Elephants revisited

The only obvious elephant in the room was the one in the Dali picture, the one with the naked woman, tigers and a pomegranate (and an elephant). It is a picture that is filled with religious guilt, or am I just being pretentious?

dream-caused-by-the-flight-of-a-beeOur elephant is trust and it would seem we are well on the way to slaying the beast.  Yes, there are still issues to be addressed between the management and leadership but at least they are now out in the Savannah.  That is enough elephant analogies.

We had all met again to try and bring these issues to a conclusion, to try and unmask those things that never get said yet hold us back.  

Dawn had warned me that she was going to introduce some psychometrics into the proceedings.  You see, she knows my mistrust of such tools although it is their misuse rather than the tools themselves that I have an issue with.

Rather than getting us all to work through our own test in splendid isolation we talked through the different criteria that underpin the process and she asked each of us to indicate where we felt we were on the scale.  She gave us an example of what it might mean to be at one end or the other for each of the five criteria.

From this we were able to build up a picture of how different people felt about issues and how we may approach situations from other perspectives.  We were able to recognise who sees the world in a similar way to how we do yet in every example there were no two people who came to the same conclusion in every situation.

Being human means to be different.  It is very difficult for us to be absolutely clear between right and wrong.  Life is a gray scale, as gray as an elephant and it is most important that we recognize our differences in a way that is positive.  We need to celebrate diversity of thinking.

Thanks to Dawn we are scaring away the biggest thing that stands in our way.

Posted in Work stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Technical offshoring

Is offshoring dead?  Has our belief in the ability to drive down costs by exporting work to cheaper economies started to wain?  I am certainly aware of companies who have gone through the process of offshoring only to bring the work back again.

(I’m not talking about Geordie Shore here.  That is something completely different though any company that wishes to  locate in the region and make use of the excellent workforce would be more than welcome.)

This has been particularly true where the exported work was managing the contact with customers.

Many people have felt uncomfortable with the inability of a foreign employee to understand what was being asked or the context in which it is being requested.  Small differences in culture are important and misunderstandings can lead to suspicion of the company’s intent.  Simple things such as referring to women as ma’am don’t go down well.  In truth no company should offshore its customer contact as without it then there is no business.

The economic advantage has proved to be not as great as the economic loss caused by dissatisfied customers moving elsewhere.  Businesses cannot treat their customers as commodities.  

But there is a new offshoring threat emerging.  It does not involve another country or other races of people.  It is the opportunity presented by robotic process automation, or RPA, the ability to offshore work to machines.

Of course this is a story as old as time itself.  Human work has always been replaced by machines that are more efficient, effective and accurate.  Machines may break down but they don’t need a break.  Unlike us humans, machines are comfortable doing the same thing over and over again.  Indeed that is what they do best.

Where humans are doing work of that nature then RPA will replace them.  Their work will be offshored to extraneous industrial and technical environments.  But this is not a dystopian view.  Humans will always be able to do things that machines can’t and technology has ultimately created more jobs than it has deleted.

RPA is coming fast and it is its pace of change that is the biggest threat to the way that we work.

Posted in Work stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social care

These are the times of social care.  It is one of our main topics of conversation.  With an ageing population, a growing dispersal of the family and the continuing downward pressure on finance it is an issue that is going to run and run.

The proportion of the elderly is getting greater and greater.  By the end of the century in the United Kingdom, the number of working-age adults for each person 65 or older will drop from 3.6 to 1.6.  Who is going to pay for all of the services?  

It is not young people that are causing the surge in population.  There are as many young people now as there were in the middle of the last century.  The percentage growth in the elderly population is huge, especially in men.  

At a recent North East ICT Managers’ meeting, five of the authorities were in the process of replacing the social care systems.  Two of the authorities were not there and so it could have been more.  It is a bonanza for the system suppliers.

Yet the market for suppliers is tight.  The legislation and control that surrounds the social care market in the UK is highly complex which has led to a high cost of entry for anyone wanting to pitch in with a new system.  This has meant that choice is restricted and that the market is effectively broken.  I am not suggesting that the products on offer do not do the job, they clearly do but rather that their customers are left really it a Hobson’s choice.  Take one or the other.

There needs to be more choice within the social care applications market, with more players who can occupy niche positions and bring greater innovation to what is one of our most pressing social issues.

Posted in Work stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skills skills skills

Digital skills is an interesting issue.  There is definitely some sort of problem yet it is difficult to define. It is a subject that certainly got the juices flowing at our latest Socitm meeting.  We followed our usual format starting off with an industry view from John at Amazon Web Services.  This was followed by Gren from South Tyneside and David from Sunderland University.  Industry, authority and academia.  A triptych of opinion.

Amazon’s approach was very much along the lines of taking the technical out of the process, making it as easy as possible for its users to interact with their service.  Gren talked about the large number of activities that are going on across the region to improve digital skills across all ages, while David talked about digital behaviours rather than skills.  His is an interesting view in that interest comes before skills. You learn  to drive because of where you will be able to go rather than for the mental and physical stimulation.  The same should be true of the digital world.

After the three presentations, a lively debate ensued.

So do we have a digital skills shortage, or do we instead have a digital behaviours shortage?

I see that there is an advert out for the first Chief Digital Officer for London.  The successful candidate will convene GLA officials, the Smart London Board, local authorities and the technology sectors to encourage collaboration and adoption of common standards around data and service transformation.  

I smiled at the advert as the role is advertised as a permanent role yet digital is not a thing but rather a collection of ideas and ideals.  I doubt digital can ever be described as permanent.  Two hundred years ago would there have been an advert for a Chief Steam Officer?

In some ways I think we are focusing on the wrong end of the stick.  It is the digital behaviours of our people that we should be addressing.  By improving demand, people will see the opportunity and a market for skills will be developed.

Posted in Work stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There is nothing more important than culture

I have had a good run on my blog recently.  I don’t know why.  I just try to do my thing. May this year is already as good as last year in terms of numbers of reads but I mustn’t let these things get to me.  I write for the pleasure and not necessarily to be read.  (If I keep telling myself this, I may one day believe it.)

So Thinking Digital is over for another year.  It is going to take me a little while to absorb everything that I heard and saw.  There was probably too much for a brain of my size.  This year was one of the best, a classic perhaps, with such a variety of speakers and subjects.  Informative entertainment is a heady mix.

In the first session there were two speakers, both very commercially oriented and both from organisations that I was well aware of, Mark Mullen, the CEO of Atom Bank to which we had provided the original circuitry so that they could get going and Darren Jobling, the digital innovator behind ZeroLight, who I have met through my work with Dynamo.

Both gave fascinating insights into how their businesses tick, the differing issues or challenges that they face and the markets in which they operate.  Both were very clear about the objectives of their organisations and were prepared to turn down potential clients that did not fit in with their plans.  That was all very interesting but not what pricked my attention.

Both talked about the culture of their organisations and how this was the most important factor in their success.  Having the right people, with the right ethos and the right values ranked above all other attributes.  I knew that and have been working tirelessly in this arena for many years yet changing cultures is hard.  Their tasks were not easy.  Developing and maintaining a culture is a continuous process yet both were able to start afresh.

Darren said that the three most important aspects to consider were the plan, the people and the culture.

Although the organisations were growing and transforming they had the ability to pick and choose the people that they wanted.  Mark told us that you are better not to fill a vacancy than to fill it with the wrong person, or as he put it ‘You are better to have a hole than an arsehole.’  He went on to add that you have to care about the people you work with otherwise how can you expect them to care for your customers.

They were both great to listen to and their thinking about organizational culture resonated very much with mine.  I guess I am not alone then.

Posted in Work stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking Digital ten years on

This is Thinking Digital’s tenth year.  I know people who have been to them all yet I am not one of them.  I forget how many I have been to.  It may be as many as seven.  Herb Kim has done a fantastic job in bringing together what is the must go to tech event, certainly in the North East, if not the world.  If you haven’t been then you must put it on your bucket list.

So what is it about?  As Herb says himself, it is very difficult to describe but basically it is a collection of people telling us about the fantastic things that they are either doing or are thinking about.  It brings together big thinkers from around the globe.  

For me, however, it is a holiday for your brain.  While you sit, watch and listen your mind can go wandering to fantastic and wondrous places.  You come away with an odd mixture of feelings, somewhere between elation and inadequacy.  You find yourself wondering what the heck you have done with your life.

There is so much in Thinking Digital to blog about but I want to start with one of the conference’s defining features, the mixture of technology and the creative arts.  Anyone who has read my blog will know that this is one of the things that is most exciting me at the moment.  The work that Jason Legget has been doing with Creative Fuse springs to mind.

This year’s conference brought us the talents of Di Mainstone, Artist Experimenter, who creates sculptures, devices and installations inspired by the movements of the human body.   Her work on the Human Harp, an instrument that clips to suspension bridge cables, enabling us to hear and play a bridge’s song, blew me away.  You can check it out at: http://humanharp.org/

Di’s slot reminded me of those of LJ Rich and Nathalie Miebach from previous events.  I am in awe of people who can see and imagine the world in a different parallel to the one which I occupy and I am grateful to Herb and the Thinking Digital team for bringing them to a wider audience.

I am already looking forward to Thinking Digital 18.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is this the price we pay?

The last few days have been bad for decent people and good for cyber criminals.  The world has witnessed one of the biggest cyber attacks with the release of Wanna Decryptor or WannaCry and its subsequent variants.  The cyber-attack has hit more than 200,000 victims in 150 countries and the Europol chief, Rob Wainwright warned of an ‘escalating threat’.

It has been an interesting weekend for ICT departments, especially those with XP and Windows 2003 kit still in use.  As the dust settles arguments have already started over why the necessary investment in patching and equipment upgrades has not been made. It is human nature to blame everyone else first and the finger pointing and accusations will go on for some time.

I want to take this opportunity to raise a different question though.  Is cyber crime the price we pay for internet freedom?

Does all the good that we derive from the Internet come with a price to pay.  In all societies which seek greater liberty there are people who will abuse the freedoms and privileges that come with it.

As Yin and Yang, the shady side and the sunny side, is illustrated from the Tao Te Ching:  When people see things as beautiful, ugliness is created.  When people see things as good, evil is created.

And closer to home in Isaiah 45:7 in the King James Bible:  I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil.

There will always be people who take the opportunity to exploit others’ weaknesses and the latest ransomware is just another example.  Our reaction however should not be one of horror and revenge.   We should not jerk our knees and allow the authorities greater powers of intervention in one of the greatest inventions of humanity.  Instead we should learn our lessons.

WannaCry will make the Internet safer, ultimately. It will put personal data under greater protection, ultimately and it will allow the further development of BitCoin, the only global currency that lies outside the control of a nation state.  These must be good things, ultimately.

Evil is not good and should be resisted yet it is an undeniable part of human nature.  The answer to my question then is yes, this is the price we pay for liberty on the Internet.

Posted in Work stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment