Thursday, April 30, 2009

Strategic planning

19 out of 33 major strategic plans went off course, according to a 1984 Business Week survey. That must have been pretty discouraging for the international consultancies building a strategic planning business!

Does that mean we shouldn't plan strategically? Business Week clarified their claim in 2008.

I think planning is something we all do anyway, even if just going to Walmart to buy milk:
  1. Firstly, the reason for the journey (with its inevitable costs) has to outweigh the benefit of staying on the couch: we need to get a good answer to Why?
  2. Next, we need to know Where we're going. We can know this with GPS accuracy and beyond, down to a particular chiller cabinet at the back of the store. And where are we coming from?
  3. Only when we know where we're going from and to can we work on the next step, which is How. We can change the route, in the light of new information, even the 'method of transport', but the Why and Where don't ever change!
  4. Having worked on the How we can fill in the Who: we might need specialist skills (such as a helicopter pilot!) for parts of the journey.
  5. Finally, we can work on the When because the people involved in the project come with constraints on their availability!
So that's it, strategic project planning in a single blog post! What more is needed?!

Monday, April 27, 2009

UK political fears of surveillance state

"Communications firms are being asked to record all Internet contacts between people as part of a modernisation in UK police surveillance tactics. The home secretary scrapped plans for a database but wants details to be held and organised for security services. The new system would track all e-mails, phone calls and Internet use, including visits to social network sites. Ministers say police need new tools to fight crime but opposition MPs and campaigners have raised privacy fears." Read the detail of the BBC report here.

From my school boy history I remember that in World War Two the Allied forces were able to gain lots of useful information from studying the communications traffic between Axis forces, well before they'd broken the 'Enigma' code system to understand the content of messages.

People often argue that there's nothing to worry about if you've done nothing wrong. But that only is true so long as those in authority are broadly sympathetic with my values. And that can change pretty fast - see last week's US Department of Homeland Security report identifying those who oppose abortion on demand as a potential right-wing extreme terrorist threat.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Nothing can separate us

I ended this work week listening to a good friend who's got to the point of not caring whether his business succeeds or fails; he's just tired of it being tough. I then got a message from another guy so frustrated that it's Friday already and he feels like he's still got loads to do. For myself, I'm tired and frustrated that things haven't gone exactly as I'd hoped (when developing complex software they rarely do and I really should know that by now!).

But as I drove home I developed a change in attitude. I thanked God for the heron that flew over; for the pink tree blossom lining the road; even the scent of spring in the air as I sat in traffic on the Interstate...

In a sense nothing had changed; yet in another way, everything was different. As I prayed, the Lord reminded me that the worst that can happen is that He still loves me; and those words from Romans 8 that say that nothing can separate us from His love.

I don't know how people live, still less thrive, without the security of that knowledge and relationship.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Internet is here!

I'm old enough to remember the excitement of my first modems in the 1980s connecting my previously isolated computers to others and then to what we now know as the Internet.

My first personal computer was a BBC Micro, purchased with the salary I earned over a summer working at IBM. It had 32k of memory and stored its programs and data on audio cassette tapes that took minutes to load and would be lost in an instant with a power spike! However, at the time it was revolutionary: I'd learnt to program by making pencil marks on 80-column cards which would be collected and driven to our city hall. There they'd be fed into a machine that read the pencil marks, turned into punched tape which in turn was fed into the city's mainframe computer ... I got the output of the program on printer paper at the next week's lesson. But that city's computer mainframe had the same memory as my BBC Micro, just 32k!

The BBC Micro transformed my computing experience. Now it was near.

Against this background imagine the excitement of a Hayes or US Robotics modem connection to others. First at 1200 bits/s; then at 2400. I upgraded every few months (at a couple of hundred dollars a time) to 4800 and 9600 modems. Then the breakthrough at 14.4 kbps which doubled again to 28.8 kbps. Each increase in speed helped, but in the UK we paid even for local telephone calls so my use of the AltaVista search engine, BBS bulletin board systems and the like was sparse: I kept a sheet of paper on my desk and made a note during the day of what I wanted. Then, in the evenings when phone rates were cheaper, I'd get online and run through my list of requests as rapidly as possible, downloading and printing what I could, as fast as possible and reviewing "off line" when it cost me nothing but time.

My first broadband Internet connection was another transformational leap forward: no longer was my computing just near, now it was always on. It cost me nothing more to spend time online and surf, browse and search for stuff and it was this that was the major change the led to the proliferation of content on the world wide web, beyond that produced by academic halls where they'd long had a permanent Internet connection.

Compared to this step-change, faster broadband and cable modems have not made that much difference to me.

Now my iPhone has given me another step-change experience. No longer is the Internet near, or always on, now it's always present. It's the device that wakes me up in the mornings and I roll over and immediately check the night's emails; it's there at the breakfast bar as I review the news; it plays music and handles voice calls as I commute to the office; Tuesday was typical for me - it was 4pm before I even turned my laptop computer on! Now whole days, even business trips, go by without me even using a familiar computer. 

The iPhone is always in my hand, my back or shirt pocket, or within reach on the night stand. And it's this that is so transformational. Three of us in the family can sit with a TV on, but each of us using an iPhone. Somebody might be intrigued by a comment on National Geographic and immediately reach for Google on the iPhone to find out more. That means we use the Internet more: it's just too much effort to get off the couch and walk twenty feet to the study or family room and wait to boot up a computer! Those casual browsing questions don't get answered.

But with the Internet always present on a pocket-sized iPhone we discover more and relate more, with people in the vicinity and with our connected friends across the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Social media marketing at work

As I drove in to the office this morning the iPhone's shuffle feature pulled up the song Red, red wine and it set me thinking.

The other week the family was watching a couple of episodes of CSI (Miami and NY) and I enjoyed the theme tunes.
  • Hitting the button on the Shazam application told me what the tunes were
  • Wikipedia gave me more information about the two shows, including details of the themes
  • I'd more or less forgotten The Who since Pinball Wizard, but now I could watch them playing these songs on YouTube
  • After a week or so, when next the shows came up on the DVR, I went to iTunes and bought the songs - and only those songs, not the whole albums

This is such a change from the day in 2002 when I was sailing onboard a catamaran off the coast of Barbados (I know, it makes you sick!). The crew was serving rum punch and playing 'feel good' music, including Red, red wine. Weeks later, back in England, I strolled past a music store and went in, spur of the moment, looking for the song (something to remember a great day on vacation by).

I left empty-handed because I couldn't find a Bob Marley disc with the song on it. More weeks went by until I stumbled on a knowledgeable sales assistant who reminded me that it was the band UB40 who sang Red, red wine, along with Marley. And I walked out of the store, the proud owner of UB40's Very Best.

Now, fortunately, that's an awesome album, and I pretty much love every song on it. But there's something radical shifted with the power of the internet to supply instant knowledge, and the potential for almost instant gratification of (many) wants, as well as needs.

To tweet, or not to tweet?

One interesting modern dilemma is what to do when a competitor starts to follow on Twitter, or subscribe to a blog?
  1. My first reaction was to be flattered that the competition would pay attention!
  2. Next, whilst it's tempting to feel threatened, any viewer of Top Chef knows, the secret to the sauce is not in the ingredients, but the way they're put together.
  3. Here, our values include open, honest transparency so we really have nothing to hide!
  4. Finally, there's one view that there's no such thing as competitors, just potential collaborators!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting it right eventually

"Collaborative Communities" by Jeffrey Shuman and Janice Twombly asserts that no business model gets it right first time. Rather we must commit to continual change in response to customers' changing wants.

1. Planning identifies the business model, infrastructure and resources needed at lowest cost.

2. Preparation identifies potential customers, product development, forming the team, building relationships with business partners, establishing infrastructure and developing a profit formula.

3. Interaction is when we bring the product to the marketplace and gain customer feedback. (This blog is one of a number of ways we have to interact with our customers!)

4. Analysis and refinement is about evaluating the results of customer interaction, refining our understanding of what customers want and making changes to our products and business model as a result.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Restrictions on "snooper's charter"?

The BBC reports that city councils in England and Wales face new restrictions on the use of surveillance powers for minor offences such as dog fouling and littering. The UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) allows public authorities to intercept phone and e-mail data and use CCTV to spy on suspected criminals. But Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has launched a review after fears it was being used for "trivial" offences.

The Ripa law allows for

  • Interception of communications, such as phone calls and e-mails
  • Acquisition of information from service providers
  • Covert surveillance
  • Use of informants or undercover officers
  • Access to electronic data protected by encryption or passwords

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Surveillance powers abused

One of my favorite movies is the Will Smith and Gene Hackman flick 'Enemy of the State' (1998) which does a good job of explaining why we should be concerned about abuse of surveillance powers, even if we've done nothing wrong. (Without his knowledge, video evidence of a crime is given to a lawyer who finds himself at the center of an abuse of government powers as officials try to recover the video.)

Yesterday the New York Times reported that "The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year". And I was amused by the sometimes naive and sometimes hysterical comment in blogs!

At one level, we should have nothing to worry about from NSA because many of us allow Google to store and index and search details of our emails; and now also our phone calls. But that lack of concern assumes I'm OK to trust Google's famous motto, "Don't be evil."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Research helps

I might be the 'navigator' steering the ship to a destination with the cargo and crew, but I need some maps or charts to navigate by. They don't always show every detail but they help to plan the course.

We've spent days in meetings batting ideas around and polishing them up. But the down-side is that we might be talking ourselves into believing that this will work effortlessly.

So we've got Donna Gordon helping us out. I think she once described herself to me as a "professional sceptic", someone who pulls together a whole host of research data to back up business and marketing plans and ideas.

She's produced pages of facts and analysis for me and helped with a major section of the business plan that we are putting together. Invaluable! Of course this doesn't guarantee success but it certainly helps to reduce the risk of failure.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bugging the president

No wonder there was so much fuss at the end of last year about whether or not senior government officials should carry electronic devices. The Economist reports some of the risks ( For example, it's easy to use the built-in GPS to locate people. A bit more worrying is that there's software out there on the internet that can turn on a cell phone microphone without the owner being aware - and that pretty much turns the phone we carry in our pocket into a bugging device!

"I know I'm paranoid, I just don't know whether I'm paranoid enough!" :)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

VOIP security weaknesses

There's scary stuff in the video at showing just how easy it is for anyone to listen in to phone calls made using Voice Over IP (VOIP) systems!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


We've got so much going on that we've not done something witty and creative like some of the big media companies...

But we enjoyed this from Techdirt:
News Station Falls For April Fool's Prank, Turns to DMCA As Remedy
Improv Everywhere, a comedic performance art group based in New York, has a history of pulling off hilarious and impressive "scenes of chaos and joy." Running "missions" such as the annual "No Pants Subway Ride," a food court musical, sending 80 people into Best Buy dressed as employees and getting 200 people to "freeze" during rush hour in Grand Central station, these guys are masters of the flash mob and the harmless prank. Last April, in a mission called "Best Game Ever," they showed up at a little league baseball game with signs, peanut vendors, programs and even an NBC sponsored jumbotron with live commentary and player stats to turn an ordinary event into something extraordinary. Building on that theme, Improv Everywhere's latest mission was to create the "Best Funeral Ever," to pick a random funeral from the obituaries and show up to make it "truly awesome." It sounds terrible, and the video is pretty horrifying... until you realize it's from April 1st. The next day, they confirmed it was an April Fool's joke and that it wasn't a real funeral -- all of the "family members" were actors. Lots of people fell for it (I definitely did at first), but best of all was the local CW 11 news team that covered the YouTube video as if it were a real funeral. Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere, uploaded a video of the newscast with the following commentary:
So basically the extent of their reporting is watching a video on YouTube and then describing it as fact on air. They didn't bother to email Improv Everywhere for comment, call the cemetery to verify, or try to get a quote from the"family." They just watched the video and threw it on TV. Great journalism!The story was on the news channel's website too, but was later removed without any explanation or correction. Now, two weeks later, Todd has received a copyright notice from YouTube that his video of the newscast was removed due to a copyright claim from Tribune (the station's parent company). First of all, it's pretty silly to try to hide the mistake rather than owning up to it and posting a correction (Streisand Effect anyone?). But beyond that, it's pretty ironic and hypocritical that the news organization, which used the Improv Eveywhere video without permission or even proper attribution, would send a take-down notice to the owner of the that video who was commenting on their commentary. Todd writes,
It's OK for them to air content that we shot and own, but it's not OK for me to upload their footage of the content they took from me? It's "fair use" for the news to take a video off of YouTube and broadcast it, but it's not "fair use" for a citizen to expose their poor reporting on his own content?Fair use or not, Tribune just found a great way to draw more attention to the fact that their "journalists" fell for the prank and seem to be pretty embarrassed about it.