Monthly Archives: December 2014

Some favourite things from 2014

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Here are a few of the things I’ve really enjoyed on the internet in the last 12 months. Some new, some not so new.

Hope you find something useful in them!

Mobile apps

  • Nuzzel – this does a great job of surfacing all the content that your connections are sharing on social media, with the most popular stuff at the top. Means you never miss a great article just because you weren’t looking at Twitter at the right time! Link.
  • Overcast – the best podcast listening app there is. Has taken over from Pocket Casts for me this year. Link.
  • Just Send – a really neat app that lets you send email without going near your inbox – quickly send mail without being sucked in! Link.

Podcasts

  • Clockwise – podcast network Relay.fm launched this year and it’s full of great shows. Clockwise though is my favourite mainly due to its brevity – 30 minutes, with four guests discussing four technology issues. Short and sweet. Link.
  • Roderick on the Line – more long and rambling than short and sweet, and one to lie back and wallow in. Merlin Man and John Roderick just talk stuff, and it is as entertaining as it is fascinating. Link.
  • Try Doorbell – Robert and Lloyd talk about technology and work, and trying to survive modern life. Link.

Blogs

  • Stratechery – so good I pay extra to get more of it. Ben Thompson’s writing and analysis is top quality and usually bang on the money as well. A must read. Link.
  • The Information – another subscription service, providing around an article a day, The Information has a great mix of breaking tech news and analysis, without deluging you in thousands of posts like some of the others do. Link.
  • Brain Pickings – A wonderful cornucopia of interesting stuff around art, literature and culture generally. A great place to go to get away from digital stuff every now and again. Link.

Newsletters

  • Benedict Evans – great analysis and links, every Sunday, covering the world of mobile mostly. Brilliant stuff! Link.
  • Michael Coté – somewhat irregular, but always a fascinating insight into the world of emerging big IT. Link.
  • Next Draft – ten interesting news stories every day. A great summary of what you might have missed, with a dash of humour. Link.

Services

  • ThinkUp – a lovely service that provides human scale social media analytics. None of the Klout-score style nonsense, ThinkUp is full of helpful tips and advice, and useful information. Link.
  • LinkedIn – a curious one this as LinkedIn has been around for a long while, and for much of that time has been pretty boring, annoying and pointless. This year though, I have started to find it super useful for getting in touch with people who just aren’t present in other online networks, and also for republishing my blog posts there. It brings a new audience for my writing and creates new potential connections. Link.
  • IFTTT – a neat bit of internet plumbing, IFTTT makes my life easier in so many ways. I just hope they sort out a good business model, as I don’t want them to run out of money and disappear! Link.
  • Pocket – this year I really started to use Pocket properly, thanks to a tip from Steve Bridger. It’s such a great way to catch up on articles that I spot during the day but don’t have time to read, and means my phone is always full of interesting content. Link.
  • Rainmaker – this is where my blog – the one you’re reading right now – is hosted. I’m barely scratching the surface of what the platform can do, but basically it is a supercharged version of WordPress. It has all that SEO stuff built in, and also has functionality for adding a membership scheme to your blog, and community forums as well. I’m hoping to be able to test some of this stuff out in the next year. Link.

What attributes does a shared CDO need?

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After a brief hiatus, here’s another post on the idea of the shared chief digital officer. The others are here.

So, what does a shared CDO look and sound like?

Firstly, perhaps it’s a good idea to say what the shared CDO is not – and that is just a rebranded CIO, or chief information officer. The role of CDO is not an IT position. Instead, it is a strategic role where end user needs and the objectives of the organisation are aligned.

So, what are the things we should look for in a good, shared CDO?

  • people and outcome focused – and definitely not solution focused. The CDO must be totally bought into what the organisations want to achieve for their people, as well as a focus on the needs of those people themselves. This should be what drives the design of the solutions, rather than picking tools first.
  • influence and persuasion – hugely important will be the ability to be able to convince senior people across the organisation and those in political roles of the importance of digital, especially in terms of the new ways of working, focusing on user needs with agile methods
  • strategic – the CDO has to be able to take a strategic view, freeing up practitioners to get on with what they do best whilst providing the vision so everybody knows where they are headed
  • great communication – being able to communicate what can be complex issues and technical issues to different audiences is key. Being able to come up with a narrative that will bring different groups on board with transformation activity is a key skill
  • networked – a shared CDO needs access to a large network, in terms of finding support and advice, examples of good work elsewhere and so on. Equally, having a network of suppliers in the form of SMEs and freelancers will be vital in filling in gaps in capability on the team
  • open – the shared nature of the position means that the CDO cannot be anything other than open in the way they work. This means not seeking credit, but ensuring that the delivery of outcomes alone will be the evidence needed that the role is being done effectively. Sharing knowledge, experience, tools and processes openly will help embed them in the organisations the CDO works with
  • technical understanding – whilst the CDO is not a technical role, having an understanding of how the mechanics of the web and other technology works is really important. This will help keep those delivering technology on board, as they trust that the CDO knows what they are talking about, and will also give others confidence in the CDO’s ability to deliver
  • team-building – as mentioned several times in my recent post on digital innovation, building the digital transformation team is a key role for the CDO. This requires the right skills to do so – a collaborative attitude, the ability to get people to buy into a vision and to provide just enough leadership to motivate people without getting in their way
  • thorough understanding of and commitment to user centred design and agile – a bit wordy, but these two things are absolutely vital to the CDO role. They are, in a way, what separates digital from other ways of working. Not only must the CDO be totally fluent when it comes to user focus and agile, they must truly believe in it. Anyone pretending will be found out pretty soon.

That’s my list. I’d be interested to hear what others might add, or indeed take out.

The Innovators – lessons from the digital revolution

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I’ve just finished a rather excellent book, The Innovators by Walter Isaacson.

It takes a wonderfully long term view of digital – starting with Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace and ending with Larry and Sergei in more recent times. I thoroughly recommend it.

At the end is a magnificent concluding chapter, identifying the lessons that the history of computers offers to those wanting to innovate themselves. They may, perhaps, be surprising.

Firstly, creativity is a collaborative process. The notion of a lone innovator is essentially a myth. Individuals do have ideas of course, but to make them happen they need to be a member of a team. Solo brilliance just isn’t enough.

A good (or, rather, bad) example of this in the book is William Shockley, a brilliant mind who made several vital intellectual leaps in the development of the transistor, but whose personal style meant he was unable to take people with him and was a poor collaborator.

The team needs to bring together people with different skills and complementary styles. One common arrangement is to have a visionary paired with a great operations person – the two Steves at Apple are a classic example of this. Jobs provided the vision and Wozniak did the actual doing.

Another lesson from the book is that truly innovative ideas take root when nobody seeks the credit – whether as organisations or as individuals. The internet is a great example of this. When Vint Cerf and colleagues were writing the specifications for the protocols that would establish the Internet, they called them ‘requests for comment’ rather than anything more formal. It made all those involved feel ownership of the process and so encouraged them to fall in line.

Third, money is not always the primary motivation in digital innovation. The digital revolution was spurred on by three main groups – government, private enterprise and communities and each was as important as the other in the story.

The US government in particular, through the military, provided the funding for the research to take place to develop new ideas. private enterprises then sprung up to develop them into products. Meanwhile, others through a process of what Yochai Benkler refers to as “commons based peer production” helped to figure out what all this meant for individuals and communities, which created the use cases for the technology and also developed new ideas themselves.

Only one of those groups has profit as its primary motivation. That’s not to denigrate private enterprise’s role at all – it is vital and few if any of the innovations would have worked without it. However, societal and community focused benefits matter just as much and are an important part of the mix that generates disruptive change.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, many of those involved in the digital revolution were not “just” engineers, or scientists. A common thread is an appreciation of the arts as much as the sciences. Perhaps best exemplified by Steve Jobs’ idea of Apple being at the “intersection of technology and the liberal arts”, artistic creativity is a core driver of innovations. This takes us all the way back to Ada Lovelace and her description of Babbage’s early computer as being “poetical science”.

This creativity is still the one thing that humans can do much better than machines, which leads us to another of Isaacson’s lessons, which is that people and computers working together in a kind of symbiosis is where the real sweet spot in digital innovation lies, rather than in artificial intelligence. Instead of trying to make machines that act like humans, we should leave the computers to do what they are good at – crunching through data and calculations – which frees up the people to do the creative, intuitive bit that machines struggle with so much.

Great innovation, then, is a balance – between art and science, between individual brilliance and collaboration, between humans and machines. Something well worth thinking about and bearing in mind as we head into a new year.

On collaboration

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Euan Semple writes:

I have always said that the first step to real collaboration, as opposed to just having a shared space to stick your unreadable documents, is having the self awareness, the humility, and the courage to admit that you need help.

Too right!

Back when I was a local government officer, I used to be involved in things like local strategic partnerships – only the first word was, I think, accurate.

Anyway, various ‘delivery partners’ would turn up to a meeting, pledge to do something collaborative – i.e. something they were going to do anyway – and then go off and do it on their own, as they always would have done. Three months later, this activity would be announced at the result of partnership working and collaboration.

Am sure everyone reading this will have seen this happening, and as Euan says, no file sharing platform is going to fix this.

Instead, a sensible collaboration conversation ought to look like this:

  1. Decide on shared outcomes – are they really shared? are they really outcomes? Much of this is about aligning interests – all organisations should be open about their motivations and why they are collaborating. Then, through some enlightened self interest, it ought to be possible to plot a course that meets everyone’s needs, including the people all the partners are trying to help.
  2. Map what every organisation can bring to the table to help achieve those outcomes
  3. Identify the gaps. Is there another group who could meet those? If not, are they collaboration-killers? Can you still achieve your shared outcomes without those skills or resources? If not, you might need to reboot. Important: don’t pretend you can do something you can’t!
  4. Come up with a framework for organising and measuring activity and how it maps across to your outcomes, so you know whether you’re succeeding or not and can pivot accordingly
  5. Only meet if you really need to – and only have those that need to meet turn up – no agenda stuffing, or meat in the room
  6. Have an open way of reporting progress, through an online dashboard, say, so that everyone can see who is doing what and how much of an impact it is having.

The shared CDO – putting the team together

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So in my last post I discussed the idea of the shared CDO – a chief digital officer who works across a few different organisations to help them transform their services and working practices.

One of the first tasks facing a shared CDO would be to get the multidisciplinary team together to make things happen. The CDO can’t do everything on their own, after all.

What are the skills needed for the team?

  • delivery management
  • service design
  • user research
  • development
  • content design
  • technology architecture
  • digital inclusion / assisted digital
  • technology operations

Note that while these are all roles that need to be present on the team, they don’t necessarily map to full time roles.

The CDO being shared also means, I think, that the team should be shared as well, with people with the required skills from all the organisations involved being a part of the team. This means the councils sharing staff when needed, but also others, such as whoever delivers a shared back office, or other organisations delivering services.

It is likely of course that some of the roles or skills are not present in any of the organisations involved. That’s fine, and so part of the team must be made up of SMEs and freelancers, who are considered members of the team but come in as and when needed. It’s helpful if it is always the same people, or at least from a pool, so relationships and trust can be built.

It may well be that this team will operate virtually, with full time roles at their parent organisations, who come together – black ops style – to get stuff done when needed.

Once the team is together, it’s time to start work. More on that in a future post.

CDO as a service – the real local GDS?

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Emerging technologies and new ways of working bring with them new jobs, and new roles. One of those is the ‘chief digital officer’ or CDO.

I’ve always been an advocate of organisations having a senior member of staff who has the clout to be able to push through digital transformation and the necessary culture change. A CDO could well be that person.

However, for many smaller organisations – take district councils, say, or mid sized charities – who nonetheless have the scale in terms of service delivery to need the skills of such a person, might not be able to afford one. So what do they do?

In conversation with Adrian Hancock from SOCITM earlier this week, we discussed the potential for a shared chief digital officer between a group of organisations – around four probably being the maximum.

Each organisation would use a common framework and process for managing the digital shift and transformation. The outcomes in each may differ, of course, but the underlying process would be the same – making the CDO’s life easier but also enabling the partnering organisations to benefit from shared experience and sharing other resources, human and otherwise.

This then could form what the “local government GDS” should be. Local centres of good practice centred around a leader in the local digital space, with shared platforms, code bases, processes, services and people.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?