Online Travel Shopping: 4.8 Million And Counting

Click, Search, Book!!Sounds familiar? Online Travel, which was considered the domain of the Internet ‘geeks’ a decade back, is the new mantra for the Internet savvy generation of today. Logging on to the Internet and accessing the vast pool of resources has become the norm of the day.Today, the fastest growing category for B2C e-commerce in India is Travel. From railways to airlines, hotels to travel packages- virtually every segment of the travel industry is seeing a surge in online bookings.With the global increase in popularity for Online Travel, Online Travel sales worldwide increased by as much as 34% from 2004 to 2005 and reached $62 billion in the US markets and $31.1 billion in the European markets. Online travel in Asia too, is on a roll, estimated to reach $16 billion by 2006 more than double that in 2003.The exploding globalisation in India has catalysed the rapid expansion of Internet connectivity and e-commerce activities throughout the country. Today, India boasts of an ever-increasing user base whose understanding of the Internet is at par with that of any developed country, boosted by the fact that 68% of the users lie between the age group 15-30 years.The emergence of low-cost airlines and online ticket booking along with growth in online railway reservation is the key in this Internet booking boom in India. With the increased trust in security of credit card transactions and online payment options, of the 90 percent of the Indians who planned and researched travel options via the internet, 15-20 percent actually booked using the Internet.The travel industry is cashing on this growth with dedicated e-commerce portals that enable customers to make online bookings and payments for hotel rooms, air tickets, car rentals as well as holiday packages.Interactive techniques like search tools targeting multiple airlines and variable airfares allow travellers to zero in on the perfect flight, coupled with search engines for sifting through the large array of hotels and booking options, are a perfect lure for the users, along with the last minute bargains and tempting discounts that have become an integral part of the internet shopping.The online travel today, brings together the best of technology and interactivity, and extensive industry network in a one-stop solution that drives down costs- all just a few clicks away.Of the 38.5 million people logged-on in India, the Travel industry accounts for over 23% of internet shopping in India, which translates into a whopping 4.8 million Indian users who venture for the Online Travel.This acceleration accentuates the travellers’ preference to directly involve themselves and control their travel choices, making Online Travel Shopping in India the most desired pre-departure tool of the day.Copyright (C) Manoj Gursahani

What Is Nutritional Counseling?

Nutritional counselors, also known as dietitians, help patients identify and manage food and nutrition-related concerns through short- and long-term treatment strategies. Nutritional counseling is commonly applied to patients experiencing neuromuscular or musculoskeletal disorders, digestive ailments, obesity, diabetes, menopause, pregnancy, allergies, among other conditions.By analyzing and assessing diet and exercise habits, nutrition is seen as a key factor in establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Without adequate nutrition, a large number of diseases can ensue in part due to the vulnerability placed on the body. Nutritional counselors aim to find integrated ways to set goals and help patients achieve them. When nutritional counselors assess patients, individual profiles are analyzed. The information the patient receives from the counselor is contingent on their lifestyle (vegetarianism, for instance), age, life stage (menopause, pregnancy), and medical history.Nutritional Counseling incorporates weight monitoring and education about weight, food records, self-control strategies, meal planning, and problem-solving skills. Instruction of food planning and self monitoring is seen as instrumental in getting patients to follow a specified program.The Work of Dietitians
Dietitians and nutritionists plan nutrition programs, helping to prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits while addressing dietary imbalances. They also recommend specific dietary changes to fit a person’s temporary condition. (Recommending extra folate for pregnant women, for instance.) Dietitians often work in hospitals and schools, applying their services through education and research. Clinical dietitians provide nutritional services to patients in institutions by assessing patients’ nutritional needs, developing and recommending nutrition programs, and evaluating the results with other professionals to coordinate medical and nutritional needs. Community dietitians counsel individuals and groups on nutritional practices aimed to prevent disease and promote health. They work as independent contractors with healthcare facilities or engage in their own private practice, screening clients’ nutritional needs and offering regulated approaches meeting them.Eating Disorders
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) sets guidelines and protocols for the practice of nutritional counseling. In 1996, it defined guidelines for medical nutrition therapy for many medical conditions related to nutrition, which included eating disorders.The American Psychiatric Association (APA) considers nutritional counseling as one of the most important treatment elements for people with eating disorders. Nutritional counseling is viewed for its role in motivating patients to agree to reestablishing healthy eating habits. In this context, nutritional counseling is seen holistically, in terms of how it fits into ongoing support to patients and their families.Nutritional counseling in this context attempts to correct irregular eating habits, replacing it with a balanced approach to food and weight control. It provides a synthesis of information and practices, drawing from many fields including cognitive-behavioral, relational, and educational techniques. It is considered a part of overall treatment, not as a single-source approach. As such, it employs the support of other treatment methods, which can include psychotropic medications and psychological counseling.Collaborative rapport between patient and counselor is considered essential for treatment success. The counselor addressed entrenched food beliefs, behaviors and attitudes revolving around food, how, when, and how much to eat it – amounting to a complex equation. Counseling environments must be secure, safe, and supportive, where the patient receives helpful information from the counselor in a direct but non-intrusive manner.How Nutritional Counseling Can Help Overall Health: Counseling can clarify questions related to nutrients, calories, and special food needs, showing what to look for when reading food labels. They can help sort through healthy cooking alternatives in real-life contexts while teaching strategies of self-control. (One may learn how to better select items from a restaurant menu, for example.)Digestive Problems – Dietitians or Nutritionists jointly work with physicians to establish dietary plans that are in keeping with a patient’s condition. They may recommend the removal of fried foods, spices or carbonation, while recommending other alternatives.Diabetes – Counseling can provide healthy food alternatives without sacrificing taste.Pregnancy – It can help ensure a pregnant woman is getting all the nutrients she needs, especially during the first three months of pregnancy, the crucial period that may affect a newborn’s risk for developing neural tube or spinal cord defects.Conditions that May Benefit from Nutritional Counseling HIV, Cancer, Hypertension, Organ Dysfunctions, Hypoglycemia, and Heart Disease.Most eating disorder centers and residential programs offer nutritional counseling. The benefits of receiving nutritional counseling includes improved ability to concentrate, a boosted immune system, stabilized moods, more energy, aid in recovery of eating disorders, and increase in overall health.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.