Differentiating Using Strategy and Technology

The Academy Awards were a few weeks back and the popular movie The Social Network was nominated for Best Picture. It didn’t win the award, but it did elevate Facebook into a cultural phenomenon. It’s no longer another website – it’s Facebook. People care about it like their Nike running shoes, Apple iPod, and Starbucks coffee.

Each of these brands has used slight advantages in their products to become the dominate company in the space. How or why does this happen? Well, first I’ll mention luck. It always plays a role. In addition to luck, it’s the people.

Individuals and teams within these companies differentiate their offerings. They do so within a cost structure that maintains competitiveness and they do so with an eye toward value. Most people think of value as what Wal-Mart offers. One product 10 cents cheaper than a competitor and that is true in a commodities evaluation. Paper towels are paper towels. Value becomes much more abstract when the offering – product or service – has an association related to it. Starbucks originally pulled people in because the coffee was stronger. The association was that it woke up better than other options. And Apple combats technophobia because they create electronic devices that are easy to use.

This value is marginal at first, but then it snow balls. Getting it to snow ball is the key and then building on that is paramount. Facebook used exclusivity as the differentiator and then opened up the site to ride the network effect. Now it can exploit it’s pure numbers for monetary gain.

Earlier this year Goldman Sachs in a backroom deal valued Facebook at $50 billion dollars. Valuations like this have some to speculate that there is another tech bubble. Groupon, Google, Facebook, and others are the poster children.

In the world of the internet, small differences in your products can be the difference in sinking or swimming. Because of that Silicon Valley is leading the way in an escalating war for tech talent. Google is offering $20,000 more than average to the people they’ve targeted. Some firms are teaching their employees how to be entrepreneurs. In Silicon Valley it’s an inevitability, might as well make it a perk.

Do I think its a new tech bubble? I don’t. How engineers are using the internet now is very different than 15 years ago. Now it’s used to implement strategies that were inconceivable just three years ago. New approaches can separate and new technology can accelerate. What goes into the making of a Best Picture? It’s more than just film, it’s artistry.

Teacher Pay and Motivation: What is Fair?

There are a lot of people hurting as this recession drags on. At least six million people have been without a job for more than six months. There’s anger.

And there’s resentment. Currently teachers are the target and it means a review of their total compensation. Pay, health benefits, pension, time off, and tenure are all seen as unfair in the face of the constant rhetoric of how US students are falling behind on international test scores. Logic says: poor test scores = poor performance = a loss of jobs. If you’re one of the six million people without a job that’s the bitter pill you’ve swallowed.

Although the focus is often on teacher pay, I don’t think that’s the case. The real angst is for tenure. And teaching is one profession that I don’t feel like pay is as important as it is in other industries. The sparkle in a kid’s eye as they figure out multiplication is the seminal motivator of most good teacher.

I’ve stated in other posts that I feel tests are over utilized as a measurement for teachers. Tests should be used to reinforce weak areas for kids development, but it should be coupled with something that kids produce. Creating something involves many more levels of learning, whether it’s creativity and problem solving or math and engineering, and that should be used to judge teachers.

Below is an interesting 60 Minutes report that highlights pay as a performance element for teachers:

http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf

Your Greatest Weakness

I’m the type of person who relies on metaphors and analogies. It’s just the way I absorb information. So as the sun shone on my face this past weekend, I couldn’t resist comparing the first warm up of the season to the optimism of a reborn employment market. Just like Chance the gardener said in Being ThereIn the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

With hiring thawing out, the inevitable uptick in interviews will commence and we’ll see more media stories about the topic. For instance, over to HBR.org Priscilla Claman has a great blog entry called The Worst Interview Question (and How to Answer It). The focus of the writing is on the question:

 “What is your greatest weakness?”

The question from an interviewer standpoint is intended to show how the interviewee handles uncomfortable interactions. If an interviewee has prepared well, then it’s hard to gauge whether the interviewee can perform when unknown circumstances come up, which is bound to happen in the workplace. This type of awkwardness can paint the picture of how this person would react.

But as noted in the blog article, there’s downsides to the question. The first is that it can be embarrassing. And starting off a relationship with embarrassment is not usually a good idea. There’s lots of movies like this. The second is that strengths and weaknesses change depending on the culture and function the person is involved with. For instance, I love analogies is that a weakness? It depends. Because of this grey area interviewees create work around answers like “I’m a workaholic” so they don’t paint themselves into a corner.

However, as the blog states, there are a few good ways to reply. Check
out the cheesy xtranormal video I created this weekend while messing
around for an example.

 

 

http://www.xtranormal.com/site_media/players/jw_player_v54/player.swf

Working Thoughts 2/15/09
NatGeo Has Me Hooked Lately

Working Thoughts 2/15/08
Teachers Who Have the Creative Freedom to Teach

A Dan Pink Speaking Experience

A couple of weeks ago I was staring at my computer screen and in comes an Instant Message asking if I knew Dan Pink was speaking in Charlotte? The IM was from Jill, a work friend for over 10 years. I had no idea about the event, but I was excited. She sent me the link to the UNCC NEXT Speaker Series and I promptly bought a $40 ticket.

The day of the event arrived, but I wasn’t sure where to go. The Blumenthal has several stages and the one I was looking for was the Booth Playhouse. Luckily, there was an event before hand for networking, so I figured I could follow the crowd. It was easy. There were several people standing in the hall welcoming Dan Pink fans and pointing to will call for picking up tickets. I was in extrovert mode and introduced myself to several other attendees, but the response I got was uncomfortable friendliness, forced smiles and all. After a few of these interactions, I realized the people I was trying to chat up were college professors. Maybe they aren’t used to networking in a real business world? Undaunted, I bought a beer and spotted someone who wasn’t part of the school clique. I introduced myself to Darren and we discussed Pink’s books.

Although we are standing in the lobby of a small theatre, it sort of feels like a post modern fashion store. There are doors at the ends, but the entire area is visible through clear windows. I wasn’t at the mall, but I could have sworn I saw some t-shirts on sale for $250. Thankfully, Jill arrived and we discussed our day of work.

We decided to head in early to get a good seat. I heard it was interactive so I wanted to be near the front. However, when we walked in I was very stunned to see the first eight rows or so were reserved for VIPs. It isn’t a big venue so this preferential seating situation was a bit much. For $40 I should be able to sit close.

I met another friend as we were deciding where to sit. My inner voice was screaming “yea!” that this friend showed up. There’s always a rewarding feeling when someone else tries out music, a book, or a restaurant you suggested and this was the same appreciation.

The lights dimmed and the last few seats were taken. I noticed Peter Gorman, the Superintendent of the Charlotte-Mechklenberg schools, sitting across from us – not a VIP either. I’m not sure who kicked it off. It was either the Chanceller or the President of UNCC. He was kind of funny. The Dean of the Business School then introduced Dan to the audience.

I’ve viewed most of the videos for Drive and was nervous that Dan would stick to the script. He mostly followed the themes but he certainly was able to ad lib. He did his homework and talked about the local area some. He quizzed the audience about motivation and interacted with a few different guests. Throughout the session some slides were used to highlight the research that reinforced his points. Time flew by and it felt like it was short, but he spoke for about 70 min.

Overall, I enjoyed my first Dan Pink speaker series. I went with friends and made some connections. Next time I’m going to penetrate the inner circle though 🙂

Working Thoughts 2/10/09
Sustaining Large Economic Growth is Key for the US

An Interview with Dan Pink and the NEXT Speaker Series

Perhaps I’m just now noticing it but over the last 5 years there’s been what I consider an upswing in speaking series, notably around new ways to think and perceive our world. A local college in Charlotte – University of North Carolina in Charlotte – has a program going called NEXT in the Belk School of Business. Dan Pink is speaking tomorrow night (February 1st, 2011) and I’m excited about attending it.

I’ve featured Dan Pink throughout this blog and figured I’d email him some questions. Below is our exchange plus links to his books and a video with Oprah.


1) You’re currently doing a speaking tour – sharing ideas and promoting your books. Does the repetition of this ever sap your enthusiasm for it?



Airport security lines sap my enthusiasm. Big time. As does bad food and lack of exercise on the road. But the conversations with people never get old. Folks seem extremely engaged in this set of ideas — and they’re always showing me new practices or new ways to look at the topic. That’s what keeps me going.




2) Clay Shirky and others have recently highlighted a change in how people spend their time. He calls it the Cognitive Surplus. It’s the observation of people spending less time watching TV and more time creating something, whether its an update to Wikipedia or a dance video on youtube. These themes tend to run throughout your books as well. What are your thoughts on this situation? Is it good or bad that math and science scores are down, but evil squirrel videos are up?




Cognitive surplus is a fascinating idea. And if even a fraction of it goes for noble, interesting pursuits, that can be a game-changer. Wikipedia is a good case in point.  That said, some people will always squander their time.  Today, though, there are many more options for people to use time in (slightly) more creative and ennobled ways.  As for math and science scores, I give evil squirrels a pass on this one. The real problem is that we’ve got an 19th century education system that’s designed mostly for the convenience of adults rather than the education of children.




3) Since publishing Drive, I bet many people have told you about how they instituted ROWE or 20% time. For instance Michael Lebowitz of Big Spaceship in the NY Times mentioned Intellectual Property Fridays. A few hours where they brainstorm very simple ideas and see which ones to run with. Can you share one or two that stuck out to you?




There are lots of examples – and they’re all pretty cool. For instance, I heard about Intuit doing 10 percent time — with terrific results. The head of innovation there, Roy Rosin, told me: “After our CEO declared ‘mobile’ was key to our strategy, none of our business units were able to change direction on a dime, but our employees using 10 percent time create seven mobile apps before any other mobile projects even got started.” What’s also cool is that several schools have begun holding “FedEx Days” — both for teachers and for students.




4) How are your books received in other countries? I imagine many of the concepts in Drive are scoffed at in China or the ideas of A Whole New Mind are “duhs” in Europe.




Both of those books have done surprisingly well overseas — especially in Japan, South Korea, and Brazil.  In Europe, A WHOLE NEW MIND did pretty well — but DRIVE has done much better.  In general, though, the curious reaction to both baskets of ideas — anywhere in the world — is similar. People say, “I’m a right-brainer. I’m motivated internally. That’s how I want the rest of the workplace to be.”


     

The Train with No Known Destination

Last week news broke of Eric Schmidt leaving the CEO post at Google. He’s replaced by Larry Page. Speculation is that Schmidt no longer felt he was in control of the company. The triumvirate of Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt had become a duopoly of Brin and Page, the founders. The genesis of their relationship is rooted in the need for someone who knew how to run a big company – Schmidt. Around 2000 when Google was  preparing to go public it was growing at an immense rate. The size of the company had surpassed the experience level of 20 somethings. The founders would concentrate on a start up atmosphere of constant disruption. Disruption is where money is made.

At some point, every successful company grows out of it’s novelty state. The disruption becomes the norm. Competitors look for weakness and stagnant ideas. Being a perpetual start up is the dream of people like Brin and Page. But how do you do it?

Intelligent continual employee turnover.

The enterprise must become a train with no known destination, just stops letting people get on and get off. When the enterprise becomes “the destination” then protection ensues. People can be very good at their jobs, but if they are doing the same thing for more than three years then you have to wonder why? Why isn’t the job evolving? Why isn’t it automated? Why is it needed?

Many large companies, including Google, want to be smaller. Being nimble is key. But wanting a start up mentality and structurally building it in to the culture is not the same. There are a lot of tough conversations to be had. For instance, Netflix has a running practice of “adequate performance gets a generous severance package” and they apply a keeper test which is pretty simple: which people would you fight to keep, at any cost, if they told you they were leaving in two months? This is supplemented by honest conversations about the employee’s commitment and ability to deliver. No surprises.

The NY Times in their weekly section called The Corner Office interviewed Jeremy Allaire, chairman and chief executive of Brightcove. He talked about his conversations with his work force. He said he asks them “What are you trying to do? Where are you trying to head?” This survey reinforces the need to be ever improving.

When the culture of the company is to evolve the job, to morph it, to leave it, or to destroy it (automate) then, as an employee, you know when it’s time for a change. Just ask Google.

The IBM Data Governance Unified Process: Driving Business Value with IBM Software and Best Practices – A Book Review

Quick Take: The world of Data Management is becoming exposed and books like this one are a great starter guide for practitioners to understand what goes into initiating a Data Governance program. There’s no secret sauce or magic and that’s mostly the point.

Detail Review: There was once a time when people didn’t have enough information.  Now there is too much of it.  And in a few years we’ll supposedly have smart appliances and talking toasters. Well, maybe not talking, but data is becoming more ubiquitous.

Over the last decade you’ve probably been on vacation and asked “is there a good pizza place around here?” and a friend responded “according to Google, there are 8 pizza places within 5 miles of here.” You picked up the phone and called one but the number was no longer in service. Being persistent, you tried another, ordered a large pepperoni and got it 30 minutes later. Unfortunately, crackers with ketchup would have tasted better.

Companies like Google are working on this, but these were two examples of poor data quality. And data quality is a data management issue. In the case above, the phone number being out of service could be because the pizza place is closed or it could be incorrect phone digits. Not sure. The taste, or lack of, is shows a failure in relevancy – “is there a good pizza place around here?” is a two part question.

The author, Sunil Soares,
is an IBM Director in the Software Group. He has worked with over 100 clients across multiple industries and has years of consultant experience. I don’t know him, but I’ve worked with a coworker of his, Doris Saad. She did a wonderful job with extending a data governance model with an IBM flavor.

Back to the book. The aesthetics are decent. It’s a paperback consisting of 125 pages of content and another 28 of appendix material. The font is average size and the construction of the chapters is typical of a business book – bullets and concise paragraphs. The front cover is a washed out blue with the illustration of the Unified Process on it. 

The introduction is by another IBM lead, Steven Adler. He provides an example of a time he wanted to apply for a refinance. He completed the forms but there was an error with the type of loan. There was no way to deal with the mistake except to start over, which he did. This small classification issue resulted in much more rework – missing forms, open quotes, and back and forth communication. These are the type of inefficiencies a good data management programs help with. I like my pizza example better 🙂

Being a governance person, I especially like how early in the book he frames up the role of governance. Many people believe it’s about policing decisions i.e. exceptions. But it’s about getting stakeholders to make decisions. Soares states:

“Data Governance is the discipline of treating data as an enterprise asset. It involves the exercise of decision rights to optimize, secure, and leverage data as an enterprise asset. It involves the orchestration of people, process, technology, and policy within an organization, to derive the optimal value from enterprise data. Data Governance plays a pivotal role in aligning the disparate, stovepiped, and often conflicting policies that cause data anomalies in the first place.”

I also liked this line”

“Treating data as a strategic enterprise asset implies that organizations need to build inventories of their existing data, just as they would physical assets.”

The reason is because it’s hard to manage what you can’t count. If you don’t have an inventory then how will know if things have changed. It seems so obvious, but it isn’t. Making a concept like data tangible is vital to getting everyone on board.

He validates this point by offering some great questions during the Govern Analytics chapter.

  • How many users do we have for our data, by business area?
  • How many reports do we create, by business area?
  • Do the users derive value from these reports?
  • How many report executions do we have per month?
  • How long does it take to produce a new report?
  • What is the cost of producing a new report?
  • Can we train the users to produce their own reports?”
    • Would a BI Competency Center help?

Additional questions I add are:

  • Are new data generated by analysts?
  • Is the new data reincorporated back into the operational processes?
  • Are the reports sensitive? How is access to the data handled?

And page 15 offers this realistic picture of why data governance often fails:

“Most organizations with stalled Data Governance programs identify these symptoms:

  • “The business does not see any value in Data Governance.”
  • “The business thinks that IT is responsible for data.”
  • “The business is focused on near-term objectives, and Data Governance is considered a long-term program.”
  • “The CIO cut the funding for our Data Governance department.”
  • “The business reassigned the data stewards to other duties.”

Once you’ve gotten your bosses on board with doing Data Governance, it’s time to identify an approach. Soares has a IBM Maturity Model (below). It’s not a bad one. I’ve designed a few different governance related maturity models and I like this one because it eschews the levels and goes with relationships.

  1. Data Risk Management and Compliance is a methodology by which risks are identified, qualified, quantified, avoided, accepted mitigated, or transferred out.
  2. Value Creation is a process by which data assets are qualified and quantified to enable the business to maximize the value created by data assets.
  3. Organizational Structures and Awareness refers to the level of mutual responsibility between business and IT, and the recognition of fiduciary responsibility to govern data at different levels of management.
  4. Stewardship is a quality-control discipline designed to ensure the custodial care of data for asset enhancement, risk mitigation, and organizational control.
  5. Policy is the written articulation of desired organizational behavior.
  6. Data Quality Management refers to methods to measure, improve, and certify the quality and integrity of production, test, and archival data.
  7. Information Lifecycle Management is a systematic, policy-based approach to information collection, use, retention, and deletion.
  8. Information Security and Privacy refers to the policies, practices, and controls used by an organization to mitigate risk and protect data assets.
  9. Data Architecture is the architectural design of structure and unstructured data systems and applications that enables data availability and distribution to appropriate users.
  10. Classification and Metadata refers to the methods and tools used to create common semantic definitions for business and IT terms, data models, and repositories.
  11. Audit Information Logging and Reporting refers to the organizational processes for monitoring and measuring the data value, risks, and effectiveness of data governance.

From here the book dives into each one of these areas with specific actions that need to happen. I noted a few below.

Ultimately, I view this book as a good asset for getting started with Data Governance work. Howe
ver, it lacks some real best practices beyond suggesting the use of certain IBM tools. Governance is as much about getting people to compromise as it is about whether the metrics are in a red or green status. A playbook outlining the tasks won’t help in the relationships and politics  that this often boils down to. Is the pizza good? It just depends on who  you ask.

Other notes:

Page 38: This paragraph is critical. The nuance of it can go unheeded.

“It is important to recognize that a “1” rating is not inherently bad, and a “5” rating is not necessarily good. The Data Governance organization had to work with IT and business stakeholders and (preferably) develop a business case to determine whether it is feasible to increase the rating for a given category in the desired future state.

Page 42: I consider a charter to be pretty self explanatory, but the reality is it isn’t. This is a good recap.

“The Data Governance charter is similar to the Articles of Incorporation of a corporation. The charter spells out the primary objectives of the program and its key stakeholders, as well as roles and responsibilities, decision rights, and measures of success.”

Page 42: The break down of the Data Governance structure is pretty good too.

“The optimal organization for Data Governance is a three tier structure. The Data Governance council, at the pinnacle of the organization, includes senior stakeholders. At the next level down, the Data Governance working group consists of members who are responsible for governing data on a fairly regular basis. Finally, the data stewardship community had day-to-day, hands-on responsibility for data.

Page 79:

“Here are some of the responsibilities of an executive sponsor:

  • Have ultimate responsibility for the quality of data within the domain
  • Ensure the security and privacy of all sensitive data, such as PII and PHI, within the domain
  • Appoint data stewards with day-to-day responsibility for dealing with the data quality, security, and privacy issues within the domain
  • Establish and monitor metrics regarding the progress of Data Governance within the domain
  • Collaborate with other executive sponsors in situations where business rules collide, to ensure that the enterprise continues to derive maximum value from its data

Page 79-80:

“When a data stewardship program reaches maturity, the data steward should report into the business. At this point, it is important to ensure that there is a some level of oversight across all the data stewards, to ensure a consistency in roles and responsibilities and to develop a sense of community.”

Some commentary, the notion of a community is important. This data culture change is not just a top down manifest. You need to get everyone, especially projects, viewing data differently than they have been.

Page 95: There is a good example of a business rule which establishes which record is authoritative.

“Fortunately, that is where the rules of data survivorship come into play. The Data Governance rules of survivorship state that life insurance is the best source for birth date because that information determines premiums. Similarly, homeowner’s insurance is the best source for address information because that data is directly tied to the entity being insured.”