Home Field Notes Operations Computers Regulation Expense Control Email Web Sites Phones Security Out Sourcing Sarbanes Oxley
Product Critical Illness Lapse Support Universal Life Burial Insurance Finite Insurance Leads Systems How To Stories Underwriting/ Claims Last update January 20, 2005


How To

This section could be called technical tips. Things that are helpful to know and where to go to find them, resources that have helped me. It has been a while, but the first time I received a zipped file, I didn't know what to do with it. Same way with the first Adobe Acrobat file. And then there is the internet itself, the web, your connections to it and the people you need to maintain your network and web sites. You don't want to become an expert on these items, but you do want to understand what people are telling you, as well as what they are not telling you. Inevitably most of this involves the internet and the facilities that are associated with it. That is the newest kid on the block., and you need to understand its possibilities. Server and network issues are discussed in detail in the expert pages Network Computing and Network & Server so are only briefly mentioned here.

There is one site that is so good it needs to be linked up front. That is How Stuff Works - Computer Stuff. Spend a few hours there and you will have some good questions to ask your staff. For a detailed How To from the ground up, from building a web site to operating your own servers, go to the expert page Network Computing.



"What Exactly Is A Beguine, anyway?" The NYT headline was an attention grabber, but the story about the Cole Porter expert didn't ever say. The dictionary said it was a dance. But the first search engine Google selection told the whole story and played the song to boot. They don't make lyrics like that any more.

I have never met an executive that didn't have a computer on the desk, but mention Google, the most popular search engine, and an amazing number of times you will get blown off with a blank stare, "I don't have time", or "I have people that do that". I am not sure what is going on with that, but the same person would not say they never read a newspaper, magazine or book. The web has anything and everything you might want to know. But your key to accessing it is the search engine. Put your own name in Google and see what the world knows about you. See what your competitors are doing. I have been told there is an art to selecting the right search words, but I think the "art" is just trying it a few times.

How does a manager who is not a computer person provide leadership and control to the computer operations? Or if not responsible for DP, get his stuff done? A lot of conversation and some homework on the web. Spend time with individual programmers discussing the programs they are working on, and share ideas on how to get it done.

In some companies the culture, or individual managers, place barriers in the way of this suggested approach. How you work around that depends on the situation and your individual style. As a last resort you might try the "bull in the China shop" approach. Look oblivious, just go talk to the programmer, and hope everyone will be too embarrassed to explain the rules of the road. If you can't get past the first link in the chain of command, you are not going to learn much or have much input. This may have been why the task force was invented. It is a huge waste of time, but at least you can get to people.

My favorite approach is to figure out a "simple" way to program a request just to get the programmer thinking, and then get out of the way while he does it the right way. If you can do that, it avoids the "that is impossible" response, as well as the more sophisticated "well, anything is possible" which means it is impossible.

It is a given that you have to have PCs, a network, a fast internet connection, email, and an internal and external web site. But there are various ways to accomplish these steps, depending on your starting situation.

Basically the question concerns servers and the experts to take care of them. Should you have your own or use an outside service? An exception in the file/print server, which doesn't lend itself to using an outside service due to the limiting transfer speed. Your LAN is almost certainly 10/100, which means it can transfer data at 100 megabits a second to your internal file server. Transfer outside relies on your internet connection. A T1 is considered fast at 1.5 megabits a second. So it will be great for internet, but way too slow for backup or transferring large files.

Your web site approach should be dictated by the same basics you consider in giving a speech: who is your audience, what do you want to say to them (or what do they want to hear), and what do you want your audience to do as a result.

The web is full of sites that ignore this. If management doesn't focus on the purpose of the site, it will become the artistic expression of the web person. If your site uses FLASH (even as common as it is now), or other cutesy or exotic stuff to create "visual impact" you have probably lost your way. Companies are catching on however. After reportedly spending millions on a site so chock full of pictures of Snoopy you couldn't download it on a modem, Metropolitan Life now confines the pooch to a single small image in the corner.

How much should your web sites cost? It does not take much to create a fine site useful to your agents and policyholders, and perhaps stockholders. Web hosting costs about $20 a month, you need about $1000 of software, and a full time web person. The cost at D.A.Rau, including hosting, email, and help, is detailed in his expert page.

You can argue that you may need two web persons if one is essentially a programmer that can do server side scripting and CGIs, relieving your regular DP staff of that responsibility. A second person may also be justified if the illustration facility for the field force is web based. Beyond that, the size of the company has no obvious connection to the size of the web site staff. The major waste in many companies is simple over staffing. I know one medium sized company that has 5 web persons and a web person manager. Its site doesn't do anything more and isn't any bigger, but I am sure there is a lot more planning and interfacing. It is hard to have meetings if you have only one web person.

Finding the web person usually comes down to choosing between someone you already have and running an ad for a recent graduate of a good training program at a junior college or technical school. If you have good technical support from your DP staff you can get good results from any intelligent person.

I have worked with web persons with various backgrounds, from a former secretary to a college English major and obtained good results. Web building software such as DreamWeaver and FrontPage is excellent and someone can train themselves if they have someone to answer questions. The best find, however, was a two year technical school graduate. The hiring risk is probably getting someone too qualified, or who want to do something else, like network administrator. I would run an ad and get someone with a good start in understanding how web sites work. That will save you broken links and messed up paths. Six or seven years ago you might have trained someone from scratch, but so many people are now involved with web building in their spare time you can probably find someone with a good base of knowledge within your own employee group.

Even if you start with a knowledgeable web person, the function still needs to be managed, and many managers feel they don't know enough and abandon that function to the IT department. Just sending emails of what is decided in meetings about the site will get you plenty of wheel spinning and false starts. If you absolutely won't participate, find the best manager you have who will talk to the web person.

Web persons often reinvent the wheel daily, and don't take advantage of the resources available free on the net. Get the web person to show you the newsgroups on Dreamweaver or FrontPage, or whatever you use. Any question on how to do things or where to look for examples is answered by someone who just wants to be helpful. Look at the free templates that are available, as well as the multitude of Java Scripts and CGI scripts as well as indexes to resources. Better yet, just put "free CGI scripts" into Google, or name any other resource you need. I am still amazed at how much the on line community wants to help. Why spend time developing a bulletin board when you can have Blogger up and running in 5 minutes? Guest books like the one on this site can be adapted to many uses, and are available free for the downloading. Entire functioning web sites are available as freeware.

Finding a systems person is trial and error. "Systems" here means the way work is done, not necessarily involving computers, so we are not talking about programmers here. Most people cannot "see" how to eliminate or improve work, some can see it only by performing the task themselves, and a few can see it by observing someone else doing it. If you can't find the observer type, you can get good results letting the doer type but you have to make the changes while the doer is still doing that job, so it takes longer.

There are training courses for administrative systems work, and they are helpful AFTER you have identified someone with the knack for systems. The only way to do that is to pick someone who appears observant and confident to observe someone doing clerical work and suggest ways to eliminate or facilitate some of the work. Even from a beginner you should get three or four workable suggestions from an hour of observation. Don't limit your trials to college graduates. You probably have some outstanding clerks and secretaries that are naturally brighter than your college graduates, and more observant. The outstanding qualifications for systems work are self confidence, enjoying it, and getting a charge out of finding a better way. If you are working with someone who had been clerical, you probably should start with the "do the work" approach rather than the observation approach, to allow the person to build confidence and to get over the reticence to "report" anything "bad" about how someone else is doing the work.

There are handy things on the internet. One is the set of readers and converters offered at Microsoft's site. There also more universal readers that will open almost anything, which you can find on the internet. You don't need Adobe Acrobat, but you sure have to have the reader installed.

You receive an email with an attachment, but when you click on it, it won't come up. You don't have that particular program on your computer, and your computer doesn't know what other program to use to bring it up. The first thing to do it to find out what the program is, from the extension. I usually just type the extension into a search engine, like .ppt. Then, if it isn't Microsoft, I type +reader and usually get a lead to one that will open the file. For example, when you type "zip" into your search engine, such as Google, the first thing you see is Winzip, the free un zipper, before you even get to the post office sites.