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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Ctrl-Alt-Del

We all know what happens when we press ’Ctrl-Alt-Del’ on our keyboards – well, at least I hope you do, otherwise you may find this article rather uninteresting (now, I know a few of you just checked by doing it, so welcome back to the story). When we perform this ‘three button miracle’, we get to see the task manager, i.e all of the active applications we see on our laptop. Imagine for a moment, that you have closed all of those active applications and you are left with a desktop with no activity. Would you continue your work by simply reopening what you closed, or would you think about how you would do things differently?

In today’s “digital world”, we are increasingly comfortable to evolve our collaboration choices, social media, applications for our phone (yes, both for fun and the more serious activities). This is often because there is a better tool for us to use, or the tools we have aren’t working in the right way, or we simply want a change. Interestingly though, most of us don’t do this in our business environments. Think for a minute and ask yourselves, “Why do we do the ‘Ctrl-Alt’Del’ magic combination”? Perhaps our application isn’t working, or our PC or tablet is running slow? Are we worried that our device is stuck within a loop and can’t move forward from? Now, consider the business environments we work in. These reasons can seem very similar, yet our response tends to be a shrug of the shoulders and we continue to push through.

As you read this, consider for a moment that you could ‘Ctrl-Alt Del’ your business. Take a moment to pause and reflect on what is working, and think about whether your processes, systems and tools are doing what you need them to do? Which ones are consuming too much time or resource? As you reflect, you may also sense a glimmer of hope – that idea that pops into your head of the “What if?.
However. then the reality of how complicated or hard it can be leaps to the front again and the hope is gone. I encourage you to force that “What if” concept back to the front just for a moment – let it breathe and consider a minor application or toolset in your business that could be changed with minimal effort and would help your business start to realise the impact a pause and change could have on your organisation.

Of course, many of you will say, “But Nathan, we are already doing this we, are going through significant change as the market evolves”, or “We have tried it before and ended up in the same place”. I tip my hat to those who have not only achieved a rethink, but equally to those who are continuing to try. Without this commitment to change, then businesses will continue to plod through using what they have.

In essence, businesses can’t simply pause and then create a change. It needs to be embraced by the leaders of organisations. Congratulating one another for doing something new, without understanding how to create the right environment for it to be continually successful will simply doom it to failure. One such example was for a start-up business unit which was a business’s efforts to pause and use a fresh approach to change direction for an area of their business where they were being challenged by competitors.

I was fortunate enough to have a discussion with the start-up business unit, working under a large parent company the other day (no, not mine!), where they were being given conflicting direction – “Go forth and conquer this market as a disruptive player!”. Sounds great, right? However, this was followed by the second part of the conversation – “You must of course remain within the architecture and capabilities of the parent business so as we maximise our assets”. Now, after being ready to jump for joy, I was left staring into my coffee cup hoping that my disappointment for their predicament didn’t show. Unfortunately, this is very common for many incumbent businesses seeking to jump on the start-up bandwagon, without truly understanding the changes they need to make in their own thinking when considering what they set out to achieve.

In the case of this business unit start-up, that change from the parent company needs to be in giving them the opportunity to be disruptive or accepting that the goal in establishing the business unit is to disrupt the broader organisation. The latter would require some serious commitment, and a jump off a sizable cliff given the risks it may be perceived to have within the business, particularly as in many large established businesses, the employees are the culture, and they represent the way of working – hence changing this overnight can be challenging.

In this case, providing that new business unit the flexibility to define its market approach, its IT architecture and ultimately its culture will help to define its success. Of course, we can say “But what if it fails?” At least, if it stays within the way of working of the parent company then the assets and people can be reintegrated into the business”. If this is your thinking, then I’m afraid you will never know what success could look like. We don’t see business start-ups wondering about how they might mitigate failure, but how can then create the best chance for success.

“Hackathons” are a great example of how businesses can create the best chance for success, and to date have always been synonymous with technology led businesses, and in particular start-up environments. The idea of throwing a problem into a room with some really bright people to design and develop with a new widget or code to address a bug in a platform is increasingly common. I would however propose that hackathons become the tool of choice for our ‘Ctrl-Alt-Del’ moment.

Once we pause our business, what are we going to do? How do we ensure we don’t go back to our old ways of working? How do ensure our staff embrace this change with us? In any organisation, there are lots of bright people in their field who are keen to get more involved and with the right tools, they can have  a phenomenal impact on helping to improve the way a business achieves its objectives. The people that make up an organisation want their business to be successful; it’s what makes it a great place to work, so leveraging their commitment and channeling that willingness to succeed through these types of tools can create a great environment for change.

This for me is why leaders really need to ‘Ctrl-Alt-Del’ their businesses and have a serious think about the way they are running their organisations. Can it be done differently? Yes, I hear some of you saying –  it is simply impossible to change your business given how long you have been working in that way, but I say give your teams a chance to embrace change, a change made of their own interest, engagement and outcome. It might start small – from how a team collaborates, or how you engage with your customers, but ultimately if it gets the business thinking about the “possible”, then that can only be a good thing … right?

Thursday, 5 November 2015

We built a house!

Ok, so it’s not a physical house but we have built a new business in Indonesia. I can tell you, having previously seen my first home being built, it feels very much the same.  In any construction there are a number of key factors to consider; managing the timelines for the project, ensuring contractors don’t blow out the budget (this is a biggie), adapting to the required changes as we learn what works best and above all ensuring the customer is happy with the outcome. In the case of my first home, my customer was my wife, and in the case of building this business, our customer was the Indonesian market.

When building this business or “digital house” as I call it, we learned there are a lot of great technologies in existence that can be leveraged to build a business’ operations and business systems. And for anyone that knows me, exploring these new technologies was like placing a kid in a candy store and giving them some money to fill a basket – don’t worry I was well behaved, for the most part.

Ironically though, I don’t believe it is the strength of our technology that will drive the right outcome for our digital house, but more so the less predictable elements that will define the successful build of our house - quirky people! Whilst quirky people are not necessarily sought to build a physical house  –in the event the bathroom may end up in the kitchen and a shower in the study – we were fortunate to have some amazing people on this project. It wasn’t just their knowledge that assisted us, but their ability to think outside of the box, and consider the unusual and unconventional ways to approach the deliverables for this unique program. Simply put, they needed to be quirky!

There were a lot of unknowns in the building of this house –  from how we could integrate into the local operator’s business and operating systems and avoiding significant upfront investment to ensuring we were compliant to local market regulatory policies. Importantly we also needed to ensure that whatever we built would support the business’ key goal in serving our customers in a new and differentiated way.

I can appreciate anyone who has worked in a start-up before will be thinking, ”well Nathan, as a start-up that’s pretty straight forward and common”. However, I would ask you to consider that this is a joint venture between two incumbents that were running successful businesses in a prescribed way for a long period of time with clear views on how they felt the business should be established. This isn’t in line with a common start-up model.

The approach we took therefore may have appeared normal for a tech start-up, but for two incumbents it was a leap of faith to change the approach in addressing these challenges, whist driving the outcome that would enable a new business to grow. It wasn’t possible to simply run through a check list – what we needed was people who would adapt to the changing landscape as we learned more about the market and business environment we were operating in, and challenge what was possible (or equally not viable) and what was needed to adapt to the needs of the local operator.

What was imperative in building this digital house was the need to change our way of thinking, focusing on quick outcomes in small steps, empowering our teams and accepting that failure could and would happen.  It is very easy to slip into an approach of “that’s what we have always done” as a reason as to why we shouldn’t try something different, I can’t count the number of people who were happy to tell us “that won’t work”, or “you can’t do it that way”.

This is where we get to the next critical factor - you need people that are committed, and almost stubborn, to ensure that they stay true to the journey that is being defined. You also need an understanding boss who will give you the flexibility to pull this together without losing faith in what we are able to achieve (thanks Boss!). There were times when we would question ourselves – “are we doing the right thing?”, and “should we back off and simply accept that near enough is good enough”. I am glad we didn’t as the outcomes we have started to realise are down to that commitment to the goal.

Equally, the team knew we would not make all the right bets to address both our current and future requirements. As such, we needed to make sure that we had some flexibility moving forward. By taking a cloud platform approach to all the technologies that we introduced offered us the flexibility to evaluate functionality, without feeling we were committed to the tools that we were using in the long term. Yes, there would be a revised integration effort if we changed out an element of our architecture. However, that was better than being stuck with a physical platform for five to seven years that we would have to keep customising to the point that it could no longer be changed out without a complete new build.

 The cloud approach has also meant that our costs for the platforms are directly correlated with the growth of the business. Yes, there is a case of initial capacity, however this is minor compared with the scale we can grow these platforms to as demand increases. Lastly, the hybrid nature of our cloud environment, which extends from Indonesia across international markets, ensures that we can be compliant to evolving regulatory requirements in Indonesia whilst leveraging the benefits of different cloud platforms.

Another key aspect has been the way that we have engaged our suppliers. Every conversation has started with, “how do you interface into other systems?”, “what use cases can you share about that integration”, and “what best practices have driven the development of your systems?” The reasons for these questions were because we knew that to maximise the value of the technology we were using, it was more important to have systems that would naturally talk to each other and had done so before, versus our own team having to build a system to translate between two systems – as if we were trying to help translate between two completely different languages.

To this end, it became clear to us we were building a “digital ecosystem” or a collection of technology partners that would need to interoperate to ensure we could serve our customers in a valued and differentiated way. This ecosystem may evolve over time as we find different technologies that will help us serve more effectively in the future. Fortunately, by remaining true to the approach the team has taken, will help to ensure all new members of the ecosystem understand the requirement for interoperability.

We have now established a Service Provider in Indonesia with no network assets, nor any voice infrastructure. Admittedly, we have had to build a private cloud to meet local market criteria, however the majority of our technology is cloud based. We are developing a culture where the teams succeed or fail together, and where we do fail, we fail fast, dust ourselves off, understand why we fail and then move forward again – but always as one team.

We are also now serving customers and gearing up to expand our portfolio, but the house is clearly built. To that end, in building our digital house; the operating license is our foundation, our walls are the tools, platforms and processes we have created, the roof is the governance we use to always make sure there are no leaks in what we have built, the windows our experience centre to show customers a view of what we can provide, and the interfaces connecting our systems together is the cabling. We can now see where we need to improve the house - where the walls need finishing and where the roof needs to be maintained, but none the less we now have a house!

However, our digital house is still just a shell. It’s the people who work in it that are making the digital house our digital home, and ultimately will be the ones who welcome our customers and partners in as we seek to change the customer experience and serve the Indonesian market with our version of kopi and thee.


This article is dedicated to the Implementation team from the past year that had the patience to work with us, the passion to drive us to complete our goals and never accept near enough as good enough. We recognized that this success will always be bigger than any one person and that we all should reflect on the role we played in realising the building of this house. I would especially like to thank the team for putting up with my crazy ideas, passionate discussions and occasional singing in the corridor!