A Bottoms Up Approach to Digital Transformation

Every organization today has strategies in place for managing toward DX. They differ and are implemented w/ varying intensity, but any business leader at the helm of their organization’s digital transformation must consider two core metrics for any hope of achieving their end goal:

  • Productivity of the assets: how do leaders raise the return on the organization’s assets—the purchased tools and solutions in use across the company? And,
  • Productivity of the people: how do leaders drive bigger revenues through the contributions of individual employees?

By focusing on these metrics, leaders are honing in on the foundation of their organization, taking a bottoms-up approach to its digital transformation. This is a very real, effective strategy for organizations looking to make measurable progress on their DX journeys.
If this bottoms-up approach resonates, take a hard look at the Nitro Productivity Suite. Not only does this solution drive bottoms-up DX by tackling the paper problem—enabling every user across the organization to stop printing with PDF productivity tools and unlimited eSignatures—its Analytics platform provides rich insights into printing activity, feature usage, and user adoption, so you can take stock of the current situation, establish a plan of action to drive certain digital behaviors, and actually measure progress toward end goals. In essence, it enables you to optimize both the productivity of the people, and the productivity of the assets.

Agile DevOps: A Path to the Common Ground of Productivity

Agility has become the buzz word around the enterprise. whether it is agility around storage, networking, cloud operations, or most any other IT service is not really the point here, it all comes down to agility as an ideology.
Take for example the burgeoning data analytics market, which is driven by big data and business intelligence, where implementing agile ideologies could be the secret to success. After all, an agile business needs to be able to react to trends and discoveries to remain competitive, and waiting on analytics does not bode well for those looking to make intelligent decisions as quickly as possible.
In other words, best of breed analytics solutions must bridge the gap between data science and production to unify development and deployment into an agile methodology. With that in mind, Florian Douetteau, CEO of Dataiku, has put together an interesting guidebook that discusses how to achieve that level of synergy to build a data project that embodies the ideologies of agility.
Douetteau has identified the key strategies that illustrate how to bring agility to a data science project, those strategies include adopting:
–              Consistent Packaging and Release
–              Continuous Retraining of Models
–              Multivariate Optimization
–              Functional Monitoring
–              Roll-Back Strategy
–              IT Environment Consistency
–              Failover Strategies
–              Auditability and Version Control
–              Performance and Scalability
Ultimately, the goal here is to bring agility to the data team, where a data science team and IT production can work hand in hand to deliver results in an agile fashion.
In an Interview with GigaOM, Douetteau offered additional advice, he said “One of the most valuable tips I can offer is that IT should provide a common platform, which gives users across the different groups access to the tools and technologies they are familiar with. Ideally, visual drag and drop tools for should be provided for less technical team members, while the ability to code, should be provided for advanced members. What’s more, monitoring, security options and role based administration tools should be made available to those responsible of deployments.”
Nonetheless, previous attempts to achieve the goal of agile decision making has been an almost impossible task, thanks to the silos surrounding data science development and the deployment of operational applications that can illustrate results.
Douetteau says “the biggest challenge of most data science projects is getting everyone on the same page in terms of business goals, technical requirements, project challenges, and responsibilities. More often than not, there is a disconnect between the worlds of development and production. Some teams may choose to re-code everything in an entirely different language while others may make changes to core elements, such as testing procedures, backup plans, and programming languages.”
It is that isolationism that prevents many data science projects from becoming an overall success, and worse yet, lead to incorrect conclusions and assumptions. Much of the blame can be placed upon the waterfall development ideologies of the past, which have hampered the adoption of agility in the area of data sciences.
Douetteau adds “preventing failures takes a manager who is willing to act as tech stack and programming language dictator, who will force the team into a fixed technology for a solution. That manager should also ensure that team members adopt a big picture approach, where they are able to help each other complete tasks outside of their comfort zone. Individual silos of knowledge will hinder a team’s effectiveness, and collaboration is the key to success.”
For enterprises to truly become agile, they must eschew those waterfall development processes and switch to agile methods across the board. However, data science projects seem to be the most opportune place to start in today’s on demand, instant results world.
Douetteau adds “Providing a platform that caters to all members of the team promotes collaboration and communication, two elements that are essential to the success of any devops/data analysis project that involve multiple departments.”
What’s more, the lessons learned on data science projects can be readily applied to other areas of IT and business operations, making agile an achievable goal, as long as you know where to start.
Douetteau says “Finding a common ground between your data team and IT department will undoubtedly ease the process of creating a data product for your organization.  If all of your teams are aligned from the start of a project, each department knows their role and what technologies they are familiar with and specialize in to accomplish the task. Data scientists can build a solution and the IT department can deploy it.   Once a best practices procedure is established it can be reproduced and your organization can more quickly and effectively make use of new predictive data opportunities… making your organization truly agile”

Embedded Experiences Are Coming to the Browser

One of the most interesting and valuable developments in enterprise social software (ESS) over the last few years has been the introduction of embedded experiences. Simply put, these are event-driven notifications, usually from other enterprise applications and systems, that surface within the activity stream of an ESS application. Embedded experiences go beyond merely notifying of something important; they also allow one or more actions to be taken to move a business process to the next step.
chatter notification vacation approval
Embedded experiences are great, but they have been written in proprietary code tied to a specific ESS vendor’s offering. It has not been possible to reuse actionable notifications across vendors’ solutions.
Google has announced a new feature in the latest beta version of its Chrome browser that will provide an open standard alternative for the delivery of extended experiences. Chrome 48 Beta enables developers to quickly create notifications with buttons that let users complete tasks. Those notification can be pushed from browser-based applications and webpages, as well as from Chrome OS applications and extensions to the Chrome browser.
Google and Mozilla employees have contributed to the development of the fledgling Notifications API standard under the auspices of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) community. This specification is what has been implemented in Google’s Chrome 48 Beta.
A Notification Generator built to define HTML-based embedded experiences has been created by Peter Beverloo. The generator shows how easy it is to define an embedded experience that can appear in any HTML5-compliant web browser.

Notification GeneratorSource: http://tests.peter.sh/notification-generator/#actions=1;;requireInteraction=true

As previously noted, embedded experiences have been proprietary to individual vendor’s applications and platforms. Google’s beta implementation of the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification is a first important step toward embedded experiences that will work across operating systems and applications. When the feature is properly vetted and becomes part of the stable release of Chrome (and, we assume, Mozilla’s Firefox browser), open, actionable notifications will be reality.
This is important because it will make the development and use of embedded experiences far more practical and widespread. Enterprise software vendors who choose to implement the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification will empower their customers to more easily create interoperability with other vendors’ browser-based tools. Actionable data embedded in notifications will be able to be passed between systems, business process execution will be accelerated, and personal productivity will be increased.
This news further intensifies the browser-based versus operating system-dependent application debate, especially with regards to mobile computing. The current preference for native applications on mobile devices will be challenge to the uptake of the Notifications API specification, given its dependence on the Web browser. Development of more of these types of Web standards is precisely what is needed to swing the pendulum back toward browser-based applications.

Striking a balance between security and productivity — an impossible dream?

Security and personal productivity do not make comfortable bedfellows. To understand why goes to the roots of what business is all about.
Business can be measured in two ways: effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness refers to doing the right things, for example creating the right products and services, or closing the necessary number of sales.
Efficiency means doing things right, that is, achieving results without unnecessary overheads. In personal terms this equates to productivity — or, simply put, how much time is spent in a day achieving results, versus doing things with no apparent business value?
Security often appears the enemy of such personal productivity, creating what can seem to be unnecessary barriers to getting the job done. And sometimes, it looks like business effectiveness itself has been sacrificed on the altar of over-bearing security.
I remember one organization I worked for, back in the day, that banned the use of floppy disks for file transfers. The rationale made sense from a security perspective — such transfers were a major contributor to the transmission of computer viruses. But for an administrative department whose business relied on file transfers, it meant that productivity took a major hit.
Things are so much more complicated these days, of course. Via the Internet, every computer is connected to every other; we have phones that can store large enough volumes of data to run entire companies.
And meanwhile, in infrastructure terms we see fragmentation at all levels. While the buzzword might be convergence, in reality this has led to a nightmare of integration work. We have created for ourselves a leaky bucket.
The security risks of such a complex environment are genuine and need to be addressed. But does this mean that we are doomed to becoming increasingly unproductive? Or is there an alternative answer which enables both security and productivity to be achieved?
There is an answer, but not necessarily where people might first look. This is not about striking some kind of arbitrary balance between making things secure and allowing people to be productive.
Rather, this is about being clear on what you want to secure. Technology, in all its complex and far-reaching glory, is a distraction from the main event — the information that it creates, processes and communicates.
Information is an organization’s most important asset, it has been said. But not all information is created equal. Some is business critical; some incorporates intellectual property; some is subject to compliance criteria.
Understanding what information you need, and why it matters, does not have to be an onerous task. While organizations may struggle to get on top of all of their ‘information assets’ they can nonetheless identify a core of information that is of particular importance to the business.
Such understanding goes a long way to creating a suitable response, as it enables the right trade-offs to be made. A clear example is in healthcare, where patient information absolutely should be subject to far more stringent criteria than, say, the menu in the staff canteen.
In security architecture speak, this is called ‘separation of concerns’. In layman’s terms, this means providing access mechanisms, policies and roles appropriate to the information.
It may be, for example, that customer information can only be accessed on personal mobile devices via a locked-down app. Or that certain systems can only be accessed via a virtual private network (VPN), accessible only to certain people.
The bottom line is that we cannot expect everything to be accessible everywhere, nor that everything can be locked down to the same level of security. Taking such a stance can only end in failure.
By focusing on information first we can identify what cannot be compromised, before considering where compromises can be made. The old adage “balance in all things” should only be applied once the organization’s confidential assets have been understood.

Office 2016 is Microsoft’s Post-Windows Breakthrough

Office 2016 has been reviewed in great detail by many market watchers, including Microsoft itself. But the release represents something much more important than the specifics of how Delve and Cortana work, the differences between Tell Me on Clippy, or even the focus on collaboration — ‘taking the work out of working together’. Office 2016 is a declaration of Microsoft moving past the Windows era of computing, and staking its claim as a leader in the cross-platform productivity world we now inhabit.
Office 2016 is now available not just on various Windows versions, but on Mac, iOS, and Android. This is the new Microsoft, a company that is committed to providing a revamped notion of productivity to where people are getting things done, which is increasingly on today’s most popular mobile platforms, not on the desktop machines of five or ten years ago.
Instead of digging into the features app-by-app, it’s more useful to consider the forces that Microsoft is channeling in the social architecture of Office 2016. As I said, it’s geared to a mobile world. But in a mobile world, the shape and tempo of teamwork has shifted in profound ways. Work is increasingly connected and improvisational, relying more on people working in parallel — coworking in real-time — so Microsoft has invested heavily in coediting, coauthoring, and coordinating. This is the aspect of Office 2016 that most directly catches up to Google Drive, and which threatens to outdo it. Microsoft has had coauthoring in Office native apps since 2013, but this is the first roll-out in web apps, where more work is getting done these days.
But Office 2016 is not just playing catch-up with the sharing model of Google Drive. I think one of the most important additions — and one that is getting lesser attention from reviewers — is the new task management capability, Planner.
I have suggested for quite a long time that task management is a foundational aspect of work, and so any ‘productivity suite’ should have that as a core aspect. The company has offered Microsoft Project for decades, and while is a great project management tool, it’s not organized to serve as a coordinative task management solution, but rather as a planning tool.
I have not had a chance to use Planner for any length of time — I’ve only had a few demos — so a detailed analysis of how it works in the context of other Office capabilities will have to wait. But with its introduction, Microsoft is taking a step forward toward different set of premises regarding the way that teams get work done, and the tools they need to do so.
I don’t want to reduce such a major release of functionality to one element, but to me much of what we are seeing in Office 2016 is the extension of things that we’ve seen before, at least in part. Planner is an independent advance, and one that shift the discussion about productivity away from the world of documents — in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — and squarely into the coordination of work.

The Return of Middle Managers

“That experiment broke. I just had to admit it.” — Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse Island, on his attempt to run the company without managers

There is currently a widely-held view among organizational design experts and pundits that managers, particularly middle managers, are a harmful artifact of hierarchically-structured, command-and-control organizations. Conventional wisdom holds that middle managers, and their responsibilities and stereotypical behaviors, are outdated and severely constrict the speed at which a business can operate. Flat, democratic organizations made up of loose, recombinant relationships have gained favor in the org design world today because they enable agility and efficiency.
There’s just one problem with that view – it’s not entirely accurate. It represent an ideal that may be right for some organizations, but very wrong for many others.
Carson and Treehouse Island’s failed experiment was one of the examples given in a recent Wall Street Journal article (behind paywall) titled “Radical Idea at the Office: Middle Managers”. The common thread between the companies mentioned in the article was that the elimination of bosses had the opposite effect of what had been envisioned. Productivity decreased because workers weren’t sure of their responsibilities and couldn’t forge consensus-based decisions needed to move forward. Innovation also waned, because new ideas went nowhere without a management-level individual to champion and fund them. Employee morale even took a hit, because no one took over the former middle management’s role of providing encouragement and motivation when they were needed.
Research of over 100 organizations conducted by an INSEAD professor led to this conclusion, cited in the WSJ piece:

“Employees want people of authority to reassure them, to give them direction. It’s human nature.”

Enabling Technologies that Don’t

Another problem experienced by many of the organizations mentioned in the WSJ article was that technologies meant to enable employees to work productively in a manager-less workplace failed to do so. Enterprise chat systems were specifically fingered as a culprit, for a variety of reasons.
At Treehouse Island, which had never used email, decision-making was severely compromised by employees opining on chat threads when they had no expertise on the given subject. This led to “endless discussions”. The chat technology drove conversations, but ideas rarely made it past discussion to a more formal plan. Work tasks informally noted and assigned without accountability in the chat application mostly got lost in the shuffle and weren’t completed. Treehouse Island eventually turned to other communications channels and even acknowledged that email has valid uses.

Worker Education and Training, Not Managers, Are the Problem

While I agree with the assessment that human nature is a barrier to effective manager-less workplaces, I also think that our base impulses can be minimized or completely overcome by alternative, learned attitudes and behaviors. Society and institutions in the United States have programmed multiple generations to submit to authority, seeking and accepting its orders and guidance. Our educational system has largely been designed to to produce ‘loyal and reliable’ workers who can thrive in a narrowly-defined role under the direction of a superior. Putting individuals who have been educated this way into situations where they must think for themselves and work with others to get things done is like throwing a fish out of water.
As for enterprise chat technology, it has seen documented success when deployed and used to help small teams coordinate their work. However, most of those teams working in chat channels either have a single, designated manager with the authority to make things happen, or they are able call upon a small number of individuals who can and will assume unofficial, situational leadership roles when needed. Absent people to act with authority, chat-enabled groups become mired in inaction, as document in the WSJ article. As I put it in my recent Gigaom Research post on enterprise real-time messaging,

The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc. Well-designed technology can make it easier and more pleasant for people to communicate, but it does very little to influence, much less actually change, their behaviors.”

We will see more experiments with Holocracy and other forms of organization that eliminate layers of management and depend on individuals to be responsible for planning, coordinating and conducting their own work activities. Some will succeed; most will fail. We can (and should!) create and implement new technologies that, at least in theory, support the democratization of work. However, until systemic changes are made in the way people are educated and trained to function in society and at work, companies without managers will remain a vision, not a common reality.

Microsoft is right: we need new ways to work, but is Gigjam the answer?

Microsoft has demoed a new technology, called Gigjam, an effort to change the way we think about getting work done in an increasingly mobile and connected world. At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft demoed the new technology, which is a real departure from the Windows-era notion of productivity, and represents a post-Office approach based on modern computing protocols and moving away from file-centric sharing of information.
As Darryl Rubin (technical lead on the project), Vijay Mital (Microsoft’s general manager of ambient computing and robotics), and the Ambient Computing Team said on their blog,

GigJam is designed for the emerging workforce that is more connected, more available and more social than ever before. With GigJam, a business can expect a dramatic transformation of every process where humans have the potential to exercise discretion and work with others, colleagues as well as customers.

Gigjam is a suite of capabilities that allow users to summon information buried in apps — email, calendar, enterprise app databases — format that information as cards, then annotate the cards, and share them with others. The annotation also includes redacting elements of the cards, adding audio, and drawing on them. And the initial interaction can be managed through Cortana voice assistant. Then these cards are sharable through capabilities that seem like a new take on screen sharing, with integrated voice. You really need to watch the video from the blog post to get a sense of the style of interaction. Words fail, trust me.

This is a very different vision of collaboration than we might expect from the folks who are pushing Office 365, Sharepoint, and Yammer, but Microsoft is now willing to experiment, and to even compete internally.
We’ll have to see if Gigjam is the answer to finding a new way to work, but it’s a clean break out of the world that spins on siloed data buried in enterprise repositories, Word docs as file attachments, or even Web 2.0 era social collaboration tools.
Microsoft said Gigjam will be released later in the year, and no pricing is yet available.

Microsoft acquires Wunderlist

I always believed that a productivity toolset requires a task management capability, and Microsoft has just stepped up to the bar on that, acquiring 6Winderkinder, the company behind Wunderlist.
I haven’t looked at Wunderlist since last August (see New releases from Asana, Wunderlist, and Timeful) so I better take a look, and ping them to see what the plans are for integration with other Microsoft tools and platforms, like an integration with Office 365, for example.
(reposted from Microsoft acquires Wunderlist on stoweboyd.com)

Transparency, immediacy and productivity: How IoT will rock your biz

The internet of things when applied to enterprises will take a lot of people out of business, will reduce the profitability of a lot of businesses and it will move massive gains to other businesses, according to Charlie Peters, senior executive vice president at Emerson, the process manufacturing firm. Peters came on Gigaom’s Internet of Things podcast this week (his remarks begin at the 26-minute mark) to share his thoughts on what the shift to a constant flow of information from a variety of places will mean for enterprises, and he didn’t mince words.

“It will be extremely disruptive,” he said. However, he saw that many of those massive gains will be made by startups because they will have the ability to move quickly. It’s a disadvantage to be a current participant because it precludes you from taking certain steps and slows you down when it comes to taking advantage of some of the changes that IoT can offer, he said.

He explained that the internet of things will bring three changes to the business: transparency, immediacy and productivity. Transparency lets customers and people inside the company get more information about what’s happening inside the business, be it about pricing or the status of a machine, while immediacy refers to the time element. That sensor data can flow to a plant operator in real time allowing them to take action the moment something slows down or even before it goes wrong. As for productivity, it’s not hard to see where this could increase productivity by helping automate decisions and let people take the information they are getting in real time and make decisions faster.

The challenge for any business in facing these shifts will be recognizing how to ride these changes while understanding how to maintain profitability. It’s easy to see how too much transparency can turn something into a commodity or how pushing productivity eliminates jobs, that in turn may cause social issues. Peters has this to offer business leaders worried about how to find their way to massive gains as opposed to being shut down during this next wave of innovation.

“Trod carefully and slowly because there’s a lot of land mines as you go through these things,” Peters said. “So you can kind of mess up and let your information which is maybe the key to the whole application out for free and kind of destroy the opportunity, so that’s the trod carefully. The trod slowly is there’s a lot of resistance, either from the other companies you have to partner with or for reluctant end users , where there’s a lot of inertia and until you get some pretty high levels of adoption some of these new business models don’t really work. And that’s where you have to expect to go slowly.”

For more of Peters’ thoughts — and he has a lot of good ones — listen to the rest of the podcast.

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Bradley Horowitz is now running 2/3 of the former Google+

As reported last week, Hangouts, Photos, and Google+ are going to be considered as three independent product lines at Google, according to Sundar Pichai, product czar (see Sundar Pichai on the direction — or directions — of Google+). He said in an interview with Miguel Helft,

I think increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications [Hangouts], photos and the Google+ stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area.

It has been confirmed that David Besbris, who has led Google+ (including Hangouts and Photos) has stepped down from that role, and that Bradley Horowitz, a VP of Product (formerly of Yahoo’s Brick yard initiative), is picking up the newly reimagined Google+. Well, sort of.

In a post that does not mention Hangouts — which presumably is now being managed as an independent line — Horowitz also avoids using the Google+ name, and instead refers to Photos and Streams:

Just wanted to confirm that the rumors are true — I’m excited to be running Google’s Photos and Streams products! It’s important to me that these changes are properly understood to be positive improvements to both our products and how they reach users.

So it appears that Google+ has been cut into three parts, with Streams being the streaming part, Photos being the photos part, and Hangouts spun out on its own.

I am still hoping that Google take a version of Streams and integrate with Google Drive and Docs, where it would be more useful, rather than endlessly fighting an endless war against Facebook and Twitter.

So, the question is, when will they retire the Google+ brand? Horowitz has the product insight — I believe — to thread Streams into Google’s strong position in productivity with Docs and Drive. This would also follow the push that Microsoft has recently made with Groups in Office 365: a contextual conversation platform right where docs and created and shared.

Note that Google Glass is going through a similar retrenchment: failed product handed to a solid product person — Tony Fadell of iPod and Nest fame — who will reconfabulate the product and relaunch (see Google Glass isn’t dead, it’s going to be Nestified), but in the case of Google+, it isn’t going to be yanked, but trifurcated.

In other Google news last week, the company unveiled plans for a futuristic redesign of it’s Mountain View campus (see Google reveals plans for futuristic cityscape campus, and new robot tech to make it configurable), and announced the Android for Work initiative is now open for business (see Google announces Android for Work ready to go).