Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

On the importance of disintermediating real, 2-way communications in business organizations 7

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 23, 2018

This is my 7th installment to a brief series on coordinating information sharing and communications needs, and information access filtering and gate keeping requirements (see Social Networking and Business 2, postings 275 and loosely following for Parts 1-6.)

I focused in Part 6 of this, on the issues of temporary workers and outside consultants, some of whom in fact work for a same employer long-term and even for many years, but who remain outsiders and only “transiently” there. And I raised the troubling specter of how unions can and at times do in effect throw away entire categories of their dues paying and loyal memberships as bargaining chips in their labor negotiations. One of the defining points of similarity that I focused on for these seemingly very different contexts and stakeholder groups, with both creating divisions between outsiders and insiders, is in how seemingly similar people, at least by cursory examination of what they do at a business and how long they perform that work there, can be treated very differently and systematically so.

And I of course, couched this in terms of communications and in terms of inclusion in, or exclusion from crucial conversations that would have even profoundly significant impact on individual stakeholders involved, or even on entire categories of them. Then at the end of Part 6 I stated that I would continue that narrative here, where I will at least begin to more fully tie it and its set of issues to the questions and issues of information access and communications and their challenges. My goal there is to focus on emerging patterns of employment and employability as are becoming more and more the norm, and for more and more workers in this still actively emerging 21st century. And as called for in the title to this series, I will also discuss all of that in terms of communications organization and layers of accessibility, and communications disintermediation as it can simplify them.

I begin all of this by addressing the issue of how traditional in-house employment with full time employee benefits such as health insurance coverage and accruable pension benefits, is giving way to new and less employee-supportive alternatives. The basic playing field is changing there and as a general phenomenon that reaches across multiple industries and business types. And any discussion of the issues implied in the title to this series, has to account for that fundamental shift and its consequences.

I have written about the emerging gig economy for a number of years now, and cite in that context and as a source of background information on this topic, my series: Developing a Career Out of Gigs and Short-Term Work (as can be found at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 as postings 368-375.) When I wrote in Part 6 of a company such as Fed-Ex bringing in large numbers of temporary help during their peak delivery seasons, and particularly around the yearend holidays, I did so in a context of their having and retaining a large in-house full time employee workforce that they just seasonally expand to meet greater, though time-limited labor demands. When I wrote in Part 6 of Microsoft’s orange and blue name tagged staffs, with those wearing orange always seen as and treated as outsiders and temporary help and no matter how long they worked there at the same job, I was writing of an early iteration of the phenomenon that I write of here, where a business can as a matter of policy keep even most all of their entire workforce and all of their non-managerial staff as outsiders with little if any job security there and with no employee benefits offered beyond what might be minimally required by law.

Let’s consider the implications of that approach if it is taken to the extreme and as the general pattern of employment and employability,

• With in-house and benefits-receiving status reserved for more senior and executive management and for special case exceptions lower down on the table of organization,
• And not the other way around as has been the more common pattern historically, where the majority of all employees would work in-house and with a smaller minority working part time or as temps or consultants for most businesses.

And this brings me directly to the core issues of this series as a whole, that I am assembling it to address. I am writing here of people who would work within businesses and even long-term with single employers. And I ended Part 6 of this series with that in mind and both as a matter of addressing already current hiring and employment practices and what is all too likely to come for that. And I did so by posing a question that I will at least begin to address here:

• How can you systematically give these employees and members of your actual working team, more of a direct voice there as individuals and as a group, and how can you better manage the communications flows in place so as to include them?

I initially offered a somewhat simplified version of this question as a thought piece and with a goal of provoking further reflection on the issues and challenges that I raise here. Now my goal is to use it as a piece to a framework for at discussing how those issues and challenges might be better addressed. And in this, I offer with essentially absolute conviction that simply drifting into an overall workplace context where gig work becomes the new norm, absent any real organized effort to address the anomie and the sense of disconnection from workplaces as social systems that that would bring, will only lead to societal problems and for all – all businesses caught up in this and all employees there: those few who are in-house employees of whatever level in their business organizations too.

• When a perhaps large contingent of a business’ workforce sees itself, and legitimately so as outsiders who are not valued and who cannot ever achieve the in-house benefits that a “regular” employee would receive and by default, they are not going to think of themselves as having a stake in the business, and they will be less inclined to enter into meaningful conversations on how to make that enterprise run more smoothly from not having a stake in that.
• They are not likely even going to face real opportunity to enter into those conversations in the first place; current temporary workers rarely are even considered there and that is not likely to change with this type of workplace shift.
• This type of fundamental workplace disconnect can only be expected to maximize the business systems friction that everyone there will face and in both directions: from these “gig employees” and toward them. Remember, when people are spoken to but not listened too, this effectively degrades any capability to communicate effectively to them too, just as it does for any effort to listen to and even learn from them.

So I am writing here about more than just simplifying and disintermediating communications to be more inclusive. In a fundamental sense I am writing here about enabling those communications to meaningfully take place at all and even with statically limited friction-challenged information and insight sharing.

I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment where I will consider the issues raised here from a more game theory perspective. And after that I will offer at least preliminary possible approaches, or rather a rationale for developing them for better dealing with the challenges touched upon here. And I end this installment by offering a brief anticipatory note regarding some of the issues that I will raise there.

One of the recurring themes of this blog as a whole has been, and will remain the role and impact that social media and the interactive online experience can bring to a business and workplace context. I will also discuss that set of issues in this series’ context, simply noting here that just tossing these resources into this mix would not necessarily change or accomplish anything and certainly in any directed way; how these communications and information sharing capabilities are brought into this will mean everything here. And I will also raise the issues of power imbalances and of collective bargaining, and a reconsideration of unions and what they are and what they can become in this new type of context.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. And also see Social Networking and Business 2 and that directory’s Page 1 for related material.


Business planning from the back of a napkin to a formal and detailed presentation 21

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 21, 2018

This is my 21st posting to a series on tactical and strategic planning under real world constraints, and executing in the face of real world challenges that are caused by business systems friction and the systems turbulence that it creates (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 578 and loosely following for Parts 1-20.)

I initially offered a to-address list of topic points at the end of Part 19 that I have been addressing since then, so far focusing primarily on the first item of the list:

1. More systematically discuss how business operations would differ for businesses that follow one or the other of two distinctively different business models,
2. How the specific product offering decision-making processes that I have been making note of here would inform the business models pursued by both of these business types, and their overall strategies and operations and their views and understandings of change: linear and predictable and disruptively transitional in nature.
3. And I added that I would discuss how their market facing requirements and approaches as addressed here, would shape the dynamics of any agreement or disagreement among involved stakeholders as to where their business is now and where it should be going, and how.

And in the course of addressing Point 1 there, I have raised the issues of both differences between the two enterprises under consideration, and underlying similarities that would essentially necessarily occur for these two business types too, that would appear in their underlying strategies and in their basic underlying operations.

• One of these businesses is a retail store that has strategically gone through an expansion transition, going from having a single storefront that houses its entire range of product and service offerings, to having two specialized storefronts that collectively cover everything that their original store did – but in greater depth and with greater variety offered to their customers and with more showroom floor space and more effective use of that made possible.
• And the other is a high tech-oriented manufacturer that has to actively pursue the new and different and all of the time, if it is to remain effectively competitive in its industry and in its sector there. I add here that I offered this business scenario as both a familiar, real world one and as a business example in which the Red Queen’s race to go as fast as she can, simply to stay in place of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, is actualized in the real world (see this piece on the Red Queen hypothesis for a discussion of that.)

As part of my Point 1 discussion up to here, I have touched upon how these two businesses differ for their strategy and operations. But I have also at least repeatedly intimated that they have a lot in common too, that would of necessity underlying their particularities and their points of difference. I will begin the core discussion of this posting by completing my discussion of the areas of difference that would be expected in the strategies and operations of these businesses, and then turn to consider their underlying similarities.

And I begin addressing the differences in underlying strategy and operations that would be expected here with the fundamentals, and for both organizations as laid out in their business models. Effective strategy and operations for a business, are of necessity shaped by the basic business model and the basic intent of the business, and by the nature of the markets they would seek to bring value to. And optimizing their strategy and operations for this means more effectively developing the products and services that a business would bring to market, and optimizing their being brought to market, and as cost-effectively and profitably as possible, and with strategy and operations set to optimize their ability to create value for themselves as well as their customers, for what makes them unique.

Let me step back from that set of points for a second, to clarify that the basic principles that I write of here apply to not for profit and nonprofit organizations as much as they do for competitive for profit businesses. It is just that “profitability” as at least implied above, needs to be considered in a wider sense than just the accrual of positive financial returns that could be taken from the business by shareholders and owners for their own use. Market share, and for nonprofits as a special case, more effective effort at working towards achieving stated mission and vision goals constitute “profitability” there. But it is always important to think of not for profits and nonprofits as well, as businesses, and certainly when running them or even when simply working at them, and with as strongly held a goal of business efficiency and effectiveness there as would be found in any for profit enterprise.

That point of digression noted in order to clarify the scope of applicability of this narrative across basic business types, I add that:

• When you seek out the more business-specific aspects of a business in its strategy and operations, look for the strategic and operational processes and their resulting outcomes that specifically and directly support what makes that business distinctive as an efficient and competitive venture, and for what it offers to its markets and in how it does that.

I said in Part 20 that I would turn here to at least begin to consider underlying similarities for how these businesses, and businesses in general would shape and manage their underlying strategies and their operational execution of them. Yes, the details of their business models and the differences in what they would offer and their marketplace dynamics would dictate differences in strategy and operations. And I add here that they would lead to differences in corporate cultures too. But what of the similarities that would in effect bind them together as effective business enterprises per se?

• What strategic considerations and operational processes are directly involved in carrying out these organizations’ basic business cycles, and both step-by-step and for their overall review and evaluation processes, that would be expected to arise in both business types under consideration here, and in fact in essentially any business and even regardless of its for profit, not for profit or nonprofit status?

Let’s start addressing that with consideration of the life’s blood of any business organization: its cash flow and its capacity to develop and maintain reserves that would allow it flexibility in the face of shifting and even unexpected needs. And let’s begin that with the of-necessity, and usually legally mandated requirements for how the finances of a business would be tracked and recorded and reported, and both internally within the business and externally as for example when addressing tax liability issues. (Note here that these outside reporting requirements arise for nonprofits too, insofar as they have to be able to document that they formally qualify for nonprofit status in most countries and legal jurisdictions. Among other considerations of importance there, this means their verifying what percentage of their overall incoming revenue is directed towards fulfilling their mission and vision statements and their goals if they are to achieve and retain a tax exempt status on incoming revenue generated.)

The documenting and reporting sides to this are well know and I have already touched upon them a number of times in this blog, and at times in at least a measure of depth: generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) as variously formulated and enforced in different countries, but with the same basic goals regardless of those detail differences. Think of the more standardized (and ultimately of necessity so) aspects of a business’ overall strategy and operations, and particularly of its operations, as the area of a business’ supporting systems where a business explicitly conducts itself so as to be able to meet GAAP and other legally mandated requirements, and in fact and not just in what would be documented and reported. These are the parts of a business and its process systems where a business carries out the basic work needed to function according to accepted and expected standards and according to accepted and expectd benchmarks.

Aspects of business strategy and operations that help an organization to realize its specific business plan per se are usually more individualized, and particularly where they would explicitly help it to realize its points of uniqueness in what it can and does offer to its markets as a competitive enterprise and as effectively as possible. These more individualized aspects of a business rest upon a more standardized framework that would inform the enterprise as a stable business per se.

And with that, I turn to consider specific product offerings, and the heart of where businesses would seek to stand out as at least distinctive enough, if not unique, and certainly for their target markets, to be competitively successful. And I turn there, to Point 2 as repeated above. And to set the stage for that, I pose a point of terminology distinction, of a “what I do and not just what I say” type, where I raise a distinction between:

• A business’ formally and officially drafted, idealized business plan: the strategic and operational plan and all supporting material that would clarify it and its expected context, that is laid out in its formally prepared and agreed-to charter documents, starting with its business plan as a written document.
• And that business’ actually realized business plan which can be thought of as a (probably never formally drafted but nevertheless very real) structured and detailed outline of the actual strategic and tactical approaches and the actual operational execution that is carried out, day-to-day and on an ongoing basis.

In the real world, there are always going to be at least some points of discrepancy between these two understandings of what a business plan and its strategic and operational underpinnings actually are, and certainly at points where a business is facing change and a need for it, and where the official and expected has to be rethought and updated to meet new and emerging needs. When a business is slipping into trouble, those discrepancies can and do expand out to include operational processes and practices that should be stably consistent across the two, and certainly insofar as any more predictable flow business context change that is faced, is concerned (e.g. adjusting to and accommodating seasonal cycles, and capacity to adjust to fashion changes per se in what a market wants.)

I am going to cite and use this point of terminology distinction as more formally characterized here, in my discussion of Point 2 from the above list, at least starting that in my next series installment. Then after completing that line of discussion I will continue on to address Point 3. And in anticipation of discussion to come, I will explore the issues of both Points 2 and 3 in terms of business stability.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 24: keeping an effective innovative focus while approaching and going through significant business transitions 14

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 19, 2018

This is my 24th installment to a series that offers a general discussion of business transitions, where an organization exits one developmental stage or period of relative strategic and operational stability, to enter a fundamentally different next one (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 559 and loosely following for Parts 1-23.)

I have been discussing timing, and prepared-for timing of completion windows or at least accommodatable ones, in recent installments to this series (see in particular Part 22 and Part 23.) And in the course of discussing the issues and the questions of settling upon a mutually understood and agreed to set of timing parameters there, for knowing when a business can perform more effectively in how it carries out and coordinates its activities, I raised the specter of timing breakdowns there too. Then I left more direct consideration of those events themselves for here, and this installment.

More specifically, I said at the end of Part 23 that I would turn to the following, here:

• Discussion of breakdowns and their indicators as they arise in the types of work timing, planning and execution that are under consideration here.

Let me be explicitly clear here, and on both what I will discuss next and why. When timing, and the processes that would be carried out in specific timing windows all work out and smoothly and effectively so, subsequent focus always falls on what is to come next and with what has been successfully completed falling from attention or consideration. Businesses that are racing to more effectively compete and perform their next must-do work and then their next after that, do not in fact generally even have the extra time and attention span available for them to be able to do detailed ongoing reviews or analyses of what worked – and whether that performance success was arrived at entirely according to careful design and intent, or whether at least part of it was achieved more by chance. It is the breakdowns in this that stand out, and they form the basis for most meaningful business systems and processes development, and most genuine qualitative business advancement and improvement.

Yes, I have written of the need for ongoing performance reviews in this blog and I will continue to do so, but I also acknowledge that this can be an ideal only, unless it is prepared for and even built into the business as a part of its basic operational systems.

That perhaps-caveat noted, when we consider the issues of timing in complex systems, as I have addressed in the past two installments to this series, we are discussing how, and how effectively a business coordinates its activities, and both according to the priorities of the tasks to be carried out, and according to how and when the resources essential to them, can and do become available. So I focus here on when the wheels leave the road for all of this, and when timing coordination and schedule completion breakdowns arise.

Then after addressing this set of issues, I will consider working capital and cash flow, and reserves in this context, as well as goal planning and goal change and reprioritization. Think of this topic partitioning as my offering an at least somewhat more detailed discussion of what these timing challenge issues and events entail, and with that followed by an at least preliminary discussion of how they would cost-effectively be addressed, and in a manner that would be consistent with and supportive of a business and its business model, and its underlying strategy and operations. And I begin this overall line of discussion here, by focusing on these emerging and at-risk of emerging challenges themselves. And I begin that by discussing absolute and relative priorities, and the question of tasks to be completed themselves and of constituent work processes that would enter into that.

I begin this by discussing absolutes, and absolute deadlines in particular. And I begin that by citing a broadly sketched scenario as a working example, that I would suggest keeping in mind for all that at least immediately follows, to take this discussion out of the abstract:

• You own and run a small specialty manufacturing business that provides a select list of parts for larger manufacturers that would not find it cost-effective for themselves to develop and produce in-house, what you offer them. And you have a lot of competition for what you produce there, from other small specialty manufacturers that would be happy to find a foothold for expanding their sales reach into your markets.
• Something over 60% of what you produce is in fact needed by your corporate clients, going into their yearend holiday seasons as that is when those businesses that you sell to do the most of their selling, and carry out most of their production for the items that your products fit into. So you face fixed deadlines that align unswervingly with the calendar and in ways that do not allow for much due-date flexibility. Christmas arrives on December 25, and every single year and the businesses that you provide parts for have tightly choreographed and planned out work schedules for getting all of their products out of their doors. And they need your parts or similar by a fixed drop dead date if they are to use them in time in their own manufacturing, and get everything shipped on time to meet the needs and expectations of their customers and their markets.
• You might have a lot of flexibility as to your precise production and shipping timing for the remaining close to 40% of your business activity of the rest of the year. But in this peak business period, all schedules are absolute, and if you let down this one largest client business and just once and even just by a single day, you are likely going to see less business from them in the next year than you would have, because of that. And if you really miss their deadline and by several days you might not get any orders from them at all. (Think of this in terms of your business serving the needs of client businesses that pursue just-in-time manufacturing approaches here, with the lean parts inventories that entails, coupled with tight deadlines for completing their work as an underlying rationale for how this scenario can become quite realistic.)

My point here is that while a lot of business process and task work can and should be thought of as following relative schedules, and have to be thought of how for how schedules are coordinately developed to make more effective use of more widely needed resources, every business faces at least some fixed absolutes that they have to perform in terms of too.

Note that absolutes can arise from a great many possible directions here. For a publically traded company, this can mean for example, meeting deadlines before the end of business quarters, so as to avoid negative performance reviews from stock market analysts whose prognostications influence stock prices and the overall perceived value and strength of a business. This is just one of many possible second examples that I could cite here, some of which are business model-specific or entrance or exit strategy specific, but many of which are more generic and more widely applicable too. Here, to note the obvious, this second example is exit strategy specific, and one that would only arise if a business were to pursue an initial public offering (IPO) route to capital fundraising.

And with this narrative laid out as a setting for further discussion to come, let’s more deeply consider the wording of my to-address point as repeated above:

• Discussion of breakdowns and their indicators as they arise in the types of work timing, planning and execution that are under consideration here.

And let’s consider those breakdowns and their indicators themselves. And I begin that by noting that a task or a process that enters into fulfilling one can break down, if it does at all, for a wide range of reasons. But, and with my above two scenarios in mind here, even when that happens due to issues arising completely outside of the business under consideration itself, it can still arise at least to a significant degree as a consequence of scheduling and timing problems.

• Business-to-business collaborations, and larger networks of them as arise for example in complex supply chain systems, can make timing challenges a more likely cause of, or at least a more likely contributing factor in these breakdowns,
• And just-in-time manufacturing and related business approaches do too.
• And for my second working example here, stock market analysts apply timing pressures from the outside because they themselves face deadlines too: publication deadlines that would be benchmarked according to the news cycle, but even more so by the timing of the standard business reporting year.

I am going to continue this discussion on timing and scheduling-based breakdowns and on the stressors that lead to their erupting in a next series installment. And I will, in that context discuss breakdown indicators and warning signs too, and as both evidence for clearer and more complete planning, moving forward, and for more thorough review of how a current here-and-now was arrived at. (See my above comments regarding reviews and analysis of what at least overtly might have been successful process and task completion up to now.)

Then I will address the follow-up to-address issues that I cited for coverage towards the top of this posting. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

Meshing innovation, product development and production, marketing and sales as a virtuous cycle 10

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 17, 2018

This is my 10th installment to a series in which I reconsider cosmetic and innovative change as they impact upon and even fundamentally shape the product design and development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sales cycle, and from both the producer and consumer perspectives (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 342 and loosely following for Parts 1-9.)

I said at the end of Part 9 of this, that I would turn here to consider the issues of marketing and sales in the types of complex and multi-layered business-to-business contexts that I have been addressing here in this series. And I begin doing so by pointing out that I should have said “continue to consider” there, as I assembled that posting in large part around a point of distinction in which I parsed markets according to how businesses connect together in supply chain and other collaborative business-to-business systems. More specifically, I characterized markets as being direct or indirect, according to whether they represent the immediate direct markets of a business under consideration, or whether they are the markets of partner businesses that an enterprise works with and helps support through collaborative effort.

Let’s consider that from the perspective of the fundamentals; a business derives its competitive strength, and its overall viability as well as its profitability from how effectively it meets the needs of a marketplace and the consumers that comprise it. So ultimately, when a business benefits from the activities of the partner businesses that it collaboratively works with in supply chain and other settings, it does so because they perform in ways that enhance its ability to enter into productive transactions with its own direct customers and its markets, increasing its cost-effective ability to do business. Adding in indirect market support enhances that. So ultimately, that means that in a supply chain or related context, indirect market support can be as crucially important as direct market participation and support can be, and certainly when competition is fierce and even small incremental differences in cost-effective capability can make all of the difference.

I did not, at least entirely raise this point of distinction in Part 8 in order to address marketing per se. But I did in fact address at least the rationale behind it, or at least an understanding of the target that it would be directed at there. So what would I continue that line of discussion with here? My answer to that question is in fact fairly simple. I am not going to discuss specific marketing techniques or related details, but I will discuss marketing from a higher level perspective here for what it seeks to accomplish again. And I will begin that by parsing marketing per se in a second way:

• Consumer and end user-facing marketing, and
• Collaborative partnership-facing marketing.

First the obvious: when people speak and think about marketing per se, it is virtually always consumer and end user-facing marketing that they have in mind, and reaching out to buyers and potential buyers to convince them to purchase from their business and not from a competitor. That holds for efforts to secure and carry through on purchase transactions that are carefully considered from the purchasing consumer perspective, and for maximizing the business that they generate. That also holds for encouraging and securing as large a percentage of attainable impulse buy sales as possible too. And the first of the above two categories as laid out in my second parsing, is the face of marketing as a whole and to many. It is also incomplete, and particularly as supply chain systems and other collaborative partnerships bring meaningful competitive value to their member businesses, and as potential partner businesses would see value in joining and participating in the best possible, most effective-to-them business-to-business collaborations.

This makes a very different form of marketing important: marketing that would be directed towards securing entry into the most productive and beneficial supply chain and related systems: ones that hold the most promise for creating new and enhanced value for the businesses in them. And this marketing is directed towards achieving the best possible terms of agreement for those businesses that are accepted in, through contractual agreements with partner businesses there once they have joined.

• This is not just about becoming a participant there.
• It is about getting the best possible contractually defined terms of participation for the levels of business that would become possible through these systems,
• For the per-transaction costs and returns faced,
• And it is about the levels of exclusivity that would be agreed to by now-partner businesses, where a given partner business could be sure to capture at least some minimal percentage of their type of contributed business activity effort for all of that carried out within that collaboration system.

This is where it becomes necessary to consider the partner businesses in a supply chain per se, and two perhaps-extreme case categories that can and do arise among them in the continuum of business statuses and business-to-business relationships that participants might fit into when facing each other:

Anchor businesses, that dominate the supply chain and other systems that they enter into, and
Support businesses, that provide specialized services that other participants need there, but that they would not be able to sustain and carry out in-house on their own and still be sufficiently enough focused and effective in how they use their financial and other resources for them to remain fully competitive.

The more of a support business that an enterprise is in its supply chain and related business-to-business collaborations, and the more direct competition there is for taking such a role and certainly with really desired anchor business partners, the more actively they have to market themselves if they are to gain and keep the added sources of value that supply chain participation can bring with it.

That, at least holds for support businesses that an anchor business would be more inclined to single-source products or services from. A pressing need for such marketing can evaporate where an anchor business would in effect take on all comers, as is the case for businesses that in effect sell what they offer to any and all other businesses as their direct market.

Think in terms of businesses such as Apple, Inc that do outsource the production of a number of specialized components that go into their devices, and the bulk of their Apple branded information content offered through their systems too. They in effect become either the sole purchasing client, or at the very least a major such client for the support businesses that they agree to enter into contract with. So potential partner businesses that Apple would take on do actively have to market themselves, and they have to negotiate terms of agreement with Apple accordingly.

Now think in terms of businesses such as UPS that provide shipping and related logistics support services to any and all takers as a perhaps quintessential example of an anchor business (for its scale and reach) that support businesses would not have to market to, particularly. And this is an example of where the contractual agreements signed, for example in managing a more supportive business’ office-to-office internal shipping (within a geographically distributed client business), would be more standard and boilerplated than anything else.

I have been discussing business-to-business collaborative systems for the last several installments to this series now, and with a goal of setting up a conceptual framework that I can build from, in discussing how innovation and its development fits into larger business systems and their contexts. I am going turn to consider business innovation, and particularly in its business systems and practices in a next series installment, in this larger context. And in anticipation of discussion to come, I will do so at least in part, in terms of markets and marketplace dynamics.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation.

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 8

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on January 15, 2018

This is my eighth installment to a brief series on simplicity and complexity in business communications, and in carrying out and evaluating the results of business processes, tasks and projects (see Social Networking and Business 2), postings 257 and loosely following for Parts 1-7.)

I focused in Part 7 on Information Technology help desks, and on the rarer help desk long tail problems and on disruptively new and novel challenges that arise in the midst of the more standard and routine issues recurringly faced there. I focused there, in general terms, on the issues of identifying and understanding these special case problems for what they are. And I focused there on bringing the right people into the conversations that are needed for resolving them, and with mutual understanding among all involved in that, in the face of specialty-speak jargon and in the face of information access partitioning as arise in all functional areas and in all professional specialties. That usually means, to cite a specific requirement for achieving this: bringing the right combinations of people together and from both sides of the Help Desk, and into direct communications with each other, disintermediating these communications by eliminating unnecessary gatekeepers and middlemen from these processes, who would primarily just add to any information sharing friction that might arise.

Then I stated at the end of Part 7 that I would continue its discussion by delving in at least some more detail into the issues and challenges of more effectively resolving these and other rare (at least at first) event challenges. And in anticipation of that discussion to come, I added that this will mean my reconsidering the issues and opportunities of intranets and of how social networking and interactivity can facilitate better communications and problem resolution. And I begin address all of this with the fundamentals and build from there:

• Every help desk that I have ever heard of, let alone worked with, has always faced an array of problems to resolve that fit a Pareto principle pattern, and a strong form of that with on the order of 90% or more help requests fitting into a top ten or top dozen or so recurring problems list and the remaining percentage of such requests arriving as exceptions.
• Primary help desk support focuses on that recurring 90% fraction, and with standardized responses developed for both identifying and resolving all of them.
• Anything else arriving as a problem requiring help desk assistance is either one of a seemingly open ended array of individually much rarer long tail challenges that are at least in principle already at least known of,
• Or they are new and probably disruptively new types of problems that no one there, by definition, start out prepared to fully identify for their details, or resolve. These problems, I add can arise in older and more familiar technologies that are at least in principle already pretty well known, and as easily as they can from new technology that the business is just becoming familiar with. All it takes, for the former of these two possibilities to apply, is the introduction of a new way to use a technology already in place, that brings people to test out and use aspects of it that the business and its employees have never had to face before. Even genuine zero-day vulnerabilities can emerge into visibility that way and certainly for complex software applications and larger software systems.
• Resolving a problem that arrives at a help desk begins with understanding what it is, and with correctly identifying it. That is easy and straightforward for the roughly 90% of them that are both known and expected, and that are thoroughly prepared for.
• The more novel: the less known and expected, the more of a challenge it can be to distinguish between symptoms that an employee faces that arise from some underlying problem, and the actual underlying problem itself that would have to be addressed. And the more novel such a problem is, the less likely it is that the first help desk staffer who faces it will either be able to resolve this on their own, or that they will automatically know precisely who they should escalate this help request to for resolution.
• So they will probably take a first try at it themselves, and certainly if a help request problem has features (in its symptoms) that look somewhat familiar to them. And then they will escalate it to one of a fixed list of more experienced help desk trouble shooters who in effect specialize there, in dealing with escalated help requests (insofar as they do help desk work as part of their jobs.)
• Then they will try resolving matters there, working or at least attempting to work with the people who first called such a problem in, in order to gather the details on what happened.
• If they cannot resolve it either, they will reach out to whatever specialists they think would be needed to solve this still-open problem where that might mean reaching out in-house to fellow IT professionals who do not usually do any help desk support work,
• Or their reaching out to software developers or manufacturers involved that provided this here-problematical software,
• Or as a last resort this might mean their reaching out to specialist outside consultants – and certainly if this is a problem that has come to have wide-ranging and financially significant impact. This last contingency is not at all common but it always has to be there as at least a possibility.
• I have simplified a more complex escalation process here, where larger and more complex businesses, with larger and more complex IT departments add in review and evaluation layers too, in order to help keep their efforts and resources effectively utilized. And even initial contact help desk personnel can for example try reaching out to software providers themselves too. But even this outline should be enough to indicate the complexity and layering that a new and emerging problem, certainly, might face as it travels through this type of system from when it is first reported to when it is resolved.
• And every possible step along the way in this, and every gatekeeper step that would pass a problem along or stop that process and for whatever reason, carries opportunity for miscommunication, delayed communication, and business systems friction and with all of this both adding to the direct costs created by these problems, and adding to the delays faced in effectively resolving them – which means increased costs too.

Smaller organizations have simpler and less complexly structured help desk support systems. But that does not mean they automatically face less risk of the communications and friction-creating problems that I just wrote of there. It simply means they are going to be more likely to have to reach outside of their organization for help to resolve novel and difficult problems, or else find alternative tools to use to bypass a problem and with all of the delays and costs that can bring. Fortunately, I write of rare events here with 90% and probably at least 99% of all of the help desk requests faced, more readily resolvable in-house and through simple help desk escalation processes. Risk management here, means at least considering those rarer and more irksome possibilities too.

Now let’s consider how a business can more effectively tap into its in-house expertise and particularly where that would mean reaching out beyond its usual at least part-time help desk escalation specialists, and with a goal of bringing the percentage of these problems that can be resolved in house to as close to 100% as possible. And that is where an interactive intranet can become invaluable. I am going to address that in some detail in my next series installment. And then after discussing that, I am going to pick up on and discuss customer service and support desks, as cited in passing as a source of working examples in Part 7, in order to more fully discuss this series’ complete set of issues. I add in anticipation of that, that I will explicitly consider how the issues of this series play out when services such as Information Technology help desks, and Sales and Marketing supportive customer services are maintained and run in-house and when they are outsourced.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And also see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, for its more generally applicable discussion of focused message best practices per se. I offer that with a specific case in point jobs and careers focus, but the approaches raised and discussed there are more generally applicable. You can find that series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, as its postings 342-358.

Career planning 24: career planning while navigating change and uncertainty 6

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on January 13, 2018

This is my 24th installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-23.)

I have spent the vast majority of the narrative of this series up to here, discussing:

• Change, and the seeming flood of emerging disruptively New that we face in this 21st century,
• And how best to adapt to it as an active participant in it and even embrace it, and certainly in a workplace, and a jobs and careers context.

Then, and seemingly in the midst of that discussion, I added in a disruptive change and raised the possibility at least, of actively pursuing career path opportunities built around older technology, legacy systems. I add here in that context that I know people who have made that type of a career path change, going from pursuing New and Different and Exciting So, to a career path of excelling at support of legacy systems that are still needed even if they are less than glamorous to work on.

I assume that at least as of today, in early 2018, some of my readers would still directly remember the so called Y2K problem. That event has essentially always been discussed as a problem that wasn’t, for how many computer systems, large and small made the date transition to year 2000 in their software without breaking down or even slowing down. But in a real sense that happened, making this a non-event, precisely because so much concerted effort was put into updating and patching legacy system software, that there were in fact very few gaps left to address when that New Year’s Eve turned to New Year’s Day. I raise this old news story here because it both highlights how important an ability to maintain and update legacy computer code can be, and how little cachet there is in doing that type of behind the scenes work and particularly when such effort succeeds.

Success in this and primarily by legacy systems experts, led to a perception that there really hadn’t been anything there to worry about in the Y2K problem. That perception has certainly held as a matter of general public understanding. But it has also held as a matter of a great deal of computer professional understanding too. This had been touted as an impending digital apocalypse leading up to the end of 1999 but then nothing happened, and certainly in the United States and Western Europe.

If those behind the scenes legacy system remediation efforts had failed, the level of recognition of this problem in the year 2000 and beyond would have been much greater and from all directions. But very little of that added attention and awareness, would have been positive. Success made this story disappear from public awareness, after little more than just a smile and shrug.

I raise the specter of this mostly forgotten story here to raise several points. First of all, I wanted to take this type of career path alternative as first raised in Part 23: working on older technologies and legacy systems as a career path option, out of the abstract with a real world example of how it can hold value in the marketplace. I chose this example of legacy-oriented work because it would be more generally known, and certainly for the overall challenge that was claimed for it leading up to January 1, 2000, than any single business-oriented example would be. And secondly, I chose this example because it marked a point in time when legacy systems experts were in peak demand and for very large numbers of businesses, and a time when these professionals were able to demand and receive top dollar compensation levels for the work they did. Really skilled legacy system specialists always get well compensated anyway, but this story marks an event where that became more publically visible, even if only briefly.

Businesses and organizations of all types need to be able to keep both their new and their legacy technology holdings working and working together, and competitively effectively for them. So this is a viable career path possibility at least for some, and particularly for professionals who are further along in their professional lives and who have the requisite long-term experience to be able to do this work.

This example cuts across the presumptions and assumptions of the more standard race to New and its mastery that I have primarily focused on in this series, and that most people focus on in their work lives: accommodating New where necessary, and excelling at it where possible.

• Know your basic underlying jobs and careers assumptions, and question them in terms of your own experience and your own needs and goals. This, ultimately, is the single most important piece of advice that I could offer here, and it is one I have been building a foundation for throughout this series, and in fact throughout the jobs and careers guide that I offer this series in, here in this blog.

And with that added to my Part 23 foundation for this posting, I turn to consider the to-address points that I placed at the end of it for consideration here. That means stepping back to reconsider jobs and careers from more of a big picture perspective, where it can be way too easy to focus in upon, and entirely so, on the immediate here-and-now and on how we have arrived where we currently are. And it can be way too easy to carry on with job and career assumptions and presumptions that we might have first arrived at years earlier, and that might not apply to us, or to our needs now.

• And that includes acknowledging that we do not automatically see where and when we are tacitly assuming some simple linear evolutionary path forward as we continue our career path and work life,
• When we really need to at least consider more disruptive, next step forward change there too (e.g. such as moving from a pursuit of New in what we do, to a pursuit of more effectively working on older but still needed.)
• And crucially important to this type of career path change consideration, is thinking through our professional self image and the priorities that that creates for us. Crucially important to all of this and to this series as a whole is our taking ownership of our perhaps less consciously processed and therefore less owned assumptions as to who we are as a professional, and as a person too.

The underlying issues that I raise here are easy to state and to offer as general points of advice and guidance. But actually doing what is suggested in them can offer very real challenges and for anyone. We all make what amount to axiomatically assumed assumptions. And at least normally and in our routine day to day lives, these assumptions tend to be so automatically taken for granted that they become all but invisible to us – and they remain that way unless explicitly challenged.

I would focus here on the third and perhaps most challenging of those three bullet points, and how we routinely and essentially automatically come to define ourselves and our sense of self-worth in terms of what we do professionally. We spend so much of our time and effort and thought in this activity: so much of our lives in our work and in our career that this is probably inevitable.

• “Who are you?” or “what do you do?”: however phrased and even in just casual conversation, often becomes prelude to our replying with something like
• “I am a — fill in the blank with a job title and probably with a type of business or an industry added in for clarification —.”

It sounds natural and even automatic. Think of your experience meeting people at, for example, parties or other social events where people are just meeting each other. Yes, we all delve into more public-facing private life details at these events too, such as where our children go to school or what we do recreationally (e.g. hike, play a musical instrument as an amateur, or play golf and so on.) But it is essentially automatic that what we do professionally, or what we did if we have already retired, enters into this self-identifying too and prominently so. We are what we do. And that carries a great deal of momentum, and it carries a great many tacit, axiomatic assumptions for us too.

I am going to conclude this series in a next installment, where I will focus on at least two sets of issues:

• Knowing ourselves as a key requirement, if we are to know what our real options and possibilities are that might be right for us in our lives and in our work lives,
• And thinking through change and how the options and opportunities that we might consider, emerge and in time fade away too: and knowing and understanding where we are now for them. And thinking through the issues of this point, of necessity means actively pursuing the goals of the first of these two points and of being true to oneself and insightfully so.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Reconsidering Information Systems Infrastructure 1

I initially wrote about the pace of innovative change, and on the assertion of possible singularities arising from that in one of my earliest postings to this blog, as a response to sentiments appearing in the literature of the time (see Assumption 6 – The fallacy of the Singularity and the Fallacy of Simple Linear Progression – finding a middle ground.) And I have much more recently posted a follow-up posting to that in which I reconsidered both innovation development singularities and open-endedly ongoing linear change too, as possibilities.

The reason why I revisited the issues of my earlier 2010 posting in late 2017 is that ongoing disruptive technological advancement, enabling the development of at least very simple self-learning artificial intelligence (AI) systems that can design next step improvements of themselves, has now become possible. These test case systems are all specific-task limited; no one has developed anything like artificial general intelligence yet. Though even if that were to prove impossible, which I seriously doubt, self-learning and self-improving specialized-only, AI expert systems will fundamentally change the world and particularly when and as they can evolve themselves toward greater and greater efficiency and capability.

I would offer two book recommendations for more general discussions of where artificial intelligence-based systems might be headed as they become more and more capable, and as they acquire and advance an ability to self-evolve as part of their basic functionality:

• Tegmark, Max. (2017) Life 3.0. Alfred A. Knoph, and
• Bostrom, Nick. (2014) Superintelligence: paths, dangers, strategies. Oxford University Press.

And I will continue to more widely discuss the complex of issues that AI has already so significantly begun to raise and for all of us, in this blog in future postings and series. But for now, I would focus on more of a baseline point of discussion for that – as retrospect would indicate I did when offering my 2010 posting as cited above.

I focused in my December, 2017 update posting on AI as a phenomenon, and without at least explicit consideration as to how it would or would not be implemented and integrated into larger systems. My goal here is to at least begin a discussion of implementation, as famed in terms of:

• Our here-and-now AI capabilities, and in terms of likely next steps as might be achieved through simpler evolutionary advancement of them and without need of more wild-card disruptive change,
• And with correspondingly less speculation than the above two book references pursue in their narratives when considering these issues.

And I do so by focusing on a specific case in point example, that I would argue is only a relatively small technology evolution step beyond what can be done now:

I focused in my 2017 posting on a specific task-oriented proof of principle example that has been developed at Google, in which a robot that is controlled by an AI system can teach itself to more and more effectively and accurately put objects into the right types of containers (e.g. containers of the right color or precise shape), and regardless of their relative positions within a mix of other containers that it could put those objects into instead. Think of that as representing the self-learning capabilities needed for addressing a very simple type of expert system problem: here solving a problem that would arise for example, in an entirely automated warehousing system when stocking inventory into the right bins for subsequent removal and use was required and where the system in question would have to be able to find and target the right types of storage containers or bins for each of the item types that it has to be able to manage.

The example that I would touch upon here is both more complex and more economically significant, and certainly for the pharmaceutical industry: the rational drug development challenge of predictively designing possible drugs for meeting specific pre-specified medical needs, based on detailed molecular understanding. Let’s consider this problem itself for a moment; it is actually, in many key respects just a somewhat more complicated next step up example of the proof of principle self-learning AI problem of my 2017 posting, with is goal of putting objects in the right places.

Drugs work by binding chemically to specific sites on specific target molecules. This is true whether that means an antibiotic binding to a particular receptor or other binding site on the coat of some specific bacteria or class of them that can cause disease, or whether that means a specific chemotherapeutic toxin binding to a target molecule on the surface of rapidly dividing cancer cells, or whether this means an analgesic blocking a pain signal pathway by binding to a specific type of target molecule on pain receptors or on specific sensory neurons leading from them. I could of course go on and on with the specific examples there; the basic principle noted here applies for drugs in general and one of the overarching goals of pharmaceutical research has essentially always been to find better chemicals for more effectively binding, with greater and greater specificity, to the right target molecules and to the right parts of them, in order to address specific medical challenges.

This, I add is a molecular level description of what pharmaceutical research at least seeks to do that goes back to well before disease and illness, or drugs were understood at a chemical and a molecular level. Traditionally, researchers tried possible drugs on specific medical disorders because they had familiarity with similar drugs. Or they took a “throw everything at it and see what sticks” approach. Antibiotic research and the search for new classes and types of antibiotics, fits that pattern as a famous source of examples, and with researchers looking for microbes in soil and other samples taken from anywhere and everywhere, in search of one that happens to be producing something novel and new to them, that works against at least some class of pathogens.

Then when a candidate drug is found that works on cell cultures and similar test contexts, an effort is made to test their safety and efficacy when used on organisms, people included. Rational drug design seeks to shorten and streamline this process by taking an emerging cellular and molecular level understanding of diseases and disease processes, and identifying possible molecular targets associated with them that if blocked or modulated in some way, would affect a cure. Then the goal is to identify and test specific molecules: specific possible drugs that would be expected to bind to those targets and in ways that would accomplish that, and hopefully without also showing toxic side effects. The goal here is to take as much of the random of a traditional new drug discovery process as possible, out of next generation new drug discovery and development.

The first real breakthrough success story in this type of research and development can be found in a drug called Imatinib (Gleevec): a tyrosine kinase inhibitor to cite its specific molecular target, that for its action all but completely suppresses chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and a variety of other cancers. Basic biomedical research had identified that molecular target as one worth pursuing to see if blocking it would block these cancers, with an initial focus there on CML. And this drug development process was carried out on the basis of a deep understanding of these diseases themselves and of tyrosine kinase and its chemistry. And Imatinib was tested on the basis of its known and expected chemical binding properties and not only did it block tyrosine kinase as predicted: it stopped the cancer cells that relied on it in their tracks.

The problem is that we do not know enough to be able to quickly and directly identify possible target molecules for treatment, for diseases and disorders in general, and we do not know enough about the three dimensional folding or the chemically available structures of complex molecules in general, or about their possible reaction kinetics when they do chemically interact, to automatically be able to trim down the list of possible targets and drugs a priori to any real testing. For many of our most pressing diseases, molecular level testing would literally involve doing millions of tests, at least through computer simulation to separate out a significantly smaller enough subset of them so as to make more detailed and real world testing possible.

One approach to that “volume of initial screening” challenge, that I have at least briefly noted in this blog is to crowd source it with as many as millions of participants testing possible drug molecules against possible target sites using simple test algorithms that they can allow to run on their home computers in the background: using what are called their computer’s free cycles. I stress here that this is actually more complex a problem than just matching one molecule against another. It is about identifying what parts of those molecules would be available for chemical interaction, and not blocked from that from being folded inside a molecular interior and blocked from being functionally available for that (e.g. by steric hindrance.)

Let’s, as I suggested above, consider this as a more complex variation on the ball in the right bowl problem of my earlier posting, as repeated above. And let’s consider the development of a first step, inefficient and ineffective algorithm that would both seek to solve this type of problem, and be able to test and score its own effectiveness, and that had a self-learning capability for tweaking itself into a next generation form that would repeat this now-cycle of testing, refinement and (hopefully) improvement until an updated version of this process began to be able to effectively and then cost-effectively find real answers to drug development challenges.

This type of cyclical development problem would probably start with much simpler chemicals and chemical systems contexts and it would then be shifted into facing and addressing more complex systems, until it had developed a sufficient level of capability for identifying and matching for chemical binding, to be tested in this larger pharmaceutical challenge context and with data derived from the study of specific diseases.

I readily admit that I have conflated several separate challenges into this example, all of which are currently at least, computationally daunting. One of the subordinate of those tasks that would have to enter into resolving this, is the problem of calculating out the precise folding pattern and resulting geometry of complex proteins and other large molecules. That type of information is needed in order to know what portions of those molecules can be physically accessible for chemical reaction and not simply hidden away in a folded molecular interior. I assume that any necessary related problem of this type, at least would be significantly worked on and for the classes of target proteins that would be reasonable candidates for study in this type of pharmaceutical development scenario, and for whatever specific disease was being pursued when “growing out” a pharmaceutical development AI as envisioned here. And I also assume here that better, more nuanced algorithms for these tasks might be more complex to outline than simpler and less effective ones would be, but they would reduce the overall numbers of computations needed to arrive at working solutions. So individual computations carried out would as such, on average become more informative as the algorithms they were arrived at through, evolved and improved.

I have at least briefly and admittedly cartoonishly outlined a specific self-learning specialized task AI problem here, that we are not ready to tackle yet but that I expect our emerging and growing AI capabilities to be able to handle in the coming years, and with growing efficiency once a threshold of performance has been reached. That certainly holds true as supercomputer and networked cloud based versions of that continue to advance in capability, while becoming more and more cost-effective to use. I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment where I will at least briefly begin to discuss some of the options as to how this type of AI driven system might actually be deployed and used as it approaches and surpasses a threshold of development where it can provide effective answers, cost-effectively.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation. And you can also find a link to this posting, appended to the end of Section I of Reexamining the Fundamentals as a supplemental entry there.

Building a startup for what you want it to become 29: moving past the initial startup phase 15

Posted in book recommendations, startups by Timothy Platt on January 9, 2018

This is my 29th installment to a series on building a business that can become an effective and even a leading participant in its industry and its business sector, and for its targeted marketplaces (see Startups and Early Stage Businesses and its Page 2 continuation, postings 186 and loosely following for Parts 1-28.)

I focused in Part 28 on how big data is becoming an essential driver of business success in the 21st century, and for small businesses as much as for large ones, and increasingly regardless of industry or business sector. And I at least somewhat took its line of discussion out of the abstract by selectively discussing the questions and issues of inventory management in a retail business context as would be found at a supermarket, or even at a minimarket. And I concluded that installment by raising two issues that I would at least begin to further discuss here:

• Much of this data (e.g. inventory and related sales and shrinkage data that such a retail operation would need and use) would of necessity come from within the business. But it is increasingly important to bring in outside sourced data too, and both on how other competing businesses are doing in your business sector, and for your inventory item sources where changes there can impact upon your business too. And outside sourced market data would also be necessary.
• My point there is that as much data as a business develops internally and from their own systems and processes, they are likely going to need at least as much from outside of themselves too. And this all has to be coordinately organized and analyzed if effective and timely use is to be made of it.

Rereading those two bullet points simply reinforces a perception that I found myself considering as I first wrote them; they are fundamentally valid, but they are also fundamentally incomplete and they are more suggestive than informative in important ways, and certainly where outside sourced data is concerned. I offered a somewhat lengthy to-address list at the end of Part 28, in text paragraph form, but as noted there I begin this narrative continuation with those here-repeated topics points and with a goal of fleshing them out.

And I at least begin to do so by stepping back from the specifics of retail stores and their inventory management needs or solutions, to consider businesses in general and both for the types and for scope of overall information collection and usage needs that they face.

• A well conceived and run business can be viewed as a strategically organized and structured system of standardized and routine operational processes, supplemented as needed with exception and one-off resolution handling capabilities. And it is the effective, coordinate management of the two that creates both business strength and certainly in the face of change and the unexpected, and business resiliency and agility.
• And all of this is information driven, and dependent on effective communications to make it work: ongoing information development and organization, and information sharing and use that balance access needs with information security and overall risk management needs.
• And the 21st century is marked by an explosion in the scale and diversity of information that can be available that could at least offer incremental value there, and by a corresponding explosion in the scale of what businesses: any businesses need in the way of information and in the way of its smoother and more efficient sharing, if they are to remain competitive – and not lose out from not picking up on all of those potential incremental sources of advantage.

The tighter the competition that a business faces, the more important any realistically, cost-effectively possible incremental advantage becomes for it, that it might be able to gain. And for businesses that conduct at least some share of their business activity online, competition is increasingly becoming global in reach. Note that when I write here of information sourcing and/or sharing with a business’ outside context, this means both sales and directly sales-related transactions, and supply chain process participation and more, and an increasingly wider and more complex array of outside facing and connecting interactions.

That brings me specifically and directly to the phrase I made explicit note of above in my first bullet point here, as needing clarification and amplification: “outside sourced market data.” I stated above that I was looking beyond the more restricted scope of inventory management here, so I update that clause and its intent for what is to follow, as “outside sourced data” in general.

If you have and run a small town hardware store or grocery store and have what amounts to a local monopoly there and for at least a large percentage of your steady customers, and if most of your business is with steady, repeat customers, you do not need much if any specific information on what other, same or similar-type businesses are doing elsewhere in order to effectively plan and execute to your own business model and your own business needs. You will need inventory information management capabilities and you do need to know your own marketplace and your own customer base, but that is about it and for both in-house and outside-facing raw data that would go into your calculations and decision making. And of course you would need to be familiar with predictable seasonal and other cyclical shifts in what your customers need and want and expect. And you would have to keep your eyes open to the unexpected, such as the sudden emergence of fads that might sweep up your customer base too. But this is the simplest, baseline information gathering and management context that I would consider here; think of this as the pre-internet marketing and sales paradigm too, and as a baseline model for that context too.

The wider and more diverse the marketplace that you would seek to address, and the wider and more diverse the competition that you would face as you seek to hold a viable fraction of this overall potential market space as your own, the more information you will need – and particularly from outside of your business and its own immediate operations.

• This means more diverse and detailed market demographics and market segmentation data: customer and potential customer knowledge and insight.
• This means wider and more detailed information on what is probably a much wider and more diverse array of competitors and of potential competitors so you can more effectively allocate your resources in meeting their challenges.
• And together this means larger amounts of progressively more diverse outside data that you can use in making finer and finer grained descriptive and predictive analyses for use in your own business planning and its execution.
• I return to those perhaps individually small but collectively significant information-based advantages here again, that I made note of above. Increasingly, and certainly for actionable data, what you can gather in and use, you must and certainly when competing with other businesses that do.

And as I repeated above, the value in all of this comes from coordinately gathering, organizing and analyzing all of this, at least initially raw data, and from converting what might in principle easily become a meaningless jumble of disconnected facts, into actionable knowledge.

I said at the end of Part 28 that I would offer some relevant references here regarding big data, and I begin with two sets of references from this blog:

• The series Big Data (as can be found at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation, postings 177 and loosely following, for its Parts 1-11.)
• The series: Big Data and the Assembly of Global Insight Out of Small Scale, Local and Micro-Local Data (as can be found at Reexamining the Fundamentals, as Section IV.)

And I add the following book references to this as well:

• Marz, Nathan and James Warren. (2015) Big Data: principles and best practices of scalable real-time data systems. Manning Publications.
• Marr, Bernard. (2017) Data Strategy: how to profit from a world of big data, analytics and the internet of things. Kogan Page Ltd.

And this brings me to the next entry in the to-address list that I appended to the end of Part 28, to follow discussion of the two bullet points I have addressed here:

• In-house generated, and outside-sourced business intelligence as marketable commodities, and for how they would be used in business planning and for how this type of resource might be selectively commoditized and sold.

I will address these issues in large part in terms of cloud-based systems for data storage and analysis and certainly as big data capabilities might be pursued by smaller businesses. And I will approach that from a more business-development timeline perspective, bringing in the issues and challenges of cost-effectively developing an enterprise for this type of data-intensive capability so as to bring in necessary change while controlling possible risk. That will, among other things mean reconsidering outside funding and organic, strictly in-house sourced funding where capital development expenses would be faced.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory and at its Page 2 continuation.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 20: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 12

This is my 20th installment to a series on general theories of business, and on what general theory means as a matter of underlying principle and in this specific context (see Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, Section VI for Parts 1-19.)

I took something of a dual, specific case in point examples plus general principles approach in writing Part 19 to this series:

• Focusing on the specific case in point source of examples of the hiring process, and of deciding to retain or let go current employees, and how the dynamics of those interpersonal processes and of the relationships that inform them, change as a possible employee outsider becomes an in-house member of the team,
• But also considering how individual behavior and binary interpersonal relationships in general (as for example found there between a job candidate and a hiring manager) comprise the basic elements of larger and more business systems-defining networks.

And at the end of that posting, I said that I would continue both of those lines of discussion in this installment. More specifically, and certainly for my working specific-case example, I discussed routine and more generally applicable personnel policy issues of employment in Part 19, as they arise and play out independently of the precise details of what a prospective new employee would do there individually, and without consideration of special case exceptions as to how a prospective new hire might come to meet with a prospective employer for a job, or for how matters might proceed from there. I wrote my case in point example discussion of Part 19 in terms of prospective job candidates who reach out to a hiring business on their own initiative and through standard channels, and how matters proceed from there, and also according to a standard business-wide model. And I wrote that in terms of issues that would apply to both hands-on non-managerial employees, and to at least basic lower or mid-level managerial employees too.

Then at the end of Part 19, I briefly cited a short list of alternatives to that baseline scenario that I stated I would at least begin to address here, in order to more fully discuss the issues raised in this narrative thread: employment-specific as they arise, and for the more general issues raised here as well.

For smoother continuity of narrative, I begin this posting’s discussion here by repeating my alternative scenarios list, which I set up as a set of explicitly contrasted opposites:

1. More routine hire hands-on non-managerial employees, and I add more routine and entry level and middle managers – versus – the most senior managers and executives when they are brought in, and certainly from the outside.
2. More routine positions, managerial or not – versus – special skills and experience new hires and employees, hands-on or managerial.
3. Job candidates and new hires and employees who reached out to the business, applying as discussed up to here in this narrative on their own initiative – versus – those who the business has reached out to, to at least attempt to bring them in-house as special hires and as special for all that would follow.
4. And to round out this list, I will add one more entry here, doing so by citing one specific and specifically freighted word: nepotism. Its more normative alternative should be obvious.

And I begin working my way through that list of possibilities by noting a point that should be obvious and certainly for anyone who has reviewed Part 19 of this series: the first alternative in each of the four above listed A versus B scenarios (except for the above Point 4 which is reversed for order), is grounded in the baseline and I would argue default scenario that I briefly touched upon there. So my focus of attention in what is to come, will be in the non-default alternative for each of the four points of the above repeated list, citing the default alternative for each of them primarily for frame of reference purposes and to put those non-default possibilities into a more consistent overall perspective.

With that, I begin with Scenario 1 of that list, and with more senior managers and executives when and as they are brought into a business. And I begin this line of discussion by clarifying two points of detail. The first is that this scenario highlights how the four scenarios as offered here might seem to be distinct and separate in principle, but how they can and often do overlap and co-apply in practice. And the second involves why I added “… and certainly from the outside” to it.

Senior managers, and up and coming middle managers who have developed impressively marketable track records can and do reach out on their own initiative to hiring businesses, for next steps forward and upward along their planned out career paths. This is certainly true for professionals who work in businesses and organizations of the nonprofit sector, to cite a specific and well known industry and business sector example, where headcount is kept low and it can be all but impossible to advance up a table of organization with a current employer, as gaps that might be promoted into can be so rare there. But professionals can reach out on their own anyway and regardless of how fluid and open advancement opportunity might be where they are now, if for example they see particular value in moving to work for some particular new business venture. Still, the higher up a position that would be filled, and certainly for larger businesses and corporations, the more likely that Scenario 3 would apply too. To keep this narrative simpler and more readily followed, I will assume at first that a would-be senior manager or executive officer new hire, reached out on their own initiative to a hiring business and that they would have to introduce and market themselves to it as such, if they are to be considered there. So the point of distinction that I would address here is essentially entirely one of where they would seek out a position along the table of organization as to level up on it.

The higher up a position is, the more wide ranging the impact of any hiring decision to fill it, and across the entire business organization and for external stakeholders too. And for senior executives, this essentially always means board of directors’ awareness, and for key positions such as Chief Executive Officer that of necessity includes a need for achieving explicit board buy-in and approval too. As such, more is on the line and for the business as a whole. And that means that these hiring decision making, and I add subsequent onboarding processes become much more individualized and much less standardized, as for example would be specified by Human Resources process guidelines for more routine hirings. And that only begins with consideration of potential compensation and terms of employment consideration that might be offered and negotiated.

Golden parachute agreements only represent one possibility there as a well known example of how these hiring negotiations can differ from the more routine and standard for a business. This deviation from standard and routine has implications that have impact throughout the organization and certainly as these special exception hires are seen as members of the team, or as special exceptions there too. And that has potential for shaping how the more general principles offered in Part 19, as to how an organization connects together as a system of social networking relationships, might apply too.

To bring that last point of detail into clearer focus, I repeat here my three point outline of the approach to viewing a business as an organized social and interpersonal interaction construct, that I offered in Part 19:

• A business can, among other things, be viewed as a dynamic system of overlapping and interconnected stakeholder networks, some assembled on the spot for specific purposes just to dissolve as their sources of impetus for forming are resolved, and some enduring long term.
• And long-term ones, can even become effectively enshrined in the business model and in strategic and operational systems, where membership can become title and position based to allow for smoother member turnover as people come and go in a business’ workforce, and as people there change jobs within the organization. Much of this is in fact laid out at least for likelihood of arising in the table of organization itself, but even stable and seemingly permanent functional networks of this type can systematically cut across the table of organization too, and even intentionally so.
• Ultimately and according to this understanding, business systems and their functioning can be viewed as representing complex and evolving networks of interpersonal interactions, and interpersonal commitments. Think of the hiring process and new employee onboarding process example that I have been focusing on here, as a case in point example of a much more widespread general set of phenomena.

I initially offered that bullet pointed list in a general terms of employment context that a Human Resources department would encode in its personnel policy and that would be carried out by them and by hiring and supervising managers as they all variously understand and interpret them. When individuals are included in this who are hired under different understandings and who consequentially face different prerogatives and restrictions while there, the dynamics of any such interpersonal interactions and interpersonal commitments that they enter into there, change accordingly too.

And this leads me to the question of why I added “… and certainly from the outside” to the end of Scenario 1 as repeated above. I will turn to that as I begin fleshing out my next series installment and will continue on from there to consider Scenarios 2 through 4 of my above list. And then, as promised in Part 18 at its end, I will explicitly discuss promotions and both as carried out strictly in-house, and as arise de facto from strategically moving on to work for a new employer where suitable job openings are not and cannot be available where an employee works now. In anticipation of that, I add here that I will frame this flow of discussion, at least in significant part in terms of two behavioral dynamics:

• A focus on the potential negatives of change and of the unknown, and a focus on the positive possibilities of change and an embrace of the new and at least in-part unknown, as job and career strategy-shaping presumptions arise and are followed through upon, and
• The potential for alignment and for discord when different stakeholder participants in a business interaction pursue different game theory strategies as they each attempt to reach their own goals.

I will at least begin this to-address list in my next series installment and will continue developing and discussing its set of issues in subsequent ones. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material about what I am attempting to do here at About this Blog and at Blogs and Marketing. And I include this series in my Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, as topics section VI there, where I offer related material regarding theory-based systems. And I also include this individual participant oriented subseries of this overall theory of business series in Page 3 of my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, as a sequence of supplemental postings there.

Innovation, disruptive innovation and market volatility 38: innovative business development and the tools that drive it 8

Posted in business and convergent technologies, macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on January 5, 2018

This is my 38th posting to a series on the economics of innovation, and on how change and innovation can be defined and analyzed in economic and related risk management terms (see Macroeconomics and Business, posting 173 and loosely following for Parts 1-5 and Macroeconomics and Business 2, posting 203 and loosely following for Parts 6-37.)

I have been working my way through a set of five to-address points, and their issues in this series since its Part 32, that all deal with aspects of how innovation is information and understanding-driven, and communication driven as a mutually creative sharing of that. And my goal for this posting is to finish addressing the fourth of those points and at least begin to address Point 5 from that list too, as repeated here for better continuity of narrative:

4. Information availability serves as an innovation driver, and business systems friction and the resistance to enabling and using available business intelligence that that creates, significantly set the boundaries that would distinguish between innovation per se and disruptively novel innovation as it would be perceived and understood,
5. And in both the likelihood and opportunity for achieving the later, and for determining the likelihood of a true disruptive innovation being developed and refined to value creating fruition if one is attempted.

Then after completing that phase of this overall narrative, at least for purposes of this series, I will reconsider the issues of research financing: in large part from a more accounting and bookkeeping perspective, as promised in Part 37.

Let’s begin addressing Point 4 with the fundamentals:

• Businesses are information and communications driven, and both for defining and shaping their strategies and their operations systems as are put in place to carry out those strategic plans, and for when addressing less routine and more one-off or exception circumstances too.
• Uncertainty and lack of necessary information when and where it is needed in order to make more optimal decisions, and in order to execute upon them effectively: the presence of functionally significant levels of business systems friction, both reduces a business’ efficiency and reduces its overall agility and resiliency.
• Friction, in this, creates due diligence and risk management concerns that limit the range of options that an organization can pursue. And this is exacerbated as the level of uncertainty increases.
• Steady pursuit of a same as usual, unchanging linear path forward, in strategy and in its operational implementation as a routine default, generally presents itself as the path forward that would minimize this uncertainty. And barring change forced upon an organization that this approach cannot prepare it for, that perhaps self-justifying understanding might even be valid.
• Steady pursuit of a same as usual, predictably changing linear evolutionary path forward would, according to the conceptual model that I am offering here, represent at best a second most uncertainty-free possibility here, for how a business would proceed over time. My caveat regarding the imposition of unexpected and unplanned for change of the above bullet point applies here too, where that could arise from outside of the business, from inside of it or from some combination of both possible sources.
• That bullet point addresses simple, step by predictable step forward change and simple innovative change, and particularly where it is more cosmetic and less overall consequential as a result. The more of a break from standard and routine that an innovation would be, and the more ripple effect change it would call for to implement it, accommodate it, or cover for it, the greater the potential uncertainty this engenders. And this is where friction-creating inefficiencies really significantly enter this narrative progression and as a source of influence that cannot be ignored. That is where involved parties cannot predict the types or details of information that they would need to know, that others might or might not have to share with them.
• Truly disruptive, breakaway innovation maximizes the levels of uncertainty faced and exacerbates both the likelihood of realized friction and its consequences as it actually arises.

With that noted, let’s consider the second half of Point 4, where information availability and friction that would limit it: “set the boundaries that would distinguish between innovation per se and disruptively novel innovation as it would be perceived and understood.” And I begin addressing that, by adding in one more possibility that a proposed innovative change might also represent: a dead end that cannot ultimately be turned into a source of increased positive value and either within the business for its more internal value or for its marketplace.

One of the perhaps most important aspects of uncertainty that I write of here, is an at least partial lack of necessary information as to both the degree of change that is being faced, and the significance of that change for the possible levels of cost and value creation that it might lead to. Yes, an innovation or potential innovation might start out looking small and more minor – and then turn out to be more complex and comprehensive if it is actually going to be developed and implemented when all of the details that would have to go into that begin to emerge. And what starts out looking like a more fundamental and disruptive innovation, might in fact turn out upon more detailed analysis be achievable from creative use of more off-the-shelf current resources and capabilities too, and in practice be less disruptive than initially thought and both in-house and to any potential outside marketplace.

• Business systems friction here, can and often does mean at least a notable level of upfront uncertainty as to how disruptive and novel for implementation a proposed innovation would actually be,
• With that source of unknowns presenting itself as uncertainty as to cost of development combined with uncertainty as to possible realized value that an innovative change might bring.

This narrative, I add here, has both addressed Point 4 as stated above and laid a foundation for addressing Point 5 of the above partly repeated to-address list. I am going to more fully address the issues raised in Point 5 in my next series installment. And then as promised above, I will reconsider the issues of research financing: in large part from a more accounting and bookkeeping perspective. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation.

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