The public cause

The public cause takes priority over individual needs according to Lieutenant D’Agosto of the New York Police Homicide Division.  Okay, so he is a made up character from the Prendergast series by Preston and Child but is he really speaking the truth?

Life is complicated, at one end lies totalitarianism and at the other liberalism.  Does society need total control or does it let everybody do what they wish? Each of us leans towards one end of the scale or the other.  Of course, as always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle yet the situation is more complicated as each of us is controlling in some aspects and much more free in others.

So does the public cause take priority?  No, not always.  There are some things that the public may want but that will not be good for them in the long term.  Take poverty for example.  Most people will agree that it is a bad thing yet few are happy to give up what they have hard earned for someone who may, from their perspective, have brought their situation upon themselves. As Zobel de Alaya, chairman and chief executive officer of Ayala Corporation said however, ‘We all pay for poverty and unemployment and illiteracy.’  Defining what is good and what is not for the public cause here is very difficult.

We all suffer from something similar at work though on a much smaller scale.  Do we control every aspect of the user’s interaction with the technology we supply or do we take a much more liberal attitude and give them what they want?

In one direction lies lockdown and totalitarian control while in the other lies anarchy and a breakdown in interoperability and security.  The users may want absolute freedom to install and use whatever tools they like yet in the end will be grateful that we don’t let this happen.

All of life is a balance.

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It’s all gone crazy

It’s all gone crazy.  There used to be a time when I could decide to get involved in this and that, go to this meeting and that meeting but not anymore.  Now it is more a question of having to go to this meeting or that meeting or even that meeting.  I am being stretched across too many requirements.

I used to be able to delegate some meetings to my team.  But now they are in the same boat, having to make the same sort of choices.  What used to be a question of could and should is now a question of should or must.  Which things must I go to?

Part of the answer is by asking where I can best use the skills I have.  I do have some.  There are also things that I am not so good at.  I should avoid meetings where those are what is required. I get that, but then some meetings are like gateways.  In order to get where I want to be I have to go to this meeting to be invited to the next.  This is more of a challenge as I have to understand the objectives in the first place and work out the best route to get there.  It is a corporate snakes and ladders. Sometimes you throw the wrong numbers.

So life is not always that simple. Somehow I need to project into the future, be clear about where I want to end up and follow the ladder up the board while avoiding the snakes.  I can look through my diary and agree to stop going here or there but that is not the real trick.  What I need to do is to get it straight in my mind why I spend my time as I do.  Why do I go to the meetings I do?  As I said to one of my colleagues once, ‘Why do you go to meetings you don’t know why you go to?’

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Appropriate channel management

Is channel shift the way to go?  For years now we have been obsessed which moving customer traffic from one channel to another.  Cost has been the driver.  Move your customers from the most expensive channels to lower cost ones, face to face, then telephone and then online.

Clever people have worked out the transactional cost for each channel.  With so many variables I am not sure how they do that but let’s run with it.  Face to face is by far the most expensive.  Or is it?

The most expensive channel is one that provides bad service and loses customers.  The best channel is the one that provides effective customer service and grows the business, assuming that is your objective.  Of course the lowest cost channel is no service it all.  That is where we go wrong.

Channel shift should not be about cost but about service.  We should not aim to move customers to channels for the sake of it but rather towards appropriate service.  We should shift customers to the most appropriate channel, the one that provides the highest quality of service at the lowest cost.

This may be online, maybe by the telephone and maybe through face to face.  It could be that the most expensive form provides the lowest overall channel cost.

Interaction with the customer should be about added value.  They should be seen as opportunities and not overheads.  Service provision should be intuitive and relevant to the customer’s needs.  The truth is that if the service is good enough then the customer will shift the channel themselves.

We need to do away with the term channel shift and replace it with something more appropriate.  It is too manipulative.  It suggests that somehow the provider has the upper hand in the relationship.  They can tell the customers what to do yet in the end it is the customer that is always right.

How about something along the lines of appropriate channel management?

I will never get a job in marketing!

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I never really got BIM.  I said to Charlie that Building Information Modelling didn’t really float my boat.  I thought it was about heating and ventilation, turning the lights on or off, that sort of thing.  A visit to Ryders Architects in Newcastle showed me how wrong I could be.  We were there as one of the regular monthly DynamoNet meetings which follow the Dynamo North East board.

Before I go a bit more into BIM however, I really need to tell you about the building in which Ryders was accommodated.  With these meetings we get to visit some interesting sites and this building has to be one of the most interesting.  Cooper’s Motor Yard is on Westgate Road in Newcastle, to the East of the Central Station and  towards the castle.  It is opposite the railway arches.

It was once a multi storey horse park, yes you read that right, one of the very few remaining in the country.  Horses and carriages  were stacked on three floors just as we do with cars these days.  Space for parking was just as much of a problem as it is now.  The ramps to allow the horses to go up the floors are still in place.  The building was also built on top of the Roman Wall.  Architecture and history were mashed up.

Why then have I change my mind about BIM?  By the way , it is a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places.

Our hosts gave us an overview of some of the projects that they are working on and they opened my eyes to the possibilities of three dimensional modelling.  It allows those involved with buildings to test, plan and make decisions in a safe and low cost environment.  It allows structure to be defined and walked through before a brick is even laid.  (Do they still use bricks?)

They are working on some world-class projects on buildings we would all recognise.  It is a cutting edge technology that makes architecture and business design a high tech art.  They also did some stuff with trains.

I am a BIM convert.

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Greater clarity

I need to provide greater clarity.  I have heard this enough times now to know it’s true.  People are wanting more from me.  I am in a bit of a dilemma though.  I want to be clear.  I want to give enough detail that provides direction but not too much to stifle creative thinking.  Some people’s freedom of thought is somebody else’s restriction of thought.

The trouble is that people are not consistent.  They themselves are not clear.  They interpret what is said to them in different ways.  If you have four people in a room they will come away with five different impressions of what was said.

This is not a bad thing.  It is good that we have different take aways, it makes for more healthy and lively discussions.  Decisions are more rounded.  After all, being different is what makes us human.  We should celebrate diversity of thinking.

It leaves me with a problem however, in that if I provide clarity for one it is highly likely that I will be unclear to others.  By spelling it out for one I will have snuffed the creative spark of another.  It is not an easy problem to crack.

Yet there is beauty in the problem.  As it is impossible to come up with a satisfactory response that meets the needs of everyone then whatever I do will be as good as anything else.  The only bad thing I can do is to do nothing.

What I am going to try and do is to publish more.  We have been working on an Open ICT programme for some time but it is much easier to move onto the next thing than document what has happened.  By publishing more then at least what is happening will be clearer to some.  It also gives the opportunity to those who crave greater clarity to ask more.

Is that clear?

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Apprentice video

I have never liked video.  Appearing in one that is, rather than watching one.  It is not my medium and so when I am asked to get involved I don’t approach it with my usual enthusiasm.  For once the gloss wears off on my type seven personality.  I have only had one successful engagement with video and that was using a professional firm with auto cue.

We are working with a group of local school students.  Their idea is to create a video encouraging more young people to become apprentices.  Guess what.  Yes, here I am standing in front of the unblinking eye, pretending I’m enjoying myself.  This is what I talked about.

I am excited to be working in tech.  Why is that?   These days nothing runs without technology.  In Durham County Council, none of the services we offer could operate as they do without technology.  Technology helps people to do their jobs.  Technology helps people to live their lives

The industry has a lot of exciting jobs to offer and not all of the positions are technical in nature.  Our industry is wide ranging and requires a broad spread of talents. Designers, communicators, analysts, thinkers.  It needs the kind of talents you have.

The issue is though that there are not enough young people wanting to choose ICT as a career and in particular, there are not enough women.

This is where apprenticeships come in.  An apprenticeship is a way of getting into a career while being paid to learn.  Employers benefit by helping their future employees develop.  They improve understanding, they improve engagement and they improve the quality of work.  Apprenticeship are an important part of our approach to recruitment.

Why is all of this important?

Demand for talented people is growing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  It is estimated that ninety per cent of advertised jobs already require some degree of computer, keyboard or screen based ability.

There are now 1.64 million digital tech jobs in the UK, and the digital sector is creating jobs two times faster than other sectors.  The turnover of digital tech businesses reached £170 billion, an increase of £30 billion in just five years

In the North East, we have a very vibrant ICT industry with as many as 50,000 jobs in over 1,300 employers. Digital is a major employer across the North East with some household names such as Sage, BT, Virgin Money, British Airways and Tombola.  Seventy eight per cent of tech businesses in the North East are confident about the future growth prospects.

There are good jobs out there right throughout such organisations, plenty for everyone and a lot to aspire to.  The future is very bright.  The future of the workplace is technology.

The industry needs all of the talents within our society.  It needs to reflect all of its customers.  We need people of all abilities, all skills, all experiences and from all walks of life.  Apprenticeships is a great way of addressing these issues.

Another one for the virtual cutting room floor.

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It’s a broad market

Dynamo North East continues to go from strength to strength. Membership numbers are up and while there are still some big players yet to join, the organisation must represent the majority of employees in the industry across the region.

This years’ conference, Dynamo17, will be held in Durham.  It will be the fourth such conference and moves us from the new kids on the block to something more mature.  I take pride in that, in some small way, I  continue to play a part in its success.

We still have a lot of work to do however. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Simon from the Federation of Small Businesses. He told me that of the one hundred and fifty six thousand businesses across the North East, one hundred thousand operate as sole traders.  If this is true for all businesses then it is likely to be reflected in the tech industry.

There will be many more businesses at the start up end of the market yet with far fewer people. Dynamo has focused quite rightly on the larger corporates.  They are the fabric of the industry in the region.  Our future lies, however in the new entrants.  More needs to be done at this end of the scale.

Janine was at a Tech Nation conference the other today. They were announcing their national report on the state of the digital industry.  One of the presenters, from a small business, was bemoaning the lack of a forum in which he could engage with other companies and build his business.  He was finding it difficult to get his voice heard.  There is a clear hole in the support market here but what it is I do not yet know.

The future of all business, in my opinion, is through collaboration and co-creation.  It is the whole ecosystem that will deliver, big fish and small fry.  All of the big companies were start-ups once.  We need to ensure that the whole tech market can get involved in our movement.

As I said, we have a lot more still to do

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