Posts Tagged ‘transformation’

The rise of the digital human

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

A few weeks ago, researchers at Harvard University, announced the results of an incredible project that enables computers to understand human thought, albeit at a very rudimentary level (the computer was able to understand a single word when the human thought of it). Minutes after the announcement, roboteworkshutterstock_129397139the world of social was filled with the dystopian visions of digital mind-control and telepathy and before you knew it we were locked back into a conversation that is essentially about the battle for power between humans and machines and how should be wary of our new digital overlords.

Of course, I don’t think the future will play out in anything like the sorts of scenarios that we see in the movies but I am continually bemused as to why we, as a society, so often see this as a conflict. Why is it always about humans vs machines when surely the whole point of what we have been doing for the last decade (although I would argue we’ve been doing it for much longer) is about the incredible opportunity that lies in front of us when instead we think about the potential of humans plus machines? A place where the technology does not replace us, but instead lifts us, it augments our capabilities to help us achieve more or deliver more engaging experiences that amaze and enchant our audiences.

This conversation is becoming more and more relevant in our industry, a world that is increasingly based on the cold, unemotional light of insights from data being harnessed by the growing power of algorithms. This is a world where, when fed with enough data, the algorithms will know what content will go “viral”, when and where it should be placed and for how long. Humans will therefore no longer be required and we can sit back on our ample backsides and bask in the glory of all that we have created. It’s usually at this point, someone hits the big red button labelled “panic” and we all start worrying about our jobs because after all, the computers can do all this stuff better than us can’t they?

At a high level at least, we can help to ease some of the anxiety for our future employment prospects by taking a little time to understand the limitations of algorithms:

  1. Algorithms can only make predictions (e.g. “this must be spam”, “this ad should be placed here”) based on experiences drawn from a huge trove of “training” data.
  2. They can only learn from that data by processing it within a model that has been given to them; they can’t learn from data alone.
  3. As the volume of data expands, the machines learn from the results of previous predictions and fine-tune the model. This iterative self-improvement is one of the most powerful features of machine learning and but it basically means they can improve on the results of the model, but they can’t improve the model itself.
  4. The machines draw conclusions and develop solutions based on probability; they are not human, as such they have no emotion or biases to augment their perspective.

I know that’s a lot to take in, but if you think of it like this – the algorithms are only as good as the data they get fed (garbage in…) and they are constrained by the rules that they’ve been provided with, they cannot yet improve the models, or connect multiple models together independently. Doesn’t this sound a lot like the age old conversation about “tools” and how they’re only as good as the people that use them? It should, because it’s no different.

So, before the digital industry rises up and forms their own Luddite rebellion (how ironic would that be?) we’ve just got to remember that by getting the machines to do more work, more of the heavy lifting, we should be pushing ourselves to make better use of that platform to extend ourselves further.

It’s no different to the debate we had when I was a kid at school, at a time when pocket calculators were first becoming affordable. I did the majority of my maths exams armed with no more than a slide rule and a log book (and I did OK thanks very much) but let me tell you, I am a better mathematician with a calculator than I am with a book of tabulated paper and slidy bit of plastic. Yes, I need to know the basic principles of arithmetic but I can get the machine to take care of the heavy lifting. We no longer have that debate and our culture and curriculums have adapted to integrate the power of the calculator to lift human beings to be able to do more and more complex calculations. Our relationship with technology, data and algorithms and their potential in our industry should be no different.

We need to remember that computers, algorithms and the data that feeds them are here to help. The success of our industry’s future (not to mention the future of awe inspiring campaigns and engagement) will depend entirely on our ability to grasp the potential they offer us. As a result, our aspiration should be to do things differently, not the same things slightly better.

If we get this right, we humans won’t have to be in awe of the machines; instead, we will stand high and proud on the shoulders of these mechanical giants and accomplish truly amazing things. The time for us to make this happen is now. The rise of the humans has already started – and the world will never be the same again.

An edited version of this article was published by The Drum.

Transformational people, transformational culture:

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

creativityshutterstock_123603871Traditionally, in order to improve customer experience many organisations choose to concentrate on individual elements, sometimes focusing purely on the technology e.g. “if only we had a better customer relationship management tool/website/social media plan” (delete as appropriate). Sometimes they focus purely on the experience e.g. how do we make our customers happy? Sometimes they focus on their own people e.g. how do we make our customer facing people more efficient? And sometimes they focus on the data e.g. how can we measure the satisfaction of our customers?

But in today’s world of connected customers and increasing competition, what becomes vital is the ability to look to their cumulative not individual effect. But even the combination of these pillars is not enough. Crucially, all of this boils down, not to which technology, not to which process or even which people, but instead it is entirely down to the culture of the organisation that will make or break our ability to be successful in the eyes of our customers.

I recently met with the CMO of a large global retail organisation and he summarised it perfectly, he had made the connection and firmly believed that if they were going to be successful in delivering “transformational customer experiences”, every single member of the organisation needed to be empowered to be transformational – to them that meant that every employee needed not just a toolset (technology) that would power the transformation, but most importantly they needed to be supported by an organisational culture that would make it both acceptable and possible for them to drive change from their individual roles and teams.

Unfortunately, it is often the culture that becomes the stumbling block, because while many will talk of transformation, the way in which we operate is too often steeped in the past, a world of process based productivity where success is more often measured on “processes completed” rather than a broader (admittedly slightly more vague) notion of measurement of the actual outcome.

Customer call centres present an easy target for an example of this, we’ve all experienced the difference between a call centre which operates by measuring process (number of calls taken, standard call dialogues/scripts) versus those which operate based on the outcome where there are less guidelines as to call volume and (thankfully) no “script on rails” which prevents the customer from feeling valued as an individual.

But it would be easy to think that all this talk of humanity and culture means that the technology is useless or irrelevant – the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Our increasingly connected world, and the seemingly endless ocean of data that we swim within provide the opportunity for true transformation, but we have to recognise that our ability to reach this lofty goal is constrained entirely not by the technology but by the humans that use it. And unless those people and the technology are supported by an organisational culture that empowers the individual and focuses on outcomes then consistent success in the eyes of our customers will continue to get further and further beyond our reach.

An edited version of this article appears in the Transform Digital Maturity Index for 2014

It’s about the Economy stupid–but it’s not what you think

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I’m not going to dwell too much on this as it is a challenge that I know is at the forefront of everybody’s mind, but what is crucial, is that we must never lose sight of the fact that our currently challenging economic climate continues to be one of the most important factors in providing a real, substantive need for radical action.

EconomysmalWe know we cannot go on as we have in the past. We know we must save money, but equally we know we must find a way of delivering at least equivalent service if not superior.

The challenge I know you all face on a daily basis is about providing “more for less” an overused slightly tired cliché that summarises the situation. I would argue that we need to move beyond that and embrace wherever possible the challenge posed by the economy and use that as the catalyst for some really innovative thinking that can transform the way in which we do business.

To me, saving money is like being told you need to lose weight – as an individual, I have a couple of choices, I can chop off one of my limbs and voila – even the Lighter Life diet will find it hard to match that kind of weight loss to time ratio… Only problem though, I can only do that so many times or worse still, it leaves me weaker, less responsive and bleeding to death.

Alternatively, I could get myself on a proper diet, endure some regular exercise. Sure the savings will take longer but will put me in a far better place to make further savings for the future and are infinitely sustainable.

The economy is the single biggest reason for us to do what we have been talking about for the last 10 years, transform, I’m talking proper transformation, not some mickey mouse “playing round the edges transformation” that basically means the same stuff just slightly better.

But the economic situation alone cannot get you there, you have to understand the other changes if we are to be truly successful. Over the next few posts we’ll look at these and how they combine to provide the single biggest opportunity for real transformative change that we’ll ever see in our lifetimes.

6 Themes for IT’s Future

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Wow, time flies.  It’s been a busy and slightly ugly Summer, but enough of that, it’s finally time for us to bring you the presentation I made at this year’s Architect Insight Conference back in May of 2009.   A particularly important event for me as it marked the first public release of the 6 key themes we’ve been working on for the last 12 months or so.

This presentation walks you through the 6 key themes that are the foundation of all of the challenges (and opportunities) we face in helping move the value of technology in our society even further forward and why, in some cases, our initial perceptions of them are not always correct.

Sit back (remind yourself what Summers _used_ to be like) and enjoy…

You can download the webcast here (right click and “save as”) or click here to subscribe to the Envisioners podcasts on iTunes.