“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

Credibility is one of the critical elements of life whether professionally or personally.  It is also one of those conditions that is often illusive.  But why?  How can I become credible and to whom should that credibility be directed to?

You cannot command credibility no more than you can command respect.  If anything the notion of commanding is limited to rigid organized structures, such as the military, as a direct response to risk.  Therefore our credibility must be earned and unfortunately our personalities create the ‘great race’ in pursuit thereof.

I was recently thinking about why management, especially senior executives seems adamant about technical efforts.  Some of  you may have event done a bit of a roadshow of what your approach was about, how it would function and what would be achieved.  In return the response was met with flat faced silence and in some rare cases a subtle nod of the head endorsement.  Rarely did we see out and out conflict unless of course we chose a more adversarial criticism of the company or specific people that are still working there.  So why the lack of enthusiasm and credibility building which didn’t take place?

Context

How often has your brainchild and initiative come totally out of the blue?  Even with having a spot on purpose people do not transition their mindset easily.  To overcome this situation one must ‘prime for preparation’, in other words ask some baited questions to get the whole process started.  Even for those in which your idea is in response to a problem there is often remaining a bit of doubt.  It would be far more appropriate to do a review of conditions in order to affirm or contribute to a broader understanding of the problem.  In doing so we exhibit a sense of capable and conscientious thinking instead of a ‘know it all’ or knee jerked reaction to situations.  This builds trust and also builds confidence.

You may however face a group in which they what to hear your opinions but will follow it up with a line of questioning to affirm responsible and focused attention.  Therefore the preceding remains a sound basis for starting the transforming process.

Audience Interest

The profile of your company will dictate the level of interest.  Whether its good or bad we must completely understand the level of information sharing that is required.  Some organizations expect you to interact in a hierarchical fashion.  Other organizations may employ a network structure where the free flow of ideas and concepts occur across the organization.  Even network organization structures will often expect a degree of decorum in terms of sharing up within its structural walls.  These conditions are not an affront to your credibility it is simply a means in which the organizational leadership has cast its operating paradigm in order to avoid chaos.  While not perfect, as illustrated by the two ton elephant syndrome (painfully slow but purposeful movements), it none the less is a condition in which you are expected to conform to.  As many of us have experienced, trying to change the paradigm reduces our credibility and is often has unsuccessful outcomes.

To a large extent management wants credibility of concept doability.   In the information technology world our history has not served us well.  With such facts as…

  • 17% of all companies experience project failures so sever that they jeopardize the company (McKinsey 2012),
  • 70% of companies experience at least one project failure in the last 12 months (KPMG 2010),
  • Failures in changing mindsets and attitudes (58%), corporate culture (49%) and lack of senior management support (32%) (IBM 2008), and
  • Despite failures success rates even for proven methods have failed to achieve high rates of success.  70% of respondents have been involved with projects that failed from the onset.  Agile projects 72% success rate vs. traditional approaches at 63% (Dr. Dobbs Journal 08/2007 & 10/2011)

Conditions have created both complacency (it is what it is) and also trepidation about change, even when for the better.   This reflects a concern about credibility even when the individual is worthy but conditions are not.  How can this be overcome?

Electrifying Credibility

We must regain control of our professional and personal worlds through building credibility.   At the center of this is trust, not hype.  Today we see allot of hype and this has created a carnival atmosphere about topics and technologies.  To build a trust relationship also commands a commitment to sustaining it.  A lack of attention will not only destroy trust but will create an almost impossible challenge to regain trust.  Our level of vigilant attention to trust maintenance will challenge us and can possible even result in becoming apart from the mainstream.  Are you up for that challenge or will you simply wait and see when it happens.  Truly the decision is yours to make.

There are seven (7) elements to gaining credibility.

  1. Define your values and mission.  Without context great ideas can get lost, misunderstood and possible be discounted as a standalone idea.
  2. Know your personality and your personal brand.  We see adoration being given to people based on name, company association, title or success.  These points of brand personality vary with societies.  In some cultures its held in high regard while in others it simply considered a condition.
  3. Set your boundaries.  Limit your domain of abilities as well as the circle of credibility that you have.  As the saying goes “maintain healthy boundaries”.
  4. Chose how and where to showcase.   In the course of building your credibility you will have numerous opportunities to showcase who you are and what you level of credible trust is.  Don’t expect to hit a home run with every chance you have to swing.  Pick your opportunities and recognize its important to chose the right means to showcase.  Maybe its a thoughtful note or a focused illustration that will give you and opportunity to perfect your credibility.  Also beware that complexity and commanded attention are dangerous as well as potentially damaging.
  5. Release your Authenticity.  Be yourself and if by chance there are things about you that aren’t particularly endearing to others, keep them tucked away.  Restraint is better than uncontrolled transparency.
  6. Consistency.  Inconsistency as the potential for confusion and mistrust.  Not that you are trying to be misleading its just that your irregular presence makes conditions unstable.  People seek consistency even when conditions are not perfect.  Change and the ability to transition are challenged by inconsistencies and the classic “it depends” creates no added comfort for those simply trying to overcome their concerns.
  7. Be Prepared for Opposition.  It is going to happen and it may come from a variety of reasons.  Some possibilities;
    • new out of context situations
    • paradigm contention
    • past history
    • wrong vehicle for conveying message
    • compliance failure in the chain of communication
    • current conditions
    • receiver state of mind and status and
    • lack of endorsement

Next-Next

Practice makes perfect and perfect results in credibility.  Credibility will become second nature but one must remain vigilant to maintain our credibility.  Even as a sage citizen with profound accomplishments and accolades one must remain eternally humble and trustworthy.   Unfortunately some err on the side of personality, connections and luck to achieve a level of perceived credibility.  This is just the way it is, don’t sweat it.  Focus on building your credibility and with that it will create trust.

From that single organic nodule of package life an offspring is produced, or not.  This week has been particular enriched with insight and wisdom, some unsolicited and others remaining a bit of a quandary.

This week Hubert Dreyfus passed away.  A professor and a human being, a philosopher who challenged us to consider the practical limits of computers.  Aside from his academic acclaim and intense experience as a human being his message was far deeper than the antidotal point on message.  Yes, he asked us to consider the depth of use and application of technology in our personal lives, business and society.  He appears to have know the extent of human temptation and addiction.  Today we are drawn to the light like a moth to a candle, embracing the new and forsaking the tried and true. Is it because we are afraid of being left behind or are we considering the real vs. illusionary value of it all?  Or is it that we are sitting on the edge of restrained obsolesce and the jump seems right even if we might be stepping out into the darkness with hardly a basis of comfort.  Although I never had the chance to meet him in person I enjoy some brief ‘technological’ interchanges to better understand his stance on artificial intelligence.  During my advanced studies he provided invaluable opinions about the difference between machine learning, the need for social contact and interchange, along with some quite private discussions about risk.   It was a bit unnerving to consider to realize which was always in front of my eyes that the success or destruction is not in the device but the enablement provided by the human steward.   To me it wasn’t just a learned opinion, although gifted with experience at MIT and Rand, but his deep and profound thought given on the subject.

The Junk Drawer

Few people do not have a junk drawer.  Whether it be made up of household repair items or kitchen gadgets we all manage to eek out a space to stash away an much anticipated device of salvation.  Likewise we see the emergence of the same for abandoned technology.  Cables, cell phones, chargers and various explored ancillary devices find their way to ‘the drawer’.  We pretty much know that what goes in is unlikely to come and be used, time is not on the side of technology and the obsolescence that occurs.  But our frugal nature suggests that we or someone might find a need or use for these cast aside items.   I mention the junk drawer in a broader context that we have lots of technologies that have come and gone.  Often replaced by what appeared to be superior solutions, that later prove to be less superior that even more future ones.

I think back to my very first expose to artificial intelligence in the 1970s.  It was with a very simple but quite illustrative product called VisiEXPERT produced by the now defunct Visi Corp.  The product was a very rudimentary rule based artificial intelligent (AI) solution.  Its operational example used the pairing of cheese with wine and allowed for the addition of new elements and relationships.  At that time it was robust enough to learn or be driven by inference, it required aggressive assertions in order to advance outcome delivery.  Later in the 1980s we saw the ADA and LISP development as service languages support for data driven behavioral modification processes.  In both cases their emergence was not months but decades in the making and although solidly formed it struggles to produce a groundswell of disciples.

So our junk drawer continues to grow and with this we see the rekindling of interest.  For those in the AI community the drive is not so much from the technology as it is the promotional support of the business community.  AI is talked about in a single breath with learning machines but how does this all fit together with life?


Embryonic Appearance

This past week (May 5, 2017) I read a piece that Scott Ambler a legendary agile disciple wrote about the “Darth of Qualified Agile Coaches”.  The points reflected a condition in which labels get applied but the lack of substantive value creates an abundance of non-value.  Even though the focus was on promoting professional qualifications there remains a quite similar condition as it pertains to AI.  We see a plethora of AI involved entities who for all intense purposes are new market entrants.  But let us not also be fooled by capabilities driven by attending a course, as Scott pointed out, it involves intense and purposeful experience to fulfill the obligations as an expert in a given field.  Even in my case with over 40 years in the information technology field and intensely active engagement in AI related activities I still feel I have lots to learn.  Its from this vantage point I wish to ask the question about capabilities.

When I think in quite simplistic terms as pertaining to AI I think of ‘the seed’.  That kernel catalyst that will drive the growth of technology based learning.  I also think about risks and what level of permissiveness that we should allow the AI model to undertake.  Embedded in that kernel is data and we need to be astutely aware that data is not always clean, controlled and ready for use.  It necessitates sterilization to make it ready and all must be done in as near to real-time as possible.  Momentary lapses in time or hesitation in commitment of cleanliness jeopardizes the AI value proposition.

To further emphasize this point I will refer you back to some earlier writings on did on advanced analytics.  I find that while analytics also makes use of data, it also has the potential to become a close partner with AI and the learning machine.  As stated in this earlier article (10/15/2014) the real next generation is not in preceptor or predictive analytics, it in the real of preemptive which takes action vs. alerting us of or indicating that a condition has the potential to occur.  In short, the model reflected the raw basis of the learning machine.  While not centered on growth of knowledge and more centered on action the elements exists for the feeding the AI model through preemptive analytics.  I also contend that anything short of being soundly grounded preemptive logic, including predictions is really shaky ground for AI.  The basis of this opinion is the potential for runaway illogical reaction by the AI model paradigm.  In the most simple of examples I think of how I look at a situation and react to later discover it was not exactly as I saw it.  If this had been applied to an AI scenario who knows whether reversion would have occurred and if it did was it through intervention or a separate set of rules to deal with error management?

Conclusion… Just a Wee Bit of Fertilizer

No planting would be complete without a bit of care and accelerated nurturing.  AI is no exception.  In this context our growth enhancement hormone is a combination of pragmatic engineering, anticipatory examination and a purposeful examination of our present state of intellectual discourse.  Most would agree that humans make errors and thus anything we do is both prone to error creation but also possibly error propagation caused by what we presently do.  One cannot view human emulated thought process as simplistic.  Even the most rudimentary movements, considerations, evaluations and commitments entail literally thousands of possible paths and choices.  While technology can handle volume and responsiveness it remains the dutiful obligation of humans to craft the paths, the gates of decisions, correlation of relationships and discernment of probable paths with rational and common place or dissenting opposition.  Its for these reasons that the engagement of personnel involved with AI cannot be causal technological Spartans.  Technical proficiency will remain important but the management of the operating intellectual paradigm will remain critically essential.  This involves raw in-sources from data, progressive analytics, paradigm development and deployment to error corrective models as the minimum for sound control.   Even then understanding is bounded by experience and therefore secondary ability to communicate, examine and model will help bolster the skill set needed for application of AI.

To the consumer there may be some worry or dissension, much as was the case with the use of voice response systems.  People are hesitant to embrace what is uncomfortable or viewed as inadequate by comparison to what they have grown accustom.  So while AI proponents dabble in the science there remains a great degree of need for transitioning of people to a new world order.  Some may enjoy a more hidden affront to consumers where others will be challenged regularly by real-time consumerism exchange.  Simply remember that all things are solvable as long as we understand the nature of the best, the human condition.