The last generation

The millennial generation will be the last of it’s kind. The pace of technology advancement means that people born even five years apart will soon have very different skillsets, and very different views on the world around them.

Human beings have long defined a generation as people born across a span of 10-15 years. That number has worked because people born across those time frames have ultimately experienced similar life events at similar times and grown up in similar social and economic realities.

It was safe for society to consider people across this time frame as a singular generation and to position their product, service or even politics in line with that generations world view.

That is already no longer a safe bet and it’s going to become less and less reliable as time goes by.

The pace of technology change has a huge impact on this.

First, let’s take a look at Millennials. If you were born in 1979 to 1993, the odds are that you had a similar education experience when it came to technology.

Few of us had a computer. Some of us were fortunate enough to have computer lessons at some point and most of us would have had regular access to computers by the time we were in our late teens.

Technology was certainly not integrated into the education experience. It was something additional that you had to learn about.

Generation Y have had similar experiences, although the later you were born, the earlier you had that computer experience. But not by much.

Millennials all got their hands on smartphones at similar times. Again, they had to learn how to use them and have pushed the boundaries by demanding more and more from this technology.

Now let’s fast forward to children born in generation Z. Those born around or after 1994 and up until about 2010. This is where the sheer speed of technology advancement really starts to change things.

Those born in and around 1994 will actually have had a similar experience to later-born Millennials. They’ll have been between 7 and 10 years old when smartphones became a thing. Technology education would have still been separate from other subjects.

But, the later you step through the generation, the more fundamental the shift in technology access has been at an earlier age. Those born after the year 2000 would have had increasing exposure to computers, tablets and phones at home and at school.

Those born after 2005 never knew a world without the iPhone.

Technology is increasingly an integral part of most subjects in schools. And not just secondary or higher education.

My daughter’s nursery uses an iPad to keep us informed on how her day is going. She is not ignorant of the technology around her – quite the opposite – she sees it as normal. She has known nothing different.

From the early 2000’s the access to technology, both through the education system and at home, has changed so dramatically that people born even five years apart are now having very different experiences of the world around them.

I know kids who are confused when an appliance doesn’t respond when they ask it a question, because they have had access to Alexa. I know others still that will only watch a cartoon on an iPad, because the TV just doesn’t appeal to them.

Children as young as five are learning to programme drones and other devices at school. Children born after 2016 may never need a driving licence because of driverless cars.

And so I suspect that the millennial generation will be the last of its kind. I think society needs to start bracketing people against much shorter time periods, or risk making assumptions that are hugely innacurate.

It could be argued that time horizon becomes so irrelevant that it should be ignored altogether.

Of course, people will still go through major life events such as graduation, first job, marriage, children and buying a home together against roughly similar timeframes.

The major difference will be in how they go through these events, and what their expectations will be when they do.

And the technology they are exposed to, and how they grew up with it, will play a major role in determining those attitudes.

We all need to be thinking about this. If the attitudes of society can be marked over much shorter time periods, how do we all ensure we continue to relate and understand one another? Does that get easier, or harder?

Time, ironically, will tell.

What banking could learn from

Financial services firms have spent the last twenty years marketing to customers almost exclusively based on price. Our mortgage prices are lower than theirs. Our savings account could earn you more interest. This investment will give you a better return. But when the price is no longer the advantage, where does the industry turn?

This morning, like most mornings, I drove my daughter to nursery before hightailing it to the station to get the train. The advert was on the radio. You’ve seen the same campaign on TV (probably at x30 as you scan through the adverts).

The message is simple. Yes you could get more for your car if you sold it privately. But will take it off your hands and save you a more important commodity. Time.

And who doesn’t want to save time? We’re all finite. None of us will live forever. Who wants to waste time haggling over a few quid?

A decade ago this kind of marketing messaging might have seemed strange. If you couldn’t advertise that you were cheaper, you had to advertise more features, bigger benefits, more more more.

But as the millennial generation becomes the primary marketing consumer, the game is changing. The need to own more stuff is declining. Societal value is increasingly being placed, not on the things that we can afford, but the stories we can tell. The experiences we have had.

And to have great experiences, to tell interesting stories, we need time. Time to craft and create those moments.

The experience industry is already gathering pace. It goes beyond selling travel packages. It is transcending day-spas and racing track days.

You used to see car adverts about the horsepower, torque and options packages of a particular model. Now they’re about how they connect with the rest of your life (usually through WiFi).

But if everything is sold as an experience, and giving me time is more important than saving me money, how does a bank sell itself?

Sure there are still those consumers who focus solely on price. But with firms like Purple Bricks offering to sell your home without commission, the price war in financial services doesn’t look like one anybody can win.

Many financial services firms are turning to added benefits packages in their current accounts as the answer. Offers and exclusive free stuff. Even experiences.

But is this why you need a current account? Most of us would have to go out of our way to gain value from this “free” stuff. And that doesn’t exactly save me time now does it?

Credit card providers periodically offer rewards if you spend at certain retailers. You have to add it to your card first though, or you don’t get the benefit. That means I now have to spend time looking for the offers and adding them to my card. I don’t care enough to bother.

Packaged travel insurance on a current account often requires that I ring up before I travel. Why? Don’t give me the gift of admin. I’ll return it.

It’s difficult to know how the experience marketing game will play out for financial services. In hindsight, the industry may have been better playing the loyalty and service card from the beginning. A price war was only ever going to end in tears.

But we can’t rewind twenty years and change the strategy. We can’t undo the financial crisis of 2008 that undermined consumer confidence and opened a convenient door for FinTech startups to come dancing through.

What we need is a new plan. A new way of thinking. A new way to position an industry that must balance complex regulation, falling revenue margins and evolving consumer expectations.

But one thing is fairly clear in my mind. Banks have something that few can compete on. They know where you spend your money and thus, they can work out where you spend your time. And this is likely the single biggest opportunity for financial services firms.

However, it’s one that is largely untapped. That won’t last though. Firms are scrabbling against the backdrop of MIIFID II, PSD 2, GDPR and competing strategic priorities to solve the new marketing problem of the moment; personalisation.

Personalisation means different things to different people. For me, the best description is simple.

Demonstrate that you understand me. Time your messages to suit my circumstances not your business revenue targets. Give me what I want, not what you’re selling.

Know what I want before I tell you. Predict my behaviour accurately and give me real time value without me breaking stride. Don’t get in my way, get everyone else out of it.

Whilst everyone else is trying to translate their product marketing strategy into an experience one, financial services firms should be using the treasure trove of transaction data they have to predict what people need and want. And then give it to them. Simply and without additional admin.

This isn’t just a game for Banks to play, and so they better get a wriggle on. Google already knows a huge amount about us, as does Amazon and other large data-centric companies.

If they were to get their hands on detailed transaction information, it’s likely that they would be able to provide greater experience-led services than the banks themselves.

Did someone say open banking? Tick-tock.

Generation Why?

The Millennial generation heralded the first time that a group of young people entered the workplace with higher levels of education and technical proficiency than the incumbent workforce. How will this shift in dynamic continue to evolve the way we think about hierarchy, leadership and professional development?

One of my fondest memories from primary school was when I was seven years old, and my teacher wheeled in this huge computer. It was wired up to a gigantic perspex box on wheels. We took it in turns to use the computer to instruct the “Turtle”, via a simple DOS-based program, to navigate a straight-forward obstacle course. I was mesmerised.

I refer of course to LOGO. I remember my parents having no idea what I was on about. They had no real clue about the significant impact it, and other education changes like it, would have on me. They certainly weren’t thinking about the implications for society as a whole.

I was born in 1985, planting me firmly in Generation Y. My generation has essentially been Human-kinds guinea pigs for the last thirty-plus years. We’ve been the subject of a rapidly developing technological landscape, unprecedented population growth and extended life expectancies. We’ve also seen a seismic step change in perceptions of social norms and both local, and even global, community values.

And through this, we have been asked to forge careers and futures for ourselves.

We were the first to be educated with computers. We were the first to have cost-accessible personal technology devices in our teens. We were the first to be driven towards University education en-mass. We were the first to arrive in the workplace with greater pre-requisite skill for the day-to-day tasks required than those who were already there.

Our parents’ generation were taught how to do the tasks that the business required of them by those that were already there. They’d learned basic proficiency in subjects such as Mathematics, Science, English and Languages at school, but putting them into practice was the role of the employer.

Fast forward to 1997 and the start of the dot-com bubble. Coincidentally around the time that the first of Generation Y were hitting the workplace. Computers were starting to become mainstream in people’s homes and businesses, Nokia still owned the mobile phone market, and people were still arguing over whether CD’s or MiniDiscs were the future of portable music.

Except for a few startups in Silicon Valley, most organisations did not have a high proficiency for technology usage built into their existing workforce.

Enter Generation Y (those born from 1977 to 1995).

As this young group of people started to leave education and come into the workplace, they brought with them new skills. Everything from spreadsheet manipulation, word processing, database construction, programming and even website development.

These were not things that many people in existing businesses knew much about. The skills these young people had could be exploited and utilised.

I remember my first work experience placement at an IT logistics company in 2001. I was given two spreadsheets and asked to merge them. They expected it to take me all day.

I finished in half an hour and created a pivot table report that would allow them to analyse the cost and quantity of their stock levels quickly. They had me follow a guy around the warehouse for the rest of the day.

Generation X realised they had a trump card; they understood the politics, business management disciplines and strategic direction of the organisation. But they needed the technical proficiency that was fast becoming the domain of Generation Y to pull it off. And that suited all parties; for a while.

The challenge now is that the older members of Generation Y are approaching a level of maturity. They increasingly have both the technical proficiency, and the business management skills required to become leaders in their own right.

The problem is there’s little or no room at the top.

The younger members, typically the ones you think of when you hear the term “Millennial” are even more frustrated. They see the world differently than their slightly older counterparts. Instead of fitting into the workplace and evolving things over time, they typically want to agitate and innovate their working environment into something new entirely.

As with many Generations, Millennials at the extreme ends of the age spectrum struggle to recognise each other.

Millennials, instead of a danger, are really a reflection of the society in which they grew up in, and in which all of us now live.

Crystal Kadakia, The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding Into Workplace Breakthroughs

Fundamentally, Generation Y has developed to a faster time-frame than any generation previously. This is thanks almost entirely to a more rounded education and rapid technological advancement over the last thirty years. They’ve had exposure at an earlier age to talented decision makers and business leaders as a result of their technical skill.

We also can’t ignore the leaps and bounds across social stigmas and accepted norms – everything from gender perception, greater LGBT awareness and reduction in racism and stereotyping from younger people.

In theory, we should have arrived at this level of workplace competence in our forties and fifties, but we’re getting there much, much faster. And this causes an issue for everyone involved. If you can’t move up, you move out. If you can’t move out, you branch out. That’s partly why we see a larger number of start-up businesses than ever before.

The challenge gets even more complicated when you consider Generation Z, the eldest of whom are already starting work.

They bring with them not just a better formally-educated view of technology but an innate sense of how it can be used and applied; it’s been in their hands since they were primary school children. They’re even more skilled than Generation Y, and that’s saying nothing of their paradigm shift in social and economic equality perceptions.

And so what do we do about this challenge? We can’t just shove Generation X out of the way and retire them to the pasture fields to gaze longingly back at a time when they were useful. Indeed we shouldn’t want to. They are a group of people with a vast amount of experience, and that doesn’t come cheaply or quickly. They still have much to offer.

But if the most senior leaders of today remain Generation X and, in all likelihood, the leaders of tomorrow are Generation Z, what happens to Generation Y?

We’ve been the technology translation generation. The ones who helped bridge that gap between business leaders and technology practitioners. Are we the ones who will soon become redundant? The people who have lobbied and agitated change in working practises, environments and mindsets.

Will we be put out to pasture by both those that came before and those that follow? Squeezed from existence by having lesser technical skill than our younger cousins but less experience or control over senior leadership positions than our elders?

The workplace and workforce are going to change pretty dramatically as we look forward. The entire concept of work is going to become more flexible.

Deborah Henretta Group President, Asia & Global Specialty Channel, Procter & Gamble

One thing is for certain, we’re fast approaching a very exciting juncture in the skill and experience mix of our workforce. We may actually see a leapfrog effect whereby the specialist business managers of Generation X give way not to Generation Y, but instead to the more technical experts of Generation Z.

We could even see a collapse of large-scale organisational structures in favour of a more diverse range of smaller, more sustainable and personally fulfilling companies.

Where does that leave the Millennials?

Time will tell but, if one thing can be said of my generation it’s this; we might be the guinea pigs of the technological age, but that also makes us fantastic translators and a perfect inter-generational hybrid.

We’re the empathisers, the understanders, the listeners. The world may end up being our younger cousins’ to rule, but it will be ours to influence and shape, and our children’s to inherit.

P.S. Watch out for Generation Alpha.

The case for change: why the intangible benefits are important

Speculating on the potential value of a new way of working, a new service or set of tools can often be tricky. Estimating the potential benefits case for any new initiative, or even gaining support and approval to try something new, can often be an infuriating and troublesome endeavour. But is it possible to build the case for change by simply starting to change?

I’ve written more business cases than I care to count. Every single one of them has been in a different format, with a slight variation on the same sorts of headings and, whilst most of them ended up being approved, the road to getting them there was not always that straight forward. The one thing I learned along the way was that in reality, it didn’t matter that much what content I put in the business case, or how good an idea it was, what mattered most were three things:

  1. How much it cost (and whether the budget was available)
  2. The return on investment (and the speed of that return)
  3. Support from the decision makers

Logic would perhaps dictate that cost, then return, then support would be the logical order of importance in the eventual decision. If you’re a Finance Director, look away now!

My experience is that it is the support of decision makers that matters most. They will care about cost and return, sure, but if you can convince senior stakeholders in your organisation to care passionately about the idea, you’ll find that they will often fight your battles for you and drive the investment case without ever reading a single page.

I can say this from experience, as someone who has written cases for tens of millions of pounds that have gone through acres of red tape approvals (you should have seen the spreadsheets). I’ve also walked into a CEOs office and fifteen minutes later walked out with approval to run long on my headcount and re-purpose an entire (approved) project budget for something completely different. End to end that last one went from idea to execution in less than 24 hours – quite a stressful afternoon for my project manager!

In both extremes I practised one very delicate art. Influencing. I didn’t convince that CEO to change direction by having a pretty PowerPoint with charts and graphs and statistical data proving beyond all doubt that my suggestion was the right one. I did it by convincing them first that I was credible, and then second by seeding all of the emotional attachments to the idea for change. The intangible benefits.

The key to successful leadership today is influencing, not authority. – Ken Blanchard

Influencing people should, in my opinion, be the number one skill that all change management professionals list on the CV. I rarely see it. It is also the number one skill that you need to be an effective sponsor or accountable executive.

So how do you do it? One that comes in handy is something that I learned from my very first job in financial services, as a call centre agent collecting credit card debt. What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)? was a key principle driven home with every new starter at the bank.

It was simple really; it’s easy to work out why the bank wants the customer to repay their credit card debt but what’s in it for the customer? We would approach every conversation assuming that the customer couldn’t pay anything, or wouldn’t want to, and then engineer the conversation to help us understand what the customer was motivated by. Once we understood that, we could place the repayment of the credit card debt in a context that the customer could relate to and, usually, come to some form of arrangement.

Remove yourself from the idea for a moment, put yourself in the key decision makers shoes and ask yourself, why would I want this?. Also ask yourself why they wouldn’t want to support this idea. Find the conflicts of interest and objections and you’re starting to get somewhere.

The answers to these questions are where you start. If you don’t know what’s important to the decision maker, find out, and fast. Speak to people that know them better, read anything they’ve communicated to the organisation recently, find a strategy paper for their area – however you do it doesn’t matter, just get an understanding of what’s going on in their head. Discount any perceptions of what you think should be important to them as this won’t help you. Starting a conversation with hey, you should really be worried about this before addressing what someone is currently worried about is a good way to get yourself spun back out the door (trust me, I know).

Second thing; now that you know what’s important to them, challenge your idea against it. Does it, or can it, solve any of the existing concerns, or does it create something new to worry about? Can you help with any of the other problems as well, and create a shared set of goals? Kick your original idea hard – better you than someone else.

Thirdly, challenge your own credibility in this decision makers mind. Do they know you, or know of you? Why would they listen to you? If you don’t think you have the necessary gravitas with this individual, don’t worry, your options are either to build it by getting more involved and delivering solutions to their existing problems (takes time but has lots of spin off benefits – particularly if being used as a way to understand their current concerns better) or to use others to help you influence them. That may be getting someone else to pitch your idea for, or with, you or it might involve you pitching your idea to someone else who can then introduce you as a knowledgeable and reliable authority.

The larger the scale of change you’re proposing, the greater number of interested parties there will be. The more decision makers, the more times you will need to repeat this process. Whilst that may seem daunting, it’s important to realise that, in reality, this is really a domino effect. Go after the low hanging fruit first; those you know best and have a relationship with, or who will most likely be supportive of your idea. Line them up and then engage them to help you win round the others. Get their advice and support to help you introduce the concept of your idea.

Notice that, at this point, I haven’t mentioned numbers once. So what are the winning arguments if the numbers aren’t the answer? Well, that will depend on your business model but some possible answers are:

  • Better Customer experience
  • Greater brand awareness
  • More Process efficiency (time savings)
  • Higher colleague satisfaction
  • Regulatory or legislative compliance
  • Lower complaint volumes

Some of these can be quantified, either as revenue or cost realisation but most are largely intangible and difficult to pin a number to. They can however be used to bring to life in the minds of your key stakeholders just how important and exciting your grand idea could be.

Finally, there is one more thing you can always put on the table when trying to persuade an organisation to prioritise and fund a significant change. Start small, and prove the concept. Build a prototype, run a small pilot or simulate a customer experience. Make it real and walk people through it. Get real customer, or potential customer, feedback if you can.

And remember that, for the majority of people in business, it’s about winning both hearts and minds. Just don’t forget one in favour of the other.

If, then, else: a foundation for good decision making

One of the things I have often taken for granted has been the ability to read and understand programming code or website script, and more importantly, the effect that has had on my offline thought processes. So am I an outlier, or do people who can code to some level of proficiency think differently and make better or more considered decisions?

I’ve managed, and worked with, lots of different types of people in my career. Most of them were not developers and most of them would have run a country mile if I’d asked them to tell me what a page of HTML script did, or showed them a page of C++ or .net or Java code. That said, many if not all of them have been problem solvers, business analysts, project managers and business function managers who have had to define and explain what they want the technology around them to do differently or start doing. Downside? Most of them have no idea how to talk to developers in a way that clearly expresses what they want the software to do, and not do, under various circumstances.

Most of my career has been spent translating these two worlds. I’m not a developer, far from it, but my understanding of the basic concepts of programming, database development and website creation has allowed me to capture and interpret business requirements and articulate them to developers. I’ve sat alongside non-code-literate colleagues doing the same role and, in my early career, was often baffled by what I saw as an inability to do this translation or, in some cases, even attempt it. It all seemed so logical to me and I struggled to understand why people didn’t think the way I did.

The need to think through a wide range of possible impacts quickly has never been more important.

It wasn’t until much later, when I began to run teams of my own, that I started to understand that the way I thought about problems was different to most other people. Most people, when you talk to them, can articulate what they want the outcome of a change to be. What they don’t do, without help, is think about all of the various permutations and variables on that outcome that need to be catered for. For a developer, that’s a pain. For a business, that’s expensive.

In today’s world, where the decisions we make as senior business leaders are increasingly real-time and the consequences felt within days not years, the need to think through a wide range of possible impacts quickly has never been more important. It’s not enough to simply say, “this is what I want to happen” and expect everyone to know what to do if something else happens instead. Customers are not as predictable as we might want them to be, and neither are our colleagues, and that’s OK. In fact, it’s better than that, it’s amazing. If we only ever got what one person thought of and wanted, we’d stifle innovation and many of our best ideas as a society would never come to fruition.

The problem with Humans is that we tend think in a linear way. And this is where my basic education in programming, combined with the demands of risk management from my project days, has stood me in good stead. Most people think along these lines: “if this happens then I want this to happen.” Simply put, I tend to worry about what won’t happen, or what might happen.

If you can plan for the exceptions, and be clear about the different outcomes in different scenarios, then you stand a much better chance of having a successful outcome

When coaching my team I try to get them to introduce some complexity to their thinking. “If this happens then I want this to happen, else I want that to happen”. Now we’re getting somewhere. But it’s not quite far enough. Gradually as you embed this thinking you can start to introduce more complex logic. For example, “I want this to happen for as long as a certain set of conditions is true, then I want to stop, or for something else to happen”.

Now, for some, this may seem obvious. Others will be baffled and see this as utter nonsense. For a few, probably those who code in one language or another, you’ll see what I’m doing. I’m embedding the basics of things like if statements and do-while loops, these bamboozling concepts that non coders assume is voodoo and terrifying, into the thought process of “normal” human beings. This helps them to translate business outcomes to developers more accurately but, beyond that, it encourages them to think about the exceptions and alternative paths their decisions might lead.

Now, if everyone in the organisation could articulate what they wanted in these terms, I predict that the success rates of projects would go up, purely because the outcomes and exceptions would be better thought through at an early stage. It takes the emotion out of the decision making process and replaces it with pure logic. If you can plan for the exceptions, and be clear about the different outcomes in different scenarios, then you stand a much better chance of having a successful outcome or at least predicting some of the other things that might happen and plan for those.

The best business analysts and project managers I’ve worked with think like this. Some of the strategists I’ve met along the way as well. They take problems and they break them down, consciously or otherwise, into these logic-driven statements and then articulate the various potential outcomes.

Recent movements in Agile methodologies have also helped, heralding the importance of prototyping which, in it’s own way, forces people to consider alternative outcomes they might not have otherwise. Frankly, anything that makes you stop and think, “what else might happen?” can only be a good thing.

For me, I’ll be forever grateful to that early education in foundation-level programming Whilst I never grew up to be a coder, the principles have stayed with me and, I like to think, made me a better business leader and decision maker as a result.

Digital real estate: who’s in your neighborhood?

The word digital has come to mean different things to different people, and the various parts of the digital ecosystem are often managed in different parts of an organisation. Does bringing it all together make sense? How do you land the right operating model and instigate a change to the current one?

It is not uncommon for a company to have its digital assets managed by different teams across the organisation. In fact it’s quite rare that they are all in one place. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but it does introduce some complexities from an operating model perspective. More importantly, it can also lead to a fragmented user experience for customers.

First let’s bracket the traditional (can we say “traditional” yet in digital?) elements of the digital ecosystem:

  1. Websites – still the cornerstone of a good digital proposition, these may be purely brochure-ware or they may have a more functional, transactional purpose
  2. Social Media – hard to find an organisation without a presence (good or bad) on social these days. Very important for customer engagement and a great tool to bring an audience to longer form content on your website
  3. Apps – an optional part of any digital real estate and will vary hugely in functionality and purpose. May be native (specifically coded for a particular device, such as Android) or wrapper (looks like an app but really just a website wrapped in an app shell)
  4. Email – don’t forget this one. Researchers into the effectiveness of email continue to contradict one another but this still remains a powerful part of a digital marketeers kitbag, if used well

Ask yourself where each of these tools are managed from in your organisation. Marketing? IT? I’ve seen many variations, up to and including a corporate LinkedIn account being managed exclusively by HR (admittedly, that was a weird day).

Whilst a case can be made for almost any operating and ownership structure when it comes to these assets, my experience is that, were you to walk into most organisations and ask why the current model exists, the answer is usually linked to evolution rather than design. It’s just how it is.

Difficulty with communication and consistency of design, tone of voice and customer insight aside, the impact on the customer is usually a fragmented and non-sensical experience. Why can I do this on their website but not on their app? Why is it really easy to navigate the app but the website is a pain? Why do I get an answer on Twitter but not on Facebook? Why do I keep getting these emails on the same day as the notifications from my app?

We’ve all experienced this kind of frustration with services that we use. One way to make sure that these kinds of inconsistencies don’t find their way to a customer is to bring together the different parts of your organisation that manage these assets into a single digital team. That way, you can bring together the design, development and marketing skills that are necessary to create, test and promote your digital services into one team. This gives them a much higher chance of collaborating successfully.

Doing so presents different challenges of course, not least that those existing structures probably won’t want to let go of what they have. However, it does cement a centre of expertise within your organisation for digital customer experience. Finding the right person to lead that team, someone who is respected and can think laterally across all of these digital arenas, is absolutely crucial. They need to be truly customer centric when it comes to the experience – to obsess over the details that transform an experience from just being ok to being something that excites and surprises.

And that, ultimately, is what it’s all about. The better the experience your customers have across your digital estate, the better they will feel about your brand. However you measure yourselves, be that NPS scores, complaint volumes, revenue targets or some other measure, defending the customer experience by seeing and treating your digital real estate as a single entity is, in my view, the most sensible step to driving those measures in the right direction.

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.