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Category Archives: Technology

Learning “Future IT” from Digital Natives

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Digital transformation offers IT organizations the unique opportunity to create value by becoming digital change agents for the enterprise.

Early in my career as a young technology professional, I asked why our IT organization often changed. It changed more frequently than other functions within the company. Every other year, new methods emerged and new ways of working. Business requirements of technology capabilities evolved as well as capabilities of newer technologies that impact every aspect of the business. And of course, the usual pendulum swing between centralizing and decentralizing management and control of IT, then to shared services and then to outsourcing. Change is still the norm today, only the rate of change is accelerating and intensifying. Exploration of disruptive business models driven by digital capabilities will no longer be the exclusive domain of digital natives but will become the aspiration of traditional companies as well.  As a response to unrelenting forces of disruption, many companies are embarking on this journey. A company’s long-term survival in this new reality relies on digital excellence as the new norm.

What is your business’ toughest challenge? Shifting markets? Stiffening competition? Combined pressure from digital savvy and restless customers? When such challenges intensify, you may need to redesign strategies, reimagine other business possibilities, models, go-to market tactics and outcomes. In recent years, we have seen the effect of Amazon on retail giants like Walmart. In recent months, we have seen healthcare companies like CVS and Aetna looking to merge in order to redefine themselves and combine their capabilities to become stronger. Healthcare companies like CVS and Aetna know that Amazon already has many of the core competencies needed to compete in healthcare, including ready access to capital, a massive distribution infrastructure, a strong technology base, a robust data analytics capability, and a deep, talented executive bench. Companies respond by transforming themselves to abate competition from digital native companies like Amazon. In the future, the question will not be how we transform to become digital natives, as this will be the norm even for traditional companies. How to get there and survive is the tough challenge of today.

Digital transformation offers IT organizations the unique opportunity to create value by becoming digital change agents for the enterprise. But first, we must learn from digital native companies about how to reshape the way our companies manage and exploit technology. What does it take to transform to be the next digital leader in your space? Apart from understanding where you are today, it is also advantageous to investigate blueprints of success. The IT leadership team in my current organization did just that when our CTO Ricardo Bartra took us to Silicon Valley and San Francisco last month to visit Facebook, Google, CISCO Meraki and Salesforce.

  • At Facebook, we saw how the digital native culture looks like in a campus setting supported and enabled by its facilities, people, and ways of working. When Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg filed for the company’s initial public offering in 2012, he wrote that one of the sayings he and his employees live by is, “The riskiest thing is to take no risks.” “We encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time,” he wrote.
  • At Google, we saw that the challenge is not that technology evolves faster but how visionary companies like them understand and capitalize on them by innovating early and often and converting them into a competitive advantage. I saw their pursuit for bleeding edge technology and always looking for what is next. Google strives for continual innovation, not instant perfection. The presenter told us the story of how GMAIL came to be, from a series of prototypes to a subsequent release of a beta version that quickly took off.
  • Walking around the halls of Meraki’s office, you’d be hard-pressed to guess you’re on a Cisco campus. It still feels like a start-up! At Meraki, we saw how employee experience is increasingly dependent on technology. How DevOps teams and engineers can quickly spin off capabilities to support employee experience by enabling applications eliminating the need to buy.
  • At Salesforce, we saw what agile transformation looks like driven by top management. How salesforce has managed its organization transformation focused on agile culture and ways of working, transforming organizations to empowered teams with clear missions. They provided an environment where their employees become more comfortable and develop expertise in navigating fluid structures made up of teams formed from diverse skills and experiences.

IT functions have historically been built based on the context of specific expertise, IT standards (ITIL), Operating Models and proven BPM and BRM approaches. I spent my first 15 years as an IT professional with a global building materials company and understood how to leverage the power of technology. I learned to recognize the importance of process methods and goals in ensuring harmony between processes and technology platforms, speeding up solution deployments, and enabling continuous improvement and innovation; to understand the impact of IT processes in integrating a large acquisition; and to recommend an appropriate model for integrating an acquisition. Much of what I learned from my first 15 years still applies and I believe will apply to the next 15 years. But I also realize that I need to evolve and be “bi-modal”, embracing digitization and agile thinking. This is my focus today and I am happy that this is also the journey my current IT organization is undertaking. I want to be an IT leader that will be adaptive and dynamic in pulling together capacity and competency from a broader range of sources—traditional and future capabilities such as AI, robots, IoT, cloud, blockchain and alike.

Digital Transformation

How People Really Use Crowdsourcing

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While on vacation, you don’t earn money… you spend them. Not my brother-in-law—he finds ways to earn a few bucks. He uses his smartphone and apps like Gigwalk. While in Las Vegas days before the New Year, he surveyed bars and restaurants in the city. He wasn’t bar-hopping or something, he was taking 360 degree pictures of restaurants’ interiors and sending them to Bing. It was a gig he acquired through Gigwalk. The rate for this micro-task is around $5 per picture. Think about this, if 50 of those photos he submitted were accepted, he earned $250. He also does work for big companies that like to employ a “mobile workforce” to check on prices and placement of their products in major supermarkets. He interviews shoppers to conduct designed surveys. The rate for this type of gig is about $10 to $ 20 each. Not bad, isn’t it? Pepsi is using crowdsourcing to promote their sponsorship of the Super Bowl halftime show. They have a contest where fans can submit their personal photos in the hopes that it will be featured in the introduction video. They are sending different instructions per day to fans for diverse types of pictures. I can’t wait to see the outcome of that in the Super Bowl halftime.

What is Crowdsourcing?

This is what crowdsourcing is about—collecting contributions from many individuals to achieve a goal—thus doing more with fewer resources possible. Just imagine if Bing would want to photograph interiors of full service restaurants in the United States and would be willing to employ full time workers to do so. How many workers and for how long? Bing has to consider that there are over 200,000 full service restaurants. Bing would need to contract hundreds of employees for many months to complete this and this would turn out to be a very expensive undertaking.

Crowd - Photo by James Cridland

When you think of a crowd, you think of an unruly bunch of people gathered in a disorganized way. Traditional crowd manipulation is the intentional use of techniques to engage, control, and influence the crowd in order to direct its behavior to accomplish something. Many businesses and politicians have successfully employed that technique in the past. Crowdsourcing differs from traditional crowd manipulation by taking the significance of geographical proximities away from the equation. Nowadays, you can organize individuals from different locations to do what you want using technology. The development of mobile technology in both the application side and for devices (Smartphone) is helping push crowdsourcing to be more commonplace.

Many of us use crowdsourcing without thinking about it. I bet you have used products that came out of crowdsourcing or have participated in crowdsourcing in some way without even realizing it. If you are using Wikipedia, then you are using one example of a service that is a product of the collaborative work of a crowd—or to use a better term, of volunteers.   Wikipedia has 24 million articles that were written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site, and it has about 100,000 active volunteers that contribute in this process. This is a classic crowdsourcing success story. If you have ever rented an apartment and used comments from previous tenants online to help you decide which complex to take; if you have made a purchase in Amazon.com and read customer reviews to help you decide which product to buy; or if you have used comments on TripAdvisor.com to plan a vacation, then you have taken advantage of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing for Social Change

What can you do to contribute to changing the world? Of course, you can donate money to a good cause but beyond that, there are relatively new ways for individuals to shape social change through crowdsourcing. Prominent blogger Alexey Navalny’s site, RosPil.net, makes the most of crowdsourcing by using it as a mechanism to expose corruption in Russia. RosPil uses crowdsourcing to ask anonymous volunteers to report government anomalies in the form of tenders that are designed to generate kickbacks. From a recent HRB article, “Rospil claims, as of December 2011, to have prevented the granting of dubious contracts worth US$1.3 billion.

Married couple Swati and Ramesh Ramanathan set up the website iPaidaBribe.com in India as a unique initiative to fight corruption. They ask anonymous users to disclose the nature, amount, and recipients of bribes. The initiative provides statistics like heat maps and areas of government who have rampant corruption practices.

You don’t even need a specialized website to run crowdsourcing. Many of these initiatives happen in the internet seamlessly through netizens’ initiatives in Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media websites.

Smartphones are making crowdsourcing even more sophisticated. Smartphone use has been climbing steadily upward in the last couple of years. The simple capability of a smartphone to take a photo with location and time stamping is a major capability that is used to capture information easily. As the use of smartphones continue to increase, I foresee a proliferation in simple crowdsourcing initiatives – be it for business, social change or other purpose.

Photo courtesy of James Cridland.

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