Apr 112016

Life changes when you become the chief executive says Bill Wagner, the CEO and President at remote access company LogMeIn. “I now spend thirty percent of my time with investors,” he says

Wagner, previously the company’s Chief Operating Officer, took over the leadership at LogMeIn last September after founder Michael Simon  stepped down.

The company is in the midst of a major change as Simon steered the company toward the Internet of Things in response to the shift away from desktop personal computing that had been the business’ core market.

LogMeIn’s IoT strategy is around being a trusted platform for controlling the myriad household, CEcommercial and industrial devices that want to connect to the internet, with Wagner only seeing AWS as being their main competitors that has seen a range of companies entering in the last few years.

“I don’t think IoT will be a wave, it’s more like a rising tide,” Wagner says.

Wagner is one of the IoT’s enthusiasts citing applications ranging from the insurance sector through to connected clothing as being potential markets, although industrial application may be the earliest adopters of LogMeIn’s services. “The more industrial the industry, the more mature is M2M to IoT adoption,” he observes.

That adoption though is tempered by the presence of industry groups where Wagner maintains LogMeIn’s hostility towards slower moving associations such as the Industrial Internet Alliance and proprietary platforms like Google Nest.

An advantage Wagner sees in his taking over as LogMeIn’s Chief Executive Officer is his experience with the company, “I don’t know how externally recruited CEOs manage it,” he observes.

With LogMeIn facing a continued transition into uncertain markets, the company needs a steady vision. It may be that internal recruitment is an important strategic move.

Mar 312016
Can overinflated job titles affect a business

One of the most derided organisational theories of recent times has been Holacracy, a system of running organisations without managers.

The idea behind Holacracy is job descriptions are outdated and unnecessarily limiting. Modern workplaces and roles are far more fluid than the traditional, almost militaristic, structure of the hierarchical organisation chart.

Creator of Holacracy, Brian Robertson, describes in a Medium post how the anti-management theory came around during the early days of running a tech startup in the early 2000s.

The impact of our deep dive into agile software development went far beyond just “how we built software”?—?it infused our culture and gave us a foundation of principles and practices for the management of the company as well. Over the next several years, we’d do our best to express this paradigm in everything we did. Agile principles became a guidepost and a measurement for all of our future experimentation, as did the highly overlapping principles of the lean movement.

Given the tech startup roots of the idea, it’s not surprising Holacracy applies many of the principles that make up the Agile and Lean movements – particularly the hostility to micro-management.

Moving on from Holacracy

It’s notable that Robertson posted his background on Holacracy on Medium as the service was one of the more prominent adopters of the organisational theory, however the publishing platform has now dumped the philosophy.

In his post about why he and his business partner have dumped Holacracy, Medium founder Ev Williams said “the system had begun to exert a small but persistent tax on both our effectiveness” however he still thought the concept has merit and traditional management structures are too slow to deal with the demands of modern business.

The management model that most companies employ was developed over a century ago. Information flows too quickly?—?and skills are too diverse?—?for it to remain effective in the future.

Williams’ point is right, the 19th Century military structure of businesses was fine at a time when product cycles could be measured in years if not decades. In today’s world where the life of companies, let alone products, has been drastically compressed a much more flexible and fast moving way of organising businesses is needed.

Dynamic times

Along with needing far more flexible and fast moving structures, organisations also have the tools to create them. Again, the days of memos moving through layers of management via manila envelopes are long gone and now we have collaborative, real time communications methods.

One of the great changes in business over the next decade is going to be the rethinking of how organisations are managed, Holacracy may turn out not to be the answer but it is an early attempt of making sense of a very changed business world.

Management are the one group that really hasn’t been disrupted over the past thirty years. As strange as it might sound, Holacracy is a taste of the radical changes the executive suite are about to experience.

Mar 252016

Once dominant IBM is facing another major market transition, do they have the management skills the navigate that change?

Robert X. Cringely writes a depressing account of the company’s tactics in cutting its head count but the main thrust is how IBM are cobbling together a bunch of disparate products under umbrella brand names as a bloated, bureaucratic management puzzles with a marketplace change.

At the heart of everything is the question of what IBM’s customers really want, as Cringely points out.

The lesson in all this — a lesson certainly lost on Ginni Rometty and on Sam Palmisano before her — is that companies exist for customers, not Wall Street.  The customer buys products and services, not Wall Street.

While investors are important, businesses only exist if customers want to pay for their wares. If a company can’t convince people to buy their products, or find a way to subsidise it like the media industry did for most of the Twentieth Century, then there is no reason for the venture, or its industry, to exist.

For many technology companies this is the situation they are facing right now, many other industries aren’t far behind.

Mar 122016
Networks and computers connecting to the web

The one company that has driven both the adoption of cloud computing and the current tech startup mania is Amazon Web Services.

Later this week AWS celebrates its tenth birthday and Werner Vogels, the company’s Chief Technical Officer, has listed the ten most important things he’s learned over the last decade.

The article is a useful roadmap for almost any business, not just a tech organisation, particularly in the importance of building systems that can evolve and understanding that things will inevitably break.

Importantly Vogels flags that encryption and security have to be built into technology, today they are key parts of a product and no longer features to be added later.

Most contentious though is Vogels’ view that “APIs are forever”, that breaking a data connection causes so much trouble for customers that it’s best to leave them alone.

Few companies are going to take that advice, particularly in a world where changing business needs mean APIs have to evolve.

There’s also the real risk for businesses that their vendors will depreciate or abandon APIs leaving key operational functions stranded, this could cause major problems for organisations in a world that’s increasingly automated.

Vogel’s commitment to maintaining APIs may well prove to be a competitive advantage for Amazon Web Services in their competition with Microsoft Azure, Google and an army of smaller vendors.

Werner Vogel’s lessons are worth a read by all c-level executives as well as startup founders looking to build a long term venture, in many ways they could define the new rules of business.

Feb 202016
change and tech discussed on radio

The British Broadcasting Corporation could be about to abolish its radio and television divisions reports the London Telegraph. This could be a pointer for how many other businesses will revamp themselves in the face of digital disruption.

As audiences change, the organisation’s Director General is looking at restructuring the 94 year old broadcaster into new divisions based around content rather than platform.

The demarcation between radio and television, let alone the Internet, made sense in the 1950s as the cost of production was high and the specific skill sets to get a radio program to air were very different to those of television.

Now with increased automation many, although not all, of those differences have vanished and with the internet changing distribution methods it’s harder to justify duplicating production.

Another important aspect of the BBC’s mooted restructure is streamlining of management, with the Telegraph noting how this would be an opportunity to cull the executive ranks.

The changes will lead to a new round of senior executive departures, as Lord Hall seeks to flatten the corporation’s labyrinthine management structures, and reinvest more money on-screen.

How the BBC is restructuring itself in the face of technological change is a lesson for many other businesses, not just media companies.

Feb 112016

Poor Twitter. Today’s earnings report showed what everyone knew, its user growth has stalled with the number of active participants – Monthly Active Users as the company calls them – didn’t grow in the last quarter and are only up nine percent on the previous year.

The good news for shareholders is advertising revenue grew 48% with both US and international markets showing strong increases. Despite user growth flatlining the company still remains on track to becoming profitable.

As Farhad Manjoo argues at the New York Times, maybe the service needs to focus on more modest ambitions. The company’s dreams of competing with Facebook or growing like Google are never going to be achieved.

We’ve argued at this blog for a year that Twitter’s management and investors should accept the market’s expectations of the business were too lofty and while there’s no reason the company can’t be profitable, it’s not going to be a massive river of gold like Google.

There’s nothing wrong with being a healthy billion dollar business. The risk for Twitter is the greed and ego of investors, founders and shareholders could condemn the company in trying to meet impossible expectations.

Feb 092016

What happens when your Managing Director of five years standing announces he’s decided to move on?

This was something Xero’s senior management had to deal with when Chris Ridd, the company’s Managing Director for Australia, announced that after five years he had decided to move on.

In interviewing Chris and his successor, Trent Innes, last week for The Australian it was striking just how well the succession process had gone for Xero in dealing with the management change, “It has worked out well, it was our preference to go with an internal candidate,” the outgoing GM told me. “From my perspective it’s always good when you can do that but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

Much of this comes down to Chris putting together a cohesive management team, something he’s quite proud of, “Xero has a huge bench, we have a really talented leadership team. I feel really good about leaving now given that the business has gone from six staff to 295 people, three and a half thousand customers to 265,000.”

“I achieved way more than what I thought I’d be able to do in that role and after five years it seemed like the right time frame to go into something else,” he continued.

Part of his confidence in moving on was his confidence in his successor, “Trent and I go back twelve years at Microsoft,” he told me.

The other part of his confidence was that the company has a clearly defined strategy and business plan that neither he or Trent see changing.

Many companies struggle with changing their senior management and much of that is because the board and executives are in denial that people – even those at the top – will move on to new ventures.

A stable management team, a solid business plan and a realistic view about leadership succession are the keys to successfully managing a change at the top, so far it looks like Xero have managed to pull off a change that many other struggle with.