Its not big, Its not clever

I can still hear the words from my schooldays as if it was only yesterday……. “Stop that right now Cohen!!!  It’s not big and it’s not clever!!! “

I can’t really remember what the “it” was, but the sentiment applies absolutely to all the hype around the so called “Big Data” debate….. and what a shame that something which is actually so important has become so embroiled in marketing hype (much the same as where the cloud computing debate was back in 09/10).  I’ve actually grown to hate the term “Big Data” now. For me, there is no “Big Data”, there’s just “data” – always was and always will be.

Now many of you will know that I’m a simple man and I try and think in simple terms and for me there is really only three categories when it comes to data:

  1. The stuff you have and you know where it is, but if only you knew a little more about it.
  2. The stuff you think you have, or believe you should have, but you’re not quite sure where it is.
  3. The stuff you know you don’t have, and may have not even thought about until now, but its stuff that might just be useful, if you only knew what it “did” and where to look.

The first two really should be easy with today’s search, retrieval and data management tools right ?? ….. and even without all that sophistication, if you just organize your own data more effectively, you’ll find more stuff. I mean; when all I owned was a filing cabinet, and the document I wanted was buried among a sea of unfilled papers, just thrown into the cabinet, did I have a big data problem?  I certainly had a big finding problem – but it was one that was quickly sorted by indexing and structure.  And as storage requirements have grown, so have the ‘retrieval’ technologies with increasingly sophisticated structured and unstructured search techniques.

But, its the last category which seems to be where the majority of the big data chatter” lives. This idea that if you analyze huge amounts of data you might just find out things that you wouldn’t have otherwise known. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, because it clearly does. And certainly, there are a growing number of data sources where information about your brand, products or services could reside. However, I would argue that this is just an extension of looking for the things you already know about – or more importantly you should know about. Indeed, it would be good if some organisations just got to grips with the data they already have and know they already have. Surely it makes more sense to leverage and monetize the information you already have before  before moving on.

The thing is, there aren’t that many businesses that need the level of serendipity often used to hype up “big data”. The arguments people often resort to come from social media – that If you mine Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums etc, and pull all that conversational information together with buying patterns, you’ll get a better view of “the customer”. Maybe you will.  But then what ?? The real skill is working out what to do at that point. That’s a people skill – do you have the right people ?? That’s a business skill – are you equipped to respond (if responding is even the right thing to do) ?? “Big data” systems aren’t going to help you with that. Loads of companies have leapt into social media conversations about their brand only to make the situation worse. And frankly, is this serendipitous searching even necessary? One of the big parts of social media is “conversation” and consumers are more open than ever about their views on your brand, products, goods or services. Why not just ask ??

Perhaps we should focus more on a “bigger understanding” of the stuff we already have, do a bit more “big listening” and have some well considered “big conversations”.

Because as my teacher would have probably said; when it comes to data – its not big and its not clever – it’s just data.

A little more conversation ?

I know Elvis said “a little less conversation a little more action.. ” (Yes, I’m back with the song titles !!) but it seems that when it comes to leadership the reverse is true.

Now many of you will have seen me banging on about this in various presentations where I postulate that we should add “conversation” to the now ubiquitous cloud, consumerisation and collaboration triad. Most of the time I’ve been talking about the conversations we have with our customers and colleagues however in this post I’m going to focused the latter.

Companies are increasingly finding that the emergence of enterprise social tools, that enable “conversational collaboration”, create far more employee engagement than any of the traditional push / broadcast communications. Interestingly they are also allowing large companies to create the intimacy that was always seen as the benefit of smaller organisations. Large disparate and geographically dispersed companies can now seem intimate and inclusive rather than cold and fragmented.

But, just like the best traditional conversations, organisational conversations work best when there is more listening than speaking – particularly from those at the top of the tree. The old “two ears , one mouth” adage is sometimes lost when executives dive into the world of enterprise social. Equally, people who use these tools to simply pontificate or make self-centered pronouncements are reminiscent of the chap who walks into the pub or dinner party and shouts endlessly about me me me … and we all know how we view those folks.

Right up there with listening is authenticity. There’s been a lot of chatter recently about celebs who don’t do their own updates - shock horror !! Really !!! You thought it was all Justin’s own words (look up Bieber on Google or ask your kids). But seriously, if your CEO isn’t big on blogging or tweeting then he or she probably shouldnt be spoofed by your corporate communications folks as employees will quickly see through the charade. Better to have someone who is genuinely comfortable with the medium stimulating the conversations….. and that’s where trust comes in.

No one is going to enter into an open and honest exchange if they believe there’s a hidden agenda or worse still inappropriate behaviour. Trust is a hard-won commodity that is easily lost so organisations are naturally cautious but in reality most employees don’t come to work with the intent of spilling the company secrets or damaging its reputation so perhaps a more trusting approach (with some clear policies around “acceptable behaviour” – actually nothing more than you’d expect in a physical conversation) would be beneficial. The rewards can be great so its worth giving serious thought on how to cover subjects that in that past you might have considered off-limits.

So there you go, by no means exhaustive but if I had top pick 3 things to focus on it would be listening loads, being authentic, and creating a genuinely trusted and trusting environment.

I’m sure those of you reading this will have lots more to add and, as usual, this is just my humble opinion.

….. oh, and Elvis has left the building.

Doesn’t anyone own music anymore

Seems my original post from back in August really should have been “doesn’t anyone own music anymore”

An article from today’s FT says that sales of downloaded music, video and games passed the £1bn mark for the first time last year (2012)

“Digital music sales rose 15.1 per cent over the year to £383.3m, excluding the growth in music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer.

Data from the Official Charts Company released on Wednesday showed that these services were growing in popularity with 3.7bn tracks streamed in the UK during 2012. The top three streamed tracks reached the equivalent of 140 streams for every household in the UK last year.

Digital downloads accounted for 99.6 per cent of all single sales. Digital album sales rose 14.8 per cent to 30.5m last year with Emeli Sandé’s Our Version of Events the bestseller.

However, physical sales of CD albums fell 19.5 per cent over the year to 69.4m.”

 

Doesn’t anyone buy music anymore ?

I used to like owning music. Truth be told I still do. I still download songs, albeit mostly now after I’ve listened to the album they originated from on Spotify, and being an ex muso geek I even edit them to get them exactly the way i like – fade-outs, fade-ins eq fixes etc. That’s one of the many reasons why i hate Apple iTunes but that’s not a debate for here. The fact is I spent years building a collection in vinyl,  cassette, CD and now digital but through it all it was mine; to do with as I saw fit.

However it seems that music ownership is going the way of the dinosaur. Global revenues from streaming music services such as Spotify, Pandora, and Rdio will grow almost five times faster than revenues from downloads over the course of this year, according to a new forecast from Strategy Analytics. The research firm predicts that streaming will bring in $1.1 billion in 2012 compared to $3.9 billion from downloads, with overall digital revenues expected to overtake those of physical music in 2015.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the whole scarcity and abundance theories and how the recorded music is  just becoming a another vehicle through which fans connect with the artist or band but to me its still important. Live performance is indeed the true “scarcity” and therefore often the most valued experience but I don’t get to see every band I want to play live and in some cases I don’t even want to – I just love the track(s) and that’s enough. I made a choice many years ago to posses the music I loved and despite all the advances in streaming technologies and services, I find it hard to place my enjoyment in the hands of an intermediary – what happens if Spotify falls out with a particular record company and I loose my treasured playlist.

And by the way, there’s a reason the title of this post used the word “buy”. I’m pretty sure I’m also one of a dwindling band of consumers who still buy their music.

Oh well

We are family….. aren’t we ??

“Are community clouds the next big thing ?”

Well, that’s what I was asked a while back and it was pretty hard to not allow the questioner to see my eyes rolling back in my head.

For those of you who don’t know; a community cloud is apparently “a collaborative effort in which infrastructure is shared between several organizations from a specific community” and can be “managed internally or by a third-party and hosted internally or externally”…. thanks Wikipedia – where would I be without you. By the way Wikipedia also says that “the costs are spread over fewer users than a public cloud (but more than a private cloud), so only some of the cost savings potential of cloud computing are realized”. Interesting that one as I thought we had already long since established that cloud computing won’t not save you any money – please check out Jevons paradox (i know it dates from 1865 but still relevant).

The problem with the current fad for community clouds is it is likely to be just that – as fad. At its most basic the concept seems to have merit given that no one has really cracked the essential “trust” models necessary to fully drive the exploitation of the space between private and public infrastructures (that’s data centre(s) and the web to most of us; but the “hybrid cloud conundrum” to the marketeers).

And yes, it would be a great idea if organisations in similar vertical markets got together to remove some of the security, audit and compliance FUD that is still around. Sadly however, I fear that where genuine “communities” can be created they will be ultimately self serving and in the areas where communities could add some real value – around security, standards and “trust” – they will be far too difficult to create due to competing interests and priorities.

So who will benefit ?? Probably the large holding companies who can use the “community approach” to knit together the spare capacity across their own organisations and create a shared on-demand capability …. or would that just be internal outsourcing ??

I’m bored … the chairman of the bored

Earlier in the year I was interviewed for IMIS magazine by Shirley Redpath on the topic of CIO’s on the Board – a question, as she so eloquently put it that “has has been doing the rounds in the industry Press and IT talking shops for well over a decade.”.

Once again, in my normal understated fashion, I postulated that there were more important things to worry about and that ultimately it was really all down to you and your view of yourself.  A great mantra from my old fiend David Taylor – the Naked Leader - is that if the things you are doing arent taking you closer to where you want to be then do something else – and if that doesn’t work then do something else etc etc. The only true insanity is to do the same things and hope for a different outcome. So if you believe the only way to achieve your goals and be effective is to be on the main board and for whatever reason, you’re not there or likely to get there- then go somewhere else.

Here are a few of the more pithy extracts :-

  • “I’m pretty sure a lot of CIOs who aspire to be on the main Board don’t know what happens in those meetings,” says Ian Cohen, currently Group CIO of international insurance giant, Jardine Lloyd Thompson.  “It can often be quite mundane and procedural, particularly around the sort of governance and compliance activities that the main Boards of regulated businesses have to deal with. A lot of it is actually far less “exciting” than you might expect”.

Cohen’s view is backed up by a 2011 Gartner survey involving CIOs in both the US and the UK.  It showed that although many respondents had regular engagement with their main Boards, only 21% actually aspired to a place at that august table.

  • Still, according to Cohen, having a seat on the main Board should make little difference to the CIO’s ability to make a value contribution to the organisation.   “For me,” he says, “there is no difference between how effective I was in an organisation where I was on the main Board and the effectiveness that I can have in an organisation where I’m not.  I have the same conversations, I speak to the same people and we run the same programmes.  The point is not whether you sit there or not, the point is how you as a leader focus and enable your function so that the technology capability you build drives your business forward.”
  • “The most important question for me going into a role is am I going to be able to build a great relationship with the CEO; am I going to help the CEO deliver his or her vision for the organisation?  Will technology be able to evolve, mature or develop to enable, support and underpin the business in its drive to achieve that vision?  If I can do that, we will be aligned. You need a good, strong, robust, open, bilateral and challenging relationship with your CEO and executive colleagues so that if they do come up with some hare-brained scheme you can tell them it is hare-brained and they will listen because they respect and trust you,” Cohen says.
  • Ronald Blahnik, VP/IT Engineering for Lowe’s Co. in the US is quoted as saying  the “I” in CIO now stands for innovation, not information.”  That view has Cohen up in arms.  “No CIO owns the right to innovation,” he retorts.  “At our very best, we are the “enablers of things”.  We tell stories and paint pictures about the art of the possible and if they get traction, we create new environments and capabilities that allow great things to happen.

The full transcript is here 

“Think cloud computing will save you money? Forget it”

Well it’s what I said so it must must be true …. but like everything its all in the detail.

The quote came from an interview with Silicon.com during this years CloudForce event in London and, overlooking my indignation at being called “veteran CIO”, I stand by it 100% .

The undeniable fact is that in this time of budget pressures, many companies are looking to cut their costs by moving to the cloud and that may well be possible but only if you avoid the inevitable expansion of activity that will come as a result of this move. You see once you create new capacity, demand will always grow to fill it – its as sure as eggs are eggs (though I never quite understood what that phrase actually means).

If you don’t believe me then its worth considering the observation that  “Technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tend to increase the consumption of that resource”. Ironically its not a quotation from some Cloud guru but is actually called “Jevons paradox”, first postulated by William Stanley Jevons back in 1865. As I blogged earlier – nothing changes, everything stays the same – pretty much.

Anyway here’s an extract from the Silicon interview

Veteran IT chief Ian Cohen has other ideas – telling silicon.com that any company looking at moving to cloud computing purely as a way of saving money should “forget it”.

JLT’s Group CIO Ian Cohen says any company looking at cloud purely as a way of saving money should “forget it”

Cohen is speaking from experience. As group CIO of Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) he is helping the global risk management and insurance broker to make greater use of cloud-based services, such as Salesforce.com’s CRM platform.

When businesses shift to cloud services, the oft-talked-about savings won’t last, Cohen said, as any reduction in cost or overheads is quickly swallowed up by fresh demand for IT services. “If you go into cloud thinking you will save money, forget it. What invariably happens is that you create more efficiency and headroom. However, demand that previously could not be met can now be enacted and thus your activities simply increase to fill the available resources – be that time, people or infrastructure,” he told silicon.com at Salesforce’s recent Cloudforce conference in London.

“People will be using your systems to do more. That’s the killer sell as to why people should be looking at cloud: the ability to flex your enterprise into a more extensible model at light speed.”

Cohen also cautioned that shifting operations to the cloud is not straightforward for any business – there will always be resistance and challenges, particularly for a heavily regulated business such as JLT.

“It’s early days. We are working around some of the issues with some of the naysayers and a lot of it is around security and audit, all the usual cloud stuff,” Cohen said. “A lot of concerns are still around data location, traceability and auditability. It’s still a challenge if an auditor comes in and simply asks, ‘Where is the data? Let me see it’.

“We are a regulated business so we have to be more prudent than some other organisations but that doesn’t mean we can ignore cloud technologies and the opportunities they offer.”