society


“Fear is debilitating and causes irrational thinking.  We need to back up a couple of steps and look at things in a better light before we throw ourselves from the building.” – J.Durant

For quite sometime we have been bombarded with articles and news about the coming of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and all sorts of other ‘human replacement’ tools.  As I am sure some of you are aware there are just some things that these things can’t do or at least we would not permit them to do just because they might be a bit more reliable, efficient and consistent.   There again we have walked on the border with such controlled experimentation as cloning and various other forms of neuro response solutions so who knows just what kind of mad scientist may be lurking to set forth their madness in intellect driven machine.

So let’s take a moment and accept a few things…..

  1. Some form of intellect driven solutions will be put into play and these will replace legacy solutions that involve a human component.
  2. Most like intelligent solutions will embrace a consumer-to-business (C2B) paradigm.  This will ultimately reduce costs and expediate the formation of relationships.
  3. The care and oversight for such solutions will require humans.  However, rather than relying upon casual oversight they will be nurtured by intelligent analytics either in the form of predictive or preemptive forms.   And,
  4. Robots are apt to be involved in order to serve as a service conduct into the interaction with the AI environment.

Now for the really questions that never seem to get mentioned from those expounding on the AI exploits of leading companies like Google, SalesForce, DeepMind, Facebook, OpenAI, Baidu, Microsoft Research, Apple, IBM and Remark.   But in delving into these deeper it is clear that there are a few elements to recognize.  Some of these are noted as AI involved based purely on name and maybe a slight be of tinkering with the concepts and technologies.  There are some that are heavily focused on the AI mechanism that would be used to drive an AI like behavior.  Finally there are some that have wrapped the AI wrapper around an intelligent process, possible an advanced analytic element, and labeled it as AI.   You are also apt to see a similar situation with terms such as learning machine and robotics (especially those that are non-mechanical) as well.

Classical Transitioning Concern

An all to common condition that exists in transitioning is having a plan that is doomed before steps are taken due directly as a result of existing issues.  Thus far we have not seen any of these points raised up by the AI and robotics enthusiasts or those who have expressed guarded reluctance to journey toward the utilization thereof.   Some of these existing conditions include,

  • Green field conceptualization of the AI model and the metamorphic conditions one can anticipate.
  • Interface negotiations from sending as well as receivers.  Stakeholders in receiving solutions may be a bit reluctant to accept AI driven infeeds.
  • Verification and Validation (V&V) readiness.  Most recently British Airways had a system wide shutdown that crippled their operations.  If we are experiencing these conditions in complex networked but traditional systems what is it going to be like with flight by automatic systems like AI?
  • What mechanisms will be used to fuel the AI solution?  Will those mechanisms be ready to provide reliable feed information but in doing so be expedient enough to fuel the AI application?
  • Have boundary reach parameters been set?
  • Consideration for security, validation, performance, real-time conflict management, in-flight updating, and some of the more technical elements of AI?
  • Has thinking been toward ‘right solution’ and not remain focused on existing solution?   Again more green field/blue sky thinking.
  • Formulating a growth based design that will engage elements of robotics and analytics.
  • Understanding that the AI solution may be more than just an event driven paradigm and will demand the inclusion of event base stimulation, deductive modeling that builds upon (or adjusts) a rule frame repository, and the concepts of prediction/authentication/ and progressive simulation (apart from the live environment).
  • Destination driven repository containers that are distributed but interconnected globally as opposed to single destination service.  This also brings up the question about non-stop up-time.
  • Extent of human or non-human intervention schema.

And there are allot more that are required in order to insulate from failure and elevate the opportunity of success.

Circle Condition

Unbeknownst to consumer/recipients of change there exists some form of exploratory cycle.  It may be as simple as a survey and an alpha test of market, or as formal as experimental research.   I reread an article (actually from a different source) on TensorFlow Playground a working example of neural technology.  Impressive and stimulating, well illustrated form of scientific/mathematical application to draw deductive suggestive outcomes with a high probability of accuracy (but not at 100%).  Then I got thinking about whether 100% was attainable from humans either, after all we are prone to mistakes whether through random attention or the result of circumstantial conditions that exist.  Clearly the purpose is to build a sense of trust and understanding, as a commercial effort for the market place.  It also illustrates that the technology was being applied to the known science of math and to legitimize its ability.  What we have seen however is that the line between research and usable solution is often a fuzzy line.  The jumping from concept to application overlooks some grooming required and especially in this case the need for a science that has an element of runaway evolvement based on conditional stimulation and seed data.

In some respects the concepts and principals of AI follow a similar path as is the case with compilers.  There are a finite set of conditional parameters that can be involved based on formalized criteria, set by the institution, to produce and outcome.  What creates the circle is that the outcome is then feed back in the process to which some events may be repeated and others taking a totally different path.  The fear isn’t in the use of the technology it’s all of the possible things that can go wrong.  To understand their potential and to determine what the appropriate level of care that must be exercised should be.   This is not a path in which we have seen similar debates about before.  Space programs, nuclear reactors and fly-by-wire systems have all had their moments of glory and those times when intervention (and often spot creativity) must be exercised.

So Where Are We Now?

We are in some interesting times.  It remains uncertain the degree and speed in which AI will advance.  My suspicion is that for some that are already poised with intellectual driven tools, whether it be predictive analytics (ready for preemptive forms), robotic clusters looking to advance from rule based paradigms or semi-thinking information technology solutions looking to employ a bit more merging of trends with behavior change they definitely will have a leg up.  For the rest it will become a decision as whether to wait or to start taking some of those formative steps now that exists for the organizations that are poised.   Looking at past failed attempts at AI it was the result of institutional support (left mostly to universities and the Department of Defense with Ada).  Today respected institutions, like Google, provide a groundswell of interest and support by association.  Whether its rightly so is not up for debate but rather to be acknowledged as a fact.  It is not without risks but as long as we humans have control we can do what is needed to insure that our AI will succeed in a controlled and appropriate fashion.

“A thousand jumps without a mishap is no basis to decide to abandon your reserve parachute.” – J. Durant

There are several assumptions that I’m not going to make.  One is that there isn’t some sort of contingency plan and secondly that the plan (if it exists) is actually plausible.  The existence of a Plan B may very well exist and was thought to be durable enough to work in the event of the unexpected.   It is also quite possible that anticipated projects of markets failed to recognize that there were not only fatal flaws in service offerings but also had not considered the potential rapid acceleration of disruptive technologies.  These situations are all possible and realistic so where does this leave us in the world known as ‘outsourcing’?

The Here & Now

I should come as no surprise about certain conditions existing that leads us up to today.  Nearly 7 years ago President Obama was threatening H1b visa reform so it should become as no surprise that it would again regain visibility under President Trumps initiatives to put America back to work.  Nationalism whether in the US or India is always of utmost concern.  Employed workers reduce the possibility of civil unrest and if band-standing about the topic brings support from citizens.  But the US is not the only ones in the throws of employment concerns as you look about all of the other nations.  Some nations, such as the Philippines, who gained BPO notoriety in 2010, continues to struggle with providing sustainable employment opportunities and relies heavily on the export of human capital.

There here is that as nations of service providers we need to earn revenues in order to provide employment and foster continued growth.  What happens however is as the revenue streams shift the organization becomes challenged to remain in step.  It is possible that the size of an organization can hamper its ability to be nimble in this situation but it can also be a case that the labor force is too narrowly skilled to adapt to the rising challenges.  As a result labor falls under direct attack through downsizing.  It isn’t always about tenure but it can also be about skills and the ability to advance those skills in a reasonable time frame.

What were some of the sourcing challenge that sat in abeyance waiting for a tipping point?  As I stated back in 2011 (Frost & Sullivan/Manila), ‘The celebration of successful BPO supremacy must be short lived.  The time is NOW to transform and advance the services provided by the BPO community whether it be in Information Technology (IT) or Knowledge Processing (KPO… which we now refer to as analytics).”   The message while loud and clear went unanswered until now and the reaction has been anything other than chaotic.   In large part, the absence of a Plan B is becoming more and more apparent as a rush is being made to educate up.   Unfortunately equally concerning is that education is but an introduction and a far cry from the level of expertise that this new wave of technological disruption is causing.

Woulda-Shoulda-Coulda

What is a Plan B?   Not to sound too parochial, it a preconceived game plan that addresses anticipated and unanticipated conditions.  Often it is considered as having a Plan B when we feel amply equipped to make decisions at a moments notice.  This is not planning, this is reacting.  As with most reactions they are best serving in the moment but in the long term (and that could be as short as a couple of days).  A reaction is intended to be exercised by skilled and experience personnel who are willing to be accountable for their decisions.   The question is whether this is taking place or not?

For employees that are most apt to say NO.  This response is influenced by fear and uncertainty caused by a situation that is beyond their ability to in control of.  It may further justify or erode confidence in those making these decisions.  What is however within the control of the employee is to be aware and ready of the changing world that they are employed in.  Accepting a complacent role is not going to insulate you from the havoc caused by change and is most likely going to put you in jeopardy.

For the decision makers, the leaders, and the visionaries of the company its a profound wake-up call.   There may be a multitude of sins that has place the business in a vulnerable position,

  • too much time and effort place in self-promoting and not enough time keeping your ear to the ground for change,
  • thinking that you are a leader when in fact there is a void in the sound ability to deliver and thus creating trust issues in the market,
  • riding out the good ride as though it will never end and when it does end finding plausible but untrue reasons why it happened,
  • failure to plan, anticipate, monitor and adjust.  This is not an ancillary or optional element but one that serves as your reserve for adapting to change, and
  • viewing a plan as the end and overlooking the elements of transitioning as a part of a success formula.

It should however come as no surprise that these small elements with high impact are but the tip of the iceberg in terms of critical failings in outsourcing.  Don’t view my words as too harsh but simply a reality check and the opportunity for companies to reinvent their role engagement.

Metamorphism

It is far to easy to either live life in the moment or react to the ebb-and-tide of change.  But nearly a decade ago the word in favor was ‘sustainability’ and it didn’t just pertain to startup enterprises it served equally well for established institutions.  It was however difficult to envision sustainability when you were living in that moment.  Probably for that reason alone the notion of considering a Plan B was viewed more as an opinion than as a necessity.   Looking over thousands of Plan A’s and B’s they fail on content but do exceedingly well on form.  The plans also tend to portray the world as some sort of orderly process that takes place and relies heavily on past performance, despite changing social and consumer interests that add the element of context.  These and the lack of diverse thinking, because of confidentiality trust concerns, has created a storybook saga where the element of realism was more wishful that plausible.

Not everyone has been doom and gloom on either not having or having but poorly orchestrated plans that address planned and disruptive change that has been tempered by current situations.  The few companies are surprisingly small but are riding the wave of current success and in doing so are forced by institutional investment circumstances to think ahead and anticipate.  They have also, possibly caused by having done this for a period of time, has immortalized planning and specifically a plan B mindset into their regular protocol.

Circling Back

Let’s return back to outsourcing and where we go from here.  Whether you have a plan, a Plan B, it’s not working or it is the reality is what we face and what the clock looks like.  In all cases we have a small amount of time to transform and perform.  This opportunity is fueled by the customer and their drive to embark on significant technological change.  It is a bitter pill for the customer to swallow when shifting off of legacy linear solution technology in favor of more aggressive, machine driven solutions.  Not only does risk need to be mitigated but trust needs to be earned through concept, technology and custodians.   Secondly, there is an opportunity for adaption of present intervening environments.   When dealing with such elements as machine learning, artifical intelligence, robotics (both mechanical and intellectual) and advanced analytics these do not permit a lift and drop approach.  They must be carefully crafted, deployed, adjusted and grown in order to further reduce the impact of risk that they introduce.  This provides both a service opportunity to providers but also invaluable time to grow accustom to a greatly different paradigm.   Despite what one might think humans are resistant to change.  A study by the University of North Carolina (USA/2000) illustrated that people resist change, despite unhappiness with present circumstances, based on known vs. unknown trust.  A lack of participation in change only added to the reservations that they had that change could take place and if not that they wouldn’t be held to blame for it failure.

For sourcing companies there are immediate course adjustments that will be necessary.  Obviously resource levels will require adjustment, locations modified, work modes modified and reinvestment employed with these only being a few of the many things that need to be put into play.  It will however also require a shift in thinking about the role of the business, the attitude towards labor resources and even a willingness to trust from both within and from outside.  Historically openness has been cautiously provided when it came to business relationships, but the door of local proprietary behavior has been shut on operational improvements.  If at all, it has been relegated to a simple one way providing of inward value without the opportunity for shared and mutual inclusion.

Is there hope for the future, of course there is always hope.  Is it too late to make change?  Let’s just say we need to get moving and not adopt a wait and see.  It will be too late if the need is already here and you have nothing to offer except hopes and promises that can’t be fulfilled.

 

The maturity of a game changing technology is reflected by the non-academic clarity of how it is characterized and transitioned to the society to which it applies. – J. Durant

I consider myself very lucky that I was given the chance to work with computers at a very young age (1967) and at a time when the concept of automation was more a novelty than a pervasive reality.  It was also quite by coincidence that it was working on a project  (Ford Grant Project/BASIC compiler construction) at an institution (Dartmouth) that was a short distance from my hometown in New Hampshire.  At the time I was fascinated by what could be done with automation and how it could be used as a tool and not as a treat to society.  But I think back to some of the words that came from my mouth, as a babe of technology, and wonder whether they have had some play in all of this.  One example was while working with a bit of machine code I grew frustrated by the never ending barrage of diagnostic error conditions.  I made statements to my mentors (Drs. Kemeny and Kurtz), “if the machine is so smart to tell me I have a problem why isn’t it smart enough to correct itself?”.  While naive it certainly is within the realm of what we envision AI to do and not require the use of time nor intervention to resolve.

Today, some 40 years later, I am no less fascinated by the potential of technology.  At the same time I am also utterly disappointed with the lack of consideration given to transitioning society for its acceptance.   During the course of my life I learned that the best ideas often fail as a result of inept ability to #transition markets (also known to some as market conversion).  Even the humble personal computer had its moments until manufacturers demystified the technology and produced an affordably simplistic paradigm.

A Bit of History

Artificial intelligence (AI) had some early roots at Dartmouth in 1956.  The basis of academic research surrounding the use of computers to perform tasks lead scientists on a pursuit of assimilating thinking (or what we now refer to as learning machines).  Since that time there has been the ebb and tide of AI exploration.  My first exploits (1970s) were with a simple personal computer based package produced by Visi Corp. called ‘VisiExpert’.  It was a rule based solution that would allow you to create lists of conditions and correlate them to one or more rule bases (or in this particular case a simple set of tables).  The example that the package came with was the pairing of wines with cheeses.  I’m sure we could have done something similar with microbreweries and draft choices, or with employment roles and applicants.  The product never got much acclaim not because of its merits but because society was still trying to get their grasp around spreadsheets and word process solutions (databases would come later as they contributed to mailing and label list processing and table feeding for spreadsheet analytic review).  We saw a reappearance of AI in the form of Ada, a high-level Pascal derivative that introduced the concept of ‘object oriented’.  For some the provided a stepping off point from linear programming paradigms and created the potential for reference-able containers (or objects in terms of 1980s nomenclature).  But was this really AI or was it that the reference-able elements created the impression that conditions could invoke established constructs?

Since this time we have seen several what has been referred to ‘AI winters’.  In simple terms these were cooling off periods cause by economics, introduction failures and the reduction in academic and industrial research.  In the corners however there have been those individuals who sustained the course and continued to chip away at the rough hewn work of their predecessors.

Why Now?

There has been allot of topically provocations that have brought AI back to the forefront.  Utilization of big data, robotics advancement from mechanical to intellectual and demand caused by shortfalls in talent resources.   So while society laments about the concerns over loss of jobs and potential infringement on confidentiality the real culprits are in fact self-inflicted.   As I quoted at the onset, the conceptual framework that reflects the interrelationships of technologies (robotics, AI, analytics/data) remains loosely defined and fraught with personal opinion based prejudice.  It isn’t without coincidence that the few models that exist have yet to be proven in either an industrial or an academic research setting. so  how far would you lay trust unless you are also in an exploratory mode?

Let me get to the point on the two concerns voiced by the person on the street.  One – job loss (YES) but this will be replaced not just by people to care and feed AI but also those who will be engaged in different, yet to be defined jobs.  Concern two – confidentiality (YES) but fear not that its a matter of sharing by others but simply a sharing based on the need to know.  Not this sounds a bit like you need to grant permission.  But in today’s world the act of engagement is an act of implied permission.  We must cast away 20th century thinking if we wish to exploit 21st century services.  I recently read a comedic piece posted by Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Architect of HfS Research involving a phone order being placed for pizza delivery.  It is as follows:

– Hello! Gordon’s pizza?
– No sir it’s Google’s pizza.
– So it’s a wrong number?
– No sir, Google bought it.
– OK. Take my order please .. – Well sir, you want the usual? – The usual? You know me? – According to our caller ID, in the last 12 times, you ordered pizza with cheeses, sausage, thick crust
– OK! This is it
– May I suggest to you this time ricotta, arugula with dry tomato?
– No, I hate vegetables
– But your cholesterol is not good
– How do you know?
– Through the subscribers guide. We have the result of your blood tests for the last 7 years
– Okay, but I do not want this pizza, I already take medicine
– You have not taken the medicine regularly, 4 months ago, you only purchased a box with 30 tablets at Drugsale Network
– I bought more from another drugstore
– It’s not showing on your credit card
– I paid in cash
– But you did not withdraw that much cash according to your bank statement
– I have other source of cash
– This is not showing as per you last Tax form unless you got it from undeclared income source
-WHAT THE HELL? Enough! I’m sick of Google, Facebook, twitter, WhatsApp. I’m going to an Island without internet,where there is no cell phone line and no one to spy on me
– I understand sir, but you need to renew your passport as it has expired 5 weeks ago..

Although totally comedic it remains plausible.  But again my question repeats itself, is this really AI or is it simply a form of what is also being touted by the label of DevOps (Development Operations)?

More Work Required

Aside from the need for framework clarity there also is the question of transitioning of society to embrace the emergent AI paradigm.  People aren’t looking to be sold on the merits or wowed by simple examples.  What societies need certainty about is the clarity of the vision and how control can be maintained.  Images of runaway robots, inaccuracies, false actions and other elements of mistrust abound.  These represent apprehensions created from shortcomings that exist today without AI that can only be elevated with the deployment of a data driven, rule based solution.  Certainty must be earned and shown.

I also believe, in the field of many-many things that need to be done to promote and empower AI, that we need to be looking at things very differently.  If something is done in a certain way do we still need to do that?  Do we need to ask the question if we already have the information or do we need to do it differently or do we need to do it at all?  This isn’t just pertinent to AI but can be equally asked for robotics or even advance analytical applications.  Do we need to perform a six loop analytical calculation or is sufficient for us to simply be alerted and observe a present condition in anticipation of a potential outcome?  It’s these sorts of question but more importantly the thinking mind set that will put advanced technologies like AI into the realm of usable/plausible.

Next?

Of course until finality.   I believe we need AI, not because I’m a technologist that is fascinated by potential but because I am concerned.  I’m not concerned about job losses or confidentiality they have exist, will continue to exist and that is just the way it is.  If you are concerned about job losses you can escape it with being self-employed, you can lose that too with the stroke of a governmental pen or the lack of personal attention to the care and feeding of an enterprise.  You can’t avoid the loss in confidentiality by believing you can lock it away, life in the 21st century is a transparent box whether you want to believe it or not.  If you want total confidentiality then become a hermit but even the hermit has someone who will have your fingerprint.  AI like robotics and analytics has a place to create an opportunity for thinking.  Whether this is focused upon innovation, optimizing, creating or simple recreating the ability to put to task routine parts of our life should be embraced.  Those that chose not to embrace will be destine to a emerging nation paradox where brute force in numbers will overlook efficiency though work augmentation by mechanization.   You can chose to break up concrete with a workforce of thousands or employ a machine that will convert it all to rubble in a matter of hours.  The decision is ours and ours alone.

Yes there will be a next.  ‘The next’ will explore the clear thinking necessary to create a outcome based AI and not a crafted emulation of what we think is human though and logic processes.  A look into the rough constructs necessary to transition from legacy intellect (automation and non-automated systems) to the next forms of creating a durable AI learning machine paradigm.

Till then keep thinking and dreaming (unconventionally).

On a daily basis we are exposed to topics of leadership.  From the aisles of government to the offices of commerce we seek leadership.  Our pursuits call upon leaders of the past who’s successes give instantaneous acclaim for their profound leadership.   However, we also see the assault on leadership from the rank-and-file that are in search of what they perceive to be leadership.

What is leadership or more specifically the instrument that we call a leader?  There are numerous definitions that exist and most point to the characteristics that a leader should have.  But is that really a definition or is it simply a personal depiction of what they perceive a leader to be.  In pondering this topic I tried to visualize the model which is comprised of two end points; a person who is followed (aka leader) and those that respond to the edicts of that person (aka the follower).   This definition is not  limited to just people but can also relate to entities such as a company, country or even market. Leadership these examples is earned and not bestowed, as might be the case when we deal with an organizational setting.   Thus we have two ways in which a leader reaches this role, by earning it through value based outcomes or though assignment.

images (2)Let’s talk a bit more about assigned leadership.  While we all assume that a leader has earned the role it can also be heavily influence by need and urgency of that need.  Each of us can easily think of cases where you wonder how a person became the leader when there appears to be a lack of leader traits.  It may be the case of earning the seat by tenure/opportunity and less about character traits.  However, as a follower (or a person sitting on the sideline as an observer) our scorecard may be much different that the one being used by the leader’s leader.  What we must come to realize that a leader’s leader may not only looking at the tactical implementation of initiatives but how those fit in with broader corporate objectives.  The leader-leader may know of about matters of urgency and thus are looking for the trait of decisiveness, technical abilities and project delivery track record as key components needed in this newly appointed leader.  All the while the contingent of followers are looking for a guide, mentor and someone who can appreciate their challenges.  In short the conflict between ‘action based decisiveness’ and ‘cooperative support’.  As we have read in the last few years there has been ample discussions about the focus of generational attitudes on the leadership model.  I’m not going to delve into each except to say that conditions will challenge each and every generation.  There may be times commanding group think, where as at other moments a more pragmatic scientific approach or even a unconfirmed decisiveness that is required.  It is mostly likely not feel right for you, it may never been fully embraced by you, but you will be expected to support the approach.  Now I’m a bit reluctant to say this but it is as important to know how to be a committed, effective, trusted and faithful follower as it is to be a responsible leader.   This is not something that is easily achieved and will require you to #transition your entire persona to fit varying conditions.

The leader who achieve acclaim through accomplishments is often lauded by others. You can’t take achievement away but at the same time we cannot assume that their style or approach is reproducible.   There is always that hint that right-place/right-time was the factor that made it happen.  It also should be noted that its easily to reverse engineer elements into an outcome as the baseline for success.  But even in those cases there are conditions, often undisclosed that contributed to it taking place.   Timing, budgets, corporate support, market readiness, human capital and the much allusive innovation often sit behind successful efforts.   So the leader sits between the two ends of success; the followers (instruments) that will be put into action whether in a day-to-day operative setting or on a initiative based venture and the leader’s-leader who is commanding the leader as a follower.

It is important to realize that the question of transparency and awareness exists.  How much is needed to invoke success or how little.   This question is best considered when thinking about ability to influence and knowledge capability of the individual (or even group).   During my career I have had many occasions when the market should have known but the ability to convert was near to impossible because of fear of the unknown.  The value of transparency, even with a risk reduction roadmap, remained an obstacle.  The information ‘fell on deaf ears’, it failed to transition thinking and added one more variable to a list of other variables that still had not been resolved.  One can never, regardless of  virtues, overcome these barriers.   Leaders and followers may be called upon to engage in initiatives or support processes based solely on face value, and this command massive trust.  Anyone who has sat in this role has had more than one hair brained scheme dropped in their lap and was expected to carry it out.  It is highly possible that you were right, if that is at all important, but being right isn’t the question.  The question is about achieving a result as a leader in the face of all opposing odds and utilizing the resources at your disposal.

As a professional, leader of follower, we are obligated to mature as professionals but also as individuals.  It possibly the reason why elder leaders are called upon for their wisdom because it is expected that they have reached a level of maturity.  Life teaches us many lessons most of which cannot be repeated because of the parties involved.  But none the less they took place, the story was written and the last chapter produced.  To reach maturity the craft of following, leading, sharing and #mentoring must occur.  If your pursuit ended in college, you leadership desires ignored following development then the outcome will produce substandard leaders.  Ambition, interest and even technical skills are not enough to be a leader that is anything more than an expendable resource.  Once you have served a purpose your value is no longer worth the fallout from the elements that lacked the potential for leadership growth.

Education is important, but it’s value impact is achieved when used with the right leadership personality.   The right tools will assist in achieving goals but if the talent is not there, then don’t expect to produce a world class painting just because you have an expensive badger hair paintbrush.

GBS Instrumental Leadership

The context of the Global Business Service (GBS) is a collective of organizations that are a resource to other institutions around the world, and not solely focused on domestic market.   The GBS model involves a spearhead, participants and market.  Because of its disruptive emergence out of shared services and outsourcing paradigms the ability of GBS to achieve formation has been circumstantial and not cohesively formed.  By this, we have engaged numerous events and initiatives to hold onto the concept of GBS but have been a bit apprehensive to raise acclaim as the leader.  I’m sure its a worthy bar room discussion as to why, but at this point its more a matter of embracing the need for leadership, determining how that can be achieved and putting it into action.   Time and time again leadership contention becomes a leading barrier to achieving worthwhile results.  Organization vs. organization vying for the leadership role becomes a polarizing effect.

imagesIn the meantime however is the target consumer who operates in its own independent sphere of needs and benchmarks.  Are they the leader looking to direct or are they the follower of a supplier (or possibly even a market)?  It’s this quandary that is where confusion commences and as a result assertions of leadership are made.  Often it becomes a unsettled state in which neither party takes leadership but also neither one takes responsibility when issues arise.  The result isn’t just hampered outcomes, its creates negative emotions that may never turn positive (eg. mistrust, apprehension, disappointment, accountable failure…).   GBS awaits leadership, from the onset with those institutions that deliver value based services.  Secondly there needs to be leadership in governance by those agencies and institutions that are crafting the channels of opportunity.  A lack of leadership often results in a reflection of confusion, disarray and loss of opportunity.   But also there needs to be humble but privileged following that realize that acclaim comes to those are the backbone resource for the GBS initiative.   Looking back on past ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) initiatives the overlapping leadership of multiple organizations has caused failures to take place.  Even more pronounced is that their durability remained only for the period of time in which instrumental parties remained in place.   Leadership isn’t about reward but about building capability for durable empowerment.   In Southeast Asia agencies vie for leadership of GBS, corporate suppliers are looking for and aggressively competing for leadership visibility and employees are striving to become leaders while still in the embryonic stage.  All the while the consumers outside of the region are at a loss as to where to go or how to gauge the reliability of the organizations and services.  So what needs to be done?

The first step in leading is to understand and objectively evaluate present conditions not only on the ground but also looking beyond the present.  Without this self-directed examination what will result is gross independence of organizations that continue to run autonomously.  This will ultimately results in shallow depth of value generation and a narrow band of specialization.   Secondly we need to craft the most basic form of structure that will center on bring about GBS.  This fundamental form will ultimately result in key initiatives to build corporate and organizational leadership through educational, editorial and trade events.   The big question in most minds is who should be leading GBS?  I suggest that it does not have to relegated to one leader and that there is ample room for leadership each bring to bear an ability that another may not possess.  As is the case in government and business, while there may be one leader (such as ‘President’ or ‘Prime Minister’) there still remains a cabinet and other regulating leaders that must be consulted and to which agreement must be struck.  While the focus is often one the one, it is really a reflection of the decision of the collective of leaders.   Finally, more attention must be directed as to whether the consumer is the leader or the follower or whether they are in fact a peer leader.  A peer leader that has a span of leadership control, in this case the consumer having domain control to engage, monitory and see to delivery of service delivery outcomes.  By comparison the peer leader of the provider has domain control to engage, perform and deliver outcomes not simply because they are driven by contract but because its the right thing to do in order to sustain a productive relationship.

Yes we have leaders by title, some by role and others by relegation of duties.  But true leaders do not bask in the shade awaiting a provocation.  True leaders engage and form action based upon conditions that exist or that are anticipated.  It also should be acknowledged that followers play an essential role.  Not only do followers deliver outcomes but they are also play a role in continued sustained leadership.  All must be ripened on the vine for one day to be harvested and brought forth to the next purpose in the food chain of leadership.

SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT to members of PIKOM leadership for providing the leadership discussion stimulation which provoked this article to be written.

In the spring of 2011 Frost & Sullivan held a BPO event in Manila.  Held on the heals of the much welcomed attainment of #1 global status as the lead in BPO services the Philippine BPO celebration was in full swing.  There is nothing like a celebration in the Philippines and nothing can dampen the opportunity or the spirit of such revelry.  So it comes as no big surprise that the words I shared at that event were drowned out by the merriment that was being enjoyed.  It was no small feat that rising to this level of achievement over India had taken place.  The future was all bright and there was a sense of invincibility.

While some make predictions on the basis of a hope that no one will remember when it doesn’t take place.  I chose my words careful in issuing a warning that while celebrations are taking place it is also the time to look towards reinvention.  Clients were investing heavily in technology and in doing so it remained committed to solutions that provided long term value and not simply long term reduced cost containment.  This being the case in supporting a month-on-month commitment to manual and voice based BPO support.  The investment in technology would inevitably lead to some form of replacement for shifting from people to an asset invested technology solution.  At that time we weren’t talking artificial intelligence or robots, I was simply looking at a commitment to technologies that could dutifully provided consistent support with a minimum of added capital investment (vs. expensed loss).

Now that the vogue technologies have reached a level of interest concerns have been raised.  IBAP (Information Technology and Business Processing Association of the Philippines – 5/12/2017) is stepping up measures to address the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the BPO industry.  Conferences like the Digital Transformation Summit are also adding to the pace by increasing the interchange on what measures need to be taken now in order to combat the effect that might occur on the BPO industry.  Leading Data Analytics Super Star Dan Mayer has weighed in with the importance to embrace the change by shifting focus to data analytics services.  Finally, even the government (DOST – 2/20/2017 – Fortunato dela Peña) has jumped on board to address the real possibilities of AI based impact on the BPO sector.  So the question is why did the message miss being heard?  But even more importantly why didn’t any of the leading analyst groups (Gartner, McKinsey, HfS…) see or hear it either?  It appears as though there was an intermediate fixation with a much broader expanse of technologies dealing with the cloud, Internet-of-Things (IoT), Big Data and Shared Services leaving way for those up-and-coming technologies to remain as background noise.

I don’t want to be too cynical but the story doesn’t end with an acknowledgement of change.  Its not even going to end with a concern and a grass roots movement to follow a correction path.  What is about to happen will be a groundswell of concern by executive management to not only understand the potential accompanied by the ebb-and-tide effect of change.  It will involve significant strategic decisions being made that will lead to tactical plans being crafted.   History however is a horrifying reminder that shifts, such as this have painful paths.  These are littered by potholes of interruptions and a steep learning curves.

There are many questions that remain unanswered.

  • Can #BPO as a service transition to providing high value/high risk value services (this sector was once called ‘knowledge based outsourcing’… #KPO)?
  • Will customers trust offshore institutions with this level of operational intimacy and have the stakes changed for what a provider will be required to maintain (e.g. institutional security)?
  • Cradle to grave time… trained to capability (is it doable given the current state of AI and robotics considerations)?
  • What mindset change will be necessary to make the shift?  Those that have already set an information technology business unit will find the shift easier.  HOWEVER, it isn’t just about technology enable AI, robotics or analytics its about understanding the various industries being serviced.
  • What should be happening now?  Obviously action but what kind?  Waiting is not suitable at the present, a plan needs to be formed.  But more important is the need to understand that success requires intense consideration for #transitioning.

As early as May 2017 the DTI continues to track progress and goals of BPO as though nothing has changed.  This is of concern, it also echos my concern why the messages of dutiful messengers is not reaching those that can address change and the elements necessary to respond to the ever changing technology and commerce worlds.   You cannot rely upon revenue predictions or employment numbers to remain the same, even if you capture a significant segment of the AI/Robotics/Analytics markets.  There will be reductions in head counts, increases in both revenue and cost predictions and an investment in capital assets to support these sciences.  You cannot expect that these will follow the historical ‘life-and-drop’ paradigm of BPO.  There will be issues of trans border data transfer, security, time sensitivity, ground up development, repository control and matters as simple as general understanding of socio-business transference.  In short, allot to be done in a short period of time.

In closing, I remember the day when the Philippines became #1 in the BPO sector.  I remember some of my Indian clients exclaiming that it was always their plan to shift away from BPO (which I considered to be just a sour grapes comment).  Was it that they saw something that others were seeing but from a different perspective, was it that BPO was the low end of the outsourcing food chain in terms of complexity and cost or was it simply ill sentiments?  Regardless, we need to look at conditions not with a focus on critique but with a look towards the potential opportunities that need to be acted upon now.

#BPO #Analytics #AI #Robotics #Transition #TransitionalSciences

From birth the human inner-self seeks to impress.  Those first steps looking for welcoming approval from parents, the success in academic achievement and later in life the favorable approval from bosses and colleagues.  Are we impressing or simply looking for an absence of condemnation?

Impressing is a key element in transitioning, it’s the lubricant that provides for fluid movement towards achieving goals.  There is less proving and more permissiveness, and to a large extent being giving the privilege of accountability/responsibility is heavily influenced by the impression we have made.

Are We Playing to the Right Audience

As we mature our independence moves us away from those are strong supporters to those that are more in keeping with our peer status.  In those teen years expending effort on our peers (to impress and set forth a position in the peer group) we often foresake our parents being impressed.  Seems a bit ironic that we would give up what is a sound and dependable source of impressing for the simple feel good independence of peer approval.  If we look at this further we will often give up personal beliefs and norms in order to impress during those teen and early adult hood years.  Often, later in life, we find ourselves lamenting about this act of impression seeking rebellion and the abandonment of solid support.  From cradle to grave we stress to impress…. we seek endorsement often from those who can’t effect value for us and even if they can they aren’t a lifetime reliable source.  So who can we impress… the search starts with self.

Unfortunately the seeking to impress in our later professional, and to some extent our personal life, continues in this distorted path.  We seek solace in groups, support is sought in being a part.  We maintain a very convoluted belief that our strength will be seen in the group (by standing out) when in fact organizations look for those who are not a pact but the mobilizers of pacts.   Over the course of my work with companies I have found those who impress are those who understand that its an outcome and not a pursuit.  Meaning that a focus on self abilities and habits far out weighs ‘fitting in’.  It however also seems that the guides, the coaches and the educators are still operating from the position of ‘group’.  You will see papers, courses and even conferences that are heavily dedicated to group dynamics.   There are external events that are weighted with team building even when the work that is being undertaken is not a group exercise.  So as it tries to encapsulate the people in a spirit of community it ends up having to focus on ‘proper behavior’.

Back on Point

The dynamics of impressing, and in subsequent impact on transitioning has to be based on value delivery.  I once told a colleague that, “you should never go into a sales meeting with the belief that you need the sale”.  After getting some very confused looks I went on to explain that the drive for a goal creates a carnival atmosphere that borders on graveling.  Claims are made, truths are stretched and even our animated behavior becomes more comedic then valuable.   The customer knows the end game and so do you, so why not focus on relationship building and value based sharing than creating extra ‘must get sale’ window dressing that only creates more risk of failing.   Impressing, I contend, starts from within.  We need to look within ourselves and understand our limitations and not just our strengths.  We need to understand our value to the business and to ourselves, and in doing so create a valued asset and not just another operational liability for the business.   Yes, people are the backbone of a company.  However, that backbone must be viewed as to the value it presents.   It’s for these reasons that spending time on impressing should be the result of value and not based upon a position of popularity.

If you are popular and people around you move on you will face a new audience that may not necessarily be that impressed.  But also this new audience is most likely looking to impress as well, and this dynamic places a challenge on those who impressed based on popularity and not based on outcome.  Those in the technical and administrative communities realize that those that are among their ranks in value are not easily displaced by new entrants who wish to make their mark.  The old saying that ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ supports this notion.

Conclusion

So what have we learned?

  1. Impressing is a key component in the transitioning equation.  It removes risk and creates a dependable basis for success.
  2. Impressing is a natural human condition.  However, impression through focus on value is more sustainable than impressing on a social level.
  3. Value is the key to all that we do.  To produce value it requires us to be impressed with ourselves.  But to be impressed with ourselves we must honestly understand our strengths and our weaknesses.
  4. The dynamics of group makes it difficult to create an ‘impression’ level that extends beyond the team.  Even in team sports a star player is only as good as the team he/she is a star within, and that is based upon self-impressed responsibility.
  5. Leaders are also subject to impressions created for both internal to the company but also to the external world.  Impressing that has gone bad is the result of a loss of focus in producing value and the entering into a search for impressing others.  (old habits die hard)
  6. Finally, impressions rely upon your crafted persona.  Truth, honesty, forthright, topical expertise and openness are some of the virtues we may use to impress and create adoration.

On a personal level we face abrupt transitions on a regular and recurring basis.  Some are new, others are expected and others a routine.  Our reaction and grace by which we adapt to these changes reflect some of our core capabilities to transition.  Researching the topic there was very little information about transitions that involved abrupt events.  It is for this lack of information that I share with you some of my personal observations and impressions.

As stated previously there are three (3) forms of change that require abrupt transitioning.  These include,

  • New events – those that would be considered as abruptly changing the course of daily life.  IE. new found wealth or an unexpected bill.
  • Expected events – recognized occurrences that take place as a normal course of life or the result of an event where can outcome is possible (probability not withstanding).  IE. birth, marriage, college, death.
  • Routine events – things that occur regularly and while expected have a frequency greater than once in a shortened time frame.  IE. driving to work, buying groceries, fundamental hygiene activities.

Each is influence by the change and also things that are happening surrounding the event.  To illustrate this point take any of the “routine events” and how would these respond to road work, impending significant storms or lack of water service.  I think you would agree that although we address regular change we can be thrown for a loop when it comes to abrupt adaption.  Some people will be totally beset by the confrontation, while others simply call upon alternatives to adjusted rapidly, hardly missing a heartbeat in the process.

When it comes to “expected events” the ability to adapt is driven by the persons attitude toward preparation.  I’m sure that most of you know people that walk through life going from one event to another who deal with the change when it takes place.  Others are living today but planning ahead, to which I submit as being my route of choice.  Not in defense of my position but if I had to deal with an impending future occurrence I would rather have more time to adequately prepare then to wait (whether in a mode of procrastination or denial).

The final form are the new and totally “unexpected event”.  While somewhat like a routine event that is challenged the unexpected is totally and completely new.  As presented by the two examples, new found wealth is more difficult to address than the unexpected bill to which a nest egg would be a plausible resolution to this transitional condition.  New found wealth, as we have heard from stories of people winning the lottery, that waste and exploitation are quite commonplace.   When people think about change and the need for transitioning the ‘unexpected’ are the most risky.

How is YOUR Transitioning Abilities?

Most people would say they do a good job.  In fact most businesses believe that they are quite resilient to change even though they may have suffered through less than stellar transitional performances.  Why is this?

The reason lies in the type of change and our experience in transitioning under these circumstances.

IMPRESSION             REALITY         WHY?

Routine Event                               Good                         Fair              General Inflexibility

Unexpected Event                        Fair                          Good             Common Plan/Project Type

Expected Event                         Excellent                     Fair               Only if Immediate

What tempers these conclusions a bit are people and their personalities relative to change and the transitional response they would chose (or not).  Those that procrastinate will wait until the event, expected/unexpected/routine, and deal with them as the occur.  Even then there could possibly be a lag in attention and its this that drives decision makes up a wall when trying to deal with the management of ever changing business conditions.  There are people who are in perpetual planning mode, anticipating what has occurred, organizing what has and always ready to flip the switch when new events occur.  Unfortunately they too are not without sins, the sin of over preparation.  You might ask, why is this bad?   It really about waste and inefficiency to the extent of over planning, over control that often distorts our vision about value based outcome management.

So What Is the Happy Balance?

The happy balance is having a means where change is treated as a condition.  Those things that are routine should therefor have routine responses to both normal and abnormal conditions.  Routine events are wonderful candidates for the application of learning machine/artificial intelligence model.  While the majority are handled in a normal fashion the abnormal events are used to refine the normal paradigm rule set to address these variations.   The same can also be applied to normal events in so far as operating from a rule based on normal abnormalities in the course of a normal event taking place.

Where we are more apt to apply a more planned and project based approach is for the unexpected events.   If a person (or a company) has routine unexpected events then the approach becomes driven by a higher skill set of people.

Understanding the types of change and our personal (possibly societal in the case of a business) is key to measuring transitional abilities.  If we are in a situation where change, in any of the three categories. is confronting we need to understand that transitioning is going to be clumsy even through it was totally avoidable.  Secondly, if we view change unrealistically as a given and normal event but have done nothing to condition a prudent reaction then we can expect less than desirable outcomes.  Lastly, if were are confused we are most likely ahead of the optimistic because at least we will attempt a more purposeful outcome based response.  Although not totally certain there remains a higher chance of this taking place.

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