Sourcing


“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.

 

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

Each and every day we face change.  Our autonomic response isn’t always logical, planned or successful.  Even when facing success outcomes one has to understand where its the result of fate or the result of experience.  In more pragmatic endeavors we cannot rely on these two elements completely and need to adopt a framework that guides these efforts.

Daily Life

In 2010 I made the decision to move to Asia.  My decision was driven by circumstances and opportunity.  Relying on my many years of work in the region, and supported by solid pragmatic skills I venture forward.   Was I confident… YES, was I committed and determined… YES, was I confident to address the unforseen… YES but did I really understand the full extent of the endeavor and all of the things would come my way?  I can honestly that I was to confident to see the barriers even after decades of living life.  This situation is akin to many projects and transitions facing business whether it be the disruption created by technologies or the advent of new leadership in the company.  The transition is seldom without issues and excesses that could have been avoided.  So why didn’t we avoid these repetitions?

Part of our challenge is to avoid looking at the end point (goal/objective) and then reverse engineering a plan to fit the commitment of scope-schedule-cost, also known as the triple constraint.  Instead we need to better understand and craft a consistent means of achieving sound transitioning.  Yes, we still need to have goals/objectives.  Yes, we still need to understand the triple constraint.  But we also need to have a means by which transitioning will occur in a lean, consistent, risk reduced fashion.

Next…Next

As with many things in life it moves on whether we like it or not.  We can hold onto the car with both hands or we can grasp the steering wheel to guide it to its objective with major concern for a calamity.   I have also had a fond love and adopted the principal of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “for every action there is an opposing and equal reaction” (thus the formation of 3rdLAW).  The concept of Transitional Sciences is that for every transition it will create equal and opposing reactions in so far as achieving success points.  Out of concern of making the topic too complex let it suffice to say that these embarkations of transitioning produce outcomes that can have equal consequences.  There is no such thing as too small to address this concern since a wasted moment involves time-costs-diversion of focus-lost/gain in confidence.  I was recently challenge by a colleague as to the mere term “transitional sciences” and in response I chose to break it down into pieces.  “Transition” the means of movement from our present to our next state. “Science” a body of facts or truths supported by research and experience.  Thus it seems quite appropriate and proper to state that “Transitional Sciences” is properly titled.  Furthermore, while it involves change it commands the need for the sound management thus the concept of “Transitional” control.

While We Spin

We can’t stop the world from spinning nor should we even suggest that it should as we might fall off this planet.  The same can hold true as it relates to inhibiting advancement of technologies.  I’m sure that there are others who feel a bit like I do that overnight we have experts in a emerging topic that previously were sitting in some other area of expertise.  We see data scientists, big data managers, cloud professionals, artificial intelligent gurus (have you heard of LISP or ADA?), and so on.  Maybe its from an acquired educational foundation, as we see with statisticians owning analytics or artificial intelligence (AI) by those who had some experience with preemptive logic.  However with all due respect a point of reference does not make you an expert simply because you need to understand the broad context of cause-and-effect.

So why am I (and my team) qualified in the area of Transitional Sciences?  When I asked this question the response that I got was less than reassuring.  Upon closer examination I discovered that it wasn’t the topic but the question, so I re-framed it.  “What kinds of work engagements have you had that encountered challenges?” was my next question.  I got a loads of examples and upon closer examination two elements were revealed.  The first was that they all involved change, and nearly all of them had some sort of project plan to guide change.  So what went wrong?   It was then we discovered, in somewhat of a bolt of revelation,  was that the plans failed to address the transition from where we are to where we want to reach.  Further it overlooked the impact of interim events, the human factor and was too heavily oriented towards tasks.  It was that moment we realized that transitioning wasn’t being considered.

Our next step was to investigate whether others had been involved in transitioning.  A simple search revealed that it was really non-existent treatment in the worlds of business, technology, innovation, startups and even management disciplines?  We were particularly concerned not for simply this void but the plaguing question of why, had the issue already been addressed or had we stumbled upon the holy grail of needs?  Deeper examination showed that it wasn’t something overlooked, but it became buried in deeper programmatic processes of plans and goals.  In other words instead of removing the paint of past behavior the direction followed was one of a skim coat over the top of what had been taking place.

The final step was to question was to whether this approach was ok.  We relied heavily on an examination of the change in project management during the last four decades.  The range involved ad hoc process, craftsman paradigm, simplistic waterfall, permutations of waterfall to present day agility and all of its variations.  Resounding the evidence showed two things.

  • the transitioning from each and every project management paradigm was a significant problem (created allot of consulting opportunities to help with… “transitioning”, and
  • secondly that project management has shift from ‘the plan’ to ‘the means by which an outcome can be achieved’.

Therefore we have come to realize that to save time and money we have to be equipped to transition efficiently.  Whether you are the customer receiving new technology solutions, a company producing product, a company changing leadership or business direction transitioning plays an essential role.

Our Transition

Looking forward is exciting but it can also be, for some, with trepidation.  The key in transitioning new discoveries is market conversion or the ability to transition tradition thinking into productive gains.  Often this relates to importance of saving time and money while doing so with minimal disruption and risk.  Our confidence resides in the reality that these aspects are in fact ‘transitional’ and to prove the model to be sound we must be successful in doing what we are promoting (hope that makes sense… so read it slow again and maybe you will understand).

Transitioning is not only exciting for me, it is also essential in dealing with a successfully producing forward moving outcomes.  The transitional framework has to be lean, efficient, effective and can be understood without exhaustive workshops, skill development and customization.  Much of this will be illustrated by some upcoming papers, projects and presentations that will be taking place over the next several months.

If you have any interest in or got ideas and suggestions please forward them to me at TECTL@hotmail.com

Out of nothing grew a startup crazy.  Startups are nothing new, in fact every company since the beginning of time was a startup.  They grew and prospered because they did things right, made fewer mistakes and were able to ride the wave of opportunity.  At the same time there have been many who failed and will go down as hard lesson learned.  So why the present craze?

First of all governments see an obligation to create jobs without having to be the only source for employment.  For each job created there are a multitude of others who become the beneficiary of this.  Whether it be a merchant, our families, the community or government all will benefit.  We also benefit by becoming a productive part of the world community.  For the community, healthy commerce means that the quality of life can be improved upon.  Parks, schools, transportation and infrastructure are all advanced through the contribution of commerce.  Its for these very reasons that governments and communities are investing in the development of the startup up enterprise.  Unlike in the past where you were left to your demise, today we seek opportunities to avoid failures.

Let’s start out by establishing a few definitions.  A startup is an enterprise comprised of one or more people who have an idea for a role to play in commerce sector.  It doesn’t always have to be about ICT (Information Communication and Technology) although many regions have this as a pivotal service.  There are also companies with great ideas that rely upon ICT enablement in order to achieve their operating mission.  If I was asked what should the focus be, I would say both.  I believe that putting all of your eggs in one basket does not provide sufficient flexibility to address ever changing market conditions.  At the same time singular focus creates a market saturation that places competitive stress on other upstart enterprises (in an unhealthy manner).  The value of diversity increases the economics of scale by utilizing common discipline guidance across a broader audience base.  A incubator is a environment in which a startup can operate.  Normally associated with a facility/location, an incubator is accompanied by a shared space for learning and development.  For some the concept of an incubator can be met with a bit of reluctance, fearing that a concept or idea might be exploited by others.  Proper protection is always in order but this still allows for a general concept to be discussed without the fine details being disclosed.

When one considers becoming a part of the startup community you will be motivated by several reasons.

  • Education – Gaining crucial knowledge in areas of the unknown.  It isn’t enough to expect that you know even what you are missing and therefore your first steps become a general awareness about the overall startup landscape.
  • Visibility – Finding and establishing ways to be seen.  In most cases this is limited to local or regional market but seldom reaches beyond borders.  Exceptions like MaGIC Malaysia’s Accelerator Program which has reached out to foreign investors, advisors and successful incubator communities as are found in Silicon Valley, CA  USA.
  • Funding – Startups are poor, thinly funded with very steep needs for revenue flow to sustain formation and advancement.  Whether it be funding, alternative collaborative sharing, partnering, investing or seed capitalization the startup community attempts to fill a much needed void by providing a one stop shopping source for funders.
  • Infrastructure – For many startups their only resources are an idea, a computer and a cell phone.  The lack of physical space and a consistent location creates barriers.  This is the most expensive element found in the support of startups.  It takes community and governmental backing in order to provide this necessary element.  Failure to do so creates protracted time to implement.
  • Mentoring – It isn’t just about training if one cannot apply it to their situation.  All startups need objective and constructive examination of where they are at, what needs to be done, and what can be expected beyond the initial introductory period.  A key mistake is using what we might refer to as those ‘one hit wonders’, those individuals that have had ‘some’ success but lack in diversity of repetitive successes and experience.  At the same time its also a bit of a hazard to rely upon those with loads of experience but may lack in thinking beyond a single model.  So who is the mentor?  First and foremost is compassion and caring, startups are particularly frail and therefore need constructive neutering.  Secondly the mentor must be objective.  Just because the concept isn’t for you doesn’t mean that it fails in market potential.  Finally, and again these are ‘my’ opinions, the mentor must be creative.  Should a region aspire to create a startup community they might not find these elements all in one person but may require a broader composition of collective mentors in order to achieve balance.

Most recently I was involved in a startup competition comprised of both ICT and ICT enabled enterprises.  The two lessons that I shared are instrumental in knowing why you are there and what you are trying to achieve.

  1. Who is your pitch for?  Are you pitching to potential customers (meaning you are market ready), investors (meaning you are ready to go but you need fuel for your enterprise engine) or collaborators (you are ready but you need some help to introduce a broader market potential).  If you aren’t ready or you don’t know who you are addressing you need to step back and get your affairs in order.
  2. The best ideas will die if you don’t have a plan or a means to convert market thinking.  Maybe the timing isn’t right, or that your zeal for your concept is so great that you expect everyone else to jump on board.  Often they weigh superficially benefit and risk, you need to do likewise.

In conclusion, startups are in vogue at the moment.  My fear however is that with many man conceived initiatives that the luster will wear off and the forward progress will die.  To keep the dream alive the startup enterprises must prove their efforts, use these to justify the framework commitment and to recommit to the further development of positive measures to produce success and reduce failure risk.

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We hear allot about design…..

  • Simplicity of the design,
  • Durability of design,
  • Beautiful design,
  • Failure in design, and
  • Blah-Blah-Blah design.

What the heck is all of this stuff about design?  Thousands if not tens of thousands of books have discussed, formulated and promoted design as the key to outcomes.   But as we see the buck stops at the talk and often goes no where beyond that stage.  Why is this happening?

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Myth #1 – Design is not a Title

Sure you may have the word in your position but design is not reserved to one person or one group.  Everyone does some sort of design.  Design is not a task but an interconnected set of events that compositely give us a sense of doability, complexity and direction in which to advance the development of a product or solution.  I’m sure that most have sat in meetings in which business units will sketch out what they are doing and what they would like to have happen… this is design.  Albeit possibly not to the formal liking of the purists it is none the less design, don’t make fun of it!  Even the administrative assistant who is arranging that all important luncheon meeting is doing so by design.  Some possibly from experience and habit and in some cases by a sketch of things to do and organized into some paradigm that they (or others) can utilize.  So design is not reserved just for those titled but everyone is a designer unto their own rights.  If we think back to our childhood, the moment we observed things and later picked up a crayon, pencil or pen our goal was to design something.  Maybe it was a big red barn, a portrait of our family (in stick figure form along with fido) or maybe it was a more ambitious project to form shapes that lead us to the creation of letters.  All of this is design.

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Myth #2 – Design is Necessary

I prefer to think of design as not being necessary but merely the natural bi-product of thinking.  The human mind cannot process chaos, it strives to have order and seeks out some place where past experiences have had similarities.  The freeing of process to seek a base of information is essential but in doing so we need something that gives us certainty about so so many questions.  Some look for solutions, others question the importance and some even wonder whether we have got some reasonable level of completeness.  To answer these and many other questions we look for help and to achieve this we look to formed methods and techniques.  Experienced individuals will have their own preferences and even some custom made methods that they rely upon to acquire design awareness.  I have relied on tools such as Unified Modeling Language (UML) (structural, behavioral and interactive models) to exercise the multifaceted features of an application project but my design toolbox isn’t limited to this one approach.  Such techniques as high impact inspections, test driven design (TDD) and rapid story creation have been equally valuable and gratifying. These all are beginnings leading to a design vision.  It very well can be and often is more than one, and this is okay.  Multiple options give us flexibility and alternatives which we are most often going to need during the course of a project.  In the case of Agile projects if we look at the arrangement of stories into families, usually surrounding the notion of work to be performed we have a design that can be lifted from it.  In the more classical context of waterfall or v-model methods we are more apt to conceive design as a bi-product of understanding and embracing design.  Both the same yet achieved in difference ways (and possible with prejudice different expected value to be achieved from each of the approaches).

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Myth #3 Design Is Magical

This is where it gets a bit dicey…. is design something you do regardless of sound engineering principals being applied or not?  Those who are proponents of building and exploring (which is by definition research) really do so without a design.  I would, from practical experience, say yes.  Its not that its not important or necessary its because the process being used is intended and focused on doability and the possibilities that can be exploited, nothing more. For this reason this sort of work is intended to lead to knowledge, which in classical terms is a defined requirements vision, to which the formalization for completeness can be exercised.  Unless we intend never to do anything more with it, including repair work, then design is not needed.  However, most will reverse engineer a design from what is produced to not only create a positive maintenance atmosphere but also to definitively answer the question about whether the endless possibilities of the research has been reached.  For others design ‘anything’ are used as guides to form work and task lists of things to be constructed to achieve the desire outcome.  This includes a definitive understanding of how the piece parts will work in harmony or contention, based on the desire of the design outcome (and requirement visions).  The creative aspect of design takes place as the result of formation and the convergence with specific technologies be it hardware, software or idiom (SaaS, Cloud, Big Data, etc.).  Its this exercise that we start to seeing balancing, or the absence of, occurring.  We hear the term dependencies to reflect the level of cohesive and interdependencies that exist in design.  There are reasons for tight cohesiveness, often centered around constraints (memory, bandwidth…) but sometimes its caused by gross negligence and poor practices.  Design management cannot be taken lightly, it required purposeful and dedicated attention to insure that all is made right.

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Myth #4 Design Is a One Size Fits All Proposition

Will the concept is rational, at least in so far as the initial deployment, subsequent activities that involve changes and modifications results in an erosion to design.  This produces some interesting challenges for such paradigms as the software reuse factory, refactoring and agile driven modularity.  So how can this be overcome if at all?  Since it is a foregone conclusion that our lives will not remain static we have to assume change.  We might even have a pretty good idea as to where it will take place, when it is like to occur and to what extent it can be expected.  If we have even the slightest idea about any of these things we can insult our general design in two possible ways.  The first is by utilizing a plug-n-play approach where pieces can be exchanged in an out of the solution set.  The second more difficult approach  involves design retrofitting, the act of redesign taking place as changes occur.  In order to sustain durable and reliable design one must have software support to provide us with real time dynamic vision  into the solutionset.  Using this information is like having a dashboard that permits us to address the impact of change as to the target design it is being made against.  Not all design is evil.  In fact it can be a welcomed relief for legacy applications and those in which design was really never a strong point from inception (e.g. may be caused by rapid response driven deployment or first time out solutions).

imagesMyth #5  Design Mastery Can Be Taught

There are some things that you simply can’t teach without experiencing it.  It takes practice, failure, listening, observing and mentored guidance to become not just the ‘titled’ individual but one that clearly understands and has mastered design.  Disciplines such as structural and civil engineers mandate not just schooling but also board examinations and a period of internship.  Yet in information technology certifications are a matter of choice and not one of mandate.  Some might argue that the risks are different, but are they?  Maybe the most compelling reason for experience is the result of converting intellectual visualization into an habitual endearment to the means of achieving designs that work.  We sometimes make the mistake of thinking about the end and not about the means of achieving it.  In the immortal words of Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.  Design is how it works.”.   Maybe this is why Steve Jobs worked so so well with his long time friend Steve Wozniak.

 

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Engineering (from Latin ingenium, meaning “cleverness” and ingeniare, meaning “to contrive, devise”) is the application of scientificeconomic, social, and practical knowledge in order to design, build, maintain, and improve structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. It may encompass using insights to conceive, model and scale an appropriate solution to a problem or objective.  (source: Wikipedia)

As humans we are apt to try and fool ourselves into believing that we aren’t perfect but we can be if we follow a ritualist approach to things.  We do this in order to convert what might be haphazard into a prescriptive, methodical and cohesive way.  One might ask why this is wrong?  In fact it is quite well intentioned and in most cases a quite appropriate thing to do.  Since the beginning of engineering like activities we have worked as skilled, talented artisans.  As the popularity and durability of the profession became established a need flourished to put formality (in written and pictorial form) to it.  But did we do it right or did we simply scribe forth what we had done and overlooked some of the more important aspects such as the ‘skilled craft’ element that only a select few can do?

I’m sure some of you have read ‘How to’ books, how often can you apply what is being written and have it turn out like it was intended to?  Skill, talent and even mental conditions are of immeasurable importance to the outcome whether we follow guiding instructions or not.  We often marvel at those individuals who can use (or not use) a guide and still overcome challenges and may even further improve upon what is being done.   The true purposes behind these pragmatic and detailed engineering frameworks is to institutionalize behavior in the context of the masses.  It is a foregone conclusion that the ‘masses’ must do something with it other than blindly use it.  People need to consume, explore, develop experience with and institutionalize it within the sphere of technical abilities.  It isn’t about adaptation but embellishment.  We hear time and time again that it “will depend” or “it may not fit all circumstances” and my reply is simply “rubbish”.  The framework of engineering is universal and if sound it will bear tentacles applicable to the situations and circumstances for which it is being applied.  An example is the comparison of traditional software development methods (waterfall, RUP, RAD, JAD, iterative, conical, V-Model…) against agility (Scrum, Xp, Crystal…).  They all have three components; a stimuli, construction and confirmation.  Whether the stimuli is created in an ah hoc fashion by inexperienced and unskilled individuals is irrelevant.  What we do with this source and the participants involve is a totally different matter however.  Its only when it start entry into the engineered construction cycle that we make choices about the raw materials.  If substandard or inadequate we know that it needs transformation to a level acceptable for advancement.  As professionals we are obligated to exercise prudent care, not reckless acceptance.  NO Engineering method will ever overcome environmental conditions that are unacceptable.  If one leaves these matters to chance or luck then its not engineering its what we would call ‘game theory’ and the last time I knew there was no mention of such facts in the annals of ‘best practice’.  The ploying of engineering practices to construct make best sense when in harmony with the intellect and experience level of its participants.  Even though there might be a better engineering approach to a problem one can never overlook the readiness of the people involved.  Too much, too dramatic and a steep uphill learning curve that has been contaminated by past failures is not a right setting for revolutionary change.  Let me be a little more to the point, it might be just what is needed however all of the other things (in the negative) that have gone wrong will only make this attempt ripe for failure by way of it being used as an excuse.

The art of engineering takes the pieces, places them inside of a vision (aka a design driven outcome) and is crafted and bonded together.  This is, as we all know, in the most simplistic and idealistic sense.  What really takes place is allot of effort driven by experience, compensated and grown through collaborative efforts, and willingness for open transparency as to what is taking place.  If it becomes an exercise in politics and hidden agendas the engineering initiative has failed from the onset.  This is about producing results and not about a total fixation on happiness.  Both can occur but not at the expense of the other.

This gives you a bit of a sense for engineering in its most primal sense.  Its pragmatic, yet flexible, intent on knowledge equality among the masses and a means to achieve sound/safe/reliable results.  An engineering method is only as good as the authors, for they are human.

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