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Does business have a “shape”?

If we observe living systems all around us, we see that they come in all shapes and sizes. Nature’s rich variety is classified along kingdoms (animal, plant, fungus, etc.), where each species possesses a certain structure and often unique shape that is designed to serve a particular purpose within nature as well as ensure its survival and adaptation through the evolutionary process.

If business has structure, then why not shape?

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If strategy is the left brain, then story-telling is the right brain

Being able to tell a great story is as important as a sound business strategy. If strategy is about appealing to logic, then story-telling is about appealing to emotion.

In fact, a good story can act like a tailwind that adds momentum to your business even when there isn’t much differentiation from your competition. And a poor story can be a headwind even when your offering may be superior.

A story is a lot more than the product or service message. It is the broader narrative that connects a number of dots (including the message) that gives others a reason to listen to what you have to say. Continue reading

Social Technology: A New Sense?

When Oprah interviewed Stevie Wonder, one topic they touched upon was his blindness and the possibility of restoring his sight. Similarly, social technology represents a new type of digital “sense” that we are still learning how to incorporate into the rest of our digital infrastructure (the point being made in the above video.) Incorporating a new type of sense will take time because new associations have to developed (as Stevie himself notes.) Continue reading

Customer Centricity in the 21st Century

In 2008, as part of the Supply Chain Risk Consulting practice at Marsh, I led a research project commissioned by a major client to define the term “customer centricity.” For the report (which you can download here) we interviewed a number of Fortune 100 companies with a goal answering a couple of key questions (which I have summarized below):

First, how do you define customer-centricity? Customer centricity, in the simplest terms, means putting the customer and their expectations at the center of the business model and aligning the rest of the business processes around this core constituent. While this is an intuitively simple definition, putting this into practice is much more challenging because when customer expectations change (i.e., when the center moves), the ring which represent the core business processes have to be realigned in a timely manner. Not surprisingly, the larger the business, the greater the inertia that impedes that realignment.

definition_customer centricity

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From Contact to Contract: Achieving Operational Excellence in Demand Chains

In 2009 I had the opportunity to work with the VP of Field Marketing at a leading security software company. Much of the project involved analyzing the “big data” collected by different systems that supported the marketing (Eloqua), sales (Oracle), and channel functions (Excel) and trying to “connect the dots” between the upstream marketing programs and actual business closed by sales downstream in the pipeline in order to understand the effectiveness of the marketing strategy.

The challenge of trying to piece together the big picture across data silos was more than familiar to me. The supply chain had already demonstrated the power of tearing down the walls between logistics, production, purchasing, and engineering silos. Industries like high tech continue to lead the way in further extending this “silo busting” philosophy further upstream into their supplier base via similar “design chain” principles.

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From Silos to Streams – The Changing Structure of Business

Technologists tend to use the “real-time” phrase to represent speed (of computing, response, etc.) which is different from managing in real-time – in other words, “how does one deal with the real world as it unfolds in real-time?”

Managing in real-time is a lot like watching a movie.

Unfortunately that is NOT how we manage business today. Instead, imagine a theater where the seating represents the management hierarchy:

  • First row: These are the workers on the front-lines of business watching the movie unfold in full detail in real-time. And let’s say the movie is in English and 2 hours long.
  • Second row: These are the first-line supervisors. They get to watch (see & hear) every other minute.
  • Third row: These are the departmental managers. Every 5 minutes, they get summary reports (snapshots) from the second row of what’s happened so far.
  • Fourth row: This row is middle management. Every 10 minutes, they get summary reports (snapshots) from the third row of what’s happened so far. They also have to translate the reports from English (operations) to Chinese (finance) for upper management – and vice versa, when they get instructions for the rows in front of them.
  • Fifth row: This row is senior management. Every 30 minutes, they get summary reports (snapshots) but this group is special because they get to influence the plot of the movie. They can’t really choose the outcome due to random events beyond their control. Ideally they are supposed to do their best to make sure there is a happy ending for all – but in reality, the priorities of their row and the row behind them, the shareholders, trumps everything else.
  • Sixth row: The shareholders in the last row get a summary report once a year (but they may also happen to have seats in the other rows or find out what is going on in other ways.)

This is essentially how we manage business today where (a) much of the information technology architecture is built around this hierarchical structure, (b) a lot of management is like driving by the rear-view mirror, (c) there is often a disconnect between operational metrics and financial metrics, and (d) as much as we claim to desire agility, the front row who watches critical events unfold in real-time is often the least empowered to respond immediately to it. Continue reading

The cash perspective

The phrase “cash is king” gained new life and prominence during the “great recession” and has stayed relevant while the financial industry continues to recover. But to most employees who are not from the financial department, the cash perspective is somewhat abstract because the financial context isn’t clearly supported in most of the business applications that support the various functions within an enterprise. The following presentation tries to shed some light on this very important topic.

(This presentation was originally developed in Prezi but was converted to YouTube since WordPress will not embed Prezi…so apologies for the video quality.)