing a role in providing multi mbps service to business users who can obtain them and wireless is, in many ways, going to continue to provide a superior business service. We are impressed with the speed of activation and the latency of the first wireless circuits we have installed for bsiness customers and hoefully that performance wil be the norm for wireless Ethernet services.
I was sensible enough not to get carried away with the ability of Exetel to replace any future loss in residential data revenue with business revenue but it's clear that the business services a company like Exetel can offer are not at all threatened by Telstra's machinations or even the overall movement of the phase out of ADSL1 and ADSL2 residential 'grade' services.
All of my first 30 years in providing IT and communications services in Australia were to medium and large businesses and one thing I'm very sure about - 'purchase' of such services isn't influenced by modem give aways or saturation advertising and the actual delivery of such services can never be based on monopoly pricing.
So, at least at this stage, what is clear appears to be concentrate on getting an LTE solution for residential users and put much more effort in to non-ADSL services than has been done to date.
I guess you could say - "and that's merely stating the obvious".
In many ways it is.
It will still take some pretty intelligent planning and some gutsy investment to achieve over the coming two years.
Saturday, April 19. 2008
......pity I don't have a clue why that was.
Exetel had a very good week over the past seven days with orders for almost all service types (with the exception of the previously very strong Business SHDSL services which was only an OK week) at or above 12 month highs. This would not normally be the case with school holidays and the uocoming ANZAC Day long weekend meaning that a lot of people take their last pre-winter breaks at this time of year.
It is always a minor irritation to me (the person responsible within our small company for 'planning') that I can seldom/never identify why these trends in order volumes by service type increase and decrease in the patterns that they do. In broad terms it's obvious why order flows are negatively affected in mid December to the first week of January and positively affected from the second week of January to the first week of March. Similarly with the weeks before and after Easter and the day before and after each public holiday. The school holiday periods also tend to knock off around ten percent of the order flows up to and immediately after those times.
We have embarked on a program of increasing our customer bases in several of our service types and I can see that these initiatives, which are in their very early days, are achieving some sort of success with our order volumes increasing by getting towards 20% compared to the 'normalised' volumes we plan for on a monthly basis. But last week was either the start of an amazingly pleasing steep upward trend generated from these initiatives or, as usual, by factors I haven't got a clue about.
The steep upward trends in SMS take up by business can easily be attributed to the efforts we have put in to promoting the SMS service to business prospects and, similarly, the even more dramatic increase in people taking up our VoIP service can be attributed to the removal of the minimum spend on the low end VoIP plansand the solid growth in the 'Naked' VoIP services - most of whom also opt for an Exetel VoIP service.
A more, completely, puzzling increase is the number of business customers taking up our 'added' services such as email, web site, domain and other hosting services. We have definitely done nothing different to that done since we started the Exetel business but the take up (and retention) of these services has almost doubled since the start of 2008.
Then there's the growth in ADSL1 services which, I suppose can be attributed to the various 'sweeties' added recently by raiding the promotional 'cookie jar' but if that's the case then those couple of initiatives have surpassed my wildest expectations for them. A 40% increase in order volumes versus the estimates for a 'quiet' week is too great to be put down to general fluctuation.
I'm not 'complaining' (far from it) but, one day, I'd like to be able to more accurately predict what the likely take up of new services is going to be rather than being constantly searching for what went right/wrong so more control could be exerted on what we do from day to day.
I will also make a start on doing the basic work on extending the Exetel business plan beyond June 30th 2009 over this weekend and that task is already difficult enough with so many unknowns in different marketplaces and product areas as it is.
I always try to take a relatively conservative view of future planning having been afflicted by the over optimistic planning of so many people in past 'lives' in meeting unrealistic targets set by uncaring and stupid people when I was younger.
A first cut at revenue in FY2010 which is staring me in the face at the moment is around $A100 million given the 'wishful thinking' plans to double the customer base over the coming two years. While I can see that could be aimed at I'm not at all comfortable with the assumptions that need to be made in the current environment.
The alternative 'macro' scenario that is being considered is to keep Exetel at the same/similar revenue levels as will be achieved in FY2008 and scale back the growth over the next two years to around 10% in terms of revenue for the coming two years.
It's always much easier to plan for such a low growth and it's also obviously easier to manage. Maybe it's the way to go while the various scenarios with FTTN and wire less data play out.
Friday, April 18. 2008
.....and then there's the world everyone else lives in.
Exetel have been, slowly, replacing some of the inter-State back hauls that are provided as part of the bundled Optus ADSL1 services with dedicated leased back hauls provided by Pipe and now NexGen.We would have liked to have had one back haul provider but that proved to be not possible as neither Pipe nor NexGen provide infrastructure to the locations we want to eventually put in place. So, knowing it was going to be very expensive we asked Telstra for a quote for an all State and Territory capital city back haul service.
I suppose I should have looked at the published Telstra CRA for Long distance Ethernet before wasting Telstra's and our time in looking into this option as when the pricing came back it was approximately 4 times the cost of using either Pipe or Nexgen. I have no doubt that the service provided by Telstra is 'better' but what I don't understand is how it's possible for any commercial business (ISP or bank, insurance company, airline etc) to provide viable services if they have to pay such costs.
I suppose the short answer is that many don't; they get large Telstra discounts or use Pipe, or NexGen or UEcomm or Optus and whoever else provides such services. So who pays Telstra these prices? - clearly enough organisations to make it worthwhile for Telstra to have a standard price list for these categories of services - if only to discount from for suitable customers.
It's quite obvious that Telstra has more fibre between all these cities than all other suppliers combined and therefore have a better 'economy of scale than all other providers - by a very, very wide margin. Therefore the cost to Telstra must be lower per gbps than for any competitor. So what explains the 4 -5 times cost per gbps?
Reliability of multiple redundancy? Some sort of case could be made for such reliability but it would be a percentage increase not a multiple of the cost of other supplier's services - or so I would have thought.
Perhaps it's simply a reflection of the pre-1992 days when a long distance call to the USA cost $2.20 a minute via Telstra and then an AAP rep 'knocked on the door' and offered us calls to the USA at $0.60 cents per minute - reducing to less than 10 cents per minute less than 3 years later.
Or before Optus established their alternative to Telstra mobile service in Australia and suddenly mobile handsets dropped from over $1,000 to less than $300 'over night (before quickly becoming 'free') and per minute costs dropped by 75%.
Or.....but then of course you know why that happened - what changed was that Telstra had to 'compete' as customers began to get a choice on various telecommunications services and, slowly, some Telstra customers of those days began to exercise that choice.
So now anyone in Australia can make untimed VoIP STD calls at 10 cents and can call dozens of international destinations for 2 cents a minute or less and you can get 60 gb of high speed internet for $50.00 a month.
De-regulation did achieve massive savings for residential and business communications services users in Australia.
It's not a unique Australian experience - it is repeated all over the world in those countries that decided to open their telecommunications markets to competition by removing the monopoly of the national telephone provider.
What appears to be unique in Australia is that we appear to be on the threshold of becoming the only (of course that may not be the only in the future but it will certainly be the first) country in the world to start to re-regulate the telecommunications market courtesy of the current 'biddable' Labor 'federal 'government'.
I said yesterday that it may not be such a bad thing for Telstra to build out a new fibre network even though it meant that everyone would pay far too much for services on it. I still think that's a realistic view - however, I forgot what the following natural consequences of that inevitable with this 'government' will be. I understand that the G( will also bid and that Optus will also make a separate bid (apart from being part of the G9) but it seems impossible for any other company (Australian or international) to make a sensible bid in the time allowed.
What are they?
Within five years Australian will be paying more than treble for all communications services than the Kiwi's will because Helen Clarke and co have a far better understanding of what is good for their citizens and their businesses in terms of how to manage deregulation of their telecommunications industry than those Labor loonies in Canberra have.
(of course every other country in the world is doing what Helen Clarke is doing, or they've already done it - so just who's got it totally wrong?).
Thursday, April 17. 2008
ts always good to start the day with a good laugh and Stupid Stephen can always be relied on to make a set of statements so ludicrous that even the most jaundiced and cynical of people (which I hope I'm not) wouldn't be able to help themselves and at least smile broadly if their nature didn't allow them to laugh long and hard out loud.
His latest cloud cuckoo land pronouncements are set out in this article from the Australian:
in which he tries to fend off the inevitable conclusions, reached by practically everybody in the communications business, that Telstra 'bought' the Labor party with cash and leverage of their shareholders during the last election and their quid pro quo (or should that be dollar pro quo) was the restoration of the telecommunications monopoly.
The sheer panic evident in Stupid Stephen's comments in this article (and I'm making the assumption that the quotes are factual) is almost beyond belief if they are meant to come from someone who is responsible for 'managing' the communications industry in this country.
To defend a 'tender' by saying that:
"Depending on the nature of the proposals we receive, I'm prepared to look very carefully at much stronger separation measures than are in place right now.
"Any consideration of regulatory wind-back will only be considered in the context of improvements to the underlying structure of the sector,"
he is, tacitly, admitting:
1) Of course Telstra wil be selected
2) Of course we will 'adjust the Telecommunications Act' to allow them to rebuild a total monopoly by bankrupting those companies who have invested in DSLAMs by rendering their investments worthless.
What other construction can be put on that, clearly panicky, attempted rebuttal of:
"We're starting to get the impression that a secret deal has been done with Telstra,"
But, and despite the heretical nature of this comment:
Does it really matter in Australia today if the Labor party ditches the Telecommunications Act and hands billions of dollars to Telstra to improve the data network that is an essential part of every Australian child's life and also very important to many adult Australians?
I don't think so.
I think it would be more sensible to have a single network built as quickly as possible rather than continue the current farce of pretending there is any real competitive environment in wire line/cable telecommunications in Australia. I doubt that Telstra even needs or wants Stupid Stephen's billions of dollars but if he insists on lending it then it should be repaid over a sensible commercial period.
I understand that Telstra will charge more than anyone else would for the resulting service but does that really matter? People still buy petrol at prices far higher than they would like but as it's essential and, perhaps, Labor will use what's left of the Telecommunications Act to 'control' the prices charged for the new network to some reasonable extent.
The worst that can happen is that over the next five to ten years Telstra continues to behave so arrogantly and rapaciously that a future Coalition government will enact new legislation that forcibly separates Telstra into the two parts that should have been done originally.
In the meantime the only real competitors to Telstra in Australia - the mobile network owners - can get on with implementing LTE or whatever that becomes and eventually remove cable and wire from the residential user's requirements.
Lets all get back to doing productive things that don't involve the ACCC, a rapacious monopolist and a venal 'government'.
All Australians would be better off.
Wednesday, April 16. 2008
How time flies when you're having fun - or totally 'immersed' in building a commercial enterprise from ground zero which is seldom fun but you don't have any time to consider that sort of thing.
It's been 51 and a bit months since we put up the Exetel web site and started to receive phone calls, faxes and emails. I was the first, and at that time, the only person working for Exetel so I had a total understanding of everything that 'Exetel' did and everything that prospective customers, and a month later, actual customers felt about and needed from the single (ADSL1) service that Exetel supplied at that early time. Fortunately, for both me and the prospective and actual customers, additional people began to work for Exetel from early March and the number of people employed by Exetel has slowly grown over the past 51 months from 1 to 35.
Exetel now has approaching 70,000 customers who use one or more of 12 main service types and a monthly revenue of approaching $A3.5 million.
I'm still trying to run the company the way I have always done and, to a large extent, remain relatively successful in doing that. However, if I remember the conventional personnel management processes I experienced while working with major multi-national companies correctly, the maximum number of people any manager can manage is between 6 and 8 and the maximum number of 'disciplines' for which any single manager can be responsible is 4. Obviously there would have been flexibility in such simple numbers.
My, current, business day revolves around 'managing' some 300 different aspects of Exetel and I'm of the opinion that I have reached the end of my abilities to continue to do that. Apart from the obvious time limitations (the day still has only 48 hours in it) the degree of detail that needs to be absorbed to retain even a basic understanding of what is happening now, let alone what should be done about what you then understand, is now too much.
It's very sad, in several respects, when you realise that your tiny company has outgrown your abilities to micro-manage it but that time has come for me. I'm not, for one moment, suggesting that the other 34 people employed by Exetel don't do an unbelievably good and creative job in delivering the incredibly good results that Exetel has achieved each of the past 51 months or that, in any way, the results that Exetel has achieved are, remotely, solely due to my efforts - they very clearly aren't. It's just that I have come to the realisation that Exetel is now, in the immediate future, going to have to be run more like a 'conventional' company than a 'start up' and that, inevitably, Exetel's 'culture' will have to change and that 'culture' change will be very difficult to achieve.
Some time in the next 2 - 3 months Exetel will have a presence in Sri Lanka and over the following 18 months there may well be more people employed by Exetel (Sri Lanka) than are employed by Exetel in Australia. Managing such an operation that has two 'operational centres 15 hours travel time apart will be far from easy and impossible to do in the ways that Exetel has been operated to date.
If we achieve the 'wishful thinking' objective of growing the total Exetel business to 150,000 customers over the next two years then the Exetel of 2010 will look nothing like the Exetel of early 2008; whereas the Exetel of 2008 looks pretty much the same as the Exetel of 2004 by way of comparison.
So, having done such a thing twice before in my life I'm trying to ensure that what I perceived to be the mistakes made on those two adventures are not repeated over the coming 18 months - I just wish I had a clearer memory of what the major mistakes were. I'm pretty sure that 'hubris' was a major error in the past and has to be avoided in executing any Exetel growth plan. The other major error to avoid this time is 'competing' for the sake of 'winning' rather than addressing competitor weaknesses as a simpler and more profitable way to grow at a planned rate.
We still have three months of this financial year's plan to achieve and, at the same time, complete the more detailed planning for 2009 and firming up the estimates for 2010 and there are more than enough 'uncertainties' to make planning even 9 months in to the future a very difficult task - let alone trying to sensibly plan 24 months in to the future.
The most difficult part of that, if indeed there are any parts that aren't overwhelmingly difficult, is to put in place the people management structures and career development plans for each person without which all growth planning is pretty useless.
Maybe there is a way of stretching each day to 54 hours?
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