Designer Planning Project on Floor

Are Target Operating Models strategic compasses?

The short answer is they usually are, because every organisation needs a road-map of where they are going. Target operating models can be complex documents with illustrative details including project management structures, special tools, implementation procedures and management metrics. They can also be simple statements, as for example Winston Churchill’s promise that “we shall fight them on the beaches, on the landing grounds and in the fields” which gave Britain the strategic direction it needed.

Many initiatives unfortunately fail because managers are ‘too busy’ to bottom on what their target operating model should say, or simply don’t believe in paperwork. As a result, promising initiatives may blunder off course or die a slow death without them really noticing. We cannot manage what we cannot measure, which is where the management metrics fit in. One of my favourite quotes is ‘if you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there’ which is what the Cheshire Cat said to Alice in Wonderland when she got lost.

The author blundered through life without a plan because there was no one else with his particular brand of imagination. The current business climate is different because everybody is trying to ramp up, and investors want to know exactly what is going to happen to their money and by when. Hence a target operating model can be indispensable throughout a change or product cycle.

The benefits of having a measurable operations / technology plan can produce powerfully tangible results if the organisation follows through on it. Built-in metrics with milestones are powerful tool for management, and, when they map through to the company financial plan almost irreplaceable as cash-flow forecasters.

Other benefits may include:

  • Shorter times to market and greater agility when launching new ideas
  • Reduced investor risk through a predictable process that’s readily monitored
  • A stable operating environment where there is consensus on direction
  • Greater likelihood of delivering on time and leading to repeat orders
  • A more cost-effective process, with less risk of loss of quality and money

Although it dates back a few years the Wills UK and Ireland Retail model still provides an excellent benchmark of a target operating plan that worked. The strategic goals were exceptionally clear, and they brought in a proven project manager to help them drive the program forward.

We have delivered advanced business management services to many of our clients, and believe you will find our personalised approach time-efficient and effective too.

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EU Energy Efficiency Directive & UK’s ESOS

Photovoltaic solar panels

In 2012 the European Union passed its EU Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) into law. This aims to reduce overall energy consumption by 20% by 2020. It placed an obligation on member states to pass back-to-back local legislation by June 2014.

EED Guidelines

The EED provides specific guidelines it expects member nations to address. The list is long and here are a few excerpts from it:

  • Large companies must use energy audits to identify ways to cut their energy consumption
  • Small and medium companies must be incentivised to voluntarily take similar steps
  • Public sector bodies must purchase energy-efficient buildings, products and services
  • Private energy-consumers must be empowered with information to help manage demand
  • Energy distributors / resellers must cut their own consumption by 1.5% annually
  • Legislators are free to substitute green building technology e.g. through better insulation
  • Every year, European governments must audit 3% of the buildings they own

Definition of Energy Audit

An energy-consumption audit is a question of measuring demand throughout a supply grid, with particular attention to individual modules and high demand equipment. While this could be an exercise repeated every four years to satisfy ESOS, it makes more sense to incorporate it into the monthly energy billing cycle.

Because energy use is not consistent but varies according to production cycle, this can produce reams of printouts designed to frustrate busy managers. ecoVaro offers an inexpensive, cloud-based analytic service that effortlessly accepts client data and returns it in the form of high-level graphic summaries.

Potential ESOS Beneficiaries

As many as 9,000 UK companies are obligated to do energy audits because they employ more than 250 employees, have a balance sheet total over £36.5m or an annual turnover in excess of £42m. Any smaller enterprise that finds energy a significant input cost, should also consider enlisting Ecovaro to help it to:

  • Obtain a better understanding of the energy side of their business
  • Achieve energy savings and share in a estimated £3bn bonanza to 2030
  • Reduce carbon emissions to help meet their CRC commitments

More About ecoVaro

We offer web-based energy management software that helps you measure and manage energy costs. This strips data from your meters and generates personalised reports on a dashboard you control. This information helps you accurately zoom in on worthwhile opportunities. With Ecovaro on your side, ESOS truly becomes an Energy Saving OPPORTUNITY Scheme.

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Man holding a CFL energy saving lamp

The Rights of Individuals Under The General Data Protection Regulation

Man holding a CFL energy saving lamp

The General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR is a European Union law reinforcing the rights of citizens concerning the confidentiality of their information, and confirming that they own it. We thought it would be interesting to examine the GDPR effective 25 May 2018 from an Irish citizen’s perspective. This article is a summary of information on the Data Protection Commissioner’s website, but as viewed through a businessperson’s lens.

How the Office Defines Data Protection

The Office believes that organisations receiving personal details have a duty to keep them private and safe. This applies inter alia to information that individuals supply to government, financial institutions, insurance companies, medical providers, telecoms services, and lenders. It also applies to information provided when they open accounts.

This information may be on paper, on computers, or in video, voice, or photographic records. The true owners of this information, the individuals have a right:

  • To make sure that it is factually correct
  • To the assurance that it is shared responsibly
  • That all with access only use it for stated purposes

Any organisation requesting personal information must state who they are, what the information is for, why they need to have it, and to whom else they may provide it.

Consumer Rights to Access Their Personal Information

Private persons have a right under the GDPR to a copy of all their information held or processed by a business. The regulation refers to such businesses as ‘data controllers’ as opposed to owners, which is interesting. They have to provide both paper and digital data, and ‘related information’.

Data controller fees for this are discretionary within limits. The request may be denied under certain circumstances. The data controller may release information about children to parents and guardians, only if it considers a minor too young to understand its significance. Other third parties such as attorneys must prove they have consent.

Consumer Rights to Port Their Data to Different Services

Since the personal information belongs to the individual, they have a right not only to access it, but also to copy or move it from one digital environment to another. The GDPR requires this be ‘in a safe way, without hindrance to usability’. An application could be a banking client that wants to upload their transaction history to a third party price comparison website.

However, the right to data portability only applies to data originally provided by the consumer. Moreover, an automated method must be available for porting. Data controllers must release the information in an open format, and may not charge for the porting service.

Consumer Rights to Complain About Personal Data Abuse

Individuals have a right under the General Data Protection Regulation to have their information rectified if they discover errors. This right extends to an assurance that third parties know about the changes – and who these third party entities are. Data controllers must respond within one month. If they decline the request, they must inform the complainant of their right to further remedial action.

If a data controller refuses to release personal information to the owner, or to correct errors, then the Data Protection Office has legal power to enforce the consumer’s rights. The complainant must make full disclosure of the history of their complaint, and the steps they have taken themselves to attempt to set things right.

Further Advice on Getting Things Ready for 25 May 2018

The General Data Protection Regulation has the full force of law from 25 May 2018 onward, and supersedes all applicable Irish laws, regulations, and policies from that date. We recommend incorporating rights of data owners who are also your customers into your immediate plans. We doubt that forgetting to do so will cut much sway with the Data Commissioner. Remember, you have one month to respond to consumer requests, and only one more month to close things out subject to the matter being complex.

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Will UK Retailers Skim the Cream with ESOS?

Fashion consultant showing clothes to the client

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) was quick out on the starting blocks with an ambitious plan to cut energy costs by 25% in 5 years. Their ‘25-in-5’ initiative is chasing a target of £4.4 billion savings during the duration. Part of this program involves ’cutting a path through a complex and inaccessible policy landscape’. BRC believes this drawback is making its members think twice about making energy efficiency investments.

The UK’s sprawling network of grocers, department stores and malls is the nation’s second most hungry energy customer, having spent £3.3 billion on it in 2013 when it accounted for almost 20% of carbon released. If you think that sounds bad, it purchased double that amount in 2005. However the consortium believes there is still more to come.

It bases this assumption on the push effect of UK energy rates increasing by a quarter during the duration of the project. ‘So it makes sense to be investing in energy efficiency rather than paying bills,’ Andrew Bolitho (property, energy, and transport policy adviser) told Business Green. The numbers mentioned exclude third party transport and distribution networks not under the British Retail Consortium umbrella.

The ‘complex and inaccessible policy landscape’ is the reflection of UK legislators not tidying up as they go along. BRC cites a ‘vast number of policies … spreading confusion, undermining investment and making it harder to raise capital’. The prime culprits are Britain’s CRC Energy Efficient Scheme (previously Carbon Reduction Commitment) which publishes league tables and ESOS. Andrew Bolitho believes this duality is driving confused investors away.

The British Retail Consortium is at pains to point out that this is not about watering things down, but making it simpler for participating companies to report on energy matters at a single point. It will soon go live with its own information hub providing information for retailers wishing to measure consumption at critical points, assemble the bigger picture and implement best practice.

Ecovaro agrees with Andrew Bolitho that lowering energy demand and cutting carbon is not just about technology. We can do much in terms of changing attitudes and providing refresher training and this does not have to cost that much. Studies have shown repeatedly that there is huge benefit in inviting employees to cross over to our side. In fact, they may already be on board to an extent that may surprise.

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When Carrefour Pushed the Right Buttons

LED lamp with green leaf, ECO energy concept, close up. Light bulb Saving and Ecological

Retail giant Carrefour based in Boulogne Billancourt, France is big business in anybody’s numbers. Europe’s #1 retailer opened its first store in 1958 near a crossroads (Carrefour means ‘crossroad’ in French) and has largely not looked back since then. The slogan for the hypermarket chain with more than 1,500 outlets and close to a half million employees is ‘choice and quality for everyone’. Our story begins when Carrefour decided these things belong at home too.

The company implemented a worldwide universal responsibility program firmly anchored on a tripod of goals for environmental, economic and social progress. Its first step was to appoint a five-person project team tasked with liaising with program delegates in all thirty countries in which it operates, and who had responsibility for driving these goals.

The team’s job was to make sure that policies, standards, procedures and key performance areas were common visions throughout Carrefour. By contrast, the local managers’ were tasked with aligning these specifics to local conditions in terms of environmental, political and social issues. The project team checked the fit quarterly via video conferences.

The Triple Bottom Line Goals were woven through with Carrefour’s Seven Core Values, namely Freedom, Responsibility, Sharing, Respect, Integrity, Solidarity and Progress. Constant contact was maintained with staff and other stakeholders through ‘awareness training’ seminars and other dialogues. As the program took hold and flourished, it became evident that the retail giant needed help with managing the constant stream of metrics flowing in.

After reviewing options, Carrefour appointed a software provider to monitor progress against its primary focuses on energy, water, waste, refrigeration, paper, disposable checkout bags, hygiene & quality, management gender parity, disabled people and logistics. This enabled it to track progress online against past performance, and produce meaningful reports.

The Environmental Manager in the Corporate Sustainability Department waxed lyrical when he said, “We believe that our sustainability strategy and software solution have powerfully improved collaboration, innovation, and overall performance”. He went on to describe how it was helping drive cost down and profitability up, while simultaneously growing brand.

Non-conformance costs can be high and run counter to the imperative to make a profit – while simultaneously ensuring a better world for our children’s children. In Carrefour’s case, having a consultant to measure progress was the key that unblocked the administrative bottleneck. Irish company Ecovaro does this for companies around the world. Click here. Discover what we will do for you.

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Using Pull Systems to Optimise Work Flows in Call Centres

People working in call center

When call centres emerged towards the end of the 20th century, they deserved their name ‘the sweatshops of the nineties’. A new brand of low-paid workers crammed into tiny cubicles to interact with consumers who were still trying to understand the system. Supervisors followed ‘scientific management’ principles aimed at maximising call-agent activity. When there was sudden surge in incoming calls, systems and customer care fell over.

The flow is nowadays in the opposite direction. Systems borrowed from manufacturing like Kanban, Pull, and Levelling are in place enabling a more customer-oriented approach. In this short article, our focus is on Pull Systems. We discuss what are they, and how they can make modern call centres even better for both sets of stakeholders.

Pull Systems from a Manufacturing Perspective

Manufacturing has traditionally been push-based. Sums are done, demand predicted, raw materials ordered and the machines turned on. Manufacturers send out representatives to obtain orders and push out stock. If the sums turn out wrong inventories rise, and stock holding costs increase. The consumer is on the receiving end again and the accountant is irritable all day long.

Just-in-time thinking has evolved a pull-based approach to manufacturing. This limits inventories to anticipated demand in the time it takes to manufacture more, plus a cushion as a trigger. When the cushion is gone, demand-pull spurs the factory into action. This approach brings us closer to only making what we can sell. The consumer benefits from a lower price and the accountant smiles again.

Are Pull Systems Possible in Dual Call Centres

There are many comments in the public domain regarding the practicality of using lean pull systems to regulate call centre workflow. Critics point to the practical impossibility of limiting the number of incoming callers. They believe a call centre must answer all inbound calls within a target period, or lose its clients to the competition.

In this world-view customers are often the losers. At peak times, operators can seem keen to shrug them off with canned answers. When things are quiet, they languidly explain things to keep their occupancy levels high. But this is not the end of the discussion, because modern call centres do more than just take inbound calls.

Using the Pull System Approach in Dual Call Centres

Most call centre support-desks originally focused are handling technical queries on behalf of a number of clients. When these clients’ customers called in, their staff used operator’s guides to help them answer specific queries. Financial models determined staffing levels and the number of ‘man-hours’ available daily. Using a manufacturing analogy, they used a push-approach to decide the amount of effort they were going to put out, and that is where they planted their standard.

Since these early 1990 days, advanced telephony on the internet has empowered call centres to provide additional remote services in any country with these networks. They have added sales and marketing to their business models, and increased their revenue through commissions. They have control over activity levels in this part of their business. They have the power to decide how many calls they are going to make, and within reason when they are going to make them.

This dichotomy of being passive regarding incoming traffic on the one hand, and having active control over outgoing calls on the other, opens up the possibility of a partly pull-based lean approach to call centre operation. In this model, a switching mechanism moves dual trained operators between call centre duties and marketing activities, as required by the volume of call centre traffic, thus making a pull system viable in dual call centres.

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The Connection Between Six Sigma and CRM

The ecoVaro Data Logger monitors and records energy and environmental parameters - Denizon

Six Sigma is an industrial business strategy directed at improving the quality of process outputs by eliminating errors and system variables. The end objective is to achieve a state where 99.99966% of events are likely to be defect free. This would yield a statistical rating of Sigma 6 hence the name.

The process itself is thankfully more user-friendly. It presents a model for evaluating and improving customer relationships based on data provided by an automated customer relations management (CRM) system. However in the nature of human interaction we doubt the 99.99966% is practically achievable.

Six Sigma Fundamentals

The basic tenets of the business doctrine and the features that set off are generally accepted to be the following:

  1. Continuous improvement is essential for success
  1. Business processes can be measured and improved
  1. Top down commitment is fundamental to sustained improvement
  1. Claims of progress must be quantifiable and yield financial benefits
  1. Management must lead with enthusiasm and passion
  1. Verifiable data is a non-negotiable (no guessing)

Steps Towards the Goal

The five basic steps in Six Sigma are define the system, measure key aspects, analyse the relevant data, improve the method, and control the process to sustain improvements. There are a number of variations to this DMAIC model, however it serves the purpose of this article. To create a bridge across to customer relationships management let us assume our CRM data has thrown out a report that average service times in our fast food chicken outlets are as follows.

<2 Minutes3 to 8 Minutes9 to 10 Minutes>10 Minutes
45%30%20%5%
Table: Servicing Tickets in Chippy’s Chicken Cafés

Using DMAIC to unravel the reasons behind this might proceed as follows

  • Define the system in order to understand the process. How are customers prioritised up front, and does the back of store follow suit?
  • Break the system up into manageable process chunks. How long should each take on average? Where are bottlenecks most likely to occur?
  • Analyse the ticket servicing data by store, by time of day, by time of week and by season. Does the type of food ordered have a bearing?
  • Examine all these variables carefully. Should there for example be separate queues for fast and slower orders, are there some recipes needing rejigging
  • Set a goal of 90% of tickets serviced within 8 minutes. Monitor progress carefully. Relate this to individual store profitability. Provide recognition.

Conclusion

A symbiotic relation between CRM and a process improvement system can provide a powerful vehicle for evidencing customer care and providing feedback through measurable results. Denizon has contributed to many strategically important systems. 

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What Kanban can do for Call Centre Response Times

Contemporary Business Team Planning Work

When a Toyota industrial engineer named Taiichi Ohno was investigating ways to optimise production material stocks in 1953, it struck him that supermarkets already had the key. Their customers purchased food and groceries on a just-in-time basis, because they trusted continuity of supply. This enabled stores to predict demand, and ensure their suppliers kept the shelves full.

The Kanban system that Taiichi Ohno implemented included a labelling system. His Kanban tickets recorded details of the factory order, the delivery destination, and the process intended for the materials. Since then, Ohno’s system has helped in many other applications, especially where customer demand may be unpredictable.

Optimising Workflow in Call Centres
Optimising workflow in call centres involves aiming to have an agent pick up an incoming call within a few rings and deal with it effectively. Were this to be the case we would truly have a just-in-time business, in which operators arrived and left their stations according to customer demand. For this to be possible, we would need to standardise performance across the call centre team. Moving optimistically in that direction we would should do these three things:

  • Make our call centre operation nimble
  • Reduce the average time to handle calls
  • Decide an average time to answer callers

When we have done that, we are in a position to apply these norms to fluctuating call frequencies, and introduce ‘kanbanned’ call centre operators.

Making Call Centre Operations Nimble
The best place to start is to ask the operators and support staff what they think. Back in the 1960’s Robert Townsend of Avis Cars famously said, ‘ask the people – they know where the wheels are squeaking’ and that is as true as ever.

  1. Begin by asking technical support about downtime frequencies, duration, and causes. Given the cost of labour and frustrated callers, we should have the fastest and most reliable telecoms and computer equipment we can find.
  1. Then invest in training and retraining operators, and making sure the pop-up screens are valuable, valid, and useful. They cannot do their job without this information, and it must be at least as tech-savvy as their average callers are.
  1. Finally, spruce up the call centre with more than a lick of paint to awaken a sense of enthusiasm and pride. Find time for occasional team builds and fun during breaks. Tele-operators have a difficult job. Make theirs fun!

Reducing Average Time to Handle Calls
Average length of contact is probably our most important metric. We should beware of shortening this at the cost of quality of interaction. To calculate it, use this formula:

Total Work Time + Total Hold Time + Total Post Call Time

Divided By

Total Calls Handled in that Period

Share recordings of great calls that highlight how your best operators work. Encourage role-play during training sessions so people learn by doing. Publish your average call-handling time statistics. Encourage individual operators to track how they are doing against these numbers. Make sure your customer information is up to date. While they must confirm core data, limit this so your operators can get down to their job sooner.

Decide a Target Time to Answer Calls
You should know what is possible in a matter of a few weeks. Do not attempt to go too tight on this one. It is better to build in say 10% slack that you can always trim in future. Once you have decided this, you can implement your Kanban system.

Introducing Kanban in Your Call Centre Operation
Monitor your rate of incoming calls through your contact centre, and adjust your operator-demand metric on an ongoing basis. Use this to calculate your over / under demand factor. Every operator should know the value on this Kanban ticket. It will tell them whether to speed up a little, or slow down a bit so they deliver the effort the call rate demands. It will also advise the supervisor when to call up reserves.

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Could Kanban Be Best for Knowledge Workers?

Roadmap

Knowledge Workers include academics, accountants, architects, doctors, engineers, lawyers, software engineers, scientists and anybody else whose job it is to think for a living. They are usually independent-minded people who do not appreciate project managers dishing out detailed orders. Kanban project management resolves this by letting them choose the next task themselves.

The word ‘Kanban’ comes from a Japanese word meaning ‘billboard’ or ‘signboard’. Before going into more detail how this works let’s first examine how Japanese beliefs of collaboration, communication, courage, focus on value, respect for people and a holistic approach to change fit into the picture.

The Four Spokes Leading to the Kanban Hub

  1. Visualise the Workflow –You cannot improve what you cannot see. The first step involves team members reducing a project to individual stages and posting these on a noticeboard.
  2. Create Batches – These stages are further reduced to individual tasks or batches that are achievable within a working day or shift. More is achievable when we do not have to pick up where we left off the previous day.
  3. Choose a Leader the Team Respects – Without leadership, a group of people produces chaotic results. To replace this with significant value they need a leader, and especially a leader they can willingly follow.
  4. Learn and Improve Constantly – Kaizen or continuous improvement underpins the Japanese business model, and respects that achievement is a step along the road, and not fulfilment.

The Kanban Method in Practice

Every Kanban project begins with an existing process the participants accept will benefit from continuous change. These adjustments should be incremental, not radical step-changes to avoid disrupting the stakeholders and the process. The focus is on where the greatest benefits are possible.

Anybody in the team is free to pull any batch from the queue and work on it in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation. That they do so, should not make any waves in a culture of respect for people and a holistic approach to working together. All it needs is the courage to step out of line and dream what is possible.

The Kanban Project Method – Conclusions and Thoughts

Every engine needs some sort of fuel to make it go. The Kanban project management method needs collaboration, communication, courage, focus on value, respect for people and a holistic approach to work. This runs counter to traditional western hierarchies and probably limits its usefulness in the West.

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What Heijunka is & How it Smooths Call Centre Production

Business team working together at a call centre wearing headsets

The Japanese word Heijunka, pronounced hi-JUNE-kuh means ‘levelling’ in the sense of balancing workflows. It helps lean organizations shift priorities in the face of fluctuating customer demand. The goal is to have the entire operation working at the same pace throughout, by continuously adjusting the balance between predictability, flexibility, and stability to level out demand.

Henry Ford turned the American motor manufacturing industry upside down by mass-producing his iconic black motor cars on two separate production lines. In this photograph, body shells manufactured upstairs come down a ramp and drop onto a procession of cars almost ready to roll in 1913.

Ford 'Model A' Line in 1913

img33

Smoothing Production in the Call Centre Industry

Call Centres work best in small teams, each with a supervisor to take over complex conversations. In the past, these tended to operate in silos with each group in semi-isolation representing a different set of clients. Calls came through to operators the instant the previous ones concluded. By the law of averages, inevitably one had more workload than the rest at a particular point in time as per this example.

img45

Modern telecoms technology makes it possible to switch incoming lines to different call centre teams, provided these are multi-skilled. A central operator controls this manually by observing imbalanced workflows on a visual system called a Heijunka Box. The following example comes from a different industry, and highlights how eight teams share uneven demand for six products.

This departure from building handmade automobiles allowed Henry to move his workforce around to eliminate bottlenecks. For example, if rolls of seat leather arrived late he could send extra hands upstairs to speed up the work there, while simultaneously slowing chassis production. Ford had the further advantage of a virtual monopoly in the affordable car market. He made his cars at the rate that suited him best, with waiting lists extending for months.

A Modern, More Flexible Approach

Forces of open competition and the Six Sigma drive for as-close-to-zero defects dictates a more flexible approach, as embodied in this image published by the Six Sigma organisation. This represents an ideal state. In reality, one force usually has greater influence, for example decreasing stability enforces a more flexible approach.

Balancing Predictability, Flexibility, and Stability to Level out Demand

Years ago, Japanese car manufacturer Toyota moved away from batching in favour of a more customer-centric approach, whereby buyers could customise orders from options held in stock for different variations of the same basic model. The most effective approach lies somewhere between Henry Ford’s inflexibility and Toyota’s openness, subject to the circumstances at the moment.

A Worked Factory Example

The following diagram suggests a practical Heijunka application in a factory producing three colours of identical hats. There are two machines for each option, one or both of which may be running. In the event of a large order for say blue hats, the company has the option of shifting some blue raw material to the red and green lines so to have the entire operation working at a similar rate.

Diagram of a Heijunka

Predictability, Flexibility, and Stability at Call Centre Service

The rate of incoming calls is a moving average characterised by spikes in demand. Since the caller has no knowledge whether high activity advisories are genuine, it is important to service them as quickly as possible. Lean process engineering provides technology to facilitate flexibility. Depending on individual circumstances, each call centre may have its own definition of what constitutes an acceptably stable situation.

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