The Signal-Man – a cautionary tale of Digital Innovation

The Signal-Man – a cautionary tale of Digital Innovation

Traditionally the Winter months are the time for ghost stories and spooky tales. I watched one of the best recently. Charles Dickens’ short story, The Signal-Man, is the story of a lonely signalman on a lonely line who foresees his own death. It’s beautifully written with a strong sense of foreboding and doom throughout.

And this got me thinking about the digital world and the nature of digital transformations. In The Signal-Man we have someone working in an outdated job in an old-fashioned industry who is killed off by technology.

My experience in IT: predictions of doom

In all of my working life I’ve been involved in major digital innovations… And, like The Signal-Man, there have been frequent premonitions of the demise of one technology to make way for another.

First Windows and Distributed computing were going to replace Mainframes and mid-range servers. But the the prediction didn’t come true. .

When I was at IBM I was involved in the global launch of their e-learning platform. Some people predicted that this was going to replace classroom training. This didn’t come true either. Although e-learning is now a multi-Billion industry worth over $300M classroom training is still alive and well.

My move into digital print (first at IBM and then at Ricoh) was heralded by dire warnings that Print was dead. In fact the global market for print is forecast to top $980 Bn this year, and, according to some Analysts is actually growing by approximately 2%.

Then Books were dead. They were going to be replaced by eBooks. They haven’t been. Last year over 687.2M printed books were sold. According to the latest figures as reported in Publishers Weekly, print book sales have grown for 4 years in a row, with growth of 1.9% 2016 to 2017.

So the big question is – why don’t the premonitions come true ?

I’m a part-time Lecturer at Abingdon and Witney College and this is exactly the question I posed my students on their Digital Information for Business Module last term.

How come that, even when organisations aspire to innovate,  the implementation of new technology can takes years – decades even?

The answer is that organisational change is complex and – in some ways – the technical implementation of new technology can be the easy bit. There are a number of key factors which determine how ready organisations are to undergo digital transformations.

And this brings me to my #BigIdea for 2018.

 Digital capability framework – the #Bigidea

For my course I created a simplified version of a Digital Capability Framework. This looks at the bigger picture, namely key factors that need to be considered when implementing digital transformations.

Importantly it looks at the barriers which stand in the way of adopting digital innovations. The framework I used was:

  • Digital technology
  • People
  • Process
  • Leadership

Digital Technology – Organisations already have digital technology and this is often a barrier in itself. How many organisations have rigid IT policies which can make implementing new and different technology difficult?

Even in organisations which are built on digital technology, implementing change can be difficult.

A great example of this is Foxtons Estate Agents. In the early 2000s they build their own in-house system (BOS) which revolutionised the way they worked and became a key factor in giving the Estate Agent a significant competitive advantage.

However, now, according to experts, the very same system that was central to their success are now “in danger of becoming the albatross around Foxtons’ neck” because it cannot easily be adapted to meet the new demands of the market.

People – As anyone who has been involved in any transformation project (not just digital) know, changing hearts and minds can be very difficult. There a number of reasons for this. Some people may feel threatened by new technology. But above all, many people simply don’t like change.

A number of years ago I was the Project Manager for the roll-out a new online training eCommerce solution in IBM UK. We had already developed the technical solution and had trialled it with selected customers across Europe. The biggest challenge we had was persuading the sales teams to support the solution. We had to spend a significant amount of time addressing their concerns, before we could move ahead with the implementation.

Process – This is often overlooked but is arguably the one thing that will make or break a digital transformation.  In many cases digital innovations can improve an existing process. For instance replacing a paper-based system with an online system can reduce errors, speed up the process, and eliminate the need to store paper documents.

However often new technology actually creates new problems – sometimes quite unforeseen.

For example, the recruitment process has been revolutionised over the past few years by the use of technology. With sites like LinkedIN and online recruitment sites like Indeed and Monster, perhaps it’s never been easier to find and apply for jobs. As a result HR Departments have been inundated with applicants. According to Collingwood average number of people who apply for a job is 118 .  I’ve been told “off the record” by recruiters that on average an organisation can expect to receive ‘hundreds’ of applicants for every job.

As a result HR Departments are increasingly having to resort to Applicant tracking systems and AI software to sort through CVs. However this in itself creates new problems. According to CIO.com  “non-traditional candidates or candidates with unusual experience that might be a very good fit could fall through the rules-based system, even one that learns and improves with ‘experience’.”

Leadership –  no digital innovation will get funding it needs to succeed long term without the support of the organisation leadership.  However this can be more difficult to obtain that you might think – and it’s not just budget.

There are many reasons with the Leadership in an Organisation may not support a new digital innovation. Maybe it’s timing – perhaps the Organisation has just been through a long and painful Transformation. Maybe it’s personalities – perhaps the CIO was the one who introduced the very IT system you are planning to replace.

Or maybe it’s the state of the Economy. For instance last year, according to a recent BBC report, the leadership of many businesses are choosing not to invest in the new technologies that would boost economic performance.

“This year also saw even big asset managers raising the alarm over how little businesses were investing in the future – preferring instead to increase payouts to shareholders. “

No baggage – the Startup advantage

Many organisations look with envy at the way Startups like Uber and AirBNB can innovate. The key thing is that startups have no baggage; they can build everything from scratch – including their corporate culture.

The interesting thing that we are seeing now is that when Startups mature they have to acquire much of the baggage of large organisations. So maybe in 5 to 10 years time these very Startups will also struggle with implementing new digital innovations. And that’s my prediction…

Predictions are not Premonitions

In Dicken’s story the poor Signal-man meets his end, just as he has foreseen.

However in the real world, the Signal-man wasn’t replaced by technology. In fact this was a key role on railways from the 1830s until the 1950s. And there are still Signal-men – the role has changed and adapted as new technology has become available.

This illustrates that Digital Innovation in the real world is rarely straightforward.

So beware of predictions about the death of types of technology and remember that they are not premonitions…

 

I’m a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world. 

#BigIdeas2018 #DigitalTransformation #DigitalInnovation

Advertisements

Dockless bikes – digital transformation on two wheels

Dockless bikes  – digital transformation on two wheels

As I was walking along Broad Street, Oxford I saw three students cycling. One of them, a young woman, stretched out her arms and shouted spontaneously, “Isn’t it great to be alive ?”

It was a timeless scene.  The Autumn Sun was hot and bright making the ancient Oxford colleges beautiful.  Many of the students were dressed in sub-fusc – dark clothing with gowns worn on formal occasions at Oxford University.

Yet, change is coming to the cobbled streets of Oxford. A new type of bike is appearing. Brightly coloured and garish … all powered by a digital transformation.

Dockless bikes – the new digital transformation

Oxford is one of a number of UK cities which is targeted by the dockless bike companies. These range from mulitnationals like Ofo (Chinese with revenues of $3Bn) and oBike (Singapore) to local UK startup, Pony Bikes.

Why Oxford? Oxford has a long heritage of cycling. In fact our local Council has just unveiled new signs on all of the major roads into the city, proclaiming Oxford as a “cycling city”.

Convenience – a new way to rent bikes

The concept of Dockless bikes is simple. Register with one of the companies and download their App. Locate a bike, use your App to unlock it and then – the key thing – leave it where you want.

Pony pricing model

Pricing is simple too – Pony Bikes charge 50p for 30 mins.

The key thing about this business model is convenience. You can literally leave your bike anywhere within the city – unlike other schemes in the past you don’t have to find a special docking station.

The Uber of bikes ?

People have called this new scheme the “Uber of bikes “ but I believe there is much to it than that.

Like Uber, these schemes are built on data. They will know when people cycle, where they start, and where they go. This data can then be used to identify hotspots for bike demand. It’s a great example of Web 3.0 – using digital technology to move physical objects around to meet demand.

The companies involved are also heavily dependent on Venture Capital Funding.  Ofo raised nearly $600 million dollars in funding and there is a growing list of Dockless bike companies worldwide.

Challenges

However these schemes create new challenges.

These companies have trucks (and also bikes with special carriers) that patrol the city picking up bikes and redistributing them where they are needed.  There have already been instances reported in our local press about people vandalising the bikes.

And you do see the odd dockless bike left in strange places ! I saw one in the middle of a field in the Oxford Green Belt….   The question is not so much why it was left there as how did they get home ?

Banner image.jpg
Double take… dockless bikes like Pony stand out !

Learning from Uber / working with the community

When I first heard about dockless bikes I was sceptical. I own a bike and I cycle as much as possible. Oxford already has thousands of bikes and lots of bikes shops so I was a little surprised to find that the local Council is supportive of dockless bikes.

However when I interviewed Oxford Council’s champion for cycling, Louise Upton, in relation to a charity bike event I’ve been working on, I got a different perspective.

The council’s stated aim is to get more people in the city cycling, In 2011 17% of commuters in Oxford cycled to work. The council have a very ambitious target of growing this to 70%.

They prefer people to be riding well-maintained bikes with working brakes and lights.  The Council have even put in place a code of conduct to ensure that the providers fit into Oxford.

Oxford already has a significant problem with abandoned bikes – typically students at the end of their years. One college alone has around 65 abandoned bikes every year. This represents nearly 15% of students in the College.

And, of course, unlike schemes like London’s Boris Bikes, these schemes cost the Council nothing.

Punctured ambitions or freewheel to success ?

So, will this new transformation stick ? There are many reasons why the dockless transformation may not take off…

Maybe there isn’t the demand. Maybe there are already too many companies competing in this space. Maybe we’ll end up with a bike share graveyard, as has been reported in the Chinese city of Xiamen.

For my part, I hope it succeeds.  The more people who cycle the better. The more cars we remove from the roads the better.

But, above all, if this innovative scheme brings more joy to more people on a sunny Autumn day in Broad Street, then it’s all good to me.

I’m a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world.

#Digitaltransformation #Docklessbikes #Innovation

Smart Directions: the imperative to change in the Print Industry

Smart Directions Conference May 2017 : Better Business – Invaluable Insights for Printers

The focus of this year’s Smart Directions Conference 2017 was on seeking out ideas and inspiration that can help print businesses to prosper and grow.

  • How can you diversify to strengthen your product offering?
  • How can you get the best out of your staff?
  • What benefits could the fast evolving trade printing
    sector deliver?
  • Could it be that your own body language holds the key to growing sales and profitability?

Expert speakers at the The Smart Directions Conference provided the answers to these questions and more.

Digital transformation – the imperative to change

While printers may see opportunities in the way consumers are delivering a backlash against digital advertising, they are also coming under pressure to embrace digital through their technology and processes, as well as their service offering.

In this presentation I looked at what digital transformation means for printers and how they should respond.

“Digital transformation” was explored by marketing consultant Roger Christiansen, who described digital print as a “quiet revolution” – with virtual stock, faster time to market, printing locally and on-demand services continuing to see off the threat of e-books.  Digital Printer Magazine

 

Roger at Smart Directions Conf 2017 4

Digital transformation in Publishing – my presentation to The Galley Club

Digital transformation in Publishing – my presentation to The Galley Club

Here’s my presentation to the Galley Club last night on Digital Transformation in the Publishing Industry.

Here’s a write up of the event by members of the Galley Club.

an excellent account of e-business transformations and what this means for publishers today

 

A great insight into the varied Digital World

 

 

The Twitter challenge – advice from our future leaders

The Twitter challenge
My slide from the challenge…

What do we want from our graduates entering the world of work ?  We want creative leaders, according to Dublin City University president Brian MacCraith.

So I was both a little bit surprised and – I’ve got to say – impressed last week by a class at Abingdon and Witney College.

Let me explain… I’m training as a part-time Lecturer at the College, and I volunteered to set an activity for a class of Higher Education level Management students.

 The Twitter challenge

The idea of the activity was to set a Strategic challenge. So I chose Twitter.  Twitter, to me, seem to be very much at a strategic crossroads. After years of growth, suddenly they have a major challenge – their user base isn’t as growing as fast as it was, and they are losing advertising revenue, partly due to the association with Donald Trump (the “Trump effect”).

So, the challenge was – if the students were running Twitter, what would they do next ?

Like a keen, newly inducted, earnest teacher I had a complete timed plan for activity ready, along with help if the students needed some inspiration…. I even had some “late breaking news” lined up to mix things up half-way through..

They didn’t need any of it..

 Creative solutions from tomorrows leaders

They weren’t daunted by the challenge. What folowed was a lively and wide-ranging dicussion covering celebrities to bots.

Some students brushed off the current woes relating to Trump with a very mature assessment that, if their model is based on growth, and they are growing then they don’t have a problem longer term.

Others came up with ideas to target new celebrities and drive growth (and improve Twitter’s image).

Others suggested focusing on driving live events through Twitter ..

 

Rising to the occasion

 

Personally I learned a lot by this activity.  Principally not to underestimate the potential of students. Give them an interesting challenge and they will rise to the occasion.

Isn’t this just what we want from our future leaders ?

 

Revinventing the eNewsletter for the Twitter Age

Revinventing the eNewsletter for the Twitter Age

Isn’t it surprising that, in an age of instant news, AI and increasing automation the humble eNewsletter still persists as a staple of Marketing Communications ?

Newsletters have been around as long as printing – in fact historians believe the first recorded print newsletter appeared in 1538. And eNewsletters have been around as long as email – the late 1990s.

They may not be the trendiest of Marketing Tactics, but I believe eNewsletters just need a revamp to bring them into the modern age.

Here are my 6 steps to reinvent your eNewsletter…

Step 1: it starts with the strategy

Just like any other Marketing Tactic, you should be clear about what you are trying to do – i.e. Who are you trying to target, when you want to say it and what you want to say.

How you reach your target audience is another matter. So it’s important to separate the medium from the message.

Step 2: sort out your database

This may be really really obvious but to send out an eNewsletter you need – err – a database. Yet, all too often I have found that data quality can be a major problem.

In one of my email campaigns I was given a spreadsheet of 30,000 contacts – all it contained were email addresses… So we had no idea who these people were, whether or not they were the right target audience. And we didn’t know if we had their permission for us to contact them.

So, before you start your eNewsletter planning, get your data into shape. It’s always worth cleaning your data, even if it comes from your CRM system and Sales Teams. Remember that your customers will expect you to know their details. And, if you want to do any personalisation or targetting you’ll need information like firstname, Job title, company name etc…

There are a number of ways of cleaning your data, including:

  • Telephone your contacts
  • Self-cleaning – ask your contacts to confirm their information
  • Progressive profiling – use automation tools to request missing information

And the new GDPR regulation is a great method for cleaning data as well. The regulation is based on the German Double Option, in which works as follows..

  1. You ask someone for their permission to market to them – they fill out a form and provide an email address
  2. You send an email to them requesting them to confirm that they want to optin (hence the double optin)

In my experience the end result is that every email on your database has been confirmed as current and accurate.

Step 3: get creative – ditch “Sign up for our Newsletter”

When it comes to getting new contacts for your eNewsletter, then you have to be a bit creative. “Sign up for our Newsletter” is one of the least successful ways of gaining subscribers.

Designing effective Calls to Action is a special art and there’s lots of great advice available such as https://boagworld.com/design/10-techniques-for-an-effective-call-to-action/ .

It’s best to be a specific as possible, such as:

  • Focus on the value your call to action provides: e.g. register for insights into the world of XX
  • Address the user’s questions about the call to action
  • Have a small number of distinct calls to action
  • Use scarcity to encourage action: e.g. limited offers
google-sign-up
Great example of a sign up form from Google

 

Step 4: content is king / the importance of the contract

A very long time ago Permission Marketing was all the rage. The basic idea was that it was a reciprocal deal. I’ll give you my details If you tell me about stuff I’m interested in.

Nowadays the contract seems to be broken – I find a lot of digital content is one-way traffic based on your transactional or browsing behaviour.

Interestingly there are now signs that Permission Marketing could be on its way back..

“So in 2017, if you haven’t already done so, ditch the newsletter for an automated email series full of value, teaching your audience about something specific that they actually want to learn about.” Sumo 13 Email Marketing Trends to Follow in 2017: A Sumo-Sized Guide

So it’s worth taking the time to understand your target audience, and their interests. There are many studies that show that personalised content gets a much higher response rate than non-personalised.

Just – please – avoid the “one size fits all approach”

Step 5: timing is everything

The original print Newsletters were designed around print production schedules. Yet the design and concept of the vast majority of eNewsletters that I see have changed little from their print forefathers.

In a world of 24/7 instant news, does anyone actually sit by their phone or desktop eagerly anticipating your eNewsletter so they can get up to date with the latest information ?

But packaging content together does have value and I think there’s a lot to be learned from Media organisations.

For example take the BBC. They distribute their content via a multitude of channels: TV, web sites, Apps and Social Media. The key thing is that they have different types of content for different purposes, such as:

  • Breaking News alerts
  • Short articles
  • Long, in depth articles

Your content may be much simpler than the BBC, but you could still implement a hybrid approach to provide your audience with a range of content to interest and inform them. And, of course, like many Media companies you could even charge for premium content.

Step 6: expand your reach – think beyond email

It’s important to reach your audience WHERE they are. And this means you should not just rely on email, especially as,  according to the latest stats, most emails are now opened on mobile devices.  

mobile-email-june-2016-600w

 

So be careful not to design eNewsletters that look beautiful on the iMac Retina 4K displays used by your Marketing Department or Agency but which are not optimised for mobile devices.. 

71,6% of consumers will delete emails if they don’t look good on mobile, while an average of 10% will read it anyway. – Adestra “Consumer Adoption & Usage Study” (2016)

Finally don’t forget print. Print is a very powerful medium. It’s much more likely to reach its destination and more likely to be read.

In general, 80% of traditional mail is opened while 80% of emails is disregarded (just 20% is read). B2C Print

Final thoughts…take advantage of your key advantage

You know your audience and you could know their details & interests !

This is your key advantage. Use the information you have from CRM systems and other sources to create compelling content that is relevant and interesting to your audience.

So what could an eNewsletter look like in the digital age ? This is what I’d recommend..

  • Redesign your eNewsletter to make it short and sweet – like a Twitter feed
  • Send out information multiple times across multiple channels
  • Throw away the publication schedule – if you’ve got important information to get out to your audience, send it out ASAP
  • Use blogs for your news stories. That way you are not communicating key information you are building a knowledgebase (great for long term SEO)

This way your eNewsletter will be fit for modern age.

I’m a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world.