Category Archives: Academically speaking

Two books on search and social network analysis

Social Network Analysis for Startups: Finding connections on the social webSocial Network Analysis for Startups: Finding connections on the social web by Maksim Tsvetovat
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Concise and well-written (like most O’Reilly stuff) book on basic social network analysis, complete with (Python, Unix-based) code and examples. You can ignore the code samples if you want to just read the book (I was able to replicate some of them using UCINet, a network analysis tool).

Liked it. Recommended.

Search Analytics for Your Site: Conversations with Your CustomersSearch Analytics for Your Site: Conversations with Your Customers by Louis Rosenfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very straightforward and practically oriented – with lots of good examples. Search log analysis – seeing what customers are looking for and whether or not they find it – is as close to having a real, recorded and analyzable conversation with your customers as you can come, yet very few companies do it. Rosenfeld shows how to do it, and also how to find the low-hanging fruit and how to justify spending resources on it.

This is not rocket science – I was, quite frankly, astonished at how few companies do this. With more and more traffic coming from search engines, more and more users using search rather than hierarchical navigation, and the invisibility of dissatisfied customers (and the lost opportunities they represent) this should be high on any CIOs agenda.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Big data and the study of connections

I read this very interesting article at Om Malik on Broadband, where Dr. Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins argues that Big Data – the enormously increased availability and analyzability of data as the world increasingly becomes digitized – will mean as much to science as the microscope once did.

It made me think of Douglas Adams’ wonderful lecture on “Parrots, the Universe and Everything.” One of his central points there is that science is changing – from a focus on taking things apart to understand to one where we put them together so that we can watch them interact.

On a smaller scale, I think this is extremely important for businesses, especially those that can be characterized as value networks, i.e. companies whose main value provisioning consists of connecting people and helping them exchange information, goods or money (well, OK then, money is information, I agree, but still.) At present, these companies segment their customers mainly by demographics (age, gender, location, education, etc.) or, for business customers, by size, industry and location. Massive data analysis will allow them to stop segmentation (which is only a representation reducing your market transaction cost, but also providing a less tailored product for the customer) and instead offer services and connections based on which other users each member is connected to and what they exchange.

Imagine instead if your telephone company, bank or insurance company could analyze you in terms of your interactions with others. That would allow the telephone company to group and tailor their services for the customers that create the most traffic, have the biggest impact, prevent the most accidents or in other ways cause desirable changes in behaviors of those around them. This is now done in a very primitive way and after the fact – imagine if you could do it in real time.

Hard technology talk in very civilized package

Cory Doctorow likes this talk by John Naughton – which, given how often he quotes Cory without mentioning him, is a bit surprising, but then Cory has always been a very open fellow. I did not find much new here, but the last couple of minutes, and the answers at question time are generally good (including the discussion of copyright and the future of teachers). Decent intro for folks who need an explanation of the Internet in clipped British tones, without PowerPoint and ideology.

And academic speakers in the UK get a bottle of whisky, which I cannot help but see as an improvement…

To quote Cory: Technology giveth, technology taketh away… And incidentally, the idea that the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly is a myth.

Truth, time, context, and computation

A reference to Jeanne Ross’ exhortation to companies to find one agreed – or declared – one declared source of truth got me thinking this morning. Jeanne’s point is that in order to get organizations to start discussing solutions rather than bickering over descriptions, it is better to declare a version of the truth to be the real one. If there are inaccuracies in the source of the data, then people can do something about making them more precise, an exercise that in most cases is much more fruitful than trying to suggest alternative numbers.

I very much agree with Jeanne in the main of this statement (probably a smart move, given that I am her guest at MIT CISR this year), as well as the need for it in many organizations. But it got me thinking – what is the truth, and how has what we consider to be the truth been influenced by advances in computation? With Big Data increasingly available, we can now analyze our way to most things. How does this change our concept of what is truth? Moreover, at what level should a CIO declare the one source of truth?

Truth as a function of time and context

I remember a conversation sometime in the nineties with colleagues Richard Pawson and Paul Turton at CSC – the discussion was on how object orientation changed the nature of systems, from being a computationally limited representation (a function, if you will) to being a simulation of the organization. We saw three stages in this evolution:

VERNER Swivel chair, white Width: 24 3/8 " Depth: 27 1/2 " Min. height: 42 1/8 " Max. height: 47 1/4 " Seat width: 20 1/2 " Seat depth: 18 1/2 " Min. seat height: 16 7/8 " Max. seat height: 23 5/8 "  Width: 62 cm Depth: 70 cm Min. height: 107 cm Max. height: 120 cm Seat width: 52 cm Seat depth: 47 cm Min. seat height: 43 cm Max. seat height: 60 cm  First, truth as a stored value. The example we thought of was inventory level – what is inventory level for a certain product? In a world with limited computer resources, the simplest way to have this number would be to periodically calculate it, and then store it so people can have access to it. When you go to IKEA’s web site to search for a nice and cheap office chair (such as the pictured Verner), for instance, they will give you an estimated number in the store closest to you. I don’t know how IKEA calculates that number, but I doubt if they dip into the local POS system of each store to precisely check it each time you query. (If they do, more power to them.) If this number is calculated on an intermittent basis, it will of course be rather imprecise – but it is computationally easy to get to. Similarly, if you ask Google about the distance to the moon, they will come back with documents which have that number in them, generally agreeing on an average of 384,403 km (238,857 miles). However, that is an approximation, since the moon is can be as near as 363,104 km (225,622 miles) and as far as 405,696 km (252,088 miles) depending on where it is in its elliptical trajectory.

I suspect much of the discussion over which are right in most corporations are about these kinds of numbers – calculated after the fact, subject to interpretation because we just don’t know what the precise situation is, and very often we do not know how we got to that number.

However, computation comes to the rescue – with more powerful computers, sensors and faster networks, we can actually move to the second stage: Truth as a calculated number.

For the distance to the moon example, the simple answer is Wolfram Alpha, the mathematical search engine, which will give you the calculated distance to the moon at the time of the query. For the IKEA example, this would mean calculating the number of Verner chairs in the store each time a customer asks on the web. This can be done varying levels of precision. The simplest way would be to get it from the POS system, which records when a chair is purchased and can subtract it from the inventory. A more precise method, given the length of IKEA’s checkout lines, would be to have a sensor on the chair and track when it is taken out of the shelf and placed on the customer’s cart. Precision is largely a question of how much you are willing to spend. For a physical store, tracking cart volumes is expensive, for an online store, it is, in theory, cheap, since a customer moving an item from inventory to cart is done digitally.

This kind of number is much closer to the truth, and much more operationally useful – and the job of the CIO is to declare how this number should be found, tracked and displayed. It may seem somewhat simple to say this, but this is where there should be no question of the source of the truth – every company should have one and only one, and much of the work of CIOs and their organizations in the last 10-15 years has been in moving companies along until they are capable of calculating the one true number.

Then, we move to the next (and so far last) stage: Truth as a calculated number in context. Context very gets more difficult as the need for precision goes up (which, I suppose, blatantly ignoring the quantum mechanical context, is a sort of business version of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.)

For the distance to the moon example there is little room for context. You could argue that it be different based on where on earth you are, or for what you are going to do with the information (launching a satellite or calibrating your telescope, for instance) but for most uses, there is little need for contextual customization.

For the IKEA example, the situation is rather different for different parts of the organization, and for different types of customer. If I am a customer looking up the number from my smartphone while close to the store, the POS number might be OK, since I would get to the product in short time and the consequences of imprecision would be small. If the nearest IKEA store is several hours’ driving away, then I might want a different number, one that incorporates not just the current situation but also the likelihood that the number would be zero before I get there. Or, I might want a reservation function, either setting the product aside or at least allowing me to report that I aim to buy one within the next x hours and thus would like the number shown as available to be reduced until I can make it to the store. In an online store, the problem is the diametrical opposite – there, customers can have carts sitting for days and it becomes an operational necessity to have some policy declaring at what point the products in the cart will have to be made available to other customers.

Similarly, the very concept of inventory level itself means different things to different parts of the organization. For a store manager, it is a cost concept, something to be optimized in a balancing act between capital costs and stock-outs. For a supply chain manager, it is also a flow concept, something to be optimized between stores. For someone managing the physical space of the warehouse, it is a physical concept – goods that have been sold to a customer but not yet picked up are very much something you need to manage. And for a sales person, inventory levels is an availability concept, often subject to negotiations and transfers within the organization.

So, what is a CIO to do?

I think the declaration of a source of truth is a question of hitting the right level, navigating between the simplicity of simple numbers and the complexity of inferred context. In most cases, I suspect, the optimum lies in providing the ability to find the truth, giving customers (i.e., of the IT organization) their numbers at the source – which should be the one, declared one – but also giving them the tools to interpret them in light of their own context.

The key here is not to try to move from the first phase to the third without missing the second. Unfortunately, in my view, many IT organizations have done just that, by responding to requests for customized reports, systems and views from archival rather than current, operational data. As each number becomes institutionalized through use within its context, transitioning to a declared truth can become an exercise in power rather than rationalism. Better to promise context after speed and precision has been provided – and even better, provide the context in a format the end consumer can relate to within their own context.

For IKEA, that might be giving me the number of chairs available plus a prediction (based on history and, say, number of cars in IKEA’s parking lot) as to how many chairs are likely to be sold, with variance, within the next x hours. For the rest of organization, well – it depends. But ones you provide real-time access to well defined operational data, you can safely leave the question of what it depends on to the person wanting to use it.

Steven Pinker on the decline of violence

Steven Pinker, just out with a new book (The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined), gives a talk outlining how rates of violence are falling in the world, and the causes of this. Excellent, highly recommended, and available for free in high resolution:

Progress is actually progress. Hans Rosling would agree.

Update March 30, 2012: I really should clean up my notes and add to this post, but this review by Peter Singer sums it all up nicely, so I won’t bother. But it is worth a read, 800 pages and all.

Computers taking over: Examples

I am currently thinking about how computers are taking over more and more of what we humans can do, in ways we did not think about just a few years ago. The impetus for this, of course, is Brynjolfsson og McAfee’s recent e-book Race Against The Machine, where the main examples given are Google’s driverless cars, instant translation software, and automated paralegal research. I’ll use this blog post as a repository for examples of this, so here goes:

Continue reading

Trapping the wily professor

I wrote this piece in 2004, and it was published in European Business Forum, a journal sponsored by Boston Consulting Group, which since has disappeared (the journal, not the company!) Hence, I am making it available here in my blog, for your reading pleasure:

Trapping the wily professor
A hunting guide for CLOs
February 2004

Recently, I attended a meeting of senior HR executives from large European companies. The attendants were all engaged in designing and/or running various forms of management training and education in their companies, and a discussion about how to deal with outside suppliers – particularly business schools – came up.  A key problem, it transpired, was getting the good professors to engage in company programs.  While the schools were more than willing to sell their branded programs, most corporations wanted something tailor-made, designed to achieve a specific corporate learning goal.  Furthermore, they wanted it tailor-made by the big names – that is, the professors the students were likely to know.  This had proved very difficult.  These were big, prestigious companies – why couldn’t they get the big, prestigious professors?

Coming from the supply side of this relationship, I have little problem understanding the difficulties these managers have – so I herewith offer a little guide to hunting down and keeping that rarest of animals, the business-savvy and interesting professor.  A warning, though: This is not a task to be approached lightly.  Hunting requires knowledge of the prey itself, its living environment, and its reward structures.  It requires patience and a keen sense of observation, as well as an ability to communicate with the natives – or at least not to offend them too much.

First: Hunt professors on your turf, not theirs.  The best place to hunt for professors is not through the business school sales channels.  Instead, invite the professor to come into your company to give a short talk on some very specific point of interest – half an hour is fine – at some small executive meeting, with lunch and informal discussions thereafter.  Pay the professor for the presentation.  If there is no chemistry, you have listened to a (hopefully) interesting presentation and the professor has made a little money and is likely to think of your company with benevolence.  Incidentally, the best referrers of professors are other professors – so use the occasion to extend your network.  Carefully cultivated, most professors will come when you call and leave you alone when you want them to.

Secondly: Avoid the obvious blunders.  This should go without saying, so the experienced professor-hunter may want to disregard this paragraph.  However, any high-powered and dynamic business executive can unknowingly scare away the wily professor without meaning to – the equivalent of putting on aftershave before the hunt and then ondering why you never see any prey.  Professors are academics, and you hunt them because they are.  Consequently, never use the word “academic” to mean “irrelevant”, “hypothetical” or “impractical”.  Never refer to them as “educators” – in academic cynical parlance, an “educator” is someone forced to live by teaching because he can’t do good research.  And never – never ever – ask them to include that interesting best-seller (“Who drank my café latte?”) you saw in the airport bookshop in their program curricula.  Professors are extremely jealous of outside intellectual competition, and anyone preferring the Heathrow School of Management to them is treated with extreme suspicion, if not outright hostility.

Third: Don’t deal with intermediaries.  Typically, the CLO seeking a management education program interacts with a relationship manager from the business school.  This person is pleasant, nicely attired and means well, will sell you the standard programs and tell you what you want to hear, but is incapable of trapping the wily professor on your behalf.  If you want a program out of the ordinary, talk to the person most critical for its success – and that better be the professor, because if program responsibility lies with the salesperson, you are in trouble. That being said, the school’s relationship manager is very useful as a support person – so let your own support person deal with him or her, and make sure that the minute any content issues spring up, the problem is escalated to you – and the professor. (And, by corollary, don’t fall into the trap of becoming an intermediary yourself, in the case when a business colleague needs a program and asks you to set it up.)

Fourth: Ask not what the professor can do for you, but what you can do for the professor.  Professors are not motivated by money. Actually, that is a whopping big lie – they certainly are, but it needs to come in a form palatable to the world they inhabit. Doing executive education does not help a professor in his or her career – at best, it earns him or her non-tradable brownie points for helping the school. What counts in the academic hierarchy – at least officially – is publishing what to the layman appears as unreadable articles in obscure journals read by few and remembered by even fewer.  These articles are created through back-breaking work and qualified through an evaluation process that makes Purgatory feel like a day at the beach. To do the work, the professor needs money, in the form of research grants.  To get through the evaluation, he or she needs data, obtained by getting access to corporations.  If you can give the professors research money and access to data (i.e., your company,) they will happily create executive education programs as part of the research process. They will even teach them.  (It is possible to bag a few professors through money alone, primarily the younger ones, but on a repeated basis this will yield a lower quality of prey).

Fifth: It is not what you say, it is what you do.  The above will attract and retain professors, but will not earn their undying love. To achieve that, you need to follow through and do what they say. Professors seeing their theories listened to and applied will do anything you ask of them – sit on your Board, talk to your executives, co-write career-enhancing articles with you in trade magazines and even listen to your suggestions for making their theories better.  The danger herein lies in that you may go native yourself – and what a tragedy that would be.

So there you are – to bag a professor, start by wining and dining them, paying them for a small presentation, then lure them with money and access to provide you with tailor-made and interesting executive programs.  It is easy.  You can start now.  My email is at the top of the page.

IT in Norway: Industry and impact

As part of the Knowledge-based Norway project, I have been writing a report on the Norwegian IT industry, examining the industry as industry, but also its effect on business and government in Norway. You can find it here – and comments are more than welcome. Here is the executive summary:

Executive summary, with policy implications

This report describes and analyzes the Norwegian IT industry, focusing on two categories of companies: Those that provide information technology as a product largely developed by themselves, and those that provide information technology services – mostly by taking foreign technology and making it available to Norwegian companies and organizations.

image

Contrary to Norway’s classic knowledge hubs – petroleum, maritime, seafood – the Norwegian IT industry, though large, profitable, and knowledge-based, does not see itself as a hub and does not act like one. With a few exceptions (Horten, Trondheim) the Norwegian IT industry is overwhelmingly located in the Oslo area: Along Akerselven, in the City centre, at Skøyen, Lysaker and Fornebu. Few Norwegian IT companies paint on a global canvas, and those that do tend to be acquired by large international companies when they reach a certain size or maturity – growing out of Norway, as it were. In some cases, the companies continue and thrive in place, usually when they address a very specific global (GE Vingmed) or local (Visma) need, in others, they gradually disappear, subsumed into the acquiring organization (FAST into Microsoft development center Norway, Tandberg becoming a unit of Cisco, Trolltech becoming a part of Nokia and then sold to a Finnish software company).

The IT industry’s main contribution to Norwegian society comes in two flavors: Firstly, it provides a group of companies (the large IT service providers and consultancies) with a body of knowledge on how to develop and implement information technology in Norway, increasing the country’s productivity through smart use of administrative and customer-facing systems. The relatively large size of the consulting industry and the extensive use of consultants both by the public sector and the larger companies ensures that the scarce knowledge of IT development and implementation both can be nurtured and rewarded as a core activity inside specialized organizations, and also makes sure that this knowledge is available in a more flexible form than the rather rigid hiring and firing practices of Norwegian working life.

imageSecondly, the technology provided by the large, international technology providers, by the open source movement, and by administrative software providers ensures an available infrastructure for entrepreneurs in almost any industry: Few, if any, new startups today do not spend time on systems development as a major activity. Furthermore, extensive use of IT lowers the bar for starting new companies, both in terms of their relationship to the public sector, in their mobilization of resources, and in their access to markets. Thus, IT is, at the same time, a competitive arena and a coordination facilitator – an industry as well as an enzyme – in terms of increasing Norwegian innovative performance, productivity and competitiveness.

Knowledge creation and dissemination

Knowledge comes into the IT industry from three main sources: From foreign technology providers, from companies’ own development work, and from academic research in Norway. The latter transfer mechanism happens largely through the production of graduates from computer science and engineering programs – the single-most scarce factor in the industry, underscored by practically anyone interviewed. Academic research in itself, with a few, celebrated examples such as Simula (University of Oslo) and search technology (from NTNU), is not tightly integrated with the industry. Companies are often started by students from the engineering schools and computer science departments, but faculty involvement is largely missing – with a few important exceptions – after the companies are formed. This is partially because contributing to industry goes against the culture of many academics – the universities and colleges do not recruit faculty with entrepreneurship in mind – and partly because company-specific knowledge quickly outruns the more general academic knowledge as soon as development speeds up.

Industry challenges

The IT industry provides a general purpose technology (Basu and Fernald 2008), where value creation is more visible in the industries that use it than in the technology industry itself. The industry is largely located in Oslo, finances its R&D out of own funds or general tax refund programs, and does not to a large degree partake in more long-term research funding. It is an industry where everyone competes and collaborates – there are few, if any, long-term collaborative patters. The IT industry scores relatively low on several cluster dimensions, in particular knowledge dynamics.

The industry needs to raise its profile in order to do better recruitment and increase its chances to enhance value creation, by jointly documenting and exemplifying how it creates value in the Norwegian society. In order to attract talent outside the traditional male, engineering-oriented candidate pool, the industry would benefit from trying to portray itself as urban, cool and interesting – a career choice not just for the technically inclined but for the ambitious and culturally dexterous candidate. Lastly, the industry needs to address the thorny problem of improving productivity – in particular, decision making productivity – in the public sector, by collectively taking a more proactive stance not just on technology direction, but also recommend actions to increase organizational efficiency and goal effectiveness.

Public policy implications

Public IT policy can be divided into policies directed towards the industry, and policies directed towards the use of information technology in public administration and public service companies.

Policies towards the IT industry have been characterized by a quite fruitful neglect: The industry has not (despite entreaties from its interest organizations) been offered much help, nor had many restrictions from the government. This is not necessarily a problem – the industry does not need much public help, since it is used to continual technology-driven change and regularly transforms itself.

A productive public policy of IT in Norway would need to recognize that value creation from IT happens outside the IT industry; that Norway is a very small country which does not necessarily need big systems (but can benefit from simplification of procedures and structures) The IT industry is best supported by addressing the problems felt by the industry (in particular, the talent shortage) rather than forcing it to
respond to relatively short-term political interests such as focus on particular technologies or geographical distribution.

The biggest opportunity for value creation with IT in Norway lies in increasing the productivity in public administration and service provisioning. Procedures and structures are still modeled on paper as a medium and geographical distance as a hindrance. While strides have been made in improving the interface between the public and the government, much remains to be done in the back office.

Norway’s challenge is to convert the enthusiasm with which the population adopts new technologies into an equally strong enthusiasm for government and business to adopt their processes and services to the new technology. Let the final recommendation for the government then be that a post of Minister of IT is created, empowered to reorganize, automate and digitize all aspects of public service provisioning, with a goal of making life better for every citizen and with the added benefit of enabling Norwegian IT companies to export the resulting knowledge and technology to countries less blessed with a strong economy and a technologically enthusiastic population.

Record companies lose, artists gain

In early September, two of my M.Sc. students handed in their thesis, which has created quite a stir in the Norwegian music industry. I think this has applicability outside Norway, so here is a translation (and light edit) of the Norwegian-language press release and a link to the full report (PDF, 3,4Mb):

After 10 years of digitalization of music, the average (Norwegian) musician’s income has increased by 66%. As a group, the only losers in digital music seems to be the record companies. This is the conclusion of a M.Sc. study done by students Richard Bjerkøe and Anders Sørbo at the Norwegian School of Management BI in Oslo.

The thesis “The Norwegian Music Industry in the Age of Digitalization” shows that the musicians’ income increase is due to increased income from concerts, various collection agencies and stipends from the government in the period from 1999 to 2009. During the same period, record sales have decreased by about 50%. The fall in income from record sales is less important for the musicians, however, since, on average, they only receive 15% of record sales, whereas they receive on average 50% from concerts and 80% from collection agencies (who collects provisions from radio play and other uses of the artists’ productions.)

– In the interviews we have done with a number of musicians and music producers, the musicians say they are losing money on digitalization, but the numers show that it is the record companies, not the artists, who are losing, says Bjerkøe og Sørbo.

– The fall in record sales also means that record companies are becoming less important as launchpads for new artists, and that records to a larger degree become “business cards” – i.e., a marketing tool – to attract audiences to concerts.

Espen Andersen, associate professor at the Norwegian School of Management, has been the faculty advisor for the thesis. He thinks the results show that artists in the future will have more of their income from concerts and by being played on the radio, TV or Internet streaming services. Musicians will also, to a larger extent, have to take responsibility for their own marketing. The future of the record companies is uncertain and they will need to redefine their role in the music industry.

Facts:

  • Income from concerts has increased, on average, 136% from 1999 to 2009
  • Income from collection organizations such as TONO, Gramo and others has increased 108% from 1999 to 2009
  • stipends and other supports from the government has increased 154% from 1999 to 2009
  • The number of registered active musicians has increased by about 28% during this period
  • All figures have been adjusted for inflation.

For questions, please contact

  • Richard Bjerkøe, +47 9181 8686, rbjerkoe@gmail.com
  • Anders Sørbo, +47 9284 0098, anders.sorbo@no.experian.com
  • Espen Andersen, +47 4641 0452, self@espen.com

Liberating the process followers

I highly recommend attending the following presentation at the Norwegian Polytechnic Society on Wednesday September 29th at 5 pm. In particular, I think anyone associated with creating systems for complex decision making, especially in the public sector, would find it interesting.

Update Oct.1: You will find a video of the talk here.

Innovative systems for public services: From process following to problem solving
Dr. Richard Pawson, Naked Objects Group

image Dr. Richard Pawson is founder of Naked Objects Group, and a former head of Research Services for Computer Sciences Corporation. He has 30 years experience in IT and related businesses, and has given presentations and consulted with companies all over the world. He holds a Ph.D. of computer science from Trinity University, Dublin, Ireland.

In this discussion, he will talk about how new innovative systems can change how case workers in public services do their job, transforming them from process followers to problem solvers. Richard has designed and implemented a large and very successful system for the Irish Department of Social and Family Affairs which, based on a Norwegian idea of object orientation, allows case workers ("saksbehandlere") to handle very complex problem situations under much larger degrees of freedom than previously possible.

Richard is a highly interesting and entertaining speaker with deep insight in the relationship between information technology and organizational issues. You can look forward to an eye-opening perspective on the organizational issues in public services and how innovative and advanced systems can contribute to solving them.

Does LinkedIn help or disrupt headhunters?

(I am looking for a M.Sc. student(s) to research this question for his/her/their thesis.)

The first users of LinkedIn were, as far as I can tell, headhunters (at least the first users with 500+ contacts and premium subscriptions.) It makes sense – after all, having a large network of professionals in many companies is a requirement for a headhunter, and LinkedIn certainly makes it easy not only to manage the contacts and keep in touch with them, but also allows access to each individual contact’s network. However, LinkedIn (and, of course, other services such as Facebook, Plaxo, etc.) offers its services to all, making connections visible and to a certain extent enabling anyone with a contact network and some patience to find people that might be candidates for a position.

I suspect that the evolution of the relationship between headhunters and LinkedIn is a bit like that of fixed-line telephone companies to cell phones: In the early days, they were welcomed because they extended the network and was an important source of additional traffic. Eventually, like a cuckoo’s egg, the new technology replaced the old one. Cell phones have now begun to replace fixed lines. Will LinkedIn and similar professional networks replace headhunters?

If you ask the headhunters, you will hear that finding contacts is only a small part of their value proposition – what you really pay for is the ability to find the right candidate, of making sure that this person is both competent, motivated and available, and that this kind of activity cannot be outsourced or automated via some computer network. They will grudgingly acknowledge that LinkedIn can help find candidates for lower-level and middle-management, but that for the really important positions, you will need the network, judgment and evaluative processes of a headhunting company.

On the other hand, if you has HR departments charged with finding people, they will tell you that LinkedIn and to a certain extent Facebook is the greatest thing since sliced bread when it comes to finding people quickly, to vet candidates (sometimes discovering youthful indiscretions) and to establish relationships. I have heard people enthuse over not having to use headhunters anymore.

So, the incumbents see it as a low-quality irrelevance, the users see it as a useful and cheap replacement. To me, this sounds suspiciously like a disruption in the making, especially since, in the wake of the financial crisis, companies are looking to save money and the HR departments dearly would like to provide more value for less money, since they are often marginalized in the corporation.

I would like to find out if this is the case – and am therefore looking for a student or two who would like to do their Master’s thesis on this topic, under my supervision. The research will be funded through the iAD Center for Research-based innovation. Ideally, I would want students who want to research this with a high degree of rigor (perhaps getting into network analysis tools) but I am also willing to talk to people who want to do it with more traditional research approaches – say, a combination of a questionnaire and interviews/case descriptions of how LinkedIn is used by headhunters, HR departments and candidates looking for new challenges.

So – if you are interested – please contact me via email at self@espen.com. Hope to hear from you!

Cases of Norwegian IT

Normally when I teach technology strategy (GRA6821), a term paper is part of the course evaluation. The students typically write about some technology, a technology company, or somesuch, normally in groups of three or less.

This year, things will be a little different. I am part of a research project called A Knowledge-based Norway, where the idea is to investigate various industries in Norway in terms of their knowledge generation – and, by extension, their technology evolution. As a part of this project, we will write case studies on various companies, and that is precisely what the students will do. However, rather than having the students chose the companies themselves, we will provide a list of companies, allowing the students, in pairs, to choose a company to write about. We will, of course, entertain suggestions to which companies to have on this list. Here is a start:

Large IT service companies:

  • Accenture (evolution, role of the Norwegian organization internationally)
  • Atea (evolution, mergers, change in role over time)
  • EDB Business Partner/Ergo Group (these companies are about to merge; topics are evolution, mergers, change in role)
  • IBM Norway (evolution, role of the Norwegian organization internationally)
  • Cap Gemini (large consulting company)
  • ?

Innovative technology companies/research groups

  • FAST/Microsoft Enterprise Search division (evolution, merger, technology impact)
  • Simula Research Laboratory (strong research group sprung out of the University of Oslo)
  • Trolltech (advanced technical programming company acquired by Nokia)
  • Opera (multi-platform browser company, still independent with a growing Asian market)
  • Tandberg (videoconferencing technology company, acquired by Cisco)

Academic/research institutions

  • Institute for Informatics, University of Oslo (grossly expanded technology program, new building)
  • NTNU (Norwegian University of Natural Sciences, Trondheim) (birthplace of many companies)
  • Sintef (research arm of NTNU)
  • Norsk regnesentral
  • College university, Grimstad (cluster anchor for interesting little technology area)
  • ?

Software companies focused on the Norwegian or Nordic market

  • Powel (software company focusing on applications for the energy industry)
  • Mamut (personal/SMB company accounting and tax preparation software)
  • Visma (amalgamated vertical ERP company, successful integration story)
  • SuperOffice (sales support software)
  • ?

Large and important IT projects and IT users

  • Telenor (architecture integration project, globalization of services)
  • DNB Nor (largest Norwegian bank, competes on technology platform and services)
  • Norwegian Tax Authority (pioneer in using digital technology to make tax services easier for the individual citizen)
  • Altinn.no (innovative generalized public interaction platform)
  • ?

Interesting startups/rapidly growing companies/interesting stuff

  • Integrasco (blog sentiment analysis, built on top of Amazon’s cloud platform)
  • Meltwater (global media search company, keeping a low profile)
  • EVO Fitness (health club without visible employees – based on remote monitoring and SMS transactions)
  • QuestBack (Internet-based survey company, now expanding outside Norway)
  • ?

This list will grow as I get new ideas – suggestions are welcome! (And yes, perhaps there is an idea to have something about spectacular computer failures as well…)

The economically ideal society

David S. Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations is my favorite book on economic evolution and economic history up to and including the industrial revolution. Its main question is “Why did England win world domination?” There were plenty of contenders – The Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal all had colonies, military power and trade, for instance. But in the end it was the comparatively small island nation that won out and dominated until the first world war. Landes explores this in riveting detail, attributing the ascendancy of England to it being closer to an ideal growth-and-development state than the competition.

The central chapter, chapter 5, Landes lays out the ideal case on pages 217-218 – and quoting that is reason enough for a blog post (not to mention obligatory reading for anyone concerned with economic policy.):

Let us begin by delineating the ideal case, the society theoretically best suited to pursue material progress and general enrichment. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a “better” or a “superior” society (words to be avoided), simply one fitter to produce goods and services. This ideal growth-and-development society would be one that

  1. Knew how to operate, manage, and build the instruments of production and to create, adapt and master new techniques on the technological frontier.
  2. Was able to impart this knowledge and know-how to the young, whether by formal education or apprenticeship training.
  3. Chose people for jobs by competence and relative merit; promoted and demoted on the basis of performance.
  4. Afforded opportunity to individual or collective enterprise; encouraged initiative, competition, and emulation.
  5. Allowed people to enjoy and employ the fruits of their labor and enterprise.

These standards imply corollaries: gender equality (thereby doubling the pool of talent); no discrimination on the basis of irrelevant criteria (race, sex, religion, etc.); also a preference for scientific (means-end) rationality over magic and superstition (irrationality).*

Such a society would also possess the kind of political and social institutions that favor the achievement of these larger goals; that would, for example,

  1. Secure rights of private property, the better to encourage saving and investment.
  2. Secure rights of personal liberty – secure them against both the abuse of tyranny and private disorder (crime and corruption).
  3. Enforce rights of contract, explicit and implicit.
  4. Provide stable government, not necessarily democratic, but itself governed by publicly known rules (a government of laws rather than men). If democratic, that is, based on periodic elections, the majority wins but does not violate the rights of the losers; while the losers accept their loss and look forward to another turn at the polls.
  5. Provide responsive government, one that will hear complaint and make redress.
  6. Provide honest government, such that economic actors are not moved to seek advantage and privilege inside or outside the marketplace. In economic jargon, there should be no rents to favor and position.
  7. Provide moderate, efficient, ungreedy government. The effect should be to hold taxes down, reduce the government’s claim on the social surplus, and avoid privilege.

This ideal society would also be honest. Such honesty would be enforced by law, but ideally, the law would not be needed. People would believe that honesty is right (also that it pays) and would live and act accordingly.

More corollaries: this society would be marked by geographical and social mobility. People would move about as they sought opportunity, and would rise and fall as they made something or nothing of themselves. This society would value new against old, youth as against experience, change and risk as against safety. It would not be a society of equal shares, because talents are not equal; but it would tend to a more even distribution of income than is found with privilege and favor. It would have a relatively large middle class. This greater equality would show in more homogeneous dress and easier manners across class lines.

No society on earth has ever matched this ideal. […]

————–

*The tenacity of superstition in an age of science and rationalism may surprise at first, bur insofar as it aims at controlling fate, it beats fatalism.  It is a resort of the hapless and incapable in the pursuit of good fortune and the avoidance of bad; also a psychological support for the insecure.  Hence persistent recourse to horoscopic readings and fortune telling, even in our day. […]

Sorry, I couldn’t resist including the footnote – direct language and linguistic surgical strikes abound – go get it! (And incidentally, the concluding paragraphs are highly quotable as well.)

Cases: How to prepare for and learn from them

These videos have been updated: You find the new ones here.

My versatile and creative colleague Hanno Roberts and I have made a series of five videos on case learning and preparation, originally for students at the BI/Fudan MBA program. This teaching method is difficult both for teacher and student, but highly rewarding provided you give it proper attention – which means effective preparation. Hanno and I talk about the goal of case teaching, how students can prepare individually, how to prepare as a group, how to go through the case discussion in the classroom, and then we sum up with some strategies for how to retain what you have learned. Hanno and I did these videos against a green-screen, with little preparation – we basically met, outlined a structure with some keywords (displayed on the little computer on the table in front of us, decided broadly on who should say what, and dove right into it. Most of the videos were shot twice, and then the very capable Lars Holand picked the least bad clips, added the background and logos, and generated the files in .mp4 and .flv. The lack of scripting was intentional – we did not want the videos to be too formal and stultifying, though the format itself might be. We also wanted to be a bit formal, to make sure we got our main points across. The results is a bit stiff, there are a few repetitions (we intro each clip, to make them more embeddable), but given that these were created also to be understandable for students whose first language isn’t English, I think it kind of works. And it was fun to do, and not too much work. Anyway, the videos are there, free for all to use – and hopefully, our students will watch them carefully, and the result will be better case teaching, more learning, and an even more enjoyable experience teaching. Continue reading

Towards a theory of technology evolution

The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves by W. Brian Arthur

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arthur sets out to articulate a theory of technology, and to a certain extend succeeds, at least in articulating the importance of technology and the layered, self-referencing and self-creating nature of its evolution.

The two main concepts I took away were the layered nature of technology, consisting of these three points:

  1. Technology is a combination of components.
  2. Each component is itself a technology.
  3. Each technology exploits an effect or phenomenon (and usually several)

Secondly, Arthur lays out, in four separate chapters, the four different ways technology evolves, as summarized on page 163 (my italics added):

There is no single mechanism, instead there are four more or less separate ones. Innovation consists in novel solutions being arrived at in standard engineering – the thousands of small advancements and fixes that cumulate to move practice forward. It consists in radically novel technologies being brought into being by the process of invention. It consists in these novel technologies developing by changing their internal parts or adding to them in the process of structural deepening. And it consists in whole bodies of technology emerging, building out over time, and creatively transforming the industries that encounter them. Each of these types of innovation is important. And each is perfectly tangible. Innovation is not something mysterious. Certainly it is not a matter of vaguely invoking something called “creativity.” Innovation is simply the accomplishing of the tasks of the economy by other means.”

I liked the book for its ambition, view of technology as something that evolves, and clear-headed way of thinking about and expressing a beginning grand theory. The concepts are intuitive and beguiling, but I did miss references to – and attempts to build on, or differentiate itself from – other valuable concepts of technology, such as sustaining vs. disruptive, competence-enhancing vs. competence-destroying, architectural vs. procedural, and so on. There is a lot of research going on in this area – we are about to break up the formerly black and mysterious box called innovation and show that it really comes down to subcategories and the interplay of quite understandable drivers. Arthur’s contribution here is significant – but it is, at least the way I read it, the way of the independent thinker who would have a lot more influence if some of the language and some of the categories were a bit closer to, or at least distinctively positioned in relation to, what others think and say.

View all my reviews >>

The skinny on the economic effects of IT

Wired for Innovation: How Information Technology is Reshaping the Economy Wired for Innovation: How Information Technology is Reshaping the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Erik Brynjolfsson took a look at the IT productivity paradox in the early 90s and decided to sort it out – and he did, by and large, by collecting prodigious amounts of data and tirelessly analyze them to tease out what everybody suspected but could not show empirically: That information technology contributes enormously to increases in productivity, innovation and welfare.

This short and to the point book gives an excellent overview and guide to the research on the economic effects of information technology. Each chapter has pointers to more reading, good examples, concludes with avenues for further research. I will use this as an assignment for my technology strategy students – rather than giving them a few articles, they might as well read the whole book.

(Also available through Google Booksearch. Full notes below the fold.)

Continue reading

Seeking M.Sc. students to study the Norwegian IT industry

The Norwegian School of Management is starting a large research project called "A Knowledge-based Norway" ("Et kunnskapsbasert Norge"), where the goal is to study Norwegian "knowledge hubs" – knowledge-intensive industries and how they create and distribute knowledge. The project is led by Torger Reve and Amir Sasoon, and will encompass 10 different industries.

I have been tasked with one of these industries – the Norwegian IT industry, and is therefore seeking M.Sc. students who wants to write their theses under this topic. This will involve studying individual companies (such as, for instance, EDB Business Partner, Accenture or Opera Software) or groups of companies (say, the Norwegian IT services sector, or software companies supporting the oil industry) to understand how they develop knowledge, interact with each other and their customers, evolve their markets and their services, and so on.

The upshot for students, of course, is that they get to learn something that is very relevant both from a research and a practical (read: career) perspective. The study starts these days and will finish in about two years, which will make it ideal for M.Sc. students starting their thesis work this or (to a lesser extent) next Fall.

Please contact me at self@espen.com if you are interested.

What is Technology Strategy?

I run a research center called Centre for Technology Strategy at the Norwegian School of Management. Inevitably, the question comes up – what is technology strategy?

In my mind, the question is simple and comes down to two things: The realization that most changes in the world are due to changes in technology, and, hence, it is vitally important for managers to understand how technology evolves and how this evolution impacts their companies.

I like to illustrate this with a diagram of such mind-boggling simplicity that it is almost embarrassing to present it here. On the other hand, it seldom fails to inform when I use it in presentations – and a number of my collaborators through the years like it enough to use it in theirs:

image

In words: Technology drivers – i.e., changes in how we do things – changes the business environment, which again imposes changes in strategies on companies. Technology strategy aims to enable companies to understand the technology drivers to be able to change their strategies before they are forced to by the business environment.

This is by no means easy. It may be hard to understand what the drivers are – if you were a producer of travel alarm clocks, would you have foreseen the use of cell phones as alarm clocks? And though the drivers may be easy to understand, you may under- or overestimate the time it takes before your business environment changes. Lastly, it may be easy to understand both the change and the timing, but just hard to deal with the change itself. Newspapers and book publishers, for instance, can easily see what is happening to the music industry, understand how the business environment is changing, yet find themselves repeating the errors of the music industry because the changes necessary goes against the norms and values of those of power, as well as their technology and their business model.

To understand technology strategy, of course, you need also to understand the current business environment – in terms of the technology currently used – and how it shapes current strategy. And you need to have an understanding of technology evolution in general and the evolution of technology in your industry in particular. Lastly, you need an understanding of how to change technology inside organizations – something which requires an understanding of not just changing technology, but also organizational structures, incentive systems, and norms and values.

(part I of a series of short and rather irreverent articles on various aspects of Technology Strategy)

PhD candidate sought – Social media for innovation

Here is the official text for this announcement. Please contact Asbjørn or me if you are interested, and/or to discuss a project proposal.

BI Norwegian School of Management and SINTEF ICT announces a PhD scholarship for the project ”NETworked POWER. Innovation by social software”

image BI Norwegian School of Management is an internationally leading business school, with a broad research production, a strong international network, and 18000 students at all levels. The school offers a four year doctoral program in business administration. The program features five areas of specialization: Finance and Economics, Strategic Management, Marketing, Leadership and Organization, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

image SINTEF ICT is an internationally leading research institute, delivering research-based competence, services and products.

NetPower is a four-year collaborative project between Devoteam daVinci, Innoco, Induct, Bengler, Seniornett, The Norwegian Labour Party, BI Norwegian School of Management (Department of Strategy and Logistics) and SINTEF ICT. The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council. NetPower has funding for a PhD scholarship, and is looking for a person to fill this four-year position.

Social media for innovation

The evolution of social media the last few years has created new challenges and opportunities at many levels of society. We see the emergence of a strong culture for sharing and exchanging knowledge and experience through new, technologically facilitated network applications. This forms the background for NetPower’s objective: To create social software for innovation, with a focus on private enterprises and non-profit organizations. Within NetPower, Induct creates solutions for Devoteam daVinci and Innoco, and Bengler creates solutions for Seniornett and the Norwegian Labour Party.

The candidate’s research focus will primarily be on the innovation potential of social media for businesses. A suggested research agenda may be 1) To identify and analyze the demands and needs of users and user organizations. 2) To find solutions to challenges around broad participation, privacy and security. 3) To evaluate and analyze solutions. 4) To create knowledge about how social media can be adopted within different organizational cultures. 5) To contribute to theory about social media and strategic innovation.

We are seeking candidates from a wide knowledge background – possible perspectives include, but are not limited to, innovation strategy, including open and/or user-centered innovation, disruptive innovation, strategy process, social network evolution, technology evolution and strategic management of knowledge and knowledge-based companies.

Formal qualifications and personal attributes

The position will be formally located at the Department of Strategy and Logistics, BI Norwegian School of Management, Oslo, Norway. A candidate should have a completed Master of Science degree with a grade B or higher, and be able to speak and understand Norwegian (for collecting and analyzing data within the target organizations). Relevant working experience is, of course, preferable. Appointment to a position as Doctoral Scholar is conditioned on admittance to BI Norwegian School of Management’s doctoral program in accordance with the admission requirements.

The Ph.D. project is central to NetPower – this is where most of the work on open innovation processes and the value of social software in business will be done. The position demands an ability to initiate and follow up relevant research work in close contact with the project partners Devoteam daVinci, Innoco and the software developer Induct. The results should primarily be academically directed, but also useful for the business partners. The candidate must be able to publish in English and deliver within tight deadlines.

We offer:

You will be part of two strong research environments. As a Ph.D. candidate your main place of work will be with the Center for Technology Strategy, a research center focusing on the relationship between technology evolution (especially within software) and the strategic potential and processes of companies. The research center, at this point, has two additional Ph. D. candidates, and is a part of the Department of Strategy and Logistics, currently with about 13 Ph.D. candidates and 45 faculty members.

As a project participant in NetPower, you will in addition collaborate closely with the HCI research group at the department of Collaborative and trusted systems at SINTEF in Oslo. This is the leading research environment on social media within Norway.

The four-year scholarship is set according to the Norwegian State Salary Scale, and currently pay NOK 344,200 per year. The scholarship involves 25% (35 hours) teaching and/or research assistant responsibilities.

For more information about the position as well as some guidance on the proposal, please contact Espen Andersen (self@espen.com, +47 4641 0452) or Asbjørn Følstad (asf@sintef.no, +47 2206 7515). Additional information about the doctoral program and admission requirements can be obtained from the Program Director Dora Sigurdardottir at BI Norwegian School of Management, (dora.s.sigurdardottir@bi.no, +47 46 41 00 57).

The application should include the following:

  • Certificate of a Master of Science degree or equivalent with a grade B or higher, please include transcripts of grades
  • Other relevant certificates and transcripts
  • A project proposal (5-10 pages including topic, proposed method, schedule)
  • CV
  • Letters of recommendations from relevant employers/tutors providing evidence of your skills as a researcher (if any)
  • Certificates from previously completed courses at the doctoral level, if requesting approval of these for the PhD programme at BI Norwegian School of Management (see last section of § 3.1.1 in our PhD Regulations on BIs website)
  • A complete list of all publications and/or other documented relevant activities. Please note that certified documentation of formal qualification must be submitted in order to be evaluated.

Applications must be submitted electronically through BI’s website (www.bi.no, see under “vacant positions”, direct link here.). Women are encouraged to apply.

The Department Council of the Institute for Strategy and Logistics will evaluate the project proposals. Candidate
s may be asked to come for a formal interview. Thereafter the project proposal will be sent to the Doctoral Programme Committee for approval.

The application deadline for this scholarship is November 1, 2009. Documentation may not be submitted after the deadline.