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 In The Signal-Man we have someone working in an outdated job in an old-fashioned industry who is killed off by technology.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

Living to tell the tale – #Thisissuccess

Living to tell the tale – #Thisissuccess

I wrote this article as part of LinkedIN’s content series on the topic of success in the UK. #Thisissuccess.

When I was careering down the Matterhorn, it’s safe to say that “success” was definitely not on my mind. In fact nothing at all was on my mind except basic survival instincts – principally how do I stop myself before I go over the edge?

I was in my early twenties, young and – as you’ve no doubt guessed – a bit reckless. Against all the odds I had got to Cambridge University – the first person from my school to get to Oxbridge in over 10 years. I had just climbed the Matterhorn without ropes. I guess you could say I was successful.

Except, as my accident on the way down showed, to me there’s no point in achieving things if you aren’t there to enjoy it! (I slid out of control for about 15 metres, then managed to stop myself – I’m not sure how- about 10 metres away from a massive drop!)

I think this same lesson applies to business in a number of ways.

Think of the bigger picture

First, when defining your goals, think of the bigger picture. Is success for you reaching a career goal – be it Director Level, a certain salary – or is it staying there? Is the goal just to climb the mountain, or to come down safely as well ?

In my own business experience there comes a point when you need to make a transition from a talented and driven individual to a key player in a team.  And this requires that you delegate and trust other people.

Personally I find this hard but the best times I’ve had in business so far have always been when I’ve been part of team that has created something amazing. For instance, last weekend we launched a The Great British Bike Off, a new charity event in Oxford. The core team were all volunteers but we worked together well to overcome the many challenges and obstacles to putting on a major ground-breaking new event in Oxford City Centre. And we had a ball doing it too.

Failing is an essential part of succeeding

A mantra of the Growth Hacking world is “Fail Fast, Then Fail Better”.  In my own business career I have taken lots of risks. I’ve always liked to get involved in “skunkworks” projects which are under the radar.  An example is when I worked with a programmer in IBM to create a user customisable on-demand training catalogue for delivery in print or online format. This was years before the print on demand revolution.

Sometimes these activities succeed. Sometimes they don’t. They key thing for me is to not to be afraid to try. And of course to ensure that failure is not too expensive or painful.

The Growth Hacking world has the concept of a Minimal Viable Product. This is a great way to mitigate risk of a new technological innovation. If it looks like it will be a success then you can always invest more. If not, then you can deinvest.

At the end of the day, what success stories would you share?

Roger Monte Rosa
A young Roger with the Matterhorn in the distance

When mountaineers share their tall stories in the bar over a few drinks, the best stories are not when everything goes well. On the contrary, the best stories are when you have succeeded against the odds. When the weather has turned against you, when you’ve been avalanched or when something has gone horribly wrong.

Achieving success in Business is also rarely smooth. Brad Stone’s excellent book, The Upstarts, outlines in fascinating detail the trials and tribulations that Uber and AirBNB had to go through to achieve their success: from early prototypes of the Uber app that just didn’t work, to poor wifi infrastructure, to legislative challenges – to name but a few. The key thing is that both companies kept going, they rode their luck at times but they were successful because they perservered.

If at first you don’t succeed …

So, my advice is simple. If you have a good idea then go for it. And if you find yourself still alive at the bottom of your particular mountain just dust yourself off and start again.

There’s always another day.

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

If you can’t beat them, join them – reaching your MVP in Social Media

If you can’t beat them, join them – reaching your MVP in Social Media

I hear a lot from senior managers of a certain age that Social Media isn’t for them. They feel that they should participate but Social Media seems to be an alien world, for the under 25s only.

So here’s my advice on how you adopt some of the practices of Growth Hacking and the Social Media world to build your own presence and take advantage of Social Media tools.

Why MVP ?

Growth hacking is the new approach to development. It’s all about fearlessly getting to market and growing as quickly as you can using whatever methods you can (some not so legal!).  Fail fast, then fail better..

The idea of an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is that you get to market with just enough so that you can launch, and establish the market opportunity.  If you are successful, you then develop as you go to meet market demand.

You can use the same approach to Social Media.  You don’t need to invest lots of money to build a presence. You can get started very cheaply and easily, and build from there. Provided you follow some key principles.

Don’t underestimate the power of Social Media

Whatever your views on Social Media, no one can deny that it has incredible power. Take, for example, the Champions League Match between Dortmund and Monaco. The match had to be rescheduled due to a bomb attack on the Dortmund bus, and there were thousands of Monaco fans needing accommodation in Dortmund.

German fans turned to Twitter to offer accommodation to Monaco fans.  What was amazing was not just that Monaco fans could find accommodation but the goodwill generated by the many shares on Social Media of Dortmund and Monaco fans together.

Don’t over-estimate Social Media

But, there’s also a lot of hype about Social Media…   Not everyone uses Social Media. And the world of Social Media – like much in the Digital World – is highly fragmented.

Im alot cooler on the internet
This T shirt says it all !

Even in the UK, where we have a relatively high level of literacy (above the European average according to Digital Economy and Society Index DESI 2017 )  there are 5.3 million people who have never used the internet. (Office of National Statistics)

There is also a dark side to the internet. Millions of accounts on the leading platforms are actually fake accounts – and nearly 77% of all internet activity in Europe is “dark social”;  untracked and off the radar. (eConsultancy, Feb 2016)

In the UK, there are 5.3 million people who have never used the internet. (Office of National Statistics)

The Key point is that it is highly unlikely that 100% of your customers and prospects will use Social Media. And it is extremely unlikely that they will use Social exclusively as a channel to find out about your company or your products.

Social Media is a channel not a strategy

So you have to include Social Media in your strategy, but don’t make Social Media the strategy. Social Media platforms provide great communication channels to your target audiences.

But remember that Social Media platforms are highly fragmented and tribalised. So my advice is:

  • Link your messages on Social Media to all of your other channels. Don’t treat each channel (and this applies as well to email newsletters, campaigns, website, PR) as a silo. Link everything together. This will probably save you work too !
  • Consistent messaging – have consistent messages which you deliver across all of your channels.
  • Adapt for different audiences: different audiences have different expectations on the various Social Media channels (and this also applies to email, web sites and so on). For instance, platforms like Snapchat and Instagram tend to be highly image orientated. LinkedIN tends to be more thoughtful and business-like.

However beware of generalisations… because…

Rules – what rules ?

You see a lot of articles setting out rules for how to maximise use of platforms like LinkedIN, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter etc.

However in reality there are no hard and fast rules. Twitter didn’t even invent the Hashtag:  end-users created this. But this is exactly how these platforms develop and innovate…

rules what rules

Social Media is still relatively new. Most of the major platforms are under 10 years old and there is a lot of change going on in this sector.Facebook owns WhatsApp

  • Facebook introducing new Business features
  • Facebook owns Instagram and is introducing new features to counter the rise of Snapchat
  • Microsoft owns LinkedIN
  • Twitter may charge for Premium membership

Content – quality not quantity

According to Marketing Week, nearly 60% of all corporate content is clutter.  To be fair this doesn’t just apply to Digital content (how many people actually read brochures ?) however Social Media makes it deceptively easy to create and distribute content, without any of the usual balances and controls you would normally apply to a printed piece, or content for your website.

Unintegrated marcomms

People say that the average life of a Tweet is 18 minutes – so, if you add it all up, the vast majority of digital content has no impact, and is quite possibly never read.

So, my advice is as follows,..

  • Quality not quantity – If it isn’t worth saying then don’t say it !!  (Be honest, who actually reads #Mondaymotivation tweets ?)
  • Be consistent – each Social network is a Communications channel… have a clearly defined objective for your messages and adapt them for each channel.
  • Cut and paste blogs for each separate channel

Play the game – when you get to your MVP you can be selective over who follows you

If you are going to participate then you need a Minimum Viable Presence – this means a credible number of followers.

  • So, for LinkedIN, this means at least 200 followers, preferable over 1000 to become an All-star Profile.
  • For Twitter and Facebook, at least 500 followers

There are a number of simple techniques to do this. Contact me to find out more.

This means that you will have to accept a lot of poor quality followers … people who have no business value… but I would say that you can be fussy about your followers once you’ve got to your MVP…

So, my advice is that, to get the best out of Social Media you need to put it in its place.  It’s a valuable communications channel, which can really add value and reach new people in new ways.

Just don’t put too much effort into using Social Media.  No more, no less.

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