Data privacy/security – you can run but you can’t hide?

Posted on : 18-12-2015 | By : Jack.Rawden | In : Cloud, Cyber Security, Data, General News, Innovation

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Security and privacy are among some of the top themes discussed throughout 2015 and will likely remain an equally popular topic in 2016.

On one hand, consumers’ private data is increasingly being revealed through major security breaches and hacks, causing widespread outrage. On the other, in the face of terror, many are willing to voluntarily give up more and more of their privacy to be (or at least feel) more secure.

At the same time, new technologies offer solutions in healthcare, payments and entertainment, to name a few, with the potential to have a highly positive impact on the quality of our everyday lives. Their adoption however is often almost synonymous with sharing highly intimate data, raising concerns of many.

All of the above stir the data privacy/security debate. How much privacy are we willing to give up and in exchange for what?

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Your kids’ A.I. frenemies

In many cases it’s not even just about our data and our security…

For example, the scandal over the recent V-Tech hack, exposing data of 6.4 million children and the launch of the widely boycotted A.I., Wi-Fi enabled Barbie, designed to engage in dialogue with kids and ‘treasure’ their secrets, beg the question whether we are really willing to risk not only ours, but also our children’s sensitive data being revealed, in exchange for more interactive play experience.

Data collected via high-tech toys could not only be used for commercial reasons, but also for example to identify the times you leave home to drop off your kids to school.

 

‘Terrorised’ into sharing data?

In the wake of Paris attacks, European parliament civil liberties committee dropped its opposition to EU counter-terror plan to collect air passengers’ data. Data protection watchdogs described this as “the first large-scale and indiscriminate collection of personal data in the history of the European Union”.

The passing of laws allowing the EU to collect and store our personal data in the name of terrorism prevention means irreversible changes to the extent to which we are invigilated, taking us yet another step closer to the Big Brother reality scenario.

Nevertheless, it seems like privacy becomes irrelevant to the scared masses.

The UK media is heating up the atmosphere with warnings that a UK terror attack is only a matter of time and escalating fear through falsely labelling tube fire alarm incidents ‘terrorist’ scares; the Brits are concerned with safety. According to Dr David Purves, psychologist specialising in trauma “When something dramatic happens, such as the attacks in Paris, something called the ‘availability heuristic’ kicks in”. This means that certain things, such as a terrorist attack, seem more likely than they really are. The UK national counter-terrorism security office (NACTSO) publishing official advice on how to behave in case of a terror attack, including to ‘run or hide rather than lie down and play dead’, doesn’t necessarily contribute to our sense of security.

In this context, we either chose to turn a blind eye or even support governments’ and EU institutions’ steps depriving us from our privacy. The question is whether there is an end to this? Under more severe terrorist threats, how much surveillance are we willing to agree to?

 

IT health-care?

According to Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter, Britain is on ‘the brink of a personalised healthcare revolution that could scarcely have been predicted a few years ago.’; the NHS is soon to go high-tech with new proposals announced in mid-2015. Within the next five years, UK patients are very likely to be able to use the Internet to order prescriptions or access their health records, as well as speak to their GP. Wearable healthcare devices are also going mainstream, with estimates of 70% of us using them by 2025 (IDC).

A world in which we are much more in control over our wellness by being able to constantly track and monitor the state of your health and reach the expertise of our doctor through video calling does sound idyllic.

However, healthcare digitisation also has serious data security implications. Hacked healthcare data could be used for several purposes; imagine your potential employer or insurer could use it to assess the state your health? What if a hacker could tweak your health records?

A NHS spokesman said: ‘Ensuring patient confidentiality is of upmost importance to everyone working in the NHS and the robust processes already in place to ensure that patient data is protected extends data held electronically’, but let’s be realistic – if self-driving cars and Pentagon are being hacked, wearable health & wellness devices and the NHS are far from ‘unhackable’.

Broadgate’s Crystal Ball – Our predictions for 2016

Posted on : 18-12-2015 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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During the past few weeks, 2016 trend predictions have flooded our news feeds. After compiling and combining them with our view on the approaching changes, here’s Broadgate’s view on IT in 2016.

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Adaptive Security Architecture

In the context of companies’ growing awareness of the importance of security and the need to build it into all business processes, end-to-end, Gartner predicts that the near future will bring more tools to go on the offensive, leveraging predictive modeling, for example, allowing apps to protect themselves (!). Therefore, go on offensive and build in security to every project, product, process and service, instead of treating it as an add on and an afterthought or having separate “security” projects.

 

IoT and Big Data Science

IoT will gradually overtake every-thing and generate data-rich insights about us. Gartner notes that the rapid growth in the number of sensors embedded in various technologies of both personal and professional use will lead to the generation of tons of intelligence on our daily patterns. The more ‘things’ and areas of our lives IoT takes over, the more data is going to be collected. According to Gartner, by 2020, the number of devices connected to the Internet is expected to reach 25 billion. As each year is moving us much closer to the IoT big data/even bigger insights reality, it will be challenging to find efficient ways of digging through and making sense of the constant generation of streams of data.

As we stated this time last year, talking about the ‘future’ of 2015 –  Loading large amounts of disparate information into a central store is all well and good but it is asking the right questions of it and understanding the outputs is what it’s all about. If you don’t think about what you need the information for then it will not provide value or insight to your business. We welcome the change in thinking from Big Data to Data Science.

 

Connected Devices

Our bodies are going to be increasingly connected to the Internet through smart devices within the next couple of years. This is reality, not Sci-Fi; those, who claim that wearables will struggle to find their place in everyday life in 2016, should familiarise themselves with the outcomes of Gartner’s October Symposium/ITxpo. It is predicted that in two years, 2 million employees, primarily those engaged in physically demanding or dangerous work, will be required to wear health & fitness tracking devices as a condition of employment (Gartner). According to a different source, in nine years, 70% of us are going to use wearables (IDC).

 

The Hybrid Cloud

Following our 2015 prediction of cloud becoming the default coming true, towards 2016 the integration of on-premises cloud infrastructure and the public cloud is becoming an operating standard; the demand for the hybrid cloud is growing at a rate of 27% (MarketsandMarkets). Google’s hire of Diane Greene, co-founder of VMware, to head up Google Cloud, shows Google’s commitment to offering services to enterprise cloud customers. A hybrid Kubernetes scheme is said to be part of the deal (Knorr, Infoworld), which will likely have a significant impact the growth of the hybrid cloud in 2016.

 

The outsourcing of personal data

Barely a week goes by without another retailer or bank losing customer information by getting hacked. This is becoming a serious and expensive problem for firms, each one is having to put complex defense mechanisms in place to protect themselves.

We think the outsourcing of responsibility (and sensitive data) to specialist firms will be a growing trend in 2016. These firms can have high levels of security controls and will have the processing ability to support a large number of clients.

Obviously one potential issue is that these organisations will be targeted by the criminals and when one does get breached it will have a much greater impact….

 

We are truly excited to see what 2016 will surprise us with!

“Scores on the Doors” – The Broadgate Brand Perception Survey Results

Posted on : 27-05-2015 | By : Jack.Rawden | In : General News

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Recently Broadgate kicked off an internal initiative to try and gauge the “Broadgate” brand and it’s perception across its stakeholders.  In March a survey was distributed and responses flowed thick and fast.  Respondents were from a variety of groups, from clients to partners, associates, rivals – even one of Broadgates director’s mothers.  If you were one of the people that took the time to respond, thank you.

Survey Aims

Since 2008 Broadgate has been providing Technology and Business Services to a range of institutions.  A decision was made in January this year to see if Broadgate could gain an understanding of how it is viewed by its stakeholders. As a company we were keen to get a feel for:-

  • How the Broadgate “Brand” is seen and what is associated with it
  • If there are any gaps in services Broadgate are currently providing
  • Our Communication Channels, how people use them and the content
  • If there is anything that Broadgate should be improving

Results from the survey were combined, analysed and key trends/themes emerged. Broadgate has taken valuable insight from this and some of the findings are included below.

Broadgate Brand Quotes

Communication

Broadgates communication channels have been generally well received.  Stakeholders have reviewed the Broadgate twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, website, blog and newsletter.  In general the level, detail and frequency of communication was good and as part of the process Broadgate will continue to develop these, particularly the newsletter to keep content informative and relevant. In the near future the newsletter will receive an updated look and we will strive to continue to produce informative, relevant and forward thinking articles.  There will also be a push to improve the social media content, so if you don’t already, follow Broadgate on LinkedIn, Twitter and soon Google +.

Brand Perception

The good news for Broadgate is that the Broadgate name and brand is overall perceived well.  Trust, knowledge and strengths all scored highly.  This is something that as a company we will endeavour to keep and improve as Broadgate grows.

A few comments that came from the survey associated Broadgate as being “Credible”, “Un-biased”, “Knowledgeable”, “Delivers Value”, “Experienced” and “Flexible”.  From a Broadgate perspective this aligns with Broadgate’s “Core Values” and what we pride ourselves as some of our key strengths.  We will continue to work to these “Core Values” and ensure that our standards don’t slip.

Could improve

The survey did highlight some areas in which Broadgate can improve and work has been started to try and improve these areas.  Broadgate has a social media presence, however, respondents to the survey did not view or engage with the content.  Broadgate also needs to improve visibility on its core technical strengths between groups.  Certain groups see Broadgate differently to one another, which means there is an issue with the way Broadgate is communicating its core skills and values.  Work has already started on both of these areas and hopefully these will be resolved in the near future.

Overall the survey has been a success, things that Broadgate are doing well will be the core values for Broadgate as it progresses and expands further.  Areas for improvement will be addressed and plans are in place to try and remediate them.  All feedback received has been taken on board and will used to improve the level of services Broadgate provide.

Calling the General Election

Posted on : 31-03-2015 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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With the General Election now only 37 days away, can we harness new technology and the “wisdom” of social media crowd to help call it?

 

Big Data and Sentiment Analysis

 

In the run up to the election you will hear a lot about the power of big data and sentiment analysis, for example in this announcement from TCS.

The technology behind this and similar projects is undoubtedly clever, although I do think the state of the art in sentiment analysis is being overplayed – I recently attended a talk by a professor of computational linguistics who revealed that it helps with their currently not very effective sentiment analysis of twitter if people include emoticons in their messages!

However this attempt to benefit from the “Wisdom of the Crowd” (often cited as a rationale) is doomed for a reason that is as old as computing itself:

 

“Garbage in, Garbage out”

 

The sample set of political tweets will largely encompass two analytically unhelpful groups; political activists, who are the least likely to change their vote and the young who are least likely to vote in the first place!

Indeed, at the close of the Scottish referendum campaign, the SNP were convinced that they had won by a good margin off the back of analysis based partly on trends in social media.

(This is different to the US Republicans in 2012 who, at the close of the presidential campaign, also thought they had won but based on no data at all from the non-working system that they had built. This is not relevant to the current discussion except that both instances led to a narrative of the vote being “stolen” developing amongst true believers but I include the aside as I think this article is required reading on how not to roll-out a project to non-technical users)

 

Opinion Polls

 

What about the more familiar opinion polls?

As the polling companies are always keen to tell us, polls provide a snapshot and not a predication.  This is true of course but the snapshot itself is not really a snapshot of how people will vote at that moment in time. It is a snapshot of how they answer the question “which party would you vote for if a General Election were held tomorrow”.

They subsequently give different answers when asked specifically about their constituency and different answers again when the local candidates are named. Liberal Democrats have found in their private polling of their stronghold seats (a fast dwindling set!) that naming the local candidate can make a 10-point difference in their favour (the incumbency effect) and indeed this is the glimmer of hope that they cling to this time round.

What opinion polls also cannot factor in is anything more than a rudimentary use of past knowledge of voter behaviour – polling firms do differ on how they allocate “Don’t know”s, either ignoring them altogether or reallocating a proportion of them based on declared past voting.

Of course this gives its own problems as people are inherently unreliable and misremember. For instance, when asked, far more people claim to have voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 than the total number of votes the party actually received.

 

Betting markets

 

Of course the one source that can take all the above and more into account including past knowledge and contemporary analysis is the betting markets.

In pre-internet days, the above was still true but easy access to information and on-line betting has supercharged this in terms of both numbers and overall quality.

In this case, the “Wisdom of the crowd”, often touted for things like sentiment analysis, does actually hold true because the crowd in this case are actually wise (unlike the twitterati), both individually and collectively.

Political betting is a niche pursuit and as such attracts both amateur and professional psephologists along with those with “inside” knowledge. This means that the weight of the money in the market is quite well informed.

 

Past-it First Past the Post

 

The importance of inside knowledge is magnified by a creaking voting system that means that national polls and sentiments are all well and good, but the real result lies in the hands of a hundred thousand odd voters in a handful of marginal constituencies.

This means that those will real insight are those on the ground and this time around, the proliferation of smaller parties eating into each of the main parties’ votes makes the situation even more volatile and local knowledge even more important. The constituency betting markets will be made by political activists on the ground with access to detailed internal canvass data.

So my advice would be to ignore the siren call of the new (social media) and the reassurance of the old (opinion polls) and just follow the money, the informed betting money that is.

 

This article was authored by Andrew Porrer of Heathwest Systems and represents his personal opinions. Andrew can be contacted at Andrew.Porrer@heathwest.com.

Extreme Outsourcing: Should companies just keep the tip of the iceberg?

Posted on : 30-09-2014 | By : john.vincent | In : General News

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Recently I’ve thought about an event I attended in the early 2000’s, at which there was a speech that really stuck in my mind. The presenter gave a view on a future model of how companies would source their business operations, specifically the ratio of internally managed against that which would be transitioned to external providers (I can’t remember exactly the event, but it was in Paris and the keynote was someone you might remember, named Carly Fiorina…).

What I clearly remember, at the time, was a view that I considered to be a fairly extreme view of the potential end game. He asked the attendees:

Can you tell me what you think is the real value of organisations such as Coca Cola, IBM or Disney?

Answer: The brand.

It’s not the manufacturing process, or operations, or technology systems, or distribution, or marketing channels, or, or… Clearly everything that goes into the intellectual property to build the brand/product (such as the innovation and design) is important, but ultimately, how the product is built, delivered and operated offers no intrinsic value to the organisation. In these areas it’s all about efficiency.

In the future, companies like these would be a fraction of the size in terms of the internal staff operations.

Fast forward to today and perhaps this view is starting to gain some traction…at least to start the journey. For many decades, areas such as technology services have be sourced through external delivery partners. Necessity, fashion and individual preference have all driven CIOs into various sourcing models. Operations leaders have implemented Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) to low cost locations, as have other functions such the HR and Finance back offices.

But perhaps there’s are two more fundamental questions that CEOs or organisations should ask as they survey their business operations;

  • 1) What functions that we own actually differentiate us from our competitors?
  • 2) Can other companies run services better than us?

It is something that rarely gets either asked or answered in a way that is totally objective. That is of course a natural part of the culture, DNA and political landscape of organisations, particularly those that have longevity and legacy in developing internal service models. But is isn’t a question that can be kicked into the long grass anymore.

Despite the green shoots of economic recovery, there are no indications that the business environment is going to return to the heady days of large margins and costs being somewhat “consequential”. It’s going to be a very different competitive world, with increased external oversight and challenges/threats to companies, such as through regulation, disruptive business models and innovative new entrants.

We also need to take a step back and ask a third question…

  • 3) If we were building this company today, would we build and run it this way?

Again a difficult, and some would argue, irrelevant question. Companies have legacy operations and “technical debt” and that’s it…we just need to deal with it over time. The problem is, time may not be available.

In our discussions with clients, we are seeing that realisation may have dawned. Whilst many companies in recent years have reported significant reductions in staff numbers and costs, are we still just delaying the “death by a thousand cuts”? Some leaders, particularly in technology, have realised that not only running significant operations is untenable, but also that a more radical approach should be taken to move the bar much closer up the operating chain towards where the real business value lies.

Old sourcing models looked at drawing the line at functions such as Strategy, Architecture, Engineering, Security, Vendor Management, Change Management and the like. These were considered the valuable organisational assets. Now. I’m not saying that is incorrect, but what often has happened is that have been treated holistically and not broken down into where the real value lies. Indeed, for some organisations we’ve heard of Strategy & Architecture having between 500-1000 staff! (…and, these are not technology companies).

Each of these functions need to be assessed and the three questions asked. If done objectively, then I’m sure a different model would emerge for many companies with trusted service providers running much on the functions previously thought of as “retained”. It is both achievable, sensible and maybe necessary.

On the middle and front office side, the same can be asked. When CEOs look at the revenue generating business front office, whatever the industry, there are key people, processes and IP that make the company successful. However, there are also many areas where it was historically a necessity to run internally but actually adds no business value (although, of course still very key). If that’s the case, then it makes sense to source it from specialist provider where the economies of scale and challenges in terms of service (such as from “general regulatory requirements”) can be managed without detracting from the core business.

So, if you look at some of the key brands and their staff numbers today in the 10’s/100’s of thousands, it might only be those that focus on key business value and shed the supporting functions, that survive tomorrow.

 

An independent Scotland: “Yes” or “No”, technology needs to prepare

Posted on : 31-08-2014 | By : jo.rose | In : General News

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Things are hotting up on the Scottish independence referendum with only a few weeks to go now until we finally find out the decision of the people on September 18th. In my view, last weeks live TV debate between Salmond and Darling did nothing really to help steer the undecided in a particular direction from a substance perspective. Like a lot of politics it was more about debating style and posturing.

However, outside of the key issue regarding North Sea oil, Scottish currency plans, the health service and Trident, what about the impact of a “Yes” vote in terms of technology, both for corporates and commercial tech companies?

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, has warned against the impact the uncertainty is having on businesses.

It heightens the level of uncertainty, so it’s not good. There is a vote and we don’t know what the result is going to be. Whether it’s a yes or a no, any business is having to think about what the implications of yes are

As we are finally coming out of a long recession this debate is, for many UK bosses, an unwanted distraction. A recent Business Instincts survey (a poll of bosses at businesses throughout the UK) found that under-investment in technology has left many firms with skills shortages and ageing information technology infrastructure.

Getting the best out of IT investment topped the list of technical issues for firms saying under-investment during the downturn had left them needing to catch up with fast paced changes

This is a key issue and a theme that we see in discussions with many of clients. With capital expenditure on technology dramatically scaled back, or cut completely during the recession, many companies now have significant investment programmes under way.

Technology change is also more fast paced today than it ever has been, both in terms of independent software vendor upgrades and innovation or disruptive technologies. Organisations need to catch up on both fronts, from a risk perspective of being non-current/non-compliant with areas such as security vulnerability management and also from a competitive perspective. It’s a difficult environment and one where the further implications of a potential separation of Scotland is unwelcome.

Financial Services is of course one of the areas where the impact would be felt most. In an industry already struggling to catch up and deal with the “tsunami of new regulation”, a “Yes” vote would bring in a whole new set of problems with financial reporting structures, tax, risk management and potentially a new currency.

Naturally, all of these have underpinning technology implications. A good comparison is the acquisition and subsequent dismantling of ABN AMRO bank by a consortium back in 2008. Each party “carved out” their respective businesses from what was a tightly highly complex business and technology infrastructure. The scale of the change was completely under-estimated by the acquirers.

End to end services are rarely loosely coupled, either at the application or infrastructure level, and often are a managed by multiple vendors as well as internally, and ABN AMRO was no different. Separation plans that were over ambitiously tabled in “numbers of months” were rebaselined many times and months quickly became years, with technology costs for people and infrastructure following suit.

The problem is not limited to large corporates. Technology SME’s operating in the UK have similar issues. One such is AAISP a small niche provider that prides itself on providing specialist technical support to its customers. While it sells a range of ADSL and fiber-based broadband services throughout the UK, they have expressed doubts about whether his company will be able to offer services in two countries, citing issues such as having to pay corporation tax in two countries, different VAT rates and having to deal with another Ofcom type regulator in Scotland.

Their owner, Andrew Kennard states;

I wonder how many ISPs and other service businesses based in England would simply cut off Scotland, just because of simple commercial common sense

He also speculates on BT’s reaction if Scotland broke away from the rest of the UK, arguing that the cost of connecting remote communities might be passed on to customers without regulatory oversight.

Of course, no one really knows. It’s speculation. What we do know however is that a “Yes” vote will bring many changes in business processes and structure, all of which will have an impact to technology (arguably, all good for contractors!)

The real issue is what if the vote is a “No” but inconclusive? If the margin of victory is too close then there the noise will persist. Maybe we need to start planning a protracted and bitter divorce settlement.

Enabling global organisational alignment: A Methodology

Posted on : 30-09-2013 | By : jo.rose | In : General News

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Globalisation versus localisation:  it’s not a new topic of discussion at Board level, but with the increasing complexity in the market, ease of access to information, and an ever-more crowded market, it is more and more important to have a clear strategy on how to attract and retain clients.

So, whatever the appropriate strategy, it is critical to get the balance right, between offering a scalable global product, and a tailored customer experience.  There are big gains to be had for those who get it right:  Deloitte Consulting estimates that the globalisation of assets, investment opportunities and information can bring efficiency gains of between 5 and 30 percent for providers of financial services that are able to build scale and efficiency into their operating model.

Identifying and implementing the appropriate solution is much more all-encompassing than building a technology platform and encouraging people to work better together.  It’s about defining and embedding a permanent behaviour change.  Put another way, it is about aligning the entire organisation to service the customer.  In other words, it’s really about the most unquantifiable of concepts:  ‘culture change’!

So what is the secret to defining and embedding a customer culture?  Over the coming months we’ll be covering these in detail. Here is a brief introduction to our methodology:

 

Step 1:  Build the team, purpose and philosophy

Any commitment to aligning the organisation must be led by the CEO, and must have the engagement, buy in and involvement of the key Executives in the organisation.  That team must decide on what the Purpose of the organisation is.  An effective Purpose is not ‘to make money’ – that is a by-product.  The most effective Purpose will be around servicing the customer. Until they are clear on what they are trying to achieve, it will be impossible to align the organisation.

Step 2:  Create a customer strategy

Once the Executive team are aligned around servicing the customer, they next step is to establish the growth strategy.  Broadly there are three options:

  • Sell more to existing clients
  • Develop and sell new products to existing clients
  • Sell existing products to new clients

How should the team decide what to focus on?  The only way to do it is to develop an in depth understanding of the (existing and potential) customers’ needs

Once clear on the customer strategy, the team must devise a way to articulate that strategy internally, to engage and inspire the entire organisation. 

Step 3:  Organisation design

Clarity on the customer needs will bring clarity to the appropriate organisation structure to service the client effectively:  How many people are required to service each segment?  How should they work together?  Who should they report to?  Should teams be product-centric, geography-centric or customer-centric?  These are critical questions to answer.

Step 4:  Consistent and aligned metrics and incentives

What is the most effective and appropriate data to deliver the customer strategy and align and incentivise employees?  What metrics should be provided, and how should those metrics be balanced between ‘lag’ and ‘lead’, and financial’ and ‘non-financial data.

 Step 5:  Aligned systems and processes

Only at this stage should the team tackle the question of what systems and processes are required, what reporting tools are required and how the systems and processes underpin and enable the teams to deliver the customer strategy.  The technology infrastructure is a critical enabler to embed a change in ways of working, and are central to the change process, but must be implemented as part of a bigger customer strategy.

Step 6:  Training and follow up

For employees that have worked in a certain way for their entire career, the challenge of changing behaviours and ways of working must not be underestimated.  Key considerations are:

  • What is the ‘story’ that is being sold to the employees?  How is that story engaging and compelling?
  • How is the training delivered and embedded to make it stick?
  • How do we ensure each level of the organisation buys into and embeds the change?

Step 7:  Performance Management

To embed the change, a long term shift in the approach to performance management is required.  How can you use information and performance data to measure people against the appropriate behaviours, as well as results?

The ‘culture’ of an organisation is the aggregation of the behaviours of all employees.  Changing, and aligning those behaviours requires a comprehensive, and all-encompassing change programme.  Technology is the enabler at the heart of that programme, each one of these phases is critical to the success of a process to create global alignment.  Those companies that jump in to one or two of the stages, thinking that’s ‘job done’ will soon find the changes are not embedded and the ‘change process’ has been a costly failure.

Piers Robinson, biography

Piers has a passion for creating high performance business environments.  His philosophy of aligning the entire organisation to service the customer is founded upon his unique combination of blue chip sales management experience with PepsiCo and Diageo, alongside his strategic HR experience as the Global HR Director of Fitness First and organisational change consulting with a range of blue chip clients.  Piers has also developed his leadership skills as a Commonwealth Gold medal winning rowing coach and as a Visiting Fellow at Imperial College Business School.

The aggregation of marginal gains – what can we learn from the sport of cycling?

Posted on : 30-09-2013 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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Sir David Brailsford is the major driver behind a revolution in the fortunes of British Cycling. The UK is now one of the most successful cycling nations with two successive Tour de France winners from Team Sky, a team that was put together barely 4 years ago. Fifteen years ago British cycling was languishing in the lower divisions, now it is riding high in the world rankings.

One of the most interesting techniques Brailsford has applied to cycle coaching is the “aggregation of marginal gains” the sum of analysing & making many small changes to an environment or training plan.  Many examples have been quoted such as heating bib shorts before use to keep the muscles warm, wiping tyres down with alcohol before the start of races to clean grit off and employing a chef to provide optimised meals for the riders.

One specific example of this is the Team Sky Bus. Every competitor has a bus but, before Brailsford and his team, none had thought about in the same way. Team Sky started from scratch and built it out to provide the perfect environment to support the riders on the tours. Every part of the rider’s routine was analysed and an environment was then designed to meet their needs perfectly. Riders need lots of clean, dry kit, the need lots of nutritious interesting food, they need somewhere private to discuss the days’ events and plan for the next one. So the bus included washing machines (muffled of course), meeting rooms, kitchen & sleeping areas customised for the riders.

The attention to detail (and an almost unlimited budget) showed through when two brand new Volvo coaches were torn apart and then 9000 man hours of kitting out took place. This process involved the coaches, riders and other staff with continuous feedback which refined the result into an additional pair of team members. Initially the rival teams dismissed the buses nicknamed “Death Stars” as just another bus (abet – expensive they ended up costing around £750k each)but as Sky’s daily results on the tours jumped up the leader boards they came to learn and respect the thought processes involved.

So what lessons can we learn on the Sky approach? Well the techniques they are using have been borrowed from business ideas but it is the consistent application of them which is making them work so well.

GB cycling & the Sky team have a similar philosophy based on the following core principles:

Setting ambitious goals

From a standing start in 2010 Brailsford said Team Sky would win the Tour de France within five years. This was seen as ludicrous by the cycling establishment. He disrupted conventional thinking by applying scientific methods to the sport and, with Bradley Wiggins victory in 2012, it actually took them three years.

We think this ‘shooting for the stars’ ambition can work for business just as well. Aiming for what could be done not what is being done changes the way people think within companies and, given the right environment, support, drive and that ambition does create winning organisations.

Focus on the end result

What is important? All around there is noise, interference and distractions so keeping the ‘blinkers’ on to aim for the end-game is critical. Saying that, blindly ignoring feedback or responses around you can be fatal too so ensuring you are aiming for the right end result is also critical.

Teamwork & Ensuring the whole team has one vision

All organisations have teams. Team GB & Sky have ensured the right mix of individuals form a team with a common, shared goal. This is something which is part directed, part in built and always reinforced. Everyone understands the obligations and rewards of having the single winning vision.

Analyse everything

Data is everything and unlocking its hidden value is another key to the team’s success. Everyone in the team understands the value of capturing as much information as possible and that data is analysed and replayed in as near time as possible. The Sky team sometimes forgo the glory of the ‘hands free’ roll over the finishing line to punch in the completion message on their bike computers.

Control & Discipline

There is a poster on the entrance to the team bus with the Team rules re-emphasises the importance of the vision and goals of the team. It does not spell out the penalties for infringement but a number of people have left the team after breaching rules either during or before their stint with Sky.

Grow the person

This is the aim of most businesses but both GB and Sky aim to get inside their team members’ heads to understand their motivations, desires and ambitions. This energy is then focussed in such a way to build and improve the team whilst maximising the personal objectives of the person.

Plan and plan flexibility

Team GB & Sky management and riders spend a large amount of their time planning for every eventuality including differing weather conditions, team strengths, rivals changing strategies and  any other factors that can influence the race. They then produce the strategic plan of the race, the day, the hour or the hill. The important piece is that any changing circumstances are fed into the plan to modify or indeed create a new plan as it is required. It is strong enough to hold up and work but flexible enough change and still be a success.

 

All these attributes can be applied to most business areas and it is the ability to plan and refine every detail which has provided British cycling and Sky with their continued success. Small continuous improvements bring marginal gains to both Sport and also Business teams.

What is also critical is that the strategy or ‘big picture’ is going in the right direction. There is no point bringing the right pillow if the bus is parked in the wrong town.

 

 

Time for the “Super PMO”

Posted on : 28-06-2013 | By : jo.rose | In : General News

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In todays technology change organisation, the Project Management Office (PMO) is a vital component; it creates consistent governance and project metrics, a central pool of expertise that can give help and guidance to project managers, standards, policies, methodology etc… and offload the routine tasks that get in the way of effectively controlling a project.

The success of the PMO hinges on;

  1. the quality of the tools used to implement the project management method adopted by the organisation
  2. the ability of the PMO tools to reach all participants in the project – not just project managers but the staff, contractors and suppliers who deliver

Forrester Research recently carried out a study into the benefits of implementing project portfolio tools. The benefits and how these tools help included reduction in project failures, cost overruns, throughput times and administrative effort. No surprises, but often these tools can be cumbersome and badly implemented.

PMO software requirements have grown significantly over the past few years as the emphasis has shifted from the planning process to cost control, corporate governance, project interdependencies and reporting.

Best of Breed PMOs today have a much wider range of responsibilities than earlier instances, including:

  • Identify and manage inter-project dependencies;
  • Resolve resource conflicts before they impact the project and resolve
  • Prevent duplication of business case benefits
  • Eliminate duplication of project management data and processes
  • Establish processes that enable the consistent management of all projects within defined project types.
  • Encourage cooperation across project teams and organisational boundaries
  • Provide timely metrics in a variety of formats useful for management decision support, proving regulatory compliance and monitoring risks

However, since the success of the PMO depends to a large extent on the tools that they use, it is unfortunate that
most project software is not designed to handle the additional data and workflows for cross-project dependencies, risks and supplier management.

As a result, PMOs have had to augment the core planning functionality with a mish-mash of discrete and disparate tools, which can only record and match data at the overall project level and which require cumbersome and costly manual processes.

Introducing to Super PMO

What organisations need is a solution that not only meets all the needs of a modern PMO but addresses the new end-to-end service model needs by ensuring that everyone works from  the same information, whilst offering a flexible, cost effective and agile implementation model.

An example of this is Deffinity. Their enterprise operations hub integrates every aspect of project management with the relevant business processes within the organization; including procurement, PMO, Project Teams, Suppliers, Operations and Finance.

At the same time, Deffinity exploits modern technologies such as Cloud and Mobile access to bring external customers and suppliers within the system, and deliver real-time control to project managers.

The “Super PMO” service encompasses three core concepts:

  1. A real-time information management framework that integrates plans with business workflows, activity tracking, issues, risks and programme management
  2. A “Live” project environment for running projects on an Exception basis
  3. A comprehensive ‘operational analytics’ capability that delivers the insights to support continuous process refinement and reengineering

All data is captured in tables and documents within the system, making it searchable at a granular level down to individual activities and contractors.

In summary, Deffinity “Super PMO” provides:

  • The ability to build and maintain project plans that take account of actual resource availability, locations and skills
  • Automated reporting of actual against planned activity as each task is completed
  • A resource management function that can display current resource assignments, appropriately filtered, to project managers and sponsors ensuring plans are consistent with real availabilities (and reducing conflicts before they occur)
  • On-demand metrics displayed in configurable dashboards for executives, sponsors and project managers; each tailored to show information useful to the viewer’s role
  • A selection of pre-configured reports documenting progress towards delivery and highlighting risks and issues as they are reported
  • Timesheet and expense data supported by an approval workflow that informs reports and dashboards
  • Store and index documentation supporting project plans service agreements, change history and other relevant materials

 

If you would like to see how Deffinity can help to manage your end-to-end service model and reduce operational costs, please contact Nadeem Mohammed.

 

 

Business & Digital alignment – how close is your firm?

Posted on : 28-06-2013 | By : john.vincent | In : General News

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Over recent years we have seen the rise in prominence and status of technology with organisations. If we take the Gartner Hype Curve analogy, we spent much of the mid 1990’s through to mid 2000’s in “The Plateau of Productivity”, with technology being an integral underpinning necessity or enabler, but less frequently an innovator or driver of competitive advantage, outside of stability and speed of execution (although, some business leaders might point to a “Trough of Disillusionment”).

Todays world and, in particular, the relationship between business and technology is much changed with organisations introducing new governance structures and roles to more closely take advantage of digital innovation and their ability to disrupt business models. Indeed, we have seen the introduction of the Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Digital Officer with elevated positions in the corporate structure.

That said, from a company’s board perspective, how can they ensure that the business direction and technology are aligned effectively to capitalise on digital innovation. Below are some themes/questions which are useful as a test of capability:

How is our industry changing as a result of technology innovation?

It is important to understand how new innovations are breaking down the boundaries of business models and reducing the barriers of entry. This is not simply keeping abreast with the latest trends in mobile, cloud, data analytics etc… but how new technologies are being exploited by competition and new entrants which can potential erode business revenues. This is difficult, as often the it is not obvious where the challenges will come from. Some can be predicted, such as trading engines and decision support built from social media sentiment analysis, or the myriad of mobile payment solutions. Others, however, are more difficult to predict like the introduction of gamification techniques across industry or the introduction of big data analytics for operational efficiency/intelligence such as with applications like Splunk.

 

What is our structure and process for nurturing developing digital technologies?

A recent survey by McKinsey showed that organisations are still coming to terms with how to develop, nurture and commercialise ideas within the organisation. From 2240 respondents, 50% stated “We have pockets of successful innovation but it is rarely scaled” and only 36% thought “We have the right balance between good ideas and effective commercialisation”.

So, does your organisation have someone responsible for driving forwards digital advancement? (such as Chief Innovation Officer)…or, is there a way to garner ideas within the grass roots and ensure that they are given enough runway to develop, through incubation mechanisms?

 

Have we the correct governance structure and a defined technology roadmap?

Business and IT alignment is often talked about but not really executed upon. Having the CIO/CTO or IT Director in operational or strategy governance meetings does not provide an optimised solution as often the focus is on efficiency, budgets, risk etc… and very rarely on a close (bi-directional) coupling between business priorities and “technology possibility”.

We see new models emerging where business and technology are brought together under specific “Digital Units” on an equal footing, where the goal is to build a technology roadmap which is completely not only aligned, but in many cases, actually informs and drives business into new customer markets and revenue opportunities.

 

Have we aligned our business operating model and portfolio of change effectively to the underpinning technology investments?

A natural lead in from the previous question. By putting the correct governance in place and removing internal barriers, it is much easier to ensure that the business operating model is driving technology investment and vice versa. Too often, organisations still operate a model from which the business change portfolio is defined and the “handed” to the technology leadership to deliver. And when we talk about large/global IT programmes, how many of these turn into “Black Swans“?

CEO’s need to look at, and question, the cross functional aspects of their business and technology organisations. We often see technology departments “aligned” to business units, but how often are more permanent/product related horizontal structures created?…and do individuals move in both directions through their careers to strengthen and embed competitive business knowledge and drive innovation?

 

What are we doing to increase the commoditisation and agility of technology resources?

The agility objective has been largely “etched into” power-point presentations for many years as they’ve made their way into the board room. “We’ve outsourced and increased agility…”…”Our ratio of perm to contract resource has increased from X to Y allowing us to be more agile.”….(tick in the box then).

What CEO’s need to gauge is truly how fast their internal technology organisation can respond to changes in business services from all aspects be that functionality, new products or volumes? (and the important part of this is whether can they be scaled down or switched off?)

Whilst the move to a more commoditised service model needs to be evolutionary, particularly in terms of risk and compliance, what CEO’s should look for from their technology leadership is a committed multi year roadmap which lays out the resource model for infrastructure, applications and people, with associated metrics/budget. Without this, and with the pressure of day to day efficiency challenges, CIO’s cannot be blamed for maintaining previous models.