Artificial Intelligence? I’ll stick with the real thing for now

With the ever increasing focus on digital services, not just in the customer outcome, but also in the mechanisms by which we deliver solutions, people are quickly becoming the only true differentiation for companies. Can the quality of our people really influence the project outcome or the customer experience to the extent that technology by itself is no longer important?

This would seem like a backward question to ask for many of us. From years of having words like “automation” and “digitisation” thrown at us (the latter is not even a word) all predictions throughout the 90’s and early 00’s we’re of a future surrounded by robots, automated processes and a very quiet time for Human Resources departments. It hasn’t quite panned out that way yet though and, in my view, it is becoming increasingly less likely.

That’s not to say that companies won’t continue to reduce cost and workforce numbers over time. This sadly is a trend that larger organisations will certainly continue for some time to come. The idea that the future holds a handful of mega-companies that produce everything we need (Microsoft, Walmart, Apple, Google and Amazon for example) seems to me to be less likely though.

The reason for this? Startups. There has never been a more fluid startup market than now. Venture capital and crowdfunding mean that new enterprises are getting off the ground far more quickly and regularly than ever before. With this constant and continuous innovation comes a frantic pace of change that seriously challenges automation of delivery practises. You can only automate something that is repeated. With the exception of certain regression testing routines, and the manufacturing industry as a whole, it is hard to see where you can automate much of what goes on in today’s workplace.

Artificial intelligence on a level of sophistication that we have yet to see would be needed to seriously threaten the human mind. When it comes to the mental agility required to innovate at the pace demanded of today’s workplace, the focus from employers should certainly be on finding the best people, not the best technology. Don’t get me wrong, you need the best technology, or certainly very good technology in order to be competitive in most industries. But the best technology in the hands of average people is worthless, or possibly even counterproductive. Find the best 5 people and give them slightly above average solutions to work with and they will easily out-produce 100 average people with the best tools in the market.

When asked recently by my CEO what I was most proud of I answered very simply. My team. I’ve delivered some brilliant and innovative solutions in the last year alone but, for me, having the best people has made that possible. And so, in this digital age, I will continue to focus the majority of my time and energy on people.

A perfect storm: the dreaded website redesign

Well your website design is a little dated, your content is somewhat stale and the content management system you have in place is so cumbersome to use that it takes three days and an IT engineering team the size of NASA to change an image on the page. So how exactly do you go about running a large website redesign?

I faced this exact challenge recently. In hindsight, whilst we knew the fundamental elements of what we needed to do, the project really didn’t have the emphasis on the right problems, nor the resource focus in the right areas, at the right time.

From my experience, a large-scale website redesign project can be bracketed into three main themes:

  1. The technology – the replacement or upgrade of the existing content management system
  2. The design – the user experience and look and feel of your new shiny website
  3. The content – the words, images, video, documents and tools that users will interact with

Asking yourself at the outset how many of these three elements you want to significantly change in one go is hugely important to defining the success of the project. It is also essential in keeping the expectations of your senior stakeholders, and indeed, the anticipation of the wider organisation, in line with what will actually be delivered.

If possible, I would strongly suggest changing a maximum of two of these three elements at once. It significantly reduces the number of chicken and egg problems you need to solve and reduces the risk of the project dramatically.

For example, if I were switching to a completely new content management system (basically, building a new website), I would probably look to overhaul the design at the same time, but keep the content the same. This might still require a rationalisation of the existing content into a different site navigation, but at least it reduces the number of people across the organisation that need to be involved, which reduces complexity.

The trickiest two to change in parallel are the design and the content. When these two are thrown up in the air together, it becomes a difficult juggling act to keep everyone’s expectations aligned, and almost impossible to hold a project plan together once content and design start bouncing back and forth.

Beyond the primary three there are two other important elements that must not be forgotten.

First, how will the site be monitored and analysed? Whether it’s Google Analytics or another package, take the time to think through what you’ll be reporting against. This fits best into your technology stream.

Secondly, your SEO strategy. This should fit strongly into your content stream. Take the time to consider who your site and content is for and how you are going to monitor how successful you are in bringing that audience to your content.

Ultimately, any large-scale site re-build carries risk. As much as possible, reduce that risk by focusing the effort into those key elements that are going to give you the biggest possible benefit in the fastest possible time. Focus on the authoring experience and the user experience equally, and don’t forget that everything you implement needs to be monitored and tracked so that it can be continuously refined.