Feeds:
Posts
Comments

“Organizations don’t prosper,” notes Harvard Business Review, “unless managers in the middle ranks . . . identify and promote the need for change.”

Put another way, managers today sometimes need to advocate for the types of change they want to see in their organizations, and that includes changing your processes and your process management software to better align with the company’s goals.

In that light, a recent article from the folks at Panorama Consulting nicely highlights what they call the “8 Secrets to Developing a Business Case for an ERP Implementation.”  (Full article here.)

 

We’ll share their 8 key tips here today…

  1. Relate the problem to the bottom line. Always the most important factor.  Whether it’s keeping up with growing workloads, managing disparate silos of data or giving common access to all, the best way to pitch your strategy is to relate it to your company’s bottom line.
  2. Show multiple opportunities for improvement. ERP touches all levels of the organization.  Emphasize the transformational benefits, and be sure stakeholders understand: it’s a strategic investment.
  3. Demonstrate long-term usability. Modern systems are powerful, expansive, user-friendly and integrate with other technologies allowing you to adapt to the future.  Outdated systems can be expensive and difficult at best to maintain.  Show the value therein.
  4. Build credibility through case studies and reports. Decision makers need data to justify any investment.  ERP is no different.  Systems providers should be able to provide you with plenty of ammunition.
  5. Anticipate failure. As Panorama notes: “When you approach the executive team, don’t just present the reasons why you should adopt the new technology. Think through the potential reasons why you shouldn’t, and come prepared with answers to objections.”
  6. Set a realistic timeframe. Systems take time… lots of it.  Allow for pre-purchase analysis, workflow and process review, resource allocation efforts, as well as training, testing, data porting, and a well-paced go-live process.  Again, just be realistic, then build in some margin for error.  You’re taxing everyone’s systems, but the results in the end are worth it.
  7. Offer to monitor, report and analyze. Keep up communication with the executive team at all times and regularly.  Provide regular status updates, and be honest about them.  Show that your efforts are aligned with their priorities.
  8. Liaise between executives and end-users. Again, quoting the consultants: “Nobody will have more insight into what’s necessary in an ERP system than the people who currently own your business processes. You can communicate their pain points up the chain of command, ensuring the technology you select meets your business needs.”

Never lose sight of the business case, and build yours around it, if you want to enjoy the benefits of the best that technology has to offer, and the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the entire firm.

 

Did you know that a trove of personal information about you can typically be purchased on the internet (actually, the “Dark Web”) for about $20 to $130?  That trove is known, in dark web parlance, as a “fullz” and comprises a complete package of everything needed to commit identity theft: your name, address and social security number of course, but also your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, driver’s license number and more.  When combined with widely-hacked credit card number identification, logins and passwords you’ve used and even your individual credit reports, the data set altogether provides a complete picture of you – and all the ammunition needed to steal your identity, or at the very least, wreak havoc on your life and time spent fixing the leaks.

Now, here’s the good news: experts tell us that in 2017, only 6.6% of the adult population of the U.S. were victimized by identity fraud – meaning over 93% were not victimized.  But then here’s the bad news: that was just one year.  Fortunately, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves, and best of all, professional scammers who will reveal their secrets – either because they have flipped sides and now work for the good guys, or because they are trying to ‘cooperate’ their way to lighter sentences – tell us that “even though personal information is everywhere, if you do just one or two things to create roadblocks for the scammers, people [like them] will probably move on.”  Why?  “Because there are plenty of other marks out there who do nothing.”

The fact is, about 5-10% of the internet is the surface internet – the one most of us see and use every day for stuff like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, our various news sites, Medicare, Fox News or MSN or WebMD.

The middle 90-95% consists of a layer of pages that use passwords and are not typically found by search engines, like PayPal, NetFlix, Bank of America, Dropbox, online banking, subscription websites, government records, emails and social media content.

The bottom .01% is the dark web, with sites like Silk Road, AlphaBay Market and, at least until it was shut down, Shadowcrew.  These are the places where criminals and scammers lurk, and where the buying and selling of so much personal information occurs.  This is where your information can be bought for the $20-$130 mentioned earlier – the fee mostly depends on your age and creditworthiness.

We live in a post-prevention world when it comes to our identities and online personae.  Assume much of your personal information is already on the net.  Cybersecurity experts conclude that there are three key things you can do “to make sure that stolen data can’t be used to defraud you,” according Doug Shadel of AARP, who has written on fraud for 20 years.  Those include:

  • Freeze your credit
  • Closely monitor all accounts
  • Use a password manager

Do at least these things, as our cybercriminal noted earlier said: “…because there are plenty of other marks out there who do nothing.”

The internet is a dangerous place.  You never know who’s watching you.  If you’re in a coffee shop using the public Wi-Fi router there, you’re wide open… to hackers, Google, your internet provider or the person sitting next to you.  A VPN (virtual private network) acts like a curtain on your room.  They’re mostly open with daylight streaming in, but it’s nice sometimes being able to close them, when you need the privacy – or are simply and justifiably worried about unwarranted hackers and pranksters.

VPNs have become a popular tool today.  Once the domain of businesses seeking security and privacy, today it’s all too easy for hackers to infiltrate all of your devices, read your traffic or maliciously insert bugs, phishing efforts or other malware.  When private matters are involved like health, finance and personal communications, a VPN can be the best and cheapest method of maintaining your peace of mind and security.  By turning it on first before browsing, you’re far better protected.

Here’s a great explanation provided by Personal Technology columnist David Pierce of how a VPN works in simple terms:

“A VPN creates a ‘tunnel’ between your computer and the service you’re connecting to, using its software to make your connection direct and private.  Once this tunnel is established, a VPN encrypts all of the data it sends to you and receives from you through the tunnel.  Even if hackers decide to snoop on your data, they wouldn’t see anything they’d understand.

“Because your VPN provider is actually accessing the internet for you, the sites you visit won’t receive accurate identifying data like your location or IP address.”

You may be in California, but if your VPN provider is in New Jersey, your IP address jumps from California to New Jersey, and you’re not likely to be found.

While using a VPN does not excuse otherwise practicing safe computing, like strong passwords and multifactor authentication, it does add a whole new level of internet safety.  Common sense ought to take care of most of the rest (e.g., not using your credit card on shady sites, that sort of thing…)

There are a number of inexpensive VPNs available to any user today.  They typically charge between $3 and $12 a month.  Most claim to store no data, though they may actually store a little, and often not directly attributable to you personally.  Some names suggested by Mr. Pierce include the Hotspot Shield Elite from Anchor Free; Private Internet Access from London Trust Media; NordVPN; and Freedome VPN from F-Secure.  Many of these are part of a broader suite of security products that may include a password manager or other useful tools.

Today, according to a survey by Wombat Security, about two-thirds of users use a VPN on a corporate and/or personal device.  The rest either don’t use one, or (about 20%) don’t know what it is.  That last group might want to read up as VPNs today work on phones, tablets and PCs all across the spectrum.  And their added measure of security just might make them rest easier.

 

According to a career website focused on cybersecurity called CyberSeek, there are currently over 300,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S.  A separate 2017 study forecast a global cybersecurity worker shortage of 1.8 million by 2022.

Current proposals being floated in policy circles these days (according to The Wall Street Journal) focus on two themes: attract more motivated people, and train them faster.

According to the chair of Indiana University’s cybersecurity program, the core issue “is a lack of a focused talent pipeline.” Scott Shackleford of I.U. thus proposes a “Cybersecurity Peace Corps” which he suggests could place workers with nonprofits and other organizations who couldn’t otherwise afford them, and pay their salaries and training.  Unfortunately, Professor Shackleford’s idea would require an act of Congress.  But, he says, it doesn’t have to be a national initiative.  “You could easily see a state taking this on and experimenting” with corporate partners to serve “laudable causes,” he notes.

A former senior Defense Dept. official has similarly proposed a kind of cyber ROTC program, modeled after the Reserve Officer Training Corps long popular on college campuses, in which prospective officers go to college tuition-free to learn cyber skills in return for some years of military service.  With a cyber ROTC, a tuition-free exchange for a few years of service in the public sector could bring in young people who might not otherwise be able to afford an opportunity to gain entry into the world of cybersecurity or computer science jobs.

A bill was introduced in Congress last year that aims to establish tax breaks for employers who develop training in cybersecurity jobs.  Called the New Collar Jobs Act, it could enlarge the workforce by increasing available training by canceling up to $25,000 in college loan debt for those who hold cyber jobs in an “economically distressed area for one year.”

Companies today are increasingly setting up their own training programs, many of which require skills and certifications not taught in college.  The same proposed act would provide tax credits of up to $5,000 per employee to support such private training initiatives, according to Janaki Chadha, a Journal reporter.

No word yet on the status of that bill.  But there are hundreds of thousands of high-tech jobs on the line just waiting for such new economy initiatives to help provide funding for what promises to be a level of investment return that would be many times more than the modest investment required.

In a recent article entitled “The Human Promise of the AI Revolution,” the former President of Google China and current CEO of Sinovation Ventures, Kai-Fu Lee, says that artificial intelligence (AI) will radically disrupt the world of work, but the right policy choices can make it a force for a more compassionate social contract.

By now it’s become clear that AI is going to be a disruptive force.  A lot of jobs in all colors of collars may not be safe (though some are, at least for now).  The whole world of autonomous driving is one quick example, where increasingly AI and software are starting to have a big influence on how we get around.  This is only the beginning.

Some are optimistic about AI’s promise of newer, better jobs that challenge our ingenuity and lead to bold new industries.  Others, notably Tesla CEO Elon Musk among others, warn of dire and ominous consequences.  Lee notes that the application of existing technology to new problems will hit many white-collar professionals just as hard as it hits blue-collar factory workers.

Lee is careful to point out AI’s strengths and weaknesses in order to propose those jobs that would be most affected.  For instance, while AI is “great at optimizing for a highly narrow objective, it is unable to choose its own goals or think creatively.”  AI may be superhuman in numbers and data, but it lacks social skills or empathy.  Hence driving a car or diagnosing diseases across massive datasets that are incomprehensible to mere mortals may play to AI’s strengths — not to mention fast food cooks and insurance adjusters — but home care nurses, most attorneys, hairstylists and CEOs are probably safe for the foreseeable future.

Despite the challenges, Lee remains hopeful, as he sees an opportunity for us “to redirect our energy as a society to more human pursuits: to taking care of each other and our communities.  While you can read his full thoughts in his book “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order,” or in The Wall Street Journal’s Sept 15th “Review” section, the gist of his thinking goes like this…

While some propose a Universal Basic Income (or UBI) as a possible cure to the massive job dislocations many see coming, Lee thinks otherwise.  While UBI would provide a subsistence level of income for those so displaced (experiments with UBI are currently underway in several places around the world, with less than robust reviews it would appear), the very concept, says Lee, lacks the pride and dignity that work focused on enhancing our communities would provide instead.

So why not, in lieu of a UBI, create jobs (and pay people) instead?  Maybe a different form of available guaranteed income?  Lee proposes a kind of stipend, or what he calls the Social Investment Stipend, for those who devote themselves to three categories of labor: care work, community service and education.

Lee suggests these activities could form the core for a new social contract, and jobs would run the gamut from parenting and home schooling to assisting aging parents, or focusing on the efforts of non-profit and volunteer groups.  Service efforts could include leading after-school programs, guiding tours at parks, or collecting oral histories from elders.  Education activities could range from professional training for the jobs of the AI age to taking classes to turn a hobby into a career.

Lee admits many difficult questions remain.  But at least he’s asking them… posing suggestions for the new work landscape, and trying to fashion a viable solution from the thorny issue of job displacement that may be harboring under the guise of technological advancement, modern times and the new age of artificial intelligence.

In other words, at least he’s trying to get us to think, and talk, about it.

Some practical advice today, courtesy of Steven Johnson, author of a new book titled “Farsighted,” which explores our human decision making processes, and the biases that often entangle us.  Fortunately, as Johnson finds, there are tools that can aid us in making up our mindsm as David Shaywitz succinctly put it recently in a Wall Street Journal article of Sept. 12, 2018.

One key strategy researchers have found is to systematically widen our thinking to define our options as broadly as possible, “seeking a full-spectrum appraisal of the state of things and a comprehensive list of potential choices.”  Then, winnow down the alternatives by playing out multiple scenarios, exploring what can go wrong.

This is exactly what planners did in 2011 when plotting to capture Osama bin Laden.  The planning was so thorough, so extensive, and considered so many possible options, failure points and contingencies, that it is said that the only item the Seal team neglected to think of was to bring along a ruler to confirm bin Laden’s height after the raid.  President Obama later gave chief planner Gen. William McRaven a tape measure, tongue in check, along with the plaque that commended him for his planning skills.

Decades of research in behavioral sciences show that the human mind is hampered by frequent cognitive biases that often lead us “to misunderstand the past, misconstrue the present and badly foresee the future,” according the Shaywitz.  But as Johnson notes, we shouldn’t despair.  While it may be difficult to rein in our intuition, there are tools than can help improve our decision-making abilities.

Johnson says that when confronted with real-life problems or choices, we tend to frame them in a narrow fashion.  Instead, he suggests, we should engage in an expansive mapping exercise, with participation from the broadest and most diverse group we can arrange.  Fringe ideas are welcome, as are suggestions that would not otherwise occur to those following the party line.  (The M.I.T. Media Lab makes a specialty of just this kind of thinking, but that’s an article perhaps for another day.)

But viewpoint diversity alone isn’t enough.  Groups often focus on “shared” information, so it’s important to design a process that exposes “unshared information” too, according to legal scholar Cass Sunstein.  Meet individually with decision stakeholders to get outlier input.  Also, notes Sunstein, most organizations don’t contemplate more than a single option when deciding.  There is a natural tendency he notes to move to a single framing of a decision.  To resist it, he suggests “considering what might be done if the presumptive path forward were suddenly blocked.”  (Much like, it’s assumed the bin Laden team must have done.)

Among Johnson’s additional strategies for predicting outcomes with precision: scenario planning, where you systematically explore different future versions and simulations — like commandos practicing a raid, or weather forecasters using math models.  Uncertainty cannot be fully winnowed out of any complex system, but scenarios and simulations can help you better prepare for unexpected surprises.

When it’s decision time, you can weigh the relative importance of different goals, or take a bad-outcome approach that examines worst-case scenarios.  But once all the information and data capturing are on the table, one approach may be an instinctive one after all: “Give your mind the free time to mull it over.  Go for long walks, linger in the shower longer, and let your mind wander.”

Fundamentally, Johnson notes, “choices concern competing narratives, and we’re lively to make better choices if we have richer stories, with more fleshed-out characters, a more nuanced understanding of motives and a deeper appreciation of how decisions are likely to reverberate and resound.”

 

In our prior post we highlighted the comments of two well-known hedge fund investors as they describe the shift from a world often dominated by software to the new world of the model-driven business, wherein models power the key decisions in business processes, creating revenue streams and improved cost efficiencies.

The co-authors, hedge fund CEO Steven Cohen  and venture capitalist Matthew Granade, both of Point72 Ventures, and writing in August in The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion section, conclude their essay by pointing out five key implications of these models for business in the future, which we’ll summarize below.

First, businesses will be increasingly valued based on the completeness, not just the quantity, of the data they create.  Companies like Amazon and Tencent (cited in our prior post) don’t just collect massive reams of data about their customers, they know how to act on it.  It’s not just breadth of knowledge in other words, it’s also a ‘closed loop’ in which each recommendation a model makes, based on that user data, is captured and used to improve the model going forward.

Second, the goal is a ‘flywheel,’ they state, or a virtuous circle: Models improve products, products get used more, the new data improves the product (and the model) even more.  It’s a nearly frictionless process of continuous improvement.  Pretty close to a business holy grail if ever there was one.

Third, as incumbents (i.e., entrenched, major, competitive, winning companies) they will be “more potent competitors in this battle relative to their role in the software era,” insofar as they will have a meaningful advantage (operationally and profit-wise) this time around.   They have the trove of data competitors don’t, and they’ve learned how to monetize it.  And they keep getting better at it.

Fourth, just as the best companies have built deep organizational capabilities around managing people, tools, technology and capital, the same will now happen for models.  Just as software has become an ‘agile’ process in its delivery, the data-driven companies now on the rise are creating a new discipline of model management that affect the same domains: people, tools, technology and capital.  The models can now deliver, and that creates a critical competitive edge.

Fifth, companies will face new ethical and compliance challenges, according to Cohen and Granade.  With data becoming more comprehensive and important, consumer concerns over use and abuse are bound to rise – in fact, they already are.  Facebook lost over $100 billion in market cap in a couple of days in July because investors became concerned about its data assets in the face of increasing regulation.  That’s not likely to abate, and examples will only multiply.

Still, while software continues to “eat the world” (prior post), yesterday’s advantage becomes, in the authors’ words, “today’s table stakes.”  In the hunt for competitive advantage, the model-driven business will become ubiquitous.  For the average investor, software has been a great place to make money since Marc Andreessen’s famous “Why Software is Eating the World” essay seven year ago.  But in the next seven, the serious money is on the model-driven business.