It’s like building a house

“The Requirements Payoff” by Karl Wiegers (DrDobbs.com via Information Week, 9 July 2010). As is tradition around here, don’t let the subject matter fool you. This is not just about building systems. The lessons here can be applied across the board. We are all familiar with:

— Look before you leap.

— Measure twice, cut once.

— Do it right the first time.

— Haste makes waste.

The one caveat here is that Karl is focused on user requirements, when the focus should be business needs. Defining what’s wanted (is easy) and defining what’s needed (not so much so) is not the same thing. Being human, we’re all guilty of letting emotions get in the way, eh? The focus needs to be thorough and objective. Not some pie in the sky brain dumping.

In short, have a plan. Then review that plan to ensure the journey you are planning will get you to where it is you are wanting to go. Opps, I meant needing to go.

Be BI smart and respond (but that includes proactive listening too)

The journey of this post starts here: “Business Intelligence Meets BPM: Using Data to Change Business Processes on the Fly” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 17 June 2010). On one hand this is fascinating stuff — collecting data, analyzing it and distilling information that objectively drives business action. The business side of my brain goes, “Wow!” But then reality sets in and that, “Wow” turns to, “Wow, scary.” This freight takes two forms:

1) The private person in me shutters to think that Big Brother is not only watching but he’s storing, tracking, cross referencing and analyzing too. This is taking place at and unimaginable level of granularity.

2) The business side of my brain also appreciates the fact that Guests are people. They are not just data points on a graph or cells in a spreadsheet. Analysis is certainly essential but one would bet there are plenty of companies over-valuing this new found power. They are forgetting that they are in business to serve people, not just respond to ones and zeros. As a matter of fact, read this article first: “Superhighway to Hell” by Stephen Saunders (InformationWeek.com via InternetEvolution.com, 19 June 2010).

Back to the first article by Kim Nash. There are some bits to this article (pull out of the context of the whole article) that beg to be addressed AU style:

As Kilcoyne and Coyne learned, modern business intelligence and analytics tools can extract data from enterprise software, populate pre-built statistical models and quickly produce insights that used to take weeks. “In the past, doing predictive analytics needed a PhD in statistics to build a model and interpret results,” says Aberdeen’s White. But newer analytics tools “hide the underlying statistical nerd details,” he says. “Business people don’t have to worry about how the sausage gets made.”

One word: Derivatives. No one needed to understand those either, correct? Information is only as good as the understanding the business people have of the data that was used to compile it. A report without caveats and context is no report at all. If BI is about removing assumption then that thoroughness should be part of the end to end approach.

Key to game-changing decision making is the ability to detect and respond to market changes, taking into account historical knowledge. DirecTV uses analytics to save customers who want to cancel their television service. The company started the program two years ago when it sought to cut churn rates.

What’s interesting is that the examples sited are all reactive. There is some action and then analysis is used to define the appropriate way to respond. Maybe this should be supplemented with a proactive approach as well? That is, avoid upfront engaging customers who don’t meet the good customer profile. For example, for a fitness club, membership retention would be less of an issue if the right customers were attracted in the first place. Waiting to see who leaves seems archaic, no?

How hard agents press depends on how valuable the customer has been to DirecTV, Gustafson says. “There are some people we just do not want to lose.” About 60 percent of customers who want to depart are deemed worth trying to save, he says. The company uses tools from Teradata and SAS to analyze past behavior, evaluating data such as the average annual revenue the customer represents, her payment history and how many pay-per-view shows she buys.

This is a perfect example of forgetting that we’re dealing with real people here. Maybe I am a marginal customer. But if I have 500 Facebook friends and 1,000 Twitter follows then that should be a factor too. To simply place a value on an account (notice I did not say guest or customer) is at best dangerous if the evaluation is this superficial.

Every customer saved is one less customer the company has to try to win back weeks or months later—an expensive process, Gustafson says, that can involve mailings, e-mail and telephone calls as well as sending someone out to reinstall the service. “When the customer first calls, they have a certain mind-set: They want to cancel,” he says. “When we call back, they’re unprepared. It’s a little psychological advantage we have.”

Oh no he didn’t! Forgive me if this sounds insulting but only an idiot would go on record saying such a thing. But again, Mr. Gustafson’s statement is another example of forgetting that guests are real people, not rats to be manipulated.

Now, though, the My Coke Rewards program has helped the company develop more in-depth knowledge about loyal customers. The inside of every bottle cap is printed with a 12-digit code that customers can text or type into a website or desktop widget to accumulate points that can be exchanged for prizes and other awards. Those who opt in to e-mail marketing receive regular offers to gain more points, as well as other marketing pitches. Each is customized based on segments created from demographic information and behavior collected by the site. On average, 285,000 customers visit per day, entering an average of seven codes per second. Information embedded in the codes may include a region or location where the bottle was sold and whether it had special packaging, such as an Olympics logo, that Coca-Cola uses to tailor its pitches.

Read that again… It’s not a 12 digit number, it’s a code. In other words, you can’t drink a soda in peace without wondering when and how Coca-Cola is going to watch you. Scary, right?

After four years, My Coke Rewards is among the longest-running marketing programs in Coca-Cola’s history. And as the program has grown, the company has changed the way it runs in response to insight from analytics, Rollins says.

First, of all the programs Coke has ever had four years constitutes “among the longest-running”? MyGawd, has their marketing department been thinking or just rolling the dice and hoping to find something that sticks. Must be nice to have that type of budget. Furthermore, this reads as if they are responding to analysis, not guests. Not good.

Coca-Cola uses the FICO Precision Marketing Manager suite of statistical analysis tools to study data from its websites. Marketers look at which come-ons elicit the most and best responses, says Thomas Stubbs, Coca-Cola’s interactive marketing director in global IT. Coca-Cola also exchanges data with companies that supply prizes, including Nascar, Nike (NKE) and Sony. “As technology has evolved, we’re able to do more and have a relevant dialog with customers, not just push our ideas out there,” he says.

“A man might not want to admit that he’s a Diet Coke drinker. He will say in a survey that he prefers Coke. But we see he enters only Diet Coke PINs and market accordingly.”

Danger Will Robinson! While it’s true that Coca-Cola might want to know more about who consumes their products, Coke is treading on thin ice if they believe that their definition of the guest is better than the guest’s himself/herself. Do such details constitute useful information? Yes, of course. Might they also be making over-confident decision, and possibly insulting the guest? Yes, that’s very true too.

The idea is not just to save business but to create new business. Successful projects spark new ones. Analytics tools help companies create more money-generating interactions with customers and shave costs from internal operations. CIOs should connect analytics technologies with ideas about refining business processes, says Aberdeen’s White. “Meld them together and that’s very powerful.”

Bottom line… it’s about The Guests, not data and analysis. This shouldn’t be about “refining business process” but about improving The Guest Experience. Same ends? Maybe (but probably not). Different means? Yes, very different means. One puts The Guest first and one does not. If you could analyze the two approaches which would you bet to be the winner? Of the companies you deal with which try to improve The Guest Experience and which are more concerned about their processes and their bottom line?

And finally, to help get it all back into perspective: “It’s Not Your Relationship to Manage” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine via DestinationCRM.com, May 2010).

Go team!

“Teamwork: It’s About Trust, Not A Technique” interview of Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene by Jonathan Erickson (Dr. Dobbs, 20 February 2010).While this interview/discussion centers about programming teams, the idea certainly apply to all teams.  The most interesting point was:

Dr. Dobb’s: Can tools alone turn an ugly team into a beautiful one?
Stellman: A good team tool can help a good team be better. But if you’ve got a team that’s deeply flawed, just adding a tool won’t fix the problem. At best, it will help you make mistakes faster.

Also from Dobb’s was “Team Building Goes Viral” by Jerry Tubbs (21 February 2010). It’s another quick read with the biggest piece of the take away pie coming from this list:

7 Key Factors: Effective Development Teams Start Here

1. Common Purpose Get everyone on the same page.
2. Commitment Do what’s necessary to get the job done.
3. Trust Establish trust,because it’s mandatory even when you don’t always agree.
4. Understand The Process Master the tools and processes before coding begins.
5. Communication Share knowledge and information constantly.
6. Resources Have adequate resources at the outset so team can focus on the project, not the tools.
7. Leadership Ensure leaders are in place to make technical or business decisions.

In a word… Brilliant!

Just press the Go Viral button?

“A Web Presence Needs Sizzle, For Shizzle” by Fritz Nelson (Information Week, 18 November 2009). Good golly Rudolph, give this guy a candy cane and double him up on the eggnog. Santa should no doubt move Mr. Nelson to the top of the nice list.

Aside from sharing some damn good examples of inspiration, he hovers under the mistletoe and plants this golden gem of a KISS on us all. (Note: The bolding was added for effect.)

On the Web, entire economies and cultures emerge with surprise. The less creative or visionary watch and try to follow, as if there’s a secret formula to be revealed to the most astute observer. People look at the NetFlix corporate culture Google (NSDQ: GOOG) free lunch program, and Obama open government mantra and say: It worked for them, it will work for us. There’s some truth in that, but the success variables are never the same. Ultimately, each business must create its own wave.

Success on the Web, like The White Rabbit, is alluring in its urgency and its insistence on its path. Words like “crowdsourced,” “social,” and “sticky” are simple labels for complicated ingenuity. Anyone who sets out to create The Next Big Thing invariably fails compared with those who create something out of real social need, or passion. There’s no hidden button for “Go Viral” on the Web, and there’s no magic formula to replicate what happens when something does. Take new social media buzz factories, FarmVille and FourSquare.

In other words, just because you use the channels doesn’t guarantee anything. That said said there is a “secret” for going viral and that is, introduce something to the conversation that’s worth talking about. The usual blah blah blah is not going to get anyone attention, nor is it going to differentiate you from the masses. And if you don’t have an authentic passion for it then certainly no one else will either. There are enough me-too and cookie-cutter type outfits out there. The time has come to suspend the belief that your brand is special just because you think so.

The web hasn’t changed the fact that you have to have passion. Someone has to have passion for your brand (for which you provided the reason(s)). And ultimately to cut through the clutter you have to differentiate both in medium and in message. Actually, if the web has changed anything it has made these must-dos even more essential. Can you afford to do X? Nope! The question is, can you afford not to? That is what your guest will be looking for- The Winner. The one who goes the distance with them and for them.

Thanks Fritz! And a ho ho ho to you too.

Burn Hollywood, burn

“JetBlue Genius And Hollywood Hustlers” by Bob Evans (Informationweek.com, 17 August 2009). When the ideals of The Guest Experience start showing up in geeky publications such as Information Week you know it’s time to get on board. His words might not be exactly the same but the concepts are in concert with our own. Could this be the article that inspires you to adjust to the new normal of guest-centricity? Or are you too Hollywood?

Coke adds choice to life – Another perspective

“Global CIO: Six Lessons CIOs Must Learn From Coke’s Dazzling Innovation” by Bob Evans (Information Week, 22 June 2009). A couple weeks ago we did a  post about Coke’s new drink dispenser called Freestyle. Mr. Evans celebrates Coke’s innovation but approaches it from a different perspective, that of the CIO.

The bottom line is that this effort took management commitment, getting the right team together, and then teamwork within that group. Very simple. Very effective. And a great lesson for the rest of us.

Coke adds choice to life

“Coke’s RFID-Based Dispensers Redefine Business Intelligence” by Mary Hayes Weier (Information Week, 8 June 2009) Don’t let the geeky title scare you. Put yourself in the shoes of a Coke guest and read between the lines. This a perfect example of the shift in expectations that’s being driven by the empowerment guest now enjoy as a result of “technology”. Offline or online is not important. What is important is the experience. As much we hate to tip our hats to high frutose corn syrup & water, Kudos to Coke for this effort.

Our guess is that eventually Coke will link all the machines so that instead of having to reenter your custom flavour everytime you’ll be able to enter your own code and the Freestyle machine / network will take care of the rest. There’s also the possiblity of integrating the machines with a web site (or social network widget) and letting people share their custom flavours. Similar to Abobe’s Kuler (http://kular.adobe.com) but slightly  different.