The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Diversity of perspective and the strategic value of doubt

Strategy.gifI was in a discussion the other day with some folks espousing the view that urban lifestyles are the answer to a large number of issues faced today. Always being a bit of curmudgeon, I pushed back saying that supply and demand may have something to say about this, since the closer we push people together the more fragile the ecosystem can be, in the area of food logistics, transportation, health care and many other areas. They stated that an urban environment is more creative, like it was a fact.

 

The concept of cities being an engine for innovation may actually be more of a 20th century phenomenon. We now live with virtual communities that are incorporating devices, individuals and even corporations as collaborating entities. We can collaborate more easily and have ad-hoc interactions – bandwidth is really the measurement of distance in many ways.

 

There are also economic factors - as people migrate away from the mid-west, areas of low cost with high connectivity are created. The exodus will likely stabilize or even shift, as the market reacts to the latent value possibilities that exist.

 

I was reading a recently released book Future Smart by James Canton about how we need to open up our world view to what future possibilities may hold and the need to reinvent ourselves. The book definitely has some good ideas and references, but there is an underlying ‘Silicon Valley centric’ view of “we’ve got it right” that distracts and discredits the range of future possibilities.  

 

There are many alternatives as I think about some of the intersections between industries and the possible implications. For example: Some people view the autonomous car as the death knell of the personal vehicles – why own it if it can just be there when you need it. At the same time, the intersection between home energy generation and the storage capabilities of the electric vehicle may make it an essential component of the green home of the future, stabilizing supply and demand for a families energy needs.

 

When organizations get into strategic planning discussions, it is definitely necessary to have a range of diverse perspectives. Everyone is entitled to their option and for this type of planning it is actually the conflicts that point to opportunities. If everyone is thinking the same way, some of you are redundant.

Why do you think the world will be that way? What if it isn’t? What opportunity may exist? As we look at the exponential expansion of capabilities and the underlying shifts in what’s scarce and abundant, trying to reach a consensus will help everyone plan for the future. That process may be what the author meant by being ‘future smart’.

Services and outcomes – what does the business really need?

 

choices.jpgAlmost every IT and service organization is looking at where to focus their operational energies in order to remain relevant in the new style of business that is expected today.  Each of us are constrained by our own preconceptions of service management and how it has traditionally and should be measured.

 

Recently, HP produced a paper titled: Link Services to Outcomes that tackles this issue. I am not sure that it went far enough, to drive home the value and shift in behavior and perspective that’s required.

 

I see situations all the time where an organization tries to straddle the line between traditional IT SLAs and more agile IT approaches without ever shifting the measures of success to what business really need – business-based service level.

 

These new kind of partnering efforts need to look for KPIs that the business cares about – the position paper does provide a few of those examples. These need to be key measures of the performance of the business. Another thing the paper brings forward are a few questions you need to ask yourself about your business and what approach it will accept. Is your organization:

  • Mature enough to deploy and fully use an outcomes-oriented service environment?
  • Willing to invest the time and resources needed to align IT and the business model?
  • Able to create and continually use the necessary metrics, thresholds, and reporting systems?

And that is not even covering the issues in the legal and purchasing spaces.

 

One thing that is interesting is how this business measures approach is almost the exact opposite of the public cloud-based service approach where there are few guarantees and the services providers actually don’t want to know anything about your business – at least how it is implemented today. Legal and purchasing may not be involved.

 

I sometimes wonder if those who are committed to one camp or another can see the world from the other perspective or is it totally outside their context.

 

 

Has the agile caused a reduction in critical thinking?

 

thinking.pngLately, I’ve been talk to some folks about problems they are having in their production environments. As I talk with them about the issues they encounter it seems clear they don’t even know their environment well enough to ask the right questions, let alone answer them.

 

Critical thinking skills were something where a great deal of work was focused on when computing resources were scarce and thinking time was relatively abundant (because you were sitting around waiting for code to compile). Now those forced breaks are rare, so people spend their time iterating through the coding process without having a chance to take a step back.

 

I don’t think agile techniques should cause a reduction in critical thinking, but I just see the potential is there to not really understand the architecture, the business rational… - since most developers are now so enamored with having working code. If you’re properly doing code reviews/walkthroughs you can outsource some of that big picture work to someone else and you’re forced to think it through.

 

Lately I’ve been looking at Lean Six-sigma techniques and applying them to operations management. This view is not anything new, but the abundance of computing capabilities should allow us to drive the costs out of its application. This technique usually involves asking these same kind of big picture questions although operations is a bit late in the process for that.

 

Do you see these issues too? What do you do about them?

 

New retail e-zine

 

retail e-zine.jpgHP Enterprise Services continues to create e-zines on a number of industries like banking, automotive, … We just released a new e-zine focused on consumer/retail. The topics being covered are:

  • The future of consumer industries: agility in a fast-paced world
  • Grow globally and profitably in a consumer-centric world
  • Coca-Cola® gets personal with HP Indigo digital technology
  • Increase speed, productivity and agility through transformation
  • Mary Kay successfully builds a mobility platform in China
  • Create, manage, and expand thriving brand categories
  • Avon Cycles Ltd. improves supplier management with SAP HANA
  • Regulatory compliance and overcoming risks
  • Brady Corporation helps stop the spread of counterfeit products

Also included is a 'meet the experts' (Lawrence Guevel, Tony Galli, Michael Donovan) to provide a little context for some of those focused on this space.

 

The need for an innovative look at innovation efforts

innovation unlock.pngI’ve been in a number of discussion lately looking at innovation activities. In today’s dynamic business environment, the status quo is riskier than changing – sometimes it may not matter which direction you move, as long as you’re not standing still.

 

I am a big advocate for gamification, but most of these efforts are based on a bottoms-up approach that tries to leverage the ‘intelligence of the crowd’. Some interesting things definitely do come out of these efforts, but rarely are they directed on what is really needed. If 5% can be implemented, you’re doing great with these approaches.

 

That is where top down approaches to innovation come into play. They try to focus the innovation flow around a specific concern or issue. I used the term flow, because it’s happening, whether we tap into it or not – innovation is just part of being human. Top down in combination with a bottoms-up approach are more effective. Yet – they’re not effective enough.

 

I have figured out a few things (that are probably obvious to most):

  • Innovation needs a strategic focus. At the same time, the chance of getting it right the first time is slim, so an approach needs to be both strategic and agile (at the same time).
  • Innovation needs to be part of the mindset of the people involved. For many organizations, innovation doesn't feature anywhere in their plans and that’s a shame. This can be true for entrepreneurial organizations as well as large corporations. I mentioned strategic importance of innovation, yet culture eats strategy for lunch.
  • If you want to grow, you need to find a way of embedding innovation in your strategic priorities – and that means investment. It also needs to be focused on what you do and how you do it. This is one of the most frustration parts of working in the IT space. We think that being innovative in IT is something that should be recognized by the rest of the business. In many ways, they pay us (particularly service organizations) so they don’t need to see it at all – let alone view it as innovative.
  • Innovation efforts need to be measurable. Just because ideas are new, doesn’t mean there won’t be a ruler to measure progress. There will be one, why not plan on it.

A while back I mentioned that one of the first laws of technical leadership is “don’t discourage them”. The same can be true about the approach to innovation. At the same time, innovation efforts need to be focused on outcomes -- we actually need to do something and not just think about it.

 

I have come to the conclusion that we need a more innovative approach to innovation, since the whole concept is full of conflicts. One of the first things that is probably always true though is the need to develop a common understanding and definition of innovation, since it can mean so much to so many .

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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