If you do something more than once and do it at the same time of year, it’s reasonable to consider it an “annual event.” Therefore, welcome to the annual Searchlight List of Lists! It’s my business to write for and about CIOs, so I know you haven’t got time to sift through all those year-end best/worst lists and future predictions. Hence the List of Lists — a handy roundup of roundups all in one spot. I’m curious to see if you agree or disagree with the oft-shared contention that 2013 was a crummy year for technology. And I’m equally eager to hear what you think will be the big trends in 2014. So, drop me a note in the comments when you, you know, have a “free moment.” Happy New Year!
We’ve all said silly things. We don’t all get haunted by them on the Internet on a regular basis. Back in 1995, writer and astronomer Cliff Stoll shared his thoughts on the future of the World Wide Web with Newsweek. In short, he suspected it didn’t really have one. Ironically, that scathing opinion piece on what a waste the ‘Net was and evermore resurfaces now and again — on the Internet — for “can you believe that?” laughs. It popped up once more this week, gave me pause and became this week’s lead Searchlight item.
Sure, it’s a funny read now. But there’s also a lesson here that’s especially pertinent at this rife-with-predictions time of year. We’re so bombarded with what’s coming next and hype about the big new technology that will save us all that it’s easy to sour on the whole scene. But beware, being too dismissive of what’s new could cause you more harm than becoming good for a viral giggle.
Also this week: Target lands in the cross hairs of big time hackers, meet the newest (weirdest) crypto currency and more.
Won’t someone please think of the children? Oh, great, someone is. This week, Computer Science Education Week and the non-profit group Code.org successfully encouraged teachers in the U.S. and around the world to participate in an “Hour of Code.” The initiative, started by philanthropic computer science-loving brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi, provides teachers and students with the materials — online lessons and tutorials — needed to spend an hour learning about computer programming. (An additional 20 tutorials are also available online.) As of Thursday evening, more than 12 million kids participated. By the looks of media reports students and teachers alike embraced and enjoyed the opportunity. Great! But, as Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser points out in this week’s lead Searchlight item, it’s not nearly enough. If the end goal is to ignite a passion for computer programming in kids K-12 and lead them toward a strong career path (with some long-term viability), one hour of one week doesn’t cut it. “A” for effort, but still needs improvement.
Also in this week’s Searchlight: how not to get potential customers to use your app, the NSA levels up on its spying efforts, the message behind Instagram’s new chat feature and more.
Drones and robots and mini Robocops, oh my! Leading off this week’s Searchlight: smart machines are having a moment and it’s only the beginning. Amazon and it’s delivery drone announcement, Google’s no-longer-secret robot labs, a crime deterring R2D2 all jockeyed for attention this week. And depending on your point of view it’s all very cool or all kinda scary. Sure these tech innovations are neat and could make life a lot easier. But what’s the price?
We’ve all been impressed by how smart a smart machine can be. We’ve seen Watson put the smack down on Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings. We appreciate, for the most part, that machines and drones carry out dangerous military actions in place of humans. But it’s worth debating long and hard whether they’re something we should strive to make an integral part of our economy. One thing is for sure, CIOs need to get in on the technology and the conversation now. Also in the Searchlight: Apple pays a big price to get social, hackers steal and expose more than 2 million passwords, why coding shouldn’t be for everyone and more!
It seems ironic. Even as enterprises become increasingly comfortable with the sometimes-dicey world of external social media — Facebook, Twitter, et al — most fail to see the value in embracing enterprise social media technologies. This is made abundantly clear in a recent McKinsey Quarterly piece co-authored by Michael Chui, Martin Dewhurst and Lindsay Pollak. “Building the social enterprise,” in addition to sharing somewhat mindboggling stats about the use of enterprise social technologies, offers some tips on how to get in the game.
About two-thirds of the estimated economic value of social media comes from improved collaboration and communication inside enterprises, according to the authors. And while approximately 80% of executives claim their companies use social technologies, few have figured out how to use social collaboration toward the creation of any measurable impact or value. Only about one-quarter of executives believe their companies have incorporated social technologies and collaboration into their daily work routine.
Is it really that big of a deal? Well, if your business likes money, it is. The McKinsey Global Institute last year estimated that $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value could be “unlocked” by products and services that enable social interaction. It’s not a simple trick, to be sure, but, the authors write, “a large part of the problem is that many companies, viewing social technologies as yet another tool to be implemented rather than as an enabler of organizational transformation, fail to identify the specific organizational problems social technologies can solve.”
Like any kind of change in the workplace, with social technologies and collaboration, the problem revolves more around people than around technology. Even companies that do embrace the use of internal social media find it difficult to get employees to let go of their email. Harder still is the task of creating an environment in which continual information sharing is the norm. It may be difficult, but not impossible, and is certainly worth putting in the effort. The time to try is now.
Here are some tips for your journey from the authors (and check out the original piece for real-life examples of how companies have put these tips to use):
- Add value, not complexity — Social technologies should be used to complement (and ideally replace) existing processes. They should be embedded in the daily workflow, not tacked on as distracting “extras.“
- Provide essential organizational support — No technology in and of itself can change an organization. Companies have to define their objective, select a technology based on the objective and understand the additional organizational change required to support it.
- Experiment and learn — When it comes to social collaboration, top-down directives rarely work and are usually anathema to the whole purpose. Organizations do well to adopt approaches that emphasize testing and learning where there are no failures, only lessons learned.
- Track impact and evolve metrics — It’s important to have an open mind about social initiatives and it’s not always possible to have metrics early on, but it’s critical to put rigorous ones in place once you find something in your experimentation that is obviously adding value.
They say you can’t be all things to all people, or in a million places at once. Well, “they” are going to fail at business as the age of the customer continues to entwine with the digital age. It’s no longer enough to think multichannel — it’s time to get on board with omnichannel. And if you’re looking for an example of just what this is or why it’s important, look no further than this week’s lead Searchlight item. In it, you’ll find a valuable lesson about how being hyper-customer focused might just save Best Buy (you know, the Amazon showroom many left for dead?). Plus, a company whose social media efforts are miles
ahead of above the competition, how the big tech companies like Google and Apple are doing with protecting your data and more.
Pretty much nobody thought stack ranking was a good idea at Microsoft. In fact, it so stank, it was finally put to rest this week in favor of a more employee-empowering, collaborative approach. So, no longer will good (even great) employees be sacrificed for no other real reason than “thems the rules.” Thank goodness that nightmare is over! Unless of course you work at Yahoo, in which case it’s just beginning. Yep, Yahoo has picked up the maligned practice making it CEO Marissa Mayer’s second major “fail,” according to Forbes‘ contributor Peter Cohan.
Do you know who wouldn’t look at stack ranking and think it’s a valuable idea? Today’s top CIOs. Time and again at this week’s Society for Information Management conference in Boston, some of the nation’s most successful CIOs extolled the virtues of being hands-on leaders who know their people — and whose people feel appreciated and encouraged, always, to learn.
Also in this week’s Searchlight: IBM brings Watson to the people, Facebook’s $3 billion snub, the cool new frontier in user interface and more.
The collision of the electronic health records and the Affordable Care Act has brought even more complexity and uncertainty to the role of IT in the health care industry. One could make the case that the CIOs of health care organizations are sitting in the hottest of the digital-age hot seats. At the 45th annual SIMposium, held in Boston, Mass., a panel of health IT CIOs talked about how technology is changing just about every aspect of health care — except one: the importance of leadership. When asked what skill they rely on most to achieve change in a challenging environment, there was no mention of ERP systems, silos, systems integration, data warehouses or, for that matter, data. In fact, technology didn’t come up at all. Here’s what they had to say:
Jim Noga, CIO of Partners HealthCare, on leading by showing and explaining: “I think you achieve change by being transparent and being able to explain the purpose of the change rather than having an autocratic approach of, ‘We’re just going to do this.’ In terms of CIOs, I see that role morphing into something closer to a COO than a CIO and driving that clinical and business transformation. That’s going to be the role of new CIO — especially as things move into the cloud. It’s the old adage of we overestimate how quickly things are going to change in the next [two] years but we underestimate how things are going to change in five to ten years. … It’s not that you don’t need the technical skills, but you’re going to be seen more as a leader of process change in the organization.”
Bruce Metz, CIO of Lahey Clinic, on leading by building trust: “[Unless you] develop strong working relationships and trust with members of IT … and everybody throughout the organization … you’re not going to get the kind of organization and culture of change that you need. You’ll get successful technology implementations, but the organization isn’t going to get where it needs to go. … For what’s going on in health care, you have to have a high tolerance for uncertainty because we don’t know some of the things that are going to happen. If people in Washington decide, as they keep saying they’re going to do, to cut $50 million to $100 million in what we each get for federal reimbursement, life’s going to change overnight. We also have to stay flexible so we can deal with those unknowns, and with whoever may wind up joining our system when [Washington] decides to do that … So it’s dealing with uncertainty, flexibility, but really focusing on all the members of the organization — and outside too, with our partners — and having those strong working relationships that can carry through whatever does come at you. ”
Paul Hanlon, CIO of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, on leading with honesty and humor: “Brutal honesty and a sense of humor. We’re all trying to change a system … that’s facing regulatory pressures, that’s facing market pressures, and everyone’s running at pace. So that means sometimes we’re going to have to confess to not doing things as well as we’d like to have done them, and other times we’re going to have to confess by having a dialogue with our business customers where we say, ‘We don’t think that’s the right place to go, and here are the reasons why.’ In an environment where you’ve got those types of pressures, honesty is important — it’s what drives trust. And, frankly, you need to have a sense of humor. … For me, those are the two most important things because they help build relationships. And once you’ve got relationships, you can build from there.”
When news first broke about the pending Twitter IPO, it was widely speculated whether it would mirror Facebook’s fumbled launch. After all, both are social networks, both are of questionable revenue generation, relying as they do on digital advertising. But Twitter is not Facebook — in more ways than one.
It’s not so much a social network as an information sharing tool or if you’re being as bold as Kevin Thau, the company’s recently departed veep of business and corporate development, a new kind of news network. However one chooses to describe it, it is fundamentally an endless stream of public sentiment (aka heaps o’ data). And that’s made a big difference in investors willing to hop on board. Another difference? Greater popularity with the kiddies — Facebook is so 2011.
For more reasons why Twitter will likely continue to soar, head over to this week’s Searchlight which also includes: how mobile computing is changing ecommerce, whether it makes sense for your company to stick with BlackBerry and more.
One commonly held belief about big data is that it provides better and deeper answers to business questions. “And it does,” Ken Rubin, director of analytics at Facebook Inc., said at the recent Strata Conference + Hadoop World in New York.
But, Rubin argues, it’s a belief that also needs to be challenged. While businesses focus their energies on the answers big data will provide, they risk overlooking the important role that questions play. Put another way, if IT spends time solving problems that don’t ultimately provide any value to the business, the richness and depth of their resulting hard-won insights hardly matter. But pinpointing (and articulating) what those questions should be doesn’t necessarily come naturally.
“You can use science and technology and statistics to figure out what the answers are, but it’s still an art to figure out what the right questions are,” Rubin said.
That’s one of the reasons why Facebook, in addition to hiring people who have both technical and business savvy, sends its employees to “Data Camp.” “This two-week, intensive, immersive program teaches them everything they need to know about analytics,” Rubin said.
And everyone is on the bus: Product managers, designers, engineers and members of the finance and operations department all attend Data Camp. During that two-week stint, they learn how to use relevant tools and technologies but they also learn how to ask the right questions and how to “frame business questions in such a way that you can use data to get the answer,” Rubin said.
It may sound a little elementary, but giving employees this type of language lesson creates a lingua franca across the organization, which can help eliminate what some CIOs have cited as a barrier between IT and the business.
Another tip: Figure out the best organizational structure for analysts — centralized, decentralized or some combination of the two. Facebook implemented what it calls an embedded model, a hybrid between a centralized and decentralized structure, where business units roll up to a central team but analysts “physically sit with the organization they’re providing a service for,” Rubin said.
“The benefit there is that you get your common standards and processes from centralization, but you also get great alignment and connection to the goals,” he said.