Category Archives: Business development

Beyond Default

71gkby-vpilDavid Trafford and Peter Boggis are those kinds of under-the-radar strategy consultants that ever so discreetly (and dare I say, in their inimitable British way) travel the world, advising enormous companies most civilians have never heard of about such issues as how to organise your internal departments so that they are capable of responding to technical change. (I should know, because I worked with them, first in CSC and then in the Concours Group, between 1994 and 2009.)

Now David and Peter have begot a book, Beyond Default, that provides a perspective on strategy and organisational change less built on fashionable frameworks than on solid experience. Their focus is on how organisations fail to see changes in their environment and develop strategies – real strategies – to adapt to them. The reasons are many, but most important is the fact that organisations have developed processes and measures to do what they currently do, and the focus on those particulars does not permit stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. Instead, companies carry on towards a “default” future – and, crucially, that future may be declining. Companies need to know what they don’t know and what they do not have the capabilities to do – and to acquire those capabilities when necessary. To do that, the authors advocate experiential learning – seeing for yourself what the future looks like by seeking it out, preferably as a group of managers from the same organisation experiencing and reflecting together.

The authors have a background as IT consultants, and it shows: They very much think of organisations as designed systems, with operating practices and (ideally) articulated operating principles. While eminently logical, this way of organising is hard to do – among other things, it requires thinking about organisations as tools for a purpose, and that purpose has to be articulated in a way that gives direction to its members. Thinking about your principles can make you articulate purpose, but it is very hard not to make the whole process a bit self-referential. Perhaps the key, like for Newton’s second law of thermodynamics, is to keep adding external energy, constantly identifying and understanding ramifications of technical and other change – a process that requires energy, if nothing else.

Both authors care about language and explaining and discussing what happens in a way that can be understood by the organisations they are trying to help. This means that they primarily use examples and stories, rather than frameworks (beyond simple illustrations), to convey their points. They end each chapter with a set of questions the reader can has him- or herself about the organisations they manage – and do not, in any way, try to offer simple solutions. As such, the book works best when it talks about how to explain strategic necessities and start on a strategic journey – through collective leadership, not “great man” charisma. It works less well when trying to explain strategic analysis, perhaps because the authors have too much experience to settle on a simple, all-encompassing method.

Well worth the read, not least for the senior executive trying to understand a new world and wanting an explanation held in a language that fosters understanding rather than just excitement.

Accenture on Cognitive Computing

(Notes from an Executive Short Program called Digitalization for Growth and Innovation, hosted by Ragnvald Sannes and yours truly, in Sophia Antipolis right now.Disclaimer: These are my notes, I am writing fast and might get something wrong, so nothing official by Accenture or anyone else.)

Cyrille Bataller is a managing director and the domain lead for Intelligent Computing, with the Emerging Technology group at Accenture. He leads Accenture’s exploration of the Cognitive Computing field

Cognitive Computing

Skilled work increasingly done by machines – doctors, lawyers, traders, professors etc. Large potential impact, also societal, but exciting new technology. Cognitive computing is IT systems that can sense, comprehend and act – and are perhaps the most disruptive technology on the horizon. They can interact with their environment, learn by training instead of coding, and can analyse and use enormous amounts of data. The quest for cognitive computing has a long history – and has had a varied history, with periods of advances and periods of setbacks, or at least less interest. We differentiate between “strong” AI – achieving consciousness – and “weak AI” – having the machine mimic certain capabilities of humans.

Accenture’s ambition has been to create a toolbox of cognitive computing capabilities under a single architecture, such as text analytics, research assistants, image analysis, multimedia search, cognitive robots, virtual agents, expert systems, video analytics, identity analytics, speech analytics, data visualisation, domain-specific calculations, recommendation systems and self-adjusting IT systems. These are all examples of human traits and capabilities as well…

Some detail – image analysis is about deep learning, using neural networks to mimic how the brain works. Use layers of increasingly complex rules to categorize complex shapes such as faces or animals. In one case, they used neural networks to recognize and classify images of cars as undamaged, some damage or totalled to an accuracy of 90%. By applying text analysis as well, this could be used by an insurance company to analyze insurance claims. Google has acquired a company called DeepMind to look at images on the web, eventually recognizing cats.

Another example is use of robotics in business operations – from minibots, companies such as XL and AutoHotKey to automate application software, to standard robots to using virtual assistants to do user support, for instance. You can have a team of robots in the cloud to work alongside your real back office. These robots can observe and learn and gradually take over or optimize these activities, such as updating documents (powerpoints, for instance). Could be used to observe how an accountant works, for instance, and issue certification based on following proper procedures. You could have 20-30 people in the back office and 100s of robots learning from them and doing the regular stuff.

Virtual agents: Amelia, handling a missing invoice situation. Amelia can understand, learn and solve problems. Generates a flowchart which can then be optimized and analyzed.

Video analytics is another application that is receiving lots of attention. One problem with CCTV videos is that they are almost only used forensically – checking a certain date and time – because nobody has time to watch the videos themselves. Can be used to count cars and recognize events, measure queuing times at customs and immigration, measure service times, monitor for lost objects on a train, analyze the age distribution on public transport, detect emotions, understand the hot and cold zones in the shopping center, find leaks in an industrial setting, etc.

The following framework (from the perspective document referenced below) shows a four-quadrant framework that can help guide companies in choosing the approach towards cognitive computing:

accenture-cognitive

See Accenture.com/cognitive for more information and a point of view document, written by Cyrille Bataller and Jeanne Harris.