Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
As a blog that looks at tech and business and organizational and social issues, I think I can get away with talking off-topic without really being off-topic. More importantly though, I value travel highly. I associate well with people who have chucked in a good job to pick up a backpack and see a chunk of the world that is more real than any resort destination. A country and population and slice in time that has grime and crime and interesting adventures. I work well with people like that too, as perhaps a side-effect of working for an Australian company west of London as the first job post-university that I chose, rather than it choosing me. Travel brings out the best and worst in people. It also really makes it pretty obvious what you are getting when you interview or collaborate with a traveler in a business environment.
Generally as corporate working people travelers are quite transparent as to what they want and what their goals are. This makes travelers an important part of a team. Not every person who has traveled like this will fit your team, but that's OK, because it will be more obvious who fits and who doesn't. Getting mixed up in difficult situations in places where you have no control and only hand-waving as a way to communicate can strip away a lot of stupid ego. So that is why I wanted to read Adam’s book. He’ll make a great employee and entrepreneur and CEO and floor-sweeper, and he'll do the one that makes him happiest, not the one that necessarily makes his ego tingle. And we can all learn from that.
As Adam experienced, you find out a lot about what you are good at in surprising places. Shepard, from North Carolina, and educated on a basketball scholarship up in Merrimack New Hampshire, was, not surprisingly, pretty good at hoops. But put him in the middle of Guatemala volunteering to help with kids and he tells us in plain, easy to read English how not only did this become one of the most memorable things ever, it helped him realize how he worked in a team. Or maybe how he didn’t. He certainly tells us how he can identify clearly the team players of the volunteers, the people great in their roles, the people he would pick for their enthusiasm, and the others who were there just until it was time to be somewhere else. And Adam was self-aware enough to know that in that moment he just wanted to be an individual contributor. Collaboration and team work wasn’t working for him. So, he made another brave volunteering decision and went to dig ditches for water projects alongside locals in Nicaragua, because there is not too much planning and collaboration to do.
In doing so, Adam learned more about what makes workers tick, and equally how important it is to ensure people have accountability in everything they do. A water pump, which you’d thing would be treasured and cherished in a small village without a clean water supply just dies and becomes scrap when nobody feels accountable for its upkeep. Finding the ways to give the right people ownership, was by the sound of it an important lesson.
In “One Year Lived”, you can read about a 30-year old man, Adam Shepard, who drops everything to go and travel, absorb as much experience, language and learning as possible. And along the way he works out what he’s good at and what seat in the eventual boardroom of life, corporations or politics he’ll occupy.
Adam has kindly offered some free e-books for download for anybody that shares this blog post over the next 48 hours. Make sure you follow and mention @consected in a Tweet or add a comment linking to your post below and I’ll send you a link to the book. Just be quick. And take a look at the One Year Lived website for great stories about the book and more information about the author.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
"API" says that a web app collects, stores and makes accessible a lot of potentially personal information that any number of third-party applications might find valuable to consume and reuse
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
|The Gartner Hype Cycle|
Most rational people quietly accept that Big Data is mostly hype right now. Everybody is trying to stake a claim to their chunk of it and the chatter on social channels as marketers try to nurture the term into a real market is a source of big data in itself. The concept only starts being real as forward thinking CIOs focus less on the mundane IT networks and PCs and more on helping the business extract value from all the data they have access to using the tools borne of the hype. That is Big Data - the real use of analyzed data to help make business decisions, not just the technology hype about who has the best Hadoop or in memory database. Don’t know what these terms mean? You are a member of 99.999% of the business population, AKA normal people. Because you shouldn't have to know.
We are still in the early phase of the technology cycle for Big Data. The IBMs, SAPs and HPs of the world are still appealing to very early adopters who have money to burn on acronymic technologies that have yet to be formed into meaningful products with advertising friendly names. By 'meaningful', I want to imply that only a small team of consultants are required to install them and make them do something that regular business users and executives can make use of.
Currently most of the focus of the hype and actual product releases seems to be on the storage, manipulation, analysis and visualization of the data. I've seen little meaningful discussion about what I consider key problems:
- making information actionable
- taking business decisions from a concept through actual change
- providing communication and business records without generating a ton of irrelevant email and wasted report writing along the way
This is where business process management (BPM), customer relationship management (CRM), and case management tools come into play. But not as the tech vendors might have you believe. The value is not purely from the extra data they pump into the system from day-to-day management of customer interactions and employee collaboration.
Of course, having a good insight into your customers and business activities is great. Being able to manage the flood of required decisions coming from future Big Data analysis is equally important. How do you actively handle all the business information coming out of the business? Losing it in email is not the answer. Never actually following up with your newly revealed best customers is just a waste.
Handling the flood of new work emanating from real Big Data analysis should not be yet another chore. This is going to be valuable stuff we never had access to before. Managing the work actively through flexible processes, using tools designed to help people follow up on decisions that need to be made, this is a key component of Big Data. Its not currently the sexy part (for geeks at least). But it is the final component that ensures that all the investment in technology, analysis and experience is not just lost into meaningless email conversations that go nowhere.
Speaking of conversations going nowhere... follow me @consected on Twitter
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
- responsibility to their local labor-forces as potential employers of people
- responsibility to existing employees providing value to the company
- responsibility to shareholders to ensure continued investment to operate and improve
- responsibility to customers to meet obligations and attract new customers.
Automation and BPM can help a company advance to serve customers better, at a lower cost. This subsequently ensures the ability to survive, thrive, innovate and subsequently employ a greater number of local people.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
|Ther Neanderthaler Fund, 1888|
So add some time, thousands of years and a plentiful supply of flint, and tools became a natural part of what drew us out of the caves. It was long after Grongus that anybody started to think about making the creation of certain types of useful tools a repeatable thing - a product. Early craftsmen were the innovators of products (pots, spears, bags, etc), and we call all thank Grongus for why the iPhone exists today and you work with a PC or Mac on your desk.
Despite this long history, still today we struggle with balancing the cost of creating custom tools and the significantly extra time it takes to make them into useful, repeatable products. Modern day craftsmen, the innovators of products come at a cost. And as consumers of products we need to remember that if we want more of our unique desires and requirements for a product to be met, we have to pay for that to happen.
Software is a tool and it is the coolest thing, since it lets us create products that would not otherwise exist. There is not a person out there who doesn’t use software, on a PC in the office, an Android in your pocket, setting your microwave to cook a TV dinner, come to think of it the TV itself, driving a car, buying a train ticket at the station. Then there are all the amazing websites, the places where you can buy almost anything without disconnecting eyes and brain from screen (except to dig down the side of the sofa to find where your credit card slipped). And of course there is the enterprise and SaaS software that allow businesses to run more automatically and workers to be more productive.
I’ll say it again: software as a tool is the coolest thing, and that's because of the things that we can create with it. It also highlights the ongoing balancing act between tool and product. It is the balance between the effort to develop useful websites, automate business processes and build databases of your customers, and the exponentially larger time to make that pile of code into a product so that almost anybody can create a website, optimize business process management, or configure a CRM system.
The tool/product balancing act is always hard for innovators. It requires a strong business plan that shows you can create enough user-friendly functionality to hide the nuts and bolts technology, at a cost that is much lower than the number of times you think you can sell this product to people who find it useful. From the customer perspective there is a compromise, especially with business software. There are things businesses want to do with software that can’t be done with pure configuration of software products, especially if your business is in the slightest way unique. Most business software allows for customization, for additions to be made by smart software developers using tools. But then again comes a cost.
Balancing tools with products may mean buying a more expensive and more closely matching product up front to avoid manpower for customization. Or it may be in buying that more expensive product you are wasting a ton of stuff you don’t need, meaning that starting with a lean, lower cost product and paying for some customization is more cost effective. How much you tailor your software for the bespoke solution is often just a matter of taste.
After all is said and done when comparing software tools and products, calculating the “build versus buy” equation never equals a cost of ‘free’. The time you are pulled away from making your business more successful while you learn and configure software products, or the time you pay others to do the job through software development, it all carries a cost. If you have strong requirements for a website, a business improvement application or a customer marketing automation tool, you can expect there will be a price, in expenses or opportunity cost. The only way this cost (of the product and configuration and customization) can be avoided is to reduce your requirements and expectations to virtually nil, so you can use a free, advertising supported, sign-up and go product. And compromize heavily to accept where there are gaps.
If you have unique business requirements, creating the perfect product you can configure absolutely to your needs is time-consuming. With free products you get what you pay for with a leaner product that requires it to be customized with additional effort. Do you want to pay more for a product so you can do the work yourself? Or will you employ somebody to do it for you? One way or another software developers, business analysts, project managers and YOU all hope to get paid. You have options that Grongus never had: it is just about finding the balance of "do it yourself" or "done" that works for you.
Challenged with a build-vs-buy conundrum or selecting the right software for your business? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
|Gold on Wikipedia|
Big Data has sprung out of the desire for corporations to gain more meaning from all the data they collect every minute of every day. The information they are collecting about customers, about activities people perform, what they buy and the decisions they make. It is based on techniques grown in scientific research such as the Large Hadron Collider (that enormous “atom smasher”), that attempts to make the results of its 150 million sensors producing millions of sets of data every second into something that mere humans geniuses can understand. It provides medical research with a ways to make the human genome project into something more than a big experiment, developing drugs to address real diseases. And of course, government, with ways to meaningfully understand the requirements, trends (and tax evasion) of tens of millions of citizens.
Big Data is one big funnel, with megatons of data flowing in the top, and ounces of precious observation dripping out the bottom. And just like any organization, dealing with any insight, issue or lead it is at this point the Big Data analysis organization falls over and resorts to... email. All that effort in understanding an aspect of client behavior, drug interactions, or financial transactions takes real human effort. The care taken with a valuable result it is to dump it into a large abyss of junk mail and Facebook notifications.
Large corporations, governments and small businesses are all alike; everybody suffers from the same issue. They spend a lot of time working on problems, finding leads, understanding clients, but have no way of really organizing the useful information into something meaningful, to ensure that the value in the data doesn't get lost. That the potential new customer doesn't just forget she asked for information on your website. That your biggest client doesn't get upset at poor customer service and Tweet #fail about it to the world. That the analysis of your customer’s spending patterns doesn’t just leak out the bottom of a busy executive’s iPhone messages.
Sometimes email is good enough, but often we all need just a little more organization of information, a defined business process to follow and some simple management of who gets to see what, when. This combination of workflow and simple tools is all that is needed to prevent your own Big Data gold nuggets disappearing into the email abyss.
Follow more of my information management, Big Data and process rants: @consected on Twitter. Or ask me about how to prevent the precious information in your business leaking away.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Methodology. An ugly word. When used alongside business process improvement, 'methodology' suggests that there is a logical approach, a preordained series of steps, a pretentious way of saying there is a method to fixing business process problems. Like a workflow for fixing your workflows. At a high level, I’ll concede that this may be reasonable, but get much deeper than “analyze, measure, improve, rinse and repeat” and the methodology is just a hack of a bunch of experience and skills (I hear the Six Sigma guys beating at my door already). A methodology when used without care can blatantly ignore human nature, organizational behavior, and sheer common sense. I prefer my methodology to be more a constructive generic framework.
Things get even worse when the eventual goal is a strictly defined, no nonsense Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) map of the process. Any graphical notation for drawing ‘workflows’ that requires a 538 page PDF specification probably needs the support of an equivalently strict methodology so its developers don’t stray off too far from some form of best practice in drawing their pretty workflow diagram.
As we all know, there are many ways to actually handle the implementation of business process improvement projects:
- a business process management (BPM) tool to implement the workflow
- a suite of tools to draw, develop and analyze the processes
- a bunch of offshore software developers to produce some vaguely usable services for end-users
- some common sense guidelines for workers to help them guide the process better themselves
- any combination of the above
The reality of many successful business process improvement projects, independent of the implementation approach, is that the more methodology you try and stuff into the analysis and development of the ‘solution’ to your problems, the less room there is to maneuver when it comes to the actual reality of business processes: human nature and company politics trumps everything.
My proven approach (call it a methodology if you must) to business process improvement projects, (whether they depend on software development, business process management (BPM) tools, or plain simple task lists) is simple:
I unfortunately haven’t had the pleasure of re-engineering a process of 15,000 people, which likely requires some significant structure to making it all work. My experience is more for the 15 to 150 people processes, and to do them well often requires less methodology and more flexibility.
Think I'm completely wrong? Follow @consected on twitter and tell me!
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Focus on the customer is the mantra of many of companies. Knowing your customer should be more than knowing where to send the bill. It includes organizing and making available information (not just data) of all types, to the right people, at the right time. What information?
- what are the customer’s business problems?
- why did they pick your service, solution or product?
- would they recommend you?
- what are their current issues or concerns with your product?
- when did they last call for support or help?
- what marketing communications do they receive and respond to?
- how are they connected to your other customers?
- are they interested in other products you have?
- where do we send the bill (and does it get paid on time)?
Customer focus is an information problem for sure. It is also a process problem. The problem is preventing the day-to-day, week-to-week issues from getting in the way of a great customer experience. Put simply, it requires the back-office operations staying nicely hidden in the back-office, not leading your customer to fret about how disorganized you are and having to deal with unnecessary issues. Simply put:
- are your bills sent on time, for the correct products, to the right place?
- is there an easy process for changing changing details?
- can customer support issues be easily tracked?
- are renewals and updates handled automatically?
Customer focus requires giving employees the power to service customers well. Your systems must support employees with all the information they need to make good decisions, and taking some of the load off them by automating some of the repetitive things that nobody really wants to do. Put this into a package and call it Customer Relationship Management or Case Management if you need a software industry term for it.
Recognizing how to change processes, information and technology is something that is hard to do when you and your employees are stuck in the middle of doing their jobs. An independent, outside-in view is often needed to recognize opportunities to work better and improve customer focus.
Follow me on twitter @consected and Google+ for updates on process, information and technology.
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Over the last couple of years, technology, both consumer and business, has been absorbed in the explosive mobile technology space. Consected and this blog have been following closely from as soon as the iPhone really started to impact the way we thought about the lump of plastic we wedge against our ears and shout at. The desperate catch-up scramble from Android devices led to some messy (and ongoing) patent disputes that resulted in interesting competition. Then the iPad hit the streets. The Netbook revolution that never really happened got swamped. Everybody wanted a slab of supercomputing plastic and glass. Consumers led businesses into what many would identify as the Star Trek tech era. After all, why would you want to lug around a monster laptop, with a charger and battery that weigh more than a large house brick, when you could enjoy having a slim, light tactile device in your hands at any time?
Businesses are still struggling with the idea of employees buying their own devices that trump the work PC, which they want to attach to the corporate network. The ‘bring your own device’ (often referred to as BYOD) struggle continues. As does the love-hate relationship with social media.
Consected and therefore this blog has been following all this, for the sheer novelty of it all, and because we know there is a real business (and technology and social) impact. For me, the mobile / tablet revolution has opened my eyes to several things:
- The apps we have been using on desktop PCs are clumsy, overloaded, and frankly ugly. Users are demonstrating that they can do more with less on-screen clutter, fewer menus, and a UI you jab with a finger rather than carefully align with a tiny mouse pointer.
- Business processes, those back office operations that make everything tick (or often grind) by day-by-day, need fresh thinking to accept that not only do our customers want to communicate with us everywhere, but so do our employees.
- It has become really hard to operate without an always-on Internet connection, since ‘the Cloud’ is king. Everywhere. Anytime. On the train, in the car, in the office, at home, at a bar. Handling that offline time is where our devices (and our sanity) are failing.
So my focus for this blog, and Consected the company, is to really start addressing these things holistically. We have a lot of experience with mobile web technology now. Consected has some great mobile products to help others with that experience. The aim for all of us is to start pulling mobile technology, the use anywhere / use easily devices and apps, back into the business processes that are the life-blood of larger companies and organizations. From the point where we start to meet new potential customers (our leads), through to when we are serving them well and eventually dealing with issues that arise, online and offline devices matter. Facilitating employees to do their jobs better and more easily, and to remove (or at least hide) some of that annoying administrative stuff that detracts from everybody working well and being profitable.
That’s my round up of where me, Consected and this blog have been, and a little of where we are going. Our big exploration into the mobile space is part of a bigger-picture, and I hope it really is a great opportunity for everybody to work better.