Employer training is the key to competitiveness – Open Forum

A quick shout out the team at Open Forum for posting up my latest musings on the connection between skills development and long term competitiveness. Skills (or more specficailly, a lack of skills) is quickly emerging as a risk factor for many businesses in terms of impacting their long term plans. It is something covered in detail in the Evolution of Skills report I worked on for TAFE NSW, and a topic that I hope to give some voice to in the emerging debate regarding Australia’s future resilience.

My new book – Innovation is for Everyone – now available

For the past two years myself and Peter Fritz AM have been hosting discussions with numerous business leaders, public servants, academics and other interested individuals to open a window into Australia’s innovation system. We are now pleased to announce that those discussions and their findings are available in the form of our latest book Innovation is for Everyone.

The book is designed to provide an approachable primer on Australia’s innovation system and the problems it has faced. It examines why Australia lags behind many other countries when it comes to turning ideas into products and services, and proposes ideas as to how to redress this situation.

Over the course of this year I’ll be presenting many of the ideas from Innovation is for Everyone in this blog. But in the meantime you are also welcome to buy it by clicking this link.

Your org chart needs a rethink – Workflow

Pic credit – David Travis @dtravisphd

The tools that organisations use to achieve their goals are changing rapidly.
And it seems few businesses are satisfied with the speed at which they can make decisions. At the same time, many business functions find themselves needing skills that they would have barely thought about a decade or two ago, such as the need for technology skills in marketing, or big data analytics in finance.

Which begs the question – if the tools and skills required to run a business have changed significantly, then does the organisational structure need to change also? A quick look at many org charts today would show little difference from how the organisation might have looked in 1970.

This was the question I explored in my first contribution to Workflow, a new business management site published by ServiceNow. When speaking with organisations – and particularly those that are undergoing some form of transformation to improve their responsiveness – I constantly hear about the need to tear down silos and improve collaboration. Could it be their org structure is actually working against them? You can read the full story by clicking here.

The story includes an examination of some organisations that are exploring the leading edge of structural readjustment through self-experimentation, such as Zappos and REA Group. I’d also like to offer a big ‘thank you’ to REA Group’s chief inventor Nigel Dalton for sharing his insights into 100 years of management theory.

Effective machine learning starts with considered human thinking – IAPA

Once technology is released into the world, it can be incredibly difficult to control. I suspect if you asked Tim Burners-Lee whether he is happy that his invention has become the most effective tool for the distribution of pornography ever invented, he’ll tell you that he isn’t. The Law of Unintended Consequences tells us it is impossible to foresee the full ramifications of any new technology from the point of its inception, but in an era where companies (and particularly startups) push to get new ideas out the door and into the hands of custoemrs as quickly as possible, the chance for measured reflection is limited.

The same of course is true with AI and data analytics moire generally. In my latest post ahead of next weeks IAPA Advancing Analytics conference I asked the speakers about the potential for negative consquences, and whether sufficient thought has gone into the ethical considerations of what AI might enable.

As healthcare data scientist Halim Abbas says: “We have built something, and it is turning out to be a very powerful driver in society, and we are not really sure how to best use it. It is like we have built a hot air balloon, and now we are in the air, asking how do we steer.”

From Broome to Port Lincoln, the challenges for cloud in regional Australia: CRN

One of the reasons I was so enthusiastic about the NBN as it was originally envisioned was its promised ability to level one of the great inequities of modern life – that people in regional and remote Australia should be second-class citizens in Australia’s digital society. I’ve long believed that in a digital society no one should be disadvantaged simply as a result of where they live. At last a solution was at hand.

While the NBN will undoubtedly leave many regional Australians better off, the network has a lot of ground to make up before it matches the early rhetoric. Having spent time speaking to people in regional Australia about the ‘broadband drought’, through engagements in places like Longreach and through the Broadband for the Bush Alliance (you can read the communique from this year’s conference, which calls for the creation of a remote telecommunications strategy, by clicking here), it’s easy to see how a lack of digital connectivity has left many communities well behind their city-dwelling counterparts.

Digital connectivity is not just about having access to the world’s information, commerce, entertainment and education services. It is about building up capabilities in local communities such that local service providers can retain their relevance to those communities. Businesses in towns that have been slow to get decent internet find themselves not only having missed out on the advantages that come through access to the network, but they have also missed out on years of learning on how to make that network work for them.

It’s an issue that is in part reflected in this story for CRN, where I look at the impact of the data drought on the utilisation of cloud services by regional businesses.

Being a student is not something you were – it is something you are

I went to university for a very simple reason – to get a better job than I thought would be available to me if I tried to get one straight out of high school. My first choice – electronic engineering – was not a good one for me, and by the middle of my first year I was looking for a major change.

Thankfully I went to a uni that had a strong course in a totally different field that interested me – journalism – and I was able to transition across. But even in my new course, I was thinking mainly about getting a job, and the experience and grades I’d need to land one.

At no time did I really think about the skills I was acquiring, or how I’d use them. And I definitely wasn’t thinking about the future skills I’d need after I left uni. That was something I figured my career would provide for me.

That thinking could have been a big mistake.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the AFR Higher Education Summit, as a guest of TechnologyOne  (thanks Bridget Wyber and the team for inviting me along). My presentation revolved around how technology is changing consumer expectations, and therefor how higher education facilities need to ensure they have flexible underlying systems to respond to these changing expectations.

But that is only one form of flexibility that unis – and students – need to embrace.

For all the talk of the many jobs that might be automated and therefor abolished as a result of automation, there is little concrete evidence of where the replacement jobs might come from. I’ve been involved in a few projects which have sough to speculate and extrapolate from existing data, but even many of the fields where we think job growth might be strongest (such as data analytics and cyber-security), these are also targets for automation.

Whether you believe that technology will continue to create more jobs than it destroys or not, the jobs that will be created are likely to be very different to the ones we have today. Yet we are still training students for jobs that may not exist, or where supply well outstrips demand. Of greater concern is the problem we seem to have when it comes to thinking about retraining those people who currently have jobs, but thanks to automation, soon won’t.

Unfortunately our education system has been based around the idea that students are recruited, trained, and let loose into the world, at which time their economic value to their place of education is pretty much exhausted, barring that small number that go onto do Honours, an MBA or a PhD.

But what if we rethought the relationship between the education provider and the student. What is it was based it on the concept of life-long customer value, so the uni became the student’s lifelong partner in education and career development?

The model might run something like this:

  • You graduate from uni. The uni has already worked with your to facilitate internships and placement services, and checks in regularly to see how your job hunt (or your nascent startup business) is working out.
  • A year later you are contacted for a more in-depth conversation. Have you found work or not? If not, why not? If so, are the skills you have acquired suitable for the workplace? What skills do you wish you had, but uni didn’t give you? This conversation is used to provide feedback into the course design, to improve its suitability for future graduates. If you’ve not found work, the university might invite you back to complete a bridging course to bring you up to speed on the skill sets that employers are now demanding, to ensure you remain fresh.
  • Every year hence your university contacts you regarding the outcomes of these graduate surveys, along with its own employer engagement programs, to inform you of what skills are in demand, and forewarn you of any speed-bumps that might lie in wait thanks to technological changes. It also keeps you abreast of new courses and materials to help your professional development. Some of these are formal learning. Others are casual MOOC courses.

The model might be one where you pick and choose what ongoing education you want and pay on an a la carte basis, or it might be something you subscribe to (education-as-a-service).

Journalism was an early victim of digital disruption, and I have constantly added new skills to enhance my career – from journalist to professional writer to trainer to researcher to author to speaker. While these transitions will be increasingly common for any profession that faces disruption, it is not something that the graduate should have to navigate on their own. For education providers, there is a potentially lucrative economic model that can emerge from staying close to graduates.

Some of the universities I have spoken to recently are developing elements of these kinds of programs, but generally our universities are not great when it comes to alumni programs. That might be in part because students have never seen the need for them.

While any discussion of the future of work is inherently bound up in uncertainty, we nonetheless have to ensure that as professionals we have the capability to cope with that uncertainty. The more skills we acquire, the more flexible and valuable be become. And the only way I know to achieve that is to never stop learning. And there is no reason why the higher education sector shouldn’t be our partner in that.

(Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash)

It’s best not to ask what I do …

It’s pretty common when meeting someone in a professional setting to be asked what you ‘do’. It’s not a question I relish answering though. Not because I don’t want to share that information. But more because telling people what I do can take a while.

Back when I started working in the mid-1990s it was simple – I was a journalist. These days, I’m only a journalist some of the time. Other times I am a speaker, MC or facilitator. Or I might be a communications trainer, helping people become better storytellers. There are days when I am working as a social researcher, or developing discussion papers. Some times I am working to build out the content and programme for events. On other days I might better describe myself as a consultant, working with CIOs, CMOs, CDOs and now CFOs to better understand their challenges and opportunities. And that probably still only covers about 75 per cent of how I spend my professional time.

So knowing this problem, I thought ‘why dont I just tell people what I’ve done?’. So I started to write down everything I’ve done this year, and that proved to be no help. But in case you’re interested, I’ve listed it all below. It does look like a brag sheet, but it also reminds me that at least some of the time when I’m ‘busy’ is actually spent producing things.

It also reminds me that almost anything I do is only made possible through the collaboration of literally hundreds of amazing people with far deeper knowledge and capabilty than myself, and the organisations they support.

So in the first six months of this year, this is why I did:

  • Delivered keynote presentations on change for organisations including Leading Edge Computers, Jemena, the Assoication of Independent Schools NSW, and Microsoft Finance,
  • Hosted events including FST Media’s Future of Banking Melbourne, the Australian Smart Communities Assocation conference in Adelaide, and The Eventulf Group’s CX Tech Fest and Legal Tech Fest events, amongst others.
  • Delivered the latest round of the national Executive Collective engagement program on behalf of Optus Business.
  • Delivered Storytelling with Intent training sessions for more than 80 executives around Australia.
  • Continued in my role as Ambassador for the Broadband for the Bush Alliance, and MCd its annual Forum in Fremantle in June.
  • Helped the Melbourne-based NFP Infoxchange in the requirements gathering phase for a new open data platform for homelessness dats, throgh hosting half a dozen stakeholder working group sessions around the country.
  • Wrote more than 20 stories for CMO Australia, including longer features on coping with change in marketing, the rise of online marketplaces, and coming to grips with how digital nudging can be used for good.
  • Interviewed half a dozen CIOs and more than a dozen regional resellers for CRN Australia, while also contributing features on the dangers of growth, what Amazon’s arrival means for the channel, and the evolution of cloud computing.
  • Hosted roundtable dicussions for a range of clients, including Jade Software, The Missing Link (thanks to nextmedia), and Interactive.
  • Helped the team at CRN design and deliver the second round of the annual Pipeline conferences in Melbourne and Sydney.
  • Wrote a bunch of short feature articles for The Australian on everything from payroll software to virtual reality.
  • Continued my engagement with Global Access Partners in the field of better understanding the challenges facing Australian mid-tier businesses, while also working with Peter Fritz and Malcolm Crompton on a new book on the topic of innovation policy in Australia.
  • And wrote a bunch of other whitepapers, research reports, award entries and other assignments.

The second half of this year is looking to be just as busy, with commitments lined up around The Eventful Group’s Finance and Innovation Tech Fest in September and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s Online Safety on the Edge conference as well as a bunch of speaking commitments and another round of the Executive Collective.

Phew!

 

The secret IT buyers you should know – CRN Australia

0_0_600_1_70_-news-crn_690_secret_buyersHidden away within Australian organisations are a host of people with influence over IT purchasing. Some are obvious, such as the ubiquitous procurement officers of large organisations. Others are newer kids on the block, such as the marketers who have taken on responsibility for digital systems. Others are more obscure again, such as the PAs and other gatekeepers that rarely get the glory, but certainly wield some power.

IT sales has always been more complex than just selling to the CIO or IT manager, and becoming more so by the minute. In my latest feature for CRN Australia I seek to shine some light on the the secret IT buyers – and ignoring them could prove costly.

Building customer insights in the data and digital age – L’Oreal’s Joanne Norton for CMO

cmo-insights-joanne-norton-lorealThis article for CMO Australia sprung from my desire to get a better understanding of how brands are getting into the heads of the clients in the digital age.

Having taken part in a number of focus-group activities in my university days, I was always struck by artificial the environment seemed to be. A group of strangers brought together to discuss a product they had never used, and were unlikely to ever use? Of dubious value at best.

Of course there is a lot more to focus groups than my initial impressions, and as a tool for discerning customer insights, they can still deliver a lot of value. But in the digital era, where consumer behaviour (rather than intent) can be monitored at scale, and in real time, how do the older techniques stack up?

According to the Consumer Insights Director at L’Oreal Australia, Joanne Norton (pictured) using online and offline customer insights is not a choice between one or the other, but a blend of the two. You can read more about what she has to say, as well as voices from the emerging world of data-driven customer insights, in this article for CMO Australia.

CMO – What the new breed of Data Management Platforms mean for marketers

SXC digitalThe speed of growth of the digital advertising industry has been staggering. In little over a decade it has become the single largest advertising category by dollars spent, and shows little sign of slowing down. Yet the path to digital has not always been a smooth one for advertisers, who have had to contend with complicated and conflicting advice on how to best build a campaign. Needless to say, the ratio of knowledge in the digital ad space has not always kept up with the dollars spent.

With such rapid growth, ad tech companies have also readily emerged to try and take on some of the heavy lifting for marketers and agencies, offering a slew of tools to help them better manage data regarding audiences and effectiveness. Front and centre amongst these are the Data Management Platforms (DMPs), which serve to hold the various forms of data used by advertisers to define their desire audience.

DMPs were the focus for my most recent feature for the CMO website, and you can read all about them here.