Day 3 – Greying Population, AI and Extremism

This is the third list of potential disruptive factors that could influence the Canadian Public Service over the next decade or so.  See the previous blog for the first set of three and Seven Days of Disruption blog for the entire set.  These are in support of November 22, 2017 FMI Conference – Disruptive Writers.

  • Depopulation Waves (2015)
  • Evolving Artificial Intelligence (2015)
  • Geopolitical Realignment (2015) and Continued Global Violent Extremism (2015)

Depopulation Waves

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2015: As global population growth slows, some countries’ populations are already shrinking. Global population growth is decelerating from 1.8 percent in the 1980-2000 to just 1.1 percent in the 2000–2025 period. The three main drivers of depopulation are aging, international migration, and high mortality and morbidity rates.  Depopulation presents a range of challenges including labor shortages, weaker consumer demand, lower tax revenue and higher health care costs as the greying population lives longer.

Editor Note: Additional impacts to the above are a massive transfer of wealth from the baby boomers to their children.  Of course this wealth is only of value if the economic and social structures continue to exist to support them.

Evolving Artificial Intelligence

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2015: Artificial intelligence (AI) is already used in sectors as distinct as finance, journalism, and engineering, and it continues to find new applications. For instance, AI is used in security trading dark pools, writes breaking news articles, and dominates humans in many games (such as chess, backgammon, Scrabble, and even Jeopardy!). It is also being leveraged in an attempt to cure cancer (as part of the Big Mechanism project being run by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA]) and make lethal decisions on the battlefield through its integration into the weapons systems of several countries. Increasing investment in deep learning technologies will enable AI to expand to even more sectors.

Editor Note: This topic has been explored in detail both in the business press and in fiction (anyone remember HAL from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey?).

Geopolitical Realignment and Continued Global Violent Extremism

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2015: Global economic and political power is increasingly diffuse thus compli­cating leadership efforts within the international system. In the years since the Global Financial Crisis, the United States and other Western powers have receded from the global stage  while rising regional powers have increased their political influence.  These changing power dynamics are decreasing the effectiveness of global political institu­tions. These institutions have transformed little in the past 60+ years and are failing to accommodate shifting power dynamics.  Global arms spending, has grown in recent years after decades of decline following the conclusion of the Cold War.

Today’s most pressing issues, including security concerns, are global in nature but cooperation has proved increasingly difficult in the current international environment. The international security architecture has been slow to address global terrorism and transnational organized crime. Moreover, lack of trust in govern­ments and businesses complicates international efforts to prevent cyber threats.

Editor Note: Canada has been a direct participant and beneficiary in the international movements of the second half of the 20th century.  From being a founding member of the United Nations and NATO to conceiving the concept of peace keepers, Canada has been described as ‘punch above its weight’ in international affairs.

Day 2: Power, Cyber-Security and Renewables

This is the second list of potential disruptive factors that could influence the Canadian Public Service over the next decade or so.  See the previous blog for the first set of three and Seven Days of Disruption blog for the entire set.  These are in support of November 22, 2017 FMI Conference – Disruptive Writers.

  • Changing Nature of Power (2015)
  • Cyber Insecurity (2015)
  • Dawning of a new urban transportation age and the Canadian City (2017 and editor)

Changing Nature of Power (2015)

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2015: In today’s world, power is increasingly fleeting and diffuse.  It is disseminated across individuals empowered by new technologies such as search engines and social media; to lower levels of government, including cities; and to start-ups and user-driven networked organizations. The rise of the global middle class is leading to greater individualism and expectations for service from their governments and from businesses, with consumers having never had a broader freedom of choice. Global trust in most institutions reached an all-time low in 2015, with governments continuing to be the least-trusted institution.

Editor note: So What?  The answer is that trust is foundation of a society and an economy.  It profoundly reduces the transaction cost in both.  Public institutions support this trust by enforcing social norms. In a strange twist, public institutions are sometimes powerless at the hands of a small but vocal group of individuals.

For example, an August 2017 discussion on free speech at Ryerson University was cancelled because the University was concerned about safety and security.  Described as domestic terrorism by one of the panelists, this is an example of public institution (Ryerson) self-censuring thought and discussion with a resulting degradation of its own power and trust.  While the individuals involved may congratulate themselves on forcing their view points onto an entire institution, they should also recognize that they are sharing a common heritage with the black, brown or red shirts who dominated politics a century ago.

Cyber Insecurity (2015)

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2015:While the upside of the Internet is enormous, cyber threats continue to multiply. Estimates put global cyber crime losses at somewhere between $375 billion and $575 billion annually.  All connected devices and systems are vulnerable to attack. Computer systems, for example, are vulnerable to ransomware. The growing IoT also lacks strong security systems and is highly vulnerable to data theft.  To make matters more complex, the cyber arena is a growing domain of warfare between countries, in which businesses can be caught in the crossfire. The “Darknet”—parts of the “Deep Web” that are not discoverable by traditional search engines—remains a serious criminal threat, especially with the rise of crypto-currencies. It is cloaked with encryption software that provides anonymity to users. The Darknet is used as a source of cyber attacks, as well as a place to buy and sell ransomware and other cyber weapons. Another business risk of the Darknet is that it provides a marketplace for stolen data collected through cyber attacks, augmenting hackers’ motivation to continue conducting such attacks.

Editor note: Governments see online services as a way to provide better government for fewer resources.  The Singapore, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom are acknowledged leaders in this effort although the Canada Revenue Agency has also made great strides in allowing for a digital experience.  Nevertheless, governments have a number of challenges including the Facebook-effect, the Shiny-bauble problem and resource asymmetry.

Facebook Effect – You are the Product

The Facebook-effect is the problem of comparing government services to a for profit service such as Facebook.  If Facebook can provide service xyz or make its offerings free, why can’t a government?  There are of course a number of answers to this.  Firstly Facebook is not constrained by the same legal, moral and democratic frameworks.  Facebook has an entirely different revenue model.  For social media, the user is the product.  Thus your likes, shares and contributions builds up a profile of you as a person which can then be monetized.  For governments such monetization of a citizen would be outrageous.  Finally, Facebook can fail while governments are expected to be enduring.  If Facebook ceased to exist tomorrow it would be inconvenient but a new social media product would take its place (anyone still using MySpace?).

The Shiny-Bauble Problem

Governments like to implement new things.  Ribbon cutting and shovel turning is good press and leads to the primary objective of any government – staying in power.  As a result, governments get distracted by the Shiny-Bauble which have a short-term effect or solution that has little enduring value and may cause long-term harm to a society.  The worst thing about Shiny-Baubles is that they may become entrenched in a society by a small group who benefit from the government largess.  In other words, the only thing worst than a Shiny-Bauble is trying to turn one-off.

Resource Asymmetry

Governments often have fewer and less enabled resources to delivery digital services or fight cyber-threats than the legitimate and illegitimate competitors.  The above Facebook discussion is one aspect of this resource asymmetry and consuming valuable government resources pursuing a Shiny-Bauble is another.  A darker example of asymmetry is that the bad guys only need to look for and exploit a single weakness in a government’s cyber environment.  At the same time, a government must fight all threats while trying to provide services.

Dawning of a new urban transportation age and age of renewables (2017 and editor)

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2015: The global urban population has risen steadily over the past two decades. According to the United Nations (UN), there were about 2.9 billion urbanites in 2000, but that number has increased to 4.1 billion and will hit 4.5 billion in 2022. The number of megacities, defined as cities with 10 million or more inhabitants, rose from just 17 in 2000 to 29 in 2015, and the total is projected to rise to 36 by 2025. Hyper-urbanization is heightening congestion levels in cities around the world. The age of the automobile may be ending as cities adopt innovative new technologies and use more traditional mass and individual transit methods to enable smarter and more sustainable urban transportation and growth.

(Editor) Public transit and electric vehicles are two ways that urbanization will change the face of a city but tele-commuting and promoting walk/bike-able cities are another.  This raises a challenge for Canadians as much of our housing stock has been built since the mid-20th century and the economics and logistics for all of these mitigating solutions will require significant government investment and coordination.  It will also require a change in cultural norms and expectations as owing a home has become central to financial and personal-security well-being.

Seven Days of Disruption

On November 22, 2017, the Edmonton Chapter of the Financial Management Institute is running an event entitled ‘Disruptive Writers‘.  In addition to hearing 3 great speakers discuss their books on either future disruptions or managing change, we will be playing a game called ‘Pin the Tale on the Disruption‘.  Sort of a mini-Delphi of what participants at the conference think will be the biggest challenge to the Canadian Public Service between now and …. ohhhh, say…. 2025 (e.g. about 7 years hence).

The Source of Disruption

There is a variety of sources for the disruptions but they are primarily based on the excellent work of the A.T. Kearney who have produced 3 Global Trend documents (available as follows):

It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future (Yogi Berra)

A word of caution about the difficulty of making predictions.  Inevitably something better or worse will have muscled all of the excellent possible futures out of the picture.  In addition, Black Swans and the unpredictable are a near certainty.  So, to my future self, I profusely apologize/acknowledge for being so absolutely wrong/right in naming the following future disruptions.

A Laundry List of Disruption (in alphabetical order)

  1. Accelerating Global Climate Change and the cost to mitigate (2015 and editor)
  2. Biotechnology: Frankenstein, Super-bugs and Super-cures (adapted from 2016 and editor)
  3. Canadian Competitiveness and Productivity (editor)
  4. Changing Nature of Power (2015)
  5. Cyber Insecurity (2015)
  6. Dawning of a new urban transportation age and the Canadian City (2017 and editor)
  7. Depopulation Waves (2015)
  8. Evolving Artificial Intelligence (2015)
  9. Geopolitical Realignment and Continued Global Violent Extremism (2015)
  10. Growing debt overhang (2017)
  11. Immigration and Changes to the Canadian Values and Characters (editor)
  12. Indigenous Power (editor)
  13. Islandization” of the global economy (2017), NAFTA Negotiations and the rise of protectionism (editor)
  14. IT Revolution 2.0 and the Rise of the Machines (adapted from 2015)
  15. Post Consumerism (adapted from 2016)
  16. Quebec and Regional Tensions (editor)
  17. Resource and Commodity Supply, Demand and Price (adapted from 2015)
  18. Rising storm of populism; Canada and Cultural War in the Age of Trump and the Progressives (adapted from 2016 and editor)

Can We Monetizing Government Services?

On November 7, I attended a session put on by the Canadian Institute called “Government Connects“. All levels of government spoke about digital transformation of their services.  One of the speakers was the boss of all Alberta Public Servants, Marcia Nelson.  Marcia did a great job discussing what the Government of Alberta is doing in moving its services online.  Certainly Digital Government is the nirvana for most governments as they see cyberspace as being a cheaper, faster and more effective way to deliver more services to citizens.

The User as the Product

Marcia, and many of the speakers, talked about the expectations of citizens relative to their other digital experiences.  For example the ease to create a Facebook account, the functionality available via a GMail account or how a LinkedIn profile is now almost as important as a resume or a business card.  The question from Marcia, and others was ‘how can governments compete with these products?‘.

The other side of these services is a profit motive.  Facebook makes it easy to set up a profile so it can target you with advertisements. Gmail wants you as an email client so it can scan your email and target its advertisement.  LinkedIn wants you to buy a premium membership or at least get your eyeballs on its advertisements.  All of the above are examples of monetizing you as a user into becoming their product.  Assuming informed consent, there is nothing wrong with monetization.  It is an economic transaction in which a slice of your privacy is exchanged for some really good services (like watching cat videos on Facebook just saying).

The Digital Government Disadvantage

So where does government fit into this?  Firstly there is the challenge of resources.  A quick scan of the September 2016 quarterly results of Facebook shows they have about $10.6USD Billion in physical and intangible assets*.  Included in this number is $5.1USD Billion of network and computer software assets (physical) in addition to $1.7USD Billion in technologies and patents (intangible).  In other words, Facebook has excellent technical infrastructure to offer a premium product for free to users.  And if they don’t have a good product now, their $30.3USD Billion in current assets (e.g. cash, securities, etc.) can be used to buy that good product.

* Note, for those accounting weenies out there, an interesting item they have on their balance sheet is ‘Acquired users’.  I could not readily find a definition for this term but it appears that the users are really the Product!

Pity someone like the Government of Alberta (GoA).  A $50 billion a year organization in which an estimated 2.5%, over $1 billion, is spent annually on Information Management and Technology (IMT) (adapted from: GoA IMT Plan, 2016 – 2021, p. 4). From the GoA’s most recent financial statements, they have $4.4CAD Billion (about $3USD Billion) of computer assets – hey not bad – of which 78% of is fully depreciated (e.g. over 5 years old) – YIKES! (adapted from GoA 2015-16 Financial Statements, p. 63).

Beyond relying on old technology, the GoA has to do a lot more than Facebook.  While Facebook can focus on social media, the GoA needs to run registry systems (e.g. vital statistics, land titles or drivers licenses), health systems (e.g. immunization, medical records), education (K-12, student finance, apprenticeship certificates), business (collect taxes/royalties/fines) and human social functions (tracking children in foster care, seniors or homelessness).

The above is not a new story but it is worth repeating every now and then that governments do things that no one else wants to with a tiny fraction of the resources of private industry.  Governments must also build and run systems that have almost no tolerance for failure.

Risk and Skin in the Game

To the last point, risk, this is where government is at a further disadvantage.  The original investors in FaceBook backed a winner.  Those who put money in to Myspace, Friendster or DIGG did not fare so well (huh, never heard of some of these, check out the grave yard of failed social media infographic from the Search Engine Journal January 25, 2013).  Nicholas Taleb calls investors (win or lose) people with ‘Skin in the Game‘ from his book Anti-Fragile.  In contrast, public servants never have skin in the game.  We are always spending other people’s money and our fantastically worst case for abject failure is forced retirement or perhaps being fired – maybe.

In other words, governments have both an advantage and disadvantage around risk. The individuals involved do not have personal risk (advantage) but the organizations also lack the mind focusing benefit of the ‘terror of failure’ (disadvantage).

The Monetization Continuum and How Can Governments ‘Compete’

The reality is that Governments can’t and shouldn’t compete with the Facebook’s of the world.  Creating a bleeding edge user experience would be an inexcusable use of public funds and without the terror of failure would not likely be successful anyway.

But because thought exercises can lead to innovation, I am proposing the ‘Monetization Continuum‘ for governments; a government simply needs to pick a point on a line.  At one end (generally status quo) is ‘Mind and Accept the Gap‘ at the other is ‘Full Monetization‘ with other options falling between these two.  Definitions are provided below as well as way points but generally if you are Singapore you may be more comfortable having McDonald’s ads on your obesity website.  If you are at the other extreme – well this is where Minding the Gap comes in.

Monetization Continuum

End Points Definition Examples
Mind and Accept the Gap Governments acknowledge that they will lag and explain why to their citizens. Periodically, governments leap-frog into a stronger position. Status Quo
Monetize Fund digital government through ad, premium memberships or sponsorship revenue.

Premium services could even be tax-deductible!

Faster border crossing via Nexus.

On the Subject of Not Likely

The reality is that governments will and should never monetize their services.  There is a slippery slope of what is reasonable and in good taste.  Governments have something that Facebook or Google does not have – the coercive powers of taxation and legislation. Perhaps governments does not need to build systems when they can force organizations operating in its jurisdictions to offer the services.  There is a long tradition of this in the telecommunications world, for example.  This would not be monetizing users as products, this would monetizing providers as servants for the public good.  Just a thought.

90 or 99 – That is the Strategic Question

Nicolas Taleb would have us believe that strategic planning is ‘superstitious babble’ (see Anti-fragile strategic planning).  In contrast, Kaplan and Norton make strategic planning a cornerstone of the Balanced Scorecard.  The reality is probably in the middle.

This blog however considers the question, how much time should an organization spend on planning?  Successful or not, when do you cut your losses for a year or when do you think that you are not doing enough?

How Much Is Enough?

On the one hand, strategic planning can become its own self-sustaining cottage industry.  Endless meetings are held and navels are closely examined with little to show for it.  On the other hand, the organization is so tied up in operations and ‘crisis du jour‘ that they wake up and discover the world (and even their organization) has completely changed around them.

What rule of thumb or heuristic can be used to know that you are doing enough without decorating cottages?  My proposed answer is somewhere between the 1.0% and 0.1%. Although a full order of magnitude separates these values, a range is important due to the volatility of an environment an organization finds itself in.  Governments are likely on the low-end (closer to 0.1%) and tech start-ups on the higher end (1.0%).

For more on the basis for these heuristics, take a read of ‘A Ruling on 80, 90 and 99‘ for my thoughts and a review of such things as Vilfredo Pareto’s legacy and internet lurkers. A recap from this blog is as follows:

  • Pareto: 20% of an organization’s actions account for 80% of its results.
  • 90 Rule: 1% of the operational decisions are enacted by 9% of the organization affecting the remaining 90%.
  • 99 Rule: 0.1% of the strategic decisions are enacted by 0.9% of the organization which impacts the remaining 99%.

Thus the 99 Rule provides a minimum amount of time for an organization to consider strategic questions while the 90 rule provides a maximum amount of time.

Who Does What and What to Do with Your Time?

Consider a fictional organization of 1,000 people.  This is a medium sized business, typical government Ministry or employees of a large town or a small city.  Assuming there is about 1,700 productive hours on average per year per employee (e.g. after vacation, training, sick time, etc. see below for my guesstimation on this) this means the organization in total has 1,700,000 hours to allocate.  How much of this precious resource should be spent doing strategic planning?

I am recommending no less than 1,700 hours and no more than 17,000 hours in total.  In total means involving all people in all aspects of the process.  Thus if there is a one hour planning meeting with 20 people in the room, that is 20 hours.  To prepare for this meeting, 3 people may have spent 2 full days each – another 3 x 2 x 8-hours or another 48 hours against the above budget.

Measuring what Matters

The point of completing these measurements is to answer four fundamental questions:

  1. Is the organization doing enough strategic planning relative to the environment?
  2. Is the organization doing too much planning?
  3. Are we getting value for the investment of resources?
  4. How do we get better at the activities to reduce this total?

Is the organization doing enough strategic planning relative to the environment?

What happens if you discover you are not doing enough?  For example your 1,000 person organization is only spending 100 hours per year doing planning.  You may be very good and efficient and if so bravo to you and your planning folks!  On the other hand, you may be missing opportunities, blind sided by challenges and mired in the current day’s crisis – in which case maybe a bit more effort is needed.

Is the organization doing too much planning?

The 1,000 person organization may also be in a Ground Hog Day’esque hell of constantly planning with not much to show for it.  Perhaps you have a full time planning unit of five people who host dozens of senior management sessions and the best they can is produce an anemic planning document that is quickly forgotten.  In this case, measuring the effort of consuming 10 to 20 thousand hours of efforts for nought can lead to better approaches to the effort.

Are we getting value for the investment of resources?

The above two examples demonstrate how a bit of measurement may help you decide that 100 hours is more than sufficient or 20,000 hours was money well spent.  The output of the planning process is… well a plan.  More importantly it is a culture of monitoring, planning and adapting to changing organizational and environmental circumstances.  Thus setting an input target of planning to measure the quality of the output and the impact of the outcomes can answer the question if the planning effort were resources well spent.

How do we get better at the activities to reduce this total?

The advantage of measuring, evaluating and reflecting on the planning efforts is to get better at.  Setting a target (be 1.0% or 0.1%) is the first step of this activity and measuring against this target is the next.

Good luck with your planning efforts and let me know how much time your organization spends on its planning initiatives.

* How much Time Do You Have?

How much time does an organization have per annum to do things?  The answer is … it depends.  Here are two typical organizations.  The first is a medium size enterprise that works an 8-hour day, offers 3-weeks vacation per year, in addition to sick days and training (e.g. for safety, regulatory compliance, etc.).  On the other hand is a Ministry that offers a 7.25-hour day, 5-weeks of vacation plus sick and training days.

Organization Medium Size Company Government Ministry
Hours/day (1) 8 hours 7.25 hours
Work days per year (2) 254  250
Work Hours per year 2,032 1,812.5
Avg Vacation days x work hours (3) 120
(3 weeks)
181.25
(5 weeks)
Avg Sick Days/year x work hours (4) 60
(7.5 days)
54
(7.5 days)
Avg Hours of Learning/year (5) 42 29
Total productive hours/employee 1,810 1,548.25
  1. Few professionals work an 8-hour day let alone a 7.25-hour one.  Nevertheless, everyone has non-productive time such as bathroom breaks, filling up on coffee, walking between buildings.  So I am leaving the actual average productive hours at 8 and 7.25 respectively.
  2. For a cool site in adding this calculation, see: www.workingdays.ca.  Note this includes 3 days of Christmas Closure.
  3. 10 days is the minimum number of vacation days required to be given to an employee.  The average is a surprisingly difficult number to find (at least to a casual searcher).  15 days is based on an Expedia 2015 survey.
  4. Reference Statistics Canada: Days lost per worker by reason, by provinces.
  5. Sources vary.  I have chosen the high value for the for-profit organization as they often have stringent regulatory requirements for health and safety training.  For government I have chosen a medium value.  Sources:

Other Thoughts on Strategic Planning

Six PoC Questions for Success

Proofs of Concept (PoC) are great.  They allow one to test a small component and then apply success (or failure) to future endeavours.  Certainly the all time champion of the PoC are the Myth busters.  Adam and Jamie would start each myth with a small-scale test before going big (and with the obligatory BIG explosion).

To Hack or to Formalize a PoC

PoCs come in many sizes.  At one end is the developer who experiments and comes up with a workaround or a more elegant way to achieve a result (aka a good ‘hack’).  On the other end is an organization that incrementally works toward a final objective.  For example sending a series of Apollo missions into space with each one adding on to the knowledge and experience of its successor.  This blog considers more than a midnight pizza fueled hack-a-thon but much less than sending humans into the unknown.

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 - the beneficiary of a series of Proof of Concepts.

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 – the beneficiary of a series of Proof of Concepts.

The Scientific Process (sort of) to the Rescue

One of human’s greatest achievements was the development of the Scientific Method which involves (courtesy of dictionary.com):

noun; 1. a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.

The following Six PoC Questions for Success is loosely based on the above method.  The intent is to help an organization understand why a PoC is a good idea and the result.  At the same time, this is ‘just-enough’ formalization.  After all, it is important to let the brilliant folks develop ‘elegant-hacks‘ without too much paper work.

1. What was the Business problem being addressed?

Why was a PoC identified?  Generally this is to address a specific business problem.  Pure research is okay as an objective for a PoC.  That is developing technologies or techniques with no immediate application but future potential value for an organization.

2. How is the problem currently being solved?

The answer to this question is that it is often not solved, done through intuition or completed via a manual/semi-automated process. This question helps the organization understand what to do the with the results of a PoC.  If the manual process is only slightly more costly then a fully automated variety, why bother with the complexities of automation?

3. The Question

In effect this is the hypothesis portion of the scientific method.  Ideally this question should be a simple Yes/No.  If the nature of the question changes through the PoC process, that is okay – but the evolution of the question should be included as part of the final report.  Thus we may have started asking question X but we ended up answering question Y.  The reason is that X was too big/small/wrong and Y was answerable.

Defining the question is important so your PoC team does lose its way and they have a touchstone to come back to. A bit of formalization around how they can change, extend, shrink or otherwise amend the question is important.

4. What were the results at the end of the project?

This question should have two parts, a) and b).  Part a) is the predicted result.  By including a prediction, the PoC can stay focused on the intended result.  This is not to discount secondary benefits or chance discoveries but it does help to ensure that a PoC does not become its own self-sustaining cottage industry. Consider keeping part a) secret from the PoC team if you want the benefits of the double blind effect.

Part b) is what happened, what were the results?  This should support the response to the question answered above.  Ideally the result is Yes or No but it might be Maybe.  Of course everyone wants a momentous discovery every time.  However failure should be seen as a positive result – such a result may have saved an organizations considerable time, talent and treasure.

5. What are the next steps?

This should be a very practical listing of how to use these results.  Examples of next steps may include refining a subsequent PoC, engaging in a larger scale test or moving the resulting solution to production.

6. What is the Future Vision, What is Possible?

Question five focuses on the practical and immediate application of the PoC results.  Question six let’s the team blue sky a bit and extrapolate findings to larger contexts.  This is part of the fun and value of the PoC – the larger application of something new.

No Explosion – Using the Six Questions

Sorry, unlike the Mythbusters, there is no end of blog explosion.  Instead, these questions are a handy reminder of the things to consider when a PoC is being suggested.   Let me know your thoughts on the six questions.  Would you add a question or take away one or more of them?

Can We Stop and Define Stop?

This week I will be going into an operational planning meeting.  Like most of the operational planning meetings I have attended, three questions are being asked:

  1. What do we want/need to start doing
  2. What do we need to continue to do or finish and
  3. What should we STOP doing?

The first two questions are relatively easy to answer and there is a plethora of information on How, Why, When, Where and What to plan.  In this blog, I want to focus on the Stop question, specifically:

What does “Stop” Mean in the Context of Operational Planning?

How Many Stops have been Really Stopped?

In my career, I have been in dozens of planning meetings and I cannot really recall something identified as ‘should be Stopped’ that was actually stopped.  At the same time, over my career, I have stopped doing many things that I used to do with out the ‘thing’ being part of a planning meeting.  Why is it so hard to identify a process to stop and then actually stop it?

Stopping to Define A Process

A quick stop for a definition and in this case the word ‘Process’ which is one of these wonderfully loaded terms.  Fortunately the good folks at the International Standards Organization can help: (source: www.iso.org, ISO 9000:2015; Terms and Definitions, 3.4.1, accessed 2016-04-02):

3.4.1 process: set of interrelated or interacting activities that use inputs to deliver an intended result (Note 1 to entry: Whether the “intended result” of a process is called output (3.7.5), product (3.7.6) or service (3.7.7) depends on the context of the reference.).

Assuming that an organization wants to stop a process, the challenge of doing so is built into the definition – when you stop something, you must deal with the inputs, the outputs and the impact on the inter-relation between potentially numerous activities.

Starting to Use a Process Focused Way of Stopping

Fortunately the above definition also gives us a methodology to evaluate what processes we can stop, change or that we are stuck with.  The Process Focused Way of Stopping uses a 2 x 2 matrix which asks two simple questions: will Inputs or Outputs Cease or Continue?  Inside the resulting matrix is a gradient between the extremes of fully stopping or continuing to deploy inputs and outputs. The four themed quadrants can help an organization understand the challenges and execution of stopping a process and interrelated impacts on the organization of doing so.

Process View Model

The Four Quadrants of Stopping

Or how to manage the “Law of Unintended Consequences“.

  • Full Stop!:
    • Inputs Stop, Outputs Stop
    • Business Example: Nokia, formerly a pulp and paper company that evolved into an electronics/cell phone company.
    • Organizational thoughts: abandoning or decamping from a process.
    • Risks/challenges: if a downstream process requires the output, a new and not necessarily better process may spring up to fill the void
  • Automation:
    • Inputs Stop, Outputs Continue
    • Business Example: Automation of airline ticketing and reservation systems over the past 40 years.
    • Organizational thoughts: automation is central to productivity enhancements and cost savings.
    • Risks/challenges: over automation can backfire, for example, being able to talk to a human is now seen as premium support for a product instead of simply directing customers to a website or a phone response system.
  • Costs Without Benefits (Yikes!):
    • Inputs Continue, Outputs Stop
    • Business Example: A mining company paying for site remediation long after the mine has been closed.
    • Organizational thoughts: Generally this is the quadrant to avoid unless there is a plan to manage the risks and downside costs (e.g. a sinking fund).
    • Risks/challenges: Organizations may land here as a result of the Law of Unintended Consequences..
  • Status Quo:
    • Inputs Continue, Outputs Continue
    • Business Example: any company that stays the course in their product line; this includes companies that should have changed such as Kodak.
    • Organizational Thoughts: this is a typical reaction when asked to changed processes.  Lack of organizational capacity and willingness to change supports general inertia.
    • Risks/challenges: As Kodak discovered, a lack of willingness to internally cannibalize and prune an organization may lead to external forces doing it for you.

How to Start Using a Process Focused Way of Stopping?

‘So What?’, how can this model be used?  At a minimum I plan to bring it with me to the next planning session and when someone identifies an activity to ‘STOP’ I will point to the quadrant the thing falls into.  This is not to prevent good organizational design, new ideas or planning; but it is to focus on the practicalities of planning and execution.

Hopefully you can start using this Stopping Model the next time you begin a planning meeting!

ITM Triangular Conceptual Model

The following graphic has been kicking around in my head, in various incarnations for a few years. It considers the inter-relationship between Information, Technology and their Management or Governance.
ITM Triangle

ITM Triangle

Definitions: Information, Technology and Management (ITM)

Before looking at the whole model, what are its components?  How do you separate information from technology or from management?  One the one hand you do not; there is a continuum in which very few things are strictly one thing or another and lots of bulging between the triangle points where the business of an IT Department happens.  Nevertheless, there is nothing like a good definition and these are from COBIT.

Triangle Points

  • Information: An asset that, like other important business assets, is essential to an enterprise’s business. It can exist in many forms. It can be printed or written on paper, stored electronically, transmitted by post or by using electronic means, shown on films, or spoken in conversation.
  • (Information) Technology: The hardware, software, communication and other facilities used to input, store, process, transmit and output data in whatever form
  • Management:  Plans, builds, runs and monitors activities in alignment with the direction set by the governance body to achieve the enterprise objectives. and/or
  • Governance: Ensures that stakeholder needs, conditions and options are evaluated to determine balanced, agreed‐on enterprise objectives to be achieved; setting direction through prioritization and decision making; making; and monitoring performance and compliance against agreed‐on direction direction and objectives.

Central Core

There are a lot of things going on inside an IT department but generally they rely on people and the application of knowledge.

  • IT People: individuals either employed by, contracted to or otherwise contribute to the objectives of the organization and its IT goals (note, this is not a COBIT definition).  A central leadership roles found in IT departments is the CIO:
    • Chief Information Officer: The most senior official of the enterprise who is accountable for IT advocacy, aligning IT and business strategies, and planning, resourcing and managing the delivery of IT services, information and the deployment of associated human resources.  For brevity this also includes the potential differentiated functions of a Chief Technology Officer or a Chief Knowledge Officer.
  • Knowledge: The intangible awareness of how to do something (e.g. through user manuals, guides, etc.) or the application of ability and other intangible properties to a problem.  Knowledge is brought to an organization by the people who join it but there is also often a localized set of abilities unique or particular to a well run organization as well. According to Merriam Webster (no COBIT definition), knowledge includes:
    • a (1) : the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2) : acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique
    • b (1) : the fact or condition of being aware of something (2) : the range of one’s information or understanding <answered to the best of my knowledge>
    • c : the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning : cognition
    • d : the fact or condition of having information or of being learned <a person of unusual knowledge>

Client/Environment Results

Outside of the triangle are the clients and consumers of service who tend to think about ITM in silos.  For example, my computer is not booting (technology), I need a report that will tell me… (information), why is IT so “@Q#!$%*” expensive (management/ governance).  The reality is more subtle and holistic and increasingly all three need to work together to provide quality service to the organization. To this end, how the client interacts with IT can be broken into one of the following four means:

  • Application: what most users think of when they think about IT.  COBIT defines these as: A computer program or set of programs that performs the processing of records for a specific function
  • Information System: what most users manipulate when they are using an application.  COBIT definition: The combination of strategic, managerial and operational activities involved in gathering, processing, storing, distributing and using information and its related technologies.
  • Governance/Management:  How you know how to allocate scarce resources to prioritize business problems.  The actual individuals and committees that perform the management/governance functions described in the above definitions.  For example a corporate IT steering, project or program steering or working committee.
  • Utilities: generally invisible to users, until something goes wrong.  Collectively, the software, hardware and other technologies that perform particular computerized functions and routines that are frequently required during normal processing (adapted from COBIT).

Triangle and Real Life

The benefit of using a triangular model is that each point interacts with the other two.  That is there are gradients rather than a set of discrete locations. Thus an application is an example of technology but generally it consumes, transforms or outputs information. Information in isolation is generally not usable without technology or governance (e.g. It needs a report to deliver it and standards to understand it).
The model can also help IT folks view their craft holistically. ‎ Working in one area or another may create blind spots for the other two. Thus someone working in the app development space may forget the information imperatives or lose sight of the business needs for the application. A business user may over-simplify the role of information management or the challenges of building technology to deliver quality and timely information. Finally, while things such as data science are gaining traction the need a suitable container to produce it and the oversight to apply or use it is not diminished.

The So-What Factor?

Nice triangle, but will it get me funding for a data center upgrade, a new ERP system or better business intelligence (BI) tools?  Yes, in a way.  The Triangle can be used to demystify why expenditures and efforts in all areas are necessary.  As well, the triangle may be used as the basis for things like a heat map of where to invest the next dollar. If past years have seen good efforts in BI tools, have the transactional systems kept pace in feeding these systems?  Is there good oversight on master data records or big data to know who owns what and what do you do with the data when you find it?
What are your thoughts on the ITM Triangle?  Does it cover sufficiently what your IT area does, are their gaps or is too high level?

Smarter Than you Think

In my ongoing effort to remember what I have read, some notes on: Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson. The Penguin Press, 2013.

By blogging about this book I am doing exactly what Thompson says we will do ever more of, extending human abilities through the use of technology. This is nothing new, the first killer app(lication) was the invention of writing.

Writing – The First Killer App

This six thousand-year old technology was created to aid in business and government administration and it had its detractors including Socrates. He feared that the written word would ‘kill off debate and dialectics’. Other detractors pointed to the loss of memory and enshrining errors. In the end Socrates was both right and wrong. While people lost the deep understanding of a few topics (often committing their few books to memory) they gained a more varied, complex and extensive knowledge of many topics. [pp. 116-120]

Singularity or Centaur?

More recent examples of technology besting humans has been in the realms of chess and Jeapordy. In, Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM’s Big Blue in a tournament of six games. This is not entirely surprising, chess is a game that lends itself to brute force computing. While Kasparov was able to delay the inevitable by introducing some creative moves, in the end the weight of Big Blue crushed him.

But that is not the end of the story, Kasparov and amateurs came back and defeated other computers and chess masters – by working in concert with the machine. This blended the brute force of the machine (e.g. looking ahead a dozen moves) and the imagination of the human. Thompson calls this machine-man combination a centaur (a mythological creature. Its head, arms, and chest are those of a human and the rest of its body, including four legs, hindquarters, and a tail is like that of a horse, deer or dog).

In Thompson’s view we are all becoming centaurs. Every time we fact check something on our smart phone while watching TV or in conversation, we are blending technology with the human. Even ten years ago this was either not possible or not very convenient (at least without leaving the dinner table to run up to the computer and Google that fact in dispute.  In the 1970’s my family kept a dictionary and encyclopedia at arm’s length to fact check dinner conversation).

To Thompson’s credit, he does not mention or go down the rabbit hole of the singularity. That is the point when humans and machines blend and we leave our corporeal existence for that of a machine. This is a good thing as I suspect that the singularity discussion is a red herring fraught with technological, practical and metaphysical challenges (would it be heaven or an eternal hell for your consciousness).

Ambient Awareness

Perhaps the one area where we are becoming singularity’esque is the awareness for family, friends and colleagues through social media.  Ambient awareness is defined as “awareness created through regular and constant reception, and/ or exchange of information fragments through social media”.  Thus we have a sense of what someone is doing because of changes to their social media postings. For example, a break from posting breakfast updates may indicate they are unwell or a change in tone that their new relationship is doing well.

Although considered a new idea in the context of social media, I would argue that it is a re-packaging of perhaps one of the oldest attributes of the humans, tribal awareness. Although technology no longer requires us to be in the same village or hunting party, the ambient awareness is an extension of living and relying on those in close proximity to you.

Building on the tribal theme, Thompson identifies one risk of Ambient Awareness, homophilia, or seeking out those with the same opinions and points of view as your own. Social media makes homophilia worse because tools such as Facebook analyzes the contacts you pay attention to and highlights them. There is a self-reinforcing loop in which those who share your views are brought to the fore and those that don’t are dropped. [pp.230-231]

Remembering to Remember

Thompson does a great job describing how human memory works and does not work. A relevant point to this book is the importance of having memory jogs to help the brain recall information.This is because memory is constantly regenerating itself. We start with a gist of a recollection and then fill in the rest The filling in part may be factually accurate or we may change a detail that is then stored as part of the memory.  Diaries, photographs Facebook postings and blogs (such as this one) are all part of the externalization of memory. We are moving from a time in which most of our lives were forgotten to when we must activity delete/forget a recording that we don’t want to keep.  [pp. 26-28]

Thompson describes another class of individuals who purposely record every minute of their existence, lifeloggers. Wearing body cams, audio recorders – every minute of their life is recorded. The biggest challenge these individuals have is not in the recording (although there is some resistance to this) or storage, it is in retrieving on demand from the store. The solution seems to be another centaur. That is letting the machine record the details and then have it play back snippets which keep the grey matter in shape through retrieval.

Surveillance, SousVeillance and the Three C’s

One of the impacts of all of this recording is that governments have better tabs on what you are doing and you can keep tabs on what governments are doing. Police states are nothing new but they got a boost with the invention of the microphone and tape recorder.  As political candidates have learned, drunken photos from a college party ten years ago may come back and haunt a candidacy for political office (or even job interview).

The opposite side of Surveillance is Sousveillance or watching from below. A CCTV may be used to record a riot but a hundreds of phone cameras can be used to record police excess. Beyond photos, Twitter, blogs and other tools have allowed for the tracking of human need and to organize protest and responses.

What has happened is a drastic cut to the cost of Coordination and  Communication so as to exercise Control.  Where as before a top down command and control model was needed, now a website and an integration to texts can do much of the same (for example https://www.ushahidi.com).

The Future Including New Literacy

While most of Thompson book is uplifting and reduces the worry about the impact of technology, he does have some cautions – in particularly when it comes to digital literacy. For example, the importance of teaching children critical thinking when it comes to digital information. This literacy is not only understanding information provided but also understanding how the tools are best used.

Smart-phones and externalization of knowledge will not make us dolts – but it is also not without risks.  Thus, just like writing, the printing press and photography, we will need to figure the best ways to use the technologies. Thompson has written an excellent book that can prepare us for this future.  Now 3 years old, hopefully it is a book he plans to update periodically so as to keep current with the technologies of the day.

All quotes are from: Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson. The Penguin Press, 2013.

Write as a Team Sport: Antifragile Strategic Planning

I have been able to call upon friends and colleagues twice to help me craft articles.  In both cases IAEA Property, Plant and Equipment Framework and LATE the group provided me with excellent advice.

A huge note of thanks (and a libation or coffee on me next time I see you) to the following individuals who provided ‘friendly-peer-review’.  As in the last go round, the result was a much better article.  The article itself can be accessed through my “Antifragile Strategic Planning: director’s cut” or directly from the FMI website: January 2016.

Thank you for the Use of Your Brain

Of course no good deed ever goes unpunished and to that end, the following are the folks who have helped me with the friendly-peer-review.  Hopefully I can return the favor in the future.  Also, if you are on the list and are logging this as professional development, feel free to refer to this post and notice below.

Person

Organization

Anne-Marie A. Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute 
Pam Q. Athabasca University
Stacey D. Government of Alberta
Shakeeb S. Government of Alberta
Peter N. Retired

To whom it may concern, the above individuals were asked to perform a friendly-peer review of an article intended to be published in the Financial Management Institute of Canada journal, FMI*IGF Journal. The estimated time to perform this review was between 2 to 3 hours completed in early December, 2015. All of the above individuals demonstrated a firm grasp of the subject matter and helped to create-net-new original thought and critique through this peer-review which will be reflected in the final article. 

The above activity meets the definition of Charter Professional Accountant – Alberta’s verifiable continuous professional development.  Evidence for this include this web page attesting to the involvement as well as the emails and responses provided to myself.  I welcome contact if further confirmation is required.

The CIA and You!

Okay, not THAT CIA (Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government).  Instead an acronym/heuristic for things that Control-Influence-Affect you.  In a nut shell, to be happier, more productive or at least less dysfunctional remember that there are things that:

  • Control: You can directly control, make the most of these opportunities.
  • Influence: You can influence these but you do not control them.  Be care how much you influence, the more you influence you exert – the less control you often end up with.
  • Affect: You are affected but you can neither control nor influence this things.

Child Rearing According to the CIA

Sometimes called ‘strategic apathy’ or know what not to care about, children provide a great example of the CIA concept:

  • Control: for about the first six years of a child’s life you pretty much have control.  Or at least you think you do until the two-year old has a melt down in Walmart.
  • Influence: starting about age six your control wanes and instead your influence predominates.  Influence falls to a new low around age fourteen and then starts to pick up again after age seventeen.  With grown children, the degree to which you influence is slight but not unimportant.
  • Affect: at some point your children will take control of your life.  Hopefully it is deciding to pull the plug after a great life and a snowboarding accident occurring on your 99th birthday.  If you are not so lucky, they will choose your nursing home.  Consider this carefully when your two-year old is having her melt down in Walmart.

Not a New Idea

This is not an original idea, the ‘Serenity Prayer‘, adopted by Alcoholics anonymous, has been around for nearly a century and has a similar theme.

Serenity Prayer, courtesy of www.sobrietygroup.com

Serenity Prayer, courtesy of www.sobrietygroup.com

What is different is the evaluation criteria and what to do about CIA.  Here are some questions that for each part of the heuristic.

  • Control
    • All the questions from Influence, plus…
    • Why and how did you come to have control of this?  How does your control align with the principles of legitimacy?
    • What is the worse that can happen if you do nothing?
    • If you do something, can you reasonably predict the impact of the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’?
    • Can you loan/give/share control with others without losing your accountability or responsibility?  Would this make the solution better, worse or about the same?
    • In exerting control, are your objectives and intentions noble?
  • Influence
    • All the questions from Affect, plus…
    • Why and how did you come to have influence over this?  Do you want this influence and what is worst/best thing that could happen as a result to you?
    • How much influence do you have as compared to others?  How do their intentions align with yours?
    • By influencing this, will it diminish or augment your influence or control over other things?
    • How little influence can you exert to achieve your objectives?
    • In exerting influence, are your objectives and intentions noble?
  • Affect
    • Why and how did you come to be affected by this?
    • Who has control and if no one, should someone have control and should it be you?
    • Who has influence and how do their intentions align with your priorities?
    • With effort, can you be in control or influence this thing?  Would you want to you and is it worth the effort to do so?
    • If this came to pass, could you live with it, will it harm you, your family or your community?  If yes to the first and no to the second, why are you thinking about it?
    • Is there a precedent here that you need to worry about?
    • Can you turn this to your advantage?  Can you at least hedge against any untoward impacts?

The CIA So-What?

This Phrankism has been useful in deciding upon a course of action.  It is amazing how often we spend considerable effort trying to change things that we do not control or even influence.  Sort of the adage ‘everyone talks about the weather but never does anything about it’.  The CIA heuristic is a handy way to stop, think and then act in a manner that expends the least amount of energy for the greatest benefit.

Strategic Planning: How Not to Waste Your Time 

Over a good portion of  my career, I have been responsible for strategic planning and for the most part it has been a waste of time and effort.  My experience is that organizations ask good people to spend a considerable effort in gazing into the future and describe all the great new things the organization will be doing.  The plan is released to great fanfare and then people get on with their lives managing operational activities or dealing with the crisis du jour.  Before the organization knows it, it is time to expend more effort to update a hopelessly out of date plan.  If anyone takes the time to compare the actual implementation with the good intentions of the previous plan, achievements are those which had few alternatives or were achieved with via dumb luck.

Okay, I am being a bit dramatic for effect and to get you ready to think about how strategic planning can be worth it’s time and effort through three principles.

Three Starting Point Principles

  1. The Process is the Plan.
  2. Execute… Something.
  3. Less is more and Four Pages is Lots.

The Process is the Plan.

Given that very few plans are ever read after their completion, does this not mean that the value is in the drafting of the plan rather than the final document? When organizations stop, think, and decide what to do next – they are better prepared for tomorrow’s crisis du jours.  Given that the value is in the process, does it not make it sense to institutionalize strategic planning within the organization’s management and governance functions rather than an annual exercise?  When this happens, the organization’s command, control and communication muscles are toned and ready to react quickly to opportunities and challenges.  Unfortunately the dark side of focusing on the process is analysis-paralysis or perpetual-planning that never results in a result.  In other words, planning is fun but only execution counts.

Execute… Something.

Strategic Plans are highly perishable.  Before too long they go from the plan of the moment, to something somewhat relevant to eventually becoming shelf-ware and at worst a walking zombie-plan (think of the communist regime’s five year plan in year 4).  Rapid implementation is critical and metrics even more so against the plan.  Ideally if the process is finely honed, then it stays current through multiple mini-revisions and then a major revision to thwart the Zombie plan-apocalypse.

This is done by executing against the plan, anything!  As well, measure the results of this execution: what was done, by whom and when.  This will validate the time and effort spent developing the plan, will tone and flex those organizational muscles and keep the plan in the organization’s consciousness.

Less is more and Four Pages is Lots.

There is an inverse relationship between the length of a plan and its value.  Less is more and I believe the best length is four (or fewer) pages.  What is on these four pages will be a function of the audience and their knowledge of the organization.  In general though, page one describes the organization’s environment, planning assumptions and the key mandates of the organization.  Page two is graphic that succinctly describes the organization of the future as a result of the plan.  Pages three to four describes the organization actions, each with a clear title and a clearer 1-2 sentence description of the action.  The four page restriction forces the organization to think strategically and not fall into either tactical or operational verbiage within the document.  It also prints nicely on two pages and can be scanned by even the most harried executive.

If there are more projects and initiatives, then they should be rolled up thematically.  At least one quarter of these actions should focus on what the organization intends to keep on doing/improve rather than the shiny new stuff.
For more complex organizations, there is an overarching four page plan with each logical subordinate sub-organization having its own four page document.  The organization should define at what level and what organizational units will need to produce their own four page strategic plans.

The devil is always in the details but angels are found in a summarizing graphic which helps narrate the overarching themes.  To flesh out the little devilish details, the process (principle #1 above) allows for subordinate plans to map to a larger organizational plan.  Ideally this is done in real time and continuously rather than on an annual/ad hoc basis.  The four page limit is to help an organization focus its strategic planning efforts but this rule can be bent based on its specific needs or circumstances.

Waste Not – Want Not (for a Strategic Plan)

Is there anything new or earth shattering in the above three principles?  Nope, not a darn thing.  Do organizations use the above principles very well – based on my experience?  Nope, not really.  This is not for lack for trying but it is for a lack of focus (or distractions).  That is why many strategic plans are written by consultants who have the time and capacity to interview executives and formulate nice reports.  Unfortunately in my experience, nice looking strategic planning reports are generally a waste of time and effort by the organization.

And now for the hard part, I plan to use these three principles in my strategic planning activities both in my work and professional life.  As I am successful (or crash in burning flames), I will use this blog to track the successes and tweaks to how to not waste your time in strategic planning.

Other Thoughts on Strategic Planning

 

SharePoint Wikis as a Desk Reference Tool – How-To Pages

This is the second in a good intentioned series of blogs detailing my experiences and uses of the tool.  The first blog, SharePoint 101, provided some context and a ‘fictional use-case’ which the following blog is based on.

To date, I have used the wiki function of SharePoint in 4 different organizations.  I would rate only the last one as being successful and being able to deliver the communication value that I seek.  I will dispense with defining what a wiki is, how to edit them and other entry-level knowledge needs.  This knowledge is very important but is beyond this blog just as defining good documentation is beyond the scope of this blog.

Unfortunately documentation is a waste of time… until the moment you need it and so determined how you will need the documentation and work backwards.  Part of working backwards is to recognize that terms like wikis scare most people away.  As a result, I prefer the term Desk Reference.  It is a hardy and old fashion term that conjures up images of a trusty 3″ binder full of policies and procedures.  So, we can now tell the “don’t change nothing!” co-worker that this is a Desk Reference, not one of those fancy-dancy wikis, by Jove!

Key Terms and Structures

A SharePoint wiki library is composed of webpages.  But what to name the pages?  To start, do not use spaces but use “-” or “_” instead; SharePoint will strip out the spaces and sometimes they give you the dreaded “%20%” error – so better to avoid spaces from the start.  Next, set up a naming convention for the types of pages you be using.

Because I have screwed up enough Desk References, I have come up with what I think is a really good standard set of conventions for Desk Reference pages.  Generally these pages are broken into the following:

  • HOW-TO pages (the subject of this blog)
  • DESK-REFERENCE Standards
  • INFRA pages (the next blog)
  • WISDOM, template and other page types (a future blog)

There are more to a good desk reference than just the pages, but that is still more future blogs (I may be writing for a while).

HOW-TO Pages – Overview

Based on the fictional budget management site, the clients using this site will need to know how to do specific activities.  As an aside, Desk Reference pages should be part of a multi-channel strategy to communicate with one’s clients.  Myself, I use the ‘HOW-TO’ pages as a reference in emails, as an audio-visual aid in conference calls and meetings and then linked within the actual tools.  The format of a ‘HOW-TO’ page is as follows:

  • “How-To”-[SUBJECT NAME]: Used to describe how to perform a business process.  These pages described to my clients how to do things for specific budget activity.
  • For example, let’s say that the budget activity involved:
    • Set up a unique activity code
    • Providing a narrative for that code
    • Providing costs associated with the code
    • Allocating the costs across the organization and
    • Running a reporting on all of the above
  • The possible HOW-To Names could include:
    • HOW-TO_BUDGET-CONTEXT: a context page detailing why the budget activity is needed, the authority and any rules of engagement.
    • HOW-TO_NEW-CODE: an instruction page of how to create a new code.
    • HOW-TO_NARRATIVE, HOW-TO_COST, HOW-TO_ALLOCATE, and HOW-TO_REPORT pages detail specific steps for each of these functions.

HOW-TO Page Standard Format

Consistency is key in writing procedure manuals.  The user has to be able to expect a format and then not to be surprised afterwards.  To this end, I strive to use the following conventions:

Bread Crumbs

At the top of the wiki page, I like to provide a set of links or bread crumbs such as the following example from fictional budget management site.  Some standards used include:

  • Home – takes the user to the main desk reference page
  • Planning Cycle Overview – Returns the user to the theme area, in this case an overview of the budget planning cycle
  • Go to Tool – A bold/italic leap to the relative tool, in this case, a SharePoint list
  • <<< Back or Forward >>> – The previous (<<<) or next step (>>>)
  • Note the eye-catching graphic and context for the desk-reference-fatigued user
HOW-TO page with breadcrumbs, Just the Facts and a catchy image

HOW-TO page with breadcrumbs, Just the Facts and a catchy image

Just the Facts

The body of the HOW-TO page includes a very abbreviated overview of what needs to be done.  Ideally this is so an experienced user can get a quick refresher without having to read the full-page.

An Example of a Just the Facts summary of steps

An Example of a Just the Facts summary of steps

HOW-TO Body

Suitably detailed instructions are provided to walk the user through the task at hand.  More detailed than the Just the Facts section but less detailed than what is found in some of the pages in the Quick Links section

Quick Links

The last section provides additional reading links for those need more information or research.  In the following example, links are provided for definition of the fields used in the business case narrative SharePoint list, the ‘INFRA-‘ definition of the header list (see next blog) as well as how to request a new code and the data dictionary entries (a future blog).

Example of Quick Links for a Budget Management Site

Example of Quick Links for a Budget Management Site

Proofiness

Mathematics can be used and presented in a manner that distorts the underlying truth or at least the underlying likelihood of a truth.

A mathematician seated at a table, working on mathematical equations

A mathematician seated at a table, working on mathematical equations

YAWWWNNNNN, who cares – Charles Seife does and tells us why you should care too in this book, “Proofiness: How You’re Being Fooled By The Numbers“.

Seife’s position is that bad math is more than being hoodwinked into buying oatmeal (see Quaker Oatmeal cholesterol numbers); bad numbers disenfranchise voters and erodes the democratic rights of Americans.

A Bad Math Field Guide

Be warned, this is a heavily American-focused book in which about half is dedicated to the challenges of the US voting systems.  If you can get past this bias, some interesting terminology and underhanded methods are exposed.  Here are a few:

  • Truthful numbers: come from good measurement that is reproducible and objective
  • Potemkin* numbers: derived from nonsensical or a non-genuine measurement
  • Disestimation: taking a number too literally without considering the uncertainties in its measurement
  • Fruit packing: Presentation of accurate numbers in a manner that deceives through the wrong context.  Techniques include cherry-picking, apples to oranges and apple polishing.
  • Cherry picking: Selection of data that supports an argument while underplaying or ignoring data that does not.
  • Comparing apples to oranges: ensuring the underlying unit of measurement is consistent when comparing two or more populations.
  • Apple-polishing: data is touched up so they appear more favourable (this was the Quaker Oatmeal trick).
  • Randumbness: because humans are exceptional at discerning patterns we also suffer from randumbness, insisting there is order where there is only chaos.
  • Prosecutors Fallacy**: Presenting a probability incompletely and leading to a false data assumption.

* Named for Prince Potemkin who convinced the empress of Russia that the Crimea was populated by constructing villages that were only convincing when viewed from a distance – such as a passing royal carriage.  An example of a Potemkin number was Joe McCarthy’s famous claim of 205 communists in the State Department.

** This one is worth a blog on its own so for more, read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosecutor’s_fallacy.

Take Your Field Guide With You to Work

These are important concepts for not only a citizen to consider when looking at dubious polling information but in the business or public policy world as well.  If there is a shortcoming in Seife’s book, this is it.  In my opinion he over focuses on the bad use of numbers in the public arena without touching on how CEO’s, CFOs, Boards and government-Ministers may also be hoodwinked.

Individuals being asked to make decisions based on numbers need to be able to cut through the packaging techniques discussed above.  This is becoming more important as our society moves to a 144 character Twitter attention span and public policy needs to be distilled down to a simple infographic.  As well, while developing a dashboard for a business is valuable, be sure that it is not filled with polished, cherry picked, Potemkin numbers based on a disestimation

Disenfranchising a few Million

Returning to the book, Seife has some advise for the US when it comes to the United States census.  Written into the constitution, once-every-decade process of counting all American citizens costs about $6.5 Billion dollars.  For this expenditure, it is estimate that the census misses about 2% of the United States population and double counts about 1%.  While these numbers would in theory cancel each other out (more or less), the impact is that there about 10 million US voters not accounted for in the census.

This error rate can be mitigated through techniques known as statistical sampling which will smooth out the distortions.  The result would be generally more people counted in poorer, racial minority areas who don’t like to fill in census forms or talk to government officials.  The ‘result of the result’ would be these people would then have more politicians to vote for (larger representation) and to send to Washington.

So far sounds good except that poor, non-white folks tend to vote for the Democrats which is why there is another perspective: only a count – counts. This being America, the counting challenge has generated a lot of legal attention and two population numbers.  One used by everyone who needs precise data to estimate everyday population trends and another used to reapportion the House of Representative seats.  After numerous legal battles, millions of Americans are disenfranchised because only a more error prone enumeration technique is permitted (see pages 185-198 for a more thorough explanation and also some very impressive legal gymnastics by the Supreme Court).

A Math Journey with a Curmudgeon

Seife sees himself as unbiased journalist although his leftiness tends to negate this somewhat.  He distrusts political polls, NASA, fluffy articles in scientific journals and the social sciences.  In other words, reading Proofiness is like visiting with a self-indulgent, opinionated curmudgeon – who is also brilliant and often right.  If you use numbers to make decisions in your day to day life, I would encourage you to take your ‘Proofiness-Field Guide’ with you.

Inventorying IM/IT in the Grey Zone

Question #2 of the SWOT+4 IM/IT Planning Model asks: ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should Information Management/Technology (IM/IT) support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it?

Although there is a lot stuffed into this question, in this blog I want to focus on a small but important part of Question #2, what do you currently have for IM/IT resources?  If you have read my prior blog, you will note that this is an area managed by Step 13: IM/IT Fleet and Resoure Management of the IM/IT Lifecycle Model.

Before dashing off and building new IM/IT resources, should organizations not know what they have in the cupboard to start? Over the past twenty years, I have been amazed at how hard this question is to answer. So, to find the answer, let us define the problem, “what exactly are we counting when we inventory the systems”?

Does the organization count its office productivity software (e.g. Microsoft Office)? If so, how many times should it count it? Once for the organization, once per user or once per every file created? Is a memorandum written in a Microsoft Word file an IM/IT resource that should be inventoried as a resource?

Likely most people would tend to say no to a Word file. Okay, how about a Word Mail merge file that supports an organization’s marketing effort? Perhaps this file has had thousands of dollars of custom Visual Basic scripts developed for it and links and performs unique functions within the organization. Would this Word file now count as an IM/IT resource? This mission critical ‘application’ is now entering the “grey zone”.

The grey zone is when IM/IT resources go from a commodity (e.g. Microsoft Office) to an operational, tactical or strategic resource for the organization. In developing an inventory of applications, the following graphic is my current thinking about what to count, including what I would see as the grey zone.

The Two Dimensions to Measure Which IM/IT Resources Should be Inventoried.

The Two Dimensions to Measure Which IM/IT Resources Should be Inventoried.

The horizontal axis asks the question, what knowledge is necessary to make changes to the application? As you move left to right, there is increasing technical knowledge needed to make a system change. The vertical axis asks the question, is this a purpose built application or one that was created specifically for the organization? Applications at the top are purpose built; those at the bottom are common to any organization or user.

This blog is a teaser and in the next one, I will overlay applications your organization may have lying about on top of the model. Let me know your thoughts, do I have the right measures or are there more than two dimensions that should be measured?

IM/IT Lifecycle – Re-Do

Thank you to those who provided comments on my previous IM/IT Lifecycle Model.  Your collective whacks on the side of my digital head identified a number of areas of improvement.  Thus, this is a Re-Do blog with what I think is a much better model.  Thanks again for your comments!

The previous blog introduced the SWOT+4 Planning Model. The value of the model is the ability to focus on specific elements of IM/IT planning. Once an organization is successful with one part of the model, it can move on to other areas needing improvement. This blog will introduce a tool to evaluate the robustness of an organization’s IM/IT lifecycle. Intended to be an introduction, future blogs will drill down further.

The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model
The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model

One of the first areas of model to evaluate is internally focused on the IM/IT needs and capabilities of the organization. In the SWOT+4 model these are represented by the organization’s IM/IT strengths and weaknesses and specifically questions 2 and 3:

  • Q2. ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should IM/IT support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Steps 01 through 16)
  • Q3. IM/IT CAPACITY: How well does the organization DO IM/IT, is it getting better, worse or about the same? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Step 00)

Context for the IM/IT Lifecycle Model

The IM/IT Lifecycle Model is an adaptation of the Asset Lifecycle Model. While the Asset Lifecycle Model focuses on the management of tangible assets, the IM/IT variation is concerned with the acquisition of things like computers and technology systems. The governance, system and audit functions at the bottom of the model answer questions #3, what is an organization’s IM/IT capacity? All the other steps answer question #2, what are the organization’s IM/IT needs and are (or when/how will) these needs to be fulfilled or they support the accounting and reporting functions.

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle Model (revised March 1 2014)

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle Model (revised March 1 2014)

IM/IT resources move through the model from left to right and may use more or less of each step depending upon the nature of the IM/IT system. In theory the model applies equally well to both technology (infrastructure, applications) as to information itself (data, reporting, data standards, etc.).

Two steps of note are Step 03 and 13. Step 03, the Project Management Office (PMO) replaces the requirements specification in the Asset Lifecycle Model but is broader and ideally encompasses other steps. For example, a good PMO methodology incorporates procurement processes such as issuing requests for proposals (Step 04), managing resulting vendor contracts (Step 05) and managing the vendor provision of assets, software, licenses or consulting services (Step 07).

Step 13 replaces the asset management function in the Asset Lifecycle Model. It includes in or outsourced functions such as application maintenance or technology production management. In an ideal world, these processes and systems drive the accounting of IM/IT. For example, an application built, capitalized but then abandoned is identified in this Step and communicated to the accounting system for de-recognition or conversely adjustments to the amortization schedule. Step 13 also straddles the central corporate IT and business area functions as it should be a partnership between the two.

Direct Attribute Costs (Step 09) and System Business Operations (Step 10) are purposely overlapped. Direct Attribute costs are the resources the organization brings to bear to implement a system. Examples can include the dedicated project staffing or costs to retrofit a data centre to accommodate new servers supporting an application. System Business Operations by contrast are the costs and effort to commission the system and bring it online. From an organizational perspective, Step 10 asks (and answers) the question, does the IM/IT resource meet the business needs identified for the asset?

Enterprise Resource Planning and the IM/IT Lifecycle

Included in each step are possible metrics as well as the information system such as the organization’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool or Information Technology System that may support the step. For brevity, the following ERP components are used:

  • (1. Budgeting): the planning, monitoring and resource allocation functions.
  • (2. Procure to Pay): from requisition to payment including the treasury management functions.
  • (3. Asset management): the receipt, installation, maintenance, tracking and disposal of assets.
  • (4. Accounting to Reporting): the proper accounting, record keeping and reporting (internal and external) of assets.
  • (5. IT Infrastructure Management): the creation, maintenance of servers, networks, security systems, desktop access, operating systems and all components necessary to run one or more applications.
  • (6. Application Maintenance): the maintenance, support, bug/fix, user training, system administration and other functions necessary to maintain one or more applications that support a business process or function.

The purpose of this blog was to introduce the IM/IT Lifecycle Framework and place it in context to the SWOT+4 Model. In future blogs, I plan to drill down on each of the Steps and provide examples of systems, standards and best practices across organizations.

What do you think? Does your organization use a systematic method such as the IM/IT Lifecycle to plan, implement and manage your IM/IT investments? Where do your systems potentially lie within the model? For example, does your organization have a systematic PMO function or do you even know what is in your application fleet? Drop me a note and send me a comment with your perspectives.

Lifecycle Management of IM and IT

Note to the Reader, this Blog was superceded by this Re-Do Blog on the IM/IT Lifecycle.

The previous blog introduced the SWOT+4 Planning Model. The value of the model is the ability to focus on specific elements of IM/IT planning. Once an organization is successful with one part of the model, it can move on to other areas needing improvement. This blog will introduce a tool to evaluate the robustness of an organization’s IM/IT lifecycle. Intended to be an introduction, future blogs will drill down further.

The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model

The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model

One of the first areas of model to evaluate is internally focused on the IM/IT needs and capabilities of the organization. In the SWOT+4 model these are represented by the organization’s IM/IT strengths and weaknesses and specifically questions 2 and 3:

  • Q2. ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should IM/IT support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Steps 01 through 16)
  • Q3. IM/IT CAPACITY: How well does the organization DO IM/IT, is it getting better, worse or about the same? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Step 00)

Context for the IM/IT Lifecycle Model

The IM/IT Lifecycle Model is an adaptation of the Asset Lifecycle Model (source pending).  While the Asset Lifecycle Model focuses on the management of tangible assets, the IM/IT variation is concerned with the acquisition of things like computers and technology systems.  The governance, system and audit functions at the bottom of the model are used to answer questions #3, what is an organization’s IM/IT capacity?  All the other steps answer question #2, what are the organization’s IM/IT needs and are (or when/how will) these needs to be fulfilled.

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle MOdel

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle MOdel

IM/IT resources move through the model from left to right and may use more or less of each step depending upon the nature of the system being acquired.  Of note is step 03, the Project Management Office (PMO).  This replaces the requirements specification in the Asset Lifecycle Model but is broader and ideally encompasses other steps.  For example, a good PMO methodology incorporates procurement processes such as issuing requests for proposals (Step 04), managing resulting vendor contracts (Step 05) and managing the vendor provision of assets, software, licenses or consulting services (Step 07).

Direct Attribute Costs (Step 09) and System Business Operations (Step 10) are purposely overlapped. Direct Attribute costs are the resources the organization brings to bear to implement a system. Examples can include the dedicated project staffing or costs to retrofit a data centre to accommodate new servers supporting an application. System Business Operations by contrast are the costs and effort to commission the system and bring it online. From an organizational perspective, Step 10 asks (and answers) the question, does the IM/IT resource meet the business needs identified for the asset?

Enterprise Resource Planning and the IM/IT Lifecycle

Included in each step are possible metrics as well as the information system such as the organization’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool that may support the step. For brevity, the following ERP components are used:

  • (1. Budgeting): the planning, monitoring and resource allocation functions.
  • (2. Procure to Pay): from requisition to payment including the treasury management functions.
  • (3. Asset management): the receipt, installation, maintenance, tracking and disposal of assets.
  • (4. Accounting to Reporting): the proper accounting, record keeping and reporting (internal and external) of assets.

The purpose of this blog was to introduce the IM/IT Lifecycle Framework and place it in context to the SWOT+4 Model. In future blogs, I plan to drill down on each of the Steps and provide examples of systems, standards and best practices across organizations.

What do you think? Does your organization use a systematic method such as the IM/IT Lifecycle to plan, implement and manage your IM/IT investments? Where do your systems potentially lie within the model? For example, does your organization have a systematic PMO function or do you even know what is in your application fleet? Drop me a note and send me a comment with your perspectives.

The SWOT+4 Planning Model

Information Management/Technology (IM/IT) is expensive. As well, the advantages it provides are fleeting and easy to imitate (or worse steal). An organization must strategically and operationally plan for its investments in IM/IT. The problem is, what exactly should be in the Strategic or Operational plan, and what are the questions the plans are trying to answer?

Over the past 20+ years I have being pondering these questions. Being a visual person, I have developed what I am calling the SWOT+4 IM/IT Planning Model. It is a bit busy but here it goes. At the centre is the SWOT matrix. Overlaying the SWOT matrix are the four-central IM/IT questions and on top of the questions are the respective planning tools to answer the questions.

SWOT+4 Planning Model

SWOT+4 Planning Model

At the core of the SWOT+4 model are the organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This 2×2 matrix is a mainstay of strategic analysis. Although familiar to virtually everyone, in brief it is a method to view a situation from two key dimensions: internal versus external and positive versus negative. For example, Strengths are internal-positive attributes whereas Threats represents the external-negative possibilities.

Unfortunately, the SWOT tool is incomplete when it comes to evaluating an organization’s IM/IT. For example, is a change of technology an opportunity or a threat? Are the existing IM/IT systems a strength or a weakness? The answer to both questions is – it depends. As a result, I have used a Four Question Model for IM/IT Planning over the years as an analysis checklist. In order of priority the questions are:

  1. ORGANIZATIONAL PLAN: What is important (e.g. priorities, plans and strategies) to the organization? This is at the centre of the model and crosses all four SWOT considerations. Included in this question are things like the organization’s vision, its mission, business plan(s), budgets and all things strategic.
  2. ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should IM/IT support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it? This is an internal consideration although it touches the external dimensions of the SWOT model to represent amongst other things benchmarking and industry best practice. This question is ideally answered by both the strategic documents discussed above and the IT Department’s operational plan(s).
  3. IM/IT CAPACITY: How well does the organization DO IM/IT, is it getting better, worse or about the same? What about the fleet of applications or physical resources; is the organization still running Windows 3.1, Office 95 or has it been able to adopt leading/bleeding edge technologies. How about the organization’s Bespoke and COTS applications, are they on current versions or getting long in the tooth? These questions are internal considerations for the organization.
  4. IM/IT FUTURE: What is on the organizational event horizon that will affect or change the above? There are both threats and opportunities in this respect for an organization. Hacker activists, lower technology costs, legislation (e.g. privacy or technical) and changing industry standards are all examples of future changes that may be positive or negative.

Finally two typical planning tools are overlaid on the SWOT and 4 questions. The bottom and foundation is the organization’s business or strategic plan. IM/IT may have its own strategic plan or it may piggy back on a larger corporate plan. Irrespective, the plan should be able to answer the questions of (q1) what is important and (q4) what is on the horizon for the organization? The IM/IT operational plan focuses on the questions of (q3) current capacity and (q2) near term organizational IM/IT activities.

The delineation between the plans is not clear and ideally they should overlap each other rather than having a gap. The operational plan purposely extends into the Threat quadrant of the organization and the Business Plan relies on organizational strengths to capitalize on opportunities in the environment.

Beyond the Box

What do you think? Is the SWOT+4 Planning Model a muddled mess or does it provide a conceptual basis in which your organization can begin to structure its IM/IT planning. What is the value proposition to understanding and using the model well? I believe the model can support faster technology adoption, lower cost of implementation and ownership and better leveraging of IM/IT assets. Stay tuned as I am hoping to drill in a bit more into the model in future blogs. For example:

  • How a lifecycle approach can be used to measure IM/IT Capacity (q3)
  • The roles and technologies involved in delivering Organizational IM/IT (q2)
  • How much IM/IT should be in an organizational plan (q1), and
  • Where to buy a good crystal ball for the IM/IT Future (q4).