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.



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.

Why I do what I do

In the decade since I last had a full-time role I’ve often been asked what I do. It used to be an easy answer – freelance journalist. Over time however the list of services I find myself providing has blossomed – author, speaker, facilitator, host, communications trainer, analyst, writer, consultant, etc – to the point where I pretty much have no idea how to succinctly explain  what I do. It is on the whole probably a good problem to have.

But it is worth thinking about the question itself. ‘What do you do’ is a question that provides an easy way to define us, but it doesn’t really do many people justice now, especially when many of us are doing more than one thing. Describing what you do gives only the slightest inkling of what it is you can do – and in a world where increasingly I feel that we are making it up as we go along (I’ll explain what I mean by that in another post soon), skills and potential count for a lot.

Partly as a result of a project that I am working on now (and yes, that will be the subject of yet another blog post) I started to realise that there is a far more interesting question waiting to be answered – ‘why do you do what you do?’. I’ve tried it a few times and the answers have been surprising.

So here is my answer – ‘why I do what I do’.

Firstly – the heart of my motivation. I have a strong belief that the Australian economy is poised for an unhealthy future. Too much focus on (based on previous success) in mining has left us lagging in other sectors – especially in information-based industries. We are vulnerable to encroachment from foreign competitors – both online and off – and too few of our traditional successful domestic companies have parlayed that success on to the international stage. Our boards lack courage and vision – and are too hampered by the need to return shareholder value in the short term to take the steps they need to if they are to ensure their long term future.

The answer? In short, I believe we need to make more ‘things’ (including intellectual property) that people in other parts of the world need (or at least are willing to buy), lest we fall behind emerging nations and find ourselves with a declining standard of living.

It is a sentiment that is echoed in numerous reports, including Accenture’s report For Richer, For Poorer, released last year, which found: if the government in Australia does not respond with urgency and decisiveness to address the fundamental challenges in its labour market, the country will see declining levels of productivity growth rates and overall shrinkage of the workforce. That, in turn, will result in a decline in the living standards in Australia.

More starkly,  earlier this year PwC released its World in 2050 report which suggested Australia would slip from 19th place in 2014 to 28th in 2050, behind Bangladesh and Iran. Go Team Australia …

There is no end of reports that suggest similar futures. There is also no surplus of ideas of how to turn our progress around.

So back to the question – why do I do what I do.

For starters, I am a passionate believer that for a country to succeed then it needs everyone – EVERYONE – working together to achieve growth (in whatever metric you consider important). Perhaps it is the bias that comes from more than two decades researching the impact of internet/digital technologies on Australian business and society, but my own conclusion is that a more digitally-capable Australian society is a key ingredient in our long term competitiveness. That means raising the digital skills of EVERYONE.

Hence I am working with groups such as the Broadband for the Bush Alliance, which seeks to improve access to and utilisation of digital services in remote and regional Australia (please join us in Darwin in July for the next annual Forum, for which I am an ambassador). I am also lending some effort to the Australian Smart Communities Association, which will be holding its inaugural convention in 2016, and aims to showcase the work to improve digital services in communities around Australia.

I’ve also spent much of the last few years speaking at events in locations ranging from Longreach to Mount Gambier, helping to raise digital awareness and skills. This work will continue to be a focus for me, and it is my hope that in future situations I might be able to do more than just raise awareness. Have a look at Infoxchange’s Go Digi program as an example of a program that I fully support and will be looking to promote further.

But it is not enough just to be smart users of technology – we have to be smart creators too. That means more start-ups. Start-ups do amazing things. They create new markets, and improve old ones. The show how inefficiencies can be stripped out. They incubate new processes and new ways of running businesses (cloud computing, agile development and dev ops, etc), the socialise new working models (flexible working, remote working), and so on. And occasionally they go on to become multi-billion dollar employers in their own right. These companies quickly outgrow their domestic market, and we need to be generating a lot more of them if we are to have a healthy future.

Many of these companies are founded purely off the cleverness of the people at their core (not off a mineral resource) and no country has exclusivity in smart people. Hence the more we can do to bring people into digital careers and support start-ups and entrepreneurs, the better. This will be the focus for another project in 2015 (and yes, another blog post).

I also am convinced that having smart users and smart creators in the same environment benefits both groups – one can learn from the other – and hence both are needed for long-term sustainable success.

This also leads me to believe that if Australia is to have a successful future in digital technologies than we can’t afford to leave half of our potential talent out of the game. Australia already suffers from too few high school students choosing careers as digital creators (hence my support of initiatives such as Digital Careers). The need to get more women into the IT industry is critical.

A lot this work is realised through writing and speaking, and the occasional direct engagement. Its what I refer to as ‘working from the edge inwards’ – and is based on what I saw in Africa a decade ago, where you can do a lot more for a village with $1000 and a few shovels – more seemingly than you can do with a million dollar aid budget. Making the digging of clean wells work at scale however is a difficult exercise.

I’ve also done the odd spot of work with larger organisations, helping to seed and stimulate ideas of what the future holds and how they might not just adapt to it, but anticipate and profit from it. I am constantly seeking an answer to the question of whether large organisations can innovate at the pace required to compete with digital upstarts or changing customer preferences – and if so, whether the formula can be distilled and administered  elsewhere. The jury is still out on that one, with the exception of a handful of examples.

But ultimately – why do I do what I do? Because I have two little girls whom I want to see grow up leading the best possible life that can be provided for them, with options in what they choose to ‘do’. If I can contribute to a better future and pull other people with similar goals together to work towards that future, then I know I will have done all that I can.

A lot of my thinking still needs fleshing out, but this is a start.

Hence when it all gets stripped down to the things that I earn money from, I am more likely to accept those commissions that see me building towards the goals listed above. If it is a task through which I can help individuals become more aware and capable regarding the tools that are available to them, then I am more likely to be interested. If I can contribute to the success of Australia’s entrepreneurial community, then I am more likely to be interested. If I can help larger businesses successfully transform and ensure their long term survival, then I am interested. Even if I am only the smallest part of the process.

Fingers crossed, maybe writing it all down might help me realise some of this.

My new book – Managing for Change – now available

M4CI’m very pleased to say that my new book, Managing for Change, is now available, in paperback and ebook formats. Co-authored with with Peter Fritz AM, Managing for Change sets out practical advice to help people get more out of life, personally and professionally.

The book is the product of numerous discussions between myself and Peter, as well as contributions from numerous people who have been successful in their own lives, including entrepreneurs, public servants, and politicians. Other contributors include HEAT Group CEO Gillian Franklin, Pollenizer co-founder Mick Liubinskas, former Australian Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton, young federal parliamentarian Wyatt Roy and investor Su-Ming Wong.

While the book is very much a joint effort between myself and Peter, my own path to Managing for Change came about partly as a result of my public speaking work, particularly those presentations related to the impact of technology which flowed from my last book, A Faster Future.

While it is not difficult to alert people to the changes that are happening around them, it is much harder for someone to assimilate that knowledge into their lives and do something about it. Managing for Change aims to help them do just that.

Managing for Change also comes somewhat from my own observations that many of the most successful companies are those that have got in front of changing market conditions, or even changed market conditions to suit themselves – Apple being one of the best examples. To often in life we simply wait for change to happen and then react to it. Managing for Change is about getting in front of change and wielding it for your advantage.

Managing for Change is available from numerous booksellers, and online from Booktopia. You can also pick up the Kindle edition from Amazon by clicking here.