Monday, March 24, 2014

The Value of Rapid Response

The Value of Rapid Response

Over the past few weeks, I have been reminded of the value of rapid response. I once heard Michael Porter, the well known strategist comment that for many customers, the quality of a lawyer is often determined by how fast the lawyer gets back to his client. The quality of his work is far less obvious in many situations.

Two observations reminded me this week of the value of getting back to clients quickly. 

In one situation, I contacted two direct competitors. At one firm, contacts with four different people have led to no follow-up over a 6 week period. At the second firm, my first email was filtered out by the spam filter they used, but the follow-up phone call led to a connection being made in 15 minutes. You can guess how both firms look to me.

The second observation is the result of attending a number of conferences this quarter. Over the years, I have exhibited at many conferences. Perhaps the most important rule of follow-up is "Strike while the iron is hot." I am surprised how few companies put this simple meme into practice. Marketing automation (e.g. SilverPop, Marketo, Hubspot) is clearly not being used by these firms.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Mathematics of Social Networks - The Up and the Down

We have all had the experience. You start off with a social network. You add people. People share things. Very quickly the queue of things to read goes exponential. If the average Facebook subscriber adds 500 friends in the first year, the formula is n to the 500th.

Consider the following numbers for content in such a network. You add 500 people on Linkedin or Facebook. Each person posts one element per day. All of a sudden you have 500 items to read. Even if the ratio is lower – let’s say only 10% post something every day, you have 50 items to read. And then of course, there are the enthusiastic posters, who post more than once a day.

From an annual perspective, 365 days a year and 50 items per day is 18,250 items per year. If it takes you an average of 15 seconds to scan an article, you are still looking at 76 hours a year to scan items. It is therefore, no surprise that what make companies like Linkedin or Facebook grow runs into a wall.

Business strategy always focuses upon value. Financial evaluation models for companies that focus upon acquisition via exponential growth don’t focus on the changing value offering to subscribers. For many subscribers there is a point at which value is not based upon the number of connections but the number of high quality connections. Let me suggest therefore, that in the wild and wooly world of Internet valuations, the number of subscribers may be less important than people currently believe. In fact, if you have too many links on a social network, it is highly lightly that you will either start to trim connections or filter their postings.

Consider the situation of loyal subscribers who obtain great value vs. marginal subscribers or links where you obtain value vs. links who only want to pitch you. In the latter case, the benefit are small. 

There’s clearly a trade-off. Basing a business strategy upon rapid growth driven by exponential growth provides one perceived form of value, but there are decreasing returns to scale and at some point negative returns. You have to focus with a laser precision on creating value to offset the dis-economies of scale from being overwhelmed by connections, subscriptions to supplier sites and publications.

The Good Shoe Problem

The Good Shoe Problem

For a number of years, I have used the metaphor of "The Good Shoe Problem" to communicate how once you have had an experience of a good product (e.g. a comfortable pair of shoes), it is extremely difficult to go back to a less good shoe.

On a humorous note, it may well be the case that some will complain that many women wear uncomfortable shoes, but perhaps the issue is that those wearing good looking shoes and experiencing the consequences of looking or feeling good in a good looking shoe are just looking for a different kind of experiences.

But a key aspect of experiential marketing is the transforming nature of using a  product such as software and in particular when the product is a great product/service that produces a great experience for the user. Like an insight in cognitive psychology, such an experience reframes the purchasing and usage criteria of a user and is particularly obvious in high tech products and software interactions.

Amusing and embarrassingly, this past week, I attended a conference on Predictive Analytics. Two hours into wandering around the conference, I notices that I was wearing one red and one brown shoe, admittedly in the same style, from the same vendor. Fortunately nobody appeared to notice.

So, there appears to be a corollary to the "The Good Shoe Problem". Even if a customer has fallen in love with your experience, there are still opportunities to go wrong. :-)

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Teamwork Brilliance

Teamwork Brilliance

I recently watched a presentation by Ed Hoffman, Chief Knowledge Officer at NASA. His presentation has many good points about project management with knowledge workers, but perhaps the most interesting, and dare I say brilliant approach used in the Cassini/Huygens project to visit Europa, one of Saturn's moons is how architecture and resource allocation was managed.

The problem in brief is that a space mission, must rather like a modern smartphone, deal with tradeoffs between weight, energy consumption, budget and data transmission rates. With 18 or so projects from 17 countries, the normal practice would be that three or four projects would be dropped, because they would be ranked at the bottom of the list.

But in a highly complex project that consists of hundred of scientists and varying degrees of flexibility with respect to technical characteristics and budget available, the NASA project team realized that a formal system for managing trade-offs might benefit from a market place. So they constructed a market, where individual project teams could make trade-offs. Some projects could do with less weight if it they were allowed to spend more for example. The net result of this teamwork inducing allocation approach was the unusual result of all the projects ending up in the mission.

And of course, it's very motivating when this kind of pattern of resource allocation reassures scientists and engineers that their work and careers will benefit.

Quite simply brilliant. There are, I think, lessons here, for architecture, scrum and agile development generally.

Design Thoughts from Wearables DevCon 2014

Design Thoughts from Wearables DevCon 2014

This past week I attended 2014 Wearable Devcon at the Hyatt outside San Francisco airport. I toured the booths and sat in on two presentations and one keynote. It's quite likely I missed many good presentations, but the two that I sat in provided interesting snapshots of the state of wearable technology.

The first presentation represented a continuing illustration of how each new generation of technology introduces and then has to solve problems that have been solved in prior generations of technology. The first presentation and discussion I attended revolved around the proprietary nature of wearable technology and the data produced and whether or how it was possible to integrate data from multiple sources in a secure manner. Issues of account control for vendors, as usual, are in opposition to customers's desires to be able to integrate data. No doubt there will be an emerging data management layer set of competitors that will include open source and proprietary platforms. We can also anticipate that algorithms used by sensors may become selectable and may trigger third party suppliers to provide better or differently tuned algorithms in addition to machine learning based improvement from the data owner.

The second presentation was far less technical but excellent. A Senior Interaction Designer, Sonia Koesterer, at Fjord, LLC, an Accenture subsidiary considered larger design issues. She first illustrated the problem we have all seen of people paying attention to their smartphones rather than family or friends with whom they are socializing. Like Susan Sonntag in On Photography, she posed the problem of experiencing the event, moment, or landscape rather than losing some of the experience as a result of recording it with a smartphone camera. She identified three problems as particularly important.

1. Our devices are making us awkward,
2. Our devices are over-sharing data with us and about us, and
3. Our devices are making us miss out on experiencing life.

She continued her presentation with an embarrassing story. A colleague in a meeting had placed her smart phone on the desk where it could be seen by a number of her colleagues. At one point in the meeting, a message from an application popped up so that it could be seen by people adjacent to her phone. It read: "Having sex today will maximize your chance for pregnancy."

This clearly untimely message in the context of a business meeting allowed her to introduce some important principles in design. In summary, she argues that good design should:

1. Encourage better social behavior through the device rather interfering with the social behavior
2. Be appropriate to the user's current environment
3. Should enhance rather than distract from the primary activity.

So if there exist a range of designs that can be thought of as a Venn diagram of three overlapping circles (the device, the context, the activity), good design is the overlap of all three. Design on a cell phone should be different than design on a computer. Design for a bike computer should be and fortunately is radically different, she pointed out. It's a simple on-off decision when the bike is going.

Perhaps surprising to some, the group discussion then proceed to revolve around one of the issues addressed in Innovation Zeitgeist, the idea of individuals being overwhelmed by technology, data and  choices and the need for "Intelligent Invisible Technology" which I compared to the Four Seasons Hotel. Unlike subscribing to a web site or mailing list or managing email where the consequences and risk of cybercrime are unpredictable, an interaction with a hotel is typically straightforward. The initial reservation transaction is normally understandable with few areas of uncertainty. When you arrive at the hotel, the transaction of checking in and going to your room is well understood. Standard hotel services (mini-bar, restaurant, dry cleaning, business center) are assumed to be available. And concierge services are available for query and custom services.

The design goal, in my view, is much more to pursue Invisible Intelligent Technology and it's interesting to see how other designers are reaching a similar conclusion.