No Robot Overlords at MIT CIO Symposium

The recent 2017 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. was full of talk about “digital transformation,” driven by everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to blockchain to the Internet of Things. Among the insights, for me, were the current limits and future potential of AI, and how much a real (rather than hyped up) story of digital transformation stood out.

Are the Robots Coming for Your Job?

Some reports predict that artificial intelligence (software programs that can teach themselves how to do complex tasks) will take as many as half the jobs humans now do in the next decade. For those of us not made of silicon and algorithms, Tom Davenport, President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, had some comfort from his survey of 160 such projects. He found no evidence of job loss, although there was some reduction in outsourcing.

The bad news, he said, is that smart machines are not yet delivering increased productivity, and that doing so may require the layoffs the experts are predicting. Nor is machine learning yet delivering other dramatic breakthroughs optimists had hoped for. He cited the MD Anderson Cancer Center, which spent $52 million in an attempt to use IBM’s Watson AI system to diagnose, treat and cure cancer. Not a single patient has yet been treated with the technology, he said, and the project is “pretty much on hold.”

However, the use of AI for more basic and labor intensive tasks, such as helping patients schedule visits and determining which patients are unlikely to pay their bills and thus need prodding, are delivering “huge and rapid” return on investment, he said.

He is still predicting big, and impressive, long-term results from AI, with an “amazing” breadth of projects underway spanning functions from legal to human resources to auditing. He also was careful to say his predictions about the limited impact of AI could change dramatically with the rapid, ongoing increase in machine intelligence (one of the programs he studied taught itself Italian.) When the “singularity” arrives (the point at which machines become more capable than humans), he said “all bets are off.”

Marketing/PR tips: Stay informed about AI developments and aggressive in understanding how they affect your industry, no matter how “low tech” it seems. Don’t underestimate AI and how quickly it is developing. One sweet spot for thought leadership (on which I’m working with one client) is how to ensure smart machines act ethically and don’t harm humans. With luminaries such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warning of the dangers to the future of the human race this has obvious headline value.

Real Digital Transformation, at Last

The meaningless (to me, at least) “digital transformation” buzzword was all over the symposium, although not one speaker took the time to define it. Naturally, this meant discussion of how to achieve it was all over the map, and some of the examples were, shall we say, less than compelling.

The most convincing story at the conference came from Tetra Pak Group, a leader in the not seemingly digital nor transformative business of supplying milk and juice cartons and the machinery to fill and seal them. (Yes, they make those little juice cartons with the plastic straws that litter the back of every parent’s car.)

As CIO Mark Meyer described it, this 60-year old family-owned firm has dominated its space for years. Expansion came from entering new geographies, which it did with a classic razors and razor blade strategy: Sell the packaging equipment at a low margin to make higher margins selling the packaging material the machines need.

With increasing competitive pressures, the packing firm is increasing the amount of monitoring data it gets from its machines in the field, so it can sell services such as preventive maintenance and information about best production practices to reduce waste. Eventually, he hinted, it might get into the business of running its customers’ packaging equipment, “selling” a certain number of packed cartons guaranteed to meet their freshness, sterility and cost needs rather than just equipment and packing materials.

This is similar to the much-touted GE strategy of moving from selling jet engines to selling “time on wing”  – a jet engine on an airplane guaranteed to meet specific levels of reliability, thrust and fuel consumption, enabled by GE’s wealth of data about engine performance. The appeal of the Tetra Pak story is that it is an attempt to “transform” an even more old-style manufacturing company through the smart use of data, and in a fundamental and permanent way.

PR/marketing tips: if you’re touting a “transformation” story make sure the change your client is aiming for is 1) fundamental and 2) permanent. The more common and every day the product or service (i.e., milk cartons) the more dramatic the story. Be ready to capture reader attention by explaining the change in business models very clearly, and then sell to the tech reader with details such as the types of data required, the sensors that gather it, the networks that transmit it, the data models used to organize it and the AI capabilities required to analyze it.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

digital marketing strategyI was recently with a major client and their writing team reviewing content plans for 2016 when the D-word – digital – came up.

Everyone agreed it’s a catch-all buzzword that can mean almost anything to anyone. But one of the participants –former Gartner EVP and Head of Research Bruce J. Rogow — had a new and interesting take which he fleshed out with a presentation of his concept of Digital Enabled Businesses.

His take on “digital” helps clear the air because it focuses not on the technologies that make something “digital” as on what digital means to people and organizations.  Rogow, now Principal at IT Odyssey & Advisory, calls it “old IT” and “new IT”

Brave New Digital World

Think of “old” IT, for example, as directive in that companies dictate which applications their employees can use and how they use them. These applications may be old and ugly, but they’re generally proven, stable and secure.

“New” IT, on the other hand, tends to be more elective and collaborative, with companies having to adapt to employees choosing their own devices and customers sharing buying tips about their products on social media.  The user’s experience with your Web site or applications will often  define your brand for them, making their performance over multiple platforms critical.

In short, “digital” is not so much about technologies (though elements such as software as a service, Big Data and the Internet of Things play major roles) as about ways of thinking and ways of working.

He also had some interesting and sometimes snarky comments on “digital” startups. For example, they tend to run on OPM (other people’s money) without the rigorous need for short-term returns as in a traditional business. They’re also often founded by people who would be run out of traditional organizations for their non-conventional behavior.

His findings ring true with similar comments I’m hearing in recent “digital” messaging work with other clients. When I press them for a definition of “digital” they say things like “The customer is in charge,” “Making transactions easy and even delightful,” “Anticipating the customer’s needs” and “Providing a consistent, smooth experience across channels such as phone, online and in person.”

What does this mean for IT content marketing?

Digital Messaging Tips

  • If you’re putting a big bet on “digital” be ready to invest for the long haul. Rogow says becoming “digital” is so complex it may take many traditional players as long as 15 to 20 years.
  • Going “digital” implies fundamental changes to business models, staffing, financial management, sourcing and corporate culture. Address and even highlight these issues in your marketing collateral. This makes you look smart by alerting prospects to these hidden obstacles.
  • CEOs are, he says, profoundly skeptical about what they see as past bogus promises from IT and want to see real results. Be specific in your digital story and back up your claims with real-world results.

The more your competitors bore the market with airy “digitization” promises the greater an opportunity you have. Sell your digital story not with technology buzzwords, but with compelling stories around how “new” IT enables customized, easy to use products and services that create and dominate entire new markets.

And don’t stint on talking about the messy “people” side of going digital. Based on Bruce’s savvy insights based on conversations with dozens of CIOs, that’s where much of the “digital” battle will be won or lost.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Digital Lessons From a Dying Industry

Hand in sea water asking for help. Failure and rescue concept.Yes, some people still read the print version of newspapers. So when the Boston Globe botched the move to a new delivery provider and left us paperless for the better part of a week, it caused a major disturbance in the force for my significant other.

Mistakes do happen, of course, although after 143 years you have to wonder what the Globe doesn’t know about home delivery. But it was its botched response to the delivery problems that holds lessons for anyone trying to succeed in this “digital” age (however you define it.)

Here are four digital must-haves I see my clients talking about, how the Globe failed to achieve each and some lessons for the rest of us.

  • Anticipate, don’t just meet, customer expectations: Proactively apologize for failures, tell the customer what compensation (if any) they’ll receive, but most importantly tell them when their problem will be resolved. It took four days for the Globe to even tell us we’d get a credit for the undelivered papers, and no word on a solution except that delivery problems should ease “within the next few weeks.”
  • Provide a seamless, personalized experience across service channels such as phone, Web and mobile apps. Nothing screams “clueless” like endless waits on customer service lines and Web sites that crash under the flood of complaints. When Netflix can instantly stream video to my phone, why couldn’t the Globe buy a bunch of cloud capacity to keep its customer service site up? The Globe showed it’s neither effective in its old business model (delivering physical papers) nor its new online, digital model.
  • Provide a personalized customer experience that puts the customer’s needs, not what you want to sell them, at the center. The service rep I finally got on the phone not only couldn’t tell me when delivery to my street would resume, she didn’t seem to hear my question.  How about a Web site showing, in green, yellow and red, what areas will see their papers the fastest? Or even better, email or text alerts with updates on when service will resume to a subscriber’s street?
  • Recognize the customer is in charge and act accordingly. With its late and clueless communication, the Globe seems to have forgotten its customers even exist, much less understanding and meeting their needs. Fixing this doesn’t require sophisticated Big Data social media analytics, but just common sense and putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. For example, if you were a subscriber to a daily newspaper would you be satisfied hearing  that delivery will resume sometime in the next few weeks?

I say all this more from sadness than anger, having admired the Globe for most of my life. It takes strong, healthy news outlets to do investigative reporting like the Globe’s uncovering of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as portrayed in the movie Spotlight.) Having already been crippled by the Web, the last thing the Globe needs is to finish the job off through its own incompetence.

For the rest of us, it’s a shot across the bow and a heads-up to put the systems and processes in place to respond like a true digital organization when – not if – we have big and unexpected customer service issues.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Selling the Five Waves of “Transformation”

How to sell transformation IBM, Dell, Capgemini and Accenture all claim they can deliver it.  McKinsey & Co. claims the entire nation of China is doing it.

“It” is  digital transformation. Personally, I don’t get it, because:

  • If “digital” means “computerized,” we’ve all been “digitally transformed” a bunch of times since the 1960s. (Think mainframe, minicomputer, client-server, Web, and now mobile, social, cloud and Big Data.)
  • And as for transformation, as I’ve argued  repeatedly, this is meaningless jargon unless you say what you’re transforming yourself from and to. Much of the time, “transformation” is just a fancy word for saying “better” or “cheaper.”

Go With the Flow, Bob

Rather than fight the tide, maybe I should accept that “digital transformation” is popular because it speaks to what my clients are trying to tell their prospects. Let’s try riding the wave instead, based on several of the definitions floating around out there:
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Note that, while there are common themes across definitions, how much room there is for differentiation based on each specific definition, and the specific strengths you bring to the market.

Breakthrough! Transformation Defined

By making its definition very specific (“The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle” the Altimeter Group was able to craft a customer survey that uncovered specific, rather than vague, implementation issues.

The “process,” rather than technical issues, uncovered (below) seem to make digital transformation an easier pitch for consultants than hardware or software-centric players, unless they can describe specifically how their skills in areas such as Big Data or business intelligence help organizations better understand today’s mobile and socially-connected customers.

Even One Word Can Help

All this is well and good if you and your prospect agree on a definition for digital transformation.  If you don’t bother defining it, or define it only vaguely, you’re inviting your customers to misunderstand what you’re offering.

nJust changing one word – “digital transformation” to “IT transformation” – means you’re talking about, as Accenture puts it, the need to “…identify which IT capabilities are most critical to the success of the overall enterprise, and shape an IT organization and capability that supports the business cost-effectively.”

That’s what most of my clients mean by “transformation” and it usually boils down to reducing costs through things like virtualization, data center consolidation, and training lower-level or lower-cost offshore staff to handle more complex support requests. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t deliver the unified customer experience and universal market insights “digital” transformation implies.

Does any of this clear up all this transformation talk or just make it confusing in a new way?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.