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Army jobs website delivered 52 months late

There is an incredibly important point in this article for anyone running a consumer facing business. I’ve seen a good deal of schadenfreude online about the Army being duped into spending £113m on a website – but let’s focus on the fact that the article states it was “three times budget – meaning it was budgeted at £38m in the first place. 5 minutes on the website tells you that it is basically a big wordpress site, which should have cost a few hundred thousand at best and taken a month or 2. Consider how that procurement decision is made, and it is obvious that part of the problem is that no-one making it understood what they were buying or what it should cost. Sadly, I see the same thing happening in retail and hospitality businesses all the time – a whole chain of executives from IT project lead to CEO who simply don’t know what they are buying, and an aggressive vendor who therefore has the information edge. There is a big club of high street brands that have made the same mistake the Army has, and we need to reflect on how to get enough digital knowledge into our businesses to stop it from happening. 

(Originally published on LinkedIn)

How the deep state is damaging your business

OK, it was early in the morning and I hadn’t had any coffee yet, but I confess to being particularly irritated by yet another reference in some political tweet or other to the ‘Deep State’ and its nefarious plans.

Concepts like the Deep State ruffle my feathers not because I believe there is some shadowy conspiracy at the heart of government, but for exactly the opposite reason. Let’s look at how a phrase like this comes into being. Continue reading “How the deep state is damaging your business”

On performance vs the market

There’s an important distinction between the performance of a business ‘relative to its market’ and the performance of that market itself. I recall a time in a challenging industry when I felt pretty good about delivering -6% growth because the wider industry was at -10%. We’d over-delivered the wider market and taken share from our competitors. Of course, regardless of the thrill of winning share, -6% will kill you in the end. Conversely, I found myself analysing a business the other day which is delivering +2% growth, but in a market which is growing at more than 10%. That business will be fine, I guess, but represents a missed opportunity too. There is one of those consultancy 2 x 2 matrices in here, isn’t there?  If you are under-performing in a bad market, you are certainly in trouble. If you are over-performing but also in a bad market, you might feel like you are doing all you can but the structural trend in the market can still undo you. Can you redefine your market? If you are under-performing a strong market, shareholders might be happy for a while but in the end strong competitors will come for you. Over-performing a strong market – beers are on you!
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Does technology always help?

The tiny coffee shop at the railway station I use has installed what looks like a proper kitchen management system to facilitate communication between the till and the barista – in other words, between two people who are standing 3 feet apart.  As an inevitable result, confusion reigns, it now takes longer to get your coffee and more incorrect orders are made and wasted. I like computers as much as the next person, but are we too quick to try to eliminate all human to human interaction? After all, the lovely folks in the coffee shop are still more sophisticated information processors than the system that someone has put in to stop them talking to each other.

Machine Learning

Finally finished (and passed!) the Machine Learning course from Stanford on Coursera. Being plural makes it easier to find time to invest in personal development of that kind. Even as someone who has been on the client end of data science for a long time, there was plenty to learn from the course and nerding out doing the programming assignments was great fun. A technical course like that isn’t for everyone, but I can’t help thinking that there needs to be some kind of ‘what business leaders need to know about machine learning’ introduction – too many decisions about data and data science are being made right now by boardrooms full of people who don’t really understand what’s being discussed.  It wouldn’t be acceptable for a senior leader to confess that he or she couldn’t do maths or read. I suspect in a very few years it will be equally unacceptable to confess that you don’t understand data science or digital technology.  There’s a great training opportunity for someone there, I think. Does anyone offer that already?