Keep it simple

We are in a frontier environment. The frontier has many fronts – data, technology, global supply, social & cultural; all with revolution and evolution occurring. Some very large companies still to die (driven by short sighted shareholders and managers) and there are some very small companies to become very large.

Many established orders are turning on their heads – marketing agencies becoming data & technology providers, tech companies becoming media platforms, retailers becoming data providers, publishers becoming marketing agencies, software companies becoming social platforms.

Yet what effect is this having on the people that matter most – your average Joe or Wendy? It is creating a fast paced, overwhelming, and fragmented landscape with very different levels of experience & value.

Right now, where the application of technology is driving innovation and revolution; it is easy to create opportunity and value for people by breaking down barriers previously erected (retail based shopping, mobile payments, social networking, cost of health care, access to capital, product comparison, etc).

Through the application of technology to make things faster, easier, more connected – a business can establish a value for customers that creates differentiation and advantage. There has rarely been in the last 50 years such a large technology gap in implementation and innovation between companies traditionally viewed as competitors.

But things are changing – there is a realisation that just because things CAN be done – it shouldn’t always be done. The paucity of real engaging content & marketing in the digital space, and the mediocre and sometimes comical use of technology are examples (I highlight the utility company who’s ‘app’ sends you to a non-mobile optimised site to view your account for the update on the meter readings you just entered into said app).

As things progress in the near future, I see two key focuses for business – but then a third long term challenge.

1. Those that are are innovating with the use of data & technology today will have to work harder to use this to bring real meaning to people’s lives. It can’t be done for the sake of it, this will not help you stand out – you will need to use it to create real value in a more holistic way.

2. Those that have been slow in innovating and using technology will need to play catch up, not understanding the changes in business models, markets, and behaviour that this has wrought – will bring about the deaths of these laggards. It will become the expected level of product and service delivery. The upside? By focusing more on the application and experience rather than the implementation of the technology itself, these companies can provide more meaning and more collaboration.

3. The future must be simpler, as the technology, data and analytics become more ubiquitous – the skills broader, and the application smoother – people will want a more connected, less fragmented boundary. In this environment, the challenge will be on how to differentiate; creating wall gardens of innovative customer experiences will not work – you will have to work with your competitors, partners, and suppliers to create connected and unified platforms.

Creating real value in a meaningful way will need to be defined more clearly. What will people value? Consumer relationships based on depth? Transparent supply chains? The collaborative creation of value delivered through the filters of true human capital (financial, educational, physical, social, emotional,etc)?

I believe that a simpler world will evolve, technology and data will play a greater unseen and supportive role – but in retaining a competitive advantage – businesses will need to give some real thought and listen to what is really valued.

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A looming battle

A battle awaits, yet to be fought – but one that will impact on individual people, businesses and supply chains all over the world. One that is shaping up on a field of ones and zeros, where almost everything we do, say, transact, move, consume, watch, or experience has the potential to be a data point that someone else can track, measure, analyse and use.

I work with company’s on a daily basis around their data strategy – how they can unlock greater value from the data they hold internally, how they can use new sources of data and integrate that data together to be more effective at what they do.

In many cases there are many large companies playing catchup – they don’t have the institutional capability to use data in a smart or efficient way – too many decisions are made on instinct, traditional functional processes, or simply with a lagging view of the past.

But this isn’t the major problem I see – it is the obsession with using data to understand ‘consumers’ that will allow greater ‘targeting’, ‘segmentation’, ‘advertising’.

Your average ‘consumer’ or real person to you and me, are way ahead of most large companies in what they understand and see. There is an increasing awareness of how much data we create that others collect and use. And yet, little of this data seems to me to be used in ways that genuinely make our lives better. It is used to serve ads up to us, to guess products that we don’t need but might want to buy, or intersect products at the moment of intent to buy – but not to create services and products that we genuinely want.

What will happen if between the pincers of legislation and democratic action – busineses are not able to collect, track and utilise these data streams as they can today? What will happen will be a large amount of businesses, marketers, and supply chains that will be stuck – their life blood will be cut off, or at the least, will be made much more difficult.

I believe that people quite like the unpredictability of life, the randomness, the exploration, and the experiences we didn’t anticpiate. Yes, we want utility and usefulness with greater efficiency – but I believe we want the other more chaotic side too.

What if businesses were to forget about data for a while, forget about the constant drive to predict and target their customers & potential customers – and instead work with people in a transparent & collaborative way to create products, experiences and values that are exciting, interesting and long lasting.

What about seeing people and data through the filters which make up our personal value – our life? It is well established that our human captial consists of the financial, educational, physical, social, individual, and emotional components. If we focused on making our products and services more relevant through these lenses – we could create meaningful interactions and experiences that we actually WANTED, rather than reducing people to the level of binary data points in order to ‘understand’ our behaviour.

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The advantages of being small

Working with large enterprises on a regular basis; it is increasingly clear to me that there are many advantages to being a small, challenger business. We are in transitionary times where many large corporate exist in structures, with hierarchies, and with cultures that were created in times past. They have yet to adapt to new technologies, ways of working, and opportunities. As such, they are open and ripe to being disrupted, disturbed and attacked.
They key to this opportunity? – data and information; and the right kind of thinking.

Most large corporates are still under the culture of ‘push’ – IT departments pushing technology, tools and software from a position of ‘supply’. They lack real influence with the ‘business’ who in many cases are more aware and switched on to opportunities to use data and information, than the ‘technical’ teams who are in charge of supplying them. The problem, is the mis-alignment of supply and demand from the senior executives on down.

The prize for these large organisations are to become ‘Strategic Information Managers’; one where data and information and its use creates a differentiator and advantage. This is not just for the large corporation as this goal is far more about living the right ‘lifestyle’. Once you get past the word ‘strategic’ (an over-used word if there ever was one) – you can get down to some very simple ways of giving your business a boost quickly.

1. Understand your customer; map out the customer journey / experience- understand where you directly touch your customer with a process; and the effect or behaviour this then has on the customer. Try and capture this data where possible, and then using basic analytics – understand cause and effect.

2. Be clear about the transactional recordings of most platforms (CRM, Finance, etc); and the ‘experience’ of time and ‘effort’ that really matter to your customer. Don’t forget that in the ‘bad old days’ before we relied completely on 1s and 0s; we had much more direct feedback on what customers thought and experienced with us. Work hard to match your data, processes, and customer experience match as closely as possible.

3. Understand the difference between ‘leading’ and ‘lagging’ indicators – most common software and technology platforms only record transactional events; they therefore are giving you a view of the past. Be clear about what happens in what order for you to recognise revenue or output. You may have to understand some basic modelling or analytics – but its worth it in the long run.

4. Be absolutely clear about the difference between ‘capability’ and ‘maturity’. Buying the whizziest and best software or technology will only give you capability; understanding what kind of lifestyle and thinking you will need to gain value from your data and information – whether its your marketing, social media channels, or customer profiles — is absolutely key.

Most large enterprises are filled with people who are small cogs in large wheels who believe their job is dependant on what they ‘know’. Data is treated the same way – and little value is often realised. Understand that data and information must serve an action that you will take, or a resource that you will allocate – and then will result in an outcome – on this basis you can challenge the biggest organisations and beat them at their own game.

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A crystal ball

It seems that it’s very hip to make predictions; from ending of civilisation to fiscal cliffs, to Katie Price’s next marriage. Didn’t feel like being left out – so here is my tuppence.

– A gap will start to appear between those companies that see the possibilities in data & information as a strategic advantage, and those that don’t. Early adopters who can deliver real business value with new technologies will be differentiated by their thinking and stories.

– More businesses will look to realise definable business benefits from the data & information they carry. The Business will seek to gain more control from the IT departments and look beyond tools and technology to creating real value.

– Decision support will become a much bigger focus of conversation in realising the potential of mobility and analytics. Focusing on leading and actionable information will start to fill a gap that exists amongst the myriad of reports and data ‘pushed’ to decision makers.

– ‘Content is king’ – a way of defining the importance of what information and data can do for a business. No visualisation, exploration, or analytic tool will deliver value without the right thinking and alignment with corporate goals. Businesses will spend more time looking to assess their data according to business goals rather than by systems and storage.

– Consumer-driven behaviour will drive application development as more and more potential for analytics, decision support and insight is delivered in a self-service format. Disruptive innovation will drive more user adoption than the heavy weight enterprise applications.

– Social enterprise in its truest sense will create the kind of collaborative and cross-function intelligence that is missing in most large enterprises. Information will flow more freely as the vertical stack is knocked down to create a horizontal value stream of reporting, insight and analytics from multiple view points.

– Information Governance will be raised in profile as the potential value of data is limited by the lack of senior level ownership of this crucial activity. More data sources, diverse data locations and richer potential will need the kind of governance frameworks that can create a scalable, relevant structure.

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Quality of mind

I have been thinking a lot about the state of the economy and society; the confluence of economic, political and geo-political. In looking at, reading, and listening – it seems that much of the talk and commentary is about the symptoms (debt, war, credit, risk, etc). But, like all symptoms – diagnosis of the root cause is needed.
The more time I spend working with senior management in large corporations, the more I am convinced that one of the root causes is the disconnected nature of quality decision making and thinking.

We have two minds, the subconscious and the conscious; both performing different roles and interacting with each other in different ways. The conscious is the captain much of the time, defining actions and responses, logic and structure. The subconscious is unstructured, responding to direction, stimulus and input. One can make only logical and managed jumps in decision making and thinking – the other capable of huge amounts of lateral, intuitive, and creative connections and generation. The subconscious mind is also where our beliefs, principles and values reside.

Now, with all the input and non-stop stimulus that we receive today, at the pace, pressure and expectations for speed of response – I wonder if decision making quality has been impacted?

Men and women in powerful and influential roles (politicians, traders, investment bankers, business leaders); all working in a continuous and never ending environment of conscious stimulus and response. Email, meetings, marketing, twitter, Internet, iPad, blackberry, TV — the list is endless; all keeping our conscious mind working, forcing thinking into the cognisant and logical; unrestrained by values, principles and creativity.

I find myself in this situation, one of ‘always on’; sitting down to just think becomes challenging – the subconscious needs time and space to work, and for that to surface next to our conscious mind so it can be used.

Perhaps if we had some more ‘black out’ time – the quality of thinking, decision making, and connection with our values would be greater. Maybe this would help us move away from greed, consumption, and short-termism – all drivers for the risky and damaging behaviours exhibited in so many areas?.

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A global village of zombies

In my day job I deal with companies that need to improve their management of data. Managing information better can lead to better decision making, greater efficiencies and better innovation; amongst others.
However it seems that there may be a slightly pernicious trend emerging that I don’t like. The crunching of data to define our ‘likes’, behaviours, relationships, needs, and desires could result in the joyful unpredictability of human kind is smoothed and crushed. A narrow standard deviation curve results in more homogenous products, colours, flavours, service. We become entities on a graph that someone interprets – we are served content, media, products based on our digital footprint. Could this become self-fulfilling, could we end up with less choice, less random opportunities, less chance – because everyone is trying to predict?

I have heard some uncomfortable conversations that seem to reduce customers – you and I – to a series of numbers, trends, and segments. But often, interpreted and articulated by people who know very little about the customer. We are removing the real interaction that requires learning, and replacing it with fake learning. Even politics is getting in on the game.
As they say, a little bit of knowledge in the wrong hands is dangerous. Don’t get me wrong, technology and data has some great, useful, and wonderful applications.

I just fear the accessibility to my life being used in an amateur and unthoughtful way – might create a world of sheep; all following predictable self fulfilling patterns that we ‘share’.

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What are we leaving our children?

I would like to say I have had these views all my life, but I haven’t. It’s only been since I have become a dad. Since I realised that nothing else matters but the start I give them. The morals, ethics, values, critical thinking, care, compassion, work ethic, and spirituality that will allow them to be good people who make a difference. It’s early in the journey, but I constantly fear getting sacked for doing a bad job.

But I look around, and am ashamed and scared of the world that we are creating for our children. I have considered what makes up ‘society’; what are the building blocks of our world. Not exhaustive I am sure.

1. Resources: we exploit the natural world for our own consumption. We tear it apart to access resources for energy, building, technology. We take, we return nothing, no husbandry, care, concern. We invest in companies that strip the earth bare, to increase our own wealth.

2. Spiritual: we are arrogant in our beliefs on ourself. We degrade and destroy any belief structures. We attack others and their beliefs. We are so busy that we invest little in the idea or belief in something bigger, more meaningful, and greater than ourselves. We believe the seen, the facile, the superficial.

3. Physical: we build over earth, we destroy topography, wildlife, nature. We hunt and catch to extreme. Species die by the day, we pump tons of chemicals and unnatural content into the earth. We pollute, move, shift, and carve for our comfort and convenience.

4. Community: house to car to work to house. A smaller and more isolated life. No time for the lonely, needy, and elderly. No time for the sick, focused on ourselves and our ‘busy schedules’. No time to chat, share, help, support. Travel has opened the world up, while at the same time we ignore the community under our noses. A sense of belonging to a space, to continuity, to tradition, to each other – changed for digital bytes and avatars.

5. Work: work is less about creating value, to creating a sustainable cycle of goods and services that all benefit from. Work has become a route to bonuses, to wealth, to status, power amd privilege. We communicate less, train less, and ignore the young. We treat jobs like any other number on the balance sheet. Something to increase or decrease as we need to. The sense of work as a facilitator of community, to creation of value has been replaced with leveraging false products that exist only in the minds and computers of few. We can’t even understand how and where goods come from, as long as we can purchase – we are happy.

6. Family: reduced, sliced, diced. The sense of boundary, care, concern that gives children safety, learning, and guidance. Gradually eroded, not improved, not increasing in value. Why will our children want families when so many including politicians do all they can to destroy and devalue.

I don’t see a world that we are adding to, just a world that is a net loss from our time here. Technology doesn’t serve, it self serves. Why are there so few products amd services driven by technology to improve the care of the elderly, the facilitation of learning?

I only say all of this as I have been having a chat to myself. What can I do better to add to the world, to ensure my boys have something to work with, to have an example of increasing and giving? Plenty methinks.

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