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09/01/2016

The 3C of leader - leader: Clarity, Competence, Control

Category  
An organisation failing their objectives has a reflexive reaction: implement more controls. Rumor has it, some sales organisations perform daily cadence calls towards the end of a period to ensure deals close (as if time away from the customer helps).
L. David Marquet, in his book "Turn the Ship Around!" paints a different story. Like a plane needs 3 points to be defined, functional organisations need 3C to operate at peak performance: Clarity, Competence & Control.
The Leader Leader principles
I wrote a short review on Amazon, but prefer the comfort of my blog to unfold a few thoughts.
In his story David is in an interesting position. In the pecking order of the Navy he is middle management, having at least 3-4 layers of management above him (until you reach POTUS), however on his ship he is in ultimate command. On high sea that is obvious. I wonder how many division heads, country leaders, section heads. etc. can related with that and see themselves in the same location and opportunity.
The killer question he asks is about processes (Page 159): "Have your processes become the master rather than the servant?". This is a brilliant question to irritate process champions - but essential to become a high performance operation.
The stance on "guiding principles" sum it up nicely: "The guiding principles needed to do just that: provide guidance on decisions". If they lack clarity, they can't do that. Some people use role models (contemporary, historical or spiritual): "What would [insert-name-here] do", but a clearly formulated set of principles (like "We the people ....") help to stay focused.
To that extend I like IBM's core values (and the mission: "Become the most relevant company on the planet"): Dedication to every client's success, Innovation that matters - for our company and for the world, Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. Using them to decide if in doubt helps to preserve personal integrity.
Of course you could listen to Immanuel Kant and follow the categorical imperative:"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law." Or you take the shorter version as promoted by Lama Marut:"Be nice".

Enjoy your read. Makes a good present to manager too,

04/01/2015

How to stiffle innovation in IT

Category
Innovation drives change, innovation improves productivity. Both are scary, so you might want to embark on a strategy to prevent innovation. Cutting your R&D spending along isn't enough, since determined minds will find a way around it (BYOD anyone). So here is my sure fire receipt how to get rid of innovation. It is not a list of "pick one", but step by step instructions to "kill the beast":
  1. Split your IT department into two. A small group of business facing analysts and consultants, lets call them "owner" and the larger group of the rest, lets call them "service"
  2. Enshrine the communication between the two into written rules, also known as Service Level Agreements (SLA)
  3. Describe your current environment in detail, make sure the description is void of terms like "regular update", "benchmark to industry standards" and other forward pointing phrases
  4. Keep the owner group small and appoint their leader from the outside. This prevents career paths from forming. Decree that there is no switching from service to owner. Available career paths only attract talent
  5. Make the owner own all the systems, product decisions and architectural directions
  6. Make the service responsible for the flawless operation of you your IT
  7. Freeze the architecture and never ever let experts review it for optimisation potential. If that happens, often driven by senior management unaware of the "no-innovation" program, use risk assessments to prevent implementation of finding or simply sit it out
  8. Important: compensate the service per user in your organisation, but not for the number of systems they run. It is crucial to decouple funding computation from system needs, this allows for a better kill. With a fixed budget, you will see replacement investments (e.g. contemporary servers, firewalls, appliances) shrink to a minimum, leading to the need to constantly focus on "keeping the lights on" since aging systems lead to service degradation
  9. Leave all decisions about software, processes, maintenance, uptimes etc. to the owner, but make the service fully responsible to execute. This allows to shut down any suggestion for improvement originating from service by simply not approving it
  10. Slap huge penalties onto the service for not meeting any of the enshrined SLA. Since innovation always carries a risk of failure or temporary service degradation during adoption, this effectively shuts down the mere idea of suggesting an innovation
  11. In a rapid changing environment make sure, you are on back versions, this prevents taking advantage of new capabilities - a nasty source of innovation
  12. Make risk the golden calf you dance around. Enjoy the puzzled faces from external consultant when you demand a risk assessment for fixing a flaw in your settings. Deny that there is something like "Risk of ignoring"
  13. The finest: after you ensured that the service has no influence how to conduct their work, implement an automatic budget cut annually, since they "got better at it and have probably optimised their operation by now"
  14. Constantly compare the service, with all the constraints and customisation enshrined, with consumer grade offerings and how great they are. This generates the perception of inferiority, so nobody dares to use the dreaded "I..." word
So in short: make sure not to attract talent, keep the systems outdated and penalise any deviation from an ambitious SLA.
Any similarities with common legal contracts are not purely incidental

17/06/2014

The taxi loyalty program isn't working and how to fix it

Category  
Singapore is a little like New York: train and taxis are a mainstay of the daily commute. So the taxi market is highly regulated and fiercely competitive. As no surprise taxi companies try to bind customers before they loyalty switches to alternative bookings or the disruptors.
So Comfort & CityCab started CabRewards. After all loyalty cards work well for their inventor.
In a smart move, instead of creating a new piece of plastic, Comfort teamed up with ezLink Singapore's leading provider of cash cards. Everyone in Singapore has a ezLink card, since they are used for train access and road tolls.
From there it all went downhill.
In Usability studies one of they key activities is to watch users and refine on their feedback. So I loaded my ezLink card, to see how Taxi drivers will handle it. In (so they told me, after I inquired with Comfort) an attempt (a futile one) to make things "consistent", the designer decided to add a prompt into the touchscreen application "Cabrewards Yes/No" before the driver can process payment. So something the driver has no benefit from stands between him and his livelihood. To no surprise, 95% of the drivers don't bother to ask "Are you a CabRewards member?", even when I announce "I will pay by ezLink". They just click NO and process to payment. If they would answer yes, they had to tap once for the points and another time for the actual payment. They have no benefit, so they skip it (and rightly so, their job is driving, not administration of loyalty programs).
I asked Comfort and they explained, I could ask the Taxi driver to switch back and add the points - but I'm not their program admin either. So how to fix this?
Plan, Reality and Fix
The graphic above, shows the intended workflow, the actual workflow and a possible fix. There are several touchpoints, where an automated IT system can determine if I'm a known passenger and a CabRewards member: I call a cab, I uase a mobile app to get a cab or I pay with a registered method of payment (ezLink, Nets, CreditCard). In all of these cases the taxi driver doesn't need to be bothered with a question. Most likely that also would cover most reward members. The ones paying cash might anyway not have registered for the program - or a simple change of terms (points only with electronic payments) would even completely eliminate the question. So far I haven't seen a change. I wonder if the person in charge of the process is trying to cover up the problem?
I would say: It is OK to have an idea, even if problems arise, just fix them. Despite other opinion there is no such thing as a "honest mistake". There is trial, error and correction (and start over).
Simplicity after all isn't simple
Comfort, you can do better!

13/12/2013

You approved what?

Category
We all love our processes and the associated workflows. I recently even discovered a set of paper based ones at a customer site. I'm looking here at approval flows, not execution flows (that basically are checklists so everything is done in the right sequence and documented). In a nutshell they are all the same:
If someone claims it is more complicated than that, laugh at them
Someone request something, a set of approvers mused about it and the result has consequences. We all have build this type of applications in eMail, Notes, Sharepoint, dbBase, using spreadsheets, paper forms or high powered BPMN/BPML/BPEL engines. Workflow engines are supposed to ease the creation of the forms flowing through the process. They follow the same pattern: user fills in the form, some routing magic happens, the approver sees the same form, but with approve/reject and eventually a comment etc. We record who and when the approval happened (even using a signed section in Notes client apps) and the routing (and notification) magic kicks in again.
Since our systems are well designed and secure this works very well. Does it?
When we only record the who and when of approvals, but not the what, we open the door to the challenge:"I never approved THAT". So we need to capture a snapshot of how the record looked like at the moment of approval. Ideally that snapshot gets secured with a digital signature leading to non-repudiation. Now the next approver needs to not only endorse the data snapshot at the time of approval, but also the previous signature, so it can't be retracted either.
Approvals need to overlap each other
Now try to model that in an RDBMS (let me know if you succeed). This is one of the reasons why workflows are document oriented (sure you can persist it into an RDBMS, but you need to reassemble it to validate the signatures) and will stay that for the foreseeable future. The current "gold standard" for document signatures is XML Signature with an JSON equivalent in the making.
Some applications have support for signatures build in. For others we need to have a look at code. Stay tuned.

Update/Bonus challenge: Make the non-repudiation external verifiable (e.g. submit that to the court evidence collection). Hint: it is in the data, not the application

31/05/2013

ShadowIT

Category
In an ideal world a corporate IT department would run a standardized, secure environment that fulfills all user requirement. The members of the CIO office are well respected and often invited, since when they turn up, things start moving. Also everybody loves the flying cars they use for transport.
In reality most IT departments are caught between a rock and a hard place. Under the (justified or not) pretext of standardization (read: saving cost for the IT department) and security IT departments got used to say no or demand outrageous sums of money. When I was working for a bank (and there are quite many on the list) the customer relations department wanted a website to share information with their high net client, something you can use a Domino easily for. The IT guys jumped in and proposed a high availability architecture that had to have a hardware appliance for SSL management. Naturally that blew any budget. I challenged them and they declared: we must make sure it is secure, so I asked them what they think the customer relationship officers do now, sending eMail of course! They looked a little puzzled and declared: "our computing guidelines don't allow confidential information to be send via eMail, so there isn't a problem". So I asked them: what do you think will happen when a billionaire customer calls and says "eMail me that information"? Out through the window go your guidelines
So the trinity of "can't, won't, charge you arm and leg" let to the rise of an interesting animal lurking in the dark: ShadowIT
It is lurking in the dark
The server running on that spare laptop, the pluggable harddrive for backup etc. Even more in software: that word processing macro, the spreadsheet running reports, that little PHP site, that student tool combining CSV exports from the inner sanctum of corporate IT. Interestingly no IT department dares to challenge it, but they should. ShadowIT leads to incompatible data, fragile combination of information, duplicate entries and so on. But of course weeding it out only drives it further away, high into the cloud. The only way to cut it out: fulfil user needs as envisioned when IT was invented. In short transform from "Gibts nicht to Geht nicht, gibts nicht (from "you can have that" to "impossible is impossible")

15/05/2013

Enterprise 2.0 and weight loss - siblings separated at birth?

Category
This blog entry is inspired and largely translated from this German article authored by enterprise consultant Andreas Schulze-Kopp. Having gone through some personal transformation (final results in November) myself, I found Andreas' comparison of Enterprise 2.0 initiatives and weight loss programs intriguing.
The tasks are comparable: alter habits, break through the mould of old behavioural pattern (a.k.a processes in business lingo) show enough determination and will power to see it through. While Andreas provides an "Augenweide" I'll offer (only) a mindmap. (Buzan's own iMindMap ditched their Linux development, so I'm switching to XMind).
Enterprise 2.0 and Weight loss

Change of habits

Without rethinking habits and processes neither a social business project nor the latest, greatest diet have any chance for sustainable success. Change is inevitable and needs to be embraced openly. Don't commit the folly presuming to get it right the first time, so even the change process needs adjustment, change changes. As with the diet: Start moving!. Without movement both your weight loss and your social business initiative are dead in the water.

Process cleanup

Once you got rid of old habits, your procedures and processed need to be adjusted or terminated. There is no more space for the sugar bomb in the freezer or the Monday morning spreadshit in the inbox. You drink green tea and the latest figures are either in the Social CRM or in your openly shared files.

Will power

The key ingredient! Without the unwavering will to see it through both can't be sustained. Unavoidable setbacks and negative experiences can be offset by determination. The determination to continue even if initially you lost a few pounds only, despite feeling hungry and moving a lot. The determination to see the project through even when the initial project acceptance isn't stellar and contributions stay sparse.

Conviction

A life style change (induced by a diet) and an enterprise 2.0 project must be backed by the conviction to do the right thing. If I'm not convinced my willpower will wafer and I soon find myself crafting excuses to exit. Senior management must be a role model and participate authentic in the enterprise 2.0. Employees have a fine BS radar and "lip-service only" participation of senior management will result in lip-service only imitation and ultimately failure.
Will power is fuelled by conviction and conviction needs to be fuelled by vision. Where do I want to be: "Envision you look into the mirror and you love what you see". Or to use Antoine's words: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea".

Patience and endurance

Rome wasn't built in a day, real change in shape and organisation take time. In a time where the cadence of most organisations is determined by their quarterly reports, patience is a rather rare commodity. The temptation is great to increase the pressure to see results now, only to face a backslash shortly thereafter. Behaviour and understanding are no simple switches that can be flipped, their fundamental changes need to be practised and settle in

The Jo-Jo effect

Easy goes, easy comes (daily mourning of a "diet pro"). Changing your shape, personally and in the enterprise requires permanent changes in behaviour and attitude. A short term, high effort, fast paced program can't sustain (even if lots of organisations think so), once the effort fizzles out (typically replaced by another corporate wide initiative) old habits resurface, old processes get reinstated and goals get abandoned. The organisation bounces back to old habits. Changing habits takes time, allocating to little of it dooms any project.

The support group

Working out, moving, doing things different makes more fun in the right company. Members in a group motivate, compete and catch each other. The same is true for the enterprise 2.0 projects. Group dynamics will require skilled leaders. This is where your social champions become crystallisation points for the social transformation.

Counting vs. quality

Remember (or ask one who remembers) how counting calories in the last diet sucked big time. It feels like being restricted. A good diet rather improves on the quality and variation of food, so portions can shrink. The same applies to the enterprise 2.0 space. If all that is cared for are numbers, employees feel additional pressures and will time and again prove their creativity in gaming the metric - not the result you are working for. Focus on quality!

The tools

There is a whole industry catering to weight loss candidates - as there is for enterprise 2.0. If running is your weapon of choice, you should have good shoes. Measuring vital signs makes sense too, you don't want to waste effort (too low) or kill yourself (too high). The same applies in the organisation. Tools on their own have no effect (think sport shoes in the closet), but with the other items in this little list they can make success easier. Pick them well and in line with your goals (having "share" in the name doesn't make it social by default).

This list by far isn't complete and you are welcome to add your own thoughts

10/01/2013

How we successfully killed eMail (almost)

Category
A recent conversation (in 140 characters or less) with Alan and a thought exchange with Luis got me thinking (again) about the death of eMail, namely the death wish the #SocBiz movement has for it.
When looking at the general discussion three items constantly get mixed up:
  • "eMail the transport" (SMTP for that matter)
  • "eMail the software" to deal with what arrives
  • "eMail the habit" -- of swamping people with irrelevant information and hiding relevant information from others
The transport is a wild success and together with http holds the intertubes together. Innovation in the inbox (which I'm quite fond of) has been rather glacial (unless Store form in document Embedded Experiences, with their painful network dependency, are the next big thing). There areh a few pockets of hope.

. Kicking the habit is what #SocBiz is all about (yes - this is a gross simplification)

Of course all the software vendors, including my employer, the market leader in Social Software, will help you there with apparel, training videos and supplements, where you might need is just some coaching.
Reflecting on past projects back home, I recalled one where we actually almost completely killed eMail off - more than a decade ago. The customer was a project driven organization (projects like: build a new quarters in this town, build the biggest, tallest...) The secret recipe was this:
Everything is a workflow
Messages would come in from the outside, via SMTP, SMS, pager, paper or Fax. They ended in a central processing database where they were enriched with meta data (manual in the beginning, with more and more automation / decision support later on) and assigned to a person to act on. Once a message was fed into the queue it would show up with the supplier, the project, the status, the document type.
Instead of sending gazillions of useless CCs to "keep people in the loop", users simply could watch any of the meta data of their choosing (and access rights of course). It would also allow to see if someone was swamped with actionables and help him out.
What was very interesting in the implementation project: We probably spend by a magnitude more time on defining the meta data structure and coaching adoption than on coding the tool.
We also had an army of nay sayers: "doesn't fit, it's against the law, our organisation is different, people won't change" etc. - This is why we spend all the time in implementation coaching. It took a year to finish, but work satisfaction and productivity went up greatly.
And I couldn't agree more with Alan: Less talking, more doing. A case for GGTD!

05/12/2012

Whiteboard Selling

Category
Boring slide driven sales presentations are not efficient, so on the constant quest to improve this IBM uses Whiteboard selling as tool to engage the audience. The seller literally paints the story and vision tailored to the customers situation and needs. Developing a whiteboard is quite an undertaking. The steps now have been outlined in a new book:
Whiteboard Selling: Empowering Sales Through Visuals

Together with The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand you will have a better toolset for your sales pitches. Now go and practise!

09/05/2012

Prezi presentation style lessons

Category
While "Death by Powerpoint" is is talk of the town and Prof. Tufte is all against it
The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint
the alternatives are not without risks. As a colleague put it nicely: "Prezi is a presentation tool perfectly capable of making your audience sea sick". Presentation tools used wrongly leave you the choice between nausea and unconciousness. In case you haven't seen prezi before: it is a Flash/Air based tool, that allows to create non-linear presentations that swifle, zoom and rotate through your materials: the cadence of Powerpoint replaced by a visual roller coaster.
Working with it for a while I recognized that there are certain interaction/animation pattern that work well to convey a specific message:
  • Zoom in and out: Going from the big picture into the details. E.g. you could state an agument and then zoom in to prove it. Same applies to keywords and explanations
  • Move linear beween equal sized items: lay out related items and aspects of a topic (often after zooming in). Try to make vertical and horizontal moves not zig-zag and diagonal
  • Rotate around a centre: Reinforce a central topic you rotate around. The mental model here: add spokes to your hub argument to create a wheel (= rounded argument)
  • Swifel slides: Look at the same topic from a different view point, audience or vantage point. It is like different people look at an object from different angles
  • Follow a path: You select a "big picture" as background (a mountain, a road, a plant etc.). You map out your argument along a visible line of that background. It conveys the message "follow my line of argument"
Following these make your presentations more impactful, nevertheless you need to pay attention avoiding nausea. Interactions that negatively influence impact are: wild swiveling, zoom without master/detail relations or zig-zag movements. You still have to work out your message and the visuals. Of course: once you "got" the rules, you are free to break them.
As usual YMMV

30/04/2012

HSBC is starting to seriously annoy me #fail

Category
End of last HSBC Singapore approached me and offered to upgrade my Credit Card to their shiny new VISA Infinite. Unsuspecting for what I was in for I agreed and the trouble started. To give you an idea, this is the content I sent to them on January 14 2012:

From: Stephan Wissel <stephan@wissel.net>
Date: Sat, Jan 14, 2012 at 7:25 PM
Subject: Credit Card in eBanking
To: direct@hsbc.com.sg
Hi there,

I'm using HSBC Credit Cards and I'm currently switching from a Visa Platinum to a Visa Infinite card.
The process you have in place for this needs improvements. These are the problems I encountered so far:
  1. The old card was canceled without notifying me when this will happen (a odd situation when you want to buy something)
  2. The new card hasn't arrived when the old was canceled - you lost quite some money on provisions that way
  3. I got a notification eMail that the new card was approved and that in a few days it will arrlive - I replied that you need to expedite that since I would travel - I never got a reply. If messages like these are sent from an unattended mailbox the mail needs to state that clearly
  4. I logged into my eBanking and the old card has disappeared including the ability to retrieve statements and transfer the open balance. So I can't know what I owe and I can't pay that - rest assure, that I will not pay any late fees
  5. The new card doesn't show in the Internet banking either (anyway I don't have the card with me - I left before it might have arrived at home)
  6. the Internet banking lacks the ability to contact you, so I have to resort to the inherently unsave eMail (unless you can point me to encryption keys we can use)
All in all: I'm very disappointed! I will be back in Singapore next Monday. If you need to call: I'm currently in the GMT-6 timezone, call during daytime here.
 
I never got a reply. So I escalated to the sales lady who sold me in the first place. The matters couldn't be resolved. I never got the new card, so I paid the balance of the old (they sent a paper invoice in the end) and I terminated my customer relationship with HSBC. This didn't stop them sending me a credit card bill for a card I never had demanding the annual fee. So far I sent every invoice back with the statement: "bill for services not rendered, refuse to accept". Today - after they sent another one I replied with a formal letter:

The Hongkong and ShanghaiBanking Corporation Limited
Robinson Road PO Box 896
Singapore 901746



Credit card xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx


To whom it may concern,

today I received – again – a credit card bill for above HSBC Visa Infinite card.
This bill is NOT justified. The credit card was, based on your mishandling of customer service, never delivered and never activated.

Due to the poor handling of this matter (e.g. canceling the existing card before verifying the new card arrived and not reacting on my communication) I terminated all business relationship with your bank.

Still you are sending bills for services not rendered. I notified you on that before. It looks to me, that your process is not working and it is costing me my time.

You will understand, that I have to bill you for my time lost, based on my commercial rate in the market place. Please do the following:
  1. accnowledge that you have received this letter
  2. stop sending unjustified bills
  3. pay the enclosed invoice to compensate me for time spent

Best regards


Stephan H. Wissel
Curious what happens next. I wonder if I have to complaint to CASE next.

05/01/2012

Customer Service failures 2011

Category
"Quality is when the customer returns, not the product". A key by-product of quality is good customer service. Unfortunately customer service seems to be perceived as "cost centre" rather than "customer retention", so it is often questionable. Here are my favourite 2011 failures:
  • A Telco, that requires to call them when you lost your phone - but has all other transactions online and needs a week to reply to a cancel request eMail
  • A device maker who sends eMails replies on service requests that bounce back when one replies and has no other means indicated how to continue a conversation
  • A bank that uses easy to come by information to authenticate on their rewards website (but uses mandatory tokens for eBanking - so they actually know about security). On top the checkout process is all mangled up.
    Update: To add insult to injury they claimed in an email today: "We wish to assure you that it is safe to use {the easy to obtain data} for the redemption of DBS points." Someone confuses "secure" with "recoverable".
  • A public utility that can't hold its water and goes into denial
  • A Telco's mobile shop that requires flash and doesn't work in the latest Chrome release
  • A money printer where published contact eMails don't work
  • An airline who verschlimmbessert their web presence and jumped onto the bad habit to try to charge for "premium seat" when checking in online (their presence service, when you talk or interact with people on the other hand is pleasant and outstanding!)
  • A Fibre Network provider, that has installed in December a fibre endpoint next to the lift on my flat's floor but tells me it will take until April or June before I can have fibre internet
  • Another bank, that offers to upgrade a credit card and then cancels the old one before the new arrives, removes all electronic statements and can electronically only be contacted by eMail and not the eBanking site
Next stop: who got it right.

17/10/2011

How long does your Enterprise Social Data (needs to) live?

Category
The Internet does not forget, neither does Facebook. Before the rise of the social Intranet corporate policies were easy: When an employee left, a copy of the eMail (database) was given to compliance and then all existence of the gone member purged: the PC reformatted, the mail deleted and (eventually) contributions made as part of a corporate role assigned to the successor (typically in an ECM or WCM). With social media it isn't that easy any more. There are a number of interesting questions to be asked and answered:
  • Should a user profile be kept as is (with the exit date added), deleted or reduced? The profile serves as the anchor for all the other entries, so a removal would result in a lot of "profile not found" errors. Eventually a reduction to: Name, time in corporation and last title/position and, if the employee agrees, destination makes most sense
  • What happens to the network relations? Are they invalid when an employee moves on, after all there are two ends to it?
  • Are status updates and their comments to be purged? Would comments made on my "wall" suddenly disappear when the commenter leaves? Would my comments disappear from other boards when I leave? This would "rewrite" corporate social history. Doesn't sound right to me
  • Would blog entries be purged? Suddenly all incoming links became invalid. Quite often blog entries are referenced in "check this out, it describes what you need" ways. That knowledge gets lost if purged. Same question arises for blog comments
  • For WIKI contributions the situation is even more complicated: what happens to entries entirely created by an leaving employee (delete them?), what with all the edits and what if they were the last changes made to a WIKI page, undo them?
  • For files there are several categories: files uploaded, but never shared, files uploaded and made public, with the subcases: "never downloaded" and "downloaded" and files shared with someone specific. Should files be purged unless someone takes ownership? How would such a ownership handover look like? What about files shared in Extranet (e.g. LotusLive) settings?
  • In communities I see the need for a "past members" section. When a user leaves the community (s)he can decide to be listed there, with the default to YES. The exit workflow needs to cater to ask the question
  • Activities don't seem too much of a problem since they expire once completed, still orphan entries need to be avoided, so some orderly handover is needed
  • How would one handle an employee coming back. This happens in IBM quite often. Sometime through an acquisition, sometimes through regular hire. Common practise today (in IBM) is to get the employee ID back. Should that hold true for relations, communities and other social data?
  • What is the right balance between keeping and purging? Purging leads to "corporate Alzheimer" while keeping costs money and effort and increases cost and risk for a legal discovery phase
All these need to be checked against national privacy laws, signed agreements (depending on country eventually driven by employee representatives like a union), compliance requirements, potential discovery cost etc. Interestingly for source code that question has been settled: you leave, your code stays. I see happy smiling lawyers at work.

20/09/2011

Practise your speaking skills

Category
Public speaking is as much an art as it is a craft. Every craftsman can tell you that besides skills the right tools and practise lead to mastery. To practise speaking do that often. When your job is short of opportunities, join ToastMasters and practise there. When it comes to the tools and the knowledge about them, there is much confusion in our guild. Certainly presentation software is less a tool but a hazardous substance (the dose makes it toxic even if it is really fancy). The real tool is the proper presentation of (the right dose of) conclusive arguments in a concise manner. One of the best guides you can find is the eBook The Contrary Public Speaker: A Break-the-Rules Approach to Breakthough Presentations. Good speeches and presentation owe their success much more to proper preparation than to the talent of the speaker. It is a lot of work (but also fun) to prepare. Check the resources section of Lee Aundra's site and practise the warm-up test found there:
  • One hen,
  • Two ducks,
  • Three squawking geese,
  • Four limerick oysters,
  • Five corpulent porpoises,
  • Six pairs of Don Alberso's tweezers,
  • Seven thousand Macedonians in full battle array,
  • Eight brass monkeys from the ancient, sacred crypts of Egypt,
  • Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity to procrastination and sloth,
  • Ten lyrical, spherical diabolical denizens of the deep who haul, crawl, around the corner of the quo of the queasy at the very same time.
This is the "The Announcer’s Test", seveloped by Radio Central in the 1940's to test a new announcer's reading ability, this is a fantastic exercise to warm up your speech muscles before that key event!
Enjoy!

14/08/2011

Neurotic Leadership Programming

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I wrote about Gunther Dueck, one of IBM Germany's CTO before. Since the book Direkt-Karriere is only available in German, here's my summary (you could buy the Direkt-Karriere eBook and run it through a translator, but that most likely won't be fun):

Direct Career - the easiest way to the top*

* If you are not familiar with the concepts of irony, sarcasm, cynicism or persiflage neither the book nor this review are for you. Stop reading now!
Dueck suggest to anybody who is interested in having a corporate career to make it the personal top priority and focus on achieving it. He clears the common mis-perception that one gets promoted for performance. Reality is that promotion is tied to potential and proving potential by performance is an time consuming and expensive detour on your career path. Focus on just showing potential directly. It saves a lot of work and accelerates career moves. When we look at management theory, the enterprise pyramid looks like this (page 47 in the book)
The typical management pyramid
The functions of every level are clearly mapped out:
  • Employees: They are the backbone of the enterprise. Their work generates the revenue, brings in the deals and fulfil contractual obligations. From time to time managers of all levels fall back into "employee work", be it to set an example or to sell to their peers in other organisations.
  • First Line Managers: Drive the Enterprise. Guide, motivate and drive employees.
  • Middle Management: Run the Enterprise. Ensure orderly conduct. Watch over rules, reports and regulations. Make sure everything works as designed and doesn't change. Core principle: "You get what you inspect"
  • Executive Management: Change the Enterprise. Integration of the corporate divisions, initialise and manage corporate initiatives
  • CEO: Reinvent the Enterprise. Devise strategies and instill enthusiasm into customers, share holders, employees are the rest of the universe (Steve does it well, but not this Steve)
Now Dueck agues that every level of management is related to a neurotic disorder. He suggest instead of becoming a neurotic one should just play one. This is important since every level of management requires a different type of neurotic disorder. The main difference between a neurotic in therapy and a manager: the manager's neurotic behaviour is highly successful and accepted in society. Let's have a closer look.

01/08/2011

If it isn't in a regulation, it's not German - DIN SPEC 77224 Customer Experience Management

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Heise online informs us (German) about the new DIN SPEC 77224 specification (DIN is the German national equivalent to ISO, ISO specifications are automatically adopted by DIN, but being German we have extras) for "Customer Experience Management" (CEM). The Heise article links to an insightful presentation by Prof. Dr. Gouthier that explains the why and how. CEM aims beyond customer satisfaction (which has an ISO definition already: ISO 9000:2008 as part of TQM) at "Customer amazement". Customer amazement is the external face of the internal drive for "service excellence" (Which sadly way too often gets confused with "Processes that nicely fit into some arbitrary metric"). The definition has seven parts:
  1. Senior management's responsibility for service excellence
  2. Aligning of resource towards excellence
  3. Avoidance of mistakes and wastage
  4. Capturing of all customer experiences
  5. Customer amazement through service innovation
  6. Measurement of amazement
  7. Measurement of profitability
I'm curious how that will work out. Musing about each of these seven items could turn into a nice blog series. Definitely it will provide new consulting opportunities for the ISO Certification consultants, but (I'm very hopeful) will replace opinionated discussions with a reference model that promises less #fail tags. Of course all these reference models (just ask a front line worker about their ISO9000 or CMMI certification opinion) lend themselves towards toothless management programs, at least if you have read Wild Dueck's opinion in Direkt-Karriere (Sorry German again). Hugh provides the short summary of CEM:

17/07/2011

Customer Care Expectations

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There is a whole industry providing happiness to the people that ultimately decide over a company's success and failure: the customers. However it seems to be incredibly difficult to get customer service right (Yes Starhub and AIA, I'm talking to you). The rules however sound simple:
  • Customer care is for the most important person in the company: the customer. It deserves to be a VIP service
  • Customers are humans and like to be treated like one (VoiceMenu hell isn't human - tip for Starhub: answer every question with 0 and ignore the machine lecture about invalid answers and you will get to a human fast)
  • Every case needs to stay visible to both the customer and corporation until it is resolved
  • Every case needs to have a person in charge until resolved. That person might change during the course of a care engagement, but there is always a person in charge. (S)he is visible to the customer.
  • Every case has a status and that status is visible to the customer. Ideally it also has an ID, so it is easy to track when using different support channels. That ID must be suitable to be communicated verbally or in a short message
  • A case is resolved when the customer says so. Not earlier, not later. CSR (Customer service representatives) can suggest closure, but it is the customer's decision
  • Support is multi-channel. If the company allows login to their website (e.g. to check accounts), then all support cases need to be accessible there too, regardless of where they were filed in the first place. If a company uses SMS for support updates, one must be able to reply to it (Starhub fails there). If the call centre receives a call, they need to have access to the support cases opened through eMail, web or in a branch office. If support uses Facebook, Twitter or other social channels, they need to be linked to the support system
  • At any point in time a customer can use any channel to provide additional information or inquiry the status of a ticket
Customer Care puts the customer in the middle
You now can ask: "Stephan, what are you dreaming at night?". So what is going wrong with Customer Care in most places?
Customer care is treated as cost centre disconnected from the associated income. Instead of being treated as cost of sales, it is treated as general, to be eliminated, cost. The old management wisdom goes: you get what you measure. What typically can be found are things like: "# of calls handled" or "ticket open time", while measurements like "customer satisfaction" or "resolution of complex matters" are in short supply. If ticket open time is all you measure, then closed tickets (and angry customers) is all you get. More interesting would be (but that requires well integrated systems): do customers buy again after contacting customer support? Is there a feedback on Twitter, Facebook or a blog on the experience? How many tickets stay closed (I have re-opened quite some of them)? I hear the hordes of customer care managers howl: "But we need cold hard facts, don't take away our ticket open time". So if you have to: measure the time from ticket opening until the CSR suggest of closure for tickets that get closed thereafter. Measure how many closures get rejected. But be aware: you get what you measure. Want to change, see what people smarter than me have to say
As usual YMMV

07/07/2011

Getting inspiration from existing work is part of the creative process and NOT something a copyright lawyer should need to go after

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One of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman. Currently I'm reading his collection of short stories Smoke and Mirrors. The introduction alone is a very interesting read where Gaiman lets one peek into his creative process and when and how he got inspirations for his stories. In a refreshing honest way he cites freely which works of other authors inspired him or where he "borrowed" stories he then wrote in his own style - or even which writing style he copied for a particular piece. It is the fascinating testimony to the fact, that inspiration is more often than not based on the work done by others. Contrast that with a headline in todays' Straits Times (our local newspaper): Fun Pack Song 'may have flouted copyright laws': "ORGANISERS of this year's National Day Parade (NDP) may have flouted copyright laws after they modified the lyrics of a Lady Gaga hit to create a song about its goodie bag, said lawyers on Wednesday.
The Fun Pack Song rips off Lady Gaga's Bad Romance by using the tune but substituting lyrics that celebrate the items inside the pack such as Newater, biscuits and sweets.
" So what? The organisers poke fun on a Singaporean habit of giving out goodie bags with "iconic" value (e.g. a bottle of NewWater) and they used a well known tune. One could count it as comedy since they do give out these bags. But nope music (as well as software) has mutated to a minefield of copyright assertions and greedy licence organisations. I'm sure if someone would bother to run all the melodies through an analyser the late Bach, Beethoven and Mozart could claim 90% of the music market. This madness has to end!

22/06/2011

AIA American International Assurance - You need to learn about proper customer service!

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When my kids were born I bought an insurance from AIA as part of planning to pay for their education fees later on. As matters go I had to update some particulars. It turned out that isn't possible online, so after a few calls (luckily done by SWMBO) we got all the paper stuff we needed. We filled it in to the best of our knowledge and submitted it for processing beginning of May. Today I received this computerized response dated June 06 (I seriously doubt that Singpost is so lousy, that they take 16 days to deliver such a letter --- it looks like it is 2 weeks backdated):
Dear Policyowner,

Insured ANTHONY

Thank you for insuring with AIA.

This refers to the request for [what I wanted] received on May 09, 2011.

We regret to inform you that we are not able to process the request submitted due to incomplete
requirements.

For your information, the current position of the policy is as follows:

[Policy details over 4 lines]

Please feel free to contact our Customer Care Executive at Tel No. 1800 248 8000 should you
require any assistance.

We are glad to be of service to you.


Policy Changes Section
The absence of a signature in this computer-generated letter is in order.

(A5)     (M9/NMY)
([name removed to protect the innocent]) (SP-NGEESIM)      CLOSE

Seriously this is the 21st century. There are a number of things very wrong with this:
  1. Singpost's service commitment is delivery +1. So the bulk of their mail gets delivered the next or latest 2 days later. If AIA dates a letter June 06, that means it took them from ticking the box on form letter 473 to getting it out 2 weeks. Embarrassing slow. I also recall having submitted the paper work much earlier than May 07. Points to high operational efficiencies
  2. OK, we must have missed something. But it is an insult to a customer to tell "due to incomplete requirement" without telling WHAT went wrong. Hey it is my money you are looking after.
  3. No case ID: If I contact them I have to explain from the beginning instead of referring to information they already have
  4. Only phone as contact option (and a paper letter of course). No SMS, no web site, no fax
  5. Cynical greeting. "No we don't do what you ask" but "We are glad to be of service to you"
  6. As you might recall: there's Ernest too. So either his form went through or I will get another rejection: failure to bundle correspondence based on recipient
AIA continuing stealing my time. I have doubt if I bought from the right company

20/06/2011

When are thank you eMails good manners and when are they spam?

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For those of us who got manners it comes natural to say please and thank you. So every time I get a question answered in eMail, I have that reflex to hit the reply or even reply all button to say Thank you. I'm starting to wonder if that is still always appropriate. In IBM Connections we have a widget for "Giving thanks" that separates the process from the daily stream of eMail. Why do I think it might not be appropriate all the time: I just adds another item to a long list of items that want one's attention. Of course if the answer was a big help and you have to share how it helped a reply is indicated. Also you need to gauge the sender of an answer: do they fancy or expect a simple thank you for each message? I like the little thank you messages arriving in the blog comments or tweets and the occasionally larger thank you messages dropping in at quarter or year end, but I don't care too much about a thx in eMail for something obvious. And I definitely don't care for the thx someone else gives in a reply-to-all. After all I believe we all have manners by default . But I still wonder where and when to draw the line for that little thx in a reply.

18/06/2011

The leader, the rules and the community

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The centre of Buddhist reverence are the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They are not only subject to reference, but also serve as refuge for Buddhists to find calm and strength to face life's suffering. Religions, being bases in ancient times tend to use language that shrouds the everyday meaning from a contemporary reader. Transcribing (not translating!) these three terms into contemporary language reveals an important business lesson:
  • Jewels and refuge: In a rough world of more than 2 millennia ago to find a place one could feel save for a foreseeable future was valuable as a precious stone. It also outlines the need for anybody to find a place of strength that can serve as the base for daily endeavours. The modern workplace should provide such a base. Does yours?
  • Buddha: translated it means "Fully Enlightened One", looking at the historic Buddha you can transcribe it as: visionary leader. He had the insight what needs to be achieved, a vision how to get there and the charisma to rally his supporters to follow his cause. His vision provided one of the three strongest motivators for excellence: purpose. A leader is the first servant of the people he follows
  • Dharma: "The teachings" In the corporate world that would be: the core values, the unspoken contracts, the business processes. Dharma is not a collection of rule books, but is what is actually lived. So that gold framed Vision and Mission statement in the board's office is worthless when corporate reality paints a different picture. Core values are like the constitution of an enterprise. Whatever you are asked to do (executive order) or process rules implemented need to be able to stand the scrutiny of being measured against the mandate outlined in the core values. I like IBM's core values a lot:
    1. Dedication to every client's success
    2. Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
    3. Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships
    You see "making money" isn't a core value (it is the goal of the game called "business", so no special mention in values is needed) neither is "being #1 in ...". The values are quite simple, yet powerful: Dedication, Do what matters, Trust. In the heat of the daily battle, especially around the surprisingly appearing quarter ends, these values sometimes get out of sight, but at the end they are what sustains IBM. There are other outstanding examples of core values/ground rules, the Rotary 4 way test among them:
    1. Is it the truth?
    2. Is it fair to all concerned?
    3. Will it build goodwill and better friendship?
    4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
    So looking at the core values, their lack of or the discrepancy between stated and demonstrated values are a good indicator for corporate health. Having clear values contributes to purpose and allows to strive for mastery, the second motivator for excellence
  • Sangha: The "Community". IT is all enraged about social businesses. Kawasaki mused about The Art of Creating a Community, people form communities around simple things like "Getting a discount". We exist in communities: the family, the horde, the village, the college/university alumni, the soccer team etc. etc. Likeminded people help to maintain the level of motivation, encourage to stay on course and push further. They catch you when you stumble, praise you when you succeed, deepen your comittment to the cause. How does your enterprise form communities? A performance review for a team? Give incentives to a department? I haven't seen much of this, it is mostly the individual who stands in the limelight. Interestingly communities still form, just look at the success of enterprise social software. The need to belong is strong, harnessing it could be just that next level of productivity a company is looking for (a community still needs leadership). This can be a challenge when the office no longer serves as the cave where the horde assembles before the hunt
So the question is: are you working for an enlightened enterprise? Think about it and speak after me:
Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.
Dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.
Saṅghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.

15/06/2011

Ban the Urgentors!

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Gunter Dueck being multilingual has the clear advantage of being able to pull from a larger pool of philosophers. One of my recent favourites is fellow IBMer Gunter Dueck. He has written a number of books, runs a YouTube channel and has coined his own philosophy called Omnisophie. His blog/newsletter/thought collection is aptly labelled Daily Dueck.
His latest entry is titled Ächtet die Dringendmacher! which you can translate to "Ban the Urgentors" (I took the liberty to create this new word Urgentors by fusing "urgent" and "tormentor" where they overlapped). The Googlish produces good giggles when you can grasp the German original and shows that machine translation isn't up to par with a wortgewaltig author.
Dueck pokes fun and bemoans the nuisance of people planning time poorly and then turning each request into an urgent action with complete disregard for the time of the receivers of their requests. Quoting Covey he reminds us, that efficient work happens when something is important, but not urgent. His examples are hilarious: a request sent 2am for the board meeting in the morning asking for an absolute useless statistic, a student asking for an overnight review of his master thesis that took him 3 years to make and a task force that will neither contribute to the bottom line, the core values nor reduce suffering.
I'm waiting for the howling comments that often important things are urgent - bring it on!
A lot of these Urgentors are totally unorganised people dallying away, suddenly realising that they urgently need to do something that requires other people. But there are additional archetypes available: the secondary urgentor who relays requests, adding some urgency to it; the neurotic urgentor: it has to happen now, because I say so; the sadistic urgentor who takes revenge just having escaped the receiving end of another urgentor; the management urgentors who believe that a pressure cooker not only works for food but also for people, the clueless urgentor who drank the Information at your fingertips cool aid and last not least task force and management staff who can't believe that others work hard too.
The prevalent urgentor however is just clueless, reckless and incompetent free from any awarness for the consequences of their actions. Often they are victims of other urgentors who numbed down the insight that unless they drop the habit the best results they can hope for are second class only.
Dueck suggests the remedy for these time pressure creating behaviours starts with oneself: check which of your own actions qualifies as urgentor's finest and stop them - a notion I wholeheartedly can endorse. The world isn't hectic by default, not even a quarter end - I can tell you the dates decades in advance! The going wisdom in business however is: Christmas every year comes as a sudden surprise. Dueck closes with an interesting perspective: the backbone of Germany's economy is "Der Mittelstand" (small and medium enterprises) which is very resilient avoiding the myoptic view "until this quarter end" thus preserving its sustainability. On the other hand complaints are plenty in large enterprises and government about short term thinking mentality (you get what you measure?). Eventually IBM shouldn't celebrate their 100th anniversary, but the completion of 400 quarter closings.

08/06/2011

My criteria to select a hotel

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Traveling a lot not only does mean spending a lot of time in other people's beds, but to get quite frequently bombarded with surveys about impressions and selections. In the nice place I stay this week the reward for going though one of those was quite some bonus points, so I invested the time. What strange questions I got: Would the pillow selection be more important than the front-desk, or is the in-room-dining menu better than other hotels. Interestingly none of the question met any of my criteria. So for the record, here we go:
  1. Travelling mostly for business the hotel needs to be on the approved list of my current employer, which sets category and price range. For private travel I prefer a tent
  2. Location, location, location: easy to reach, close to customers and the heart of the city (I don't like airport hotels)
  3. A good gym with long opening hours. Working for an IT company makes you want to do things at odd hours. My current favourite is the Intercontinental in Bangkok: Open 24h on top of the 36 floor tower with a nice view over the city
  4. Provide me with free breakfast based on room rate or guest status
  5. In room free and working broadband (working means: fast). Wifi is a bonus, since I have travel routers
  6. Regular supply of fresh fruits. My current favourite clearly is the Shangri-La
  7. Nice bath room with a tub, daylight is a clear advantage
  8. Access to a lounge
There are a few criteria which I consider basic facts: cleanliness, safety or competence of staff. There are a lot I care little (probably since they work in most places): Front desk, business centre, restaurants, bar, in-room-dining, pillow selection etc.
YMMV

01/06/2011

Going social below the radar - will you come along?

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This blog entry is based on my colleague Benedikt Müller's German Blog entry "Enterprise Social Software mit Guerilla-Taktik". It is a mix of translation, transcript and reflection. Here you go:

A few weeks ago Novell released their new platform for collaboration platform Vibe Cloud. VibeCloud is the phoenix from the ashes of Google Wave in an enterprise flavour. This cloud service claims to improve collaboration inside enterprises without the need to invest in on-premise or hosted own infrastructure. To drive adoption Novell uses the same interesting approach that turned into remarkable success story for Yammer, the innovative corporate micro blogging service (I always cringe on the word "micro blog", it is like "adhesive tape" - anybody would just tweet ask for a Scotch tape - or Tesa film in Germany): Yammer found their audience by creating a closed network based on the subscribers eMail Domain. Anybody can register on their website and is added to a network containing all users with the same email domain. The first user of any given domain kickstarts the network. Click on register now and the corporate social network takes flight.

Yammer and now Novell Vibe Cloud empower individual employees to introduce their services bypassing any internal processes and approvals. From the vendors point of view that constitutes an ingenious route to market. Employees love it for simplicity and speed. For the management and the IT departments however this is a nightmare coming true: loss of control and escalation of risk (not that I'm alleging that there are control freaks running IT or management, judge for yourself). How would such a stealth introduction unfold? Here's one typical sequence of events:

Frustrated bbeing limited to eMail as single collaboration tool in their corporations employees start to search for alternate approaches to improve collaboration with their peers. They are empowered by their private experience with Social Software in the Internet: Facebook and Twitter keep them up-to-date with their social sphere, file sharing is a snap using Dropbox or Ubuntu One and update shared documents in Google Docs. These applications set the benchmark any corporate solution will be measured against by users. Once they discover similar tools tailored for corporate use, which on top can be used by simply providing their eMail address, the flood gates are open for a rapid uncontrolled (and potentially undiscovered - until the CEO enters his eMail out of curiosity) proliferation inside the organisation. What happens next, after all it is corporate use, is the storage of internal and confidential information on the servers of these services: project discussions, customer related documents, draft presentations etc. are stored, shared and worked on.



After a short period of time a lot of internal corporate data gets stored with a vendor that hasn't been evaluated by the IT department and (IMHO much more critical) who has no contract and thus contractual obligation with the corporation. Once the user base has grown sufficiently large, management and IT can't block or discontinue the service without risking to be confronted with torches and pitchforks. In such cases a company is forced to upgrade to the commercial, paid for, service variation to gain access to control and security functionality (anyway: water flows downhill and simply find another way).

Capgemini adopted Yammer exactly in the sequence described above. Once the accelerating proliferation had been recognised, Capgemini decided to tolerate the new communication channel. Benedikt stated his support for this move, since stemming against the dynamic of this move would prove to be to difficult. I haven't made up my mind, but do agree with Benedikt, that communication dynamics need to be taken advantage of, moderated and empowered. Trying to stem or surpress them won't work. Since the data is stored outside the corporation, the sharing of customer related or internal information has been outlawed for Capgemini on Yammer. This restriction severely limits the usefulness - one can't share project related information or even what customer they are currently with.

Benedikt draws two conclusion (mine follow thereafter):
  • Corporations need to take their employees' needs and wants regarding modern communication and collaboration serious. Otherwise there is the risk (I would say: the certainty) that staff simply utilise consumer tools like Google Docs and Dropbox or "fly below the radar" introducing unchecked services like Yammer or Novell Vibe Cloud
  • To create real value in corporations Social Software must encompass collaborating using internal, confidential or even secret information. That works reliable with the cloud offering of a trusted partner. In larger organisations however the prefered approach still seem to be making these services available on-premises leveraging their existing data centre
  • The need for communication and collaboration will always trump the aspirations to control and prevent. Social Software is happening now, it is the management do decide how much guidance and influence they want to exercise
  • Simplicity isn't simple. The pervasiveness of eMail is (besides the fiction of ownership - MY inbox) rooted in its universality. I have one place to communicate internally and externally. If suddenly communication affords different tools for different communication (like Twitter to the outside, Yammer to the inside) adoption is impacted. Of course you could use Wildfire in your Lotus Notes 8.5 sidebar as single update location. The same sidebar that hosts IBM Activities that you can share inside and outside your organisation
  • Cross-corporate collaboration hasn't been sorted out yet. LotusLive's guest mode or IBM's public Sametime servers are a start, but compared to eMail it is just in its infancy

31/05/2011

Public Tenders for complex (IT) projects - a cure worse than the disease?

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Most public sector institutions require contracts higher than a certain value to be awarded by tender. In Singapore the threshold is currently SGD 70k (that's at today's exchange rate approximately USD 57K or EUR 40k). The tender process is intended to ensure an impartial award of the project at hand to the most (or sufficient) capable bidder at the lowest price. This does not only make Alan Shepard nervous (he coined the famous sentence: "The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder"). Tenders work well when the defined need published in one of them is easy to fulfil and fulfilment offers are easy to compare.
However the very moment complexity kicks in a tender process gets expensive. The Australian process defines eight distinct stages a tender process goes thru until awarded. This has a number of consequences:
  • No small innovative company can put up with the process, so innovation stays outside
  • Since the need needs to be defined tenders tend (pun intended) to cement waterfall approaches to software projects
  • Tender language needs to be vender neutral, so it is fun to see how tender documents try to disguise vendor specific features in neutral language or broad requirements no one can deliver (e.g. "messaging platform needs to run on all prevalent server operating systems (this kicks Exchange out) and support calendaring and scheduling for all prevalent desktop applications (this kicks basically ALL out since Calendar interoperability is all but a pipe dream)".
  • Since large tenders are attended only by a selected few, the public sector agencies will be overcharged. This is not malice on the side of the tender submitters, but simple economic logic. Let us look at a simplified example: In a small country, let us call it Morovia there are 5 system integrators (SI) that are eligible to bid for contracts for 1M and more. Due to the competitive pressure all of them bid for all of the projects. Since Morovia is looking into the future software projects are large and complex and end up with 1M budget each.
    All SI spend about 10% of each tender's value on running it through all the phases up to the final award, which as the nature of the tender process stipulates, goes to one only (I prepared a lot tenders and can assure you, that a lot of SI would be happy with 10%).
    All SI are highly qualified, so they win an average 1 out of 5 tenders. So far so good. But once you run the numbers (after all they are in business, striving for profit) you realise, that they had to spend 500k acquisition cost for 1M of contract value, leaving only 500k value to be delivered in the project. 50c on 1$ isn't a very desirable outcome. I wonder what other projects are plagued by under-funding too
    Tender process eating value
Unfortunately I don't have a better alternative for these processes. There is a tension between need for effective and efficient procurement, transparency, accountability and fairness. A few thoughts: put the definition phases into the public domain (like IdeaJam), so coming to an ideal solution is less dependent on vendor contribution (read: cheaper for the vendors) and more transparent. Trade ideas and concepts in a kind of stock exchange, so winners can emerge before awarding.

24/05/2011

Saying NO needs a wrapper

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Everywhere saying NO to a request is loaded with difficulties (unless your are an admin of course, since NO would be your only word, at least for developers). Depending on context and culture these difficulties vary. One of the core reasons is that every NO to the content of a request always carries the risk of being perceived as NO to the relationship between sender and recipient. To successfully say NO you need to separate relationship and request (easier said than done) and wrap it up nicely. After all a NO feels like a raw meat paddy thrown at you (Vegetarian need to stop reading now).
This is how a RAW NO feels like
The solution for the hamburger is to grill the meat, add garnish and wrap it into a bun. A similar approach is needed for a NO.
Proper treatment for a meat paddy, Vegetarians please imagine it is Tofu
The general pattern for NO is: YES - NO - YES. So you wrap your no into 2 yes:
  1. YES, I'm interested in continuing this relationship and work towards your success
  2. NO, this is not how it is going to work / not what I will do for you
  3. YES, this is my suggestion to deliver the success we are both interested in
Delivered in 2 YES the NO is much more bearable. Of course the challenge is to find the common success criteria in the eternal quest for a win-win scenario. Entire books have been written how that exactly works. Absolute recommended reading.

24/05/2011

Focus to sell to your existing customers - should you?

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Sales is a tricky business. It is the archetype of a money driven reward system where your quota and your ability to achieve it determines your reward. Selling software is complex and goes beyond a simple repetitive task, where science has proven, financial rewards might not work the way expected. Anyway a lot of sales people struggle to meet their quota. A recommendation they get to hear over and over from their sales leader is: "Focus to sell to your existing customers. It is so much easier (it is) to sell to an existing customer, than acquire a new one". Sound advise, isn't it? Not so fast. When looking at the problem with recently refreshed thinking the core pattern of Shifting the burden jumped at me. And that's not good!
Shifting the SalesBurden.jpg
Let's have a look:
  • The challenge is to meet the sales quota. If the sales person struggles the problem is most likely a too narrow customer base. However the symptom is a lack of sales orders. It is like tooth ache: the problem is a hole in your tooth, but the symptom is pain
  • Focusing to sell more licenses or additional products to you existing customers is like taking a Panadol: the pain goes away but the problem remains. The quota is met for one quarter, but the struggle will resurface in the next
  • The fundamental solution is to widen the customer base. The snag here: it takes more time and effort to get there and with the myopic focus on the quarter feels rather scary to go there. However one can't sell indefinitely to the same customers - after all they have been promised to save them money will all the stuff sold to them. Catch 22
  • With the total focus on existing customers more and more effort is required since selling additional stuff is subject to the law of diminishing returns. Further more an "existing customer" is something very different from "an entry in the list of corporations that once did buy stuff from us". The best way to turn a customer into a "former customer" is to show up only for sales. A relation to a customer includes genuine care for their success (that unfortunately isn't a tickbox in your CRM)
  • The side effect is a consequence of focusing on the upper loop: the delay to get the result of the lower loop increases (often dramatically) up to the level that it doesn't happen at all
So it that damn if you do and damn if you don't? The approach needs to be balanced choosing the middle way and divide attention between existing and new customers. Enlightened sales plans make use of a balanced scorecard to keep the burden on both shoulders.

08/05/2011

What we need here is a bigger hammer!

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I'm rereading Peter M. Senge's book The Fifth Discipline. It is dedicated to the learning organisation and advocates (besides other virtues) System Thinking spearheaded by the System Dynamics Group at the MIT. The Laws of the Fifth Discipline (in chapter 4) highlight many of the structural issues we face in business and society at large.
In business that is obsessed with "quick fixes" (at least in this part of the world) there are valuable insights to be gained seing the world as a system with feedback loops. Two aspects are worth highlighting: "compensating feedback" and "cause and effect disconnection" (I'll probably cover other aspects in later posts). Every system has an inbuild inertia. This will lead to compensating feedback to any action taken that is only addressing symptoms rather than causes. Compensating feedback will void any actions taken so the the status quo is preserved.
The laws of the 5th discipline
One of my favourite examples: A retailer has a problem with customer loyalty. The consultant (who's name and company shall not be named) suggested to implement a customer loyalty program. Clear cut: the problem is loyalty, so a loyalty program will fix it. The loyalty program did cost a lot of money, gained a lot of members, took all the attention of marketing and managers but failed to stem the loss of customers after a short while (things get better before they get worse). The root cause, who nobody wanted to touch, because it was difficult to fix however was: slipping quality of products and services. So instead of beating a dead horse, looking for the system at work will be more efficient and sustainable.
When you decide to achieve true mastery of a subject, you will experience a 10,000 hour delay until you get there. And that is just one skill for one person. There is a, typically larger than expected, delay between action and result. In a time of the constant strive for instant gratification managers often neglect and ignore the real result of their actions. More often than not executives have moved on before the impact of their actions can be felt.
A typical example: A new CEO orders a radical cost-cutting program. It includes freezing of IT investment, outsourcing of back office functions and a massive lay-off of employees. In the short term things look really good. Revenue per employee is up (the staff now working for the outsourcers doesn't count in the balance sheet) and profits return for the moment. However morale is down, so most of the employees are scared to the bone to stick their head out. The internal improvement program all but dies. Capable employees jump ship (getting replaced by cheap but less productive newbies). In social circles the opinion is formed: Acme Inc is not a place where you want to work, so talented entries into the workforce don't apply. Of course our "Le Costcutter" CEO moves on after 2 years, his job "saving the company" has been achieved after all. Five years later the company is history. Everybody concludes that this is due to the constant reinvention of business.
Another example: You join the gym. You train hard, but you don't see any results after a month, so you give up. Knowing about the delay you would have carried on for 3 month you be in awe about the personal transformation your started (get good advise on food and training to make it work).
Of course this is just a brief summary. Go Read the book yourself!

26/04/2011

Know your deal!

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When negotiating with a client about a deal it would be foolish to see it in a single dimension: "how much". There are many factors at work: Price, Delivery Schedule, Product Options, Service/Support, Training, Contract Duration, Contract Volumne, Payment Terms and Resources, just to name a few. E.g what point does it have to find a birthday cake supplier who is a cheaper, if he can't deliver in time. The factors are interdependent, so altering one dimension in a proposal or request will most likely influence one or more other factors. One example is shipping of goods: if you want your stuff faster (Delivery Schedule), your price on the logistics component goes up. A customer who tightly manages the cash flow can be enabled to commit to a larger contract volume if the payment terms can be adjusted to their management practises. Visualising the specifics of a deal can help to gain clarity in preparation of negotiation sessions.
Price sensitive customer
If the problem you will solve for the client is critical for their business then price might not be the primary driver anymore. Speedy delivery, capable implementers and fitness for purpose take centre stage. Only with clarity about the situation you can spot these opportunities. Eventually you need to educate your customer on the priority of the other parameters.
Time and capability sensitive customer
All charts have been drawn using the rGraph HTML library.
A variation of the multi-dimension chart is the old IT joke: "We can make your software fast, cheap, bug-free - pick any two".
As usual YMMV.

23/04/2011

The 5 questions a venture captialist will ask you

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Of course you need a sound idea you have pitched, you need a well structured Business Plan and an energetic team. That's just for starters. Then be ready for the 5 questions:
  1. How much: The king questions. Are you looking for a few thousand, some hundred thousands or will you suck in millions. Closely followed by when do you need the money. You won't need it all upfront.
  2. How long: It doesn't matter if it is a loan, a grant or venture capital. How long will the money be committed. The interesting point here are: when will the startup turn cashflow positive, so money is coming back and when will the investment be concluded.
  3. How risky: the majority of startups fail. While you are convinced that you will make it, the VC most likely has a more cynical realistic view. There are many reasons, so you need to have thought about them. Know your market and competitors well
  4. How to exit: What is your end-game? Will it be an IPO, will "Google|{insert-company-here} just knock and buy us"? (are there other options?)
  5. How to exit early: What is the earliest point to tell that it isn't working. This is an interesting and important point in time. The general rule is: try to fail early. Once you know it, you can save everybody's time and money. Plan the checkpoint well. If the culture you live in permits: wear the badge of early failure with pride
These are deep questions, that require sound answers. The answers need to be prepared in different granularity: the one word napkin answer up to the research backed dossier. The more money for the longer period you seek for a risky business the better prepared you need to be.

01/04/2011

Google, IBM to back Kenya programming language for Swarm Computing

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Since Oracle went loggerheads with Google over Java and James Gosling, its inventor, joining Google it was obvious that something is in store for the Java programming language. Now IBM and Google are joining forces for the next generation of programming language. Both partners have vast experience in building virtual machines (IBM with their J9 JVM, Google with the Dalvik VM) and operating systems (IBM with AIX, OS/390, z/OS and a few others, Google with Android and their undisclosed GoogleOS that powers Google search).
IBM Distinguished Engineer Noah Mendelsohn explains in an internal blog entry: "Everything comes together nicely. With J9 we have the VM experience, Dalvik runs on small devices, Websphere SMASH (a.k.a project zero) did prove that a VM can host multiple languages with different personalities and our Rational Tool family is ready to deliver. We took a close look at Microsoft's Singularity operating system and their general approach of modelling their tools after existing platforms and concepts. You could say: dotNet started as "Java minus the historic baggage", so now we create "Java reloaded" which will be the best of both worlds".
On the search for a new approach Gosling wanted to stay with his beloved beans, so Google and IBM approached Robert Chatley to expand on the excellent Kenya Programming language. Naturally Robert was thrilled to see his work entering the limelight. While you already can download and play with Kenya 4.6 and Kenya for Eclipse, the real interesting release will be KenyaNG (NG stands for "Next Generation") initially expected in Beta in Q4 2011. The list of features is impressive:
  • The KenyaNG VM will be able to run directly under a hypervisor, no additional OS required. Planned are version for Android compatible phones, tablets, Laptops and Desktops, x86 Servers as well as big Iron running on AIX or z/OS' hypervisor
  • The KenyaNG VM will support all Android APIs and extend them with parallel clustering capabilities. So intensive computations could be distributed over a swarm of mobile devices or a swarm of KenyaNG runtimes running in a cloud. Eliminating the overhead of a classical operating system makes it possible to move from cloud to swarm computing further optimising the use of computational resources
  • KenyaNG is completely running in managed code, so most attack vectors (buffer overflows, code morphing etc.) run empty
  • There will be various language bindings for the KenyaNG runtime, Java being the most obvious. Confirmed are: JavaScript, PHP and Python. In discussion: LUA, Erlang, Lisp, ADA and Cobol
  • Miguel de Icaza has announced that his team will port the Mono project to KenyaNG thus making it a viable destination for dotNet applications
  • Besides the KenyaNG core there are extension layers planned that seamlessly extend the platform with standardised capabilities around data, processes and workflows. The KenyaNG data kernel will offer a unified access to large scale data by directly storing structures defined in UML diagrams. The KenyaNG process engine will provide workflow capabilities that are based on BPML definitions
Kenya co-author Prof. Susan Eisenbach, head of "Distributed Software Engineering" at the Imperial College London is very pleased: "IBM's and Google's endorsement of Kenya shows that we have been on the right track for years using Kenya to teach programming to our student. The probably rapidly growing demand for Kenya skills will provide our students a competitive advantage in the job marked and further enhance the college's reputation for visionary work.". Wikipedia is still a little short on the language, but that will change very soon. And I hope we see XPages running on a Kenya core rather soon.

14/02/2011

Productivity @ Work

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Singapore's productivity is lacking and according to sources cited in the link actual shrank in 2009 by 14.2 percent. Throwing in more hours (while being at the top of the world already) won't fix it, since productivity is (also) measured by "output per hour" and an increased output due to more hours worked won't change that. Our prime minister thinks that Singapore's productivity level is only 60%-70% of its potential. So in the typical hands-on-the-government-will-do Singaporean way a Productivity Portal has been created by the Singapore Government.
The site start with the introduction What is productivity: "Technically, productivity is the ratio of output to input. It is a measure of how efficiently and effectively a business or an economy uses inputs such as labour and capital to produce outputs such as goods and services" (emphasis from original source). Looking at the definition of productivity we meet two familiar terms: efficiency and effectiveness. Remember ISO 9241-11: "extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use." (emphasis mine).
So productivity and usability share their core properties. Making applications work well thus is not just a "nice-to-have" but an essential component of productivity improvements to accelerate value creation. Interestingly when calculating "value created" labour cost don't reduce the value, but are part of it, a refreshing departure from seeing workers as cost factors only. The website puts "Value Added = Sales of Output ($) - Total Cost ($) of Purchased Material and Services" (so your subcontractor *is* a cost only). My friend Eric Mack states:
"Value created = Knowledge * Methodology * Tools". In IT we tend to focus on the tools, think to have some good grasp of knowledge but we are lacking in methodology. Sometime I wonder if we are caught in the The Knowing-Doing Gap. GTD is one method and there is no such thing as "no methodology" (at least if you count "I ignore tasks until someone screams" as methodology). Later this year there will be a conference focusing on productivity in Singapore.

11/01/2011

Blamestorming

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Whom did you blame today
Made me laught, but I should cry... seen this way too often.

07/12/2010

The Business of OpenSource Software

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Richard Stallman the founder of the Free Software Foundation and inventor of the GNU General Public Licence (also known as CopyLeft) defined the 4 freedoms of free (where usually free is classified as "free as in speech" rather than "free as in beer") software as:
  1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this
The freedoms sound like pledged when entering the a noble round of knights for the betterment of the world. One could easily conclude that such freedoms don't have any relevance outside a small group of enthusiasts. However that is far from reality. Apparently the Linux kernel is to a large extend maintained by paid for professional developers. So what's happening there?
A little economic theory goes a long way here: If a market provides high profit margins it will attract competitors who drive prices down until only marginal profits are earned (also known as Perfect Competition). One set of factors (there are others) that prevents perfect competition are known as Barriers to Entry. For software they are installed base (the network effect) and the huge investment needed to create new applications (also known as sunk cost). Looking at the profit margins of software companies, it becomes obvious that they run very attractive profit margins (the marginal cost for the second license of a developed software are practical 0 - not to confuse with "cost of doing business"), which point to high barriers of entry.
OpenSource lowers the sunk cost barrier by allowing to spread the market entry cost over many participants, so it becomes possible to compete. It is also a way to starve competitors off revenue in their key market to make it more difficult to compete in your own markets (history tells: if the war chests are empty agression subsides). OpenSource can be attractive for customers as well. I've not come across any larger customer where software didn't get heavily customised. The cycle looks mostly like this:
Sequence of upgrades and customisation for vendor provided Software
A vendor releases a software (e.g. SAP, Oracle, IBM or Microsoft) and customers engage professional service to adopt the product to their needs. This service can be rendered by the vendor's consultants, independent system integrators like Accenture, Wipro, TCS etc or by inhouse expertise. Problems or wishes in the core product are fed back to the vendor with the hope (and political pressure) for creation for the next version. Corporations pay maintenance but have little influence on the product manager's decision what will be next. Once the new version comes out the cycle of applying customisation starts anew.
In an OpenSource model the mechanism (ideally) would look different. Corporations would not pay for software licences but for know-how, implementation and help desk. By letting their staff or the staff of the chosen implementer (who could be the OpenSource project principal) become contributors they can yield a much bigger influence over the features and direction of the product:
Sequence of upgrades and customisation for Open Source Software
Money is spend tied to the implementation of specified features. Customisation would flow back into the core product, so once the next release is out these don't need to be reapplied. If a large scale customer disagrees with the general product direction they could fund a fork of the project and go their own way. As the example Debian/Ubuntu shows that separation doesn't need to be 100% but could be to still reap benefits from a shared code base. Also companies would gain the freedom to choose whom to ask to fix a bug (or implement a feature) out of a release cycle. This way they can reduce the total bill (Part of the profit margin stays in the corporation). The lower licensing cost will probably require higher consulting fees. It would be interesting to "run the numbers" and include productivity gains by better tailored software. One big OpenSource platform that is driven by customers (and academia) is OW2 Consortium with an impressive list of infrastructure software. The big wildcard in this scenario are the system integrators. So far I haven't seen them pushing the model: "Let us provide service and support and customisation for your OpenSource". It could be that one one side they don't want to endanger their supplier relations with the large software houses and on the other side the idea, that a company simply could give back their customisation to the core product (and thus potentially to the competition), seems rather alien for business people. Another reason could be that OpenSource is perceived as "risky". Anyway the big vendors have understood this threat, hence the fierce drive to move everything into the (propriety) cloud. We live in interesting times.

26/09/2010

VPost needs more attention to security details

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I'm using vPost, a service by Singapore's postal service to ship stuff I oder online. vPost provides me with an US, European and Japanese shipping address, so I can take advantage of free "local" shipping or get stuff from vendors that don't ship overseas. After a few teething problems the service works reasonable well, I can recommend it in general. You have to compare shipping rates from the vendor since vPost might not always be the cheapest option. However vPost needs to pay more attention to security. They have the basics right and use https on all their site, so that's OK. They also leverage on "Verified by Visa" that uses one-time tokens via SMS to secure transactions. The improvements needed are after you enter your credit card details and hit next:
vPost securit challenges
  1. The credit card number is displayed in full (other sites only show a few digits). So someone peeking over the shoulder can note it (same applies to the expiry date)
  2. The security code is displayed. It shouldn't be shown AT ALL.
  3. Being security concious (and not liking tracking cookies) I don't allow cookies from other websites. VPost requires me to lower my security standards. I'm sure that could be avoided
Some work to be done.

18/06/2010

Singapore's Citizen Inbox

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On June 15, 2010 the Straits Times published an article cheekily titled 'G' mail for all govt e-mail. From the article:

" SINGAPORE residents will each get a personal online mailbox in two years' time to receive their mail from the Government and public agencies.

Mail such as tax statements, reminders to renew TV licences and bills for service and conservancy charges will be sent to this Internet mailbox.
"

I think that is a terrific idea for citizen services and a good example for clever marketing (I'll explain why). In the comments people lambast about stealing of identity, not-another-mailbox and hacking and viruses. I think they all get it wrong. Reading the article a little further we learn: "People can log into the mailbox using their SingPass ID as well as register online to get e-mail and SMS alerts for new mail.". So what exactly is happening here? My take:
  • Somebody did some serious thinking how to bring Citizen service to the next level. I like the idea and I hope the implementation is as bold as the idea itself. The OneInbox is the place where all Government - Citizen interaction takes place. Government interaction requires forms, so a classical eMail won't do. Government interaction is confidential so SMTP, POP etc. won't do. Regular users are overwhelmed when it comes to eMail security as encryption and signatures. The typical approach would be to build a G2C portal and let users interact with it. But "Portal and interactions" sounds complicated and scary to non technical people. So the brains behind the initiative call that Portal an Inbox. Everybody understands Inbox.
  • It won't be an eMail system - the sentence "register to get eMail and SMS alerts" gives it away. Why on earth would I want an eMail alert for an incoming eMail. So forget about sending a message to Auntie Joanne (that's what the other gMail is for). And that is OK.
  • It uses a well established Single SignOn (SingPass). I expect that in a future iteration SingPass will either use Singapore's Smart-ID chip or some biometrics (which is already stored in our ID card records), so it will be better than the arbitrary name/password of other online systems. Also it efficiently allows to click from you Inbox to the specialized applications of the respective ministries.
  • The plan seems to allow that government applications deposit just a notification to the inbox or ever surface their entire UI there depending on the readiness of the respective application. This nicely allows for incremental improvement and deeper and deeper integration. In IBM we call such an approach SOA.
  • The absence of normal eMail functions is a big security plus. No Viagra or body part size changing message can be used as an attack vector into that inbox. It is strictly public business
Of course questions need to be answered: Is SingPass secure enough, is privacy guaranteed (we don't have privacy laws here, so that actually might not be a topic) and is the user experience well balanced? For my part: I'm happy to gain a single stop for my government dealings.

27/05/2010

Backup vs. Archival and Thoughts on Archival

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Archival often gets confused with backup. The activities are (technically) very similar and invite such a confusion. Both are the action of moving bits from "the place where everybody looks" (the mailbox, the current database, the file share, the intranet etc.) to some other place (a backup tape, a cheaper storage, a CD-ROM /dev/null etc).

Backup is for the sole purpose to keep data available in case the main storage area is no longer available (due to accidental deletion, soft- or hardware problems).
Archival is the removal of data from the "main area" to an "archive area" for later retrieval for historic or compliance reasons. A secondary motive for archival is to remove obsolete or less relevant data from the active work area to improve performance, shorten search time or save on storage in the system hosting the active work area. To confuse matters further: quite often technologies designed for backup are successfully used for archival (e.g. copy data to a removable storage like a tape or optical disk).

In other terms: you don't expect to ever restore a backup unless something went wrong, while accessing an archive can be part of a regular business process. There are a few perceptions about archival that need to be put into perspective:

Archival does not save any storage space!
At least not when you look at all storage across the Enterprise. However it can help saving storage on your active work area (which is most likely the most expensive one) and so help saving storage cost. IMHO the biggest advantage of archival is the reduction of data a user would look for, since the current work area only would contain relevant data. This is also the greatest peril of archival: when data gets archived too early and the archival location turns into yet-another-work-area-to-check. (OK your archive might use a better compression that your life system - but are you sure that is isn't just a backup?)

Archival needs information life cycle management
Every information has a certain life cycle. Like food items information has a "best use before" data (that varies depending on the purpose). It follows roughly the following pattern:
  • New: freshly created, might not be relevant yet (e.g. upcoming policy change)
  • Current: data supports one or more business processes and is actively used
  • Reference: data is no longer actively use, but is regularly required for reports or comparison
  • Compliance: data is obsolete but needs to be kept for compliance (e.g. business records in Singapore : 7 years)
  • Historic: the data doesn't need to be kept, it doesn't serve any active business process, but might be of historic interest. This state of information is a field of tension between (corporate) lawyers and historians: historians like to keep everything, while lawyers see a potential discovery risk (cost and content) in every piece of data kept. When analyzing the archival policies of any organization one can find out who won this conflict.
  • Obsolete: In 2050 really nobody cares how many rolls of toilet paper you bought at what price (while the price volume of toilet paper might still be of historic interest as curiosity how mankind could be so wasteful with resources before they had the self cleaning buttock nano coating)
Data might skip some of the phases. As one might notice I'm speaking about "data" in general. The life cycle applies not only to documents but to all sort of information. Now to have a successful archival strategy the status of information in that life cycle should be explicit known for each piece. Unfortunately this is still the exception rather the rule. Short of an explicit expiry data we make implicit assumptions like "Unless stated otherwise a document in this place expires xx days after last update" or "Unless stated otherwise a document in this place expires xx days after last use". Since usage is much harder to track (if one looks at an information to then figure out that wasn't what she was looking for, an automated system would count that as usage - bad. Or I use the search engine and the search result shows already the information, so I never open the location - document expires being unused - bad) the most prevalent measure is "last update". Some clever verification  cycle asking the owner to extend the validity is needed. But better have a clever one. If that turns into a one-bye-one update exercise nobody will bother. A very good rule engine can help there. Most of the technical troubles (short of broken equipment) you might experience with archival are rooted in strategic (mis-)decisions.

What's your Retention/Archival policy?

10/05/2010

Technology Adoption Program

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Every CIO's office is challenged with the amount of computing freedom it should allow its corporate users. Thus the spectrum reaches from Stalinist: "We tell you what bios version and revision your hardware has and what tie you have to wear before you can login" to Peacenik "Everything is connected, the universe will guide you in the selection of hard- and software". As we all no extremes usually don't yield the best results and we should stay on the Middle Path. I like the approach IBM is taking here, which I would encourage to copy. IBM has clear guidelines about workstation security. Any device connecting to IBM's internal network or processing IBM data must comply. We have tools that check compliance and help users to adjust if there are problems and to escalate them if they don't get fixed. The CIO's office maintains a list of approved software. This software comes in three flavors: software that is part of our standard image, software that can be installed when needed and comes with full support (you can call the help desk and open a trouble ticket) and software provided as-is (no trouble ticket, but discussion forums and user self help). Installation is provided from an integrated tool in IBM's w3 intranet. You pick your software from the list and the rest is fully automated. After going through a briefing we also can use OpenSource software as we deem fit (within the margins set in that briefing).
The CIO's office doesn't prescribe the hardware. You can use you own computer - what an increasing number of IBMers do when switching to a Mac. Of course most IBMers will use a Thinkpad that is provided in a set of standard variations (X series, T series or W series).
After all IBM is a technology company, so how do we handle all the latest and greatest software? Since the CIO needs to provide full support for official software and upgrading a 400k strong workforce isn't done in an afternoon, something bridging that gap was needed. So about five years ago IBM created the Technology Adoption Program. In the TAP program IBM's own latest and greatest software is available. But it is not only software you find (or will find) in IBM's price list, but innovations that have been created for internal use. As a matter of fact a huge number of TAP innovations are created by IBMers not working in software development. TAP allows everybody to contribute, try and vote. Successful tools graduate one day from TAP to the CIO's official supported list. While you find software from all IBM software brands here, I mostly pay attention to Lotus stuff. We have heaps of plug-ins, a modified mail template, Notes 8.5.2, SUT etc.
One can also find the IBM Open Client here. For Linux users we have 3 levels. IBM maintains their own internal software sources and we have stable, beta and experimental. So based on one's taste for novelty vs. security any of the three can be picked (Easy to guess which one I picked). Using a TAP approach has a clear set of advantages:
  • The CIO's office can evaluate software on a broader basis
  • Users with low risk tolerance can stay with well established fully internally supported software
  • User who like new stuff can be provided with the latest and greatest without having to make an enterprise wide commitment
  • Innovation can be fostered. With TAP in place any piece of software becomes visible to the enterprise at large. Also internal contributions (e.g. we have corporate templates on TAP) can easily be shared.
  • Better control: TAP allows a liberal look-down: You want to use this or that? No problem, we put it on tap. No other stuff please.
Of course funding and acquisition of licences need to be handled by TAP, but that's a different story for another time. If you ask nicely IBM will help you to adopt your own TAP. As usual: YMMV.

18/04/2010

The 7 deadly sins of eMail

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Fellow IBMer Stefan tweets about a PC Welt article in German titled eMail madness - these are the worst sins in eMail. The article makes an interesting read (Google translate). What I found remarkable is that the author references basic communication theory in the beginning citing the four qualities any communication carries: factual content, relationship, self statement and plea. I learned about these qualities in the works of Schulz von Thun during communication training many years ago. Here are the 7 sins in summary:
  1. Subject sin: The subject line is the one line advertisement of your eMail content. If it isn't related to your content or too general you and your receipients won't understand or later on find it. Subject and content need to match. Variations of this sin: pack too many information into one eMail (instead of separate topics), have a blank subject or recycle an old message with a totally unrelated subject line
  2. Chain sin: Instead of summarizing the current status the receipent is left with sniffing through a whole chain of messages in the body field. The sin also carries the risk of information leaks: if you add new receipients to the chain they might gain access to information not inteded for them.
  3. Ping Pong eMails sin: a rapid sequence of emails between 2 people (and a large audience in the CC list). eMail is inherently asynchronous. If a conversation is needed, the participants should use a phone or a chat client.
  4. Avoidance sin: eMails are suitable for notifications and information. They make a poor tool for leadership and decision making - especially when there is dissent what the right course of action is. So using eMails to ask people to do unpleasant actions or announce decisions can be easily used to avoid responsibility, the responsibility to make decisions with the team and based on facts, evidence and leadership
  5. Mobile Messaging sin: Using a mobile messaging client mostly cuts the participant off the mail chain, so (s)he might not be fully informed. Only really tough users would download and read any attachments. The (compared to a proper keyboard and regular screen) poor usability leads to very short context deprived eMails, stuff like: "go for it" or "Approved". They leave you wondering what this is all about
  6. SMS sin: S stands for short, so don't try to communicate anything more complex than "the train is 30 min late" or "pls. call urgently regarding Project XYZ"
  7. Useless guidelines sin: The intranet has eMail guidlines, but nobody cares since they follow the senior execs who are happy sinners. If you want things to change you need to be a role model
You could easily add a few more: the "endless long CC list" sin, the "reply with unchanged attachment" sin, the "everything comes with a return receipt sin" or the "you have to answer in 5 minutes expecation" sin. What are your favorite eMail sins?

05/04/2010

Corporate Blogging Guidelines

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Charlene Li of Forrester research outlines six items to constitute a corporate blogging policy:
  1. Make it clear that the views expressed in the blog are yours alone and do not necessarily represent the views of your employer.
  2. Respect the company’s confidentiality and proprietary information.
  3. Ask your manager if you have any questions about what is appropriate to include in your blog.
  4. Be respectful to the company, employees, customers, partners, and competitors.
  5. Understand when the company asks that topics not be discussed for confidentiality or legal compliance reasons.
  6. Ensure that your blogging activity does not interfere with your work commitments.
The Wiki page contains a set of links to examples of published corporate policies including IBM's Social Computing guidelines

29/03/2010

Team performance

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Michael Sampson, teamwork expert, points us to an insight from Nicholas Bate about team performance
Team Performance
Of course good presentations help to show off the good work. Until then focus on7 pillars and clarity.

04/02/2010

Latest Banking Scam?

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The phone rings.

He: Hello this is [name changed to protect the innocent] from [insert a big bank]. Can I speak to Mr. Stephan?

Me: Hello there, Stephan speaking

He: This is regarding [pretty usual transaction]

Me: OK

He: Let me ask you some questions to establish your identity

Me: OK

He: What is your account # and [secret question about pets, sports, cities, keywords - you know]

Me: Ah - why would I tell you that?

He: To establish your identity

Me: You called my mobile, so? How should I know you are from the bank

He: Sir I work for [insert a big bank]

Me: Yeah, how should I know that you are who you claim, you not even show a number

He: But I have to establish your identity

Me: And I need to know who you are. I've been burned once with stolen bank data

He: Can I know your account number now

Me: How can I trust you? Don't get me wrong, it is not personal, just security concerns

He: But I work for [insert a big bank]

Me: How would I know. You call out of the blue, with no number in the display, you could be anybody

He: We are not getting anywhere

Me: Right. Why don't I call you back?

He: Uhm - I don't have a callback number

Me: There you go (of course THAT part of the bank call centre is different from the part that takes in calls)

He (sounding desperate since I'm spoiling the average customer handling time): OK Sir, it is about [type of transaction] filed [date] and [value]. You used Internet banking last at [DateAndTime]

Me (feeling very sorry for the guy, assessing the risk: could he have obtained this information in a scam?): OK, I still don't trust you, but here we go. (passing ID information)

(This is actually a very risky behaviour. The very essence of scamming is to obtain a piece of information and use it against the victim to pretend you are a trusted party. E.g. Using a stolen logo is just the simples form of it. Kevin Mitnick was particularly good at Social Engineering, read for yourself. )

He: There is a signature missing

Me: Perfect, I wanted to cancel that transaction anyway.

He: So I cancel for you, have a great day.

Me: Bye! (taking mental note to change the ID information)

What is [insert a big bank] thinking? Disclosing a financial transaction to a stranger (ok the stranger in possession of the customer's hand phone) and expecting customers to blindly trust a caller. Such behaviour invites systematic scamming.

23/12/2009

The Builder's Manifesto

Category
The Harvard Business Review has an interesting entry titled The Builders' Manifesto. It is a critical review of leadership and the fact, that we don't need leaders but builders. In the post the author Umair Haque is applying 10 principles to bosses, leaders and builders:
  1. The boss drives group members; the leader coaches them. The Builder learns from them.
  2. The boss depends upon authority; the leader on good will. The Builder depends on good.
  3. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The Builder is inspired — by changing the world.
  4. The boss says "I"; the leader says "we". The Builder says "all" — people, communities, and society.
  5. The boss assigns the task, the leader sets the pace. The Builder sees the outcome.
  6. The boss says, "Get there on time;" the leader gets there ahead of time. The Builder makes sure "getting there" matters.
  7. The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The Builder prevents the breakdown.
  8. The boss knows how; the leader shows how. The Builder shows why.
  9. The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes work a game. The Builder organizes love, not work.
  10. The boss says, "Go;" the leader says, "Let's go." The Builder says: "come."
Go read The Builders' Manifesto.

16/10/2009

DLink - a support experience (a nice one for a change)

Category
One of my invaluable travel companions is a DLink Travel Router DWL-G730A. Plugging it into the hotel room internet wire frees me up to sit wherever I like instead of being glued to the desk (sitting in the bathtub with water still isn't recommended for laptop use). When it stopped working I felt a sense of urgency to get it fixed. So I gave the D-Link Hotline a call to get a RMA#. To my surprise they said: just drop by at the service centre and we will take care of you (sending things around isn't usual on our small island, so expecting a customer to drop by a service centre is absolute reasonable here). So I went there expecting all sorts of bureaucracy and hu-ha since I didn't have the receipt for that router anymore. The support representative just asked me to fill in contact details and serial# and indicated she would run a quick tests, I should be patient for a few minutes. Less than 5 minutes later she returned, stating that one of the test had failed. Then she handed me a shrink-wrapped new router, let me sign that I got it in return for the borked one and off I went.
Well done DLINK!

30/08/2009

Any opinions about "The Daily Reviewer"?

Category
On my last entry I got a comment, that your blog has been selected for the exclusive list of 100 IBM blogs. While I like flattery, it at the same time makes me suspicious. After all there are way more than 100 IBM blogs. They obviously did some homework, since on my page there was an ad suggesting to loose stomach fat, a topic I'm struggling with <g> The badge they suggest to display on my blog seems harmless enough (flat image link, no JavaScript goodies. Anybody encountered them? What are they up to?
Top ibm blogs award

02/07/2009

How saving a few cent will loose you big bucks - HSBC Internet Banking Blues

Category
I'm a customer of a number of banks. HSBC being one of them. I also hardly visit any bank branches. I do my business online. I like HSBC's site. It is easy to use and fully functional (Short of a glitch that doesn't allow to set a date for all type of transactions). In recent years all the banks have added additional security to their online login by requiring a security token besides your user name and password. This token is either generated by a little gadget or send via SMS to your mobile phone. HSBC choose the first option (while some smarter banks actually let you choose what option you like). The token vendor they picked seems to be on the cheap site and with 99% probability the devices' internal clock will get out of sync with the security server (about every 2-3 month), so you can't login. A call to the help-desk fixes that, but it takes 3-4 hours.
In other words: you can't depend on the availability of HSBC Internet banking when you need or want it. I chatted a little with the help desk guy who was very pleasant to talk to and highlighted that this problem dents HSBC's reputation. So I asked if I'm just dumb out of luck or the problem is widespread. He admitted, that *all* HSBC Internet banking customers will experience that type of problem (Guess that's why there was a specific option in the voice menu just for that). I'm now seriously considering to close my account since I'm not amused. All other bank tokens I use(d) never fail(ed).
Note to HSBC: Fix the problem or loose customers

02/05/2009

Delivering Outstanding Presentations

Category
(Technical) professionals are caught in an interesting dilemma. We are asked to contribute to events, customer meeting or internal presentations because we know a lot about a topic. We are supposed to transfer this wealth of knowledge to our customers, audience and participants. We love to show [off] our knowledge. In lucky places like Lotusphere this works well. For everywhere else however human attention span, especially in a crowd, is severely limited. Ten minutes is all you got. One-Zero minutes. After 10 minutes the crowd moves on. If you are lucky - or smart - the crowd moves on to your next topic (like the Lotusphere speed geeking sessions <g>).
But where do that 10 minutes come from? The present moment is 3 seconds and attention spans are reported from 3-20 min. I picked the 10 minutes rule from the book Brain Rules after having seen it in a number of places. So if 10 minutes is all you got, how to fill the remaining 35-50 minutes your are given to present? The conclusion is simple: you have to deliver a new presentation every 10 minutes. That doesn't mean you have to pull a new slide deck out of your presentation software or start with your introduction. You just have to introduce a new tiger every 600 seconds (because that is what our brains are watching out for anyway - and they are not too far in my part of the world). Loaded with technical details and deep knowledge limiting ourself to 5 big ideas forms a nice challenge. The solution is to pack all the details into the umbrella of an idea. You need to tell your audience upfront what it is, so your audience doesn't get lost in the details (believe me *nobody* is interested in your setup screens or installation prompts, skip them). Just ask the preacher at [insert-favorite-place-of-worship] how a sermon gets delivered: "Who doesn't walk in the light of [insert-subject-of-worship-here] will go to hell. To hell you will go because [insert-long-list-of-misdeeds]. But there is hope, [insert-subject-of-worship] offers salvation... ". While you don't need to summon Angels and Demons to make your point you can learn from the structure:
  1. Summarize your statement
  2. Expand the problem challenge at hand
  3. Offer the solutions
  4. Expand the solution
  5. Tie back to your summary
The above structure is part of your presentation body. It is wrapped into an introduction in front as well as a preliminary conclusion Q & A session and final conclusion at the end. This is called a "classical" speech structure (anybody wants to claim presentations are not speeches?). One of the best investment you can make is LeeAundra Temescu's "The Contrary Public Speaker" eBook (also available as audio-book). Helped me to score high even deep in "enemy territory". As LeeAundra urges: keep your slide decks light. I second that and add: get ZEN inspiration and get extreme.

07/02/2009

How *NOT* to get a new job.

Category
In the current economic condition and with the impending implosion of Satyam the frequency of resumes ending up in my mailbox has sharply increased. Typically now I get requests from people between 5 and 15 years of experience, all with completed university degrees and all making the same basic mistake. Here a sample:
Hi
I am [Name removed to prevent embarrassment] with xx years of experience in IT Industry.
I request you to consider me as candidate for a suitable opening in your company.
Please find my resume attached
Regards
[Name]

So what's wrong with that? Everybody likes to have a good job. Here we go:
  1. I was on the BCC list. My spam filter had sorted it out.
    Advice: Put in that little effort and send individual emails. If a candidate isn't putting effort for the most important thing in his business (his own job), I can conclude, that he won't go the extra mile when working for me.
  2. No personal salutation.
    Advice: The Internet is an open book. There are phone lines. Hiring managers have names and they like to be properly addressed.
  3. Why did he write to me? I'm not working in the "IT Industry" (I guess my email came from an IBM business partner list, an outdated one). I work in a very specific niche: Craftsmanship around IBM's collaborative products.
    Advice: State and be very specific why you write to a specific company. Show that you did your homework and already know about the company. If you don't know what to say: at least state how the vision/mission/value statement resonates with you. This creates a feeling of "he is family" in the hiring manager.
  4. No statement of contribution.
    Advice: If I hire you I want to know what I get. Yes I can read the attached CV, but I won't if I'm not convinced it is worth my time. So sum it up: managed projects in a CMMI5 certified company worth xxx dollars on time and cost. Passionate about [state your technology passion]. Will fit into [part of my organization, you have researched that isn't it?]
  5. How should I know what position suits him?
    Advice: I know that feeling: first get a job and then see how to get into the position you like to do. But that's a bad idea. State clearly what you are good at, so it is easier for me to consider you. If you have praised my company enough you can state, that you also would consider a position that leads you to your desired role.
  6. Resume formatting careless, no photo.
  7. Resume format in MS-Word to an IBM Business Partner company. So you are not following what IBM is talking about? At least PDF would make sense. (I know that is controversial, but DOC isn't an ISO standard. ODF, DocX (eventually) and PDF are.
  8. No web presence.
    : Do good and talk about it. If you don't have a blog at least show me where you contribute online (on OpenNTF, Notes.net, JavaRanch.com). If you don't use online resources and at least occasionally contributed back.... in what century do you work?
  9. No chat. How can I ask you a quick question? Skype, GTalk, Yahoo are free.
Get yourself one or the other good guide to land a job and try again.

28/05/2008

Patent Trolls reach Singapore

Category
If I recall correctly HTML has been proposed and standardized 15 years ago. It includes the possibility to wrap a link around an image tag. Nevertheless a patent troll from Singapore managed to get the combination of image and link patented. And I though April fools was weeks ago. While I'm not a legal expert, I would say showing prior art shouldn't be a big problem. Nevertheless the internet sites are buzzing.
What could be the motives of such a patent claim? The old legal wisdom stands even in our times: "Dolo petit quid rediturum est". Could it be lack of dilligence? Could it be misled judgement of prior art? Of course nobody would propose sinister motives like "Find enough idiots who pay up and run" since that for sure would lead to a defamation suit, a popular past time in our part of the world. So we keep wondering what this is all about!

26/05/2008

Is anybody using .ws domains?

Category
Occasionally I follow spam links to see what they are pouching for. I skip the typical suggestions to increase size or performance of body parts or make a fortune in Nigeria. Lately I've seen quite some messages that suggested a new easy way to generate a lifelong income. Interested in the delusion I had a look. It turns out, that Global Domains International created a Pyramid selling scheme multi level marketing scheme to pouch 10$/month .ws web addresses with personal hosting.
I strongly disdain such schemes since they exploit social connections in connection with delusional hope for business gains. Seems like the regular .ws registration business didn't work that well. I haven't come across any organization actually using .ws pages other than protecting their trademarks. Do I miss a hot new development or is .ws just the answer to a question nobody ever asked?

02/01/2008

Skills, Lake Wobegon and Dunning-Kruger

Category
I do believe in skillfulness, I do believe in mastery. I admire true craftsmen and their work results. The constant strive for perfection amazes me. So naturally I tend to be puzzled meeting people who a comfortably ignorant. Catching up with reading during the year-end holiday made me discover the reasons behind that:

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" (Charles Darvin)

This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect (and/or Lage Wobegon effect). It more or less explains why ignorance is so hard to combat:
  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
(See the WIkipedia article for a complete discussion.)

So are we stuck with victims of the Peter principle? Luckily the messrs Dunning & Kruger offer a solution:
  • Incompetent individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level.
Seems like Kathy is right, right and right.

It helps to have the right mindset.

08/02/2006

Greed 3.0

Category
Slashdot pointed to an article in the Washington Post. It reported, that John Thorne, a senior vice president of Verizon accuses the internet companies to have a free ride on their networks and wants to charge them for access. I'm not quite sure if an intoxicating substance, panic or greed made him utter this nonsense. If he bothers to read his own broadband subscription contracts: his subscribers pay, so they can reach all this sites. So Google, Yahoo and the like a the single big reason why the can sell broadband in the first place. Sounds like a soccer club who wants to charge the players for using the stadium after they sold all the tickets to fans who want to see them playing.
I don't know how lobbying and law-making works in the US, but if Verizon gets its way, it could throw the Internet in the US back for years. Anyway Google doesn't seem to sit idle, they have proven, that they can roll-out free WIFI backed access quite fast.
As the old Chinese curse nicely states: "May you live in interesting times".

06/02/2006

Management is from Mars and IT Professionals are from Venus

Category
Jack Dausman started the dialogue with a post mentioning that 60% of the IT workers are ready to move one. Ben Pole, Kevin Pettitt and Jonathan Walkup chipped in. Of course I have my 2c to add to it.
I agree with Jack on training as key success factor as well with Ben on a need to shift the perspective from cost to benefit. I also liked the remarks about semi competent techies defending their turf. There is another dimension and that is communication.
We geeks tend to communicate in terms like: CPU, Uptime, Bandwidth, Storage, Access, Network etc. Managers tend to speak about money, corporate values, business development, key performance indicators and revenue-cost ratios. Both sides blame the other, that they speak in tongues, don't listen and don't understand. One problem is surly, that a lot of managers can't manage, so they resort to micro management (a.k.a. not trusting the techies due to a lack of people skills).
What can be done? First of all, when you move on you will take all your problems with you, so the solution is to solve your part first before moving on. There a several dimensions you can have a look. If you firmly think, that you know what is right, but you are not in charge, some lateral leadership could help. And while you are on it, beef up your negotiation skills. We became geeks because we found technology much more fascinating than business and numbers, however we need to translate our thinking into management compatible statements of cost and value. In a recent conversation a potential client was complaining our proposal was to expensive, so we ran the numbers:
" OK we can skip the validation routines, that would shave 2k from our price. But in return about 10% of the forms would have errors. To clarify them 2 engineers in two countries need to get online and discuss (if they discover them at all). That takes half an hour, given your internal rates for 2 engineers, that is about 0.2k. We don't calculate time for delays or damage for undiscovered errors. Your estimate is about 1000-1500 approvals / year, so the cost for saving 2k would be about 20-30k/year".
Suddenly they did understand. Of course it is very painful to break down everything we do into value prepositions. But it is not that difficult. We generally can set two types of cost: investment for improved productivity, speed, revenue and investment to avoid damage or higher cost. So the question is: how much do we spend on other things if we don't do that and how much will it cost and how likely will disaster strike. Once we make things measurable, even if the benchmarks are rather blurry, we find common ground with the management to negotiate. Once you master the skill and the situation doesn't improve (because you got one of them) it is time to move on. You new company will appreciate your ability to "speak management".  

13/01/2006

7 steps to p**s off a consultant

Category
Step 1: Create a project with an incredible tight deadline and hire him as a subcontractor
Step 2: make sure access to internal resources is limited below agreed threshold
Step 3: let him re-engineer an application with hidden gems of bad engineering
Step 4: ask him to work weekends and public holidays clocking in >100h in 8 days
Step 5: don't communicate management decisions in time  
Step 6: tell him that the customer likes the code he creates
Step 7: tell him, that you won't compensate for extra effort

But maybe I wake up, Friday the 13th is gone and everything is a bad dream.  

21/10/2005

Corruption and eGovernment

Category
A hot topic on the 2005 Asia eGovernment Summit was corruption. All government officials present (Singapore didn't send one) admitted, that it is a huge problem in their respective country. One representative from the Philippines shared how they use eGovernment to curb bribery. Citizen in the Philippines can (like in many other countries) submit their tax declaration online. Not seeing a tax collector face to face eliminates the opportunity to bribe him. They also run an anonymous website, that is directly linked to the government fraud fighting agency. If you are a danger seeker - they have job openings.
In Singapore corruption is not a problem. The few cases that pop up are swiftly dealt with and end up with free accommodation in bar filtered air. When having a closer look at this zero tolerance policy you will notice, that it is only the final brick in the dam that stops corruption. The first layer here is a British style administration, that has been perfected by the Singapore Chinese, the second is the pay of the civil servants, that enables a decent life (for a minister that would be a decent 1M SGD). So it is easy to successfully take the moral high ground.
The picture becomes very different when you look in the surrounding countries. We had some good discussions and found, that you need to differentiate what exactly is happening when money changes hands. In most emerging countries taking a bribe supplements the meagre pay of a public servant, who's paycheck is growing much slower than the money earned in the private sector. Secondly especially in South-East Asia there is a culture to give presents when visiting each other. This presents are an expression of appreciation and are not seen as a bribe (unless you take the moral high ground). So drawing the line becomes more difficult. When you want to classify bribes you could distinguish three levels (I like that scheme, since it provides hooks how to handle them and it was my idea):
First a bribes that speed up a process, that would happen anyway. From what I have heard, that is actually the bulk of bribes given. Give a little fee to the officer and your visa application doesn't take four weeks but two, give a little more and it will be done in three days.
The second type are bribes to get an officer to do what he is supposed to so but threatens to procrastinate. This is basically public service blackmail.
The third type are bribes to achieve a result that is illegal or violates regulations and bylaws (most rampant in construction industry and in tender processes).
I personally consider the first type relative harmless by itself, but damaging since it lowers the shy to do the two other types as well. The Chinese came up with a clever scheme in their embassies to remove that "token to speed up the application". They made it official: there are different fees to be paid for different speeds of your application processing. You get a official formal receipt. It is kind of a service level agreement. This way there is no wiggling room for the officers to ask extra "speed money". Once this type of bribes has dried up, it becomes easier to get tough on the other both types.
To curb the procrastination black mail transparency and business process modelling can be the weapon of choice: let citizens know how long a process should take (with a given bandwidth) and provide an escalation path if deadlines are not met. Sounds easy but is tricky to implement, since government processes tend to be rather blurry.
For the last type then a zero tolerance policy with established graft fighting measures can help. However every coin has two sides. One typical method are tender requirements for expenditures exceeding a certain size. There is an incredible amount of money wasted for tender preparation since in a median cut you only win 2-5% of tenders you work on... and that project have to recover your opportunity cost, so they get more expensive. So the goal of fighting corruption sometimes clashes with the mandate to use resources efficiently.

17/10/2005

Off to Beijing

Category
On Tuesday the "2005 eGovernment Asia" conference will begin in Beijing. I'm invited as a speaker, so I leave Singapore tonight. Writing this, I'm actually sitting in the departure hall of Changi Airport using their free network access. Cable bound internet is free, wireless internet is charged by Starhub. I find, that the hour between check-in and boarding is best spend blogging, sending overdue emails and clean-up in-boxes.
I had the last run on my presentation with the best of my wifes before I left and she corrected some rather embarrassing typos in my Chinese. I'm trying to tell a story rather to "bullet-shoot" my audience (Oscon Identity 2.0 somehow set a new standard). Luckily one of the bloggers (sorry can't recall who) recommended iStockphoto.com for great pictures, so good quality graphics were affordable.

03/07/2005

I'm a Porn site operator now!

Category
Routinely checking my credit card account I found a deduction in Thai Bath. I've not been in Thailand for a year. So I traced the merchant who turns out to be a Thai online payment service (similar to PayPal in the US). Someone had used my Credit Card to buy web hosting (you can guess for what purpose). I immediately called my credit card company to terminate the card only to learn, that the fraudsters have maxed out my credit line within 3 days.
Since they haven't got the merchant details for the other transactions I can't file the dispute, effectively cutting me off of credit card use for one to two weeks. What amused me: the dispute can't be filed online (there I only can view my statement), but needs a fax form to be processed. Seems there is some eBusiness opportunity.
The Thai payment operator was more swift. Within 5 hours (on a Sunday!) they cancelled the transaction and issued a refund (that will take a day to arrive through Visa).
I'm quite restrictive using my credit card online, however I travel a bit in the region where I use it in hotels. I would like to know if I became victim of a local fraud or one of the beneficiaries of the recent US data losses.
Definitely I'm p***d.  

30/05/2005

Incompetence Considered Harmful

Category
Found the post Incompetence Considered Harmful on a weblog I recently added. It reminded me on one of my favourite quotes: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance", which is commonly attributed to Derek Bok (a former Harvard president). The Blog mentioned a research paper and I had a look. The most stunning conclusion: if you are clueless you not even can appreciate a sound solution or distinguish cream from crap.
It seems to me, that's the reason why a lot of sales people companies don't like experts from the field of the products or services they offer, since they would know high quality. Of course unless they made quality (result quality, not process quality) their core value.

28/04/2005

Garbage in ...

Category
Seems I'm becoming more and more a full citizen of Singapore (No it's not the Singlish lah). My indicator of home town is: do I bump into people I know. Yesterday at the food court I bumped into my friend Alvin Lee. We had a chat about team, organisation and mental models. Alvin does team building and motivation training. We found that two popular acronyms KISS and GIGO are related.  KISS stands for Keep it simple stupid and GIGO for Garbage In Garbage Out.
During our chat we realized that it should be KISS and GISS. "Keep Incoming Shit Short "and " Garbage In Shit Sticks". When you keep your Garbage In to long it turns into shit. And then you might need to go for colon cleansing. Your mind rather might need GTD.

08/04/2005

NewSpeak: What is Quality?

Category
The most stunning concept in Orwell's 1984 was NewSpeak: the redefinition of terms to eliminate concepts. Can you think freedom if there is no word for it?
I recently worked with the different quality initiatives ISO9000, EfQM, CMMI. While I think the initiatives have good value for their purpose, they all conduct NewSpeek when talking about quality. Funny aspect: the all see it in the same way.
Quality in their sense are repeatable constant outcomes/results, that are achieved with constant and repeatable processes. While repeatable results are important for conducting sustainable business I resent to call it quality. Put it boldly: My friend runs a French Fine Dining. When the cook had a bad day it is so so, when he has a good day, you're in heaven. On the other hand: walk into an average Mac Donald's anywhere on this planet. You can expect and will receive a Big Mac that tastes the same for 20+ years. From a quality management point of view Mac Donald's is the champion. However if I ask my taste buds, even the worst mood of my French cook produces food with far superior quality.
This results is a subconscious tension for all quality people: since the (process) quality definition doesn't match the layman's understanding of quality a lot of quality initiatives are perceived as management fads; perceptions lay the foundation for results, so TQM often goes nowhere.

Anybody pick up the challenge and come up with a good term instead of newspeaking quality?  

22/03/2005

Dissecting buyover prices

Category
As you probably have heard Interactive Corp. bought AskJeeves for a staggering 1.85B USD. This looks like a lot of money. However taking a closer look shows a quite different picture. IACI is paying in stocks, so basically they print the money for the buyover. So how much is the deal REALLY worth? Let us try an inverse calculation.
Assumption: The value of Interactive Corp doesn't change. And if you look at the stock price, it actually was going down. The true market value of a stock are the number of shared that are publicly traded. The highest traded volume of IACI (in the last 12 month) was 32M shares. With the current market capitalisation of 15B this is about 5% of the outstanding shares.Let us assume, that the percentage of publicly traded shares is about 4 times of that. Why would one want to count the publicly traded shares only? The idea is: the market can't take in any amount of shares, so demand and supply regulate not only price but also volume. If stocks are thrown on the market in large numbers the price would suffer. Therefore the sellable stocks represent the true value. Because even if something has a stellar price tag, if one can't sell it, it's worthless. I would call that "capital in market". In our case the capital in market  is about 3B. So the new shares are worth not 1.85B but 370M. Suddenly the deal looks much more reasonable.
I'm sure I've violated any established economic calculation, however I think it's not beyond reason.

13/02/2005

Sharpen your pencils - plain English please

Category
This is hillarious. I wish I could get my English that straigt. In German I practised that reading Carl Popper and putting Wolf Schneider's advise to work.  

10/11/2004

Now Reading

Category
It is not brand new in the book stores. However Pfeffer and Sutton provide very valuable insights into corporate dysfunction and how to fix them.
The knowing doing gap
The contents touches on all areas where knowledge isn't put into action and why. My personal favorites are "Memory as a substitute for thinking" and "When fear prevents acting on knowlege". But read for yourself:
  1. Knowling "What" to Do Is Not Enough
  2. When Talk Substitutes for Action
  3. When Memory Is a Substitute for Thinking
  4. When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge
  5. When Measurement Obstructs Good Judgement
  6. When Internal Competition Turns Friends into Enemies
  7. Firms That Surmount the Knowling-Doing Gap
  8. Turning Knowledge into Action

08/11/2004

How much paper education do you have?

Category
I talk a lot to HR managers over here (and head hunters). They all emphasis the importance of the degrees you hold. Yes it's plural of degree they talk about. Even if it is 20+ years ago, to land a job here you must have a bunch of them, at least in this part of the world.
So I asked how much of the really important degrees do they see landing on their desks:
  • Masters in "Getting Things Done"
  • Phd in "Recovering from Failure"
  • Certificate in "Constant Self Improvement"
  • Advanced Diploma in "Motivation and Leadership"
  • Diploma in "Taking Risk and Responsibility"
  • Bachelor of Arts in "Vision, Creativity and Stamina"

So we have quite a double standard: high expectations on paper and so so performance in practice. This gives me quite a head ache to communicate, that there can be all this qualities.

11/10/2004

Public sector IT blues

Category
It is amazing how some business behaviours are universal all over the planet. We all know how well Indian private companies are repudiated for their IT (offshoring) skills. However the public sector seems to follow the same "fate" as in other places. The Hindu Business Line reports, that Mumbai Customs has screwed up their EDI project. Welcome to the club. Currently the Germans seem to lead the club with "Toll Collect", "Harz IV" and "Gesundheitskarte".
Can somebody dispatch some experts from Bangalore to Mumbai (or Bombay as it was called long before)?  

10/08/2004

Bangkok ICT Expo 2004

Category
One night in Bangkok can make a strong man humble.... A week exhibiting on the Bangkok ICT Expo 2004too! It was an interesting experience to find my way around in a place where European language knowledge is limited and the road signs are in an alphabet, that I don't understand. About 170000 visitors stopped by at the exhibition, ranging from high profile corporate officers to school classes.
On Sunday we had a few hours to look around in Bangkok Central and we visited "Wat Pho Temple". There you can meet Buddha statues in all shapes, positions and sizes. The biggest of them is in a building build around it: 15m high and over 45m long.

16/07/2004

Speaking: Are You Buried Under the eMail Avalanche?

Category
The Arkgroup is conducting the eMail Management Conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Singapore 20-22 July 2004. I will present the opening topic "Are You Buried Under the eMail Avalanche?" on Tuesday. On Thursday I conduct the workshop "How to Write an Effective e(Mail) Policy". Seems my past at a law school comes in handy right now. I'm curious how the conference will be.

15/05/2004

The psychopathic enterprise

Category
The recent issue (May 8th 2004) of Economist features an article that looks at companies as if they were human beings. The view is not new. Enterprises have the same status as people in court for a long time already. What is different in the article is the viewpoint. It is not legal or economical, it is psychological.
And that view is quite nasty. A natural person exposing this type of behaviour would be locked away, under heavy medication and subject to emergency counselling. While the findings are particularity scary, there is hope. By applying the psychological view we could tap into the experience how asocial psychopathic individuals can be dealt with. It also would help to define what constitutes a valuable member of society.
You then can apply the basics of the Maslov pyramid and define the framework of future corporate development: survival and growth, care for the own kin, contribution to the community, self actualisation and finally spiritual development.
It looks, as of today, most corporations are stuck on the survival level and not even care for there own kin (read: customers, employees, suppliers) not to talk about thinking of the community (read: the public, the environment).
Sigmund Freud once stated "Man is a beast and needs to be tamed". Thus the question arises how to tame the enterprises?

09/02/2004

Be careful what you wish for --- winter after 24 month

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Winter is back!
After a long time I'm back to Europe. When I left Singapore to visit some new clients, I made the wish to see plenty of snow. Now I'm in Fuessen (the town where Schloss Neu Schwanstein a.k.a. Mad Kings Castle is located) and got plenty of snow. We have the annual developer meeting of UMsys. We are located in Schloss Hopferau, next to the garage where Konrad Zuse build the first computer ever. (At that time the Germans were very good in inventing stuff, but lousy to make it a economic success).
Tonight we'll go and have a visit to a mountain hut, get drunk and have a night slide back to the castle.

12/01/2004

Out of context

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Can't beat sombody in an argument? Need to reverse the course of a management decission? Nothing more easy than that! Use out-of-context quotes. Maybe since I went to law school and my late dad, a lawyer himself. preached the virtue of context, I'm used to look for the sentences before and after. This comes in handy when reading software manuals and contract...
Want to get startet? Here are my favorite OOC:
"There is no god!" The Bible
"Mens sana in corpore sano" (lat.) Iuvenal, a 2nd century Roman poet (=A healthy mind in a healty body).
... the answers in "Read More..."

03/07/2003

Job market blues --- the HR managers view

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Had a nice chat with a local HR manager. She complained that a lot of workers simply don't show up after signing their contracts.

We did a little analysis (Systems thinkingto be precise) and tada we found a culprit: "We regret that only short-listed candidates will be notified", the standard sentence under each (print and on-line) job-ad.

So how?

You leave Job-Seekers in the dark about the job. So they need to guess if the position is still open or they can move on. So if you offer the B-Job and the company with the A-job is slower than you (which they often are, since more people apply), you will always loose out.

Solution: Acknowledge the receipt of an application and send out status updates including when the seeker is out (short-listing, position closed). Doesn't cost much (just an email) and tackles the problem (in the long run). It is also a good idea to ask for permission to store the profile, so your HR department can build a little head hunting database of their own.

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