Consulting, Advising and Mentoring

5 Questions to Ask About Your Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Customers are the lifeblood of any organization. In order to capture and track customer information (e.g., demographics, buying habits, satisfaction and loyalty etc.), organizations use information systems called Customer Relationship Management (CRM). CRM is utilized by sales, marketing, customer support services and other organizational functions to capture new and potential customer information from multiple sources (e.g., websites, email, phone calls, chats, customer lists, social media, government data etc.) into a single source of reference.

CRM provides the organization to have “one voice” when addressing customer-related activities and provide internal organizational consistency. However, a standalone CRM is useless unless it is augmented with the right people, efficient processes and effective technologies. From a people’s perspective, customer relationship development becomes the responsibility of any individual who interacts with the customer at any level. From a processes perspective, enhanced customer experiences should be the goal. From a technologies perspective, information systems should be able to quickly capture customer information, be easy to use and always be available anytime anywhere.

In order to understand if CRM is helping or hurting your customers, ask the following questions to assess what is happening and what should be happening within your organization:

Currently

In the Future

Who is responsible for customer relationships? Who should be responsible for customer relationships?
What happens when customer relationships do not pan out? What should happen when customer relationships do not pan out?
Where does customer relationships take place? Where should customer relationships take place?
When are customer relationships developed? When should customer relationships be developed?
Why customer relationships are important? Why customer relationships should be important?

When you are asking the above questions across all levels of the organization, take into consideration the direct and indirect (e.g., word of mouth, organizational reputation, (ex) employee feedbacks etc.) ways of developing customer relationships. Keep in mind that customers are there to buy into your ideas, products and services and thus they need to trust you at some level. Customers should be able to:

  1. Trust that your organization will be transparent about how information is collected, used and distributed
  2. Trust that your organization will keep information safe
  3. Trust that your organization will provide the most efficient process for resolving issues
  4. Trust that your organization will provide customized services
  5. Trust that your organization will not try to sell them something they don’t need

5 Questions to Ask About Your Customer Relationship Management

3 Benefits and Challenges of Content Management Systems (CMS)

Content Management System (CMS) is a software system that helps to organize and facilitate collaboration of content. Some of the benefits and challenges that could arise from/during implementation and use of CMS are discussed below.

  • CMS Programmatics – In a CMS, content, display of content, content revisions, canned functionality, integration with other systems and security mechanisms can be manipulated programmatically. This means that organizations can set content display schedules, allow only a revision from certain people and even set the level of security for who has access to the content. However, this benefits comes with the following challenges:
    • Due to this programming aspect of CMS, technical experts are required to develop, update and maintain the CMS. Depending upon the complexity of the organization, this type of programming can prove to be costly to the organization.
    • CMS is susceptible to hackers who can programmatically manipulate content and content displays that can result in loss of organizational reputation and perhaps even customers.
  • Content Authorship – One of the benefits of a CMS is that users don’t have to worry about display of content since it is already predefined through templates and thus there is no knowledge or use of HTML required. However, content authorship can result in the following challenges:
    • Users are stuck with the presentation templates that have been created and do not have any flexibility in changing them easily.
    • If content authorship is centralized and it has to go through an approval process then this can create bottlenecks if approvals are not done in time.
    • If content authorship is distributed then how does the organization make sure that the content being created complies with organizational policies?
  • Training on CMS – The other benefit of CMS is that once it is created, people have to be potentially trained in only one system that is being used for content creation, distribution and collaboration. However, CMS has challenges when it comes to training especially when it is first being rolled out. These challenges include:
    • Since CMS is a system user have to be trained on how to create content that complies with the policies and procedures being used in the system. Depending upon the user base, this training can prove to be difficult if people are not willing to change their habits.
    • Ineffective and complex training can lead to a CMS no one is willing to use.
Content Management System

Content Management System

References:

  1. Boye, Janus. “Benefits and Challenges with a Consolidated Web CMS.” J. Boye. JBoye.com, 2 Mar. 2011. Web. http://jboye.com/blogpost/benefits-and-challenges-with-a-consolidated-web-cms/

5 Questions To Ask When Developing Mobile Apps

When developing “apps” for mobile devices, organizations need to consider if they are going to be developing native apps, web apps or hybrid apps. Determining mobile needs can mean the difference between creating something that has short-term advantage and/or long-term strategic value. Let’s explore what are the differences between various types of mobile apps along with the pros and cons of each type.

A native mobile app is one where the app being developed is specific to a mobile device (e.g., iOS, Android etc.), where the code is executed at the mobile device level and the app leverages the internal capabilities (e.g., camera, keyboard, geo-locator etc.) of the mobile device. On the other hand, a web app is one where the app being developed is not specific to a mobile device, where the code is not executed at the mobile device level and the app does not leverage the internal capabilities of the mobile devices. In other words, a web mobile app is an app developed for the web that can be easily displayed by the mobile device. Lastly, a hybrid mobile app is the one that is some sort of a mix between a mobile native app and a mobile web app.

Following are some of things that need to be considered when developing an app that utilizes the Internet:

  • Privacy: In creating apps, the data collection, data sharing and data usage needs to be considered. Privacy concerns include the app’s access to data beyond what it claims to access, how personal date is shared using/across the Internet and if the app is accessing/updating other apps on the mobile device that the customer is not aware of.
  • Security: Security is an obvious concern for both organizations and individuals. In apps that use the Internet, we have to make sure that data transmitted over the Internet is secure, be confident about the security of the mobile device itself, know when is the mobile device executes the code and how secure are the servers that execute the code.
  • Limited Capability: Due to the generic nature of web apps, they are limited in what capabilities of the mobile devices they can utilize but on the other hand native mobile apps use the capabilities of the mobile device itself. This consideration means that customers can have an excellent experience or a mediocre one.
  • Presentation: Due to limited real estate on a mobile device and less processing power as compared to a laptop or a desktop, presentation of content has to be in a way that is quick and not overwhelming.
  • Code: In a native mobile app, the code is retrieved from the servers and stored on the mobile device. This means that native mobile app code needs to be thoroughly tested for specific devices and device vulnerabilities. In a web app, the code remains on the servers and never downloaded to the specific mobile devices.
  • Code Execution: In a native mobile app, the code is run on the mobile device itself which means that memory, processing power, features and vulnerabilities of each mobile devices have to be taken into consideration. On the other hand, in a web app code is run on the servers and thus there is tremendous amount of processing power and storage needed on the servers to handle many customers accessing the web app.
  • Data: A native mobile app could be sending data to servers (e.g., GPS coordinates etc.) and/or retrieving data from servers (e.g., traffic etc.). For this exchange of data, the native mobile app has to take into consideration the network bandwidth and number of times the network mobile app needs to connect to the servers which means that quality and speed of connectivity is important. For a web app, connectivity remains important otherwise a less desirable customer experience might be achieved.
  • Storage: In developing a native mobile app, storage limits needs to be considered for each mobile device this means that various devices need to be tested. On the other hand, the main concern for storage is for the servers and how much data they can handle.
  • Cost: A web app is only developed once which can then be accessed by various mobile devices. Thus, it is cheaper to develop and maintain as opposed to a native mobile app where specific code needs to be developed for each mobile device that accesses it. This consideration means that development timelines for native mobile apps is longer than web apps.

Now that we understand the various things that need to be considered before and app is developed, lets ask the following questions that would help is deciding which type of app should be developed:

Currently

In the Future

Who are the users of your apps? Who should be users of your apps?
What data do you extract and share? What data should you extract and share?
Where does the data come from? Where should the data come from?
When apps are available to use? When apps should be available to use?
Why app development matters? Why app development should matter?

When you are asking the above questions, keep in mind that merely jumping on the bandwagon to develop an app since everyone else is doing it is a not a sound strategy. Ignore all the noise and truly understand if an app is really needed by your customers, employees, stakeholder, partners and vendors. Lastly, be cognizant that if the app truly meets the need that you are trying to assess and address for the future.

References:

1. https://otalliance.org/best-practices/mobile-app-privacy-security

35 Concepts that Affect Organizational Transformation Efforts

Organizational transformation entails understanding where the organization is today and where it wants to be in the future in terms of people, products/services, processes and technologies. In order to accomplish this transformation, we have to determine the organization’s ‘eligibility’ by assessing its strategy, politics, innovation, culture and execution (SPICE) factors. The SPICE factors help us determine (1) the underlying motivations of why the strategy was developed, (2) who are the power players in the organization, (3) who is really responsible for innovation, (4) who is an example of corporate culture and (5) who would help in carrying out this transformation across the organization.

As the organization begins its transformation journey, one glaring fact that is revealed is that the most crucial element to accomplishing change cannot occur without people. People are your organization’s lifeblood. People are the biggest champions of change or the biggest obstacles to it. Thus, in order to bring transformational changes in the organization, we have to understand the following concepts that affect individuals and group dynamics:

A. Inclusive Transparency

1. Cumulative Error – Your message of transformation can be distorted along the way and could be translated into many things (e.g., layoffs, outsourcing etc.). To address this:

2. Deep Time – People believe that the past was shorter than the future. For organizational transformation this means that if the future does not have a due date then there is the tendency to think that transformation can happen at a later time. To address this:

  • Have transformation due dates
  • Share what happens after the transformation
  • Assess motivators that change the discussion from ‘I will do it tomorrow’ to ‘Lets create the future today’

3. Externalities – Everyone affects everyone even if they don’t know it. For organizational transformation, this means that even the most isolated action in the organization can hinder change. This could be merely someone saying that they don’t believe transformation is going to be successful without giving any constructive feedback. Essentially, by saying this what people have done is created an opinion that be the seed to create doubt in others. To understand this:

  • Determine who are the spoken and unspoken champions and obstructionists
  • Empower champions and ask the obstructionists why they are resistant
  • Actively address the concerns of the obstructionists

4. Inference to the Best Explanation – The truth behind something is often reasonable and the best explanation. For organizations transformation what this means is that while there are many truths behind the failure of a transformation activity but often times it is the simplest explanation of what happened that prevails. Of course we have to be cognizant that this explanation is bias-free and objective. To determine this:

  • Read between the lines
  • Concentrate on what can be improved rather than who did it

5. Shifting Baseline Syndrome – Depending upon various variables, being ‘normal’ differs from one person to another. For organizational transformation, this means that the perception of what needs to be achieved can drastically vary from executive to the individual contributors. To address this:

  • Create and reiterate the objectives of the organizational transformation efforts
  • Re-inform periodically what they are doing has a role in the organizational transformation efforts

6. Subselves and Modular Minds – People have multiple versions of themselves which changes and morphs based on who they interact with. For organizational transformation, this means that to get to the truth behind the truth be ready not to take things at just face value. To understand this:

  • Don’t ask what is wrong in front of the superiors
  • Create a repercussion-free zone where people can openly discuss what they think is going on anonymously

B. Bite Sized Information

7. Cognitive Humility – People have a finite capacity of absorbing and retrieving information. Due to this finite capacity, people look for information that sits well with their own perceptions. For organizational transformation efforts, this means that if it is perceived that something similar has happened in the past with no great results then your current transformation effort would be considered just another ‘talk’. To address this:

  • Acknowledge the success and failures of the past transformation efforts
  • Discuss openly what lessons have been learned from the past transformation efforts and how those lessons are used in your current efforts
  • Create balanced specific action plans for individuals and groups, which are directly tied to their motivations (e.g., money, time-off, time to work on unique projects, competition etc.)
  • Create measures that assess the performance of the action plans and determine various ways to measure and not measure them
  • Be transparent and share small and big success so that the transformation efforts stay top of mind
  • Don’t be afraid to add people to the transformation leading team who you didn’t consider at the beginning
  • Design your team so that they are a cross-section of every function (e.g., management, finance, accounting, marketing, operations, information technology etc.) and every level (e.g., executive, senior management, middle management, front line individual contributors etc.) within and outside (e.g., vendors, customers etc.) the organization

8. Cognitive Load – At any given moment in time, people can only handle small amounts of information to make decisions. If there is too much information then there is a high likelihood of stagnation that often results in indecisions. Perhaps that is why video game designer give the player bare minimum information (e.g., lives remaining, mission completion status etc.) so that they can accomplish what they need to and move on to the next task. To address this:

  • Provide the least bit of information with the most impact (e.g., # of functional units transformed, # of processes captured and verified etc.)
  • Create anticipation (e.g.., only X time left until its time for their function to be transformed)
  • Share right information with the right people at the right time

9. Constraint Satisfaction – With too many options we become paralyzed and thus in order to get things to get moving we have to have some constraints around them. These constraints can come from within or outside the organization for the purposes of transformation efforts. To address this:

  • Don’t try to boil the ocean but instead create ponds then lakes and then rivers
  • Have deadlines and make people work towards them
  • Allow short meetings and give power to people to cut them off when productivity declines

10. Cultural Attractor – People are attracted to ideas and thoughts that are easily digestible. Simplicity is the name of the game even in organizational transformation efforts regardless of how complex it really is. To address this:

  • Clearly define what is that you plan to accomplish
  • Create a 140-character description, a 1 pager and a 10 pager
  • When creating process maps, eliminate complex symbols/notations and only use the basic ones to convey information
  • Setup process map meetings in a way that people become encouraged to participate since its so simple that anyone could do it
  • When evaluating technologies, don’t just read the systems documentation but inquire people how would they define the purpose of the information system that they use

11. Name Game – We are biologically programmed to name things and classify them but often times this can lead to not understanding what is behind that name. For organizational transformation, this means that create activities names that are easily identifiable. To use this:

  • Use acronyms that have meaning as well (e.g., organization needs SPICE for transformation)
  • Classify names and descriptions of activities and achievements in a way that it is clearly understood what is being attempted and what has been accomplished

12. Umwelt – People often accept reality without going into depth. For organizational transformation, this means that due to the increasing pace of business people have developed certain shortcuts in their minds of how things work. To address this:

  • Challenge the thinking of everyone and everything around you
  • Show proof that their thinking might be based on outdated information
  • Document concerns to have a solid understanding of the cultures and subcultures

C. Big Picture

13. Contingent Superorganisms – After people have achieved what they want to achieve individually then they automatically become more open to helping others and larger audiences. That is why at a certain point in time, people like to give back and create a legacy of selfishness. For organizational transformation, it becomes really important to figure out who these people are. These are not necessarily those who are perceived to be accomplished (e.g. superstar executive etc.) but it could anyone from the lowest rungs of the organization to people outside the organization. To address this:

  • Find out what motivates people outside of work and use those external motivations to see if the same passion is displayed at work. If not, ask the individual how that can happen
  • Understand that status quo often means being burnt too many times
  • Keep an active lookout for those who put the group before themselves and would volunteer their own time to be a part of the transformation. Don’t just use these people but recognize them in various ways (e.g., employee recognition, bonus, paid family vacations etc.)
  • Be cognizant of people who are getting involved because of their superiors
  • Be vigilant and recognize that sometimes the person being recommended is not the best

14. Copernican Principal – People often feel that their role is insignificant compared to the big picture. These thoughts can lead to people being tuned out and just punching the clock rather understanding their value in the organization. To address this:

  • Visually show how their individual contributions are changing the organization for the better
  • Don’t be afraid to apply this concept for customers as well and show how their contributions (e.g., buying products/services, giving feedback etc.) is helping create a better organization

15. Focusing Illusion – People often focus on the ‘only if’ and live in its illusion. For organizational transformation, this means that people often mistake transformation as a big bang activity while it is a slow a steady approach to constantly improving organizations. To address this:

  • Share the plan of organizational transformation would across various organizational functional units
  • Constantly remind and show that organization transformation is about the ‘here and now’

16. Holism – The idea here is that in the big picture, the little details do count as well. For organizational transformation this means that no information is minuscule enough that it has no affect of transformation. In fact even the minuscule information if not understood and addressed can lead to a snowball effect that can come from the left field when it comes to the transformation journey. To understand this:

  • Recognize that due to education, work and life experiences some people prefer to stay within their own silos without knowing how others actions affect them and how their actions affects other beyond their functional responsibilities
  • Create a ‘one-view’ map that shows the major connections between all the silos and how indirectly they are helping and hindering each other
  • Create a forum where interdependencies can be understood and improved and go beyond functional boundaries and few peoples
  • Help people connect the dots and display it everyone can see it

17. Positive Sum Game – Everyone wins. For organizational transformation, this means that transformation objectives should be balanced in a way that all teams that are involved get benefits out of it. For some this benefit would be having a better idea of how the business works, for some this benefit would be doing more with less, for some this benefit would be transitioning to another career. To create a positive-sum game:

  • Listen to all parties to come with positive sum solutions
  • Act in the interest of all parties and show this at the begin, middle, end and after the organizational transformation efforts

18. Powers of Ten – By understanding scaling laws you can have a better idea of where anything sits in the bigger scheme of things. For organizational transformation, this means that you should ask and assess and assign actual values in terms of magnitude of transformational activities. To do this:

  • Ask various functional areas to represent the importance of their work for the organization. Then ask another functional area to assess what has been reported. After this brings the functional areas together to discuss the difference which are often times based on known and unknown biases (e.g., IT are only order taker, accountants are just bean counters etc.)

19. Self-Serving Bias – People perceive themselves to be better than others. For organizational transformation, this means that for success people would take credit but for failure they would blame others. To address this:

  • Create surveys to reveal people’s biases towards themselves, others, their functional unit and other functional units
  • Emphasize that successfully transformation efforts benefit them individually and the organization as a whole
  • Document any concerns that are revealed to get a sense of the idea of culture in the people’s minds

D. Patterns Matters

20. Cycles – Everything is cyclical. For organizational transformation efforts this is a disaster repeating itself in terms of hiring the same kind of people, redundant processes and outdated technologies. To address this:

  • Determining candidate cultural fit does not mean to hire or rehire from the same pool (e.g., age, gender, geographical location, race, birth place, language pronunciations, how they look etc.) of people
  • Identify processes that have a black hole meaning that they are being carried out without any regard to their usefulness
  • Recognize patterns in organzational transformation efforts
  • Understand that technologies that are being used are not necessarily the best to get the job done but are those that people are just comfortable with and hence continue to use them

21. Double-Blind Control Experiments – This method is used to identify the underlying biases people have without even recognizing them. In organizational transformation this can mean the difference between on board or just being an observer to see what happens. Use this method to:

  • Determine how do people actually feel about transformation efforts anonymously
  • Determine if there are varying tendencies (e.g., preference to work with younger folks rather that older folks, difference between 9-5 versus getting the job done, text versus visual display of information etc.)

22. Fixed-Action Patterns – Certain behaviors and attitudes displayed by people are not necessarily biases but have been learned and reinforced over time so it becomes a habit. To leverage this:

  • Observe what people do and then ask why they did it. Get to the underlying factors of their actions
  • Train people so that transformation is not a one-time event but a continuous improvement initiative

23. Hidden Layers – As time progresses people develop layers between what is reality and what is perception. These layers help develop habits that can be restarted even after without practice years later. For organizational transformation, this means that success and failures are learned over time and can be used to affect the organization. To figure this out:

  • Find out who has been involved in any kind of transformation even it was outside the current organization
  • Assess what habits led to success or failure keeping in mind biases

24. Predictive Coding – People are a product of what happens to them and over time this becomes a pattern recognition system to engage or avoid. For organizational transformation, this means that people’s thoughts and eventual actions are based on what has happened to them. To leverage this:

  • Positively reinforce the benefits of transformation not only though talk but through action
  • Get to the root of people’s behavior and actions to turn them into a positive
  • Understand that you cannot turn everyone into a champion but as long as they are not an obstacle then you have come closer to a positive result

E. Team Creation

25. Effective Theory – If you can’t measure it then you can’t improve it. For organizational transformation, what this means is that while it is useful to have plans and work towards achieving the objectives of those plans but they are meaningless if it is not being measured. To assess this:

  • Properly define what successes and failures looks like
  • Know what to do when successes and failures are encountered
  • Don’t measure for the sake of measuring

26. Expanding In-Group – The world is a global village and there is more interconnectedness than anytime else in our history. This interconnectedness can lead to looking at solving problems from different angles. For organizational transformation, this means that the more diverse and cross-over that you have in your teams, the better it would be able to solve problems on a bigger scale. To leverage this:

  • Create hybrid teams from various parts of the organization
  • Inform team members that they are all equal in the team and everyone has a veto
  • Give the same problems to different teams and see what solutions they come up with. Combine these teams to create solutions that have a holistic view of the organization and understand the internal and external values of creating such solutions

27. Fear of the Unknown – People’s known and unknown biases can make them inaccurately determine their risks and benefits. For organizational transformation, this can mean the difference between making a big gain versus remaining in the status quo. To accomplish this, do:

  • Create metrics on how to conduct risks and benefits analysis individually and for the organization
  • Train people in making sound judgments without rhetoric and biases

28. Rational Unconsciousness – People make conscious and unconscious decisions despite their awareness of its weaknesses. For organizational transformation, this means that despite people’s knowledge of what is the right thing to do people unconsciously continue to do the opposite. To address this:

  • Ask people what they want from this transformation and then observe it what the want is consistent with their actions
  • Enlighten these people by discussing what you have observed
  • Create the opportunities for people to grow and adjust to the new reality

29. Structured Serendipity – Luck is found through a concerted effort in achieving objectives. For organizational transformation, this means that a structure should be put in place with the ability to be flexible and adapt if necessary. To do this:

  • Create specific milestones and their relevance to individuals and organizations
  • Show that through structure they are able to achieve their objectives efficiently and effectively (e.g., faster innovation, removal of redundant processes

F. Experimental Boundaries

30. Failure Liberates Success – Encourage failure and experimentation. For organizational transformation, give your teams the ability to refine, reiterate and rethink problems to solutions. To influence this:

  • Task your teams to think of as many problems as they can about a solution. Ask the other teams to create solutions to those problems and then make these teams sit together to figure things out
  • Create ways for teams to rinse and repeat SPICE factors
  • Measure the various ways to find optimum solutions
  • Don’t just go for the lowest hanging fruit. Go after big things and challenge the foundations to make it stronger

31. Kaleidoscopic Discovery Engine – When it comes to insights and innovation, people are always learning from each other. For organizational transformation this means that there is constant learning activity going on within and outside the organization. Sometimes these activities can excel the transformation journey if they are given enough thought. To leverage this:

  • Get innovative ideas at an individual level. These range from (1) direct circle of influence, (2) extended circle of influence, (3) areas that people are interested in, (4) unrelated ideas and (5) stitching, applicability and combination
  • Get innovative ideas at an organizational level. These range from (1) internal customers, (2) external customers, (3) within the industry, (4) outside the industry and (5) integration, customization and combination.
  • Build and refine upon what has been learned
  • Document what was learned and what was the result

32. Pessimism Meta-Induction – Every theory is up for debate and discussion in light of new evidence. For organizational transformation, what this means is that the organization has to be constantly challenged to question the status quo not only periodically but also ad hoc to check if stated objectives are being achieved. To accomplish this:

  • Create an open discussions forums where all topics related to organizational transformation should be discussed in a transparent manner
  • Follow-up on issues and concerns with corrective action plans

33. Randomness – There are certain things that we cannot control. For organizational transformation, this means that regardless of how pristine and well thought-out your plan for transformation is it is bound to run into unanticipated obstacles. To plan for this:

  • Have time and money set aside for contingency purposes
  • Accept failure as an option and have a way to document and measure it so learn from it
  • Welcome wrenches in discussions so that you can address them before it is too late to address them

34. Skeptical Empiricism – Don’t believe by merely observing but by careful thought. For organizational transformation, this means that most people get easily swayed by what they observe and thus mechanisms should be put into place where they are free to challenge the status quo with evidence and deep thoughts. To remedy this:

  • Show proof of what you are trying to accomplish and how it would have a positive effect on them
  • Document what is going on to get a feel of the underlying culture activities
  • Create action plans to address these different observations when they happen

35. Uncalculated Risks – People often worry about the big stuff but don’t take into account the little stuff that can affect their risk-taking. For organizational transformation, this means that being less precautious on the little stuff can slowly thwart efforts. To address this:

  • Create a risk matrix for big and small items
  • Create a mechanism for measuring all risk tolerances

Now that we have understood the varying concepts that affect organizational transformation efforts, let’s ask the following questions:

Currently

In the Future

Who is involved in organizational transformation activities within and outside the organization? Who should be involved in organizational transformation activities within and outside the organization?
What outcomes the organizational transformation activities are revealing? What results are expected for organizational transformation?
Where does organizational transformation begin? Where should organizational transformation begin?
When does organizational transformation become important? When should organizational transformation become important?
Why people work on organizational transformation? Why people should and shouldn’t work on organizational transformation?

When you are asking the above questions, keep in mind that organizational transformation entails all aspects of the organization. Without people transformation, without process transformation, without product/service transformation and without technological transformation, there is no transformation at all but just another illusion of transformation.

References:

  1. 5 Questions to Ask About Business Transformation
  2. 35 Scientific Concepts That Will Help You Understand The World
  3. 5 Questions to Ask About Your Information
  4. 5 Questions to Ask About Your Business Processes
  5. 5 Questions to Ask About Your Information Supply Chain
  6. 5 Observations on Being Innovative (at an individual level)
  7. 5 Observations on Being Innovative (at an organizational level)

 

5 Questions to Ask About Prescriptive Analytics

Prescriptive Analytics is used for performance optimization. This optimization is accomplished by using a variety of statistical and analytical techniques to identify the decisions that need to be taken in order to achieve the desired outcomes. The data sources used for the determination of outcomes can range from structured data (e.g., numbers, price points etc.), semi-structured data (e.g., email, XML etc.) and unstructured data (e.g., images, videos, texts etc.).

If done correctly, Prescriptive Analytics is the Holy Grail of analytics. However, if done incorrectly, it can result in misinformed decisions that can be outright dangerous. Individuals and organizations have to understand that even if the data is correlated that does not mean that there is some sort of causation. A general example of this is when in a news report, the host(s) says that survey has shown that x is correlated with y but then they go on how y was caused due to x. This is simply what I call “jumping the data gun” and organizations that are not aware of this can fall into this trap.

Another thing to be aware of is that after the Prescriptive Analytics gives you certain courses of action and you apply those actions, keep track of how well your Prescriptive Analytics is performing as well. In other words, you have to measure the performance of your performance optimization ways. The reason to do this is because over time you can see if the models presented by your Prescriptive Analytics engine is worth following, re-doing or dumping.

To get you started, here are a few questions to ask:

Currently

In the Future

Who uses prescriptive analytics within, across and outside your organization? Who should be using prescriptive analytics within, across and outside your organization?
What outcomes do prescriptive analytics tells you? What outcomes prescriptive analytics should tell you?
Where is the data coming from for prescriptive analytics? Where should the data be coming from for prescriptive analytics?
When prescriptive analytics is used? When prescriptive analytics should be used?
Why prescriptive analytics matters? Why prescriptive analytics should matter?

When you are asking the above questions, keep in mind that Prescriptive Analytics uses data to create a model (aka a data version of the world) that is used by individuals and organizations to make real-world decisions. But if the model itself is flawed then you are bound to get answers that although might look visually appealing are completely wrong. It is not all doom and gloom though. In fact, Prescriptive Analytics is used in determining price points, expediting drug development and even finding the best locations for your physical stores. Companies like Starbucks have been using Prescriptive Analytics in the last few years to determine the best locations for their next coffee stores. Interestingly, some have claimed that wherever Starbucks goes, the real-estate prices also increase. While there is some correlation between a Starbucks coffee store opening with increased real-estate prices but this does not mean that because of Starbucks coffee stores the real-estate prices increase.

Analytics Trophies

 

References:

  1. 5 Questions to Ask About Business Transformation
  2. 5 Questions to Ask About Your Information
  3. Starbucks Tries New Location Analytics Brew

5 Questions to Ask About Your Big Data

In statistics, a hypothesis is proposed and then data samples are collected to prove or disprove the hypothesis with acceptable confidence levels. For example, lets say that all our customers are aware of all our product lines. Basically, there are two ways of assessing our hypothesis that includes: (1) Proving our hypothesis and (2) Disproving our hypothesis.

The first way to proving our hypothesis is that we communicate with all of our customers and inquire if they know all our product lines. The second way is to communicate with as many customers as possible until we come across any customer that does not know all our product lines. From this example, we can see that if we find even one customer then that disproves our hypothesis. Thus, this is the reason why in statistics, sometimes it is easier to find an exception to disproving a hypothesis rather than to proving it.

Big Data on the other hand, inverts the generally acceptable process from hypothesis then data sample collection to data collection then hypothesis. What this means is that Big Data emphasizes on collecting data first and then coming up with a hypothesis based on patterns found in the data. Generally speaking, when we talk about Big Data, we are concerned with the 3 Vs that include:

  • Volume – Amount of data
  • Velocity – Rate of data analysis
  • Variety – Different data sources

Some have indicated that we need to go beyond just the above three Vs and should also include:

  • Viscosity – Resistance to the flow of data
  • Variability – Changes in the flow changes of data
  • Veracity – Outlier data
  • Volatility – Validity of the data
  • Virality – Speed at which data is shared

I would take the Big Data concept a bit further and introduce:

  • Vitality – General and specific importance of the data itself
  • Versatility – Applicability of data to various situations
  • Vocality – Supporters of data-driven approaches
  • Veto – The ultimate authority to accept or reject Big Data conclusions

For a metrics-driven organization, a possible way to determine the effectiveness of your Big Data initiatives is to do a weighted rating of the Vs based on your organizational priorities. These organizational priorities can range from but not limited to increasing employee retention rates, improving customer experiences, improving mergers and acquisitions activities, making better investment decisions, effectively managing the organization, increasing market share, improving citizens services, faster software development, improving design, becoming more innovative and improving lives. What all of this means is that data is not just data but it is in fact an organization’s most important asset after its people. Since data is now a competitive asset, lets explore some of the ways we can use it:

  • Monte Carlo Simulations – Determine a range of scenarios of outcomes and their probabilities.
  • Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) – Determine if our results change when we change the data
  • Regression – Determine if data is related and can be used for forecasting
  • Seasonality – Determine if data shows the same thing occurring at the same intervals
  • Optimization – Getting the best possible answer from the data
  • Satisficing – Getting a good enough answer from the data

Now that we understand what is Big Data and how it can be used, lets ask the following questions:

Currently

In the Future

Who is capturing data? Who should be capturing data?
What is the lifecycle of your data? What should be the lifecycle of your data?
Where is data being captured? Where should data be captured?
When is data available for analysis? When should data be available for analysis?
Why data is being analyzed? Why data should be analyzed?

Having discussed the positives of Big Data, we have to realize that it is not a panacea and has its negatives as well. Some of the negative ways data can lead to bad decisions includes: (1) Data is correlated but that does not imply cause and effect, (2) Data shows you pretty pictures but that does not imply it is telling you the truth and (3) Biases can affect data anywhere from capturing to analysis to decision-making.

In conclusion, what this means is that the non-distorted quality, understanding and usage of data is the difference between just getting on the Big Data bandwagon or truly understanding how data can fundamentally change your organization.

Big Data Vs

References:

  1. Realizing the Promise of Big Data
  2. Beyond the three Vs of Big Data
  3. 5 Factors for Business Transformation
  4. 5 Questions to Ask About Your Business Processes
  5. 5 Questions to Ask About Your Information
  6. 5 Questions to Ask About Customer Experiences
  7. 5 Observations on Being Innovative (at an organizational level)
  8. Where is my Big Data coming from and who can handle it

5 Questions to Ask About Your Information Security

The term information security is used to describe the practices, methodologies and technologies that are used to protect information physically (e.g., locked doors, security guards etc.) and in cyberspace (e.g., firewalls, anti-viruses etc.). In order to accomplish this, we determine information confidentiality (e.g., who can access the information), information integrity (e.g., is the information from a reliable source) and information availability (e.g., would the information be available in time to people who are authorized to use/see it).

According to Gartner, by 2015 the spending on information security around the globe would reach $76.9 billion. To put this number into perspective, this amount of money is close to what the US Federal government spends on technology in one year. By looking at this, in the near future more money would be spent on securing personal and organizational information than actually creating information systems. But despite the importance of information security and its effects on individuals and organizations, very few people understand the kinds of threats that are out there. Security threats are always evolving and in the digital century geography is not a limitation. Individual and organizational information can be potentially compromised from a local intruder to someone sitting on the other side of the globe. Thus, before you can mitigate information security risks, understand what is out there. Here is a non-exhaustive list of how information security can be compromised:

  • Adware – Pay to remove advertisements.
  • Bacteria – Overwhelms the computer resources by making copies.
  • Botnets – A network of compromised systems.
  • Bots – Derived from robots and refers to automated processes.
  • Buffer Overflow – A program goes beyond the boundary of the buffer.
  • Clone Phishing – Legitimate email resent with malicious link/attachment.
  • DDoS – Multiple systems attack a single target.
  • DNS Attacks – Determine types of devices in the network.
  • Easter Eggs – Hidden code in the software to show control.
  • Emerging Technologies –Security is not considered in new technologies.
  • Evil-Twin Wi-Fi – Impersonates an access point (e.g., router).
  • Exploits – Vulnerabilities in scripts, servers, browsers, routers, computer networks, devices, software and hardware.
  • Hardware Attacks – Exploits system bus, peripheral bus, chips, power/timing, interrupts and RAM.
  • Human Error – Unintentional legitimate errors caused by people.
  • ICMP Scanning – Identify open ports (e.g., port 81).
  • Keylogger – Track keystrokes when logging on to legitimate sites.
  • Link Manipulation – Destination link is different than what is displayed.
  • Logic Bombs – Performs some action when certain conditions are met.
  • Malware – Malicious code.
  • Masquerading – Pretends to be an authorized access.
  • Metamorphic – Code that modifies itself.
  • Network QoS – Service interruptions and performance issues.
  • Old technology – Outdated technology that is too costly to replace.
  • Pharming – Redirecting web traffic to a fake site and more sophisticated.
  • Phishing – Emails/instant messages ask to click a link/attachment, sign up for some kind of service and/or take you to a site that looks legitimate.
  • Phone Phishing – Call to ask for information.
  • Polymorphic – The same underlying code used for multiple purposes.
  • Rogue Wi-Fi – Compromised wireless access points (e.g., routers).
  • Script Kiddies – Amateur use of scripts developed by professionals.
  • Social Engineering – Psychologically manipulating people.
  • Spear Phishing – Directed towards specific individuals or organizations.
  • Spyware – Typically free software that collects information about you.
  • SQL Injection – SQL code is entered into the input fields of a database.
  • Trapdoors – Secrets in the code that allow access to the system.
  • Trojan Horses – Impersonates another software, prompts to install software and prompts to go to a certain site.
  • Viruses – Adds code to uninfected copy of the host program in the network and then replicates itself.
  • VoIP Attacks – Software and hardware exploits in Internet telephony.
  • VPN – Only as secure as the most unsecure system in both ends of the network.
  • Weather – Mother Nature and lack of disaster recovery.
  • Whaling – Attacks directed at high profile individuals and organizations.
  • Worms – Copies itself across the network, runs by itself and does not need a host.
  • Zero-Day Exploits – Vulnerabilities in software unknown to anyone.

Now that we understand the potential risks that are out there, lets looks at what motivates people to do this. While there are many theories in what drives human motivation, for our purposes we look at the following two frameworks used by the top clandestine organization in the world. These frameworks are:

  • MICE looks at human motivation in terms of Money (e.g., cash, stocks, insider information etc.), Ideology (e.g., religion, patriotism), Coercion or Compromise (e.g., blackmail) and Ego or Excitement.
  • RASCLS looks at human motivation in terms of Reciprocation (e.g., feel obligation to repay), Authority (e.g., prestige), Scarcity (e.g., supply vs. demand), Commitment and Consistency (e.g., trustworthy flip-flopper vs. untrustworthy but consistent), Liking (e.g., share same attributes) and Social Proof (e.g., correct behavior).

In order to understand the complexities of information security and motivations behind it, lets ask the following questions:

Currently

In the Future

Who is responsible for information security? Who should be responsible for information security?
What happens when information is compromised? What should happen when information is compromised?
Where is information security a priority? Where should the information security be a priority?
When is information security thoroughly reviewed? When should information security be thoroughly reviewed?
Why information security was compromised in the first place? Why information security would continue to be compromised in the future?

When you are asking the above questions across all levels of the organization, keep in mind that information security is not something that you just “bolt on” at the end but in fact it should be a top priority at every juncture of your organizations. Thus, information security spans across people, processes and technologies and simply paying lip service does not help anyone in the long run.

While there are many laws, regulations and guidelines to safeguard information but they do not mean much if you cannot apply them across and within your ecosystem of vendors, partners, suppliers and any external entities. In short, information security is a collective effort that requires organizations to be self-aware from the lowest ranks to the highest executives.

Information Security Views

Information Security Views

References:

  1. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2828722
  2. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol.-57-no.-1-a/vol.-57-no.-1-a-pdfs/Burkett-MICE%20to%20RASCALS.pdf