Jul 122015
 
twitter-headquarters

New York Times writer Nick Bilton delves into Twitter’s search for a new CEO and comes up with a left of field conclusion – the company doesn’t actually know what it is.

Twitter has certainly been casting around to define itself, particularly after its stock market listing that saw it valued at over twenty billion dollars.

Bilton flags one reason why management is so uncertain about their company’s identity, that it’s directors don’t use the service themselves.

As I see it, the problems at Twitter come down to a lack of leadership and a micromanaging board.

And the churn is constant: many of its founders, chief executives, numerous product directors and other top brass have been fired or pushed out. Three of the eight positions on the current board belong to Mr. Dorsey and the former chief executives. About half of the board barely tweets.

The lack of social media credibility on the board raises another issue about how much direct industry expertise should a company’s directors have. While it’s almost certainly not desirable to have insiders dominate a board certainly some, if not the majority, of directors should have some experience in the industries the company operates in.

For Twitter though they desperately need to define the business and what its valuation really is. Even more pressing is to show how the platform differs from Facebook as the confusion of investors, users and advertisers isn’t helping.

Ultimately as Bilton suggests the direction of a business is determined by the board, it’s time Twitter found at least a few directors who at least use social media, if not have some understanding and experience in the business.

Jun 262015
 
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

“What would be lost if we disappeared?” is the question Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella claims is driving the company’s direction in his latest memo to employees.

In the email obtained by website Geekwire, Nadella told his staff redefining the company’s culture is key to success, “we can do magical things when we come together with a shared mission, clear strategy, and a culture that brings out the best in us individually and collectively.”

That culture though is not static and Nadella is describes how the company needs to focus on helping its customers through its cloud and Windows based products.

For Microsoft this is not new, the change from a desktop and server based licensing business to one dependent upon cloud subscription services has been a huge change for the business since the iPhone was released nearly a decade ago.

The challenge for Nadella however is to keep revenues coming in as the river of gold that was Microsoft’s Windows licenses slowly dries up.

One of the biggest changes to Microsoft’s culture could be in coming to terms that it isn’t such a huge and powerful corporation any more.

Jun 222015
 
cheap robots cleaning computers

How will the future workforce look? A report by Australia’s Committee for Economic Development seeks to give a picture of how employment might look at the end of next decade.

Australia’s Future Workforce is a weighty tome covering the current structure of the nation’s economy, its trends and the factors affecting employment over the next two decades.

The report makes it clear the economy will be very different observing 40 per cent of Australia’s workforce, more than five million people, is likely be replaced by automation over the next twenty years.

In the opening chapter, Reshaping Work for the Future, Professor Lynda Gratton of the London Business School describes the share of the future workforce where roles are more specialised and automation increasingly takes over less complex jobs.

An important aspect Professor Gratton also flags is the aging population which in a rapidly changing economy will require frequent retraining.

From a technology perspective Professor Hugh Bradlow, the Chief Scientist of Telstra, suggests the workforce will be more mobile and employed in fields less amenable to computerisation involving skills like social intelligence, creative talents and social intelligence.

Those without those skills are deeply at risk with Bradlow being the first in the report to cite the likelihood that two fifths of the workforce are at risk of losing their jobs.

Bradlow concludes his analysis with the observation that if we work to satisfy our basic needs then machines looking after these requirements free up the workforce to address higher intellectual pursuits.

Rethinking management

Belinda Tee and Jessica Xu, both of IBM, agree with Bradlow that technologies like IBM Watson will help skilled workers like doctors and teachers deliver their services more efficiently.

Xu and Tee suggest change in the workforce will need to start at the top with managers needing to enhance collaboration within the organisations and build diverse teams working on open data.

A two speed economy

How the effects are distributed across the workforce is probably one of the most important aspects of this report with a team from the soon to be abolished National ICT Australia mapping the regions that will be most affected by automation.

The news for many of the country’s regions is not good with the survey finding workers in most areas have more than a fifty percent chance of losing their jobs to automation.

NICTA’s bad news for the regions ties into a recent PwC report that found Australia’s economic power has been increasingly concentrated in the nation’s capital cities.

A mixed future

In many respects the CEDA report is disappointing, while it flags many of the issues facing today’s workforce and the forces shaping it, the survey doesn’t identify the industries and occupations likely to benefit.

Despite not stating the growth sectors, the report’s overall view of the future workplace is optimistic as Telstra’s Hugh Bradlow says: “The change could result in a new generation free of poverty and the burden of labor, thereby unleashing the next wave of human innovation and creativity in directions we can never imagine.”

This may be the case but the to achieve that will require, as the report later suggests, a new social compact.

It’s building that new social compact which could be the greatest task ahead of us.

May 272015
 
how business evolves as objectives and markets change

Only one in four Australian businesses are prepared for change says a report released today by telco Optus.

The Future of Business report is based upon interviews with over 500 business leaders across twelve industries and exposes a disconnect between managers’ beliefs of how ready their businesses are to confront change and the reality.

Over four hundred of the respondents felt ‘confident or highly confident’ in their organisation’s readiness for change while the survey found only 23% of these organisations are actually ‘highly ready’.

Organisations that appeared to be highly ready tended to be outward focused with almost all of them citing the desire to meet customer needs as the top trigger for transformation while less change ready businesses are primarily driven to change in order to reduce costs.

“Change ready businesses are not only prepared for, but also anticipate and predict change. Disruption is happening everywhere and businesses of every size and in every industry need to be prepared to deal with rapid technological change and shifting consumer expectations,” says John Paitaridis, Optus Business’ Managing Director.

While the Optus survey doesn’t produce any great surprises it does emphasise how the dynamics of change work, organisations that are outward focused are more likely to identify and understand change than those looking inwards.

Listening to the marketplace and society almost always beats those counting paperclips.

May 022015
 
computer_lathe

Yesterday we looked at the PwC report on the value of science and engineering education to the economy.

The survey wasn’t good news for the workforce with the survey predicting over two in five workers’ jobs were at risk as digital technologies changed industry.

Notable in the list were the industries PwC believed to be safe over the next twenty years; largely being the medical, health and ‘people’ businesses like public relations.

jobs-least-at-risk-from-tech-change

While the industries themselves might be safe, specific jobs in those sectors may not be so with roles ranging from hospital porters being replaced by robots to surgeons carrying out remote operations.

Looking at the list of relatively unaffected industries, it’s hard not to see how digital technologies aren’t going to disrupt those occupations.

Redefining public relations

PR for instance is undergoing a radical change as the media industry is being totally disrupted requiring today’s public relations professionals to have a very different set of skills to those of twenty years ago.

Those skills include a much more adept use of technology itself and having to deal with a faster, more fragmented industry.

Public relations professionals brought up in the days of boozy lunches and far off deadlines struggle in a time of bloggers, social media and data journalism.

Evolving medicine

Similarly medical practitioners, the top position on the list, have seen their jobs dramatically transformed over the past twenty years by computers and those changes are far from over as medical equipment gets smarter, personal fitness devices become pervasive and the amount of data being collected on patients grows.

Across the medical industry the roles of almost every occupation is being redefined as technology changes the tools they have, along with the nature of ailments their patients present with.

Big Data and analytics

Some professions will grow but automation in those fields will grow exponentially faster, a good example being the fifth role on the list – database administrators and ICT security professionals.

Ensuring the reliability and security of servers and networks is going to become even more essential as the economy increasingly depends upon these systems however security and IT professionals are going to rely on algorithms and Big Data to manage the massive task they have – these are the opportunities for companies like Splunk and Microsoft Dynamics.

In all of these comparatively safe industries the jobs of tomorrow are going to need different skill sets to what they require today.

For workers in these ‘safe industries’ this means further education, training and reskilling to stay employed. Just being employed in a sector that’s expected to stay static or grow isn’t enough to keep your job.

Employers in these ‘safe industries’ also face a challenge in making sure their staff have the right skill sets to use the new technologies.

The airline analogy

If you were running an airline in 1965 it would be cold comfort to look at the explosive growth ahead for the industry in the jet airline era when all your staff are trained to keep propellor aircraft in the air.

So when we talk about digital disruption, it’s not just about industries being shut down and jobs being lost but about radically changing occupations.

It would be a brave person to assume that just because their industry is safe, their own job or business is secure.

Apr 232015
 
Salesforce-no-software-cloud-services

In Technology Spectator today I have a piece on cloud services and how the promise of high reliability threatens the IT manager and Chief Information Officer.

This shift is the same change that’s affected the IT support industry, as technology becomes more standardised and a commodity the need for specialist support and management becomes unnecessary.

In many respects this is similar to a hundred years ago where most factories had their own power plants providing electricity, steam or bel power to drive the machinery.

As mains power became common and reliable, businesses no longer needed specialist staff to ensure the power flowed.

While much of today’s commentary focuses on the CIO role evolving, it may well be the position is redundant.

Apr 212015
 
lenovo-tower-server-thinkserver-td350-front-1

One of the key factors in bringing the Personal Computer era of business to a close was the end of the upgrade cycle where users tended to buy new systems every three to five years.

For companies like Dell, Acer, IBM and Microsoft this cycle was an important and reliable income stream.

In the early 2000s though it stopped as customers decided that with most new innovations coming onto their computers through web browsers they didn’t need to buy new systems.

For the PC industry, particularly Microsoft, this presented a huge threat to their business models and all of them have been trying to find ways to refocus their businesses.

The ModernBiz Technology Make-Over

Late last year I was asked by Microsoft Australia to participate in their ModernBiz Technology Make-Over where a small business running Windows XP and Server 2003 was given a free tech upgrade to the latest equipment.

This was interesting as it was an opportunity to see how Microsoft and the market are adapting to a very changed industry.

As well I still carry the many scars – most psychological but some physical – from my years of running PC Rescue where upgrading companies’ old technology was a core part of the business.

Doing a tough job

The fallacy many managers and inexperienced companies fall for is that migration customers from old equipment to new systems is a simple matter of copying a few files. It is never that simple.

Upgrading company computers a tough field as every business is unique and in workplace where the technology has been in use for over a decade the learning curve onto new software is insanely steep for staff and management alike.

So watching the process from a relatively safe distance where I wasn’t worrying about losing customers’ data or trying to complete a complex task within a short deadline was quite attractive. Basically I wanted to see the other guys sweat.

Another attraction in participating was to see how Microsoft are managing the transition from supplying business servers to provisioning cloud services and how customers are managing that change in product offerings.

Dealing with a shifting market

For both Microsoft and their customers the shift from one off hardware and license purchases to cloud based monthly subscriptions is a major change in mindset, so seeing how small business users adapt to online services will be interesting.

Overall the technology makeover promises to be an interesting exercise on how the small business computer industry is changing.

For his participation in the Modern Biz Technology Makeover program, Microsoft gave Paul a Lenovo laptop which he hasn’t yet used.