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ITW – interesting things this week # 2

by alexander roan

Welcome to the second edition of ITW – ‘Interesting Things this Week’ ??

In this newsletter I’ll be sharing some content from across the web that I found interesting. It’ll be loosely connected to business strategy and operations transformation, and I’ll try to avoid duplication with mainstream media.

This weeks post is around 1,000 words and a 4 minute read.

1) Too many management books!

I enjoyed Bartleby’s brief post on business books at the economist. Particularly his description of the management books piled on the economist’s desks:

Admittedly, many of these books are hard to read. The authors use “architect” as a verb and “learnings” as a noun. They randomly Capitalise every Other word. And they are overly fond of PEAs (pointless esoteric acronyms).

I think that many of the authors of management books follow a pattern of reverse-engineering an ‘approach’ or ‘method’ for success. They seem to do this based on their own anecdotal experience. They rarely consider probability or simply ‘being in the right place at the right time’. There are many ways to manage a business I’m personally wary of anyone that tries to codify it into a simple set of rules.

2) Investments in gaming and at home fitness

CB insights posted about funding increases in home fitness and gaming.

Considering these two industries together reminded me of Nintendo’s ringfit which attempts to combine the addictiveness of role-playing games with the benefits of a home workout (personal note – if I had been exercising for those few years I played World of Warcraft I’d probably be like Hercules now!) I haven’t played ringfit, but I heard it’s surprisingly fun. As people have been spending more time at home in 2020, many have noted the benefits of not having to commute to work or gyms etc. Online fitness training videos on YouTube and other platforms are very popular. I wonder if there will be other ringfit-like products. There must be a high potential to apply motion sensors, peripherals, augmented reality, virtual reality and other technologies to various different styles of exercise.

3) Skills for remote managers

The ICAEW shared a useful and concise summary of considerations for those managing teams remotely. The advice also makes sense for simply being part of a remote team. The author writes about four skills:

  • Communicate effectively
  • Provide context
  • Create clarity
  • Focus on culture

In practice managers tend to communicate based on tasks. Context and clarity is often missing. I believe that this starts from strategy deployment. Many organisations fail to deploy strategy well, this leads to a lack of context across teams in an organisation. Remote working means contact time may be reduced and the ability to have nuanced discussions over a coffee may be missed.

5) The future of maintenance

McKinsey shared an interesting article on asset maintenance.

In 2019 I had the opportunity to work with Programmed; a maintenance business in Australia and New Zealand. If you don’t work in engineering or a related disciplines you probably don’t consider asset maintenance much. It’s a massive topic hidden in plain sight. Every element of the infrastructure around us has to be maintainted. There are a lot of challenges within the industry, including things like:

  • What’s the right frequency for maintenance
  • When should we do maintenance
  • How do we handle complex or aging assets that require unique skills
  • How do we deal with assets that are widely spread out

How well you can manage these factors has a big impact on cost and effort.

Maintenance is an industry with a high level of potential to benefit from new technologies. The addition of sensors and online connectivity; aka ‘internet of things’, coupled with increasing computational capabilities means that algorithms can now better predict failures and optimise maintenance schedules. Another example is using augmented reality which can help provide instructions on maintenance of complex assets. I highlighted this in my recent article about digital too. I also thought the mention of drones for assets monitoring was interesting.

5) OpenAI releases a commerical AI based text generator

I read a Wired article reporting that OpenAI released a commercial version of their neural network-based text generator technology via an API (application programming interface).

There are many text generators out there, but this is interesting as it represents a change of stance from OpenAI who previously cited ‘fears of misuse’ as a reason not to release this technology on an open commercial basis.

What is a text generator? – given a text prompt, it will return some text attempting to match the pattern you gave it. You can “program” it by showing IT examples of what you’d like it to do; its success generally varies depending on how complex the task is. Wired explained that if you give it simplified paragraphs written for school kids, then give it one un-simplified paragraph, it will then attempt to simplify it.

The technology doesn’t work perfectly yet, but it’s very close to passing for human.

The term AI may give a false impression of what this technology does. It’s easy to assume the text output is based on some human-like intelligence.

However, that’s not correct. The neural network is trained a mass of web and digital book data. The transformations it makes are based on its training data. This means that any bias/style/inaccuracies etc. in the training data will be present in the way the output is transformed. Think widely published racism, conspiracy theories, slang etc.

Philosophically; as a human, when we write content we have the ability to think about our writing in light of the context of current events and people around us, we can question what we write as we write based on our own intellect. A neural network cannot do that, it applies the patterns that were present in past writing.

In the current climate there is a lot of media focus on overcoming biases of the past. This is at odds with the way neural networks work.

What I’ve been up to this week?

This week I wrote an article encouraging project managers, program managers and PMO professionals to focus more on strategy and people. This was based around a lot of common mistakes and efficiencies I saw in change programs in recent years.

And finally, something fun…

Media seems to have gone a bit post-apocalyptic in the past decade. During this time I highly recommend the light-hearted tropes of Korean drama. Romance, comedy and the best cliffhangers!

I recommend ‘crash landing on you’ as a starting point, which is currently airing on Netflix.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10850932/

https://www.netflix.com/title/81159258


I’ll also be sending this newsletter via e-mail in future, if you would like to receive it in your inbox please subscribe:

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Categories
Newsletter

ITW – Interesting things this week # 1

by alexander roan

Welcome to the inaugural version of ITW – ‘Interesting Things this Week’ ??

In this newsletter I’ll be sharing some content from across the web that I found interesting. It’ll be loosely connected to business strategy and operations transformation, and I’ll try to avoid duplication with mainstream media.

This weeks post is around 900 words and a 3.5 minute read.

1) Opening an account

(by builtformars)

In this post ‘builtformars’ analyses the different experiences while opening a bank acccount across challenger and traditional banks. While the blog is focussed on UX, it’s also an interesting study on process. Whilst reading this I was thinking that a similar analysis could be carried out across various processes to easily compare customer experience across competitors. It’s a fairly cheap and low effort way to gain some insights, and isn’t often done so pro-actively.

2) Public attitudes on the fair use of data and algorithms in finance

(by the behavioural insights team and centre for data ethics and innovation)

Neural networks are the most common form of machine learning applied to decision making. These networks can; given an input, categorise it which is a kind of decision making. They do this based on ‘training data’. The classic examples relate to images. If you train a neural network with 1,000,000 images of cats from the internet the networks gain a degress of accuracy in being able to identify when a cat is present in an image on the internet. The accuracy is based on the range of cat images provided during the training stage.

Because of this training bias is big issue. Consider a neural network that reviews loan applications, it might be trained on previous loan applications and whether they were approved or rejected. Any bias in this training data will be designed into the neural network.

The report linked looks at the perceptions of the fairness of proxy information used in algorithms. If for example a neural network finds a pattern of certain postcodes having a high rejection rate, this may represent; just for illustration, an area where ethnic minorities live, in this case the postcode may be acting as a proxy for ethnicity.

The CDEI and BIT study looks at public perction on the use of algorithms. Unsurprisingly one of the conclusion is that the there is a negative perception of algorithms in loan-making.

Even though this technology is not well understood by the general public it’s promising to see that the public are cautious here. I expect that we wil see more focus on fairness and bias as these technologies find more and more commercial applications.

3) Morality in business

An example of good morals and an example of questionable morals

On Monday I read about Javier Rodriquez, CEO of DaVita; a chain of kidney treatment centres. His company automatically qualified for and received nearly $250 million from the US health care enhancement act (part of the pandemic relief package). The company and it’s directors decided to return the money as they felt they didn’t weren’t in need of it.

On the other hand, last night I read about Take-Two Interactive; the parent company of Rockstar, producer of the massively successful games Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. Apparantly they cancelled a contract with a smaller developer; Star Theory Games, and then proceeded to poach over a 1/3 of the staff. It seems they started poaching even before the contract cancellation was finalised or communicated.

What’s the right line between profits and morality? A lot of companies incude a section on corporate social responsibility in their annual reports, but this tends to address topics like diversity, the environmen etc. I don’t see much on morality and ethics within commercials or supply chain.

4) Another failed use-case for blockchain

Recently I wrote a short article on how blockchain works. Once you understand how it works and how it compares to other technologies it becomes much easier to identify the use-cases that hold genuine value. On Tuesday I heard that Civil a blockchain journalim start up has closed down. I think this is a clear example of being excited about a technology and just looking for applications w/out really thinking about how appropriate it is and what the value proprosition is.

5) The Endangered Asian Century

I came across an interesting article from Lee Hsien Loong; no other than the prime minister of Singapore, addressing APAC and the sometimes difficult position the countries are palced in between America and China.

I remember since my University days; way back in 1996 – 2000, there was always talk of asia pacific becoming the economic super power of the world, with the west in decline. It’s interesting to see a slightly different perspective.


What I’ve been up to this week?

If you are interested in ERP or SAP I wrote about their HANA and S/4HANA products.

And finally, something fun…

When I’m working, or exercising or even taking a nap I sometimes like to play some music in the background. Recently I’ve been into lofi music. It’s super relaxing and it’s not at all intrusive so you can enjoy it while doing other things. You can look up some excellent artists like Jinfang, Tomppabeats or Nujabes or you can tune into one of the many streaming channels on youtube and let them do all the hard work of curating a playlist, I particularly like a channel called “ChilledCow”


I’ll also be sending this newsletter via e-mail in future, if you would like to receive it in you inbox please subscribe:

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