Category Archives: Uncategorized

Identity is a funny thing


Identity is a funny thing. People think that they have a single identity when they really have multiple as your identity (and personality) change depending on the social context you find yourself in. We also seem to at a point in time where the centre of gravity around which our various identities orbit is about to jump from the physical world (the nation) to the virtual (a “social graph”).

For a long time our identities have been built on location. The public face of this is nationalism. “I am Australian.”

We forget, though, that nationalism is a fairly recent invention, only emerging in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Before nationalism an individual’s – peasant’s – identity was defined locally, relative to the community they lived in. Economies were a local concern and most people rarely travelled more than a few miles from home, ever.

In the 1800s Napoleon’s all-conquering army taught many rulers (who were often no better than standover men) the benefits of nationalism and industrialisation. The challenge for many rulers was to convert their peasants into citizens. This was a particularly brutal process with many traditional attitudes, cultural practices and local languages and dialects destroyed. The process also rendered many peasant skills useless, fundamentally changed the role of education in society (previously it produced educated clerks and priests, after nationalisation and industrialisation it needed to mass produce administrators), and created what we think of as the middle class. The shift to nationalism reached a peak in the 1940s when it resulted in some of the most vicious wars and crimes against religious and ethnic minorities witnessed in human history.

Social media is rewiring the world. For many individuals their identity is becoming rooted in their tribal relationships.

No longer do we need to subscribe to one of the dominant national tribes. Now we can be a part of a global, virtual tribe. Geeks are a good example of a social group that has been transformed from a collection of scattered individuals into a global tribe.

This shift in identity from local community to global tribe is one of the drivers behind the destruction of the mass market we’re seeing at the moment. “Get big or go home” is being replaced with “get niche or go home”. In many instances individuals seem to prefer recommendations from their tribe to guide purchasing decisions rather than focusing on feature-function breakdowns of products found via an extensive search. They’re reacting to the confusing world around them by turning to the people they trust, the members of their tribe who the individual feels has the same interests and preferences as themselves, rather than brands or locations.

This raises an interesting question for firms: How does one sell to an individual who’s purchasing decisions are tribal? (I.e not based on feature-function or location, and where tribal affiliation is stronger than brand.)

These global tribes are also finding new ways to mobilise resources and solve problems that are not tied to nations or nationalism. Services such as Kick Starter enable a tribe to fund a project or product. New developments in manufacturing (iStream Unitised Building are my two favourites at the moment) are slashing the cost of production and the up-front investment required. As a Service solutions enable tribes to knit together services and organisations.

Risk is still the path from idea to reward. But the where the path between the two used to pass through investment, now it passes through the tribe. This means that tribes are capable of solving their own problems, rather than relying on firms or governments to solve a problem on the tribe’s behalf. There are early signs that production is starting to fragment as a consequence.

For firms this implies that their new competitors are their own customers, the tribes that they service, rather than other firms.

To sell to members of a tribe you must be part of the tribe. It’s not enough to be in conversation with the tribe, your identity needs to interwoven with the tribe. How to do this at sufficient scale (i.e. find/create a large enough tribe, or aggregate enough smaller tribes) is an open question.

One obvious option is to own the platforms that the tribes use to communicate and coordinate their actions (such as KickStarter or Etsy), which is why there’s a huge amount interest in creating a new generation of platforms. However, it’s not entirely clear which of these platforms will be the infrastructure of a future virtual, tribal society, and which are not. (Uber, for example might be a “platform for the sharing economy”, or it might simply be a smart dispatch solution).

If were were to ask the question “who knows the customer best”, then the answer must be the tribe; and not social media (which is a medium); nor is it banks, telcos, Facebook or Google, that knows the customer best. (“Big data” analytics has similar characteristics to chess, where computers can provide tactical insight and are yet to demonstrate a strategic understanding of how the landscape is changing.)[1]Freestyle chess if a fascinating movement to look into if you want to understand the interplay between a computer’s tactical insight and a person’s strategic creativity. To understand a customer you need to be part of the same tribe.

For governments this implies that we might be at the leading edge of a new shift, as identity moves from nations to virtual tribes.

Many of the problems that governments are dealing with – declining tax revenues as more and more of the economy becomes virtual, the emergence of crypto-currencies (i.e. complementary currencies not tied to any national government or geographic area), rapid growth in the scope of financial crime, citizen disconnection from (and distrust in) the election process – can be seem as symptoms of this.

The ability to more effectively marshal resources (some of which were peasants) drove the adoption of nationalism/industrialisation. The shift from nationalism to something tribal will be more complex, as the old guard (who control all the resources) will not necessarily be the ones who come out on top this time. Apple (at the helm of the world’s largest commercial tribe) might be an example of the future. Or it might not.

We can expect the transition to be as brutal as that from feudalism to nationalism, unless we try to actively manage the fallout.

Image: John Hain


1 Freestyle chess if a fascinating movement to look into if you want to understand the interplay between a computer’s tactical insight and a person’s strategic creativity.

Excuse the mess

A Mess Of Colour

After 14 years (yes, 14 years) on the one hosting provider it finally came time to move the domain. The WordPress installation has accreted a lot of cruft over 14 years, so I’ve take the opportunity to clean out house a little, move from a bunch of old (and unsupported) plugins to new (shiny) plugins, etc. One side effect of this is that a bunch of stuff is broken and it’s going to take me a while (given that the blog is a low priority side project) to find and fix the many problems the migration will have created.

In the meanwhile please excuse the mess. If anything is particularly badly broken (i.e. a post that you want to reference that is missing tables or some-such) then shoot me a note and I’ll fix it ASAP.

Image source: comedy_nose

5 shifts that will shape the future of IT

Shift Happens

I have a new post up over at CIO of the Future, ‘5 shifts that will shape the future of IT’. I was reading some of the analyst views on how consumerisation and cloud are driving us to adopt new operating models. Most of the points of view I was seeing seemed to miss the point though. They were talking about how the role of the IT department might change – complete with nice charts showing as-is and to-be responsibilities – when they should have been talking about how the role IT plays in business is changing.

It’s pretty easy to sketch out the role that you would like IT departments will play in the future. However, the that role is more likely to be shaped by the trends that drive us to adopt a new operating model, rather than the preferences of the incumbents. As Scott McCloud pointed out, all the action happens in the gap between two frames, rather than within the pictures inside them.

My view is that the key to understanding where IT, and the IT department, ends up in the new operating model will be determined by the trends that drive us to adopt the new model. The interesting question then is “what are these trends?”

In the post I rough out what I think might be the five strongest trends that are shaping the future of IT in business. In summary, these are:

  1. Enterprise IT is no longer an infrastructure problem, it’s not an asset we own
  2. Consumer trends drive enterprise IT, rather than enterprise IT driving consumer trends
  3. The old core IT skills are not as valuable as they used to be
  4. How we define the value of IT has expanded (it’s a lot more than ROI now)
  5. External obligations – such as financial reporting, anti money-laundering and counter terrorism financing – will trigger the transition to new operating models (which I’ve written about before)

I’m pretty comfortable that these five trends a driving the majority of change we’re seeing in business at the moment. I’d greatly appreciate it if you head over to the article and leave your thoughts to see if I’m heading in the right direction.

Image source: Pilot Theater.

New Business Models Need New Approaches to IT


I have a new post up at CIO of the FutureNew Business Models Need New Approaches to IT. This post brings together a couple of things that I’ve been thinking about recently.

The first is the debate around who will ‘own’ IT in business. Will it be the CIO, the traditional ower of IT? Will it be a different department, such at marketing which has become the big spender on IT in the last few years? Or will be be some new department with a new leader, one that subsumes the current IT department just as the IT department and CIO took over from the Data Centre Manager? All of these options seem short sighted to as they appear to be only addressing the symptoms and not the cause of the problem.

The second thing I’ve been thinking about is anti money-laundering (AML) and counter terrorism-financing (CTF) regulation, since I’ve just done an update to the Technological Considerations of AML/CTF Programs piece published by LexisNexis as part of their Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Crime publication. A side effect of some of the new regulation in this space is that many more companies might be pulled into the regulatory framework – both public and private companies – due to their use of or integration with complimentary currencies. This has interesting implications for enterprise-wide governance models.

My ah-ha moment was when I realised that the debate we’re seeing around the role of the IT department and CIO would be better framed as a question on how IT should be governed in the new digital businesses that are emerging at the moment. Or, as I said in New Business Models Need New Approaches to IT:

Instead of focusing on who the new owner of IT might be, the question we should be asking ourselves is “How does a digital business consume (govern) information technology?” This is an important question, and one that we need to delve into more deeply. (Indeed, I like to keep posts fairly compact but this one post was roughly 2,000 words by the time I was happy that I’ve had covered the issue.)

It’s a long post, but the question is a nuanced one that needs that many words to work through the issues. I recommend that you head over to CIO of the Future and read it, and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Image source: mckinney75402

What’s the future of the CIO?

I have a post up at CIO of the Future called ‘What’s the future of the CIO?’ which explores where the role of the CIO might go.

The post asks the question:

As IT leaders, do we want to continue to be chief infrastructure owners and order takers?

The established CIO role seems to be fading into the sunset, which is interesting as as technology has never been more central to a business’s ability to compete. One view that many senior business people seem to hold is that technology has become too important to leave in the hands of an infrastructure manager.

The shift from on-premesis solutions to cloud-based services is removing many of the traditional responsibilities of a CIO. At the same time the focus for enterprise technology has shifted from internal to external problems. Technology has been transformed from something we own to something we use. This transformation is breaking a lot of our assumptions on best practice and consigning many hard won skills to the dustbin.

In the post I talk about the journey many Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are going on, experimenting with new techniques and tools so that they can use social media as something more than than just a dog whistle. This is not a journey that the CIO can lead, as it is the CMOs of have the problem that needs solving. CIOs can, however, use this as an opportunity to carve out a new role for them and their departments.<

Few companies would consider doing without a CFO and finance department, as finance is central to resource management. Few companies will be able to do without a CIO and IT department, as IT is central to a company’s ability to engage the market and create new opportunities.

While the CIO role might appear to be in decline, this is also an opportunity for CIOs to get out of the back room, do something meaningful for the business and their customers, creating a much higher status role for themselves  in the process.

The CIO is the in-depth professional who can bring together the technologies and skills that the business needs to drive itself forward, to enable it to avoid problems, and to pounce on opportunities and adapt.

You can find the full article over at CIO of the Future.

As retail dies, who will be the winners?

The high street is dying. Retailers are struggling to attract customers to their stores. When they do manage to get them in the retailers worry about the same customers using their smartphones to buy a product they've just picked up from the shelf, from an internet retailer. Retail gurus are telling the high street that they need to make their stores more inviting if they want to continue attracting an ever more fickle public; ensuring that there's accessible parking for baby boomers who don't like walking, QR codes on all the products for smartphone wielding Gen Ys, and so. This ignores the fact that globalisation, the internet and mobile phones have fundamentally changed the way we shop. Consumers haven't just become more fickle, how we go about buying the goods and services we need is in the process of being transformed and any retailer that is little more than the last step in someone else's supply chain has a poor chance of surviving.

Continue reading As retail dies, who will be the winners?

The future of exchanging value

Cover for ‘The future of exchanging value’ reportI had the pleasure, over the last few months, of working with Peter Williams (Centre for the Edge) and Ian Harper (Access Economics) at Deloitte to pull together a report on the future of money. You can find the result of our deliberations on the Deloitte web site in the report The future of exchanging value{{1}}. Down load it, mull over the questions it raises, and share your thoughts.

[[1]]Peter Evans-Greenwood, Ian Harper & Peter Williams (2012), The future of exchanging value: Uncovering new ways of spending, Centre for the Edge, Deloitte[[1]]

Continue reading The future of exchanging value

You’re strategy is junk

So you have crafted a new business strategy. This is going to be the good one, the one that will double revenues within three years. If you're going to grow that quickly then there must be something potent under the hood. Let me take a guess as to what it might be.

Continue reading You’re strategy is junk

We saw the future, and there wasn’t an e-wallet to be found

Do NFC payments – with their tap-and-go simplicity – herald a revolution of the shopping experience? Or is NFC just an attempt to force more of our daily transactions onto payments platforms where their owners can claim a usage tax? The sales pitch is a promise of simpler, faster and more secure payments, allowing us to grab our goods and quickly get on with what we were doing. The reality is that the payment is only responsible for a small portion of the time wasted during the buying journey. Other trends we're seeing have much more potential to revolutionise the shopping experience, and they do this by moving the purchase away from the till to allow consumers to transact where and whenever they need. The huge investment in NFC means we can expect to see NFC terminals at most of the shops we frequent. However, at the same time we can expect NFC to be quickly eclipsed by other solutions which do a much better job of streamlining the buying journey.

Continue reading We saw the future, and there wasn’t an e-wallet to be found

The top posts for 2011 were …

And the top ten posts from the last year — as recorded by Popularity Contest — are:

  1. Knowledge Workers in the British Raj
  2. Problems and the people who solve them
  3. Working in Hollywood
  4. World of Warcraft in the workplace
  5. The future of (knowledge) work
  6. BPM over promised and under delivered
  7. The north-south divide
  8. Cloud computing’s long game
  9. Your mobile phone is making us stupid
  10. Have we reached peak SI?

Happy New Year all!