Epic brand fail & scantily clad women?

It was interesting to see the Prime Minister weigh into the debate around sporting team’s attitudes to women, especially since there has been so much discussion of issues related to the treatment of women over the past few days:

“It’s very plain that it’s very important for sporting organisations across the country to show leadership in demonstrating proper respect towards women,” Mr Rudd told reporters.

In the light of this comment, and after discussing the (relatively tamely clad) NetRegistry nurses & some gender issues yesterday, I went for a walk with Jonathan Crossfield & Stilgherrian today. I was seeking out the other booths at CeBIT that I’d heard about with so-called “promo girls” who far outclassed the nurses in terms of scantiness of their attire.

The funny thing about this was that it was actually hard to find the booths in question because, while people could remember seeing the “promo girls”, nobody could actually recall the brand they represented nor the location of the booths.

Eventually a security guard was able to direct us to the correct locations. There were four booths that had women dressed in a sexualised fashion, making the nurses quite pale into insignificance. What I saw really did take me back to IT trade shows back in the last century. I had hoped we’d moved on from the objectification of women to promote technology. But clearly I was wrong.

There’s a bit of puzzlement on my part:

  • I’m not sure why an IT exhibition is considered a place for women to dress in this manner?
  • I’m not sure how many people would display images like this of women in the workplace?
  • I really don’t understand how this actually worked as a marketing exercise.
  • The fact that brand recall was so low that I had to ask a security guard indicates that it was not very effective as a marketing exercise.
  • Perhaps the “promo women” encouraged some attendees to take brochures?  I do wonder how was this linked to ROI?

Most of the exhibitors were happy to let their products be assessed on their own merits. Why did these four brands choose to take such an old fashioned approach? Did they think that women are not technology decision makers? Did they think that it was all in good fun? Would it have been in good fun if it had been well oiled young men wearing tight Lycra pants? In fact, why were there no such men in evidence?  At least that would have indicated gender equity!

BTW: this article by Karen Willis from the Rape Crisis Centre is worth a read

Future Summiteer

~ next week I’m off to the Future Summit in Melbourne on 18-19 May.

The theme for 2009 is Priorities for Australia in the Crisis and Beyond, and there is a really diverse line-up of speakers (pdf list here).

This conference is run by ADC (Australian Davos Connection) & brings together leaders from business, government, the public sector, academia and the broader community to improve their understanding of key issues affecting Australia.

I’m getting excited because it sounds like we’ll be addressing some interesting issues. It should be fun as some buddies are also heading down to the Future Summit.

You can expect to see a bit of tweeting under the hash tag #futuresummit & some official kind of tweets from @futuresummit.

Some of the Twitter folks heading along include: @liubinskas, @bronwen, @duncanriley, @mspecht, @eskimo_sparky, @rosshill, @jjprojects, with @stevehopkins as the conference community manager.

There are currently unconfirmed rumours of a pre #futuresummit tweetup in Melbourne on Sunday 17th.

Social networking for your career

I’ll be talking about social networking from a career perspective at the FITT lunch on 13 May in Sydney.

This is very topical now with the global financial crisis starting to hit Australia. Our personal & business networks will be critical, not only for staying in touch with people, but also for finding work.

In the past we sat down the Saturday newspaper and circled jobs of interest (or the Tuesday IT section of the Australian for the geeks). Now the job ads have moved online. But there are other avenues for job search, and social networks are a critical component in this shift.

There are also some important issues about boundaries between the personal and public, private and business that need to be considered.

Event details are on the FITT website, but the basics are:

Topic:  How to make the Net work
When:  12:00pm – 2:00pm, Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Where:  Harbours Edge, Level 2, Harbourside Darling Harbour, NSW, Australia

Telstra IT transformation woes

I was about to write some more about the networked society but this article by Michael Sainsbury caught my eye: Telstra trauma as tranformation costs mount.

This is a sad, but all to common, tale of a large organisation that desperately needs to update its core systems, and to integrate the various acquisitions over the years into a single system. And, like most telco disasters, this one is centred around a billing system, which necessarily also includes customer information management systems. It is getting hard to keep count of the billing system disasters that unfold with monotonous regularity.

For Telstra the problem is a myriad of different systems billing and customer management systems that have evolved or been acquired over many years. The goal is to get them all onto a single system to achieve vast savings and make it easier to move staff around without retraining them. Some of my sources have told hilarious stories of the arcane, arbitrary  and mysterious nature of some of the billing systems over the years.

Mr Trujillo appears to have trod the road followed by so many previous leaders of large companies:

  1. announce large and expensive transformative IT program;
  2. bring in a bunch of consultants to run it;
  3. sideline the internal staff who have a clue about some of the actual challenges in implementing such an ambitious program;
  4. completely underestimate the scale and complexity of the task embarked upon;
  5. not chunk up delivery into bite sized pieces so that failures and problems are minimised in their impact;
  6. fail to understand the appropriate level of governance required to ensure effective delivery;
  7. and, resign and leave the country before the program is completed.

According to Sainsbury, the essential next phase of any large enterprise project disaster is already underway – i.e. run for cover and blame people who’ve left for the entire problem:

The Australian understands a number of the candidates are now trying to distance themselves from Mr Trujillo’s management-consultant-led program and have highlighted a range of areas in which the transformation is over budget, over time and not meeting its targets.

This is not a problem to be taken lightly for one of Australia’s most significant corporations. The impact of this program’s failure will translate into pain for shareholders, as Sainsbury notes:

The biggest problem for the company is the IT overhaul, the centrepiece of which is a problematic new billing and customer service platform.

It is now well behind schedule and over budget … and this will delay Mr Trujillo’s promise of improved earnings.

It is very frustrating to see the same drama played out over and over again in different companies. It is especially exasperating when there exists an enormous body of knowledge about how to run successful projects. It’s always worth checking out Michael Krigsman on the topic of IT project failures and how to avoid them.

Too much passion in business?

We are often exhorted to be passionate about things, especially at work. But I’m not sure that is really what we need in the modern workplace.

Passion has become a synonym for other words that are potentially more accurate. Passion is a very excitable emotion. It narrows the focus, and it causes people to zoom in on the objects of that emotion.  However, it does not seem to be an emotion that leads us to be open to new ideas, it does not prepare an individual to work effectively with other people who do not share that emotion, nor does it  open up horizons to different futures.

The definition of passion on Dictionary.com includes the following if we leave out the religious meanings:

“(1) any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate. (2) strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor. (3) strong sexual desire; lust. (4) an instance or experience of strong love or sexual desire. (5) a person toward whom one feels strong love or sexual desire. (6) a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything: a passion for music. (7) the object of such a fondness or desire: Accuracy became a passion with him. (8) an outburst of strong emotion or feeling: He suddenly broke into a passion of bitter words. (9) violent anger. (10) the state of being acted upon or affected by something external, esp. something alien to one’s nature or one’s customary behavior (contrasted with action ). “

While emotions have a part to play in the workplace, passion (as defined above) does not seem to be helpful in a business context. As defined it seems to describe ways of being that encompass taking positions, holding onto ideas, not listening to other perspectives, or closing down options on a personal level.

What we need in a business context is a combination of enthusiasm, commitment, persistence, dedication, competency, purposeful action. We also need better ways of working together. In many ways passion makes working together difficult unless all parties are passionate to the same degree and about the same things.

We need to find new ways of doing business that enable effective collaboration across organisational boundaries. We need to find ways of harnessing the energy and commitment of our people to achieve goals. We need to embrace new ways of working made possible by new technologies such as social computing. Recently Nick Hodge has been talking about hypersharing – perhaps that’s part of the answer?

Telstra lays down rules for engagement!

One of Australia’s national pastimes is Telstra bashing – and heaven knows even I’ve indulged a time or two. But still credit where credit is due. They have been engaging in social media and social networking  for a while now and I’ve come to respect their overall approach.

While I do not agree with everything Telstra does in this space, it is encouraging how (a) they have persisted with their engagement in this new fangled social media stuff; (b) they have continued to tweak their approach based on experience; and (c) management has resisted the internal forces to shut the entire venture down in the face of challenges and negative publicity.

It was amusing to watch the unfolding Fake Stephen Conroy saga – who could fail to enjoy that soap opera? However, Telstra has dusted themselves off and issued their new rules for staff online activity: How the 3Rs empower Telstra staff online. As they put it the “3Rs are good commonsense guardrails”.

As a long time advocate of plain English rules that explain to staff what is and is not allowed in respect of online participation, it is good to see Telstra taking this step.  Hopefully it will inspire other organisations to adopt some similar rules.  I suspect this new policy will require some tweaking in practice, as with all social computing perhaps it will be in perpetual beta?

For example, I’m still not sure how staff are going to manage their personal online activity when they are not permitted to “include Telstra’s logos or trademarks in your [sic] postings” – especially where Telstra is a trademark.

Does this mean that if staff are posting personally they can’t say the word “Telstra”? But all of this will work itself out in due course I suspect. Policies can really only be tested by use and this is no different to any other corporate policy (that’s what version control is for).

This continued social media activity is an admirable thing when one knows the kind of pressures faced by individuals in large and conservative organisations to deliver certainty and minimise risk.

Even though Telstra’s customer service or arcane billing systems can make me incandescent with rage it is nevertheless good to see them persist with engagement efforts rather than pulling up the drawbridge and putting crocodiles back into the corporate moat.

Here’s the pdf version of Telstra’s shiny new social media rules.

Business in the Cloud

It is true that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9) and for those of us old enough to remember computer bureaux the move the cloud computing is an amusing ‘back to the future’ moment. As Ambrose Bierce said: “There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know”.

Or rather lots of things that we’ve forgotten now, but which we used to know back in the days of mainframes and computer bureaux. And with cloud computing I’m not sure that the cloud is where we need it to be yet in terms of robustness, reliability and resilience.

However, all that aside, I think that cost constraints are going to force business into using cloud computing whether they like it or not; or even whether or not the cloud is ready for them.

Robin Bloor has written a good post on the The Death of the Data Center that discusses the economics of data centres and why they will move to the cloud quite quickly.

This means that businesses really need to understand what particular services and expertise they are buying when they buy into the cloud. Thus due diligence comes to the fore, as does understanding contractual terms. My big fear with this is that – just like the terrible early contracts for outsourcing – we are going to see some notable disasters with cloud computing agreements.

Another concern is the vendors of cloud computing.  Some of these companies will not clearly understand the scale that some of their larger corporate clients operate upon.  Back in the dot-com days one company I knew of accidentally sent a web hosting provider into bankruptcy.  This happened for various reasons, but chief among them was that the vendor did not understand just how big their new client really was AND because they did not know when to say ‘no’ to new business.  My concerns regarding the vendors are around robustness of their processes and their ability to service enterprise clients effectively.

The other key issues are governance and risk management. Our governance models will need to adapt to address boundary management issues, like who is responsible at what stage of a transaction processing. What will happen where some parts of the application or infrastructure are internally managed and some are in the cloud. What monitoring is in place and who is accountable for managing problems – is ITIL the answer? How we manage the risk around infrastructure that we share with other customers is another question.

These are very similar business-technology problems to those encountered with outsourcing, and it will be interesting to see if businesses are able to take the lessons learned from that and apply them successfully to cloud computing.

The real challenge is the complexity we will be adding to our IT infrastructure and applications.  We are moving into a period where an IT department might need to manage applications that are spread across internal, outsourced, cloud and many variants of these.  Have we got the skills in place to manage this increased operational complexity during a period of cost constraint?

Rabbits, focus & flexibility

At Growthtown last week I gave a brief talk on focus and flexibility and a key idea that came up was that of rabbits.

Startups need balance – but it is hard to balance focus on competing needs, lack of resources, maintaining cashflow momentum, while staying flexible to respond to opportunities.

Focus requires discipline, which is not always a popular word these days. In a business context it requires:

  • Goals
  • Plans
  • Strategy & tactics
  • Metrics
  • Key performance indicators
  • Decision making process
  • Defined roles & responsibilities

But you still need to chase rabbits! Rabbits are: Unplanned business opportunities that you chase as & when they arise to maintain cash flow momentum.

But there’s a problem with rabbits! Unplanned business opportunities can distract you from focusing on your defined business goals & strategy.

The challenge is: How to balance pursuit of opportunistic business without losing focus on your business goals?

Part of the solution is an effective business plan. Because if you don’t have a plan then you can’t assess when to chase rabbits, and you also don’t know which rabbits are not worth chasing.

Image courtesy of <a href=

Image courtesy of @firstdogonmoon

Some of the basics that need to be in place to allow a business to focus are:

  • Predetermine rules for decision making – input rights v. decision making rights
  • Understand key metrics driving the business
  • Track progress against goals
  • Refocus based on results

Some other important elements that enable flexibility:

  • Role clarity is key! – Who does what & when
  • Values etc must align with the set goals
  • Communication is important – What information must be shared & what information is private

Above all flexibility is based on discipline. Yoga is a best example of this principle. Focused practice of the basic principles mean that after a time yoga adherents are highly flexible, even more important they are strong. And that is what we want for our businesses.

Balancing focus & growth as you grow.

Here are the slides that I did not use for my talk at Growthtown earlier in the week – but they do give a flavour of what I actually drew on a whiteboard.

Collaboration, collective creation & getting things done

With their un-organised approach to management and decision making Quakers are the poster children for collaboration, collective creation and getting things done.

Quakers do not have a formal hierarchy and have no single person in control of their society. It is an approach to getting things done that aligns to the spirit of modern BarCamps and other un-organised collective activities popularised in the web 2.0 & open source communities.

One of the most interesting, & almost forgotten, pieces of history is the importance of Quaker businesses in the development of Anglo-Capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. These businesses became some of the most successful capitalist enterprises of their time, yet they were based on their own particular brand of Christian principles.

An important part of this is the idea of working together to reach consensus and working cooperatively. And some of the principles that guided their action include:

  • simplicity
  • egalitarianism
  • integrity

Thinking about some of the business practices that have led to the global financial crisis, perhaps it is time for business leaders to reconsider a return to the kinds of principles that made many companies great in the past?

BarCamps and other collaborative efforts, like open source software, show how collective action by individuals directed towards a common goal can be a highly effective way of getting things done.