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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook Part 5

Since this session relies heavily on customizing appointment forms in Outlook, we figure it's worth while giving a refresher course on forms (just in case some of y'all out there aren't really sure what an appointment form in Outlook really is anyway).

The window shown here is the standard appointment form in Outlook 2007. It's really pretty basic: it shows the Subject, Location, Start time and End Time (the data fields) of the appointment; all of the information you need to define the basics of an appointment. Once you've entered data into some or all of these fields, a simple click of "Save & Close" will save the appointment in your calendar and close the window (duh).

Appointments can be a little more complicated than this if they are recurring (regularly repeating) appointments. Let's say you go to church every Sunday and you want to see that on your Outlook calendar. This is a simple example of a recurring task; but how do you make a task recurring, you might ask?

Simply click on the Recurrence button in the "ribbon" menu on the top of the Appointment window (somewhat near the middle horizontally).

You'll then be shown the Appointment Recurrence window, which allows you to define how frequently and how long the appointment will recur (repeat). In this scenario, you'd be planning to go to church from 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM on a Weekly basis every 1 week on Sundays, beginning on July 20th of 2008 and continuing forever.

If you wanted to only go ever other week, you'd simply change the recurrence pattern to "Recur every 2 week(s) on: Sunday." Similarly, if you wanted to only go once a month for ten months in a row, you could add that condition by clicking on Monthly and selecting "End after: 10 occurences."

Once you've selected your recurrence pattern, click "OK" to close the Appointment Recurrence window and return to the Appointment form.

Notice now that the Start time and End time fields are gone and have ben replaced with the Recurrence pattern information. If you want to change the start time or end time, you must again click on the Recurrence button and change the information in the Appointment Recurrence window.

Click "Save & Close" and you'll see your recurring church appointment on your calendar.

But what if you want to go to church Saturday night this week, but you still want to go on Sundays ever other week. To change that, simply drag that appointment from a Sunday to the prior Saturday. Outlook will have a coniption fit and ask you if you only want to change this occurence. Click Yes; you plan to continue going to church on Sundays most weeks.

If however you want to change to Saturdays from here on out, you'll need to double-click on the appointment in your calendar. Outlook will tell you the appointment is recuring and ask you if you want to "Open this occurence." or "Open the series." If you want to change all future appointments, you'll want to "Open the series" and change the recurrence.

So that's about it for the standard Appointment form. Hopefully you can appreciate how even a standard appointment form could be used to track recurring compliance tasks. By customizing the form, we can keep tabs on a lot more compliance information. We'll go over the basics of this next time.

P.S. The standard Task form in Outlook can keep track of recurring tasks too, but we feel that customizing the Appointment task is better. Here's why: with recurring Outlook Tasks, only the next scheduled task appears in the calendar. With recurring Outlook Appointments, all scheduled appointments appear in the calendar. If I have a task that occurs every month, to do a good job of scheduling I want to see it on my calendar every month, not just this month, even if I haven't completed the task yet this month.

Thanks for reading. Join us next time as we discuss setting up new calendars to track compliance tasks and keep them separate from your personal calendar.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook Part 4

Last time we showed you that in order to have a good compliance system in the end, you must make good compliance decisions from the start. We then said that deciding which compliance information to collect and track is one of the first and most important compliance decisions you'll need to make. Lastly we promised that we'd provide an example of the data to collect from an actual industry example. Well, it's time to make good on that promise.
One of the largest industries we serve is the Solid Waste Management industry. This industry spans collections, hauling, transfer stations, recycling facilities and, of course, all types of landfills. As you can imagine, the Solid Waste Management industry has a diverse and complicated mixture of compliance issues to keep tabs on. Not only is every organization regulated by the EPA and other federal agencies, each state and local municipality has a say in what a solid waste facility should and shouldn't do. Solid waste facility managers surely have an intricate web of compliance tasks to manage.
Having successfully implemented our PRECEPT (formerly B2C) compliance solution at several dozen landfills across the nation, and considering the praise we've received from landfill managers who use the system, we're confident that we know what data is necessary to properly track compliance tasks for solid waste facilities. Consequently, the list below is an industry proven list of the data we collect to track compliance tasks, but it is really only suitable to the Solid Waste Management industry. The required data for your industry may well be very similar, or maybe even identical, but that will be up to you to carefully think through and decide.
Information to track for each compliance task
for the Solid Waste Management Industry
  • Unique task identifier
  • Task name
  • Task description
  • Applicable facilities
  • Due date & time
  • Start date
  • Assigned personnel
  • Recurrence frequency
  • Completed? or % Complete
  • Status
  • Reminder date & time
  • Governing regulatory agency or agencies
  • Source document references, with page and section references
  • Document links or embedded pdf pages from actual permits
  • Task ID markers in pdf documents to indicate source text in permits
  • Highlighted text in pdf documents to show task source text in permits
  • Source document revision number and date of issue
  • Source document most current revision?
  • Source document precedence order

As you can see, this list isn't terribly long, but when you need to track each of these datum points for each and every task, your compliance task system database can quickly become quite large. What's worse is trying to ensure that the data for each compoiance task is unique, correct and applicable to that particular task. All too often tasks are duplicated or deleted inadvertantly, which causes compliance tasks to become distorted or lost in the shuffle. This just further proves that a good comliance platform prescribes patience and perseverence to perform properly!

For further 'p' alliteration fun, try: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers."

However, under NO circumstances should you try saying: "She slit the sheet, the sheet she slit, upon the slitted sheet she sits" (especially when in mixed company!)

That's it for now. Join us Monday as we start converting the above data list into a Calendar item form in Microsoft Outlook.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook Part 3

After you've decided which version of Outlook to use which internal method you'll use in Outlook to achieve compliance, you'll now need to make some more decisions. Yeah, we know: decisions, decisions, decisions! Well, you could have just slapped something together in Excel, but we all know that taking the time up front to make the right choices and put together a good system is well worth it in the end. Remember GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out.
From here on out, we're going to assume that you're going to go with our recommendation to use calendar/appointment items in Outlook to track compliance tasks. We could assume that you don't like our recommendation, but that would be silly since you're at least still reading this, which means you put some stock in what we say.
Regardless, here are the next decisions you'll need to make:
  1. Decide which complaince data you want to track
  2. Identify which data Outlook appointment items already track
  3. Decide which data from Outlook task items you'd like the appointment item to track
  4. Decide if you'd like to make some more decisions

Once you've got these down, we can actually start building custom forms to track your customized data. However, selecting the appropriate data fields can be one of the most daunting steps of this process because if you aren't tracking the right data, your compliance system won't be all that it should be.

Because this is such an important step, we're going to come back to this next time. Join us on Thursday for Part 4 of How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook, where we'll provide an example of the data to collect from an actual industry example.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

San Antonio Clean Technology Nuclear Forum

Yesterday at Pearl Stable The San Antonio Clean Technology Forum (SACTF) hosted a discussion about the future of energy in the city, focusing specifically on the nuclear power investment decision. The event was distinctly non-partisan, which was clearly the aim of the SACTF, a non-profit focused on economic development through efficient and alternative energy. They were able to bring together a variety of speakers with varying opinions to educate the capacity crowd on CPS' potential investment in a new nuclear facility.

The speakers were Dr. Patrick Moore, Craig Severance, Dr. Arjun Makhijani and CPS Interim General Manager Steve Bartley. Bob Rivard, Editor of the San Antonio Express News, moderated the event with a gravitas that kept the proceedings focused. I cannot understate the value of his fantastic work. Mayor Julian Castro was present as well, demonstrating the underlying importance of the issue. While the speakers disagreed on even the most fundamental of issues, namely energy demand, projected cost and method of analysis, the insight they provided was invaluable to inform the opinions from attendees. Unlike a good deal of national political discourse from both sides of the aisle, the Nuclear Forum was deep, substantive and avoided petty squabbling. I imagine that everyone in attendance learned something valuable about both nuclear power and alternative energy, not to mention the circumstances that color CPS' investment decision.

If you'd like to watch the event please head over to NowCastSA, who will be posting their video shortly.

Picture by Nan Palmero via Twitter (@nanpalmero)

Monday, September 14, 2009

How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook Part 2

Now that you have a fully licensed version of Microsoft Outlook running on your computer, it's time to choose which of Outlook's internal methods to use to track your compliance tasks. You essentially have three basic flavors to choose from:
  1. First, you can track compliance tasks using, well, the Tasks feature in Outlook. Duh. This makes a lot of sense because the most of features you'll want for tracking compliance tasks are included in the default Task forms and data in Outlook. However, the Task feature in Outlook falls short on a couple of fronts. Primarily, though tasks may be set to recur in the future, tasks don't show up on your calendar unless you've completed each and every previous instance of that task. For example, if you have a personal task to wash your dogs the first Saturday of every month, and you forgot to wash them last month, Outlook won't tell you to wash them this month. In fact, to get Outlook to tell you to wash the dogs this month you have to mark last month's task as complete (which is a lie) or reset the task entirely (a giant PITA). Both of these workarounds stink for task management.
  2. Another option is to use Appointment or Calendar items to track your tasks. The problem with this option is that you need to do a bit more dinking around to add several custom fields to duplicate those found in Outlook Tasks, but getting recurring tasks to appear in the future is much more intuitive. The biggest downside here is all the extra custom fields you need to add to make Calendar items work to track compliance tasks. However, once you get it all together and up and running, you'll probably appreciate the better functionality that using Calendar items provide.
  3. Your last option is to create custom forms via an add-in using something like Visual Studio. This is the most powerful and flexible way to create task items in Outlook, but it is also the most complicated and time consuming. Just like it's easier to bake a Devi's Food cake from a pre-made cake mix, it's also easier to create a compliance system in Outlook from a pre-made task or appointment form (you were wondering about the cake mix box above, and now you know)!

There's a lot more to talk about from here, like custom fields (whatever those are) and using the forms designer. We're not going to go into all that quite yet, but if you want to get a jump-start on what we'll be talking about soon, check out this tutorial, or this other tutorial. For more about working with forms in Outlook, and to learn about the Forms Administrtor Utility, give this Microsoft KB article a read.

That's it for today. Tune in Thursday for Part 3 of How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook Part 1

First things first: if you're going to use Microsoft Outlook to achieve compliance, you're going to need to purchase a copy of Microsoft Outlook. Look, we know you don't want to spend anything at all on this compliance system, but you gotta get a legal copy of Outlook. Do you really want to start your compliance efforts by breaking the law?

So which version of Microsoft Outlook do you need? Well, honestly Microsoft Outlook 2007 is far and away the best, but anything beyond Outlook 2000 will do. Really what you need is the ability to create and customize task forms. What's a task form you ask? Doesn't matter right now. Just know that Outlook 2007 is much better than Outlook 2003 is slightly better than Outlook XP is much much better than Outlook 2000. Of course, this had better be the case or why did we give Microsoft so much money over the years ...

So the long and short of this post is that we recommend Outlook 2007. There is so much about 2007 that is better than 2003 that it is easy to recommend it; so much so, in fact, that we won't go into it all here. However, one feature we will note here is that Outlook 2007 works much better with SharePoint. What's SharePoint, you ask? Hey, we'll get to it ... I thought you learned to stop asking those questions! To wrap up, if you can part with a little money and you want the best compliance system platform, go buy Microsoft Outlook 2007. If instead you have an older version of Outlook, you'll be just fine, but it'll be harder for you to follow along since this How To series will use Outlook 2007 methods and screenshots. That's it for today. Tune in next Monday for Part 2 of How To: Achieve Compliance wiht Microsoft Outlook!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Spilling the Beans

Over the next couple of weeks, we're going to spill the beans: we're going to give you an inside look at how to create your own compliance tracking solution based on Microsoft Outlook.

"So what," you say. Well, if you hadn't noticed, our PRECEPT compliance tracking solution is based on Microsoft Outlook. So essentially, we'll be giving our compliance trackign solution away for free! Yikes!

"Well that sounds pretty dumb," you must be thinking. "Why would you give that away for free?"

So if you're wondering that, or even if you weren't, here's why we're spilling the beans:

  1. If you thought long and hard enough, you could probably figure all this out on your own anyway
  2. You'll get an exhaustive and insightful look at our PRECEPT compliance tracking solution and what it can do.
  3. You'll see that our PRECEPT solution is more convenient than other solutions because it uses Microsoft Outlook (something you probably use already anyway).
  4. You'll realize all the work that goes into creating and maintaining a state-of-the-art compliance tracking solution.
  5. You'll figure out that "Holy cow, it would take me months to get a system like this working properly for my facility."
  6. Next, you'll realize that we can do it faster and cheaper than you can, which means that if you ask us to do it, we'll save you a boat-load of time and money.
  7. Someone out there has plenty of time and zero cash, but still needs a compliance system. God bless the interwebs.

So over the next couple weeks, tune in for our new blog series - "How to: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook!"

Friday, September 4, 2009

SEatWtC Part 25: Conclusion



In the end, it will come down to technology, fairness and diplomacy. If we can develop the technology to harness and store the sun’s energy more efficiently and cheaply, there won’t be any significant strife over buried energy supplies. However, if we cannot develop such technology in a timely manner, the best solution will likely be a fair solution. Is it fair to say that the U.S. has more right to oil than other countries? Is it fair for developing nations to get to use more energy than advanced nations simply because they aren’t advanced yet? Is it fair for advanced nations to produce goods in lesser developed nations and thereby pollute those nations? These are difficult questions that will take years of dialogue and diplomacy to iron out. Regardless, we as a world will somehow need to learn to work together. Businesses can be a key player in all this because energy costs affect them directly and as businesses prosper, so do nations.

The world’s populations aren’t going anywhere, and these problems will only become worse until we unite and develop a vision for the future that is bright for all.

This is the end of this series. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

SEatWtC Part 24: Tomorrow’s Global Balance of Power

Countries by CO2 Emissions
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Countries by CO2 Emissions

Tomorrow’s Global Balance of Power

Today, the United States is the world leader in terms of influence in the global economy but that may not always be the case. If carbon dioxide emissions are any indicator of industrial economic activity and the need for energy in the future, the U.S. will be contending with China, Russia, India for the world’s energy resources.

Currently, North America enjoys the largest consumption of crude oil per capita. Russia, India and China do not use nearly the crude oil per capita that we do in the United States, Canada and certain parts of Europe. However, the pure vastness of the populations of China, India and Russia show that compared to the overall carbon dioxide emissions already in these three countries, if the economic growth continues and their oil consumption per capita meets that of North America, China, India and Russia will consume vastly more oil than we currently do. If oil supplies are decreasing and economic activity is only increasing, does this mean there will be strife over who gets the remaining oil? That could be the case, but it doesn’t have to be. Since all energy comes from the sun, we should turn to it for our energy in the long run.

Oil Consumption per Capita
(Darker colors represent more consumption)
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Oil Consumption per Capita

This table orders the amount of petroleum consumed in 2006 in thousand barrels (bbl) per day and in thousand cubic meters (m3) per day:

Consuming Nation 2006 bbl/day x 1,000 m3/day x 1,000 Population x 1,000,000 bbl/year per capita
United States 20,687.42 3,289.0 304 24.8
China 7,201.28 1,144.9 1369 1.9
Japan 5,197.70 826.4 128 14.8
Russia 2,810.76 446.9 142 7.2
Germany 2,691.81 428.0 82 12
India 2,571.90 408.9 1201 0.8
Canada 2,296.66 365.1 32 26.5
Brazil 2,216.84 352.4 187 4.3
South Korea 2,179.90 346.6 49 16.3
Saudi Arabia 2,139.42 340.1 27 28.9
Mexico 2,077.51 330.3 107 7.1
France 1,981.18 315.0 61 11.9
United Kingdom 1,812.01 288.1 61 10.9
Italy 1,742.58 277.0 58 10.9
Iran 1,679.20 267.0 68 8.9

Source: US Energy Information Administration

The other side of the coin is the production of Crude Oil. Those that currently produce a lot of crude will find that they will not enjoy the power and influence they currently have. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Dubai, who currently have power because of their oil reserves, are now building tourist attractions, such as Dubai’s palm tree shaped harbors, that will help supplement their export incomes in the future. As mentioned earlier, countries like the United States who have held back on producing oil will find that they will have more leverage in the future.

Oil Exports by Country
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Oil Exports by Country

Tune in Friday for the Conclusion of SEatWtC!

Monday, August 31, 2009

SEatWtC Part 23: Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

Carbon Footprint
Image courtesy of Nature's Crusaders
Carbon Footprint

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

According to online sources, “Being carbon neutral, or having a zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset. The carbon neutral concept may be extended to include other greenhouse gases (GHG) measured in terms of their carbon dioxide equivalence -- the impact a GHG has on the atmosphere expressed in the equivalent amount of CO2 . The term climate neutral is used to reflect the fact that it is not just carbon dioxide (CO2), that is driving climate change, even if it is the most abundant, but also encompasses other greenhouse gases regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, namely: methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Both terms are used interchangeably throughout this article.

Best practice for organizations and individuals seeking carbon neutral status entails reducing and/or avoiding carbon emissions first so that only unavoidable emissions are offset. The term has two common uses:

It can refer to the practice of balancing carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, with renewable energy that creates a similar amount of useful energy, so that the carbon emissions are compensated, or alternatively using only renewable energies that don't produce any carbon dioxide (this last is called a post-carbon economy).

It is also used to describe the practice, criticized by some, of carbon offsetting, by paying others to remove or sequester 100% of the carbon dioxide emitted from the atmosphere– for example by planting trees – or by funding 'carbon projects' that should lead to the prevention of future greenhouse gas emissions, or by buying carbon credits to remove (or 'retire') them through carbon trading. These practices are often used in parallel, together with energy conservation measures to minimize energy use.” [17]


Tune in Wednesday for Part 24 of SEatWtC!