“i” is for Jobs, “A” is for Cook, and Other Thoughts about Time

Two days after the big Apple announcement event in Cupertino I’m was just beginning to digest all of the content. One of the things that hit home was subtle, meaningful and very much Apple. Amidst the hundreds of rumors and musings about what would be coming, the iWatch and a wallet of some sort were the headlines.

As it turned out a watch was announced and so was a wallet, but they weren’t iWatch or iWallet. Steve Job’s owns the “i” and it’s sacred territory. The iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac all these inventions and ways of changing so much belong to Mr. Jobs. Was Apple making a conscious separation from the Jobs era and the Cook era? So we have Apple Payments and the Apple Watch. Mr. Cook and the design team took the iPhone to a new plateau as only they can. Engineering, materials, technology and assembly all combined to give the world the next generation of iPhones.

Then came the Apple Watch announcement.

Apple Watch

The Arrow of Time

I fancy myself a watch guy. A serious, but not showy watch collector, as in I own watch winders. Why? Well, the necktie is long gone (thank you), which means men have fewer accessory choices in our wardrobe. Actually that’s not the reason I like timepieces. Mostly it’s likely due to a hardwired XY chromosome thing. I own more than my share of watches. Most of them are very modest in price, but I do have a few gems. Watches are similar to wine. You can get a great one without overspending. But 99.9% of all watches do exactly the same thing. They provide a window into the arrow of time.

Sean Carroll, a senior research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, studies dark energy and general relativity. He describes the arrow of time.

There’s something called “the arrow of time” and it is simply the direction in which time passes from the past to the future. There are many ways in which the past and future are different: things become messier toward the future; we remember yesterday and not tomorrow; actions we take now affect the future but not the past. All of those reflect the arrow of time.

Now, the origin of the arrow of time is a mystery. Based on the laws of thermodynamics, we understand how it works. But we don’t understand why there is an arrow. It comes down to conditions near the Big Bang; the universe started out highly organized and has been becoming more random and chaotic ever since. The universe is like a mechanical toy that started all wound up, and has been winding down for the last 14 billion years.

Watches don’t keep time, or track time, they simply tell the time. providing the illusion you are in control even when it’s obviously in question. They fix you in the time-space continuum and of course, remind you there’s yet another meeting to attend. According to the arrow of time, things are now more difficult today than they were yesterday. That’s somewhat true I suppose, but the arrow of time does not take into consideration we become smarter over time, even as things become more complex.

There are tens of thousands of watch designs, faces, bands, shapes and sizes. Despite varying features, they are all essentially built to do one simple, singular thing. Display the time.

It’s Time For a Smartwatch Conversation

A classic line from a Mad Men episode, slightly altered, but completely relevant today. The smartwatch began to gain momentum and my attention over the last few years. There are essentially two flavors of them. One is health related. It tracks steps, elevation, etc. and oh yes, it has some kind of timekeeping device inside. The other is a concept watch that tries to combine the utility of a smartphone onto the small but infinitely complex wrist watch.

I got sucked into the Tik Tok and Luna Tick hype. A Kickstarter project that created watch bands for the iPod shuffle. At first glance it was kind of cool, but the more you looked into it or wore it, the more you realized it was wrongheaded in so many ways. I have a smallish wrist and this solution turned out to be  larger than I usually wear. But still, I was drawn in by the concept and of course, the potential for exciting convergence.

Next I learned of the Cookoo connected watch. The makers said that “it’s a wearable extension of your smart phone that helps manage your connected life.” Sounded interesting. It was not usable for a watch person like me. I couldn’t read the watch face and couldn’t use it to tell time. A problem? Yes. They only updated their app features once over the eight months I used it off and on. It was not an “extension” of anything and completely “unmanageable.”

Then I got a Pebble watch. Much lighter and more comfortable to wear. It has a lot of watch faces but none of them appealed to me except the Text Watch. I felt like I was wearing a wanna be Smart Watch.

3 Smart Watches

Then I bought a Martian Passport. This one looked like a standard watch with a small window below that displayed texts and @twitter notification to my personal handle. It was the best of the bunch so far. The microphone / speaker integration with Siri worked seamlessly. I got excited about it in the morning. Alas, both these devices were battery hogs and required me to charge much more often than i wanted.

When you look at your watch, which, in the days before smartphones existed, occurred up to 50 times per day, your mind raced back and forward across that arrow of time. Take this test.

If you’re wearing your watch right now, close your eyes and answer these questions. Does the face of your watch have numerals? Are they at all twelve intervals? Are they Roman are Arabic numerals? Are there slashes instead of numerals? Do you have a calendar window? Does it also show the day of the week?

Chances are you can’t answer most of these questions with any confidence despite the fact your watch face never changes and you look at it so many times per day. We have been trained over our entire lives to use a watch in a rote fashion. Raise your wrist or steal a glance under the table to get a marker. Is time running out or dragging? The seconds tick away with consistent precision, but our state of mind swerves from guardrail to guardrail.

The Apple Watch

I predict that the Apple Watch will be the bestselling technology device of 2015. It’s light years beyond anything else that’s been developed and will only add to the genius and essential nature of the iPhone. Will you hand down your Apple Watch to the next generation to be cherished as an heirloom? No. We’ve got those analog models for that. What it will do is start others working on challenging and improving what Apple has done. That’s a very, very good thing.

Automation and Headcount

Most of us are always reviewing org charts and work flows in search of ways to become more efficient. Over time businesses evolve, economic climate changes and technology advances, often spawning automated solutions that can do what was once manual. On the surface automation seems like a no-brainer trade off of human capital. And why not, machines don’t call in sick and in the long run are generally faster and more accurate.

I’ve seen departments propose technology solutions that automate manual processes in formal allocation committee sessions. Inevitably a senior manager will ask, “Automation? How many FTE’s can we reduce once we get this in?” Usually the answer to this question is no one will be cut or redeployed once the new software is installed. Which doesn’t compute because they know that automation adds overhead for IT in the form of care and feeding, and so are looking for a way to re-balance the org. Senior execs will always (and should) push hard to understand why you aren’t willing to reduce heads in a machine swap. But the corporate ecosystem is complex and I believe it’s important to take a longer view of the situation before making a hasty decision to cut or redeploy staff. Be ready with a solid response when asked this question.

A Different Approach

Departments are handed more to do every year. Compliance, new products or services that lead to additional BAU, all those tasks that the senior managers themselves insisted they “must have.” Over time the same number of heads do more and more. This is natural, as people become more experienced, acquire training, and learn best practices. But eventually the demands on time and the sheer number of tasks weighs heavily on the team and managers search for new solutions. Some activities are tossed out, which is great. But others cannot be cut loose. In all cases businesses want to do more. Suddenly a technology solution pops-up that provides tangible assistance by relieving man hours and improving processes. Next step, build the business case for the software. But here’s something you may want to map out as a bit of a kicker.

Include in that business case all the new things your team has taken on over the years. Show that in relation to the headcount growth (probably not so much growth) in the department. Now juxtapose that slide with the new things that you want to accomplish to move the business (include the business value) and your argument dramatically shifts from defending headcount, to a discussion of updating legacy process that subtract efficiency and ultimately rob the business of progress. A very different conversation will take place from there.

Some things to consider when you are looking at automation solutions.

  1. Cost, not of just the install, but ongoing.
  2. Will the solution provide you with new insights or metrics?
  3. Speed to market of solution.
  4. Training effort needed across the company.
  5. Burden on IT.
  6. A sobering look beyond the software sales pitch to, asking just how much time will this free up?
  7. One more thing to ask. Can it be built in house?

I’ve seen this approach have pretty good success over time.

Robot images from VectorVaco, Free Vector Downloads.

The Art of Selecting a Technology Vendor

Lots of us find ourselves in a situation where we need to either acquire a new technology or replace a current supplier with someone else. It’s a complicated discussion to be taken seriously. I’ve probably led no less than 25 of these initiatives over my career. Some years ago we were looking to replace our e-mail service provider and kicked off a full RFP. The winner of that round was Bigfoot Interactive (no longer in business under that name). A gentleman named Jason Simon was the lead sales person for Bigfoot and represented them in the selection process. He was a big part of why Bigfoot prevailed over the other formidable firms.

That was several years ago. Jason recently reconnected with me, thanks to Social Media, and asked me to participate in a discussion about how I approach finding or replacing technology vendors on his blog Simon Sez: The Common Sense Blog. It was a great exercise for me, because it forced me to synthesize a couple of decades worth of experience and boil it down into a simple Q and A format. It was challenging, and because of how Jason framed the discussion, it ended up being fun.

Here’s an excerpt from Part 2.

Jason:  Steve, so far the feedback on our conversation has been strong.  There is so much to explore as we try to understand the challenges both buyers and sellers face when they are working on big RFP level deals.  One of the interesting things I’ve seen in the past is poorly written RFPs that have the same question asked multiple times; a clear indication that various stakeholders have submitted their departmental needs but that they haven’t been aligned with the entirety of the organization’s scope requirements. With that in mind, how do you lead the needs assessment that takes place?  How do you identify the internal owners, and how is that process managed before you even consider engaging vendors?

Steve: Your needs assessment should be informed by your strategy and roadmap.  Well crafted plans should include identifying the capabilities a company will need to build or buy.  The roadmap will tell you when you will need to acquire that capability or skill.  If you have been forward thinking enough to conduct annual performance evaluations of your agency or vendor (“A/V”) then you already have a baseline from internal stakeholders.  If not, you should solicit input from the people in your organization who work directly with the A/V, as well as the people who are directly impacted by the products and services that they provide.

Have a look at Part 1 and Part 2. I’m sure you will agree that Jason has a knack for simplifying the complex. Probably why he is so successful. Would value other perspectives, thoughts and experiences on how you go about choosing a new technology vendor. We are both happy to answer questions. Post them here or on Jason’s blog here.

Five Things Technology Salesmen Should Never Say to a Buyer

I’ve been a major stakeholder when it comes to purchasing technology for many years. Hardly a month goes by where I don’t meet with or speak to a technology salesman who is interested in moving up in my consideration set. These conversations have increased sharply over the last few years, as technology has become an integral part of improving Interactive Marketing. Other contributing factors to looking at technology solutions are; increased traffic, the migration of consumers to digital channels and the sea of content that web sites have amassed over the years. Simply adding FTE to the org chart (even if you could) just doesn’t cut it any more. Companies are required to automate to gain additional benefit. I’m amazed at the consistency of the sales pitches that come across my desk. Even as the technology has matured, many of the sales techniques have not kept pace.

A word of advice to you sales people out there. Avoid (at all cost) making these statements. It only infuriates your potential client.
  1. It’s only one line of javascript
  2. We’ll have you up and running in a week, probably less
  3. We do all the heavy lifting
  4. We’ve got a robust reporting suite
  5. We’re best in class

So what exactly should one say? Well, that would be giving too much away in this forum. But instead of overselling, try asking questions that will provide clues as to what your firm will need to do to earn the business. Move from selling to problem solving by asking…

  1. What are your typical pain points related to on-boarding technology solutions?
  2. What’s the best way to work with your law department?
  3. Who do we need to work with on your IT team?
  4. How can I assist in developing a meaningful business case?
  5. What’s the typical time line for this kind of project?

Everyone wants to make their quarterly numbers, but pressuring buyers and firms is only mildly effective. After all you came in trying to get the business. So close it, don’t try to slam it in. Oh, I could write a book on this topic.