Blog Archives

Books, tools and research for digital consultants

If you’re looking for books, learning resources, research and tools that can be used as a consultant, I’ve compiled a new list on my Resources for Digital Consultants page. Read more ›

Posted in Your Questions

Implications of new speech based technology

There have been some recent and new developments in the field of voice as the medium that we can use to connect with technology. Whilst speech recognition has been around for a long-time now (Bell Labs first experiments were conducted in the 1950s), its now improved and beginning to find its way into popular consumer devices.

For brands, the implications are huge.

Firstly there is the need to integrate with popular voice products (Siri, Cortana, Alexa) so that a pizza can be ordered, an Uber booked, or a text message sent all by voice.

Secondly brands may need to develop smart consumer devices or channels that can respond to voice commands. No longer will I need to answer questions very carefully on automated call centre systems, I’ll just be able to say exactly what I need. A context aware system can then go and deal with that action whether it’s booking cinema tickets to compiling presentations.

When we consider that 40% of brands are still struggling to personalise in digital channels, there’s a long way to go before brands are going to be personalising in the speech channel. AI and Machine Learning will have a big part to play in making this happen.

Peter Diamandis said the following about the future applications of this technology:

“Artificial intelligence research will make strides in the next decade. If you think Siri is useful now, the next decade’s generation of Siri will be much more like JARVIS from Iron Man, with expanded capabilities to understand and answer. Companies like IBM Watson, DeepMind and Vicarious continue to hunker down and develop next-generation AI systems. In a decade, it will be normal for you to give your AI access to listen to all of your conversations, read your emails and scan your biometric data because the upside and convenience will be so immense.”

Here are a couple of videos that demonstrate what’s happening in this space.

Amazon Echo Dot

Cortana for Excel

I’d be interested in hearing about any other cool applications of speech technology. Please share anything else in the comments below or get in contact directly.

Posted in All Channels

Zapier as a Marketing Orchestration Platform

Zapier’s new multi-step workflows have created a simple low cost method to carry out marketing orchestration. Amazingly, despite the low entry price, Zapier (pronounced like happier with a z) is also incredibly powerful.

This is important for marketers as it provides a means to test new ideas quickly and cost effectively.

The idea is simple. An event happens, data is loaded, filters are applied and then multiple actions are triggered.

All of this is unlocked through a simple web based interface that can connect to any web-exposed service or app.

Zapier screenshot

Zapier screenshot

This includes tools like MailChimp, Twitter, Trello, Google Docs and Unbounce. Data can be enriched from a service like FullContact or even using CRM data. Transformations can be applied using built in text and number functions. If those aren’t enough, custom JavaScript can do even cooler transformations or lookups. Filters can be applied to stop the process if certain conditions aren’t met. Finally instructions and data can be quickly passed to another app or apps.

The use cases opportunities are huge and it’s a tool I’m using with Storm81 to automate elements of my marketing.

For instance, I want to add any of my MailChimp subscribers who have a large follower base to a list on Twitter. My opening trigger is a new subscriber, I then load the count of their Twitter followers by looking them up using FullContact. If they have more than 1,000 Twitter followers, I add them to a list.

The most obvious benefit I see for marketers and technologists is the ability to quickly prototype ideas that are often just talked about. Crucially, it will involve prototyping without the need for developers and database analysts.

Marketing Orchestration Platforms are something I’ve talked about in the past and I think Zapier have brought a very viable option to the table.

You can find out more about Zapier’s multi-step Zaps on their blog:

https://zapier.com/blog/workflow-automation/

Posted in Marketing Automation

The Hunt for the Great British Start-Up

Why hasn’t the UK (or for that matter Europe) been able to create a significant number of tech companies? Both the US and China have created tech companies with staggering valuations.

This week, legendary Silicon Valley investor, Michael Moritz, took a sharp jab at the UK’s failure to build unicorn (valuations of $1bn+) tech companies.

In light of recent press and governmental anger over the aggressive – yet legal – tax avoidance schemes employed by the likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook; Moritz suggests that we ought to be more concerned with building our own big businesses, not trying to scrape more tax from Uncle Sam’s successes.

It’s unfair to say that the UK Govt has done nothing. Change is happening in this space with the Government backing entrepreneur’s tax relief, founding catapult funds for incubation of high growth business, and creating great hype surrounding Silicon Roundabout.

Will favourable taxation and pots of growth funding provide the fertile ground for a £1bn+ UK business to emerge? Possibly, but I personally feel that there are two major blockers that sit in our way. The first is our somewhat reserved culture; the second a gap in business and finance education.

Culture

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Nothing defines British culture better than the Very British Problems Twitter account. We are cripplingly polite, avoid open confrontation, emotional expression and excessive promotion (particularly of one’s self).

Our rebellious cousins on the other side of the Atlantic, share our language but certainly not our culture. To avoid offence to the American reader, allow me to quote from Harvard Business Review:

“Americans aren’t shy talking up their accomplishments and selling themselves. We do it all the time — at job fairs, interviews, sales calls, performance evaluations, and when vying for prized internal assignments and positions. The overall point is that self-promotion is clearly a necessary and useful skill for getting ahead in the U.S. professional world.

“In the U.S., it is culturally acceptable — even admirable — to show enthusiasm. When arguing for a point in a meeting, for example, it is quite appropriate to express your opinions enthusiastically. Or when speaking with a potential employer at a networking event, it is appropriate to express your interest enthusiastically. In fact, in this particular situation, the employer might interpret your interest as real and genuine because of the enthusiasm you express.”

All of these characteristics are vital elements in creating and raising funds for a fledgling business. Not only are they vital for the founders, but they are also required by all of the team who are genuinely excited and not ashamed of evangelising their company.

I’d contend that Brits either need to find a new means of raising funds, one that doesn’t require pitching to VCs or we need to become more comfortable with outward enthusiasm and self-promotion. Either way our reticence to toot our own trumpet may be off-putting to potential investors who want to place their bets on the next big thing.

Business Education

“Nothing happens until a sale is made” – Thomas Watson Sr (Founder of IBM)

Sales and commercial astuteness are absolutely crucial in business.

More needs to be done in the UK to train and educate business students at an under and post-graduate level on the selling skill set. A quick analysis of the top 10 European MBA programmes reveals that the topic barely features on the curriculum. It may get a mention as an element of supply chain dynamics or as marketing’s poor relation but it isn’t taught outright as an essential part of business life.

Those who have worked in the field know that there are very specific skills that can be taught to improve both education on the topic and academic research on it.

Personally I’m pleased to see the development of business and computing apprenticeships. These I hope will be the grounds from which a UK Zuckerberg, Gates or Jobs can emerge. There are also other new education initiatives (Alacrity based in Newport is the best example that I’m aware of) that could provide the perfect incubation environment for a big UK tech company.

 

So whilst politicians can huff and puff about tax avoidance, ultimately the result will be determined by our ability to throw off the shackles of Britishness and ensure that we’re training the future generation of business leaders with skills to help them compete on a global level.

Posted in Business

The problem with estimates

How long do you think it will take to build each of these Lego kits?

Lego set A should be easy to do; let’s assume it will take around 20 minutes. Set B is perhaps more challenging; maybe an hour. Perhaps two?

Now let’s add some real-world complexity:

  • You need to provide the estimate but somebody else is going to do the building
  • You will only get the time requested to do the build
  • Going beyond the time in the slightest will result in criticism and a sense of failure
  • Some of the instructions are missing (you don’t know this yet)
  • Every 5 minutes you need to provide a detailed written report on your progress of completion
  • Parts for the last half will be provided at half way through (or maybe they won’t – whatever, it can’t affect your completion time)
  • Approval to start will be five minutes late but your completion time will be fixed
  • Failure to complete on time will result in a personal financial penalty
  • You need to allow time to have your construction quality checked against the instructions
  • Your competing against other people to see who can give the fastest estimate
  • Oh and whatever time you estimate will be dropped by 10% to meet the quarterly Lego building target

Considering all of these conditions how would this effect your estimates?

Whilst I understand the need to estimate and to set plans, it is difficult to do, inaccurate, and complicated by commercial interests. So with all this in mind, perhaps its time to consider new approaches to commercial management of technical build projects.

The main point for me, is not to expect perfection of estimates. In fact, create plans for estimates to be wrong. Create plans that enable the builder and manager to collaborate in open discussions without risk of blame or fault finding.

Ultimately when we’re trying to build amazing things, we should work with positivity and energy to do a good job. If our motivation is only to get it done in the window of time that was – despite the pseudo-science – a guess, we can wave goodbye to any idea of fun and expect quality to suffer too.

For a final mental exercise, why not try to estimate the time required to build this Lego monstrosity:

Posted in Business

The pursuit of business efficiency through digital transformation

Business efficiency isn’t just a question of improved profitability. Efficiency should encompass a wider range of attributes that you need to prioritise and then focus on improving. After all trying to blindly improve profitability  is far too broad a challenge. Like eating the proverbial elephant, you need to chose which bits to eat first.
At 768 pages, and with a £50 price tag, Operations Management by Prof Nigel Slack is a heavy weight tome that takes some effort to read through. However there is a very good definition of how efficiency can be defined:
efficiency-1
Cost – Ability to control operational costs and deliver within budget
Quality – Ability to deliver work to expected quality standards
Dependability – Ability to deliver projects and outcomes according to expectations
Speed – Ability to complete work quickly and in accordance with expectations
Innovation – Ability to develop new and creative solutions that fulfil business needs
Flexibility – Ability to react to new requests and requirements
Naturally, one might look at this list and think “yes I want all of these things”. Good prioritisation happens when each attribute is put into conflict with the others.

Prioritisation through conflict

Would you rather deliver a project late and perfect, or on time with flaws?
What is more important; getting the job done quickly at any price, or working slowly to control the budget?
These types of questions can help you determine what is most important for your business as they place each attribute up against the other one.
The following statements can be used to determine where priorities lie using a likert rating of how much the respondent agrees or disagrees with each statement:
  • Scheduled work is more important new requests – (Dependability vs Flexibility)
  • Project timelines may slip to ensure that costs do not overrun – (Cost vs Dependability)
  • Quality is important regardless of the price – (Quality vs Cost)
  • To complete work quickly, errors are acceptable – (Speed vs Quality)
  • We should be flexible to change even if this slows things down – (Flexibility vs Speed)
  • Failing to achieve project benefits is ok if the project is completed quickly – (Dependability vs Speed)
  • Keeping costs under control is more important than being flexible to new requests – (Cost vs Flexibility)
  • Quality of the output is more impotant than the schedule – (Quality vs Dependability)
  • Speed of delivery is more important than the cost of delivery – (Speed vs Cost)
  • We need to be more flexible even if these means quality drops – (Flexibility vs Quality)
  • Time lines are more important the quality – (Dependability vs Quality)
  • Costs can increase to ensure that projects are delivered rapidly – (Cost vs Speed)
  • New requests should not be allowed to affect the quality of work – (Quality vs Flexibility)
  • Getting work completed quickly is more important than the outcome – (Speed vs Dependability)
  • We need to be more flexible regardless of the cost – (Flexibility vs Cost)
  • We should achieve project objectives regardless of the cost – (Dependability vs Cost)
  • Quality can be compromised to keep costs down – (Cost vs Quality)
  • It better to be slow and careful, rather than fast and sloppy – (Quality vs Speed)
  • Being quick is preferable to being flexible – (Speed vs Flexibility)
  • It is acceptable for a new request to delay an existing project – (Flexibility vs Dependability)
  • Projects can be delayed to add new features to them – (Innovation vs Dependability)
  • We should spend lots on innovation and R&D – (Innovation vs Cost)
  • Taking risks and cutting corners is acceptable when innovating – (Innovation vs Quality)
  • Innovative projects may slow down the delivery of business as usual – (Innovation vs Speed)
  • Being innovative is more important than being flexible – (Innovation vs Flexibility)
The following is taken from the output of client work from a couple of year’s ago:/
efficiency-2 efficiency-3

Finding the digital solutions to efficiency goals

With a clear focus on what matters most you can begin experimenting with new tools that will improve efficiency.
For cost management you may want to use the Basecamp, Salesforce or potentially create something quick for cost management in Knack. Whilst I’m a fan of Excel in certain settings, I find it used all too frequently to manage complex cost situations.
Dependability and Speed may require the use of MavenLink or Jira tools. Trello may also be a decent way of creating an online Kanban board.
Innovation may require improved corporate communication. Evernote, Wiki/Confluence, Dropbox and Slack could be great tools.
My recommendation is to try these tools on a limited roll out in a team and then, if it works, expand the trial and create better operational guides for the corporate use of the tool. Just ensure that you start in the area that is most important for your business/team.
Another crucial matter is to consider integration with these new digital tools. Many come pre-packaged with easy to configure integrations to other popular tools (often creating their own app store or partner eco-system). For everything else, I can’t recommend the use of Zapier and IFTT enough.
What tools have helped your teams become more efficient?

Further reading:

Posted in Strategy

Halfords: Eight Steps to Put Customers in the Driving Seat

In my LinkedIn post on Halfords’ new customer strategy, I set out an eight stage plan to maximise customer lifetime value. Read more ›

Posted in Business, Strategy

The Lean Digital Transformation

Can digital transformation be accelerated by rapid and continual iterations of building, measuring and learning? Read more ›

Posted in Strategy

Six ways to drive forward Digital Transformation

A lot of businesses are stuck at the point of execution. After the ideas have been generated and the plans laid; change grinds to a halt and the hoped for strategic transformation is never fully realised.

So how do you strike forward positively with strategic change? Let me provide six ideas:

  1. Build your transformation around a big, yet still realistic, opportunity. Senior management should understand and be united in the pursuit of this opportunity.
  2. Transform from the bottom up. Gather a team of bright, motivated volunteers to form a steering committee that is tasked with achieving the opportunity.
  3. Allow the volunteers to develop the strategic initiatives. Senior management are there to guide and support not instruct.
  4. If your vision is right and the energy is good, you’ll continue to build out the volunteers who want to be involved in the transformation. Create teams filled with multi-disciplined enthusiastic volunteers.
  5. Where well formed initiatives exist, provide funding and/or resources to get things moving.
  6. Celebrate every success (big or small) to create a culture where change is rewarded.

PS These aren’t my ideas – go read John Kotter’s article Accelerate at HBR for the full guide on how to drive strategic change.

Posted in Strategy

Rules for simpler, more direct business emails

To whom it may concern,

It’s this simple; you need to write emails that start with the conclusion and use no more than three sentences.

Recipients – who like me are drowning in emails, texts, Inmails and so forth – are far more likely to appreciate and respond to this approach.

Attachments, meetings or even a phone call are better methods for communicating more indepth or complex messages.

Finally, be prepared to break the rules for impact.

Yours faithfully,

David “too many emails, not enough hours” Sealey

 


Further reading

And some books worth picking up

Posted in Business
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