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Posts Tagged ‘Future’

Why online means the end of IT as we know it

October 22, 2013 Leave a comment

If you work for any fast growing company these days it’s highly likely that enabling customers to access your products and services through online is a key plank in your company’s strategy and success.

Which, in an age of mass technology consumerism, probably also means that your company has a technology-enabled workforce to support your customers. And your Information Technology department has a dual focus of supporting the enterprise as well as an external focus in creating great digital customer experiences.

And what I’ve firmly come to believe is that this situation of having the most technologically-skilled part of your workforce getting it both ways is bad for your IT department and bad for your business.

If you look back this wasn’t the nature of IT departments when IT departments originated back in the  60s and 70s. Your original IT department was born out of the teams of skilled technicians who made the telephone network in your organisation work; kept the fax machines humming and were the team responsible for grappling with the implication of the 4004 microprocessor post 1971.

But because most companies weren’t technology-focused, IT weren’t part of the “business” as we’d recognise “the business” now. They were the electrical engineers who kept the lights on and spent their days ensuring the workforce could communicate and share information as efficiently as possible. They would never, or rarely, deal with the needs of external customers.

With the dawning of the internet and the growth of digital businesses in the 80s and 90s it suddenly occurred to businesses that these backroom guys were also the ones who were also able to code web pages; build servers and were suddenly essential to digitally enablement. IT’s role was now about building internet experiences and more for your external customers and also keeping the phones and fax machines running.

So the technology guys suddenly became absolutely key to business strategies and the customer experience. For technology companies founded in the 1970s like Apple, Microsoft the IT department was the business. To work for one of these companies you obviously needed to understand technology – but equally obviously your customer needs as well. These technology companies, so familiar now, changed the face of business and IT forever.

Amazon is a company founded in the mid 1980s and whose success is purely due to embracing the new paradigm from the get go. This was an IT department selling books to the world who then ended up selling IT to the world. Their CEO Jeff Bezos came from Wall Street but was, and is, intensely customer focused.

He once said: “I’ve always been at the intersection of computers and whatever they can revolutionize.
True to his words Bezos created a company that didn’t separate the IT department from the business, its IT department was its business.

And Amazon’s success should be a template for all companies worth their salt these days – and for most digital start-ups this is the case. The techies aren’t in the basement cooking up the medicine – they’re in customer-facing delivery teams working alongside the product and marketing teams.

The focus of an IT department should be not just on satisfying internal customers. They need to be part of the business (if not the business) that’s working to satisfy the customers who buy your products and services. Drag them out of the basement and get them in front of real customers.

In the companies I’ve worked for in the last 10 years (Orange; Telecom NZ and Kiwibank) I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum as the pendulum has swung between IT teams being integrated or not integrated into business units. In that time the most success I have seen is when IT hasn’t been IT, but been driving the business from the front. And that’s why many companies, including my own, are embracing Agile software development and delivery.

That’s great for external customers – and internal staff too:

Google CIO Ben Fried: “I see a lot of CIOs spending a lot of time — which is very important to do — on major business initiatives. But I often see an inadequate amount of time spent where the day-to-day, most frequent touchpoints are, which is with all the other ways the people in the company are their users. One of the big changes that has come with the mass consumerization of technology is that IT needs to flip that around a little and spend more time focusing on the overall employee experience.” There’s more from him here.

With online being a key strategy for all large businesses I believe the pendulum is now stuck and the era of large IT departments is over. IT is our business.

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Banks, big data and doing the right thing

July 21, 2013 Leave a comment

How comfortable are we about our banks mining personal data?

Banks around the world are wrestling with the complexity and the opportunity around big data as a way to deepen their relationship with customers online.

According to a study earlier this month by Infosys nine out of 10 people would be happy sharing some data with their bank if they received more customisable offers or experiences.

The study compared consumers attitudes to sharing data with retailers, banks and doctors and, probably predictably, banks came out as slightly behind the other two sectors when it came to data trades.

However, despite the finding above the study clearly shows consumers are in some conflict over the benefits and drawbacks of banks using big data.

Almost half  (49%) also say they do not want their purchase and transaction data used to offer new services based on their habits but, almost in the same breath, 48% of bank customers would be happy for the bank to use email or social media to provide them with updates or insights.

The study also finds consumers are more concerned with their account security. Around four fifths (82%) want their banks and financial providers to mine their data to detect anomalies from identity thieves, with the same amount (82%) expecting their banks to already be doing this.”

It is such an important issue that just over three quarters (76%) agree that they would consider changing banks if one offered assurances that their data and money would be safer in their systems.

Financial services futurist – and co-founder of MovenScott Bales has an interesting theory that following Edward Snowden’s revelations the strength of feeling around how our data is used could create a new social and political movement around transparency.

Digital natives will come to demand complete transparency on how their data is being used not just by governments, but by corporates as well.

He says: “The reality of the modern world is that if your doing something wrong behind closed doors. The Facebook Generation will find out,  they will share what your doing, and you will be held accountable.”

The Infosys study shows consumers expect better deals from retailers in return for sharing personal information and better attention from their doctor’s office for a similar trade. But banks don’t have a great track record in utilising what they know about the customer: e.g. “Would you like insurance with that?”

Post-GFC, trust in banks generally is going to take some time to recover – particularly in Europe and the US where bank failures have destroyed consumer confidence. One UK survey predicts it will take a generation before banks are trusted again.

How banks use big data to interact with their customers online (and by online I really mean mobile) in the next few years is going to be critical to the relevance of banking and the securing of trust in the minds of a new generation of customers.

There is an amazing opportunity for banks to use the data opportunity to transform their customers online experiences for the better. Instead of going down the retail route of using the data just to flog more products what if banks decided their focus would be purely on using insight to create ways to make customers richer; safer and happier?

But above all there is an incredible opportunity for banking to use big data in a way that embraces openness. That combination of deep insight and transparency could be the difference between banks continuing to be relevant to a new generation of consumers. Or not.

Webstock 2013 – Aza Raskin: “Embrace failure and fail forward”

March 4, 2013 Leave a comment

“The problem is, we don’t understand the problem”

Aza Raskin Webstock Flickr 2013

Aza Raskin at Webstock 2013 (Image from Webstock 2013 Flickr stream)

Former creative head for Firefox and named one of the world’s top 40 designers by Fast Company, Aza Raskin, turns design issues inside out. His programme notes from Webstock claim: “It’s not about thinking outside the box. It’s about finding the right box to think inside. The power of constraints is learning to choose the right problem.”

To make his point he uses the story of  US mechanical engineer Paul MacCready who was the designer of the first human-powered aircraft. MacCready was the eventual winner of a competition set up in 1959 by a British industry magnate, Henry Kremer, who waged £50,000 to anyone who could make a human-powered aircraft. He also offered £100,000 for a successful crossing of the English Channel in such an aircraft. Almost two decades later the prize money was still with Kremer and the wreckages of failed attempts lay abandoned in hangars and garages.

MacCready took up the challenge. As Raskin retells: “He came to the startling realization that people were solving the wrong problem. ‘The problem is,’ he said, ‘that we don’t understand the problem’.”

His insight was that innovators would spend up to a year creating an aircraft based on theory and design, without empirical tests, which would then crash on first flight. Or the pilot would ditch the plane exhausted. The team would then take the learning and go back to the drawing board and wheel out another version a year or so later. MacCready’s Satori-like moment was that they were all solving the wrong problem.

Says Raskin: “He came up with a new problem that he set out to solve: how can you build a plane that could be rebuilt in hours not months.”

Being able to iterate a new version in hours, not months, meant MacCready and team had innovated the design process to a point where six months later, in 1978, his Gossamer Condor flew 2.1km and took the Kremer prize. A year later – 20 years after Kremer set the challenge –  his Gossamer Albatross crossed the Channel.

For Raskin, MacCready’s genius was that he embraced failure and “failed forward” and created a great design because of the necessary constraints, rather than despite them.

“It’s not about thinking outside the box it’s about finding the right box to think inside”, says Raskin. He cites Japanese Haiku; Monet’s constraint of hues; InstagramSnap Chat and the Polish architect who designed a one-metre-wide house between two other buildings as further examples of the genius idea born of strict parameters.

He offers research that has shown thinking there’s an obstacle actually makes humans think more laterally by forcing us out of habitual, safe thinking. Apparently it’s even been proven that a detour on the journey home leads to a greater likelihood of the commuter changing what they will have for dinner that night.

“In problem solving or design, the part where you should spend the most time is at the start rather than on the solution.”

For Raskin constraints are just focused obstacles
1. That preclude reliable already recognised answers
2. That promote novel ones
3. That help you fail forward

Webstock and why it’s life-changing

February 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Has Webstock become the greatest internet conference of the century?

Webstock 2013

Webstock 2013 opening (Webstock Flickr stream)

Last week was my fourth Webstock and the fact that I describe it as an experience rather than just as a plain event (“fourth time I went to Webstock”) is an indication of the intensely powerful and inspirational feelings it leaves you with.

In fact Boing Boing described this year’s as “the most radical” tech conference ever.

What is Webstock? It’s a web technology and design conference and workshops held here in Wellington every February since 2006 and which attracts the great and good from the global internet community to present to, this year, 875 delegates.

The calibre of international speakers attracted to this New Zealand conference is high and in itself attracts many delegates who travel also from the US and Europe to listen and participate.

Speakers from the past include software luminaries such as Ben Goodger (Firefox/Google); Nat Torkington (Perl); Michael Lopp (Apple/Palantir); Thomas Fuchs (Ruby); Kathy Sierra (Creating Passionate Users); Technologists such as Tom Coates; Scott Hanselman; writers like Bruce Sterling and Lauren Beukes; designers like Jared Spool and John Gruber; entrepreneurs such as Sam Morgan; Eric Ries; Jim Coudal; Derek Handley and Tony Hsieh; musicians and artists like Jason Webley; Amanda Fucking Palmer; Scott McCloud and The Oatmeal and even a Hollywood big hitter like Michael B Johnson.

Despite the variety of the 24 or so speakers across the conference, individual Webstocks seem to coalesce into a theme over the two days of presentations.There is always a huge amount of pure design; UX and technology inspiration but each year the carefully crafted programme appears to want to leave you with a deeper. more soul-searching message.

I remember 2010 feeling particularly entrepreneurial in nature, with the likes of lean start-up guru Eric Ries and Digg founder Kevin Rose. 2011 felt like we’d learnt how to create a cool internet business and were now making the product look beautiful and inspiring; 2012 felt like a mid-life realisation that it wasn’t all about the money and we need to be doing greater things for humanity to live with ourselves; and this year it felt like the what-the-hell-have-we-let-happen-to-our-internet? moment.

Like other attendees I spoke to I left Webstock with my brain overflowing with an ever-expanding mixture of inspiration, insight and philosophical questions. Last year I kept the pages of notes I took on my desk and used them for an injection of the above when the metaphorical skies were grey and drive to do good in my work waned. In terms of getting me back into a creative, dynamic space it beat the coffee or the snack machine every time.

This year I want to use this blog to expand on my notes and pull out some of the speakers and thoughts that I think are worth sharing.

My first piece looks at the thoughts of Clay Johnson.

NB: For other notes on Webstock 2013 the shining light is Mike Riversdale’s (@MiramarMike) shared note taking on Google docs. While one may not agree with all his opinions, Mike has become a Webstock recorder of note and an invaluable repository of goodness from the week. Scoop also has a briefer file notes overview on Webstock 2013.

10 things that won’t be around in 10 years

January 20, 2012 5 comments

On the day that Kodak’s century-long business crumbles into nothing; Apple makes the text book irrelevant and the US government shuts down one of the world’s largest filesharing sites I’m prompted to muse about 10 things that won’t be around in 10 years

  1. Cheque books: Almost gone now. In NZ 95% of transactions (according to Payments NZ) are electronic.  UK stepped back from abolishing them by 2018 due to a backlash from older users. It’s an older-aged and therefore declining customer use base by the year.
  2. Wallets/Credit Cards/Cash machines: With the domination of electronic payments by card soon to migrate from the plastic in your wallet to your smartphone what’s left to carry in your leather wallet? Your payment, transit, reward, and identification cards will all be digitalized within the next 10 years. And with contactless micro-payments at all terminals (MasterCard are mandating all merchant terminals to comply with contactless payment technology by 2013) and the ability to make person-to-person payments using the same mobile contactless technology, who would you pay in cash?
  3. Postal bank statements: Particular bug-bear of mine. Totally useless pieces of paper that go towards 13% of landfill content being paper. With online banking now being fully mobilised we just don’t need them now, let alone in 10 years time. They’re as relevant as encyclopedias or Kokak film. Period.
  4. The computer mouse: This 1970s invention will follow the demise of the desktop computer as touch, gesture and voice control finally enable human beings to interact with personal and business electronic devices without developing repetitive strain injury. Our grandchildren will look at us in our dotage with our crippled, useless hands and talk about late 20th/early 21st century offices  in the same way we refer to 19th Century factories.
  5. DVD rental stores; music stores and mass market bookshops: Amazing to think that only a few years  ago these were like the hygiene factors of every decent main street or shopping mall.  The music store never recovered from iTunes giving the music industry a new business model; DVD rental stores are only around because the TV industry’s wake-up call legacy from Steve Jobs hasn’t occurred yet. It will this year. And the big chains like Borders; Dimmocks; Waterstones (sans apostrophe) only survived until online shopping became mass-market. Niche bookshops and graphic novels will survive by offering a tactile, olfactory, social experience around specific reading subjects that digital won’t be able to recreate. The other interesting play will be whether governments try to institute local territory good and services taxation on global online operations.  However, as it’s US corporations that dominate the online commerce market – it’s unlikely any other government would attempt this.
  6. Digital cameras (outside of mobile phones). Gone the way of photographic film, probably in 5 years.
  7. Broadcast TV: Whether iTV from Apple revolutionizes the TV manufacturing and content industries this year or next in 10 years time the idea of waiting to view a programme will be incredible.
  8. Hardware to access online services that costs more than $100. Expensive desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone technology will be replaced by cheap-to-replace; recyclable touch screens and digital membranes of various sizes, shapes and capacities in the same way we think of light bulbs today. Hard drives will be a thing of the past as personal and business computing and digital entertainment will move to the cloud.
  9. Non-ubiquitous internet access: The growth of free wi fi will spread access like water or electricity. Combine this with LTE and, for New Zealand, a much bigger cable via Pacific Fibre to the rest of the world plus that almost all home electronic devices will be linked to the web we will all be part of the matrix. The issue of online identity and personal privacy protection will be the great debate of the 2020s. In a scenario almost the reverse of 10 years ago, unless you’re wealthy enough, you won’t be able to avoid being connected to the web.
  10. Illegal online filesharing: If your business model is based on restricting access to digital content then it’s unlikely you’ll be flourishing in 10 years. I’m definitely not saying this is necessarily a good thing – creative IP should always be rewarded and therefore recognised in some way – what I am saying is that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle in regards to digital rights management. Investigating alternative compensation systems will dominate the next 10 years for content industries. The events of today only underline the challenge of retaining a closed and complicated model for managing digital rights. If the short and volatile history of the internet has proved anything, it’s that closed and complicated models are always trounced by simple and open.