Why Good Businesses Fail and How You Can Avoid It

Over the last 15 years, I have had diverse roles such as consultant, product manager, account director, and executive; and through the lens of these roles, I have seen many businesses succeed and fail. The reasons for success vary and depend on a number of factors such as technology, timing, team, and just plain luck. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the reasons for business failure typically come down to a few common areas: market, product/service, sales, and technology.

Market

The first and most important element to business success is the market. Specifically, how large is the market and is it growing? If you happen to find a large market, add 1-point for the good guys. If you have a market that is growing, even better. If you are in a market that is growing, with minimal competition, you have potentially hit the jackpot. I say potentially because any lucrative and growing market will attract competitors like flies to dung. I don’t say this to discourage you. I say this to make sure that you are aware of both the market size and your competitors. Any time you speak with bankers, investors, or potential customers, you should know these items in detail:

  • What is the market?
  • How large is the market?
  • Is it growing or shrinking? If so, by how much per year?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the alternatives to your product or service?
  • How would you rank your product/service against your competitors and alternatives?
  • What advantages do you have over your competitors?

If you have straightforward, simple, and quantitative answers to these questions, you should be in good shape.

 

Product/Service

Every business can be simplified down to providing a product or service in exchange for a fee. For example:

  • Grocery Stores: groceries
  • Construction Firms: labor and expertise for new buildings or renovations
  • Consulting Firms: expertise and advice on a range of topics and industries
  • Software Development Firms: software engineering and labor
  • Creative Agencies: design and creative expertise

Each of these examples comes down to finding the right niche for your product or service, but most importantly, it requires the business managers to find the right product or service at a sufficient profit margin to sustain and grow the business. If you cannot sell your product with the right margins, your business will stagnate and eventually fail. If you cannot sell your product at all, maybe you should consider that no one wants what you are sell and there is no market. There are times when you are creating a new market and over time sales will come, however, the most likely outcome is a zombie business: there is still movement but no meaningful activity.

 

Sales

As I always tell my clients, sales are the lifeblood of a company. If you aren’t properly nurturing your leads, prospects, and sales, you will soon find yourself in a dying organization. Every day, you should be gathering new leads on the Internet, over the phone, by email, and/or in-person. These leads should be tracked in what is called a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. What you sell will determine how you qualify each lead to make a decision on whether to move forward to try and make the sale. Once you have made the decision to move forward, you will estimate the labor, price the product, or write a proposal (your industry will determine what is appropriate) and close the deal. This is a simplified overview of what needs to happen but gives you a good idea of what you should be doing to manage your sales effectively. I teach teams to review their sales pipeline each week to make sure that each lead and deal is moving along and nothing is stagnant. If you do find that a deal is not moving along, you will need to do some digging around with the salesperson, estimator, account manager, etc. to uncover the issue.

 

Technology

I group all of the systems, and tools that are needed to improve a business’ survival under the term “Technology.” First and most importantly is the company’s website. Not only should the site be visually appealing, it should be easy to navigate, find information, and clearly show the purpose of the business, products, and services. A key element that I see overlooked even in 2018, is a lack of focus on lead generation on many companies’ websites. As stated previously, lead generation is a key element in the sales process and needs appropriate attention at the most senior levels of the business. Another element to the website is to ensure that the site is secure using what is called SSL (the little green padlock in the browser address bar). Given that SSL can now be set up for free or very low cost, there is no longer a reason to have an insecure site.

Another element that is critical is the CRM as previously mentioned. The CRM is the central place for all of your customer, lead, and deal information. In other words, the CRM will contain all of the information about your customers leading up to you closing the deal. I have found and set up free and low-cost CRM options for my clients that have resulted in both in millions in new revenue and a detailed record of what led to the new revenue.

There are many other systems that are critical to a business but the website and CRM are the two that I find provide the largest ROI for every business that I have personally worked with in the past.


Daniel is a venture architect and advisor specializing in technology strategy, investment, and implementation. He has helped clients as diverse as the US government and automobile manufacturers manage their technical needs and endeavors. Formerly management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, he helped launch a $200+ million enterprise collaboration line of business. Daniel also doubled automotive vertical revenue to $25 million in less than 2 years. With B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science and Technology Management respectively, he has become an expert in vendor management and business development utilizing technology and strategy skills.

 

10 Ideas For Disney

As part of my personal self-improvement, I have been following James Altucher’s 10 ideas per day mental ritual. As a part of my process, I decided to share my ideas as part of a series of posts that I am calling “10 Ideas.” This is the first post in this series.

Disney is one of the world’s iconic brands and my family’s favorite amusement park in the last few years. We aren’t big on spending at parks (Disney World and Disneyland) but we do enjoy the rides and the overall experience, especially now that we have a son that can enjoy it with us. During our last trip to Disneyland a few weeks ago, I thought about a few areas of improvement and innovation that they could implement fairly quickly.

1. Mickey’s Loft: a luxury condo development at Disney World

Disney has built several high-end communities in Orlando and attracted some fairly wealthy residents to the development. I would like to see them build some high-end condos that are family-friendly with easy access to the parks and attractions.

2. AR/VR app that simulates an MCU battle in the viewer’s city or town

I would like to see Disney (or an AR/VR team) develop an app that would show a simulated Marvel Comics Universe battle in their own city. You would simply view the battle through your phone’s screen (similar to Pokémon Go).

3. Disney World Monopoly

Create a game using Disney Characters but use the Disney parks locations as the real estate. If the game is online, you could sync it with the real ride and visitor data and have the players earn in-game cash based on that day’s data.

4. Dystopian Disney: Black Mirror Spoof of Disney Characters

Although the relationship between Disney and Netflix is not as strong as it once was, I would love to see a Black Mirror episode with the traditional Disney characters. It could be an amazing episode incorporating the usual tech and cultural surprises that Black Mirror has come to embody.

5. AI Mickey

I would personally love to see an AI Mickey that can answer questions, reenact any Mickey Mouse scene, and learn from human interaction.

6. Jedi Training videos and content

Video content showing young Jedi in training with their masters. It could have fictional registration for new students, with the winners being selected to be trained as Jedi’s.

7. Sith Training videos and content

Similar concept as the Jedi training except for Sith. This would have a darker feel to it since it is, of course, the dark side of the force.

8. Knights of Ren Training videos and content

Similar concept as the Jedi and Sith training except for Knights of Ren. This would have a much darker feel to it.

9. allow families to know where everyone is in the park by Adding family users to Disney app

On our recent trip to Disneyland, I found the app extremely useful in navigating the park and seeing the actual wait times for the rides. However, I was quite frustrated when we got separated at the end of the day and found everyone in our party through trial and error (in the rain). I would have loved to open the app and it shows where everyone was located and put a pin on the map where we should all meet.

10. Add the ability to do FastPass in the Disney app

This is a big request and I think I understand why this doesn’t exist, but it would be great to be able to do reserve FastPass a limited number of times in the app then simply show and scan a barcode on my phone.

Strategy: The What and the How of Technology Strategy

compass-imageImagine I tell you that I want to go to San Francisco from LA. You then begin plans to determine the best way to travel to SF by either car, plane, or boat. After careful analysis, you select flight as the most efficient way to get us to SF and begin working on travel plans and booking flights. About midway through your work to get us to SF, I come back and say actually, Toronto is a much better destination. How would you feel if the tickets had been purchased and lodging booked? This is what many clients do to their teams by believing that the project objectives are fluid and can be a “living document” to be changed anytime. This the “what” part of tech strategy (what are we doing, what is the destination etc.) that I believe is critical to defining before you get to the “how” (how are we building this, how are we getting to the destination, etc.) of any project.

Let’s be honest, defining the “what” part of tech strategy is hard work and is commonly avoided or giving very minimal attention from managers and executives before they embark on that high-profile digital initiative. It is what causes many tech teams, designers, and PM’s to pull out their hair as they attempt to lock down the objective of a project while being simultaneously pushed to “just build the damn thing and get it launched.”

So how do we avoid this headache and get stakeholders to agree on objectives that provide the team with a compass to find the project’s “True North?” My advice is to be honest with managers, executives, and clients. Let them know that by “evolving” goals, they are forcing the team to constantly find a moving target. This typically results in increased costs, delayed or canceled projects, and a huge hit to team morale. By defining the objectives upfront, the success metrics can be defined and measured upfront. If the metrics dictate a pivot, you have the data to back up a change in strategy. This is why it is critical to define the “what” in your tech or digital strategy.

—-

Daniel is a digital consultant specializing in IT advisory on technology strategy, investment, and implementation. He helps companies solve complex and strategic problems across multiple industries and domains. His drive to find solutions for clients and attain personal growth for himself is what keeps him at the forefront of innovation and helps him guide teams and organizations to cultivate amazing products and services. He can be found on Twitter at @dewilliams.

Problem Solving: Fix the Toxic Corporate Culture that is Stifling Innovation and Market Value

It was years ago, but I can still remember the madness that surrounded me. The IT organization was a complete mess and filled with chaos. They were kept at arms-length by the business and marketing teams. They were not included in the detailed discussions involving new innovation. The digital marketing team even created their own little IT team to avoid the toxicity. Coming out of this environment (and similar situations over the last 15 years, I have learned how to identify and navigate the murky waters to solve multimillion dollar challenges. Using a model similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which many people should be familiar with (or at least remember bits of it from high school or college). As a refresher, the hierarchy is more of a theory that lists the stages of growth that humans go through generally in life. The stages identified by Maslow are:

  • physiological needs (basic physical requirements for human survival),
  • safety needs (personal, financial, health, etc. security),
  • belonging and love needs (friendships, intimacy, family),
  • esteem needs (respect from others and self-respect)
  • self-actualization (a person’s full potential and realization of that full potential), and
  • self-transcendence (focus on a higher outside goal, altruism, or spirituality).

As I have spent the last 18 years in and around technology, I noticed a familiar theme in dealing with IT organizations, digital teams, and IT acquisitions, what I call an “IT Hierarchy of Needs.” This hierarchy is a stack of needs that can increase the likelihood that your IT strategy, implementation, and ongoing innovation will succeed. Although, this theory is not a guarantee of success, ignoring these organizational needs will increase your probability of failure.

  1. Physiological Needs (working space, offices, open working environment, collaboration spaces)

    The physiological needs for an IT organization focus on providing an open working space that is collaborative and fosters the sharing of ideas. If your IT team is walled off from the rest of the organization or is kept out of the loop during digital strategy, technology assessments, and vetting of new solutions, then you are handicapping your ability to build real value for your customers.

  2. Safety Needs (IT security, cyber capabilities, security awareness, information safety best practices)

    Once the basic physical needs are met, and your IT team is in physical proximity to the business teams, the next step if security and safety. Recall that “a chain is only as strong as it’s the weakest link,” well an organization is only as safe as it’s the weakest point. To strengthen the weak points, educating staff on security best practices is key. Many cyber programs implement ongoing security testing across the organization, randomly sending decoy spam and phishing scams via email. More organizations need to implement these practices especially in light of the 2016 election hacking by Russia on political organizations in the U.S. Contact and communications from unfamiliar sources should be immediately forwarded to cyber personnel for review and evaluation.

  3. Belonging and Love Needs (friendships, trust, real collaboration)

    Once staff feels like they are safe and secure in their physical environment, they can start to build relationships within their group and across the organization. These relationships, collaboration, and information sharing should be encouraged visibly from the CEO down to facilities staff. I remember working for a client where it was actively encouraged for their employees to not share insights and data across divisions. The leaders of this organization assumed this would create competition and lead to better performance. The actual outcome was decreased market share, disgruntled employees, and an environment where the only people able to get work done were the consultants billing $200-$500/hr. This reminds me a saying that rings true: “There is always money to be made in chaos.” In order to save time and money, break down the silos and incentivize staff to build connections. I have personally benefited from building relationships everywhere that I have worked or consulted, getting to know the business, technology stack, and key decision-makers. This approach allowed me to identify the top pain points and problems across the organization and share these insights with anyone that would listen (not hoarding knowledge like a secret pot of gold).

  4. Esteem Needs (respect from others and self-respect)

    Once real relationships have been established based on mutual trust and friendship (not the passive-aggressiveness common in the corporate world), information is being shared, and problems and being identified and solved collaboratively, 2 interesting things happen: 1) respect starts to build between people and groups, and 2) self-respect starts to grow among individuals based on their positive impact on their team, department, the organization, the industry, etc. As proof, look at the reviews of any company on Glassdoor. You will see a common theme develop. Organizations that foster positive physical environments, safety, and security, and encourage real collaboration, relationship-building, solicit problem-solving and innovative ideas have the highest ratings. Companies that do none of these activities will have the poorest ratings.

  5. Self-actualization (organizational full potential and realization of that full potential)

    For many organizations, there is a wide gap between their full potential and the value that they actually create and deliver. As stated in the previous section, most of this can be identified by not implementing the practices outlined here. When staff and leaders are focused on dealing with silos, internal fighting, employee morale, and lack of new ideas, they can’t focus on what the organization’s full potential and how to get there. Many times, it never occurs that there is a better way to operate. However, once the previous steps are in place, this opens the door to a wide world of new ideas, problem-solving, value, innovation, and market share.

  6. Self-transcendence (focus on a higher outside goal, altruism, social/societal good)

    Once an organization is thriving internally, increased market share, customer value, staff morale, etc., they can then turn outward to more altruistic activities. These activities transcend the organization, founders, and executives by focusing on one or more societal challenges that can and should be addressed. For example, the Gates Foundation was formed after Microsoft and Bill Gates had accomplished most of the activities outlined here (Microsoft went through a period of malaise after Gates stepped down as CEO, but has since returned to its former glory). Warren Buffett is focused on his Giving Pledge now that the legacy of Berkshire Hathaway is established. There are many, many other examples that I can give of organizational self-transcendence, but hopefully, this is enough for now.

Daniel is a digital consultant specializing in IT advisory on technology strategy, investment, and implementation. He helps companies solve complex and strategic problems across multiple industries and domains. His drive to find solutions for clients and attain personal growth for himself is what keeps him at the forefront of innovation and helps him guide teams and organizations to cultivate amazing products and services. He can be found on Twitter at @dewilliams.

How to Differentiate You Product Using a Competitive Matrix

beat the competition

Every business that provides a product or service needs to differentiate themselves from their competitors or alternative solutions. For purposes of this article, I don’t really make a distinction between competitors and alternatives since both will keep customers from using your product or service. For example, Amazon Books technically competes with Barnes and Noble (B&N), but an alternative to Amazon and B&N would be your local library where books are free.

 

When developing your differentiation strategy, you should look at the problems that your target customers have and how your product or service solves those problems. List each problem in a table or spreadsheet down the first column as in Table 1:

Competitive Matrix
Table 1: Competitive Matrix

When scoring your product, try to be as objective as possible, not overvaluing your product and undervaluing competitive or alternative products that solve your customers’ problems. Also, prior to putting together this matrix, your should already have a firm grasp of the problem(s) you are solving and who are your target customers.

The next step in this process is to do a quick calculation comparing your product against the average score of your competition’s ability to solve your customers’ problems. The process involves pretty simple math:

  • Take the average of your competitors/alternatives for each problem line (ex for line 1: (1.00+1.00+3.00+2.00+3.00)/5 = 2.00)
  • Subtract the average for each line from your product’s score for that line (ex: for line 1: 4 – 2.00 = 2.00)
  • Take the average of the difference for each line.

Table 2 below shows how this fictional “Fancy Problem Solver” stacks up against the competition with an overall score of 1.53.

Competitive Score
Table 2: Competitive Score

In my experience, anything less that a 1.5 has some serious competitive problems. Also, anytime you have this many competitors and alternatives, you should consider solving a different problem or creating a new category that doesn’t exist. This does not mean that you are making up a BS category to avoid the hard work of competing. What it means is that you create a new category in the minds of customers so that they no longer associate your product or the problems you solve with any other alternatives.

I have personally helped may clients define their product, competitive landscape, and how to position their solution in the minds of their customers. For example, I have a client that provides a luxury, high-end service. They were have trouble defining the services and attracting customers on a recurring basis. In looking at what they offered, I first determined that they were defining their services in the sports therapy category, when they should be defined in the luxury therapy category. Once we had a new category definition, we then reached out to multiple luxury car dealerships in the area (this is a very posh, well-to-do community in Southern CA) to offer memberships to the dealerships’ customers. All they need to do is show up with their key fob and they were treated like royalty. This has translated into an increase in foot traffic and most importantly, an increase in sales and profit margins.

If you would like to discuss how I can help with your product or service strategy, feel free to contact me via the comments or LinkedIn.

Problem Solving: 5 Reasons Staff Augmentation Sucks and What to Do About It

In my role selling professional consulting services and IT solutions to Fortune 500 customers, I see a variety of support models ranging from simple staff augmentation to large-scale managed services contracts. Although best practices across multiple industries over the last 10 years has seen a gradual migration away from staff augmentation towards managed services, I still see push back for various logical (and illogical) reasons.

What if there was a intermediate step between staff-aug and managed services? Fortunately, there is such a step called “Managed Capacity.” This support model combines many of the perceived benefits of staff augmentation (flexibility, onboarding consultants quickly) with the benefits of managed services (vendor takes on responsibilities for deliverables, outcomes, and management of resources). We still recommend that clients start on the path to managed services, but we have seen the best outcomes when customers start with managed capacity to get accustomed to an outcome-based support model, then move to managed services with all of the enterprise advantages that it brings. Here are the 5 signs you are ready and should move from staff augmentation to managed capacity.

  1. Reason #1: You are seeing budget constraints from unplanned staffing or project costs.
    Every organization experiences unplanned costs due to staffing, projects, or changes in direction / strategy. Unfortunately, the easiest (and costliest) way to deal with this is to throw more bodies at the issue through staffing. In my experience, we have helped clients work through these issues via managed capacity where we take on the burden of managing deliverables, outcomes, and time/cost tracking.
  2. Reason #2: You aren’t seeing the project outcomes / progress that you expect from your vendors.
    No enterprise project portfolio is perfect and issues / failures do happen. However, if you are seeing a pattern of delays, quality issues, and/or project failures, then maybe the delivery model needs to be adjusted. One question I get from customers is “How would managed capacity help with project delays/failures?” One way in which managed capacity helps is the focus on delivery of required skills to get the project done and not just a “butt in a seat.” Secondly, customers get predictable and cost-effective outcomes. Third and most importantly, customers get active knowledge management that is retained and shared across the customer and project teams, reducing the risk of valuable IC leaving the if there is staff turnover.
  3. Reason #3: You constantly need to ramp teams up and down quickly for new projects or initiatives.
    Projects are one of the core elements of an enterprise and ideally, you would only work on planned projects on a carefully crafted roadmap. However, anyone that spent any time on a medium-to-large organization call attest that this is not always possible due to competing priorities, internal politics, and sometime just dumb luck. This is where managed capacity can help manage the shock of fluctuating project needs by outsourcing the overhead and maintenance of staff capacity to an external vendor with the experience and track record of outcome-based delivery.
  4. Reason #4: You are working on new, complex projects requiring specialized skills.
    Many projects that enterprises undertake are pretty routine and straightforward (maintenance, enhancements, etc.). However, in order to stay competitive, organizations must innovate with complex projects requiring specialized skills such as new application development, data migration, cloud migration, or new strategy development. Managed Capacity allows us to support a range of skills with minimal risk to the customer. We take on the staffing, deliverable, and outcome risks of complex projects where there many “unknown unknowns.”
  5. Reason #5: You are facing new threats (internal and external) and need your project teams to be more efficient and effective.
    There are always new threats to your organization (both internal and external) that you need to address and overcome on a daily basis. How you take on these threats can affect your success or failure in the short-, medium-, and long-term. If you go with a pure staffing model, you will get the ramp up in bodies, but what is the guarantee that you will have the staff you need in the right place at the right time? With new pressures from large enterprises, SMBs and startups, the ability to deliver better outcomes at a lower overall cost could be the key to your organization keeping into advantages and the key to your individual success as a manager or executive.

If you are interested in learning more about managed capacity or managed services, feel free to contact me in the comments or on LinkedIn.

Podcast: The Beauty of a Bad Idea

Masters of Scale

I found this episode on the Masters of Scale podcast incredibly insightful, with advice on dealing with rejection in business and what to do when you are convinced that you are onto a great idea. Enjoy!

Show Info:
The best business ideas often seem laughable at first glance. So if you’re hearing a chorus of “No’s” it may actually be a good sign… Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb — they all sounded crazy before they scaled spectacularly. So don’t be discouraged by rejection. Instead, learn to hear the nuance between the different kinds of “no.” That’s what Tristan Walker did. After stints at two successful startups, he launched out on his own with Walker & Company, makers of the Bevel razor — and learned to navigate the entrepreneurial minefield of investors who may or may not share your vision.

Tech Strategy (SaaS): How to Not Get Blindsided

 

In a press release from Gartner, Inc. in October 2016, analysts discuss the growth in overall worldwide IT spending in the coming years, “forecast to reach $3.5 trillion in 2017, up 2.9 percent from 2016 estimated spending of $3.4 trillion.”

The bright spots mentioned in the report are the software and IT services segments. Gartner projected software spending to grow 6 percent in 2016, and another 7.2 percent in 2017 to total $357 billion (see table below). IT services spending is on pace to grow 3.9 percent in 2016 to reach $900 billion, and increase 4.8 percent in 2017 to reach $943 billion.

Of particular interest to me is the software segment as this is the world that I live in every day helping clients develop and deliver innovative software products and applications. I have seen the trend each year skew more and more to “cloud-first” or “SaaS-model.” These numbers firmly backup what I’ve seen first-hand, that SaaS will overtake traditional software development sooner than most business leaders and executives think.

For example, according to IDC, the cloud software market reached $48.8 billion in revenue all the way back in 2014. This represented a 24.4% YoY growth rate from 2013. IDC predicts cloud software to surpass $112.8 billion by 2019 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.3%. If you take the Gardner forecast for software with it’s projected growth rate of 1.2% from 2016 (6%) to 2017 (7.2%), and project that out to 2019, software will represent roughly 10.4% of total IT spending or $377 billion. Of this projected $377 billion in software spending, SaaS will have captured 29.9%.

IDC goes on to state that “SaaS delivery will significantly outpace traditional software product delivery, growing nearly five times faster than the traditional software market and becoming a significant growth driver to all functional software markets.” By 2019, IDC predicts the cloud software model will account for nearly $1 of every $4.59 spent on software.

Why is this important? It depends on your perspective and role in an organization.

  • If you are a developer, and have not jumped fully into cloud-based development, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? This is a fundamental shift in the technology landscape. As big an opportunity as those that learned HTML in the early days of the Internet. This is just as big.
  • If you are a product or project manager, you will (and should) seek out the most cost-effective and efficient way to deliver new applications and features for your customers. SaaS and cloud represent this path for you.
  • If you are a business manager, you will need to be familiar with modern approaches to application development to adjust your expectations and broaden your imagination to what is now possible with a “cloud-first” model.
  • If you are an IT manager, you will need to be well-versed in cloud-based approaches to software development and delivery in anticipation of questions and concerns from your counterparts in the business and product teams. This includes knowledge in areas such as containers, orchestration, 12 Factors, cloud platforms (AWS, GKE, Azure, etc.) and the pros and cons of each platform. How will you organize your existing applications and make the move to the cloud? How will you maintain legacy apps in the datacenter and newer apps now deployed to the cloud?
  • If you are an executive (business, IT product, ops, etc.), you should treat cloud-first as a priority and incorporate it into your strategic plans if you have not done so already. This represents one of the biggest shifts in business and tech since the Internet and the companies that make the move early will dominate. The companies that take a “wait and see” approach will get left behind wondering what happened.

Applications have gotten infinitely more complex over the last 20 years, but the complexity is going to get even bigger with everything related to SaaS and cloud apps being software and governed by software.

If you are interested in how to get a handle your software applications and projects (traditional or cloud-based), check out Mindsight.io, a startup that I am currently advising. They are building tools to increase transparency of software projects, track productivity of the team and ensure the accuracy of their estimates. Mindsight will also enable predictive analytics around software risks, user stories, and code releases.

Tech Strategy (Future): My top 5 ML and AI Predictions

The last few months have been quite a ride. I took off a few months to help my wife take care of our son back in October and what I assumed would be time spent mostly changing diapers turned out to be much more (I may write about this in a later post).

In addition to having lots of family and friends visit and a bit of traveling back to the east coast, I managed to cram in an Intro to Machine Learning class at Udacity. The only way I can describe it is INCREDIBLE! After spending the last few years leading large teams in digital strategy, project management, and consulting, it was refreshing to get back to coding and learning something new.

Spent the last couple of months doing machine learning with sklearn, python, and a bit of TensorFlow 🙂

I can hear someone out there asking: “Why would you spend your free time in python, learning how to analyze data with machine learning algorithms?”
The short answer is that this is where the world is headed and we all should learn at least one new skill every year.

So what exactly did I learn? Here are the top 5 things that stuck with me from the Udacity class and my own self learning:

Credit: http://ireneandmanyung.blogspot.com/2008/05/resistance-is-futile.html

1.

Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are here now, so if the machines will be our overlords, why not jump teams and join them…All kidding aside, AI and ML are already in many products that we use each day and will continue to use in greater numbers and frequency (Amazon Alexa / Echo, Google Now, Google Home, Microsoft Cortana, Self-driving Cars, Parking Assistance, etc.). Many of our interactions online are with Chat Bots that learning from human interactions to get increasingly more conversational each day. I wanted to have a deep understanding of the underlying technology to not only have relevant discussions on the topic with clients and business partners, but also look for new opportunities in this space.

Credit: http://dilbert.com/strip/2014-06-04

2.

Machines will not make (all) humans irrelevant. This was something that I found interesting as I delved into the accuracy rates of the various algorithms and methods that make ML and AI possible. With most generalized ML algorithms, the best we can currently hope for is between 75% — 90% accuracy. Not bad, but not that great either. There aren’t many situations where 75% accuracy is celebrated. This is where a concept of Hybrid Intelligence fills in the missing pieces to help machines with particularly difficult decisions that humans have evolved to answer very effectively.

Credit: https://techcrunch.com/2016/04/12/agents-on-messenger/

3.

The next wave of AI will have us texting with our AI companions in much the same way that we text each other now. The first wave of mass-market AI will be products like Alexa and Google Now that require you to voice your commands out loud. This is a great start and novel at first, but eventually speaking out loud at home when you are alone will seem weird and unnatural (I am there already with Alexa and Google Now). I believe Mark Zuckerberg in the right path with potential integration with FB Messenger and his own custom smart home set up. The coming AI interfaces will leverage the gains made in natural language processing to give us the the ability either voice commands such as lights off or text a picture of a friend to our AI assistant to unlock the front door when they arrive (this involves natural language processing, home security, facial recognition, chatbot, etc…fun stuff).

Tech Future: AI Overlords
Credit: http://theconversation.com/are-robots-taking-our-jobs-56537

4.

Many jobs and tasks that are thought to be safe will be disrupted.However, this only means that we need to acquire new skills to move up the ladder into positions or jobs that require human judgment and intuition. Jobs that are repetitive, sequential, etc. are ripe for AI and machine learning right now. However, tasks that require lots of input but have a predictable outcome are being taken on by machines now. Legal documents that are just templates to be filled in by paralegals, legal contracts that don’t/won’t change, technical documentation such as data schemas, network diagrams, devops processes; these are all jobs that machines are doing every day in increasing frequency.

Credit: https://fossbytes.com/how-much-data-is-generated-every-minute-in-the-world/

5.

The cost of prediction continues to fall as machine learning algorithms get more accurate and we accumulate more data. Many companies hire consulting firms to analyze multiple scenarios and lots of data to give their best options for a critical decision. These very highly paid consultants are not cheap, but do serve their clients well. However, I believe that AI and machine learning will not necessarily replace the need for consultants, but it will decrease the cost of consulting, data analysis and prediction across every single industry. As we see better use of the data that is accumulated each day and we all get better as asking the right questions of our AI companions, we will see its use in common use from preschool to nursing homes.

Just as millennials were the first generation to grow up with the Internet, we are about to see the first generation (my son included) that will grow up with AI as the norm. The next few years will be really exciting and I look forward to being a part of it.


Daniel is a digital consultant specializing in IT advisory on technology strategy, investment, and implementation. He helps companies solve complex and strategic problems across multiple industries and domains. His drive to find solutions for clients and attain personal growth for himself are what keeps him at the forefront of innovation and helps him guide teams and organizations to cultivate amazing products and services. He can be found on Twitter at @dewilliams.

Tech Strategy: People Process Technology Strategy for Enterprise 2.0

Most people think of Enterprise 2.0 of Enterprise Collaboration as a particular set of technologies, such as blogs, wikis, and profiles. Others describe it as simply the ability to share information or knowledge within the enterprise. However, these definitions are inadequate–Enterprise 2.0 is the ability to leverage business and IT strategy together to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of technology initiatives. Therefore, to establish Enterprise 2.0 means organizations must choose and measure IT projects on the basis of three criteria: 1) does it increase revenue, 2) does it cut costs, and/or 3) does it increase performance. Enterprise 2.0 is not simply a series of technology tools, but a transformation of the enterprise mindset to build strategy to address business requirements that realize cost savings, performance improvement and if possible, new innovative sources of revenue.

People, Process, Technology Strategy for Enterprise 2.0 (PDF 1.04 MB)