Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business planning from the back of a napkin to a formal and detailed presentation 36

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 10, 2020

This is my 36th 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 and Page 5 continuations, postings 578 and loosely following for Parts 1-35.)

I have been selectively discussing two case study businesses here, that I continue turning to in this installment as well:

• Alpha Hardware Inc.: A hardware store that went through a more fundamental transitional change as it came to outgrow its original single storefront and its space restrictions there, to become a two storefront business with a more specialized Alpha Hardware and an Alpha Home Goods, and
• The e-Maverick Group: A cutting edge technology offering, business-to-business oriented software development company that also faces business transition challenges.

I finished Part 35 by stating that I would reconsider “how innovation driven my two case study businesses actually are or are not” here. And I immediately added in that context, that “I have been basing my discussion of them up to here, primarily in terms of how their business leading owners see their enterprises – which can at times differ from what they are actually doing as businesses.”

But given the nature of this phase of this overall series, with its focus on innovation as a business model imperative, and with that more of a driving force for the e-Maverick Group than it would be for any hardware store, I primarily focus here on that case study in what follows, and on what that business actually does. I will, as such, primarily just comment on this set of issues in an Alpha Hardware context, for comparison purposes, at least for now. And I begin addressing all of this by stating that in a fundamental sense, I have already offered all of the puzzle pieces in this blog and even just in this series here, that go into what I would offer in this posting on that. It is just that I have not organized those pieces together as more precisely needed here. So the basic puzzle pieces that I will cite should sound familiar to any more regular reader of this, but the connecting points that I add in their context might be a bit less so.

Let’s start with the puzzle pieces themselves:

• I have recurringly written of innovation acceptance (or resistance) diffusion curves, and of how genuinely disruptively new and novel innovations would most likely only appeal to a perhaps small segment of a possible, ultimately realizable market for their type of product: the small number of pioneer and earliest adaptors who learn of this more novel purchase and use opportunity who would be willing to enter into that in an immediate time frame.
• A small but reliable market segment of this type might offer real value to a business that seeks to gain revenue and overall competitive strength from sales. But small is small, and most businesses, and even the most innovation driven of them, need larger and more reliable market shares than they could get and keep from this pioneer and earliest adaptor group alone.
• So even a business that seeks to be cutting edge for what it develops and offers, still needs to be able to appeal to a wider audience, and one that includes participants that run at least closer to mainstream mid-range adaptors too.
• I have in a way already made note of this in earlier installments here when writing of how the e-Maverick Group has a dedicated team for managing updates and related support for their already available, more legacy offerings: software products and versions that they no longer see as their cutting edge offerings but that their customers have and rely upon.
• That type of ongoing support-oriented product and service offering, as already discussed, can be used to retain current clients in a way that would bring them back as new product buyers again, and as repeat business loyal customers. But just as importantly, this type of added cash flow of revenue received, can in effect bankroll next-step new and disruptively new product development too, where that might not be anywhere near as sustainable if it had to be entirely self-sustaining and from day one of its new product releases. Yes, I am arguing here that at least short-term and for more immediate impact, innovation development or at least disruptively novel innovation development can effectively qualify as a loss leader, with time required to turn that around and even when such innovation would eventually come to sustain the business as a whole.
• But focusing on the short term and the more immediate here of this, the revenue and profits defined value creating potential that is realized from the volume of sales actually achieved up-front, is going to be a function of the size and the market diversity reach that can be achieved for such a new offering, with diversity there a measure of how wide a swath of that innovation acceptance curve that can be brought to buy in and as early as possible.
• And marketing and sales campaigns that would help to drive that, have to be designed and executed with this demographic targeting diversity in mind.
• So what does innovation actually mean in anything like an e-Maverick context and when looking past the more generic, broad brushstroke marketing image of that business as being innovation driven and of it being “the source of New for the business world”? That has to be at least significantly defined by the business. But in actual practice it also has to be at least partly, and even significantly defined by the marketplace too. And those two visions and understandings have to connect together in ways that would at least ideally find an optimized balance point that would offer value to both the business and its market. And it would be a minimax balancing point that is based on market size reached through efforts made to strategically expand there, while still being true to what the business seeks to be.
• Yes, strategically catering to progressively later and later adaptors and going further than that optimal point for how much the business caters to routine and standard software needs, might at least seem in principle to be a way to increase revenue streams, profitability, and competitive strength. But if this business goes too far in that direction it might in effect lose itself – lose its identity and its reputation for offering new and cutting edge at all. Reaching for too wide and diffused a market share might lead to their effectively destroying their more unique value proposition that has set them apart from the crowd that comprises software developers as a whole.
• And this is where owning and running an entirely separately branded and run “standard software offerings” subsidiary with its own distinct business model and presence might work. But would it make sense to expand out in that direction at all, and particularly when this would mean intentionally seeking to compete in a now expanded market, but one in which they would not be offering anything particularly unique or notable and where profit margins might be minimal at best?

And this brings me back to Alpha Hardware, Inc. and its business model and its way of achieving what amounts to a true unique value proposition in what it offers to its markets – while offering standard products and almost entirely so. Basically, the question raised in the last of those bullet points, can be rephrased as:

• Would it make sense for an e-Maverick Group to try to also be a software equivalent of an Alpha Hardware and even if that called for setting up a separate brand and identity for that expansion? And what would that even mean, strategically and operationally and from an outwardly reaching market facing perspective?

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment. And in anticipation of that, I note here that I will focus at least in part there, on the fact that the e-Maverick Group is a business-to-business oriented enterprise, with all of the added complexities faced there from how their customers have to follow their decision making processes.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 39: keeping an effective innovative focus while approaching and going through significant business transitions 29

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 7, 2020

This is my 39th 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 and Page 5 continuations, postings 559 and loosely following for Parts 1-38.)

I pursued a largely dual narrative in Part 38, that can be roughly characterized as discussion of:

• How it can be both important but also difficult for us to see our business creations dispassionately and impersonally, when facing an at least possible need for change there, and particularly when that would mean more profound change, and
• How change might be viewed in that and similar contexts for how profound it really is, with that depending on its degree of newness and novelty, and on the level of impact that it brings.

I delved into the first of those topic points, with two case study examples that I have been developing here, firmly in mind and overtly referred to:

• ClarkBuilt Inc. is a business that has reached a point in its development, as previously discussed here, where its owning founders have to make some fundamental decisions as to what type of business they have now, and what type they will have moving forward: as a manufacturer and just that, or as a design shop that monetizes and gains profits as such from its brand and name recognition, or as some combination of those two options.
• And Palabraum Inc. is a business that has reached a point in its development where its owners and executive managers have come to see a need to bring New back into what they do, and into what they offer to a marketplace that has come to see their product lines as staid at worst, and as retro at best.

And I at least began a discussion of the second of those points, with that line of discussion in mind, pursuing it in terms of a conceptual model of long standing, that I have made use of on numerous occasions now in this blog: a basic innovation acceptance diffusion model that would trace and explain the patterns of acceptance to and resistance to change, among different demographics in an overall marketplace, over time and depending on the degree and type of change involved.

To bring this initial orienting note up to date here, I went on to at least loosely define four terms in that overall narrative context:

Compartmentalized planning and execution, and uncompartmentalized planning and execution. The first of these refers to planning and execution upon that, that are carried out dispassionately objectively (at least for the most part) and with emotional influence held to a minimum for what is decided and how. It is data driven. Emotions and I will add other shaping biases and sources of influence that are not data-driven, all add to and significantly so, to its uncompartmentalized counterpart. And it their active and at times even overriding impact that define that decision and action pattern. These terms arose for significance in the context of the first topics point portion of this discussion, in Part 38.
Conservative change versus aggressive change, and the dynamics of how these terms would be variously, and at times quite differently applied, arose here in the context of the second topics point portion of Part 38 and as that line of discussion will be continued here too.

And I begin this posting’s continuation of both of those set of issues, and certainly as both would be applied conceptually at least in a business development context, by picking up on some of the specific wording the first of those more-definitional bullet points where I wrote “carried out dispassionately objectively (at least for the most part) and with emotional influence held to a minimum.”

• We all carry unexamined assumptions, and we all base at least some of our decisions at least in part on them and even if we do not explicitly examine and validate them in any given instance, and even when we see them as objectively based. And it is this very “taken for granted invisibility” that can lead to their becoming both sources of influence in our decision making, and even guiding ones. This does not matter for the most part when decisions are non-controversial and when we do in fact more actively check to make sure that “business as usual” would be acceptable, for a lack of novelty in context that might challenge that. But this can become quite important when change and uncertainly become important and when the consequences of what is being decided upon, and of what is to be done and how, become very significant.
• The types of change-facing decisions that the owner founders of the two case study examples of Part 38 (and preceding): ClarkBuilt Inc. and Palabraum Inc., fit that second pattern and almost by definition for being consequential and for bringing novelty into play. And it is the type of data plus emotion and more, decision making and with that being pursued by competing but necessary decision making participants, that can bring such enterprises to seek out an “honest third party broker” in the form of an outside consultant, who would seek to help them to expand the range of options that they might consider, in order to break an impasse in place. But that is a digression here; the important point is that uncompartmentalized there, can stymie and precisely because the “and also …” that drives it can be so hard to pin down and define in workable, explicitly convincible strategic and operational terms. Resolving this type of impasse means widening the range of options considered, in order to find a way around those barriers – not psychoanalysis: tactical reasoning and hopefully convincing tactical reasoning.

And this brings me to the issues of change her se and to an easy to presume assumption that I would address and dismiss, as I continue on here:

• Anyone who would take the risk of founding a new business, with all of the risks and unknowns that that of necessity brings with it, would have to be comfortable with the new and even the disruptively new, and they would approach buying into and making use of change from a more early adaptor, or even more of a pioneer adaptor perspective.

No! Just consider entrepreneurs who look for the safety and stability of entering into a franchise system as a franchisee. Yes, they face a measure of risk as well as of opportunity that a more usual in-house employee does not generally have to deal with. But this new business outlet context means that both risk and I have to add benefits are going to be a lot more constrained than what might be expected when setting out to build a new venture from scratch, on their own.

Returning to my consulting digression for a moment, one of the most important homework tasks that a consultant facing this type of assignment can carry out, is an at least preliminary assessment of where the people who they would have to work with on this, actually fit on a change acceptance or resistance scale at all. (Another such task is one of taking at least an initial assessment of who would actually have to be included there, and with a goal of expanding or contracting that list as needed, and of bringing the people who need to be on it, into these conversations.) But for purposes of this discussion, I simply stress that any real resolution of the types of disagreements that ClarkBuilt Inc. and Palabraum Inc. face, will depend on the people holding those competing views, understanding both themselves and those others who they disagree with (at least to start), who they have to work with on this. And that has to include their coming to understand something of the Why for their differences of opinion and of judgment, as well as the precisely What for that. They each have to know when a possible change or stay decision would be more conservative or aggressive and why. And they need to be able to negotiate what I would call “mutually acceptable comfort zones” for the sticking point issues that do emerge.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment where I will address how a conservative versus aggressive distinction here can be timeline determined, or scale and scope determined, or both, as initially noted here in Part 37.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

Meshing innovation, product development and production, marketing and sales as a virtuous cycle 25

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 1, 2020

This is my 25th installment to a series in which I reconsider cosmetic and innovative change as they impact upon and even fundamentally shape product design and development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and the sales cycle, and from both the producer and consumer perspectives (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and its Page 3 continuation, postings 342 and loosely following for Parts 1-24.)

I have been discussing two basic paradigmatic models of how individuals and communities respond to change and innovation and to New in general here, since Part 16:

• The standard innovation acceptance diffusion curve that runs from pioneer and early adaptors on to include eventual late and last adaptors, and
• Patterns of global flatting and its global wrinkling, pushback alternative.

And as part of that, I have raised five specific case in point contexts in which the issues of acceptance or rejection of change, become important and both individually and societally. I raised three of them in Part 23 and began discussing them there:

1. The development of drought and disease resistant crops that can be grown with little if any fertilizer and without the use of insecticides or other pesticides,
2. Russia’s Novichok (Новичо́к or newcomer) nerve agents, and
3. Disposable single use plastic bags and other petrochemical plastics-based wrapping materials.

And I cited two more in Part 24 and at least briefly and selectively discussed the first of them there:

4. Antibiotics and their widespread use, and
5. Vaccinations and certainly as they have become vilified and particularly in online social media.

My primary goal for this posting is to discuss that fifth and final case study example, and how it sheds light more widely than its specific issues might suggest, on the acceptance and rejection of change per se. In this context that means citing this example as a poster child example of how science per se, and its findings are coming under ideologically framed and supported challenge and even direct attack.

I will circle back to at least briefly reconsider the first three of these case study examples and will then move on from them to address the issues of impact and of who is affected by what acceptance or rejection-driven action, where they might be very different than the people who seek to shape the messages that drive this. But before turning to those issues, I begin here with example Point 5 and vaccinations, and with a particular focus on childhood vaccinations against diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and polio in mind.

I wrote in Part 24, of antibiotics as “at the very least qualify as a strong candidate for being considered the most significant healthcare advancement of the 20th century.” There are two other candidates that come to mind for me as qualifying for at least top four or five status as greatest healthcare investments, and even for all time up to now:

• Improved public sanitation with that including widespread access to safe potable water and safe and effective removal of sewage and other potentially disease carrying waste,
• And the development and widespread use of safe and effective vaccinations against diseases that were once highly contagious, deadly scourges.

I wrote in Part 24 in an example 4, antibiotics context of epistemic bubbles, where people only listen to others who start out sharing their views, and with those connected communities only seeing, hearing, considering or believing facts, “facts”, rumors or opinions that support their already pre-established conclusions on whatever issues are under consideration.

I write here, in this context of the anti-vaccination movement. This began in its earliest iteration when Edward Jenner first developed his cowpox based vaccination against smallpox in the early 1800’s, with people claiming, among other things, that this violated their religious beliefs to administer an animal-sourced material into their body through a wound through their skin. See this History of Anti-vaccination Movements.

The modern version of this that I would primarily focus upon here, stems in large part from concerns over the use of a particular preservative agent: thimerosal – a mercury containing organic compound that was first used in the 1930’s and in both medications and vaccines.

To be clear here, thimerosal is a toxic compound in higher dose exposure. But it is safely broken down and disposed of by the body, with most of it eliminated through the intestines in fecal matter and in a matter of days, when exposure is very small. Only trace amounts of it are used in vaccination preparations when this compound is used there at all. But a since-discredited study was published, based on falsified data that claimed that even the most minute exposure to this in children could lead to their developing autism. See Thiomersal and Vaccines. And with that study, the modern anti-vaccination movement was born.

• This study has been disproven and with carefully conducted clinical research to back that. But perhaps more to the point, backlash from a concerned public brought the pharmaceutical companies that produce vaccination materials, to remove thiomersal from their preparations. That should have made this a non-issue.
• But the same people who said that they would never vaccinate their children because of possible thiomersal-based risk, now generalized their fears and their responses to them through social media and related activism to attack any childhood vaccination at all.
• I have been framing this narrative in terms of two basic paradigmatic models of acceptance and rejection and this story fits fairly stronger into the second of them and even if global flattening per se is not always in play here; this is pushback driven. And as I intimated above, this fits into an ideologically driven pushback against science per se with that including global warming denial, and in our current COVID-19 context, denial of the relevance or the positive value of disease containment efforts such as social distancing and the use of personally protective equipment.

Bringing this back to the issues of vaccinations and of childhood vaccinations per se, communities that have come to exhibit higher levels of anti-vaccination resistance, have also shown reemergence of the childhood disease scourges that those vaccinations had seemed to end: that they had at least seemingly made nightmare stories of a not to be repeated historical past.

• I have to ask this question in this context. How could a parent possibly explain to a child of theirs why they became paralyzed from polio when a safe and effective vaccination was available that would have prevented that from happening, that that parent refused? Unfortunately, this denial has led to new cases of that disease too, so this is not just a theoretical question.
• My point here is that the issues that I raise here are consequential and in the lives of real people and real communities. And this is true for a much wider range of possible accept and embrace, or reject and refuse contexts than just the few that I could raise here.

I am going to return to the first three examples again in the next installment to this series where I will consider, among other factors, the risks and costs, versus positive benefits balances that they raise – and how those balances can be variously understood and evaluated as even just being meaningful possibilities. And as noted above, I will also consider the dichotomies and even disparities of who pushes accept or reject messages, and who more directly faces and has to deal with the consequences of that where they might in fact be very different people. I will at least briefly reconsider all five of my above-listed examples in light of that.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 and Page 3 continuations.

When the simplest is not the most expected: rethinking Occam’s razor in light of disruptive change

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 16, 2020

We all tend to slip into ruts, following patterns of behavior that have worked for us up to now, and that we pretty much automatically assume will continue to work for us and effectively so, moving forward. And that can be reasonable and even most of the time.

That approach does not in and of itself at least, account for the possibility that circumstances and needs can shift and evolve over time, bringing what has been routine into a progressively less and less effective focus for what it can accomplish now. So it is always important to carry out at least regularly recurring reality check reviews and evaluations that would consider updates there. But gradual and evolutionary arise over time and they can more usually be accommodated in that type of standardized planning framework. And then the emergently disruptive arises and seemingly out of nowhere. And those more usual routines can break down or even become fundamentally irrelevant.

Consider routine bricks and mortar business processes and face-to-face sales transactions and other critical functionalities here. Routines are established and followed and even precisely so, and for valid due diligence and risk management reasons. And things proceed smoothly and easily, or at least relatively easily with that. There are always going to be situations where exception handling processes and escalations in who would manage them and carry them out, have to be resorted to. Good managers know that from time to time, they will be called upon to resolve problems and even when the basic systems in place are very effective for mainstreaming most everything done according to those standard operating procedures.

But then the disruptively novel arises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that we now all face. And businesses are shuttered, at least as bricks and mortar, face-to-face interaction enterprises. And suddenly any and all business activity that would be done through them, has to be carried out remotely and online. And most of the businesses that suddenly find themselves facing that new approach to how they operate, and as an absolute imperative if they are to continue, have absolutely no experience doing anything like that and even just on a reduced business activity scale.

• What aspects of their pre-disruptive old normal, translate from face-to-face to remote-and-online, and at least relatively directly so?
• What can be done to smoothly make those transitions work?
• And what has to be completely reframed and even replaced in order to achieve the same goals that those old normals would be expected to achieve?

The more disruptively novel a challenge, the more widely impactful its reach in how it forces a need for such change. And a challenge like COVID-19 forces change essentially everywhere in a business, for how it functions and both internally, and as it connects to its customers and market, and as it works with its suppliers and other supply chain partners. And this brings me to the specific issues that I raise in the title to this posting.

Occam’s razor can be thought of as a rule of thumb that is much more commonly found to hold true than false, according to which a simplest explanation or approach is more likely to be the best. And when couched entirely in terms of causal explanations, the word true is usually used there. But what is simplest and where should you look for it?

When all is going as expected, in a normative ongoing way, and when business as usual is de facto presumable for its representing that business at its (at least near) best, answering that is easy. That question in effect becomes:

• What is simplest when the standard operating procedures, understandings and expectations that are in place are held up as if a gold standard?

The first thing that genuinely disruptive change does is to throw away those gold standard benchmarks and the performance scales that they would be built around. And the more disruptive a change that has to be accommodated and worked around, the more likely it is going to be that at least some of the key simplests that you need to think and plan in terms of, are going to be disruptively new and novel too.

Simple and simplest can still be best, and certainly when that means reorienting and restarting in a new emergent context would be easier and faster from pursuing them. But seeing and understanding what that functionally best simplest actually is, can be a challenge in and of itself. And the businesses that can accomplish this first, will gain a first mover advantage for their being better able to function in this new working environment and both more effectively and faster for that. And when they start accomplishing this earlier then their competition can, they will be in a better position to begin to fine tune and optimize from their first-take and early new normal efficiencies too, so this need not just be a short term and initial advantage.

The key to all of this is in starting out by questioning what simple and direct mean, and with a focus on how changing needs and circumstances have redefined them for your business. And that often means starting with the fundamentals and the basic business model in place and working out from there.

So I offer this as a cautionary note update for businesses that suddenly face a need to make accommodating change, in response to what for them might even be an emerging existential crisis – as is the case for many businesses facing COVID-19. Don’t try to simply, or simplistically reach for an older, pre-disruptive change understanding of what to do next, as an easy and comfortably familiar approach to responding to the disruptive new reality that you face. Don’t limit yourself to a quick ad hoc resolution there; look at this strategically and with its possible and its likely immediate and longer term consequences – and opportunities in mind.

You can find this and related material at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

Planning for and building the right business model 101 – 49: goals and benchmarks and effective development and communication of them 29

Posted in startups, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 5, 2020

This is my 49th posting to a series that addresses the issues of planning for and developing the right business model, and both for initial small business needs, and for scalability and capacity to evolve from there (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 and Page 5 continuations, postings 499 and loosely following for Parts 1-48.) I also include this series in my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory and its Page 2 continuation.

I have been successively discussing a set of three basic business development issues in recent installments to this series, as they would be understood and addressed by businesses that seek to follow each of a set of three basic development models. The business types that I include there include an IPO scenario and a venture capital supported one, and an at least initially seemingly unrelated one: a franchise system-initiating scenario that would be built out from an intentionally prototype-developed initial storefront. And the three issues are:

1. What constituencies and potential constituencies would ventures following each of the above-cited business development approaches need to effectively reach out to and connect with? (Nota bene: I repeat here that my focus in this specific line of discussion is on initial development and early expansion and scaling up of a new business venture, so I am not at least for here and now, going to include market audiences in my considerations as they arise over time. They enter into, and are in fact the focus of attention for other discussions in this blog, but my focus here is on building the business per se and not so much on what it would bring to market or to whom.)
2. What basic messages would the founders and owners of one of these ventures, have to convincingly and even compellingly share with those audiences, to create value for themselves from their marketing efforts?
3. And where and how would they best accomplish this?

I have already offered at least an initial discussion of the above Point 1 in earlier installments leading up to this. My goal for this posting is to complete an at-least initial analysis of the above repeated Point 2 and its issues too, doing so as a continuation of Part 48 where I began this line of discussion. Then after that, I will turn to Point 3. Addressing that, I add here, will mean revisiting Points 1 and 2 again. And with that noted in anticipation of what is to come here, I return to Point 2 and its decision making challenges, noting that I focused essentially entirely on funding sources and on who influences them in Part 48. I turn here to add in consideration of the wider social media context and both as that would involve outside audiences (customers and potential customers included) and as that would involve the business itself.

Ideally at least, any given consumer-facing business would find a way to connect with and cultivate a stable and reliable market share, and one that with time would come to include repeat business customers. But that is a goal, and one that can in most cases only be realized as that business really takes off and begins to develop a track record and a name for itself in its larger communities. So my focus here is on how that would begin, starting from a position of being new and unknown for essentially all possible here-future customers.

I have written on a number of occasions in this blog of online marketing campaigns and viral marketing. How and where do you start for that? I will focus in more detail on the where of that when discussing the above Point 3, simply noting here that your focus should be on reaching out to connect and communicate where the people who you seek to reach are looking, and where they would be most favorably be inclined to favorably act from – favorably from your perspective.

Let’s consider those funding sources from Part 48 again as a starting point for this posting’s discussion. I wrote there of business oriented social networking and both as a means of researching and identifying valuable contacts, and as a means of actually making contact with them. How can you use online social networking resources to increase your chances that these people who you need to connect with, will want to connect with you too, beyond your offering a (hopefully) well written and up to date online professional profile and you’re reaching out to them through what amount to cold call networking invitations?

Are they listed in their LinkedIn or other professional profiles as being members of topically specific professional networking groups, that it would make sense for you to join too? This means you’re having both relevant interest and experience in the topics and issues of importance there, so that you could make a meaningful contribution to at least some of their discussion threads. My focus here is not on which online groups or professional organizations you would join for this purpose. It is on entering into or even initiating lines of discussion that you can use as a basis for further, more direct conversation, where you join in at all. And it is about you’re establishing yourself as being more than just an online profile, that would all but certainly be incomplete and that could not, for its of-necessity scattershot brevity, actually say that much about you or about what you offer as a professional.

I wrote that in terms of joining online conversations and the groups that support them, in order to connect. And that is a legitimate option; membership in such forums need not be lifelong. Join and participate, then leave and move on as your needs and circumstances dictate, where that can mean your interests and priorities have changed, or a group that you have been involved with has and in ways that lead to it no longer matching your interests, or both.

• Think long term there; think in terms of ongoing participation in relevant online and other professional groups that actually connect with your long-term interests and needs, where you can establish an identity and a positive reputation for what you have to offer.
• And use that overall connectedness to cultivate more specific networking opportunities that would meet your ongoing, more here-and-now needs.

Note that I have written this from the perspective of consultancy and of developing a networking base that can generate productive, profitable work assignments. Most businesses do not follow that path and neither do their founders. But every business founder has to think like a consultant in this if they are to develop a place for themselves in their potential supply chain environment, and with at least major potential business-to-business clients if they seek to engage in that arena.

This addresses reaching out to and connecting with possible funding sources where they might be sought out, early on, in order to accelerate business development. This addresses the challenge of establishing a new business’s founders credentials and credibility for what they would do, professionally. And this would accompany starting efforts in market-facing outreach too, and with consumer-facing messaging too.

Continuing with an “act like a consultant” approach as I have already pursued here, I have already at least begun to more fully address the above Point 3 and its Where issues here in that context. And I will continue that line of discussion in a next series installment where I will address issues of selecting effective forums to communicate and connect through. In anticipation of that, I simply note here, the differences between attempting to enter into significant professionally oriented conversations through a site such as LinkedIn, as compared to trying that through a Facebook page. Where is all about Who and What and For What Purpose, here. And I will delve into at least some of that complex of issues in my next installment here.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. And you can find this and related material at my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory too and at its Page 2 continuation.

Building a business for resilience 41 – open systems, closed systems and selectively porous ones 33

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 2, 2020

This is my 41st installment to a series on building flexibility and resiliency into a business in its routine day-to-day decisions and follow-through, so it can more adaptively anticipate and respond to an ongoing low-level but with time, significant flow of change and its cumulative consequences, that every business faces in its normal course of operation (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 and Page 5 continuations, postings 542 and loosely following for Parts 1-40.)

I have been discussing a set of five interrelated topics points here, since Part 32 that all variously deal with the challenge of simultaneously supporting business-enabling information sharing, while still maintaining effective risk management based information security and oversight. And for smoother continuity of narrative I repeat the last three of them here, for purposes of this posting’s line of discussion:

3. And I will at least begin to discuss corporate learning, and the development and maintenance of effectively ongoing experience bases at a business, and particularly in a large and diverse business context where this can become a real challenge.
4. In anticipation of that, I note here that this is not so much about what at least someone at the business knows, as it is about pooling and combining empirically based factual details of that sort, to assemble a more comprehensively valuable and applicable knowledge base.
5. And more than just that, this has to be about bringing the fruits of that effort to work for the business as a whole and for its employees, by making its essential details accessible and actively so for those who need them, and when they do.

More specifically, I began discussing Point 4 of that in Part 40 , as that is grounded in the issues raised in a Point 3 context. And I offered, and repeat Point 5 here to put all of this in a more complete overall context.

To complete bringing this initial orienting note up to date, I offered Point 3 as being What oriented, and Part 4 as being How oriented. And as a part of that and to take my response to it out of the ad hoc with its uncertainties and inconsistencies, I proposed the implementation of a systematically organized, formally defined mechanism for managing the information resource development and use that would be called for in anything like that Point 4 context.

• Importantly, I do not propose or espouse the type of systematic approach that I would offer here, as a necessary, valid or even acceptable intermediary for managing information access or flow in normative, routine business contexts. Any time that people on staff: hands-on or managerial have to turn to a non-standard third party resource for help with what should be more routine work, that should be seen as raising a red flag that they are facing emergent challenges that have made that work effectively non-standard and non-routine in some way, at least for them.
• The system that I offer here is explicitly designed to help bring people together in more effectively clarifying, planning out and managing the resolution of the non-routine.
• And one of its goals is to mine those challenges and their resolutions, and any learning curve experience and knowledge that addressing them can lead to, for their value in expanding a more routine and standard workplace knowledge base that people there could turn to on their own.

The human side to this more systematic approach to what amounts to exception handling here, was presented in terms of organizational structures, with their being built around what I refer to as Knowledge Asset Management Committees, and with any dedicated support staff for them organized into Offices for Knowledge Asset Management. (As noted in Part 40, those labels are large corporation-centric. The capabilities and the resources that they would offer are what count here. So name them for your organization and for your corporate culture in place, as appropriate there. And only add the level and range of formal structure into these resources that would make sense for your business too.)

However labeled, these functionally defined teams and their organized effort would supplement self-service oriented, intranet-based employee accessible knowledge data bases. And one of their goals would be to add to those more standardized resources as they clarify and resolve the issues that they work on there, expanding the generally known for that business in the process. And this, if done with consistent care can only serve to help make the business that much more flexible and resilient in the face of change, that new lessons learned in perhaps more isolated contexts become part of the basic informational resources that are going to be there and available where and as needed, moving forward.

I said at the end of Part 40 that I would continue its discussion here by fleshing out how it would manage such “business wisdom,” as I called it there, that could and should be included in a forum such as an intranet. And I added that with that in place for comparison if nothing else, I will address the parallel challenges of dealing with less openly sharable information and insight too. I will in fact at least begin to delve into these issues and starting in this posting. But before doing so, I am going to offer a few orienting thoughts as to the Who of those knowledge asset management resources. What should a business and its senior management look for when assembling such a committee and its supportive office? I will focus on the Knowledge Asset Management Committee and its best fit members here, and with a goal of using that as a starting point for approaching these other issues.

• It is obvious that any such committee should be built around a wide ranging span of expertise and experience. But it is at least as important that the people serving on anything like this committee have open minds, and that they recognize the limits to what they know and the limits that a priori assumptions can bring, and certainly if they are never examined or challenged. So these people should come from a wide range of functional areas in the business, they should be smart and experienced and deeply knowledgeable, and they should be open to new ideas and even when that challenges what they have assumed they already more fully know. That, among other things means that they should not be ego driven.
• They should know their business and in depth and at least some of them should really know its history and for what has worked and for what has not worked as challenges have come up in the past. That said, fresh ideas and new perspectives offer value here too so a blend there can offer real value.
• And given the nature of this committee, it is important that its members be rich in what for this context, would qualify as high value business social networkers. And with this noted, I cite a key posting that I offered early on in this blog that I have returned to on a number of occasions now: Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy.

Using the terminology of that posting, this committee is not a good choice for the involvement of inactive or passive networkers, or of selective ones and certainly insofar as that means they’re never reaching out beyond their current circle of contacts, online or face to face. Active networkers are important for this and even vitally so: people who look beyond the limits of their own cubicle or office and of their own particular working group or functional area in the business. Any team such as a Knowledge Asset Management Committee should be heavily weighted towards including people who are inclined towards being hub networkers, boundary networkers and boundaryless networkers, to use the terms of that taxonomy posting.

And highly correlated with this, the people who actively participate as ongoing members of this type of committee should be heavily weighted towards employees of whatever level or position on the table of organization who are actively interested in how the business works as a whole, and not just in their more usual areas of responsibility and action, for when they are not doing this committee work.

This depth and breadth of experience and connectedness can offer value in even just knowing what types of information might be more generally sharable, and what might best be managed as being of limited accessibility. It definitely helps where outside expertise has to be turned to for specific case-in-point decision making, and when bringing in context-specific, more temporary members into this committee where that would be called for.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, starting with the points raised in that paragraph and particularly in its first sentence. To be more specific here, I will further flesh out that initial point of perspective, as to how best to manage openly accessible and less openly sharable information and insight. And in anticipation of that line of discussion to come, this will of necessity include a discussion of the role that members of this type of committee can play in a business as knowledge sharing intermediaries and filters, and certainly where non-standard sensitive information, insight, judgment and opinion need to be shared but selectively and with care. And once again, addressing the above-repeated topics Point 5 can be seen as an overall goal here that I am leading to. And I will discuss that complex of issues in its own right too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 14: considering the perils of “technically sweet solutions”

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on June 29, 2020

This is my 15th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-13, plus its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I began this series by briefly and selectively outlining and discussing a succession of five specific case study examples of large scale infrastructure development and redevelopment projects, with that including both primarily positive role model, and primarily cautionary note negative examples. And in keeping with real world complexities as they arise in any contexts as large and complex as these, I selected examples there that combined both positive and negative features within them. Then I broke away from that expository pattern in Parts 10-12 to offer at least a first draft take on a set of general principles that I would argue should enter into any overall better practices guide for selecting, designing and carrying out such initiatives.

My goal here is to turn back to the specifics by reconsidering another historical example that I have previously looked into in this blog in an earlier series: an attempted greening of the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa through development of a system of deep drilled artesian wells (see Planning Infrastructure to Meet Specific Goals and Needs, and not in Terms of Specific Technology Solutions 1. I was initially planning on addressing this in Part 13 to this series, but I broke with my initial organizational outline of it there, to add in a first step, anticipatory note as to what might arise from the COVID-19 global pandemic that we face now, as efforts are made to reopen and to rebuild, and with at least significantly scaled national infrastructure efforts all but certain to be included there. I will turn to and discuss my Sahelian example here and now, and will do so with the issues and challenges noted in that inserted Part 13 in mind. And I begin that by offering a general note regarding infrastructure programs and projects in general, as more fully addressed in Parts 10 through 12:

• I did not focus on specific technologies in those three postings for a reason. Technology changes and advances as new innovations emerge and advance, and as older tools and materials and approaches for using them become legacy and then disappear from any current or anticipated use. And even when a technology is still of use, it might or might not apply to the specific infrastructure initiatives and their needs that might be under consideration – or under immediate here-and-now development.
• But human involvement and human impact can be taken as an ongoing, automatic given.
• I have been discussing the now six infrastructure contexts that I have raised and selectively considered here, from a human and an interpersonal perspective because those are the true constants that can be found in any and all such endeavors. And ultimately, success and failure: immediate and long-term can only be measured in such terms.

To bring this lead-in note up to date here, that is most certainly the perspective that I espoused in Part 13. And I will continue pursuing it here too, using this example to further expand upon what that it has to include if it is to offer any real value.

Read my earlier posting about this unfortunately negative, cautionary note example, and how it came to fail and in ways that led to significant loss of life, and to expanding environmental degradation. Read it with these at least seemingly simple questions in mind, if nothing else, as we face our current COVID-19 context and both intranationally and internationally:

• When we reopen and recover and rebuild from this crisis, what long-term challenges that it has brought to light will we address and how?
• And what longer-term and wider reaching challenges will we exacerbate, if not create outright from that if we only take a short-term, here-and-now perspective as we plan and prioritize and carry through on whatever infrastructure and related efforts that we do enter into?

I offered some briefly stated points of conclusion in my above cited 2014 “greening of the desert” posting that I repeat here for their renewed relevance:

• If you are to develop and institute an effective infrastructure change societally, you need to do so in ways that will gain widespread support and that will meet real needs. So you have to be prepared to make this work on a short timeframe and with a clear vision for moving forward.
• But at the same time you have to plan and develop and monitor and fine tune with an acute awareness of longer term considerations too, and with an awareness of what I would call, based on the above-cited narrative, potential water challenges. And these are always problems that are readily perceived and understood – in hindsight, but that can prove much more difficult to see or anticipate in foresight. Even the most devastating such problems can seem to arise from unexpected directions.

Let’s consider what that second point and its cautionary note means, in the context of that African based example. Providing water to a parched land and with a goal of enriching the lives of the many peoples of a large multinational region, is a noble goal.

• The people who set out to do this, sought to do good and they made every effort to actually do so. But they treated this as a strictly technological problem: one of digging wells and of controlling water flow so as to enable the effective use of it in the communities that would arise around those wells.
• But the technological was in fact only one aspect to this, that was crucially important to consider and address there. It was at least as important to consider the historical and the sociological context of this and of the people of this large and widespread region.
• Would this project have been carried out as it was, if cultural anthropologists who really knew the peoples of this region and who spoke their languages, had been brought into its planning and from the beginning?
• It was well known as long established fact that this region: the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa, was repeatedly, consistently recurringly faced with periods of rain and even if just in more limited quantities, interspersed with periods of parching, withering drought.
• All the puzzle pieces that went into this failing were known – including the fact that this vast pool of underground water was not being replenished from the outside and in any way, so it was a fixed and limited resource that with time would be exhausted.

This was an infrastructure project that was developed and instituted as a good and even noble effort. It was grounded in the best of intentions. But the blinders-limited failure of its planning, and the failure to understand or even see the pitfalls that it would have built into it from that, made this a tragedy and even an inevitable one. And circumstance had it that those wondrous deep drilled artesian wells began to run dry precisely as one of the region’s more severe if predictable droughts set in.

In retrospect, that confluence was at least partly predictable too. When the land became parched and the people of those artesian well-centered communities needed extra water for their now much larger herds of cattle and for their own larger numbers too, they opened the spigots as wide as they could, accelerating their race to deplete the reservoirs that they were tapping into for this. Drought in a way set the schedule for this failure.

• What types and sources of expertise should have been included in any such conversations, as this project was being planned?
• Looking to the first of those above-repeated bullets points from my 2014 posting (as edited here for this discussion), how can you best meet the needs that such a project would seek to fulfill, and gain buy-in and support for it and in a way that would not conflict with the basic understandings and the basic traditions of the people there, who would be most directly affected by it?

The largely nomadic herdsman communities of the Sahel were intelligent, and wise in the ways of their ancestors. But as vitally important as it was to gain their buy-in for whatever would be done, they were still largely illiterate and they did not have the educational background: the basic facts in their community knowledge bases, to understand all of the crucially important issues there. This does not mean they could not have been informed, and certainly if the information that they needed had been shared with them in their languages and in ways that they would see as making sense.

• So if you are to develop and institute an effective infrastructure change societally, you need to do so in ways that will gain widespread support and that will meet real needs, with a shared and agreed to determination of that even means, arrived at as a matter of genuinely informed consent.

Am I arguing here against deep artesian wells and against this type of project ever being carried out? No! I am arguing against simply carrying out this type of project blindly, as was arguably the case for what was done there. Am I arguing that the people who were involved in this, and either as technologist developers or as individuals and communities living in that region were odiously wrong in what they did? No! People of good will and good intention on all sides of this, made what were arguably the best decisions that they could have made there – given the information and the levels and types of insight and perspective that they could turn to as they reached their conclusions and made their decisions.

• What I am arguing is that all actually involved parties made what turned out to be fateful decisions, on the basis of faulty and incomplete information and on the basis of fundamentally limited perspective.

And if you look more widely at artesian well systems and the water resources that they can access, this project is not unique and either for its being carried out on the basis of incomplete information or for its potential for “law of unintended (and unexpected) consequences” failure.

I cite in that context, a 2001 report from the United States based Natural Resources Defense Council, concerning deep water sourced contamination in the United States, in California. The challenges addressed there, arising from those artesian well systems, came to include significant surface water contamination and with that creating what become all but intractable problems for agricultural irrigation in at least some areas of the state, along with problems with the quality of essential potable water too (see their report:California’s Contaminated Groundwater.)

As a surface water and agricultural, and a wildlife and environmental challenge example of the impact of contamination from subsurface, deep well-sourced water, I would cite selenium contamination where microscopic levels of that serve as essential micronutrients for all multicellular organisms, but where excessive levels are teratogenic poisons too. When deep sourced well water is contaminated with a nonvolatile contaminant like that and it is brought to the surface, it remains there in place as the water that conveyed it to the surface evaporates away. And more such water brings up more of it and it becomes more and more concentrated there.

I could just as easily cite examples of where farmland has been poisoned by salinization as salts so accumulate too. Israel has faced real problems of that type, and even when using drip irrigation and similar techniques to both reduce the amounts of water needed, and to help limit the impact of this problem.

I am going to turn back to a discussion outline that I first proposed in Part 6 in the next installment to this series, and discuss infrastructure development as envisioned by and carried out by the Communist Party of China and the government of the People’s Republic of China. And as part of that continuation I will also discuss Soviet Union era, Russian infrastructure and its drivers as took place within that nation. And I will, of course, also touch on the issues of Post-Soviet Russia too and of Vladimir Putin and his ambitions and actions there too. That, and for both China and Russia, is where infrastructure development meets authoritarianism, and in a form and to a degree that has never been possible until now, so both of those sources of case study material are important for better understanding our 21st century context.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 50 – bridging the individual to organizational gap 3

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 26, 2020

This is my 50th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-49.)

I have primarily been focusing on issues of business process and of personnel policy and practice as they would relate to that, throughout most of this series. Then I began to shift directions in this, in Part 48, where I began to address some of the key issues at least touched upon up to there, but from a more individual employee perspective. And to bring this connecting note up to date, and to put what will follow here into clearer perspective, I concluded Part 49 by posing a possible personnel policy and employee relations conundrum that a business might face:

• Businesses have to have, and they have to actually follow consistent personnel policies, with standardized systems as to terms of employment: salary and compensation ranges definitely included there.
• But at the same time, they have to be able to make special exceptions when seeking out and competing for special skills employees who their competitors want and need too. They need to be able to offer what it takes, to bring in people who could very individually contribute to their capability for being competitively effective and profitably so.
• Simple supply and demand dictates can easily lead to these particularly sought after new hires being able to command larger overall compensation packages than their ostensibly same-level but more routine new hire counterparts can expect. And those same pressures can only be expected to continue at an employee retention level, where competing businesses might seek to hire these special hands-on and managerial employees away from their current employers by offering them deals that they cannot refuse.
• But to complicate this even further, as noted in Part 49, “special” and “extraordinary” in special and extraordinary skills and experience, are defined in the eyes and minds of the beholder. So while an employer and an involved hiring manager might see need to offer special terms of employment to a particular individual in order to meet their ongoing needs, others who work there might not see matters the same way – and certainly if they do not have to directly deal with the issues that such special and extraordinary hire new employees would help to resolve.

I wrote an earlier series to this blog that I titled: Macroeconomics and the Fallacy of a Pure Meritocracy System (see Macroeconomics and Business, postings 108 and following for its Parts 1-7.) And a great deal of that dealt with the way nepotism and other forms of favoritism arise in what might begin as more purely merit-based systems, where merit would at least officially be based entirely upon skills, experience and ability. Think of this line of discussion as representing a counterpart to that, where business needs can equally skew and challenge any attempted “pure egalitarian,” standardized rules based hiring and compensation system too.

• In principle, both of those extremes can work; in practice, “pure” never does and certainly not long-term and as an exception-free system.

Favorites and favoritism happen; a need to be able to hire and retain under special more favorable terms happens too and certainly situationally. How can a business best thread their way between these possibilities, and certainly where perception can mean everything and where other employees at a business are not likely to be able to tell which of those two possibilities they are seeing, when special terms of employment for some become known?

• If an employer in effect puts a special terms of employment employee on a pedestal, in order to justify what might seem to be preferential treatment towards them,
• That might not satisfy others who feel left out and who can claim longer term commitment to serving the needs of that business, and certainly if they have worked longer hours and made other sacrifices to help that business grow.
• It might in fact only serve to strengthen the hand of such a special consideration employee as they negotiate any employee retention agreements faced – widening any gaps between what they are offered and what more routine employees get.

There are many reasons why most all businesses actively seek to retain all compensation agreements, and all by-title approved salary ranges as closely guarded secrets – and even as that has become all but impossible and even where permitted. (Note: as an exception there, publically traded companies are generally required by law to reveal senior executive level employee compensation information and certainly for those holding Chief Executive Officer and similar high profile titles, but that is an exception to a more general rule, at least as far as legally mandated disclosures are concerned.)

All of this noted, how at least as a matter of generally stated best practices, can and should a business deal with this complex tangle of issues? There are enough actively followed and used online resources for sharing information about what it is like to work at specific businesses, and with compensation details included there, and for a seeming myriad of businesses in all industries and business sectors, so that any employer has to expect that they cannot keep any of their once secret information about any of this secret any longer. And that is just as true if new hires all have to sign legally binding nondisclosure agreements regarding this information as a requisite for being hired, that would allow for automatic dismissal if such an agreement were to be broken.

How can and should a business deal with this complex tangle of issues? I would argue that any effective answer to that question: “best practice” or not, has to be grounded in the perhaps imposed and even unwanted transparency implicit in the above paragraph.

• If a business has to face and accept a measure of transparency as far as workplace conditions are concerned, and as far as compensation is structured and scaled and for whom in particular there, then embrace transparency and make it a defining virtue of the business, developing it to include what will come out anyway, along with other information and insight that shows how the business gets this right as far as actively supporting their people and throughout their organization.
• And as a key part of that, develop and use transparency to both show that all are being treated fairly, and to help make that an ongoing reality.
• Then this becomes a matter of both defining and justifying what “fairly” means there and in ways that can be widely accepted as reasonable, at least in general.

This does not necessarily mean sharing individualized terms of employment information, such as specific compensation package details of any particular individual employees. And such disclosures should not in fact include that type of detail, and to meet legally mandated confidentially requirements if for no other reasons. But anonymized demographic level information, and general all-employees information can and should be included there, along with special recognition where that can be shared, as for example, for long-term service and for special work performance accomplishments. And if a “best of …” distinction as designated on a department by department basis, at the end of the year, is always accompanied by some set special bonus (e.g. an extra week of paid vacation time the next year, or comparable), that can be announced and even advertised throughout the organization and beyond too.

Yes, there will always be “why did she get that, when I …” types of responses to any special treatment of anyone and regardless of what that is, or how it is publically justified. There is no such thing as perfect in the real world. The goal here is to find a working best, and one that can be changed and evolved over time as needs and opportunities change and evolve.

I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment where I will at least begin to discuss what exceptional employees do, and how the value of their contributions to a business might be benchmarked. And in anticipation of that, I add here that the fact that these employees who would receive special consideration, do not in general do the types of more routine work that would be easier to benchmark per se, so standard and routine and its compensation can only serve as a starting point for this type of discussion to come.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Leveraging social media in gorilla and viral marketing as great business equalizers: a reconsideration of business disintermediation and from multiple perspectives 21

Posted in social networking and business, startups, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 23, 2020

This is my 21st posting to a series on disintermediation, focusing on how this enables marketing options such as gorilla and viral marketing, but also considering how it shapes and influences businesses as a whole. My focus here may be marketing oriented, but marketing per se only makes sense when considered in the larger context of the business carrying it out and the marketplace it is directed towards (see Social Networking and Business 2 and its Page 3 continuation, postings 278 and loosely following for Parts 1-20.)

I have been discussing data and big data in particular, and its potential benefits and perils in this series. And in the course of that, I have repeatedly touched upon crucially important points of categorical distinction: the conceptual, and I have to add the operationally functional distinctions that can be drawn between raw data and processed knowledge.

To be more precise here, I have repeatedly stated that there are important points of distinction there, but I have not all that fully discussed or analyzed what those distinctions are or what they would mean to a business that seeks to make effective use of business intelligence. My goal for this posting is to at least begin to shed some light on these issues, and both for what they are and for how and why they are important, and certainly in the context of this series and its areas of concern.

To bring that into focus, at least for where I would begin this narrative, I ended Part 20 by offering this anticipatory note as to what I would address here:

• “And this brings me to what can be the refined gold in big data: metadata and the pools of processed and at least situationally validated (and hopefully context benchmarked) knowledge that has already been developed from that raw data at hand. I am going to turn to that area of discussion in my next series installment.”

Let’s begin this by considering what metadata is. In simplest terms, metadata is simply data about data. So for example, a business might develop a database of raw data coming from their sales transactions and their details, and from their individual customers, and their individual suppliers and others. And one of their key goals would be to use this perhaps with-time vast pool of information, to help them make better strategic and operational decisions. But as an unprocessed, unconsidered mass, this accumulation of informational stuff, is probably not going to actually offer them much if any real value for that. Value comes from processing and analyzing it, and from mining it for meaningful patterns that can be used in making specific business decisions. And a significant part of that value creation begins with the development of specific metadata that can be used to organize and functionally characterize that raw data.

• What is metadata? It can be descriptive and serve a role of identifying data fields and the variables they include in them as to basic type. Consider, for example, individual customer sourced data fields that collectively – and specifically, locate where they live or work or where they make their online purchases from. Or consider descriptive data that would categorically identify vendors or suppliers that a business purchases services or goods from, according to whether they bill as 30 days receivable, or 60 days receivable.
• Metadata can also be structural, and as such can serve to functionally define what amount to compound objects. A complete suite of data fields that would characterize a specific online customer, or a specific supplier would fall into this category. So would a functionally significant specific subset of such a data assembly that might hold specific significance in planning or business operations.
• Metadata can be administrative, or risk-management systems based. And as a working example there, it can be used to manage who would have what levels of access to and control over what data types. Consider those two structural metadata examples. Who needs and should have read-only permissions for seeing those types of data? Who needs and should have read/write permissions and be able to both see and change the data that is held there?
• And metadata can be statistical, and this is where a wide range of statistical analytical findings are added into an overall database, as processed knowledge that would hold some combination of descriptive and predictive value.

So metadata is processed knowledge that is developed from what is initially just raw and largely disconnected data. It can be very low level, simply pointing for example to meaningful connections between two or some other low number, few separate data fields, or it can be higher level, organizing and conceptually connecting large numbers of otherwise seemingly unrelated data types: database data fields, in ways that are insightfully informative. And as one other point of general understanding here, metadata as a whole for a big data holding enterprise, offers just as much insight into that business as it does for that data.

Let’s start addressing that last point by more fully considering statistical metadata, or process metadata as it is also called. And I begin that with the absolute basics:

• Businesses, or at least those that are in any way systematically organized and run, develop around business plans, as carried out through specific strategic and operational planning and execution. And they use the data that they bring in, and that they develop from it (as raw data and as metadata) to answer specific descriptive and predictive, business performance modeling questions.
• Those questions and their data-driven answers, hold value for them insofar as they mesh with that business’ overall goals and priorities: short-term and longer-term, and insofar as they would help shape more effective decision making for that.
• An inventory of the precise search queries and the precise statistical and other analytical tests that would be done on all of this data: raw and metadata, would obviously reveal a great deal about that organization and its planning and its priorities.
• But simply knowing precisely what types of metadata are being processed and developed and used, can be very revealing too, and certainly where it is developed for business-specific purposes, and in ways that would fit into and support it in offering unique sources of value to a marketplace. (I draw an important point of distinction there, setting aside more generic metadata types such as standard customer contact information identifier, structural metadata fields.)
• And importantly to this last point, while it is obvious that much if not most of the process metadata that a business holds, would best be considered highly sensitive, at least some of the data developed of all other basic categorical types would be too – and particularly where control over wider ranges of such data might become access compromised. Consider as a case in point example there, structural data specifications, where analysis of unusual combination, composite metadata is used to address valuable but less considered and less understood business development opportunities and how best to develop them.
• And this brings me to a final defining point in characterizing what metadata is. Metadata creates synergistic value for a business or other data accumulator and user, where the act of effective processing and knowledge creation from raw data, creates new value at the metadata level itself, and at the raw data level too.

I added at the end of Part 20 that I would continue on from this line of discussion to:

• Expand upon and at least seek to address possible “needle in a haystack and combinatorial explosion” problems as can arise in big data. And I will do so at least in part in terms of the issues raised in this posting, where I will at least briefly discuss how effectively developed metadata can help organize an overall data pool to help limit that.
• Then after doing so, I will turn back to the issues of intermediation and disintermediation, and of balancing lean and agile, with information security risk managed. I have addressed that complex of issues a number of times in this blog already, and from a variety of perspectives. This time I will do so as they specifically arise in the context that I have been discussing in this series.

And in further anticipation of what is to come here, when Cambridge Analytica gathered in and used its vast stores of data to help throw elections, among other things, they were able to bring as many as five thousand individual data points to bear, concerning virtually every individual who they had captured information about, in doing that. But their real power there was not in the raw data per se that they accumulated, but in the metadata that they developed in order to organize and make sense of that, in descriptively and predictively meaningful, actionable ways.

So I have been adding a new level of explanatory discourse to an already ongoing discussion of big data and its use (and misuse), here in this posting, that I will continue in the next to come.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 3, and also see that directory’s Page 1 and Page 2. And I also include this posting and other startup-related continuations to it, in Startups and Early Stage Businesses – 2.

Pure research, applied research and development, and business models 24

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 17, 2020

This is my 24th installment to a series in which I discuss contexts and circumstances – and business models and their execution, where it would be cost-effective and prudent for a business to actively participate in applied and even pure research as a means of creating its own next-step future (see Business Strategy and Operations – 4 and its Page 5 continuation, postings 664 and loosely following for Parts 1-23.)

I focused in Part 22 and again in Part 23 on the issues of business efficiency as an enabler of competitiveness. And to be more specific here, I focused on the issues and challenges of finding and maintaining an effective balance between lean where that offers greater value, and maintaining a change and uncertainty facing selective resource excess too. Both sides to that are important and particularly for businesses of the type under discussion here, where change and the disruptively new are central to that they are and to what they seek to be.

• I often conflate “lean” and “agile” in this blog and for a good reason. The two consequentially connect together for many if not most businesses, and under most contexts and certainly when focusing on their basic operational systems and the resource bases that would enter into maintaining them. The two enter into a wide range of functionalities that would primarily be used in support of their providing unique sources of value to a business too – and that explicitly help it to stand out as offering special defining value to a marketplace.
• But “agile” applies just as fully in the context of this series, when considering strategically and operationally determined resource excess as well, and certainly as discussed in Parts 22 and 23. There, “agile” equates with “well balanced and robust in the face of the unexpected,” rather than just representing an “effective minimal.”

The key to all of this can be found in that word: disruptive. My goal for this posting is to continue the narrative leading up to here, with a focus on scalability. But to put that into a here-relevant context, I begin by making note of a type of detail that is easy to overlook:

• “Disruptive” as in disruptively new is often equated with different. But the defining feature of a change or innovation that would make it explicitly disruptive can be best found in its impact.
• A seemingly minor change, at least as viewed by the people responsible for creating it, that comes to have unexpected and unexpectedly profound impact can be a very genuinely disruptive change, and even if no one who knew it was coming could have expected that.
• An intended game changer update or innovation, that no one in that business’s market and that no one in the business itself sees as being particularly impactful, and for any of the measures or points of considerations that they see as important,
• Cannot legitimately be called disruptive and no matter how many new details or features are packed into it that cannot be found in whatever it would replace. This is important; simply adding in new types of details into an intended innovation cannot suffice in making it disruptively new and novel if once again, there is no audience that sees anything special in it.
• There, at least as an extreme case situation, such a would-be disruptive innovation might very well qualify more as being cosmetic in nature than anything else.
• So disruptive is a matter of impact: audience-perceived impact,
• And disruptive is in the eye of the beholder. At least someone has to see such a change as significant for it to be so; someone has to care about it (and either positively or negatively as a direction of such opinion.)

And with that, I turn to the issues of scalability in the types of business settings that I discuss in this series.

A business that is built around offering research as profitably marketable and sellable product and service, is by its very nature one that exists on the basis of arriving at and offering change and New that others (client businesses) would see as offering significant positive value to them and their enterprises. And they have to care about this flow of change and the opportunities that it could bring them. This point of detail is crucial to all that follows here.

Scalability for a business like this has to address two complex sets of issues:

• The business-generic: building basic business systems and structures that any business would at least categorically need, with selectively cultivated and developed back office and support staffs and other supportive resources that would be arrived at and maintained, for their collective overall capability for achieving overall stability and competitive strength for the enterprise (where basic economies of scale become important, among other considerations there), and
• The business-specific: building for increased capacity to reliably arrive at and offer such disruptive New, and on an ongoing basis, both increasing the inward cash flow and profitability created from that, and smoothing out the steady reliability of this as an ongoing value-creating business process.

Given this, scalability as an ongoing business development process, is all about thinking through and implementing growth-supportive changes that would work effectively with each other and with already existing systems in place. Such growth and development would serve to both increase net-of-costs revenues received, while also:

• Streamlining the processes and work flows that generate that profitability,
• And both to keep resources in place actively in use to the extent that that is possible,
• And to smooth out the workloads faced, and revenue flows achieved.

That last point of detail means scalability as a moving beyond the sometimes feast or famine that newer and smaller businesses can face, as revenue generating work opportunities arrive and then end too, just to arrive again.

I have just outlined a basic assumptions-framed understanding as to what effective scalability means in the context of this type of series. I am going to at least begin to expand upon and flesh out that start in a next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

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