Monday, August 19, 2019

Giants Will Fall

There is a strong belief that the gap between the large and small companies is growing and the small organizations are doomed to taking a second seat forever. The numbers and history are on the side of the giants. They are large and strong financially, so they can spend more financially on research and development (R&D). The reality is that they won't because they are too busy boosting their stock price or lining the executive's pockets. Even if they were committed to spending a goodly amount on R&D, will they invest in the right research? Like the David of the bible facing Goliath, SMBs can count on 5 smooth digital stones that they can launch at the giants.

Customer Journeys: 

Most organizations are self-delusional thinking their products and services are just plain excellent. They create surveys that increase scores for bonuses for such delusion. Customers are not wanting standard and time-consuming customer journeys aimed at corporate outcomes and results. Customers have choices and are taking them these days. Newer generations are not brand loyal forever. They measure and switch. Better customer journeys are the most lethal stone that SMBs have to close the size gap.

AI & Analytics:

Most of the interactions that people have with organizations make organizations look dumb. By making the interactions smart by optimizing each touchpoint a business moment of for winning them again over an over. This means that AI should be assisting customers to get their outcomes easily. This may mean focusing on the relationship over short term profitability. AI and the leverage of data in a real-time fashion in a historical context aiming towards a "win-win" set of outcomes in the future.

Process & Emergence:

Processes need to be intelligent and able to adapt as it progresses toward goals. This means processes emerge instead of being a fixed set of sequences. While some task sequences make sense, they don't always apply to every situation and customer. Processes, workflows and task sequences(snippets) are important, but they need to be smart in their behavior in context. The best way is to sequence them synchronizing the emerging to the journey, be it customer, product, service or partner.

Robotic Automation:

Let's get rid of the dumb work for both clients and associates. Nobody wants to do mindless work or be irritated by systems limitations and fractures. Why make people take care of integration and translation? This is why RPA is taking off in a rapid fashion. Intelligently automate to beat the competition. Give those bots intelligence, so they can adapt along with journeys and processes.

Low Code:

The software just takes too long to create. While you can make it cheaper by outsourcing it to cheaper resources, that only solves the cost part of the equation. Often the quality isn't there because the emphasis costs not great outcomes. Recent headlines about software failures make this point with emphasis. Just ask Boeing. What about easy to code techniques such as reuse, drop-down code creation or code generation?

Net; Net: 

David only needed one stone to get his giant down, but SMBs might not be that fortunate. If I was a betting man, I'd pick the combination of customer journeys, AI and processes. I look forward to watching the battle and hoping someone will be popping me some popcorn soon. I'm rooting for the underdogs as the giants have beat me up in the past with experiences that don't match my desired journey and outcomes.  Some Giants will fall. Some SMBs will become as powerful as giants.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A Seriously Salty Service Story

Everyone has their sad stories of poor service and I love to hear them in order to learn what doesn't work. Also, I love to hear stories of great service, but that channel is full of the sound of crickets. Well, I have one myself. I have lived in my home for over 20 years now and it came equipped with a water softener that filters out minerals through a filter that needs to be washed out with saltwater through an automated backwash process.  The original softener broke, thanks to pre-designed obsolescence principles. This put me in the market for a new one. Then the fun began.

My neighbor recommended a saltless softener that used a special fluid to clean the filter in the backwash process. It was triple the normal price of the salt versions, but I wanted something that would last. Well, so much for that thought. It turns out that the one dealer that supplied the fluid went out of business, so I was backed into a corner. Just before I ran out of my reserve of fluid, we had a power surge related to our monster monsoon storms here in the desert. The surge knocked out the electronics and fried the unit. Back to the drawing board after a short three years.

Next, I went to a national chain to buy a sturdier salt version. The chain said that the electronics were bulletproof and that they would stand behind the unit. Guess what, 6 months down the road and another power surge knocked this unit out too. The national chain said that they didn't sell that unit anymore, so they couldn't or wouldn't help. Back to the drawing board after a three-year bout with hard water.

Then I went to a competitive national chain and they had an inexpensive unit ($500) that they admitted would not survive a surge even with a GFI enabled electrical socket. They promised a seamless install and I would have to pay the installer for their service and the product. Well, guess what?  The installer called and said I had to lug the softner home myself (pretty clumsy size and pretty heavy). The other option was to buy the softner by standing in line and storing it in "will call" The installer would charge $75 dollars to pick it up and $300 for the install. Well, I had enough with national chain stores as I backed out of that deal.

I went to a regional appliance store who sold a product that would only require a $12 replacement transformer if I had another surge issue. They would have the installer pick up the unit and install it for less than $200 dollars. Smooth sailing until another surge hits. While the softner was more expensive, the end to end customer journey was seamless and easy. I will now do more business with my new source that considers the customer journey first.

Net; Net:

Besides buyer beware, I will always look for the easiest customer journey. Something that I have learned the hard way. I need to watch the millennials more as they figured this out earlier in life. Thanks for listening to me if you made it this far :)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Top 5 Techs to Budget for This Season

Let's make this part of the budgeting process a breeze. I always hated the budgeting process as a manager, so If I can help one person with this post, I'm pleased :)  Many folks will be asked to identify areas to spend the remaining 2019 budget and plan for 2020 in August. I have identified "TheTop 5 Techs" to invest in for the next 12 months. My rationale for picking these five amongst many digital technologies to invest in for the near future is the time to payback without sacrificing strategy. These five deliver quickly and can participate in strategic efforts for the medium and long term. The top techs for budgeting purposes in 2019 & 2020 are as follows:

Artificial Intelligence:

AI allows you to start small and grow successes into strategic wins. Most organizations have tried small machine learning projects that focus on data-oriented problem domains. It is time for those organizations to up their investment to create more momentum for AI to augment human activity while replacing error-prone of drudgery work. Most of the short term benefits are around automation, but better customer experiences are emerging too. The leaders will be looking to leverage AI for competitive advantage and reasoning applications of AI to assist human resources. Fast followers will deepen investments in more data-focused applications. Followers will now jump into the fray and try some form of AI soon as the window for early advantage is closing. Please click here for the typical types of AI or click here for AI problem domains explained.

Customer Journey Mapping:

Knowing the customer's real journey is essential and customer journey technologies are getting significant investment today. Most are related to monitoring and mining the real experience with today's web pages, processes or systems, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. While this gives some ideas where the friction points can be improved for a better experience, this is not enough to declare victory. Real journey mapping considers the journey from a customers perspective that may go beyond the four walls of your organization. Mapping capabilities that go beyond mined data for owned processes and applications to touchpoints necessary for understanding, documenting and training all the resources that touch customers during their real journey. Leaders are going for total customer excellence that considers the customer experiences in context. Fast followers are going beyond mining to include modeling. Followers will jump into mining. Please click here to understand CJM approaches or click here to understand CJM technology.

Low Code:

Low code approaches generally allow for faster development and testing of code. Low code can be applied to testing out business or technological solutions in a "time to market" fashion that is consistent with digital results. It can also be applied to quickly converting code from existing burning platforms, applications and processes to speed up digital transformations. Leaders are trying new business models plus approaches with low code tech. Fast followers are leveraging low code for productivity mostly. Followers are fast being enticed to deliver with low code tech. Please click here for leveraging low code for creative solutions or click here for successful low code approaches.

Robotic Process Automation(RPA):

RPA is being actively used to automate eliminate drudgery work like keying, logging onto multiple systems, integrating data from diverse systems, and creating straight-through processes. Today bots are created to eliminate tasks or drive sequences of activity while reducing human intervention. This allows workers to focus on delivering results like better customer interactions. Leaders are combining process with RPA, RPA with AI or low code with RPA to extend the benefits of RPA. Fast followers are inspecting their current processes and applications with mining tools to look for more automation opportunities. Followers are jumping on the bandwagon for task automation. Please click here for the power of RPA and process or click here to find the future of RPA.

Workflow / BPM:

Processes often orchestrate the work sequences of work tasks, resources and the tapping of content/data. Managing work in processes sequences, small or large has been a large contributor for decades for large scoped industrial processes. Today organizations are discovering that these kind of processes are less than 20% of the hidden processes through their departments and organizational groups. Thus workflow has taken off fast to create form-driven, case collaboration or small departmental flows. Leading organizations will reach for larger scoped processes that follow the real customer journeys even if they are following multiple supply or value chains. Fast followers are leveraging processes everywhere. Followers are just discovering the power of workflow. Please click here to learn the role of processes in the digital age or click here to understand the interaction of process and IoT.

Net; Net:

These are my top five amongst many others including blockchain, content/collaboration, IoT, analytics, unified communications, process mining, chat-bots, architecture tools, digital twins, cloud computing, augmented reality, big/fast data, 3D printing, and nanotech. You can run with these five and deliver short term benefits to build upon. You can even combine these into powerful combinations. Please click here for some potential combinations.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Get Real AI with Right-Brain Based Reasoning

AI is blossoming, but the real advantage of AI is yet to come. While organizations are mesmerized by the power of AI on left-brained activities of facts, rules, and logic, the big opportunity lies fallow. It's the right-brained activities that help with insight, interpretation, intuition, judgment, and reasoning where the big benefits can be gleaned. The leverage of general policies, creativity, and constraints is not natural in the world of AI today. Because it is difficult today, many pass reasoning and judgment by these days. What if there was a way to deliver right-brained behavior with left-brained activities? There is, but I'll get to that later.  

Jump-Starting Right-Brained Reasoning:

Since Left-brained analytic and approaches require precision, they are more pure text language-based and not open-ended. They require all possibilities to be covered and dealt-with ahead of time. Right-brained approaches are more open-ended and somewhat of "close fit" or "similar patterned".  Reasoning requires a more model-driven approach, but not a static model. Right-brained approaches require more fitting, approaching dynamic limits and inflight adjustments. To make judgments and to reason requires adjustments plus precision used in unison.

Setting Goals, Constraints, and Interaction:

In interactive and adjustable situations, often goals are set to direct behavior. In the case of multiple goals, sometimes in conflict, dynamic adjustments to find a balance that works for the moment until completion of the overall mission. Along the way, the behavior will also be guided by constraints (boundaries) that are not easily changeable. As activity attempts to reach a set of goals without violating any boundaries, new and unexpected outputs and behaviors can emerge. Thereby the result may be similar to creativity and imagination. This effect is emergence with goals and guidelines implying judgment.  

Acting in Real-Time Dynamically:

Real-time is a vital part of the right-brained approach in that there are some trial and error, some in-flight adjustment and looking at results in light of desired outcomes. Adjustments are made on the way to outcomes or when outcomes are not what fits the desired outcomes. It implies judgment or reasoning. I'm not sure it fits precisely with feelings like empathy, but it can be emulated.

Net; Net:

Judgment is a different kind of AI that is hard to cobble together by yourself. The good news is that I have stumbled upon technology from a company called Compsim that has the graphical language, KEEL Dynamic Graphical Language that is able to deliver much of the right-brained behavior for organizations. KEEL also delivers explainable and auditable judgment along with the reasoning in a way that humans cannot provide. This is a little known company that has significant experience in dealing with live interactive problems that are impossible to deliver with just left-brained AI solutions. Remember you heard it here first. Make sure you sample some of the videos as they are instructive and will give you a sense of delivery.

More about Compsim & KEEL

Monday, July 15, 2019

Got Customer Excellence?

It seems that we all are chasing down the dream of customer excellence, but if you ask someone what it is you probably will get a variety of answers. Some would say that customer excellence is a better customer experience, some would propose an optimized customer journey and others would suggest an outside-in approach to a customer journey as a customer interacts with your organization. We would say it is all three plus a journey that transcends your organization and others. Many are missing the whole point and are optimizing on goals from an organizational point of view. Pictured below is a typical myopic customer journey optimized for an organization to drive sales.

Better Customer Experience:

Having a more fluid and easy to use customer experience is never a bad thing unless organizations stop there and claim victory.  Yes, you have paved the well-worn paths that lead to organizational outcomes in a more fluid way with less friction with legacy processes and applications, but that does not guarantee customer loyalty in the short term or the elusive customer for life. You may be still inflicting pain on your customers unwittingly. See customer pain index by clicking here. Without considering the real customer journey organizations miss the whole idea of customer goals.

An Organizational Customer Journey:

The next step in maturity is to consider the customer journey that your customers take in dealing with your organization. This can be accomplished by mining the journeys from channels, website, and systems logs to put together a picture of what is actually happening. While this will point out additional friction points and areas of optimization for both the customer and the organization, this may be incomplete. For parts of the journey that are not fully automated or there may not be logs, so modeling capabilities can be used in combination to complete the journey maps. The automated logs only represent existing processes that might not be good enough. More mature customer excellence programs have the processes highly influenced by the target journey. To read more about the journey/process interaction, click here.

An Outside-in Customer Journey:

Looking realistically at the real customer journey with their goals overriding goals is the next level of maturity in customer excellence. Ideally, this journey would go beyond the four walls of your organization. Instead of the sun orbiting around the earth, this takes a look at how the earth (your organization) revolves around the sun (the customer). For instance, your company might handle mortgage loans, which is a small piece of the journey buying and comfortably occupying a new home with your family. Another example is that your organization finds the ideal hotel for your holiday, but the journey is a literally a complete trip with airlines, ground transport and recommended places to eat and stores nearby.

Net; Net:

Customer excellence is all about understanding the customer. the goals of the customers, the real journey and your organization's opportunity to optimize its touchpoints for both the customer and your organization. This means a change in your organization's culture, the skills of your people and the effectiveness of your processes/applications in the real customer journey while serving the balance of organizational and customer goals.

Co-authored by Jim Sinur, Gero Decker & Mark McGregor

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Top 5 Facets of the AI Gem

AI will be the gem of digital going forward for a long time. It is a co-driver of smarts in both automation and customer excellence efforts along with static algorithms. AI can learn, handle fuzzy problems, and help with increasing the probability of success in decisions, assist humans in interacting with traditional rule-based organizational systems and reaching shifting goals. There are five facets of AI that are shining bright now and for the future. There could be more down the road as AI progresses over time, but these are the top five right now.

Machine Learning:

Right now, ML is the brightest facet of AI as organizations deal with ever-growing big and fast data sources. ML learns for the data to get better and speed up responses to interesting patterns. ML is good at handling rich and complex data for incremental learning and thus assisting decisions and actions. The machines do most of the heavy lifting here, but the quality and control of the data is a key factor for success. The learning can get better with the addition of facets of neural nets to create deep learning opportunities to speed up the evolution. Keep in mind that ML can learn from bad data too and the maintenance of data can be costly.

Artificial Neural Nets:

While neural nets are popular in the deep learning portions of ML, they also have an identity of their own. They are great at interpolating between several taught patterns for classification and categorization. They pay attention to differences and emerging patterns.  They are also strong at self-training and learning, particularly for unstructured data often found in natural language problems. Their strength is that no expert is needed, just training data. Keep in mind that ANN requires a significant number of patterns for better results and retention of patterns becomes a management issue. Retraining is also a factor to consider.  

Fuzzy Logic:

Fuzzy Logic is helpful when there is not a precise truth as it handles degrees of truth. It is good where there are grey situations. This is often the case with human and machine dialog where there might be linguistic uncertainties. FL is difficult to explain in some situations because it handles linguistic uncertainty. Because of this uncertainty, there will be situations that a subject to interpretation.

Bayesian Belief Networks:

Bayesian Networks are applicable to cause and effect problem domains. BBN's are aimed at probabilities of the relationship between symptoms and situations or outcomes. This is accomplished by mapping the casual probabilistic relationship among a set of random variables, the conditional dependencies, and joint probability distribution. This is mapping is often represented in a visual model that represents a set of variables and their conditional dependencies via a directed acyclic graph (DAG). Keep in mind BBNs are dependent on having good statistics to drive results.

AI Reverse Chaining:

Reverse chaining is good at moving towards goals where all the underlying data may not be complete, but there are available inputs to leverage. Also, ARC can be sued to figure out the typical paths that brought an organization to their existing state. The inherent strength is that it handles missing information and data. Keep in mind that since there is a lot of trial and error, ARC is not the best at real-time control.

Net; Net:

While AI is still an evolving gem in terms of application to an organizations problems, there are some bright spots that can deliver benefits. It is important to match the AI approach to the problem at hand even if there is a combination of AI facets used in the solution set.  As more case studies emerge, the clarity of the application of these facets will increase and reduce the amount of pioneering. Vendors and solution providers will a real source of wisdom here over time.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

It's Time to Stop the "CPA Insanity"

Most organizations are cost-conscious to a fault. In fact, a goodly number of organizations are working against their customers and parts of their own organizations. CFOs state that "costs must be controlled or cut back". This creates a culture of suboptimization where individuals focus on their own span of control to cut costs thus negatively affects others. Management sets cost savings goals without guidance on how to do it intelligently. For instance, a servicing portion of a company cuts proactive customer service to save costs thus negatively impacting customer satisfaction and the sale of new products or services.  It is true insanity to manage costs to the point to impact revenues.  What are the symptoms or results of unguided or constrained cost-cutting efforts?

Slave to Metrics:

While it is important to measure, some organizations measure too much and expect all the numbers to move in a direction set by management. This creates a mentality that forgets common sense. Let's look at the Boeing 737 Max. Management set an impossible schedule and forced reuse of an existing airframe. While bigger engines were added, the software that compensated for the effect of these engines and placement were short-changed. The software development was completed by the lowest cost resources that were not great at excellent testing practices. Boeing also cut redundant measuring devices making it a higher cost option for the airlines. Suboptimal cost-cutting had tragic results.  The metrics of Boeing and the airlines came first.

Culture of Lower Quality:

Boeing also did not develop simulators or require airlines to do so. Instead, some light training was put in tablets for pilots. Boeing sold the idea that real simulation and training was not necessary as the 737 Max so similar to existing 737 fight behavior. Additionally, many airlines are configuring this new 737s in a way to cut customer comfort from seats to bathroom sizes. There is plenty of this kind of quality reduction in every industry to the point of inflicting pain on customers and employees.

Customer Neglect/Bad Experiences:

Most organizations are optimized for organizational outcomes and business processes that benefit the organization at the expense of the customer. Smart organizations are now additionally focusing on customer journeys and customer goals. Brilliant organizations are looking at their organization's role in the complete customer journey. Organizations, wrongly so, think that they are the center of the customer's journey or experience. An example would be mortgage companies believing that the loan process is the center of buying and settling into a new home. While one can appreciate a faster and easier loan process is good, it is only one piece of the real journey.

Immediate Gratification:

The mistake that most CPAs commit is to think short term cost-cutting is always a good thing. While the effect might please the existing management and help stock values in the short term, there could be long term impacts. Some times looking at the long term impacts and balancing customer outcomes with automation results is really the good thing. Obviously, there will be role and goal conflicts that include costs, but the CPAs should not have the last say.

Missed Opportunities: 

The focus on cost containment and short term result run headlong into the need for investments necessary to be future-ready. In this day and age of digital transformation, investments are needed now. Certainly, automation investments seem like a good deal for the CPA, but other investments are necessary to keep ahead or up to competitive levels. If the economy heads in another direction, then the window for digital investments that are not automation focused will be closing quickly. Invest in digital separation while the time is right.

Net; Net: 

Cost micromanagement without regard to long term or important investments ruins organizational cultures and beats down innovation. It also loses business as exhibited by recent cancelled orders for the 737 Max. It's time to move from "CPA Insanity" to organizations that are crazy smart by creating customer excellence while automating.