Form, Function and other “F” words

When I started this blog in 2010, the first article was called “Form follows Function – or does it?”.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of form following function ever since – and have been trying to work out what might follow function itself.

And so, earlier this year, I played around with the idea with a few friends that there might be a sequence:

  • Form follows Function
  • Function follows Flow
  • Flow follows Focus
  • Focus follows Foresight

I presented these ideas at a recent workshop that I was running and Brian Condon, a good friend and one of the participants said that the one “F” word that was missing was feedback!

Now, feedback is different.  It can follow anything.  So here is a diagram that shows these six ideas:

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The Stage Gate Process Kills True Innovation

Last week’s Thursday Thoughts raised many comments from readers: which has certainly made me think a lot more about innovation in the past week!  Many thanks for those of you that engaged in the conversation!
 
My hypothesis that customers were the best source of innovation was challenged by quite a few!
 
  • Kit thought that innovation stemmed from technology, newbies AND customers;
  • Lucy thought it was all about execution;
  • Jerry echoed Steve Job’s famous saying that “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them”.  (Apple again!);
  • Joanna highlighted the fact that we can become swamped by the choices that we all face, so that we don’t know what we want;
  • Brian made a great distinction between inventors and designers (very close to my heart);
  • Ryan complained of Apple’s cables and pop-ups and vented his frustrations about spellcheckers and such; and
  • James made a very insightful point “Customers are certainly a good source of innovation, but I read somewhere one of the gurus suggesting the people who weren’t yet customers, or weren’t customers anymore were even better. A bit more difficult to access, but an interesting thought.”
Given that the subject (combined with my rather over-simplistic conclusions) created so many comments, I thought I would carry on with the same theme – though this week look at the process of innovation in great companies.
In my research, I came across a very interesting book: “Winning at Innovation: The A-F Model” by Fernando Trías de Bes and the famous Philip Kotler published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.
 
There were a few very useful Ideas I have gleaned from the book.  Firstly, on page 16, the authors state that: “the phases or stages of an innovation process cannot be pre-determined, but must emerge as a result of the interaction of a set of functions or roles performed by certain individuals.”
 
This resonated with a thought I had last Sunday that the true source of innovation was probably not the customer, but more likely a passionate,  problem-solver driven to do something new.  Like Steve Jobs – a catalyst that wants to put a “ding in the Universe”.  Somehow this made me feel a lot better, because it meant that this “innovation activist” could really make a difference by simply believing that they could!
The book “Winning at Innovation” called this first role (in their A-F model) an “Activator”.  Perhaps Activator is a better word than an activist.  Less revolutionary and more chemical.  The six roles that they define are:
  • Activators – these are people who will initiate the innovative process without worrying about stages or phases.
  • Browsers – these are the experts searching for information.
  • Creators – The people who produce ideas for the rest of the group.  Their function is to ideate.
  • Developers – People specialised in turning ideas into products.
  • Executors – The people who take care of everything to do with implementation.
  • Facilitators – Those who approve the new spending items and investment needed as the (team-defined) innovation process moves forwards.
The book gives a chapter to each role.  Rather like a Jazz band, the magic only happens when the players perform their parts  with each other by getting “in the groove”.
How far away this model is from the classic “Stage Gate” process!  So many large companies try to institutionalise innovation by forcing new ideas through a series of gates, each gate blocking innovation and creating an economy of scarcity and  innovation prevention agents.  Some might say it is a game and chant “gamification”, but that is not my experience.
Design Process Crossed Out
Innovation is everybody’s job – and everybody’s right!  By defining roles and allowing the players (within a scope / budget / set of objectives) to define their own process (or set the rhythm to their own music), innovation flows naturally.  No need for costly gates and financial cook-books.
 
One wonders whether the corporate and public sector dinosaurs of the 20th Century will be able to adapt to such models in the next 10 years.  I predict that they will really struggle and find it difficult to beat the innovation pioneers who take knock-down the stage gates, put themselves on stage and leave Gates to his philanthropic endeavours!
I call this idea “Presence over Process”.  Think about it.  It really helps if you are struggling to navigate any corporate or government process.
 
Long live the spirit of Jobs and all other innovation activators!
 
That also gives a clue to next week’s piece.  But it probably isn’t the Jobs you think it is!
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The Best Source of Innovation

The news this week that the upwards-ever-upwards iPhone sales are finally stalling was a stark reminder that even the greatest companies struggle to keep the juices of innovation flowing year-on-year.  The Apple Watch couldn’t replace the iPhone and the iCar (if it ever arrives) is still a few years out.

Most companies that I study or consult to are in an innovation crisis.  They know they must innovate in order to remain competitive and keep growing (or simply to stand still).  Yet how often does the innovation agenda become demoted to “novel” efficiency drives and cost-cutting initiatives?

It begs the question: where is the best place to source innovation?  Many of my clients in the telecoms world look to technology suppliers.  They continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of products and services that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  Yet I already have an iPhone 6s.  Why do I want a Plus?  I upgraded from an iPhone 4s to wait for the 6.  I think I’ll hang on until I see something really new and different from Apple.

evolution of lighting, with candle, tungsten, fluorescent , LED

Innovation can come from suppliers – but you can’t really differentiate your company if that is all you rely on.  Such is the fate of many telecoms companies: they continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of product features that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  A price war starts and the cost cutting initiatives cut even deeper.  No, suppliers, are not the best answer.

What about the young folk who have just joined the organisation?  Straight out of University or School, they bring a fresh set of thinking.  They are the next generation!  Surely they hold the answer?  Give them a difficult problem and let them brainstorm their ideas to create something truly whacky.  Too risky, I say!  They will not understand the product and how it is used, yet.  They might come up with some good ideas., but   Good ideas are not the same as innovation.  The newbees are not the best source of innovation either!

So where should we go next?  To customers, of course!  Customers that use (and misuse) your existing products and services!  Customers who suffer day-to-day from trying to work the processes that you have under-designed and waste your customers time and effort.  They are loyal customers until they suddenly vanish.  And if no one contacts them to see where they have gone, then innovation dies on the vine!

Customers are an incredibly cheap this source of innovation, too.  Not just cheap, but very valuable!  By asking a few simple questions of customers every time you interact with them, you can increase your profitability, customer loyalty AND innovation in one fell swoop!

And what are those questions?  Well, you will have to read the next few Thursday Thoughts to find out my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, try and work out what you think they might be and comment below!

Oh, and thank you so much for reading this far.  I hope, at least, it has made you think a bit more about one of the most important aspects of business and human life!

 

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Thinking Outside-In: A Thinking Tool for the Festive Season

Looking at “Major Tim” the Astronaut talking from space on the TV last night, it got me thinking.  How cool it must be to get outside of the earth’s atmosphere and look back down on the earth!

iStock_000012803322_Large

It triggered another thought.  One particular type of thinking I find very useful is called “Outside-In” thinking.  It takes a perspective of looking at an individual, a family unit or an organisation from the outside looking inwards.  Some call it out-of-the-box thinking.  It is a way of thinking that allows us to step outside of the box and get a more objective perspective on how we fit within each of the social units within we operate.

This type of thinking can also be used in a number of different ways.

Firstly, looking at your the key personal relationships that you have with others:

  • How do you, as an individual, relate to those close around you?  Take stock of what has happened in the past year.  What were the good times and what were the not-so-good times?  How can you build on the good and release the not-so-good?  Which relationships require a little kindness to improve the energy between you both?
  • How do the folk that you care about relate to one another?  How could you assist in strengthening those relationships by listening and understanding both perspectives?
  • It can also be a useful tool to work out what presents they would like to receive.  Think about the last few conversations you have had with them.  Who knows?  They might even have dropped some hints!
A small water drop fall on water surface and jump back before the second one to collide with it.
A small water drop falls on a water surface and jumps back before the second one collides with it.

Secondly, it is useful when looking backwards and planning forwards:

  • What events or activities did you lead and enjoy – and how many others shared in your leadership and enjoyment at the time?  How can you build on these activities in 2016?
  • What themes do you want to improve and carry forwards into 2016 and how can they be accelerated by asking for some outside-in help?
  • List out the challenges you face and work out who do you know who could help tackle some of those challenges in a different or disruptive way.
  • Which activities and themes do you want to wind-down or stop – so that you can create more space for those that you want to build.  Who can you offload the activities onto without losing the overall momentum of the theme?

Color-Wheel-in-Chaos-000006203692_Full

Finally, as a tool for improving your business relationships. It is so very powerful when you get direct outside-in feedback from customers, employees, suppliers and business partners:

  • How does the organisation that you work with appear to others?  To customers?  To suppliers?  To those who work for it?
  • What insights can you see that others are blind to?
  • How can you work those into some actions that will help you and the organisation become more effective and be a more enjoyable and rewarding place to work?

So, as we enter the period where we have cleared our desks and are stocking up for the festive season it is worth looking forward to the challenges and projects that we want to take on in 2016 and spend a bit of time thinking outside-in.  I’m sure you will find it useful.  Please do write any thoughts on how else you and others could use this type of thinking.

And good luck to Major Tim and his space travels into 2016!

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To bomb or not to bomb. That was the question.

The arguments raged for ten hours in the House of Commons.  The vote was cast.   The MPs agreed by a sizeable majority that it was a good thing to let the Royal Air Force bomb Syria.  A few hours later, the Tornado Jets were set loose like the dogs of war.

Tornado

The rest of the country stood by like a confused onlooker.  Whatever your beliefs, whatever your fears, however good your knowledge of the situation: none of those would count.  In May, the UK’s democratic system transferred our voting rights for another five years to a bunch of elected MPs to take nearly all decisions on our behalf.  We’ll all get a vote on whether or not we want to stay in Europe – but that will be equally confusing too.  Just like the Scottish No vote last year.

David Cameron’s timing for the bombing Syria vote was lucky.  The Paris atrocities a couple of weeks ago certainly added considerable weight to the case.  His party held the line, and increased a narrow Tory majority by doing whipping deals with selected allies and the vote for the “ayes” was further buoyed-up by the schism in the Labour party.  So the “ayes” had it and the NATO alliance held together because that’s what allies do.  Stick together in hard times.

What other solutions were put forward?  What other creative ideas were framed?  What other, more effective ways of preventing further bloodshed were considered?   What were the real options to stop further escalation the a tit-for-tat of a bomb in a beach resort or another vulnerable European city versus drone attacks and bombing raids on strategic Daesh targets in Syria?

I remember visiting Beirut for a day in 1978.  I was in transit from Egypt to Cyprus.  Middle East Airlines put me up for a free night in a four-star hotel as part of the deal of flying via their country.  It was a great deal for the penniless student that I was at the time.  I took a taxi around the central part of the city on the way back to the airport.  On every street corner there was a burned-out armoured car and a different faction guarding their patch.  Nothing much seems to have changed since then.

The UN Climate Change Conference, which started in Paris this week, has given some hope that we might be reaching a level of consciousness that understands that climate change is going to continue to hit random parts of the world as a knight moves around in a game of chess.  Although ridiculed by some newspapers for his views, I can see the connection that Prince Charles made about climate change causing drought in Syria which in turn causes a shortage of natural resources (like water),  which in turn cause a refugee problem in South Eastern Europe.  The world is so connected now – more than it ever has been, perhaps.  It is the butterfly effect in action.

We need to think differently and organise ourselves differently if we are going to solve the complex problems that the world is currently facing.  I used to think that X causes Y was the only way to think.  I’m not so sure anymore.  Just look at the weather.  Everyone’s weather in the world is apparently affected by changes in water temperature just off the West Coast of South America with the El Niño effect.  And so it is with international politics and relations: everything is connected.

I’m sure computer modelling and technology can help here – but we need a lot more than “big data” and analytics and advanced aerial killing machines directed from many thousands of miles away to solve these problems.  In particular, we need to understand that each of the world’s primitive fragile systems of fresh water, clean air, natural energy resources and inhabitable land are themselves so interconnected that together they will have the greatest impact on the world’s population migration and quality of life of all of us in the coming twenty to thirty years.  Southern Europe is currently under siege from migrants who themselves are refugees from a part of the planet that is fast burning-up.  Areas which have traditionally sustained life, but which can no longer do so.

What to do?  Commentary by analysts simply isolate the issues.  Linking them together does not seem to happen so much.  It might be my associative mind, but the inter-dependencies BETWEEN the systems mean that the gaps between the systems might just hold the answers.  As regular readers will know, one of my favourite expressions is that: “the answer lies in the space between”.

On first glance, it was very encouraging to see Mark Zuckerberg give up 99% of his fortune to charitable causes.  Line up all the rich kids and strip them of 99% of their fortunes.  Job done!  Yet, reading between the lines, the vehicle Zuckerberg will use will be a limited liability partnership (LLP), not a charitable foundation.  The LLP will be allowed to lobby, make a profit and won’t have to give away a pre-determined amount of cash to other charities every year.   Smart man, Zuckerberg.  Maybe he is onto something.

It is time to think afresh about how we take decisions and how we control the excesses – whether they be banking bonuses, lobbying for vested interests or pollution.  Relying on individual human nature won’t solve these problems.  Traditional economically-driven regulation won’t hack the course either.  The current systems are so stuck in the past; they need a complete rethink.

Waging war by throwing deadly flying machines at an enemy who can only fire back with machine guns and suicide bombers will only dig us deeper into the proverbial.  It may well take Zuckerberg, Gates and a few others with purposeful family-centric LLPs to crack many of the problems that our more outdated institutions have failed to solve.

Then again, I suppose that rich families and the dynasties that they create have always ruled the world.  All other structures are impermanent, insignificant or mouthpieces of the ruling classes.  Mr Zuckerberg for President, anyone?

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You Can’t Push String!

After the July/August holiday period, I always enjoy the first week of September.  I see it as the beginning of a new year.  Not the calendar year, nor (in my case) the academic year, but the start of the year for new projects.  People return from asynchronous communication through the holiday period to ramp-up for the more synchronised Autumn/Fall workload.  Like a car moving from third gear to fifth gear or a plane taking off on its flight to the end of the calendar year with a destination ending in a runway towards the next holiday period at the final part of December.  If the financial year starts in January or April, it is the time when new ideas are incubated for the budgeting cycles three to six months out.

With the pick-up in this workload comes the re-prioritisation of relationships.  The number of sales calls I have received in the past few days exceeds those that I had in the whole of August.  In a similar way, the number of calls that I have made to prospective clients to re-open conversations from earlier in the year has also increased.  People are open-minded to new conversations and new opportunities whilst there is a bit of time to play with new ideas.  It is also the start of one of the most busy conference seasons.

All this got me thinking….

What do the following have in common: spam (the email kind), a pushy salesperson and one of those irritating calls trying to sell you some personal accident product you don’t want?

They all involve PUSH.  It is amazing that so many folk still make a living at it when we all know that salesmen don’t SELL: people BUY.  Good sales folk understand timing and cycles and simply line up their products and services so that they are the easiest and most top-of-mind for the prospective customer to pull off the shelf when the are ready to buy.

But it is not quite as simple as that……

Tin Cans

Do you ever remember putting a hole in the bottom of two tin cans and then stringing the cans together with a long piece of string to make a crude telephone?  I often cite this as a useful metaphor for how we might think about the way we communicate with our customers (and suppliers) in business.  It isn’t about ignoring pushy sales folk and only pulling when you are ready.  It’s about something I call “@TENSION”.  Let me explain in terms of a children’s playground with the tin can telephone.

Firstly, there are those kids in the playground that don’t want to play the game at all.  Their attention (@TENSION) is somewhere else.  They are into another game with other kids.  They are not in our game.  So we will exclude them.

Then there are those who are interested in the tin can telephone game.  They pick up one can.  They need someone else on the other end of the string to play with.  So they pull someone from the playground to pick up the other end of the line.

By “feeling the pull”, understanding who is pulling, why they are pulling and how hard they are pulling, we can gain important insights into interest, motivations, demands and communications skills.

Further, by understanding these different aspects of pull, we can seek out those who will play our game and give each other interesting and rewarding experiences.  Given the right amount of “@tension”, new players will respond with delight and enthusiasm – not least because they are being listened to and communicating in ways that are proportionate to the pull that they are giving.  

However, if you pull too hard on their string, you will become an irritant and get dumped.  If you don’t pull enough, the other end of the line will lose interest because they cannot communicate and move onto another string.  I call this “subtle pull”.  You have to pull at roughly the same strength as the other end is pulling.  Appropriate response.  Sufficient @tension for the line.  

You can’t push string.  You can only pull it.  Too much pull from either party and the line breaks.  Oftentimes for good!  

So the next time you think of a customer or supplier or player in your game, just think about an invisible string that connects you to them.  How taught is it?  Is it completely slack?  How much “@tension” has it got?  How much are they pulling?  How much pull should you give “in the moment” to be effective at continuing the conversation?  Who has their ear to the can and who is talking into it?

And at this particular time of the year, how many strings will you tighten.  Will you be listening or speaking?  Can you really manage those ten strings when you could probably be more successful in just focusing on three or four?

So it’s back to school for the children and back to the subtle pull of business relationships for the rest of us!  Good luck with all of your new projects and ventures get the @tension that they deserve!

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Measurement Madness

I met up recently with an old friend. She has decided to give up work in March. The hospital she has worked in for many years as a family therapist was transferred from the private sector to the public sector last year. She is giving up because the (UK) National Health Service (or NHS) that has now taken over the hospital has made the unit a “national asset” and patients are being referred to it from across the country. She can no longer practice as she used to because the patients are disconnected from the families that should support them when they leave hospital care. Costs have also gone up because of the additional remote support that need to be given to both patients and their supporting families.  In addition, she finds the extra “meetings about meetings” and paperwork completely stifling.

It reminded of a similar problem that is embedded within the UK prison system.  It has been proven that offenders are much more likely not to reoffend once they leave prison if they get family support during their term inside. Yet most prisoners are deliberately sent to another part of the country to do their time. Families (often poorer than most) cannot afford regular visits. So the likelihood of prisoners reoffending when leaving prison goes up.

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In each of these cases, I suppose the patient or the prisoner could be seen as the “customer”.  Yet these two state-run systems have been designed without the customer’s requirements (or real needs) in mind. They have been designed at the expense of other measures (such as top-down political targets, reduction in costs etc.)

The current business fads of rationalisation, outsourcing, off-shoring, cost-cutting and factory call-centres seem to have driven traditional sane local business practices and have allowed madness to prevail.

I can’t prove it, but I believe that local, common-sense sanity has to create more flexible, cost effective public services over the prevalent national (or international) managing-by-abstract-measures madness. But that is a very difficult case to prove when big egos, big technology, big politics and big finance have each, in their own way, presented measurement madness as the new religion.

Maybe measurement is, itself, the root cause of the problem. Maybe we should be suggesting a new way to educate the cohorts of ignorant managers and measurers.
Taiichi Ohno would have thought so.  One of his great quotes fits well here:

“People who can’t understand numbers are useless.

The gemba (or real place) where numbers are not visible is also bad.

However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.”

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To Be Open or Not To Be Open? That is the Question!

I was very privileged last year to submit evidence to the House of Lord’s Communications Committee on their report “Broadband for All”.

Below is The Earl of Selbourne’s summary of what needs to be done from his speech on Monday evening when the report was debated in the Lords:

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I join others in thanking the chairman, my noble friend Lord Inglewood, for the way in which he chaired the committee and introduced the debate today. From the speeches that we have heard, it is clear without doubt that the future of our economy will depend to a large extent on our ability to connect to broadband throughout all communities and sections of the population. It is not just about wealth creation and social cohesion. The ability to participate in healthcare and whole tranches of public activity will depend on connectivity. The Government must have a policy, and the Government are right to have a policy, but perhaps, as we have said in our report, they have been preoccupied by one aspect, which is to try to be the leader in Europe on superfast broadband.

The first priority has to be to achieve connectivity. If you have excluded populations, you will have a social divide and a lack of social cohesion. The Government need not worry about speed. That will follow. There are not very often market failures when it comes to cities. I therefore agree with those who have said that to spend money on improving superfast provision in cities is not something that the Government need to worry about if the market can do it itself. But there will be market failure in remote areas, where the costs of pushing out the broadband structure are too great. There will be market failure where the incumbents have an advantage, which inhibits other incomers who can help to provide some of the very many solutions that will be required to get this connectivity to all parts of the population. That is something that we are failing to harness—the undoubted innovation and enthusiasm from local communities, small and start-up companies, all of which would have a contribution to make. We go into some detail in the report. It gets pretty dense, I admit, when we talk about things such as passive optical networks and physical infrastructure access. But this is the key to it.

At the moment, we have what my noble friend Lord Inglewood called “the only show in town” for many rural areas. Whether we like it or not, because it is in the very nature of broadband to have high fixed costs, low marginal costs and great economies of scale, inevitably the incumbents will have a strong advantage. I think that we should be proud of what BT has done. It has improved enormously, by technical innovations, the ability to provide broadband on the existing infrastructure. Of course, it is rolling out broadband at great speed. It says that it hopes to achieve 90% coverage by 2017, but that immediately begs the question as to whether in national terms that is a satisfactory objective. I would certainly say, particularly as I am from a rather remote corner of the rural community and likely to be one of the 10% left out, that it is not satisfactory. So let us see what we can do to achieve that connectivity well before 2017. I do not think that anyone has mentioned yet the 4G mobile broadband technology, which is very soon to be with us and will certainly provide greatly enhanced mobile internet access to areas within adequate connectivity.

There are many different contributions to be made. The case for government involvement and public funds to be deployed rests, as I say, on achieving this reduction of the digital divide. The long-term solution will, ultimately, be fibre to the premises and the home. As others have rightly said, the cost of rolling out fibre to the home is exorbitant. We have a temporary solution, and a good one—the BT solution of fibre to the cabinet. It achieves the objective of reducing dramatically the costs. Usually, you have copper or some other connection from that cabinet. But whether BT likes it or not—it is in something like denial over this—it has the disadvantage that it does not provide open access, as I would understand it. In other words, as a local access network provider, you cannot simply move in with a compatible bit of machinery, stick it in there and do what you are trying to achieve. It is not an open access hub, as we have tried to demonstrate. That is where you come back to the technology of the passive optical network, which is a bit of a fix, as those will know who have read the report with great care. It certainly does not achieve what some of those independent service providers would have hoped for.

I think that the Government should ask quite firmly that, for the next tranche of money, which we hear will come in 2015, there should be proper open access. It is not beyond the wit of man. Clearly, there is no great financial advantage to the incumbents to roll out proper open access, but that is what is needed. If it is what is required, that is what will happen. It must be future proofed. We know that the technology changes dramatically fast. We know that some of the existing solutions, including the cabinet, will not stand the test of time for very long, but the fibre-optic cable will. Ultimately, it will be able to handle this vast amount of information. Therefore, we must make sure that as we improve the broadband infrastructure, we have the ability to upgrade and upgrade. That is why I say that, frankly, the cabinets are not very easily upgraded. You have to go back to the exchanges and think again. That is why we should look on them only as a temporary expedient.

When public money is distributed to extend the commercial network, as is happening at the moment, the Government should insist on the long-term solution. We took evidence from a particularly impressive consultant, Mr Lorne Mitchell, who is setting up a community scheme in Goudhurst, Kent. I think he was the first to put it to me how important it was for local groups to be able to access the middle mile and to get the backhaul back into the infrastructure. He said that the key to the problem is the openness of the middle mile, which is the connection back to the internet. If this can be designed in a way that gives each community a chance to get to one of these community hubs, it would be a massive leap forward. That is precisely what the committee report has tried to promote. I think it makes a lot of sense. However, the government response simply quoted a report which said that it was unrealistically expensive to have hubs in every community, and so it would be if you were to launch it all overnight. However, ultimately, it would be no more expensive than the cabinets. It is the same technology but it is a question of making sure that when you roll out the hubs, you do what you are not doing at the moment with the cabinets, and that is making them available to all. To say that they will cost far in excess of the funds available to the Government at present, as the government response does, simply misses the point. If the Government can fund any hubs such as cabinets or exchanges, they should be accessible to the community and to other providers. This simply requires a change in specification, not a change in the scale of funding.

I hope the Minister will recognise that, however impressive BT’s record of rolling out broadband is—it has, indeed, been most impressive—the interests of the BT shareholder and of wider society, particularly the 10% in rural communities who will remain without adequate connectivity in 2017 if present policies are continued, are not always the same.

There is a much better and fairer way to make the UK’s telecoms infrastructure truly open and competitive – and also give much better value-for-money to the government’s interventions.  The Lords highlighted the way – but the vested interests put a cloud over the path.  Many assume because BT Openreach is called “open”, then it is open.  It is not.  Never has been.  Never will be.  Clever marketing.

open

In spite of many other schemes being “rolled-up” by the BDUK closed scheme where only BT can win, we are letting the Government and the English Counties inject the biggest single donation to BT’s balance sheet in a lifetime.  Definitely not the best way to invest government money.  Definitely not an open debate in the House of Commons on how to do it differently.  Only in the House of Lords.

I am really pleased to say that we were told this week that the Goudhurst Broadband scheme that I presented to the Communications Committee is still going strong – with great support from Kent County Council and our Local Parish Council.  You can find more at one of my other blogs: http://www.goudhurst.net  I also blog about the final 10% (last point above) at http://www.finalninth.com – so for those who wondered what I do outside writing Thursday Thoughts – then this is some of it!

Let’s hope the Lords’ Report continues to be read and championed and that Monday was not the end of the work of trying to develop a new set of really good ideas for next generation internet access distribution for the UK.

Extracted from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldhansrd/text/130318-0002.htm#13031837000212 – Columns 472-475

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Two-Speed Engines and Wonky Gearboxes

I was with a client yesterday and drew attention to a recent article Two-Speed IT: A Linchpin for Success in a Digitized World from BCG Perspectives on how some organisations are being forced split in two with the pressure of the internet.  The BCG paper describes a “two-speed IT” – but in many ways, the IT is only part of it – and BCG have taken the two-speed analogy far further with other thoughts on organisations, economies and governments.

It would appear that, in order to survive, successful organisations now need to have (at least) two speeds or engines  within in them.  One is there to cope with traditional “industrial speed” business and the other need to cope with innovation and customer interactions at “digital speed”.

There is no finer example than Telefonica-O2 – which has recently split itself in to two companies.  One which manages the more traditional “industrial” network and handset business.  The second (called Telefonica Digital) was set up to manage innovation and all the different aspects of interconnecting the network business to new technologies and services.

I’m with O2 – and it was disappointing that even after splitting itself in two, the industrial part of the business, they still managed to knock-out my service for 24 hours in the early summer.  Even more reason to believe in the importance of  creating and adapting organisations so that they can take both the expected and unexpected demands placed upon them.

A better example of success is probably BT’s execution of the Olympic Games.  I am sure the stories will start to come out in the next few months, but I heard at a conference recently that there were over 50 severe attacks on the Olympic Network that could have brought it down – had BT not had the right protection in place.  In the industrial network game, true success normally means not failing!

As many of you know, I like to draw analogies, and I thought that this client that I was working with had a problem of shifting from first gear to second gear.  Somehow, they had all the parts to make very solid machines for the industrial age, but they were not thinking of designing and creating smaller, lighter, more nimble components to put in the small engines of the digital age (for new organisations such as Telefonica Digital).  To use a truck-car analogy, they were still assembling large-scale gearboxes for big trucks – (where each component takes days and weeks to manufacture and assemble) – whilst missing the market opportunity to provide new, smaller gearboxes (or even components) that will allow emerging digital organisations to engage with the bigger industrial engines of the past.

 

 These new gear boxes are going to be smaller, cheaper and faster to assemble.  It might even require a new, separate  organisation to design, market and support them.   The possibilities were very interesting.

So I was charmed by the Queen of Coincidence, when, whilst I was preparing for the client presentation, a good friend, Jo, sent me this brilliant recording of a telephone conversation between a guy who has just bought a BMW with a “wonky gearbox” – Listen and enjoy!

Please click here to listen to the WONKY GEARBOX STORY

Sometimes we simply get this whole technology thing completely wrong by not reading the instruction manual!

 

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Goons, Flying Circuses and UK Comms

At the end of a very busy few weeks, I managed to miss the announcement that OfCom, the UK Communications Regulator had published its annual review of the UK Communications Market.  Just under £30 in paper format, it is free to download online <HERE>.

The summary on page 11 (which I have copied below) for me, says it all:

It is fascinating how many of the things that OfCom measures are moving so slowly: take-up and satisfaction of Digital TV; listening to the radio; Internet penetration and usage and satisfaction; mobile take-up and satisfaction etc. etc.  This smacks of a mature market and a set of industry measures that somehow miss the next wave of development needed to make (some in BT would sake keep) the UK truly competitive.

If the truth that “What gets measured gets done”, I fear that Ofcom sits in a world of complacent self-satisfaction – not challenging itself to measure the key drivers behind the next wave of technology upgrade, not worrying about how to reposition the UK’s digital infrastructure to create jobs and make the UK more competitive, not concerning itself about how to use its extensive skills in economic analysis and drivers to cover the final 25% of the UK population that is not online.  The only new measure is satisfaction on the speed of postal delivery.  Hardly a measure that is ground-breaking!  What about a “new” measure for the speed of traffic in Central London?

With the current very strange (nearing on ridiculous) process that is being run out of DCMS to gather suitable (politically-guided, politcally-correct) evidence for the up-coming Comms Act, neither the Government nor OfCom are creating the right environment to tackle many of the REAL challenges that face the UK comms industry in the next eight years.  Nor are we getting enough debate on the REAL issues so that the government gets the necessary buy-in for the changes.

It was therefore refreshing to attend a seminar run by the Public Services Network Governing Body (PSNGB) on Thursday.  Finally, I can see a new model emerging where the industry (as represented by the PSNGB Trade Association) combined with a part of government (run out of the Cabinet Office) create a new way of working and a new way of thinking about Government ICT procurement.  Excellent organisation, excellent objectives, excellent vision to transform public services so they look like the commercial internet.  The trouble is that we can’t use this network for commercial gain – as Europe has a set of crazy procurement rules – some of which are tying the well-intentioned  DCMS/BDUK programmes up in knots!

Another organisation that I have found that is trying to get some momentum behind the final 25% is the phoenix that has risen out of the ashes of the”Race Online 21012″ campaign.  They have chosen the interesting campaign title of “GoOn” – which many will read as GOON.  I many ways, Monty Python and his Flying Circus would do a better job at getting the UK’s Communications Industry better organised for the challenges that lie ahead in the run-up to 2020.

The current circus is no longer amusing.  The self-satisfaction on measuring things past, the arrogance to think that what is being done now will suffice and the closed-shop thinking being conducted on the Comms Act needs to be challenged loudly.  I wonder if the House of Lord’s review will carry the weight that is needed to rattle the cage?  Or maybe that is simply another act in the Circus?  I hope not.  In any case, it is definitely time for a reshuffle after the Olympics.  The Future of the Telecoms industry needs to be debated and taken more seriously than it has in the past year – over-shadowed by the Olympics, Digital Rights and the Future of Museums.  The only way to do that is to get it out of under DCMS’ brief and move it to a more enlightened part of government – perhaps back to BIS, or, more radically under DCLG, a Ministry for Infrastructure or the Cabinet Office.

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