Future of jobs in a connected social world

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Following is a copy of some remarks that made about the future of jobs at the IT Talent Management Conference IT18.

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Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here today. I will start with a brief consideration of my own IT career and then consider how the changing technology landscape is reshaping for careers and for business.

When Phillip asked me to speak here today I started thinking about the origins of my IT career. I was literally standing in the kitchen at the National Trust in Sydney when the Executive Director, Wendy McCarthy, asked me if I would like to be the IT Manager.

I knew very little about technology at the time.  But soon realised that it was a tremendous amount of fun. It was ideal work as it required learning new things, and experimenting to find out the best solutions. I became a jack-of-all-trades, doing a bit of programming, some database administration, desktop support, server and network engineering, across both Windows and UNIX systems.

Then Wendy said off the cuff one day, “so what are you doing about your career?” It was an entirely novel thought. I had never considered what I was doing as more than an interesting job.

After that I pursued an IT career with diverse organisations such as Citibank, AMP, General Electric, NSW Treasury, and Westfield. And during that time I saw enterprise IT in the raw.

My career progressed and eventually worked on fascinating projects in roles such as Enterprise Architect, Software Development Manager, Project Manager, Program Director, IT Manager, and CIO.

The way that I entered the IT world, informally and without a degree or IT qualification has largely disappeared, now a Bachelor’s degree is seen as a minimum requirement for entry.

How will the digital revolution impact jobs in the future?

The job that I do now did not exist when I left school. The technologies that I work with were not even dreamed of when I started my career.

Many people today are doing jobs that didn’t exist five years ago. At the same time many jobs are being displaced by technology.

IT has been undertaking a quiet revolution over the past forty years. Most people seem to have hardly noticed that IT has been about removing jobs from businesses, automating business processes and removing clerical or manual labour positions. This process of shifting work from people to machines has been under way for over forty years and shows no signs of abating.

There are now factories that have only a handful of people to run them. I know of a chemical engineer who is retraining as a maths teacher because he is lonely at work. In his factory it is just him and the maintenance engineer working onsite. Everything else is managed centrally.

It professionals are no stranger to this process. Outsourcing took jobs out of enterprise IT during the 1990s and early 2000s. Those jobs are not coming back.

Cloud computing is the new version of outsourcing. It will take internal IT jobs out of business on significant scale over the next decade. This means that the demand for system administrators, DBAs, server and network engineers working inside businesses will reduce. Some jobs will end up like the computer operators of yesteryear, a distant memory.

Traditional bespoke or custom application development is another area under threat. Increasingly organisations will continue to move to hosted SaaS platforms. And with the evolution of online marketplaces for application development, like Elance.com or Freelancer.com.au it will no longer be necessary for companies to have high cost internal development resources on premise.

Similar processes are in play for other roles too, and not just IT professionals.

For example designers. Why pay someone to sit in your office when you can simply outsource your new logo to 99designs.com?

Even big data can be subject to outsourcing and crowdsourcing via solutions like Kaggle.com, where even big companies like GE or Merck can have 88,491 of the world’s best data scientists working on their problem.

I see a difficult future for many giants of the IT vendor world. Oracle and SAP are two examples that spring to mind.  Their business model is predicated upon installing large complex systems with long term client lock-in and high switching costs. Along with these vendors, the large systems integrator firms who do the implementations for these large systems will also face challenges. The traditional model of delivering a truckload of low paid graduates to work on a systems implementation and then charging the client high consulting rates will not be sustainable in the long term.

Ironically I see Microsoft as being well placed to weather this new environment, in particular with their enterprise footprint and products like Exchange, SharePoint, and their recent acquisition Yammer.

There was a time in the distant past where one could safely say ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’. Those days are long past. This shift to cloud and SaaS is an equivalent technology revolution to the PC revolution. And this was a revolution that broke the business model for IBM. I’m not sure yet what this means for the IT industry and who will survive in the long term.

We as IT professionals need to look to our skills and position ourselves to be ahead of this trend. One thing that is worth noting, several of the startups that I’ve mentioned as part of the changing landscape are Australian in origin.

What the future hold for workers, workplaces and jobs

There are two quotes that sum up for me where we are today:

“@mpesce: We have clearly reached the point when anything of any interest is always being recorded to a device. Nothing is unseen any more.”

 

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”  – Philip K. Dick

We live in the age of the quantified self. And we organise our lives by means of our smartphone apps. My Fitbit records how active I’ve been each day and allows me to compete with selected friends.

We update our status on publicly available forums like Facebook and Twitter.

This growth in social media and social sharing of personal information means that the nexus between personal private spaces and public open spaces has all but disappeared.

It also means that we are hyperconnected in ways that were impossible only a few years ago.

As Mark Pesce said in his recent TEDx talk

“Today we draw upon the knowledge, experience and intelligence of five billion others, our hyperconnected sharing now transforming learning into something utterly unprecedented.”

This means that we are also subject to more surveillance than any other generation that came before us.

As you have heard from previous speakers, the nature of recruitment is shifting. From finding a body to talent management. From finding a job to the right job finding you. From hiring for specific skills to hiring for character and training for skill.

This means that our entire social existence, which is increasingly mediated via social platforms online, now forms part of what people see when searching for us.

These social platforms are also increasingly important to users and disconnecting them from these channels during the work day is not acceptable.

Also employers are increasingly seeking to harness the online social profiles of their employees on behalf of the business. This is translating to employees becoming people with significant personal brands. Great examples of this are Charlene Li of Altimeter Group and Jeremiah Owyang formerly of Forrester then Altimeter.

How is the environment changing?

Changed competitive landscape: The digital revolution is also levelling the playing field between competitors, and being large is less advantageous than previously. Smaller competitors can form loose coalitions that provide similar scale to a larger organization without the need for capital intensive setup.

We are likely to see a reduction in the market power of big players. Some traditional businesses will fail to scan the environment and detect shifts in the consumer environment. A good example of this is the differences in adoption of new technology and business models and its impact on the performance of competitors Kogan and Harvey Norman.

New internet: Another game changer is the internet of things – things knowing information about their self and talking to each other, and enabling us to interact with them.  Thus metadata becomes increasingly important and enables the continued development of augmented reality applications such as those made possible by technologies such as Google Glass.

The internet of things will be enabled by wirelessly connected sensor technology. An interesting example of this is DNA tags as used by ethical Australian timber company Simmonds Lumber to help stamp out illegal logging. Yet this technology will have important ramifications for our personal privacy too – we will be asked to trade-off convenience for privacy.

Cost shifting to lower cost regions will continue – but those regions may change as economic shifts happen in the developed world.  That is, due to economic shifts, developed countries may evolve as lower labour cost regions.

Changing customer landscape: Power relations between business and consumers are shifting, and the shift is toward empowerment of consumers. This requires new attitudes and responses from business, and this requires customer insight which is provided by good data. Data will increasingly drive decision making and the making of meaning within businesses.

New approaches – loose coupling: Innovation will be powered by loosely coupled technical components that are joined up with loosely coupled business components. Even large businesses will need to find ways of being nimble and agile, to develop the ability to pivot rapidly in response to environmental changes.

Change cycles will increase in rapidity so businesses will need to constantly scan the external environment to assess and adapt.

Organizations will need to develop skills in entrepreneurship as an internal capability to drive innovation. If access to credit or capital becomes constrained then organic growth capability will be critical for business. Further, the ability to partner effectively with other organizations will also be critical to growth.

Effective use of resources becomes critical: Sustainability will continue to grow in importance, not just to save the environment. Sustainability will be important from both a cost control and environmental perspective.

Access to natural resources that we take for granted – such as water or petrochemicals – will become increasingly competitive.  And access to other resources needed to grow a business is also likely to be problematic.  A good example is access to credit.

New ways of doing traditional things like education and work: Schools and universities will not need to look like they do now. The need for large places and enormous investments in physical infrastructure are no longer necessary to perform the task of education.  Online education and collaboration technologies mean that we do not necessarily need to ‘go’ to school in the way we do now.

This has implications for society and business. We currently use schools as a holding bay for children while their parents are working at the office 9-5.  If young people no longer need to attend school in a physical sense then how will their parents manage, and what impact will this have on the traditional workplace?

Also the need for workers to be physically present at an office to do their work will reduce. Better communications and presence technology means that adults will also be able to work from other locations than the traditional office. Some good examples of the evolution of co-working in Australia are Hub Melbourne, or Hub Sydney, Vibewire and Fishburners in Sydney.

This will drive changes in the ways that organisations design and define their physical footprint. It also means significant changes for currently viable business models such as building and renting commercial real estate.

Yet human beings still need interaction with others. Our young people need to interact with each other physically to evolve as human beings. Adults need to connect with each other in the work context.  We have a strong social drive and these needs still need to be met.

It is likely that localised co-working spaces will continue to evolve as solutions to this need for human contact and affiliation.  No longer will we head, lemming-like, to a corporate office in the city, instead we will head to the local co-working space where we can connect virtually with our colleagues.

Rise of collaborative models – leisure, work, competition: This does not mean that competition will disappear, however it will change.  Due to increasingly scarce resources collaboration will become more important for business. Further, the question of why a business needs to do everything for itself will become important. With cloud and ubiquitous connections to the network partnering with best-of-breed service providers will be easier.

In the personal sphere collaboration is likely to increase too.  And the change will be driven by similar considerations to business.  For example, why own a car when you don’t need one all the time, especially if you can get access to one whenever you need it?

Shared resources – cars, tools, etc – will make increasing sense to people and shift the consumer culture from one of product acquisition to service adoption. Some good examples of existing collaborative consumption models include Open Shed and 99 Dresses.

The future is a distant country*

Some of my prognostications will be wrong in their particulars. But the technology trends are clear. The next decade will see the rise of new businesses fuelled by technologies that don’t exist yet.  The job I do for a living did not exist when I left school. The industry I work in did not exist at the start of my career. I can see no reason why those trends will change in future. We need to be open to the new opportunities and accept that things move faster now.

* with apologies to L.P. Hartley

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Change or die – business, competition, and the new world

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changing business competition landscapeWith the changing business world it is a good idea to think about habitual business practices to ensure that we are not doing things that made sense for the past and which do not make sense now.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
— attributed to Albert Einstein

We all want to improve business results, driving KPIs higher and higher. Is this really a sustainable approach? How can we increase productivity and innovation by re-using the same practices we’ve always used?

Changing social and technology landscape

The changing social and technology landscape means that some traditional ways of approaching business might no longer be fit for purpose. Many of business practices are inherited from a world where communication was not instantaneous and where information asymmetries abounded. Now there is vast computing power in the hands of ordinary people and they are rapidly overcoming the information asymmetries that gave businesses an advantage over customers.

Social and cultural expectations are also shifting what is seen as good corporate behaviour. For example the use of so-called ‘booth babes‘ at a conference to promote a product is now seen by many as a reason to avoid a brand.

Changing Competition Pressures

If we look at the competitive pressures on business today things have changed from the way they were at the end of the twentieth century. In the 20th century industrial age the competitive landscape could be modelled using Porter’s five forces as a framework:

  1. Threat of new competition – this threat still remains, yet it can come from unexpected and non-traditional sources. Environmental scanning to see what are the emerging trends becomes a critical response.
  2. Threat of substitute products or services – this threat is even more important, with technology trends moving so quickly it is easy for a good or service to become obsolete.Again, environmental scanning is a critical response to this threat.
  3. Bargaining power of customers (buyers) – this is major emerging threat to traditional business models, consumers are increasingly well-armed with information about products and competitors. It is important to realise this new reality. Consumers will punish businesses that they see as lying to them. Truth is a crazy idea that might just work. Also being clear about your place in the value chain, be clear on your competitive grounds. If you are not competing on price then be clear on your competitive advantage to the consumer. Apple is the poster child for this, they do not compete on price, rather they compete on design and experience.
  4. Bargaining power of suppliers – this threat depends upon one’s situation, if a market-making behemoth then this trend is working in your favour (for example Coles and Woolworths supermarkets in Australia. It might be even more of a threat if you are one of the suppliers in question. A sensible response is to be clear as to the grounds you compete upon.
  5. Intensity of competitive rivalry – this threat continues to remain strong, traditional rivals are still in markets competing hard and there are new entrants and new products or services competing for the same consumers.

Shift in scarcity – what about abundance?

Until now scarcity has driven markets, but we are moving into an age of abundance and the old rules no longer hold. Greg Satell summed it up well in his post on the new economy:The New, New Economy of Accelerating Returns:

“…in a world of abundance, what will we pay for?”

The response to this question is being played out in the retail sector right now and they provide an ideal example of the issues. Traditional stores are seeing their market share being eroded by online competitors. Business leaders, like Gerry Harvey, are calling upon the government to reintroduce protectionism to save the retail industry from competition. Yet shoppers continue to vote with their spending power and shop online.

Information Asymmetry

Previously individual shoppers had limited access to information about the comparative pricing and range available elsewhere. Now shoppers have the world at their fingertips and can easily find out the best deal available to them – be it based on range or price or other considerations. These trends are impacting upon traditional retailers worldwide, even retail icons, like JC Penney and Sears, are being questioned as to their chances of survival.

At the same time, Australian retailers have not invested in new technologies over the past decade and they are currently reducing their workforces. It has become almost impossible to find a sales assistant in many stores. The response of many retailers has been to compete on price, to reduce prices by means of sales to attract customers back into their stores. But all this is doing is training the shoppers to expect discounted prices, and customers hold of on purchases unless they receive a discount. Further, in the supermarket sector, this downward price pressure is destroying the businesses of suppliers such as farmers.

Against this backdrop of retail turmoil we see a retailer like Apple – with few products in the market and yet they are able to command premium prices for them. It is worthwhile researching organisations like Apple and Amazon to see how they are thriving in this age when so many businesses are in turmoil.

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The future of business is the future of technology

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Recently Rebecca Nash from ABC’s The Business asked me to consider the future of business over the next decade. Here’s some thoughts from that conversation.

The future of business has always been driven by developments in technology, and the digital revolution is of equivalent substance to the previous industrial revolution. This has important implications for the future of business.

Manufacturing will not die but it will change

Manufacturing used to be about employing large numbers of people in relatively low skilled jobs. However, this has been declining for many years with the introduction of robotics and automated production lines.  Automation of production lines is already highly advanced, but now we will see new approaches to how things are constructed. This trend in manufacturing employment will continue with the introduction of technologies such as 3D printing.

One  of the possibilities arising from 3D printing is enabling mass customization. A good example of this is shoe production via 3D printing, Australian startup Shoes of Prey is already using this technology. Another compelling application of 3D printing is in medical solutions like this: 3D printer gives disabled girl “magic arms” exoskeleton. Although it is important to note that the technology can be used for other purposes too for example, the ability to create a weapon.

Changed competitive landscape

The digital revolution is also leveling the playing field between competitors, and being large is less advantageous than previously. Smaller competitors can form loose coalitions that provide similar scale to a larger organization without the need for capital intensive setup.

We are likely to see a reduction in the market power of big players. Some traditional businesses will fail to scan the environment and detect shifts in the consumer environment. A good example of this is the differences in adoption of new technology and business models and its impact on the performance of competitors Kogan and Harvey Norman.

New internet

Another game changer is the internet of things – things knowing information about themselves and talking to each other, and enabling us to interact with them.  Thus metadata becomes increasingly important and enables the continued development of augmented reality applications such as those made possible by technologies such as Google Glass.

The internet of things will be enabled by wirelessly connected sensor technology. An interesting example of this is DNA tags as used by ethical Australian timber company Simmonds Lumber to help stamp out illegal logging. Yet this technology will have important ramifications for our personal privacy too – we will be asked to trade-off convenience for privacy.

Cost shifting to lower cost regions will continue – but those regions may change as economic shifts happen in the developed world.  That is, due to economic shifts, developed countries may evolve as lower labour cost regions.

Changing customer landscape

Power relations between business and consumers are shifting, and the shift is toward empowerment of consumers. This requires new attitudes and responses from business, and this requires customer insight which is provided by good data. Data will increasingly drive decision making and the making of meaning within businesses.

New approaches – loose coupling

Innovation will be powered by loosely coupled technical components that are joined up with loosely coupled business components. Even large businesses will need to find ways of being nimble and agile, to develop the ability to pivot rapidly in response to environmental changes.

Change cycles will increase in rapidity so businesses will need to constantly scan the external environment to assess and adapt.

Organizations will need to develop skills in entrepreneurship as an internal capability to drive innovation. If access to credit or capital becomes constrained then organic growth capability will be critical for business. Further, the ability to partner effectively with other organizations will also be critical to growth.

Effective use of resources becomes critical

Sustainability will continue to grow in importance, not just to save the environment. Sustainability will be important from both a cost control and environmental perspective.

Access to natural resources that we take for granted – such as water or petrochemicals – will become increasingly competitive.  And access to other resources needed to grow a business are also likely to be problematic.  A good example is access to credit.

New ways of doing traditional things like eduction and work

Schools and universities will not need to look like they do now. The need for large places enormous investments in physical infrastructure are no longer necessary to perform the task of eduction.  Online education and collaboration technologies mean that we do not necessarily need to ‘go’ to school in the way we do now.

This has implications for society and business. We currently use schools as a holding bay for children while their parents are working at the office 9-5.  If young people no longer need to attend school in a physical sense then how will their parents manage, and what impact will this have on the traditional workplace?

Also the need for workers to be physically present at an office to do their work will reduce. Better communications and presence technology means that adults will also be able to work from other locations than the traditional office. Some good examples of the evolution of co-working in Australia are Hub Melbourne, or Vibewire and Fishburners in Sydney.

This will drive changes in the ways that organisations design and define their physical footprint. It also means significant changes for currently viable business models such as building and renting commercial real estate.

Yet human beings still need interaction with others. Our young people need to interact with each other physically to evolve as human beings. Adults need to connect with each other in the work context.  We have a strong social drive and these needs still need to be met.

It is likely that localised co-working spaces will continue to evolve as solutions to this need for human contact and affiliation.  No longer will we head, lemming-like, to a corporate office in the city, instead we will head to the local co-working space where we can connect virtually with our colleagues.

Rise of collaborative models – leisure, work, competition

This does not mean that competition will disappear, however it will change.  Due to increasingly scarce resources collaboration will become more important for business. Further, the question of why a business needs to do everything for itself will become important. With cloud and ubiquitous connections to the network partnering with best-of-breed service providers will be easier.

In the personal sphere collaboration is likely to increase too.  And the change will be driven by similar considerations to business.  For example, why own a car when you don’t need one all the time, especially if you can get access to one whenever you need it?

Shared resources – cars, tools, etc – will make increasing sense to people and shift the consumer culture from one of product acquisition to service adoption. Some good examples of existing collaborative consumption models include Open Shed and 99 Dresses.

The future is a distant country*

Some of my prognostications will be wrong in their particulars. But the technology trends are clear. The next decade will see the rise of new businesses fuelled by technologies that don’t exist yet.  The job I do for a living did not exist when I left school. The industry I work in did not exist at the start of my career. I can see no reason why those trends will change in future. We need to be open to the new opportunities and accept that things move faster now.
* with apologies to L.P. Hartley

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Digital economy and the digital revolution

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the digital revolution and the changes that it is driving in the economy. We are seeing a bifurcation between the old 19th and 20th century manufacturing based industries and the 21st century digital economy.

This is a shift from creation of tangible products to the creation of digital products.  These digital products are not intangible. We still touch them, but the interaction is mediated by digital devices. For example we are still reading books and listening to music, but instead of reading a physical book or listening to a physical record or CD we simply download the digital media to our devices.

 Newspapers are a good example

What drove the success of newspapers and magazines in 19th and 20th centuries? The need for information, the scarcity of that information, and the tyranny of distance that prevented ordinary people from acquiring information easily.

And it was advertising and information about shipping that was the killer app for the newspapers. Classified advertising and the shipping schedules met key information needs for consumers and merchants alike.

This situation made newspapers a valued intermediary between sellers and buyers. And it made them valuable to consumers of information about the world, people, politics, and current events

Even digital business are not immune to change

A stalwart digital business is World of Warcraft, and I was surprised to see it reported via BBC News that World of Warcraft loses another million subscribers. 

Yet along with Facebook, with its recent IPO debacle, and Zynga, with its disappointing earnings and consequent management changes, we are seeing digital business struggle. This shows that being a digital business is not the sole answer.  There are other elements of success that we must uncover.

Thus it is interesting to consider The 10 (Surprising) Companies That Make More Money Online Than Facebook where Alexis Madrigal notes (via Paid Content) that the following companies earn more revenue that Facebook:

  1. Google
  2. China Mobile
  3. Bloomberg
  4. Reed Elsevier
  5. Apple
  6. Yahoo
  7. WPP
  8. Thomson Reuters
  9. Tencent
  10. Microsoft

One thing of which I’m certain: businesses whose revenues rely solely on people clicking online ads are destined for the deadpool in the long run.

Information scarcity is gone – we need trustworthy filters

That day is gone. Information scarcity is a thing of the past. Instead our need is to identify the best and most reliable sources among the flood of information available to us.

There was a good discussion of this in Techdirt recently: Turns Out That The iPad Won’t Magically Bring Back Scarcity For Magazines .

The fallacy of adopting old business models and applying them to the digital economy

There has been a belief that we can simply pick up old business practices and apply them to digital channels and expect similar results to what we got last century.  But some recent evidence indicates that this might not be the case.

Some recent articles that point to emerging challenges to traditional advertising approaches are:

New models evolving

Some new approaches that are evolving are supported by concepts like content marketing and community engagement. In recent times the retailer Sears has adopted a new approach and recounts progress: Sears Explains Its Success In Content Marketing.

This article by Shane Snow discusses some of the issues facing us in the digital economy How To Thrive In The Free-Product Economy, the fairly radical call here is:

“The bottom line is someone will probably one day ship a version your product for free. Maybe it will lack this or that feature you hold so dear, but that won’t matter. The broader the appeal, the more likely someone’s going to undercut your paid product with a free one.

I say beat the competition to the punch. It’s going to happen anyway. And setting your product free may just earn you the most business you’ve ever had.”

Even in traditional businesses some are reporting success in the digital economy, for example as Mathew Ingram reported recently:

“Both the Financial Times and the New York Times have either already crossed or are close to crossing an important threshold: namely, the point at which revenue from reader subscriptions exceeds the revenue they get from advertising.”

But Ingram notes, this success is largely because advertisers are departing in droves. The decline of advertising driven revenue models will only get worse in this age of information richness.

Technology shifts are driving the change even faster

As Dave Copeland notes Social Discovery Is Pushing Search and Social Closer and:

“Social Search Is the Web’s New Disruptor”

And consumers are increasingly living in a realtime world and feel annoyed or disrespected when organizations do not deliver to their expectations. A good example of this was the so-called #nbcfail where the NBC network in the US did not broadcast Olympic events to its audience in realtime. Instead it chose to only present them in delayed telecast during prime time.  This led to negative reports on social networks and even to Twitter banning a journalist at NBC’s request, which led to reports like: The #nbcfail isn’t about email addresses, it’s about corporate cronyism.

The Olympics also provided an example of how walled gardens for sponsors simply result in bad user feedback in these hyperconnected days. For example, this user reported their experience of visiting the London Olympics and provided their feedback on one of the sponsors.

The kind of command and control approach used by the Olympic organising committed and their sponsors seems strangely out of step with the digital world.  And it is so easily subverted as demonstrated so amusingly by Nike in London.

I’m not sure what the disruptors will be, but as Tom Foremski said of changes to our traditional business models:

“This is the Gordian knot of our times. The saving grace is that if anyone, I, Rupert Murdoch, or you — figure it out, we all benefit, we can all adapt to that business model.

I’ve been warning about this issue since I left the Financial Times in mid-2004. At the time, I was confident that we’d find a solution within five years. We haven’t — and I’ve seen nothing yet that shows that we will. “

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Asking for a friend: Awesome coder wanted for awesome venture

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A mate reached out to me today asking if I knew any geeks who would be interested in working with him on a startup project. Here are the details he shared:

“I am looking for a super-intelligent web and app all-round coder, hacker and mash-up artist to work on a seriously awesome new venture.

We have developed some outrageously good Intellectual Property and concepts, and the plan is to rapidly prototype for 6-8 weeks before seeking the next round of funding – in order to increase the likelihood and valuation of a VC deal. The concept is a location-aware, social, mobile, commerce play with Augmented Reality, voice recognition, photo recognition and barcode scanning thrown in (of course).

You would be joining Me, as well as George the Hustler (proven entrepreneur) and Amir the Hacker (mad Israeli propellerhead). We don’t expect you to give up your day job initially, although you may have to start quietly sucking at it.. We will pay you $2,000 per sprint of loosely agreed scope, which you’d build in your spare time. After 2 months and 4-6 sprints, we’d be looking at raising capital and offering you a real job and equity.”

Then to clarify I asked what the stack would be for his project and he replied:

“We haven’t decided on a stack, so can’t really tell you, however it is more important that we find someone with sound front-end coding knowledge and the intelligence and breadth to play with any of Java, .net, php, html5, objective c. Does that make sense?”

If any of that is of interest, or it sounds like your bag, then click here and I’ll put you in touch.


Please note that this opportunity is presented on an as-is basis and that you should undertake your own due diligence to ensure that it meets you personal needs.

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What’s the big idea with social media? #media140

Media 140 Perth 2012
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I was lucky enough to be invited to Media 140 in Perth recently to discuss what the ‘big idea’ is with social media.

The idea was for a context setting discussion about social media and how it is changing business and society.

DIGITAL REVOLUTION
We are living through a digital revolution that is changing the world we inhabit as absolutely and as irrevocably as the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

That previous industrial revolution changed our relationship with time, with money, and with people. It created the wage labourer that we know, and the unions whom we’ve to come know encapsulated by the term ‘organised labour’. It created a society governed by the mechanical clock and the notion of work versus non-work time.

The digital revolution is on a similar scale, and this scale is based on a remarkable shift in the means of production. The digital revolution has at its roots a democratization of access to the means of communication.

EXPECTATIONS AND ACCESS TO COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
As a result we are seeing a shift in the expectations of ordinary people about communications technology and their access to that technology. Further, we are seeing a rapid evolution of behaviour in relation to communications technology – mainly in the use of smartphones and tablets.

All of this is leading us to significant shifts in society, and it is all fuelled by innovations in communications devices. The smartphone and almost ubiquitous access to the internet have created a new baseline expectation in people that they will always be connected. I have often argued that with Twitter we are seeing the genesis of the hive mind of humanity.

The digital divide is no longer about access to technology – as my friend Mark Pesce notes, even poor fishermen in Kerala have access – it’s about your willingness or desire to be connected.

However, people are finding enormous utility in being always connected. For example, the number of ereaders in the hands of people is growing enormously, doubling since July 2011. And an example of a behavioural shift afforded by the technology is the growth in women’s erotic fiction sales. Romance novels have always been a big business globally, but a recent sales data indicates a substantial growth in sales of erotica (the so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ factor) that has been fuelled by the anonymity offered by ereaders.

As long ago as 2008 Australia mobile phone subscribers outnumber people according to ACMA data. This means that individuals have more than one device connected to the mobile phone network.

SOCIAL MEDIA, SOCIAL BUSINESS
Along with this embrace of ubiquitous mobile connectivity we have seen the growth of social media and social networking. This growth of social media is part of the landscape that makes up the digital revolution. Social media is revolutionary because it empowers the populace with access to the means of communication that were once the province of rich media barons.

This growth in social media fuelled by mobile connectivity has also changed the business landscape in important ways. There is a shift from command-control and pipeline driven businesses to social business that is focused on continuous engagement and conversations.

The kind of new business opportunities enabled by this digital revolution include:

  • the ability to compete in a new geography without even opening a local store (like Amazon);
  • the opportunity to reduce complexity for customers and remove friction from business operations (like Telstra);
  • subverting traditional models like recruitment where businesses build online talent banks of people who are interested in working with them (like Deloitte).

However, the shifts in society are not limited to business and consumers. They are also changing some things that we have always accepted. For example, we have always assumed that there is a just and valid separation between the domains of public versus private, or between business versus personal. But now those verities are being shaken by social media and social networking.

Social media is blurring the boundaries between the public, private, business, and personal. We are still working out how to negotiate this new territory. But already we see reports of people turned down for jobs because their online reputation score was too low.

We are now seeing a world where reputation is created, maintained, and mediated by online channels. There are increasing tools for measuring reputation online, such as: Kred, Klout, and Peer Index. Bouncers are even reportedly using Facebook as an identification check for entry into nightspots according to the BBC.

SOCIAL WORKPLACES
Workplaces are changing too, partly in response to the digital revolution. Open plan offices with collaboration spaces and hot desks are enabled because of wifi and portable connected devices like laptops and tablets.

SOCIAL EDUCATION
Our schools and places of education are being swept along by this digital revolution as well. With schools handing out laptops to all students and wifi in schools, libraries, and on public transport our children inhabit an always connected landscape. A teen boy said to me recently of my complaints about the poor wifi in Sydney: “but it’s just in the air, it’s everywhere”. It is a good example of the world that our young people inhabit. They live in a world where the connectivity is just ‘in the air’ around them.

The physical changes in workplaces are being reflected in schools too. They are becoming focused on collaboration rather than rote learning of facts. Students are learning how to discover, assess, and synthesize information rather than memorize facts.

WTF?
When we put together the shifting physical nature of the workplace and schools together with the blurring boundaries between public- private-business-personal, and the always connected devices in the hands of individuals many opportunities and challenges arise.

It is an exciting time to live. We are living through a revolution. The real question is will we drive the revolution or let it just happen to us?

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A tech revolution that changes the way we organize work & the danger of digital serfdom

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The old style company, that is the company circa 1880-2000, had firm boundaries and fixed hierarchies in order to function efficiently. But with the advent of digital technology and the consumer social computing revolution there is a seismic shift in how technology is used within companies. There are also significant changes in worker expectations and, as a corollary, companies are changing their demands upon workers. Huge power shifts are underway and it is important that we start analyzing them now.

The Past

The technology that enabled communication and control of large and dispersed groups of workers was inefficient and required supplementation by human resources in the form a supervisory and managerial hierarchy. Computer resources were initially tightly held by a few individuals within an organisation due to their high capital cost to acquire. And companies had access to much better technology resources than the average individual could ever hope to acquire.

For example, in 1956 a 5MB hard drive from IBM cost US$50,000, and in 1981 a 5MB Apple hard drive cost US$3,500. At prices like these the average person had little opportunity to acquire such technology.

It was this technology asymmetry that also contributed to the non-porous boundaries of the firm. Information stayed inside the firm and was not easy to share. Instead companies were in charge of their information and shared it only on their own terms. And usually that sharing of information occurred through bought or earned media and through ‘official’ news media channels.

The Present and Near Future

Today companies are grappling with the huge shifts in communications. Newspapers and other news media no longer hold the preeminent position they once held. Corporate communications are no longer about faxing out a press release.  Companies are developing their owned media resources and learning to use the diverse earned media opportunities available now via the internet.

Increasingly companies are requiring workers to develop their own social media and social networking personas on behalf of the company.   Also workers are being required to manage corporate social media channels as part of their jobs.  One challenge with this shift in work to social media channels is that they often need tending 24×7. Thus other workers are beginning to feel the operational demands of 24x7x365 operations that those of us in the IT department have felt for many years now.

Another shift is the control over technology within an organisation. In the past centralized control of technology resources was easy due to high cost and complexity to implement. But now with cloud computing as a commoditized service we see the real risk that other departments can go around centralized procurement and IT to implement whatever takes their fancy.

Gartner has just released their vision for 2012 and note that in 2012 we can expect more cloud and consumerization, less IT control.

Increasingly we are seeing workers bringing their own technology into the workplace – smart phones, tablets, and social computing. And articles directed at CIOs are saying: IT’s future: Bring your own PC-tablet-phone to work.

Thus we are at the beginning of a technology revolution in the office that will see the centralized control that was necessary to achieve economies of scale in the last century wane.

Instead we will see the growth of decentralization driven by cost and user demand pressures.  We will also see increased attempts to control behaviour through data and  monitoring due to the growth in the panopticon as I’ve discussed previously.

The Dangers of Digital Serfdom

My buddy Ray Wang posted recently on the right to be offline. We are facing a world of hyperconnectedness in which we can evolve into digital serfs tethered by our digital devices and an un-free as a slave in ancient times.

The risk is that the boundaries between work and personal time become so blurred that they cease to exist. The risk is that employers consider that, with a wage, they have bought our time as and when they choose to consume it any time of the day or night.

The moves to remove penalty rates for IT workers and others also support this trend. Once the unit cost of a worker is standardized an employer does not care what time of day or night they work.

I cannot articulate the concern we should have for retaining this right to be offline any better than Ray:

“There is one thing that I am very worried about actually, is I think it is of the uttermost importance that we preserve the right to be offline. If we don’t preserve that we’ll loose all our freedoms. It starts with ability to be able to escape … of being offline. And so we can be punished for not being offline. For not being online we cannot be punished. It’s happening right now. We are recreating Skynet, we are recreating Matrix, we are recreating all the things that we would fear on our own. And if we can’t protect that basic right of being able to be offline, and being able to conduct a life offline, we’re in trouble. We are in big trouble.”

I commend Ray’s thoughts to you, check out his video:

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When robots rule the world – the future of jobs in a hyperconnected world

UNSW CSE robot
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Steve Hopkins was telling me recently about an interesting law firm he’d come across in San Francisco – it’s called Robot. Where lawyer and junior partner Tim Hwang and his senior partners, Apollo Cluster and “Daria” XR-1029, work to merge legal and technical systems.

It was this law firm, and an interesting conversation Steve had with Tim Hwang, that sparked the idea for Steve’s session at last Saturday’s Social Innovation Unconference at Barangaroo.

We discussed the time in the future when robots run everything. And it got me thinking just how much robots already do for us. For most people the robots that run things are unknown and operating below their level of consciousness.

But let’s consider some of the work that robots already do for our society:

  • manufacturing – e.g. assembly lines for things like cars and packaging, quality control, building electronics components such as circuit boards
  • call centres – e.g. automated voice response systems
  • financial services – e.g. business decision support systems, straight-through-processing trading systems
  • the internet – e.g. search engine bots or those annoying Twitter bots
  • military – e.g. unmanned combat air vehicles (aka drones)
  • home and industrial cleaning – e.g. vacuum cleaners

I’ve been personally involved in developing and implementing intelligent business systems for a long time. Starting in the early days of voice automation and straight-through processing of financial transactions in the 1990s, through to the present day.

A large part of my work during the late 1990s and early 2000s was automating business processes and removing human beings from business processes. It was a huge shift in labour from human beings to robots. Those were mainly clerical jobs where a computer with a decision engine could easily replicate the work done by people.

Consider the productivity savings achieved by many of those projects; for example one project halved the number of call centre operators through the use of automation. That saving was achieved by addressing throughput constraints in both the inbound and outbound queues.

Firstly savings were achieved through the use of automated outbound calling technology – not waiting for the humans to dial a number but rather having the system start making the new outbound call while the earlier call was finishing. It also improved throughput by automatically bringing up the data entry screens for the call centre staff.

Secondly savings were achieved by adding customer self help options at the start of the inbound call process and by providing support to move customers to online self service. Instead of a human being tied up on the phone for 2-5 minutes with a customer trying to ascertain their needs the IVR and the customer did that work thus freeing up the operators to take more calls.

Arguably these improvements through increased automation were not as good for customers as they were for the bottom line of the companies, nor were they very good for the call centre staff that became redundant. And many would argue (as do I) that shifting the business processing efforts to consumers does not always make for excellent customer experiences. But cost and process optimization is a fundamental business practice.

It’s interesting to consider what other jobs will be removed from people via the next rounds of automation. The jobs that will go next are most likely to be middle class and white collar jobs.

The jobs that could go include: journalists, lawyers, managers and supervisors, warehouse personnel, sales staff (if the sales are all online how many do you need in a store?). Fundamentally, if your job or substantial parts of your job,  can be defined by means of a decision tree then your job is at risk of a robot taking over.

Welcome to the brave new world of work. What’s your plan to survive when robots rule the world?

Note: I’ve left out the entire area of robots for health since I don’t know much about it – but I reckon that will be huge too.

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The business of social business

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Social business is the new trend following on from Enterprise 2.0 – but underlying it is an essential conflict between two different styles of doing business.  The conflict is between businesses optimized for efficiency and those optimized for the creation of value.

Greg Satell encapsulates this conflict neatly in his 2010 post Creating Efficiency vs. Creating Value. He raises the notion of Kuhnian paradigm shifts and open innovation as a key part of creating value.

However, I suspect that Geoff Livingston is right when he argues that we are actually facing the post social media revolution era.

These two ideas – that we have entered the post social media revolution era and; that we need to create value as opposed to efficiency – frame the challenge of the next few years for business.

With the decline of the verities of the economic system that we’ve taken for granted over the past 30 years we are now faced with a new economic landscape within which to create and grow businesses.

In an environment of reduced consumer power, restricted credit and the prospect of sovereign crises, businesses need to find ways to harness creativity to generate revenue. This means we must diversify our efforts from a focus on efficiency and cost optimization. It means that we need to create mechanisms for creation and sharing of value.

We need to find new ways of doing business that do not merely follow the ideological constraints of what has gone before. Instead it is time to bring all of our commitment and determination to find new ways of doing things.

It will be insufficient to merely put the word ‘social’in front of our business activities. It will be necessary to find out how to embed social processes and technology within our businesses to meet the demands of these challenging times.

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My Geek Origin story, what's your story?

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This post was inspired by Michael Kordahi, well known to many as @delic8genius, who put out a call encouraging to geeks to share their geek origin stories.

My geek origin is shrouded in the mists of time.  It was so long ago that there is no only one photographic record [update: which is now in the hands of Michael Kordahi, heaven help me].  But there was a revolution going on and I became part of it.

During school and university I had no interest in technology or gadgets.  My passion was for the humanities – history, philosophy, anthropology.  Nothing to do with any of the so-called ‘hard sciences’ or mathematics.

But my first job was in a bank, one of those boring jobs I mentioned recently. Thus my first exposure to computers was to the mysterious mainframes to which one submitted requests that were returned, if you were lucky, two days later.

Yet I was still not attracted to technology. After all, what was there to love about the cold hard mainframe? And where was the immediate gratification?

After escaping from the job in a bank to a stockbroking firm I was given client trust accounts to manage.  There were lots of things to track. Again we relied on the slow and klunky mainframe (oh the joys of JCL and TSO I could recount).  Then a colleague showed me his new gadget – a personal computer running MS DOS – it was the only one in the office, nay the only one in the building.

That gadget fascinated me and, before my colleague realised it, I had co-opted the machine for myself.  I was suddenly able to keep track of things using new fangled things called spreadsheets. Then I discovered you could make it do what you wanted by writing programs.

Not yet a geek, but well on my way toward it.

Landed my next job partly due to my PC skills, still doing finance work.  But one day I was standing in the kitchen chatting with the CEO (as you do) and happened to mention that there was a problem with the computer system in the office.

[Pro-tip: never casually mention problems to a CEO unless you are prepared to help fix them]

She mentioned that we needed an IT manager and, since I sounded like I knew about that ‘stuff’, asked if I wanted the job.  My ‘prudent’ response (having no experience at all for this job) was “yes”.

Thus began my geek apprenticeship: inheriting the world’s most unstable and unreliable Unix system and applications. From there I discovered how hardware, operating systems, networks and databases work; and how various programming languages work (starting with shell scripts and moving on from there). It was endlessly fascinating.  Eventually I had to accept that no one can ever know everything about technology. I also had to accept that I am a very bad software programmer and an even worse metadata modeller.

The next interesting thing I came across was a guy in Finland who proposed an open source version of Unix, eventually known as Linux. In retrospect, by that time, there had been an evolution in my life: from the early days of humanities studies, to hanging out with friends for days on end (eating pizza) while we fooled about reverse engineering kernels. By this stage I was an unconscious geek (i.e. a geek but completely unaware of this fact, even though a member of AUUG).

Then came the web.  From the first time I heard about the web and hypertext it held enormous fascination. The power inherent in the notion of hyperlinking and hyperconnecting documents, people and things seemed to have great promise.

From the early days of the web I worked on enterprise web development, managing teams who were building large scale web applications.  The roles varied: project manager, enterprise architect, software development manager, consultant.

In the late 1990s I worked as one of the architects on a large scale middleware application – we called it a “multi-channel integration architecture” – that enabled multiple front end channels to interconnect with heterogenous backend systems.  Off-the-shelf middleware like we have now did not really exist so it had to be created from scratch.

From there I moved onto development of early e-commerce for both B2B and B2C, and customisation of supply chainERP and CRM systems. The power of technology to revolutionise business and business models inspired me to study management, marketing and e-commerce at university.

While working on all these large-scale enterprise systems, I was also playing with what has come to be called web 2.0 and experimenting on my own time. Learning HTML and other scripting languages for fun.  Started blogging for fun too, before blogging tools existed.  Was an early user of Blogger, Typepad and finally migrated to WordPress.

It was during the blogging that I finally became conscious of my geekiness.  But I didn’t really come out of the closet then since there weren’t many women geeks in my circles of acquaintance.

But with the advent of Twitter, and connecting with many amazing women who were also geeks, I finally came out of the closet and embraced my geekiness.

And that is the story of my geek origin, what’s your geek origin story? And, as Michael Kordahi (a.k.a. @delic8genius) said:

“This year at TechEd (super secret but super high profile project for now), I want to profile and capture your Geek Origin Stories.

What memories do you have that define you?

I’m looking for your personal stories that tap into what makes you geek. Stories like mine that tap into your geek DNA and the (tacit) attributes that define you.

So, please email me one or a few of your Geek Origin Stories. Also please include a photo or video of you being a young geek.

Email me at michael.kordahi@microsoft.com or post your own online and send me a link.”

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