Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Be kind to India. It's crisis is deeper than it looks

The nature of today's global supply webs and our distributed ways of working mean many, if not all of us have colleagues in the midst of crisis in India right now.

Yes, we have all had our burdens from Covid-19. But I fear India's is way deeper than most - and provides a warning of what still may come to others if we do not come together to vaccinate the globe.

India has been setting record, after unenviable record, for the highest number of cases. The Indian health ministry reported almost 353,000 new cases and 2,812 deaths on Monday (April 26).

For comparison the UK peaked at around 60,000 new cases a day - with around 1800 lives lost per day.

Yes, India is a 'younger' country - and this may account for a substantial reduction in the per capita total deaths. But the UK health service - though stretched to its absolute limits - did cope. There was no shortage of ventilators, beds, treatment or oxygen as we are witnessing in India.

IF, India's deaths per capita is broadly the same as the UK experience, I fear deaths due to Covid may realistically be peaking at in the order 10-11,000 per day.

We can but hope that the authorities get to grips with the actual numbers, get serious about lockdowns and go military scale on vaccine roll-out, or things will only get worse.

in the meantime, all of us with colleagues, friends or family in India need to care for each other, accept delays and late deliverables with good grace, and understand the anxiety and grief of others.

It's harder to be kind than it is to be clever (as Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying... I'll be kind and let him have that (but you may also want to reference some Buddhist texts).

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Leadership in an age of abundance

Automation transforms the priorities - and therefore the skills required of - the leaders in a new age of abundance.

By offering limitless low-cost labour it provides:

1. Immediate abundance of capacity.

2. Learned abundance of capability.

Before the opportunity to automate - particularly the opportunity to engage ML/AI-infused automation - successful management was all about control and direction of constrained and relatively fixed capacities and capabilities. These primarily existed in the employee cohort.

Over time this extended to out-sourced cohorts which offered a little more flexibility - but essentially capability and capacity resided in the people you directly or indirectly employed.

The scarcity of labour made the wise and timely allocation of it an essential business skill. That created an entire industry of strategic planning, roadmaps, business case development. HR and logistics to identify the need for new capacities and capabilities and scale up (and down) accordingly.

Pre-digital it was ok to have five-year plans. Digital typically thrust an annual cycle on leaders; the combined effect of the cloud and of globalization has already been to rapidly close any gap a 'strategy' may initially provide by way of competitive advantage.

With automation, there is no cycle. Leaders can summon up or switch off entire new swathes of digital workforces in seconds. Enabling this friction-free recruitment and redundancy through the cloud and appropriate pricing models is the near-term competitive battlefield for automation vendors.

And it closes the enablement gap between strategy and execution in ways 20th century leaders could only dream of.

But it also threatens some fundamental relationships between the organization and work. How many times have we heard leaders proclaim 'people are our greatest asset'. Now our leaders command a digital workforce - to both do the grunt work and augment the decision-making and creative delivery of their human teams.

Today's leader must become skilled in directing an automated workforce to deliver on decisions made by a human workforce, augmented and amplified by their digital peers.

Their choices are less about how many people they direct to to do what, and more about carving out the differentiation that informs what data they seek, where from and how it is interpreted for insight.

With so much data available to understand needs and wants, so many systems available to listen-learn-respond to those needs and understand customer contexts, and such limitless low-cost labour to deliver vs those needs in more and more customised configurations, business process operations will be honed  in ever-improving, self-learning and natively automated iterative cycles.

Recognising and assembling the technologies to do this (as described by the OneOffice Emerging TechPlatform) at least places the enterprise on a level playing field with all the others that are smart enough and fast enough to recognise how digital transformation gets out of a strategists head and into the systems of the organisation.

Make no mistake, first-mover does offer an advantage here. The first to set their systems of learning rolling will accelerate their self-improving processes, and get faster and better at doing so - opening a gap that laggards will find hard to close.

But it is in the will to break down silos, in the quality and systemization of change, the emphasis on scaling their organisational digital fluency, and in the selection of a domain to extend expertise in, that competitive differentiation will emerge.

These then are the areas in which tomorrow's leaders must accelerate their skills. Not all come naturally. Selecting the domain comes down to legacy purpose or establishing one. This is where vision and belief come together to encompass both goals and ways of working to attract employees, partners, and customers and to inform and be reflected by the algorithms of the business - as much part of your brand as anything.

This will require a step-change in the embrace of data and insight for decision making, driving process and supporting the employee and customer experience.

Tomorrow's C-suite must be skilled and able to coach their intelligent automation processes to assist and complement their expertise - just as much as they coach their human reports to better support them in the future.

They must learn to trust in, and act on, the new opportunities their systems of anticipatory insight present them. They must accept that much of judgment now resides in backing the real-time data - ready to press the go-button on instant new divisions of digital labour to take advantage.

For some, the trust will only come when they understand and believe in the decisions embedded in the processes that deliver that data. They have to go on their journeys of discovery right now. Because before long we will stop talking about lucky generals and ballsy decisions.

The complete leader will be an insight-led pragmatic decision-maker, combining a scientific approach to data with the emotional intelligence, imagination and empathy to guide both people and bots towards an intended future in which the shared values and concerns of the humans engaged are brightly and clearly reflected.

Photo by Raphael Rychetsky on Unsplash

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Quantum Organisations: In superposition until data observations make them manifest

The quantum organisation is emerging as the engine of value generation in a world of uncertainty.

This is an organisation in superpostion until the moment data observation provides the insight for it to converge on its future state.

Already binary choices - such as business or IT - are being consigned to the history books. Super-positions of yes and no, 1 and 0, in multiple array create a quantum organisation designed to exist in multiple future possible states.

To achieve this the quantum organisation sets its purpose-led parameters and designs to:

  • Listen: Through data discovery-and-capture processes which are natively automated for continuous improvement.
  • Learn: Derive insight from the data with which to calculate the possibility of all viable and Purpose-aligned future states, improving accuracy through cycles of automated and iterative learning. The best fit are the future value opportunities with which the quantum organisation manifests its best-bet future state.
  • Respond: Meet the needs of the best-fit future state we choose, at speed and with accuracy, through the application of end-to-end intelligent, self-improving, iterative, automated human-enhancing processes of delivery decision-making.

To meet the needs of people, partners, planet and profit, all iterative processes described above should be both informed and constrained by relevant and fresh data representing each enabling part of the ecosystem.

Of course, in this way only one, extremely effective, version of the organisation is actually brought into existence at any one time (at least in our universe...). What I seek to emphasise with this quantum organisation idea, is the importance of maintaining the routes to all-possible viable futures (constrained within each organisations' parameters) as effectively as possible - given the range of unknown unknowns currently in play and likely to be for rest of this decade.

In these circumstances of ambiguity, the only big bet to make is on systems enabling organisational superposition and on the processes that enable Listen-Learn-Respond toward the future value opportunities you converge and manifest in.

The supporting Emerging Tech Platform for exactly this is rapidly assembling with Native Automation, People & Process and Data & Insights the agents of change. The mindset - the unifying vision of what it is to be genuinely digitally transformed to this new future-value creating state is already with us.

At HFS Research we call it OneOffice. 

Photo by mary rabbit on Unsplash

Monday, January 25, 2021

Covid19 is a warning about a divided but global world. We must change

I hate to burst bubbles - but Covid19 is NOT our 100-year pandemic. The 'Spanish Flu' of 1918 took approximately 5% of the global population. If Covid19 were to do the same we would be looking at 3 million dead in the UK alone. Not even worst-case left-to-its-own devices calculations would put Covid19 into that league. Most estimates suggest 400,000-600,000 without treatment, restrictions or vaccine.

Covid19 appears to kill between 0.5 and 1 per cent of those infected (source, FullFact). In this circumstance we must learn smart lessons from Covid19 - as our best preparation of the 100-year pandemic which may be yet to come - with an order or magnitude greater threat to life.

The good news is, humanity is a quick study. When we understand the causes we do change. We must change.

There are a world of breath-holders who remain hopeful that we will be going 'back to normal'. First by last Easter, now by next... or then again perhaps October. The reality is we will never go back to normal. Not if we are smart. I know you have heard this many times, but let's put some meaty evidence from history on to this particular bone.

Behaviour changes as a result of epidemics and pandemics. 

Europe's Black Death killed many millions. But it's long term effect was to change the way society was organised. Too little labour to work the fields led to the emergence of regular pay for farm workers and an increase in wages for artisans and peasants, impacting what had been a rigidly stratified society. No coincidence that the story of Dick Whittington's rise from poverty to Lord Mayor of London arises at that time.

Cholera and associated waves of disease that followed industrialisation and urbanisation led to entirely new sanitation methods. Where once it was normal to sling faeces out of your bedroom window, we learned to embrace a new future-facing normal rather than go back to all that...

The following - from an interview in the New Yorker with Professor Frank M Snowden about his book Epidemics And Society - makes the point that the way we organise and live is key to the epidemics we endure.

"Disease outbreaks have shaped politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and economic discrimination. Epidemics have also altered the societies they have spread through, affecting personal relationships, the work of artists and intellectuals, and the man-made and natural environments. 
“Epidemic diseases are not random events that afflict societies capriciously and without warning...On the contrary, every society produces its own specific vulnerabilities. To study them is to understand that society’s structure, its standard of living, and its political priorities.”

The lesson for us is clear. Our latest pandemic comes to us by virtue of the way we have organised our massively interconnected, yet deeply economically and socially divided world. 

"we need, as human beings, to realize that we’re all in this together, that what affects one person anywhere affects everyone everywhere, that we are therefore inevitably part of a species, and we need to think in that way rather than about divisions of race and ethnicity, economic status, and all the rest of it."

We need to learn fast. We don't have another 100 years. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Time for tech to step up with a single truth view

Fake News needs stamping out. It's undermining democracies and right now it's costing lives.
Every time a Covid denier or anti-vaxxer spreads their evidence-empty theories they risk not only many lives, but - no doubt unwittingly - they also support an insidious racism. 

Ask yourself - who would want to target the South Asian Muslim community with the bullshit about pork and alcohol products in the vaccines? Who benefits from creating extra risk of Covid death in a community already over-represented in the list of victims?

Just as we all have a role to play in preventing the spread of the virus, so we all have a role to play in preventing the spread of fake news. So crank up your crap filters. Challenge with facts or just block and walk away (don't feed the troll...)

But we could use some help in this. We have the tech to be much smarter in our response to fake news - and more scalable.

Through data validation and verification - and the application of AI and ML to unstructured data, we have made great leaps in personal identity. Customer Data Platforms enable clear sight of the individual - where-ever you tread digitally - whether that be web, mobile, voice and increasingly in the digitally augmented real world. It's why when (potentially) Alexa listens, Facebook targets you with an ad.

We call it the Single Customer View - aka the one version of the truth. Once established as a kernel it is built upon with each new data discovery - person A is - called X, lives at Y, eats at Z. These remain true until updated - always back to that single person A as the kernel.

Given the alarming and real challenge of Fake News, it's time the same tech guns were turned on fact, rapidly evaluating the source of the kernel of the fact, ranking it for quality and quantity of source to provide an early estimate of accuracy - and then built upon with a network of validation. Posts could be red / amber /green flagged in real time.

Imagine the frustration of the anti-vaxxer whose links to sources are instantly red-flagged for reputation? That might wake them up, too.

Yes, I know, there are questions about whose version of the truth we test by. Google already offers more weight to links it trusts. The BBC already decides what stories it will broadcast and how it will tell them. Our access to 'truth' IS already edited.

The web was meant to be a way that truth could always find a way - overcoming state control or media mediation. But the last few years have taught us that our mass congregation in social networks makes (some, too many of) us vulnerable to influence and control by bad actors.

Those bad actors exploit human vulnerabilities (and build bots to do the same). Now good actors must step up and rebalance - subjecting lies to scrutiny and giving those susceptible to believe them to the tools to alert them to the distinct possibility they are being sold a pup.

Image via UN


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?