Future of Work: Information Technology

Personalization with Big Data


Back in the 1900s (1991 to be precise), I trained in a database marketing type of boot camp. I worked on American Express (AMEX), managing it’s Gold Card direct marketing efforts. Amex, a leader in personalizing printed communications, had created its most successful program when it highlighted in the direct mail pieces that someone was a “Member since XXXX.” Yes, membership had it’s privileges. But also, for American Express, this personalization triggered a lift.

Show me what you got

Now it’s 20+ years later. And while 2013 was the year of Big Data in the back office where companies tried to set up the proper infrastructure and human resources to be part of this phenomenon, 2014 will be the year to personalize Big Data on the screen.

Of course, the term personalization has many meanings to many people. For the purposes of this blog, I am focusing on ‘the content on the screen.’ Customizing what the user reads and sees will be the challenge, especially because a responsive design approach still requires careful consideration about what is personalized on a tablet versus an iphone.

Big Data will be operationalized

With personalization being a key theme in 2014, marketers will need to get their hands dirty and truly understand the different categories in their customer database. They need to design their digital platforms with their database in mind, knowing that different areas of the screen can pull in content from both the customer and product database. For example, Amazon pulls in two different types of data based on my purchase behavior: books on digital marketing, which I am interested in, and children’s videos, which I access every night via their Instant Video. Their customer database might carry just the title name, the author and the price. The assets for that information would be in a product database. The two need to work closely together on the screen.

Every day, Netflix and Amazon demonstrate their ability to leverage this kind of data to talk to their customers on an individual and personal level. Sometimes, I think they could go a step further in personalizing info on the page, especially because one of the big battle grounds in 2014 will be same day delivery. Amazon and Wal-Mart can incorporate GPS data to determine potential offline purchases or product drop off points.

Intuit’s 2013 Turbo Tax product offers a nice personalized solutions for its loyal members. It automatically transfers returning customer’s personal information and prior year tax return data, including wage and salary information from their employer, and then adapts itself based on that information to splash screens and questions that are not relevant to their specific tax situation. The company leverages all the valuable preexisting info that sits in its databases.

Size doesn’t matter

Smaller and medium size companies need to take their old school ‘face-to-face’ approach to the next level and personalize more than just ads or emails. They need to personalize at all touch points, including customer service, Skype, Hangouts, etc.

It’s important to remember that having the largest dataset or most sophisticated database will not guarantee an effective personalization program. It requires testing out and knowing what data elements will motivate a customer or partner to take an action.

Getting under the hood

Here are simple steps to get you started:

  1. Assume any data element in your customer or product database can be used to personalize information on the screen.

  2. Identify the type of tribes/segments who will visit your site or your app (or even call customer service).

  3. Prioritize a list of 3 CTAs (call to action) you want each of these segments to take when they use your product/site.

  4. List out the information you want to display on screen.

  5. Map out these info elements for multiple screens (Tablets, Smartphones, etc.) because you can’t share the same information on a smartphone as you can on a PC.

  6. Confirm these data elements are stored in your database(s) and if not, plan on capturing and storing them.

  7. Work with your designers and programmers to determine how many characters, picture size, etc. you can fit on the page.

  8. Work with your analytics team to set up the proper tracking

  9.  Remember: Start simple. You don’t need to personalize each area on the screen.

  10. Also remember, give your marketing team a basic course in database marketing.

Training Marketers on how to leverage their customer and product databases will take time. The more they can understand about how data can be pulled from a system and displayed on a screen, the more effective they will be in selling their products and services. This will take time. This will require marketers to get their hands dirty, get under the hood, and understand more than the fundamentals of big database marketing. This is true even if they work outside Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley.

The question is: Do they have the desire to acquire this skill set?


Adoption ‘Technology’ Curve for Small Businesses

When building a new community or functionality on a social network, one of the first questions I ask is ‘tell me about the people who will use it.‘ I want to learn more than just their demographics, their psychographics or even what we called at Intuit, their firmographics (how many employees are at the company, how much revenue have the generated, or their occupation such as purchasing agent or IT professional).

And I also want to know where on the technology adoption curve the target audience(s) reside. And I want to know about the words and phrases they use in their ever day business.

A few years ago, when we introduced Podcasts on the Intuit Community website, nobody clicked on the word ‘podcast.’ So we did some tests in usability and learned that our users — who tend to be older and not residing on the cosmopolitan coasts of the USA — didn’t know what that term meant. Instead, we learned that they related better to more common phrases, such as Radio-on-Demand, so we used that term. We also learned (a few years ago) that they had no idea what a blog was and they had no interest in blogging.

So, it’s important to understand where your users (the people) are on the adoption curve.

As the above chart shows, Geeks started using Blogs a lot sooner than Small Businesses. Sound obvious, right?

It was until we started talking to people that manage online communities and social media activities. At that time, everyone wanted to build a blog, write a blog, and ‘do the blog.’ But we resisted at Intuit because our typical Small Business owners were not ready at the time. Today, they might just be ready. However, Business.com recently did a survey listing out the top social media tools for different vertical/industry segments. And at the top of some of the lists were Webinars. Who knew that something so old web school could still be popular?

I am working on compiling a list of examples like the ones above. So, feel free to send them my way.

Future of Work Interview: John Kennedy, SVP of Corporate Communications, IBM

Some shy away from IBM, but throughout my Internet career, I have found them to be a loyal business partner. In 1996, for example, I partnered with “Big Blue” to create the first multimedia backend database used on the Internet. At Borders.com, we used the IBM’s infrastructure to sell books, music and video. For our site, IBM leveraged their earlier work with Vatican Library, which houses some of Western civilization’s most ancient and precious documents. IBM technology has helped them dramatically extend library use to scholars around the globe. At the time, this collaboration was unprecedented and helped make a precious collection of medieval manuscripts accessible via the Internet

I like the fact that IBM has been using culturally significant projects to stretch the boundaries of technology for generations. My Future of Work research is as much a cultural project as it is an exercise in individuals every day experiences from from the digital trenches ™.

With this in mind, I reached out to John Kennedy, IBM’s VP of Corporate Marketing. John oversees IBMs global branding and marketing programs. He has some good insights on the major transformation going on in the world of C-Suite members.

CMO’s: the new C-Suite leaders with a new set of challenges

Kennedy explains that CMOs increasingly find themselves the C-Suite leader as they are expected to convert mountains of social data into valuable information for their companies in order to create new relationships or enhance existing ones. This places the CMO in a different role with new set of challenges. Kennedy listed the top four:

  1. Managing the explosion of an overwhelming amount of data
  2. Navigating Social media/ Making Social Media compatible with existing technologies
  3. Standardizing/ Simplifying/ Managing/ Facilitating proliferation of channels and devices
  4. Marketing to individuals, not to broad demographics

This requires CMO teams to have better analytical and technical skills, especially when it comes to defining something as important as customer lifetime value. Companies that are in more transactional-based industries, such as banking, airlines, and retail, have historically done a better job in these areas.

CMO’s can use analytics to reach customers

Today’s marketers are just beginning to use analytics to answer customer specific questions while harnessing insights to drive better results. Kennedy states:

“Marketing departments put a much bigger premium and emphasis on marketers who are comfortable with data…and can use data as a way to make decisions about reaching their customers.  Analytics can bring a greater degree of discipline and rigor to marketing.”

As Big Data emerges as a prized asset for organizations, corporate marketing is suddenly becoming the wealthiest and perhaps the most influential part of the C-Suite. According to Kennedy, “Big Data, led by the CMO, is not only driving marketing activities, but also increasingly influencing product development, supply chain, and virtually every strategic area of an organization.” Historically, some of these areas are part of the CIO’s bailiwick. We’ll discuss the significance of this below.

Kennedy has seen his clients participate more and more in content, application, and software development, leading to the rapid transfer of company’s budgets to marketing departments. Ironically, this infusion of dollars has not made it any easier to determine ROI. Roughly half of the 1,700 CMOs surveyed in an IBM study felt insufficiently prepared to provide real ROI numbers. They admitted the difficulty of proving value.

By 2017, a CMO will influence IT spending more than the CIO.

As a recent Gartner report points out, this transformation will mean that by 2017 the CMO will have greater control of the IT budget than the CIO. Marketing budgets will grow 7-8% over the next 12 months, which is 2-3 times that of IT budgets. Despite this increased power, CMOs readily admit they lack IT skills. While 79% of CMOs expect high or very high levels of complexity in their jobs over the next five years, only 48% feel prepared to deal with it.

CIOs know their role is changing and this transformation goes beyond surrendering  influence to their marketing counterparts. Kennedy states that CIOs are also “breaking through the firewall mentality of a slow approval process and realizing that securing all aspects of technology can’t keep up with the world of Facebook and Twitter.” Their priorities are changing too. According to a Fall 2011 IBM CIO Study, their main focus is business intelligence and analytics followed by mobile solutions.

Just as IBM practically invented the discipline of the CIO in the 1950s, “Big Blue” is now helping IT move from the back office to the front office.

CIO + CMO = the new C-Suite power team

Given this new realignment for both the CMO and CIO, Kennedy warns that neither can afford to go it alone or operate in separate silos. To succeed, they’ll have to forge an alliance as a new C-Suite power team, who can deliver business results through innovation and efficiency. Unfortunately, this type of collaboration is still the exception and not the rule. CMOs can re-imagine their roles with next-generation skills, expanded peer networks, and transformative tools and technologies, while CIOs can lend their expertise in enterprise IT integration and expand their horizons further outside the firewall.

The link between a company’s culture and its brand

My discussion with Kennedy also focused on how companies need to change their approach to branding. He emphasized, “Every employee impacts that brand and every action communicates something about the brand. Consumers are not making a distinction between what marketers are saying, what the brand represents to them, and what their actual experience is with a product. In the same way that marketers have more transparency and visibility to the person, markets and audiences have more transparency and visibility to the company.That’s to say, markets, audiences, and customers can quickly see when there are gaps between what a company may promise in its brand and what they actually deliver.  There can no longer be any daylight between what a brand promises and the reality becomes behind the firewall.  Customers want to know how the company really operates, what the company’s practices are, and what the brand stands for.

Since customers track organizational behavior more closely than ever before, marketers realize that a brand’s image comes not only from its products or reputation but also from the culture of the company itself. Companies need to recognize the profound influence that employees have on their own brands as part of their marketing portfolio. As a result, marketers are now discussing more how a company should shape its own culture. They are leading these discussions and playing a more collaborative role in the C-Suite meetings.

Kennedy points out, “It’s important that <a company’s> character and brand come together. If there are any gaps, they will come out in the social sphere because the brand is a culmination of everyone’s behavior online–especially in social networks. Each process of delivering a product, such as supply chain activity or how someone answers the phone at the call center, really matters.” Kennedy astutely points out that when there are gaps or inconsistencies (e.g., how people talk about the company or dissatisfied employees), this will find its way into the social sphere.

The Influence of Social Media: Customers speak and marketers listen

Kennedy says social media have become a testing ground for whether marketers are keeping their promises. People turn to their Facebook friends, price-scanning apps and video downloads to voice their opinions about brands within their own groups and to the world at large. In essence, social media has become a new channel between brands and their customers—but one where the customers are broadcasting and the marketers are listening. In turn, brands are using social media and Big Data analytics technology to better comprehend their markets and understand customers as individuals.

Here are Kennedy’s recommendations for creating an authentic and consistent brand and culture:

  • Develop an acute understanding of your company’s reputation by actively listening and engaging in social media
  • Systematically close the gaps between your company’s unique character and its reality—in all critical interactions.
  • Champion tools that connect the organization and implement platforms that enable employees to delight customers.
  • Ensure that systems are in place to manage the risks of being a social business.

Kennedy ended our discussion with some specific recommendations for CMOs, such as:

  • Marketers need to develop greater technical expertise and analytic skills
  • Marketers need to partner with CIOs who are moving from the back office to the front office. This shift is being influenced by marketers’ increased control of budget and decisions.
  • Marketers need to include CMOs in their discussions and planning to ensure consistency across the organization
  • CMOs convert mountains of data on a company’s culture. Since this can directly impact the brand, a well thought out plan needs to be in place  (for building the brand).

Transcript for John Kennedy Interview






Thought of the Day (Saturday):

I just realized how much my weekend mornings have changed. I no longer subscribe to any newspapers (print or digital!)Hard to believe for a newspaper man like me. I am not your typical newspaper man. I am neither a journalist or a writer, rather I am someone who has worked in a few newspaper trenches. In an earlier blog, I talked about handling the type setting of  a newspaper I started in college. During those years, I also worked at a small paper called the Cape Codder, (which has been bought by a company that has a weird name, wickedlocal.com, and just a website) where I hand-collated newspapers. (Hand collating is the lost art of getting paper cuts and is such a lost art that there’s no Youtube video demonstrating how to do it. The closes I came was finding this video on hand collating post cards on basketball players and teams)

This was before big machines could do some of the heavy lifting and integrating of newspaper sections. But those days are long gone, and soon publications will probably disappear.

I am reminded of publishers and printers fear of the future and their desperate behavior each day. Especially  whenever it becomes time to renew. I usually wait until they have contacted me four or five times because by then, they only charge $10 for a year subscription. This morning it was Time magazine’s turn. Last week it was Popular Science, one of my favorite magazines. As David Carr, a well known writer for the New York Times pointed out a few months ago “There are smart people trying to innovate, and tons of great journalism is published daily, but the financial distress is more visible by the week.” This problem exists for both newspapers and magazines.  Some savvy traditional printers, such as RR Donnelly, however, realize that the need to expand into other types of publishing businesses. They have purchased a self-publishing website and a technology that has an online payment systems for publishers.

While I am clearly not the first person to write about this phenomenon, I am amazed about how many people in the business seem to be fighting this trend. And by the lack innovativeness. Most magazines on the iPad look like the editors can’t think out of the box and are literally taking the same things that worked in the old days and trying to repurpose their content for a new medium. And then there’s the pricing issue. Some are keeping the same price for print and just throwing in ‘digital platforms’ as freebees for their users. Where’s the creative thinking here? We seem to be grasping for old straws.

As Barron’s Online columnist Howard R. Gold recently explained: “A crisis of confidence has combined with a technological revolution and structural economic change to create what can only be described as a perfect storm… [P]rint’s business model is imploding as younger readers turn toward free tabloids and electronic media to get news.”

This trend is also being seen with radio and television news. What gives?

Maybe there’s a bigger issue here. And that’s the skepticism of the 21st Century. The ink is really drying up for ‘print.’ A recent study of the news industry by the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the Southern California found that most internet users have limited trust in the information they find online and the sources that provide that information. “Only 40% of users said that most or all of the information on the Internet is reliable – a decline from 55% in 2000.”

Ah, that trust word again. How do you build trust?

Today’s Thought: The future of the public library

As a roaming consultant, I often do my best thinking (or my writing) at the local public library. Each time I sit in front of a stack of books, I wonder about what will become of these community hubs in the coming years. After all, the usage of traditional books is decreasing rapidly.

(I have also been a frequent user of public libraries since I was a kid. Especially when I studied at Vassar College, which is considered one of the nicer ones in the country. I also like the scene in the movie, Beautiful Mind, when Nash writes mathematical equations in chalk on a window pane).


According to this week’s Pew Research Study on Libraries, Patrons and eBooks “12% of Americans ages 16 and older who read e-books say they have borrowed an e-book from a library in the past year.” I assume this number will probably more than double in the next year or so. Some big obstacles include:

  • people are not aware that library lend out ebooks
  • Some of the most avid library users report they are going to library branches less and using the library website more for book and audio downloads. Additionally, patrons’ browsing is moving from in-library catalogs to online searches of library websites. As a result, “routine” traditional library interactions between patrons and librarians are receding in some places as interactions shift to online communications and downloads. (Pew Research)
  • some parents are concerned about using potentially dirty or used books, so they don’t even use the library (my opinion)
  • libraries tend to attract older and young folks and not so much 25-45 year olds, the sweet spot for the adoption of new technologies

The first point is really interesting because most libraries do lend out ebooks. Many people are not tapped into all the great things a library offers, especially when it comes to ebooks. Some of Pew’s findings include:

  • 58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services.
  • 55% of all those who say the library is “very important” to them say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 53% of all tablet computer owners say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 48% of all owners of e-book reading devices such as original Kindles and NOOKs say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 47% of all those who read an e-book in the past year say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
One of the challenges people face is the list of available titles is smaller and/or a long waiting list. While it might cut into a publisher’s profits, I am not sure why they wouldn’t want to get rid of the waiting lists by providing unlimited e-inventory to libraries. There’s definitely a difference between owning and renting a book title, so it would be interesting to see how much that would impact their sales. Or maybe you make it a pay-to-rent for a week model! Or maybe there’s more value add (content) if you end up buying the book. Maybe ebook borrowers end up buying books. Among those who read e-books, 41% of those who borrow e-books from libraries purchased their most recent e-book.
People definitely want to learn more about how to rent eBooks:
  • 46% of those who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow an e-reading device that came loaded with a book they wanted to read.
  • 32% of those who do not currently borrow e-books say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to take a library class on how to download e-books onto handheld devices.
  • 32% of those who do not currently borrow e-books say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to take a course at a library in how to use an e-reader or tablet computer.

Why is this important? In a Free-Agent economy, it’s important to find alternative places to work besides to rented office space, Starbucks or the back room in an apartment. I am always surprised that traveling 1099ers do not use the library more.

Something I have wondered about — especially when I am at the Presidio Library in San Francisco – what libraries will look like in the coming years. And what role will they play in society. Will they become more like a Starbucks without the coffee? Personally, I would take our local library and do just that. Make it a place for people to study, work and hang out. After all, most of the hard cover books I take out are sent from other libraries and I just use my local library as a place to pick it up.

Libraries like our US Postal Service need to change.




Future of Work: Interview with Jim Spohrer: Director, Global University Progams at IBM

Recorded on June 1st, 2012, and written up on Virgin America Flight 27 NYC to San Francisco on June 18, 2012

With the Service economy playing an ever-increasing role in both our professional and personal lives, I wanted to focus part of the Future of Work project on people like Jim Spohrer from IBM. Jim is a computer scientist who is leading the development of a new science of service systems, often known as Service Science, Management and Engineering. He is helping companies figure out how to turn “service” into a science. In his role as Director of IBM Global University Programs, he developed curriculum guidelines in this area for universities around the world.


Jim has an interesting background:

I have studied physical systems, technological systems and now social systems, or what we call service systems, which consist of people and skills and technology and business models. I studied the evolution and transformation of complex service systems and how to best scale up innovations that can improve quality-of-life in cities worldwide, resulting from university-driven regional economic development. Smarter cities and smarter universities are fascinating types of service systems to study these days.

I felt Jim could provide some real insight into the current transformation going on in the knowledge economy. To get us started, I wanted to focus on what really is ‘”the science of service systems,” which is a term that most of my clients are not familiar with. Jim highlighted the shift from automating work in agriculture and manufacturing to a more service-oriented approach to knowledge work in the future:

You can think of business-to-business service; analytics; software-related service. Most people have the misconception that the service economy is dominated by low-value jobs, and in fact the low-value jobs, just like in agriculture or the manufacturing, are being largely automated out of existence (e.g., retail checkout) except for a few, and most of the growth is in the high-value service economy, and that includes, you know, government, healthcare, education, business service, and so forth. … If we want to get better at service innovation, then we’re going to have to approach it scientifically.

In the service economy, the new science of service systems impacts how a company competes, cooperates, learns, and improves. Most organizations fail, but some do not and that is interesting to study. Equally interesting is the societal context of these organizations, and what defines progress and improving quality-of-life in cities around the world. The study of service systems provides insights into why organizations fail and succeed, and how cities and regions, in spite of this organizational turnover, can improve innovativeness, equity, sustainability, and resiliency generation over generation. Not surprisingly, smarter cities and smarter universities are key types of service systems, along with smarter businesses and smarter families as service systems.

One of the key requirements is developing what IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown, originally called T-Shaped* individuals, who are deep in a particular discipline but have broad communication skills across many different disciplines and systems. (Brown summarized the T-shaped interview in an interview with XX: Brown summarized the T-shaped individual: The vertical stroke of the “T” is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. That can be from any number of different fields: an industrial designer, an architect, a social scientist, a business specialist or a mechanical engineer. The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. It is composed of two things. First, empathy. It’s important because it allows people to imagine the problem from another perspective: To stand in somebody else’s shoes. Second, they tend to get very enthusiastic about other people’s disciplines, to the point that they may actually start to practice them. T-shaped people have both depth and breadth in their skills.)

As Spohrer stated, “you can take specialization too far, and if you specialize in one competence, either as an individual or as a city, and that one thing is disrupted – if you don’t have the breadth, you can’t be adaptive to the new opportunities.” Spohrer highlighted the importance of these individuals to our future success. Even corporations who have historically been thought of as manufacturers need to adopt this approach and think about service.

In the old days, Rolls Royce would sell an airline a jet engine, and the airline would use that jet engine, and that was a typical, you know, manufacturing company making a sale to a customer—an airline. These days, however, Rolls Royce is able to create more value by leasing the jet engines to the airlines. So, Rolls Royce has a command center where they can see all the jet engines—what altitude they’re flying at; how much fuel they’re using; whether there’s any anomalous vibration. According to Jim,

This shift from selling products to selling service & solutions goes along with IBM’s notion of a smarter planet, customers refer to buy outcomes and solution, not things. A customer really wants a 1/4” hole (outcome), not a 1/4” drill (product). With these smarter service systems that configure products to create service outcomes —you look how the customer is using your product(s), and offer more services, maintenance, support, help for the customer. You leverage the information you have about how other customers use it, you leverage information you have about how other customers want to make it better.

Spohrer points out that in our more instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent – smarter planet, “It doesn’t make sense to just sell the product and lose connection with the customer.” Therefore, it is imperative to develop a long-lasting relationship with the customer. Companies want to ”maintain information flows coming from the product, so that you can offer services to help the customer get more value from that product.”

Certainly, IBM knows a bit about transforming an organization from a purely product-oriented entity to a service-oriented powerhouse. In the 1990s, IBM made a conscious decision to focus on the IT services business and the embrace of the Internet, both of which probably saved the company. The challenge today, however, is that customers demand different types of services, such as teach me and I will it DIY (do it yourself); or “outsource” it and just create the right checks and balances to ensure a positive return. This entails really understanding the customer more scientifically, and understanding what opportunities there are to co-create value with the customer.

We also talked about how anything can be automated and Jim recommended reading Erik Brynjolfsson at MIT who has written some great material about how automation is impacting all types of jobs – even the knowledge-intensive jobs. And when services get automated, labor will have to move onto another task or project. This is why have T-shaped individuals are so important. They have to be adaptive and flexible to take on new work. This requires the employee to embrace lifelong learning to keep up with the rapid evolution of technology. (One of the reasons I really enjoyed talking to Jim is that he too is clearly a lifelong learner. He confirmed this at the end of his interview saying “I’m a voracious reader, so I try to use my Kindle Fire and download may eBooks. I downloaded three before my last trip a week ago, that I looked over on the flight.”)

Spohrer focused on the driverless car, something that has been in the press recently due to Google’s development in this area, as an example of a new technology impacting how we work and live. So, if these vehicles are safer due to better reaction time, Jim asks, “How will that impact the insurance industry?”. If you are being driven by a robot to work, your can be more productive along the way. Other industries from building construction, to product manufacturing to education will change. Spohrer mentioned innovations, such as 3D printing and Online Learning (another passion of mine) to “individuals and institutions need to become more adaptive to the opportunities as technology works its way through these different type of service systems, as we would say from a service science perspective.”

We then focused the conversation on education. He pointed out that universities have three missions:

  • Mission 1: Knowledge transfer, which is teaching, and that’s being really disrupted more and more by online education and new business models.
  • Mission 2: Knowledge creation, which is basically research.
  • Mission 3:, which rarely gets discussed, ‘applying knowledge to create value” – think start-up companies. Universities need to be thought of as incubators for entrepreneurs. Spohrer mentioned the University of Utah has been a leader in terms of startups and regional economic value being created from startups, surprisingly rated #1 in the US for two years in a row, ahead of MIT, Stanford and others.

(Note: There has always been a lot written about Stanford University’s close relationship to Silicon Valley, but lately, my local press has questioned whether the university is too motivated by this business relationship vs. giving students an education. In fact, the University conducted a research study on this last year. See Ken Auletta’s New Yorker article that focuses on Stanford University’s close relationship to Silicon Valley)

There is a big difference between a tobacco compny funding research to “prove” that smoking is healthy, and a company lending its employees to guest lecture and teach at a university about solving real-world problems, or supervising student team working on real-world grand challenge technical and social problems that society is experiencing. We have to get smarter about thinking about the triple helix – academic, industry, government collaboration to solve grand challenges that can improve quality-of-life in cities worldwide.

The explosion of online learning will increase student enrollment and decrease the cost of knowledge transfer. Spohrer believes this will also lead to an increase in faculty time spent on the research and innovation mission of universities, and in applying knowledge to create value the entrepreneurship mission of universities. As a result there will be more focus on entrepreneurship and incubators and regional innovation at the university level. As a result, there will be more partnerships formed amongst Universities, Governments, and Corporations. This was one of the key items cited in IBM’s recent 2012 CEO Study, which mentioned the importance of establishing new types partnerships. (This report is a must read!). IBM plays the role of a scale-up partner in these relationships, where an innovation is created in one region, and then scaled-up for other parts of the world.

Jim provided some guidance on how governments and educational institutions can work together to accelerate the growth of the service economy:

First of all one needs to appreciate the growth of service economy. It is a reflection of how well we have learned to use technology to improve labor productivity in agriculture and manufacturing. As a result there is growth of people and organizations augmented by technology that interact to co-create value with others… Technology advances also mean a growth of self-service, where people have advanced technology to do things without interacting directly with other people (ATMs, check-in kiosks, on-line stores, etc.) so organizations can use customer-labor to replace employee-labor, which improves labor productivity in the traditional service sector of the economy. Education, health, and government will soon be impacted by self-service technologies as well.

All the regions in the world need to figure out policies that improve innovativeness, equity, sustainability, and resiliency generation after generation. It is progress that improves quality-of-life. This is what IBM calls smarter planet, smarter cities, smarter universities, and smarter education/people. In a single statement, government, academia, business, and the social sector need to focus on transforming universities to create more start-ups that improve local quality-of-life, and then learn to partner to scale those innovations globally. Knowledge in action to improve quality-of-life in smarter cities and benefit people. Service is often defined as the application of knowledge for the benefit of others. Service is a good thing, and service science creation more service innovations.

One example, Spohrer shared was the Linnaeus University in Vӓxjӧ, Sweden, a place few have heard of, unless you know a lot about IKEA. That’s where the company was founded. Vӓxjӧ, Sweden does a great job of doing startups around wood products and wood energy thanks to IKEA, who invests in university and partners with the local government in regional innovation associated with wood products. As a result, the town has one of the greenest cities in Europe, because they use renewable wood chips for both heating during the winter and cooling during the summer.

Obviously, location is important – read Richard Florida “Who’s Your City” for example. In Arizona, for example, they focus on border security related issues. This regional focus, however, benefits from a strong understanding of science of service systems, especially because technology changes so fast, thus requiring new skills and resources. IBM Service Science Initiative works to scientifically understand these systems: How they change over time, how certain investments impact outcome, etc. Standards for measuring these service system improvements is still a challenge; however, progress is being made in this area especially due to some of the work by Stephen Ezell, who focuses on Information, Science and Technology policy and Manufacturing and Service issues at the Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and a researcher who has written extensively about the innovation economy and innovation measurement. Spohrer states that:

From a service science perspective, though, you don’t want to just be good at innovation. You know, obviously, if you look at service systems, there are productivity measures, quality measures, compliance measures, regulatory measures, and innovativeness measures. But in the broader picture, you want to balance four types of measures that matter to long-term quality-of-life: innovativeness, equity, sustainability, and resiliency.

Due to IBM’s international presence, it’s involved in service innovation and delivery projects around the world. Jim’s organization works with about 5,000 universities worldwide, ensuring universities have the opportunity to integrate this into their curriculum. IBM has a database of all these schools and a scorecard that in its simplest form, evaluates each school by six R’s:

1. Research—Collaboration in areas of mutual interest and value

2. Readiness—Building the skills pipeline

3. Recruiting—Acquiring top talent

4. Revenue—The university as a complex enterprise

5. Responsibility—Community service and access to IBM’s expertise/resources

6. Regions—Regional innovation ecosystems–incubators, entrepreneurship, jobs

Source for the above

Listen to more about the 6 Rs

listen: http://www.apqc.org/node/260158

IBM’s The Smarter planet Initiative involves building more intelligence transportation systems, water systems, food and manufacturing systems, energy systems, etc. Smarter building is a big topic area at IBM. We also have to have smarter commerce, retail, hospitality, finance, healthcare, education; and smarter governance at the city, state, and national level which includes security systems. We’ve got some amazing things going on the University of Memphis and the City of Memphis around reducing crime.

Part of our discussion focused on one of IBM’s technological phenomenon, Watson, which outscored the world’s champion in the game show Jeopardy—television game show. It also engaged in and was part of a victorious college bowl type of competition with certain schools like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard. However, now, Watson is having an impact on healthcare. IBM works with WellPoint, the nation’s largest publicly traded health insurer based on enrollment to place the medical records of 34+ MM people at the fingertips of doctors and nurses, so that they can provide the medical assistance faster and more accurately. “It will integrate Watson’s lightning speed and deep a health care database into its existing patient information, helping it choose among treatment options and medicines. IBM says the computer can then sift through it all and answer a question in moments, providing several possible diagnoses or treatments, ranked in order of the computer’s confidence, along with the basis for its answer.” (Huffington Post)

As Jim points out, these are exciting times for the service economy.

If we can figure out how to make the systems smarter, if we can think about them as service systems that are systems of service systems that can improve quality of life, if we can figure out the ways to invest to improve innovativeness, equity, sustainability, and resiliency year over year, you know, then maybe, you know, we’ll be approaching the grand challenge we have of what’s the Moore’s Law for service systems year over year, just like we’ve improved technological systems, computing systems, year over year. The great thing about science is, every time you answer a question you get ten new questions. So, as our frontiers become more and more open, There’s no end to the number of interesting research questions that are coming out, opening up new avenues for research, new avenues for startup companies, new opportunities for different regions around the world. So, it’s definitely an exciting time.

There are also a lot of opportunities related to making cities smarter. More than 50% of the world population now lives in cities, and the percentage is increasing. Energy for transportation and buildings, water and material recycling are just some of the areas of great opportunity. Using technology to improve self-service and using customers as co-creators of value is a huge opportunity. IBM is also making a big push in Big Data and Social Media. Some the big opportunities in the service economy late with Big Data Analytics and Social Media, two of areas that are of particular interest to me. It has made over 100 acquisitions in the last year (there’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to their M&A activity). IBM is giving away these tools to universities and helping cities make their data available for free online at cityforward.org. When Jim talks you can hear the enthusiasm and excitement in his voice:

The analogy (for the future) in my head is, you know, you think about the pioneers going West who loaded up their wagons with, you know, maybe a saw and a hammer and some basic tools, and they would go off into the wilderness and set up their homesteads, because they have the right tools to build, you know, a family farm or whatever.”

One thing that has always struck me about IBM is the freedom it gives employees to share knowledge. In the past, I have spoken about IBM’s amazing social media policy letting any employee have their own professional blog or a twitter account. Along these lines, Jim described and stressed the importance of “technical eminence,’” which is about bout not just wanting people just to be famous inside of IBM for the work they do. “We want them to be famous outside of the company.” Jim cited the recent IBM 2012 CEO Study and reinforced the benefits of openness. He also recommended Henry Chesbrough recent book Open Services Innovation.

I have worked closely with probably 10 of the top technology companies in the world, and few of them encourage their employees to this degree to go out on the web and share their knowledge: The shared cultural information. Spohrer, however, highlights that this is changing and that organizations are becoming better at sharing information and encouraging openness. He stresses the importance of leaders having humility, which is something IBM learned from almost going out of business in the 1990s.

One of the biggest corporate changes Spohrer cites is companies’ willingness to invest in their future. It is identifying and focusing less on routine tasks, which enables them to focus their workforce on the tomorrow’s products and services. This requires T-shaped people, however, who can adapt to change and welcome new challenges. He cites the Chinese company, The Broad Group, that is able to build 30-floor buildings in 15 days. (see YouTube video of this). This requires a resilient type of approach — resilient to innovation. If a new innovation comes along, companies need to be nimble and quickly incorporate it into their processes.

This requires organizational structures and technological infrastructures to be very modular and adaptive. To prepare for tomorrow’s knowledge and service economy, C-level and front-line works need to build modular and adaptive organizational structures and technological infrastructures. Geoffrey Moore’s book Escape Velocity provides good practical insights, and IBM is one of the examples highlighted in the book. As learning accelerates, most of the opportunities are in the future; so we have to learn how to escape the pull of the past to innovate better. Service science provides the theory for service systems learning, and the book “Escape Velocity” nicely captures the practical implications.

All organizations will need improved relationships with universities (student competitions, linkages to university based start-up, life long learning and alumni activities, etc.). They will also have to factor in and prepare for the need for constantly using more technology innovation, and up-skilling their talent year over year. “Doing more with less” is the right mantra and business discipline to master year over year. This means using technology to both improve productivity and create new work opportunities in balance.

I thoroughly enjoyed my interview with Jim. He is a teacher, a practitioner and someone who truly is committed to sharing his knowledge and experience. I hope to have the opportunity to talk to him again soon.

Related Links:

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, so the accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Wildervoice’s programming is the audio.

Thank you Nation!

Future of Work: Interview with Ron Lichty: Agile, Lean Product Guru

Interview was conducted on May 29th, 2012 and recorded in the lobby of the Courtyard hotel. The write up was done at Starbucks in the Presidio, San Francisco, California.

Unlike my other interviews, this was the first one that I conducted in person instead of via a phone conversation. It felt fitting that I was recording it on my iPhone because I was talking to Ron Lichty, who was one of the early product managers for Apple’s development tools. Even though Ron trained as an engineer, he has often found himself managing people vs. writing code. For three of his eight years at Apple, he managed the company’s “secret jewels” – the UI and code for Macintosh Finder.

After Apple, he worked at Berkeley Systems, which was one of Silicon Valley’s early consumer software success stories. In the early 1990s, Berkeley Systems had many successes, such as was After Dark,* a modular screen saver that included flying toasters, and the trivia game You Don’t Know Jack. Later on, Ron worked at Fujitsu and then at Schwab where he managed the team that wrote the first investor tools in Java for Schwab.com. It is because of those early experiences in product management that I wanted to interview Ron. He has managed engineers, and he has been an engineer himself for just over three decades. He has seen high technology product management evolve since the 1980s.

Ron has spent most of his time untangling software – “the knots” that can impact, complicate, and delay software development. That’s what led him to partner with Mickey Mantle (not of the Yankees) to write Managing The Unmanageable, which is due out this fall. The book focuses on how to be successful in software development, whether it’s IT or whether it’s a product or service. Their book is actually a culmination of their breakfast meeting discussions about the “rules of thumb” and “nuggets” of insights  about software development that they have shared over the years.

An example of this wisdom was Fred Brooks’ classic statement in the The Mythical Man Month, “adding manpower to a late software project (just) makes it later.” Notwithstanding these classic books on managing projects, Lichty and Mantle observed there was a lack of books on managing programmers and managing programming teams.

Together Lichty and Mantle have managed programmers for over 60 years.  Their first key point in the book is that programming is not engineering. Programming does, however, have some aspects of engineering but so does many a craft as they mention in their upcoming book:

“Since 1968 attempts have been made to apply the term “software engineering” to the art of programming. But writing a new program from scratch is much more akin to writing a novel than to the established practices of civil or electrical engineering. New programs frequently begin with a “blank sheet of paper”, whereas engineering projects are typically assembled from libraries of components and rigorous codes of acceptability. Software engineering (or programming as they refer to it in their book) continues to be more of a craft than a rigidly defined engineering discipline.”
There was a good article in the September 1994 issue of Scientific America entitled Software’s Chronic Crisis, which recounts the attempt in 1968, on the 25th anniversary of programming, to remake programming as engineering by superimposing the term “software engineering”
 “The art of programming has taken 50 years of continual refinement to reach this stage. By the time it reached 25, the difficulties of building big software loomed so large that in the autumn of 1968 the NATO Science Committee convened some 50 top programmers, computer scientists and captains of industry to plot a course out of what had come to be known as teh software crisis. Although the experts could not contribe a road map to guide the industry toward firmer ground, they did coin a name for that distant goal: software engineering, now defined formally as ‘the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to the development, operation and maintenance of software……A quarter of a century later software engineering remains a term of aspiration. The vast majority of computer code is still handcrafted from raw programming languages by artisans using techniques they neither measure nor are able to repeat consistently.” (September 1994 Scientific American article Software’s Chronic Crisis)  

“Programmers are craftspeople and not engineers, who focus on building the same thing over and over again.”   What it takes to be a good programmer is the combination of both an engineering and a craftsperson way of thinking. It is to be able to pull order out of chaos in your mind. In listening to Lichty, I got the impression that he thinks programmers don’t get enough respect. In Silicon Valley, I think that has changed. Now, programmers rule in companies. However it is clear that this is not the case in other organizations around the country.

What it takes to be a good programmer is a combination of the mind of an engineer and the mind of a craftsperson—of being able to pull order out of chaos in your mind.  One of the things you see in programmers is that a whole lot of really good programmers are also musicians, and the mentality that it takes to be a musician is similar to the mentality that it takes to be a programmer.  I don’t think you see that as the same across-the-board – the connection between musician and any other kind of engineering.  It’s because it’s a craft, not just engineering.  So, why is it harder?  It is because we keep building bigger, greater, and heavier-duty things. We keep improving our processes, but they don’t keep up.

Ron summarizes this up  with “strong developers are doing software development because they want to make a difference in the world.”

When starting a new company, Ron advises companies to first hire a VP of engineering, somebody who understands that managing programming organizations does not mean micro-managing your team.

“It is not managing down.  Instead, you need to think about turning your organization upside-down, and that the VP of engineering is supporting – it’s not the pyramid from the top; it’s the pyramid from the bottom.  The VP of engineering is supporting his directors—his or her directors—and the directors are supporting their managers, and they’re supporting their teams.  And you’re trying to create teams that are self-motivated, self-running, self-aware, highly collaborative, and transcend the – just the individual skills of the individuals, to work so well together that they do something that’s greater than any – than you would think, just adding them together.”

Ron stresses the importance of companies sharing their vision and their product’s raison d’être (reason for being) with their front-line programmers. Developers want to know how their contribution will make a difference. I have experienced this first-hand because many IT or engineering organizations around the country fail to share their road map with their employees. So, Engineering has to partner closely with product management, who usually sets the vision for the product.

“It divides products into minimal marketable features and says, how are we going to do all the stuff we want to do, and then make a list of all the things that make a difference to customers.  Then you can do an ROI or Net Present Value on them (each feature). We can look at the difference of releasing a product in two months vs. eight months vs. 16 months. So one question is can we beat the competition We need to be able to do those kinds of discussions. You need to be able to examine the issue from a product side.  It’s one of the product management responsibilities to map out the competition and map out the product, and understand where the value lies.”

When designing and developing a product, both ROI and net present value need to be calculated so teams can understand the impact of what a particular feature will have to customers. Of course, this is easier said than done. Many companies don’t try and figure out the economics of a feature or a change to the code. To help with this, Ron recommends Software by Numbers: Low-Risk, High-Return Development by Mark Denne and Jane-Cleland-Huang. It provides an analytical framework on the product side. That’s a match for the analytical framework that needs to be done on the engineering side.

Ron wanted to make sure people understood the importance of ‘making an important impact on the world’ while measuring ROI and NetPresent Value.
When Chuck Schwab talked about not wanting to see people reach retirement and be living in YMCA rooms for lack of planning – he touched and inspired the developers who were working on Retirement Planners and Asset Allocation tools and trading software. They had a “reason” – they could see how what they were doing made a difference. Steve Jobs talked about Changing the World and everyone at Apple bought into that vision, even after Steve had been fired by Sculley.
NPV and ROI are critical on the product and finance side. What they do for programmers is provide an analytical framework to show what features the market cares most about – which means what programmers are working on will make the most difference to customers. IMHO (which is Internet slang for ‘in my humble opinion’), revenue and profit are side effects of delivering value to customers. Developers care about delivering value to customers – making a difference.

Or, as Lichty and Mantle state in their upcoming book:

It is the rare individual who does not want to make a difference in the world. Many if not most of us chose to program at least in part for the opportunity to positively impact the world we live in. If your organization is building or providing something that can be pitched as making a contribution—improving the world in some way—you will have an easier time recruiting and motivating your staff. People are always willing to work harder and longer when they feel their efforts matter.—-Chapter 7, Motivating Programmers

Our conversation then focused  on Agile, which is a popular topic in product amongst development circles these days. Ron pointed out that Agile is more of a philosophy. It is a term that often gets applied to a whole set of approaches to software development, especially in the ’90s, when the “gurus” of all of those approaches got together and said, “You know, we’ve got more in common than we have different.”  Where this commonality comes together is under the Agile philosophy. There’s an Agile Manifesto, which has a set of principles and four key components:

  1. Individuals’ interactions over processes and tools.
  2.  Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  3.  Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  4.  Responding to change over following a plan.

Having good documentation in an Agile or Lean environment is less important than the actual conversation between the product visionary and the other members of the team.This discussion is known as a scrum. One the main themes is “tear down the wall between groups.” The thinking is that if everyone is in the same room, looking at each other in the eye, there will be less misinterpretation.  Another of the main themes is frequent “releases” in short development cycles (timeboxing), which is intended to improve productivity and introduce checkpoints where new customer requirements can be adopted.

As a result, writing a 400 page docs, something I was guilty of at Intuit, until Seth Webster schooled me in Agile in 2007, is loosing its supporters. Those kinds of War and Peace length requirement decks only lead to a 20% completion of requirements.

Ron covered four different areas of agile:

  • Scrum, which many people think of as a framework: it represents a radically new approach for planning and managing projects, bringing decision-making authority to the level of operation properties and certainties.
  • Extreme Programming, which was developed by Kent Beck, advocates a set of engineering practices like programmers working in “pairs” (two programmers, one monitor/one keyboard, which tends to increase quality earlier and increase throughput over the course of a project by decreasing rework) and “test driven development” (writing tests before writing code, which helps to ensure the feature is first understood and increases quality).
  • Lean which is based on a set of principles:
    1. Eliminate waste
    2. Amplify learning
    3. Decide as late as possible
    4. Deliver as fast as possible
    5. Empower the team
    6. Build integrity in: The customer needs to have an overall experience of the System – this is the so called perceived integrity: how it is being advertised, delivered, deployed, accessed, how intuitive its use is, price and how well it solves problems.
    7. See the whole— software is the sum of its interactions;  Defects in software tend to accumulate during the development process – by decomposing the big tasks into smaller tasks, and by standardizing different stages of development, the root causes of defects should be found and eliminated. The larger the system, the more organizations that are involved in its development and the more parts are developed by different teams, the greater the importance of having well defined relationships between different vendors, in order to produce a system with smoothly interacting components. During a longer period of development, a stronger subcontractor network is far more beneficial than short-term profit optimizing, which does not enable win-win relationships
  • Kanban: It is a scheduling system that helps determine what to produce, when to produce it, and how much to produce.

(some of the above content came from Wikipedia)

Ron mentioned that Lean leverages heavily W. Edwards Demings manufacturing process. (By the way, Deming, regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage) was my professor at  The Leonard Stern School of Business at New York University in 1989. At 90 something his body was slowly giving out, but his mind was as sharp as ever. I remember him waddling up to the blackboard – yes, we had them back then — and accidentally bumping an elbow into the light switch and turning the lights off. Within seconds, one of the many PhD candidats who followed him, turned them back on. He was a rock star back then; many of the Japanese students would line up after each class for his autograph.)

Ron provides a simplified plan of action for scrum:

  1. Decide on the length of sprints (typically 1-4 weeks) – which should for the length of the project remain fixed so that throughput (in Scrum, called “velocity”) can be measured and then predicted
  2. Get the product manager to list all features and tasks associated with that; each should be able to fit on a 3*5 index card
  3. Then ask them to prioritize these features and be clear about which features you want to deliver and why
  4. Then the team and the product owner jointly decide which ones you want to deliver in the next sprint (duration of time which could be 3 weeks)  and which the team feels it can commit to delivering
  5. Less documentation and more collaboration are key: only at this stage are features and tasks – those going into just this sprint – elaborated fully
  6. At the end of each sprint, the team 1) demonstrates and delivers a working product (features to that point) and 2) looks at how it could work better to make the next sprint even more productive

For more detailed information about scrum methodology.

One issue I brought up during our conversation is the conflict between a Guiles approach of having everyone in one room vs. the current trend of having dispersed teams. According to Ron, these have been two conflicting themes in the last decade. Some people quoted in Lichty’s book discuss the level of value of having people within eyesight of each other, and that there is no way that a distributed team can be as productive as a team that’s got eyesight contact.  They just can’t.

Ron believes over half the development in this country leverages some flavor of Agile. According to the report below, he is correct

Source: Version One. For the full-report.

An Agile initiative often starts at the grass roots level. When I was at Intuit and eToys, Agile started at the group leader and programmer levels of the organization. Several younger engineers convinced their business owners and product managers to orchestrate the team with the Agile method. Eventually it caught on not only to other parts of IT but also other parts of the organization such as marketing. One of the trends that has accelerated the adoption is the ability to update software in real time, whether it is something as simple as a blog to something more complex as a satellite. Even coke machines order inventory real time via modem these days.

When asked about how ROI applies to Agile, Ron mentioned a term I had never heard before “Technical Debt.”*** Technical debt has lots of sources, but one example is writing crufty  code** to just get the product out. You’ve got something to put in, and you’ve got no time left to do it. You Band-Aid the thing together in order to get it out the door.  That’s technical debt. If you let technical debt build up, it’s just like the financial model.  If you allow debt to build up, you’ve got a higher and higher debt that you’ve got to pay back.  And at some point, you won’t get any development done until you’ve paid down your debt. Similar to financial debt, however, if you keep printing more money or keep adding more band-aids, there will come a time when you have to pay back the system and fix your code.

It was great talking to Ron again. He is one of the few practitioners who have been in the trenches and practiced the art of agile development. He successfully helps untangle organizational knots, creates roadmaps everyone can follow, builds communications with other parts of the organization, coaches and trains organizations in agile and scrum, and gets teams productive and focused on delivery, quality and customers.

As I alluded above, Agile has gone beyond the engineering group and into product management. Unfortunately, that’s more or less as far as it’s gone. Business line leaders have not leveraged it yet, so this could be a key trend or transformation that will take place in organizations. Certainly books, such as Eric Reis, Lean Start Up will accelerate this. Although he still focuses more on engineering and products design, his method advocates creation of rapid prototypes that test market assumptions, and uses customer feedback in an effort to evolve the design faster than more traditional product development practices, such as the Waterfall model.  It is not uncommon to see Agile development teams in Lean Startups release new code to production multiple times a day or a week.

Business leaders need to be more nimble and think in terms of continuous just-in-time improvement. In the process, their development and deployment cycle will continue to get better and better by focusing consistently on where’s the waste, and how do we eliminate the waste. Even a functional area as tactical as Quality Assurance could benefit, because historically they have developed testing docs based on the content in a requirement doc. Imagine if they didn’t have to read a 400 page document, three-fourths of which will never be developed.

All of this could lead to a cultural transformation in a company. The challenge is that while many companies are adopting the agile approach, senior management still operates under a command and control paradigm. It’s usually the founder or the CEO that impact a company’s culture, not a development or engineering team.

After Dark was the first multi-screen saver – the first screen saver that let you “change the channel”

** When Ron used the term Crufty, I thought he had made it up, but it actually is a term. According to Wikipedia Crufty is jargon for software or hardware that is of poor quality. The term originates from source code that is rewritten leaving irrelevant or unwanted data within the code.

***Ward Cunningham invented the term: Technical Debt. Technical debt (also known as design debt or code debt) is a neologistic metaphor referring to the eventual consequences of poor or evolving software architecture and software development within a codebase. The debt can be thought of as work that needs to be done before a particular job can be considered complete. As a change is started on a codebase, there is often the need to make other coordinated changes at the same time in other parts of the codebase or documentation. The other required, but uncompleted changes, are considered debt that must be paid at some point in the future.

Common causes of technical debt include (a combination of):

  • Business pressures, where the business considers getting something released sooner before all of the necessary changes are complete, builds up technical debt comprising those uncompleted changes
  • Lack of process or understanding, where businesses are blind to the concept of technical debt, and make decisions without considering the implications
  • Lack of building loosely coupled components, where functions are hard-coded; when business needs change, the software is inflexible.
  • Lack of test suite, which encourages quick and less risky band-aids to fix bugs.
  • Lack of documentation, where code is created without necessary supporting documentation. That work to create the supporting documentation represents a debt that must be paid before the code can be considered maintainable by other developers.
  • Parallel Development at the same time on two or more branches can cause the build up of technical debt because of the work that will eventually be required to merge the changes into a single source base. The more changes that are done in isolation, the more debt that is piled up.
  • Delayed Refactoring. As the requirements for a project evolve, it may become clear that parts of the code have gotten unwieldy and must be refactored in order to support future requirements. The longer that refactoring is delayed, and the more code is written to use the current form, the more debt that piles up that must be paid at the time the refactoring is finally done.
  • Laziness. Lack of commitment from the people involved.
Source: Wikipedia
Related Links:

Thank you Nation!

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, so the accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Wildervoice’s programming is the audio.


Future of Work: Interview with Ariel Seidman, Founder and CEO of Gigwalk.com

One of the interesting existing trends out there is the  “free agent” economy in which individuals leverage websites like eLance, oDdesk and Gigwalk.com to find a job. These sites provide a  “‘match.com”’ approach to finding a job. They are , bringing together someone who needs work to be done (demand), and someone who can get the job done (supply). Unlike some of the other sites out there, they seem to be making significant inroads into the enterprise — companies are using them. Gigwalk matches people with businesses that want to outsource work but don’t want to hire full-time employees.”Trust and reputation are critical,” says founder Ariel Seidman. “We’re helping facilitate a transaction between two different people.” As a recent NPR interview points out, some people are even using Gigwalk.com to find jobs at companies such as Microsoft!

Outsourced work is an increasingly important and practical trend. It enables companies to keep their costs down — selling at a lower price while protecting their margins. And it also is good for individuals, who need to find more efficient ways of getting work done. Note: Outsourced work is often confused with Offshoring, which is “a company taking a function out of their business and relocating it to another country.

Since Outsourcing is such a hot area, I will probably talk to other companies in this space later on. However, because they seem to be taking a different approach from the other players, I decided to first talk to Ariel Seidman, CEO and Co-Founder of Gigwalk.com , however, because they seem to be taking a different approach from the other players.

Or as Ariel described it “‘they are the next generation of career sites.”

Gigwalk offers its services only on mobile platforms. One of Gigwalk.com’s  key selling points, for example, is that you can use their app to track and verify  “outsourced work.” only offer its services on mobile platforms. And one of their key selling points is that you can use their app to track and verify the ‘outsourced work’. This can be accomplished by taking a picture photography, a video, or a recording of an activity.

Ariel says that “work highlighted on their site tends to be very local, such as when it is outsourced to a specific country, such as Russia. Although it is difficult to observe someone when they are working “Gigwalk leveraging the mobile technologies to enable that verification. You can verify their location and the actual work.”

Today, companies like Linkedin, which is becoming becoming the biggest job site on the web, only enable you to post your resume. And after what we have seen with the recent Yahoo incident with its CEO listing inaccurate information on his resume, that information might not always be accurate. Thus, verification is becoming increasingly important. More and more companies are seeing that many people are stretching the truth or listing incorrect information on their LinkedIn profile.

Ariel stated that there are a lot of individuals using services such as his to supplement their current income, which is a. Another sign of our economy’s woes. Even if people have a job, they are not earning enough to meet their expenses. Ariel says, “There’s an income gap that needs to be filled.,” Ariel says.

Gigwalk.com sees several types of individuals on their site. There are people , such as those who have a very specific skill set, like such as the ability to program in a certain language. There are also others who, “communicate more effectively” and can take a person’s desired outcome and figure out how to meet that person’s needs. They can get the assignment and then run with it and ask questions along the way.

When I have used these types of services, there’s definitely been some back and n forth required to clearly define the best way to solve my needs. Recently, I used TaskRabbit.com to find someone who could export my blog and make a book out of it by importing it into Blurb or Lulu.

I didn’t have the time to do the work myself (Even though it was going to be a present for my family), so I thought it would be easier to “‘outsource”’ this project. However, there’s been considerable back andn forth between my excellent Rrabbit and myself. She has forced me to be clarify my request such as “what size do I want my book,”what do I want to do about low resolution pictures that I have I have on my blog,” etc?

As many have pointed out, there’s a growing trend of specialization, even in a more consumer-open market business such as Lance and Gigwalk.com. For example, My Task Rabbit is a specialist in blogs.

One of the biggest challenges mobile developers like Seidman face is the proliferation of mobile devices. The Android device, for example, reminds me of the good old Unix days, when all flavors of Unix (Sun, Silicon Graphics, IBM, etc.) were not created equal.

Another challenge is finding good people. Interestingly, while there’s a shortage in finding good engineers, big companies hesitate to use companies like Gigwalk.com to find talent. And then there’s the challenge of finding somene who truly understands the time commitment a start up requires.

With Facebook going public soon, many people are dreaming of a new Silicon Valley gold rush. As Ariel points out, many of these individuals don’t understand what working at a start-up entails. For those who want a nice work life balance, being a true Silicon Valley entrepreneur will not be easy. I think companies like Ariel’s company should consider hiring people on a “‘trial basis.”’

When describing his company’s culture, Ariel asked me if I had ever heard of a “honey badger.”? He said it was the most fearless animal in the jungle and doesn’t take any s***__T from anyone.” That’s the type of person Gigwalk .com wants to hire. They want to hire “people like who are fearless, and who are willing to fail. They want to hire people , you know, who are not afraid of their own ego, and you know, who will like be persistent when it comes to solving a at a problem.”

Some trends to think about: 

  1. Go mobile first – Product Design
  2. Use mobile as a verification device which in is “‘inherently different about mobile”– Product Design
  3. Observed or verified work
  4. Private Groups of contractors
  5. Specialization
  6. Hiring on a trial basis first



Hot off the press: Mary Meeker’s Yearly Internet Report

Lots of great info here — especially about trends. Enjoy. Note: I will be taking a deeper dive and provide some thoughts on this info in the coming weeks.

For those of you who don’t Mary Meeker Mary Meeker is an American venture capitalist and former Wall Street securities analyst primarily associated with the Internet. She is a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

KPCB Internet Trends 2012

Future of Work: Genevieve Bell, Intel Corporation

I decided to kick off my Future of Work (Work’s Future) research by interviewing Genevieve Bell, who is an Intel fellow director of Intel Corporations Interaction and Experience Research.

Click the play icon below to hear the interview:

In 2010, Bell was named as one of the top 25 women in technology to watch by AlwaysOn. I was fascinated by some of her previous interviews (see below for a list) and wanted to talk to someone from Intel, a company that is obviously going to play a big role in the future.

When Genevieve told me that she found her job when she met a man in a bar in Palo Alto, I knew I was in for a great discussion. She said, “He (the man in the bar) challenged me to think about how to make what I did more accessible to a wider group of people and introduced me to the people who would become my colleagues at Intel.”

She said Intel realized that her coworkers knew that the people using their products would not look like them in the future; (This made me wonder if other companies have really embraced this), so they hired cognitive psychologists, social scientists, and cultural anthropologists.

While other companies have hired these sorts of individuals, they tend to hit a glass ceiling, or some sort of ceiling, in the company where they cannot influence the final decisions about a product.

This hasn’t been an issue, however, at Intel, where she has a seat at the table with the company’s key decision makers. (I have to say that most of the company’s I have worked at have excluded the researchers and the ethnographers from important product related discussions).

The conversation was especially interesting when we looked at the role of women in technology. While I knew the prevalence of women in technology is staggering, I was amazed at some of the statistics she recited. They each indicated that companies, especially technology companies, need to really to pay attention to women.

Genevieve believes that even though companies have done a decent job in developing products for women, there has been a real disconnect that has been taking place. When women take over certain areas of technology, those areas become devalued.

I think where the disconnect exists and where I think there is great reason to have urgency and attention is that while it is certainly the case that women have achieved parity and in some place dominance of the use of certain kinds of new information and communication technologies, they are nowhere as well represented in the places of the people who make them and design them.

I think those are places that companies reasonably should pay attention, because there becomes a much more interesting question about, “What would it look like if you actually pushed on those spaces and said it’s probably not good enough that women are 17% to 20% of people getting graduate degrees in computer science?”  That’s kind of a shame.

I then asked if she thought it was true that even though men seems to be early adopters of new technology, (think Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations)   or Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, women tend to later adopters to new technologies. (Men start using smart phones before women for example, but then women seem to be impact the market more).

Genevieve cited three reasons:

  1. Women will not use technology unless it saves time, labor, space, or money.
  2. It has to be neutral or subtractive to whatever they carry around with them (think handbag).
  3.  The product has to work perfectly the first time out of the box (think about when you use an Apple product).

According to her, Men in the West are proud of when they can master technology, even if it takes an extensive period of time. Women, on the other hand, want it to work right away and work flawlessly. For women, the stories of mastery don’t exist.

We then discussed the importance of taking a holistic approach in developing products (I think most companies talk about understanding the customer, but they attempt to do this from a product perspective and not from a customer service perspective for example).

Genevieve explained why it is important to measure in terms of its “service infrastructure.”  What she meant by this phrase was that “It doesn’t just mean that the screen turns on.” “It means that there’s content.”

Again, I think this is a place where Amazon and Apple, in very different ways, have understood the market well.  They’ve understood that devices are really front ends to services. It the same way, people buy televisions because they may esthetically be appealing? Ultimately what makes a television a good thing is that it’s got content.

Although part of my Future of Work research is looking at the differences between multiple generations, Genevieve recommended that it might be better to look at individuals from a life stage lens or lenses, like when how people change before and after they have kids.
Probably the most fascinating comment of the interview was when I asked Genevieve about what countries are providing the most insight into the future of technology.

I asked this because the US is not always ahead of other countries as illustrated in the case of mobile technology. It was very much to my surprise when she said “Indonesia.”

Interestingly enough Indonesia is Facebook’s second biggest market and was once Blackberry’s second biggest market. It has nearly 300 million people and has an 85% literary and long tradition of adapting technology

Talking to Genevieve Bell was an amazing experience and was a great way to kick off the Future of Work series. The only disappointment of our discussion is when Genevieve told me that I would probably still be creating PowerPoint slides in 2012.