The Top Posts of 2014 – Part 3


In the summer I started to use the LinkedIn publishing service to cross-post things from my own blog onto the business social network. Although the editing tools are a bit ropey, and the reporting non-existent, people seem to be commenting on LinkedIn articles a lot more than on my own site (mostly I guess because I’ve had to force people to log into the WordPress site to comment to keep spam at bay – and by default people are already registered and logged into LinkedIn).

So after about six months of using the service, here’s the last countdown for the year – the Top Ten Posts on LinkedIn:

10 – Enterprise Apps – Progress so far

A follow up to what was the most popular post I had this year (more of that in a moment)

9 – #anticulturevist

News of an event coming to London at some point in the first few months of 2015

8 – A senior job title, a big brand, a pretty picture…

Some thoughts on how easy it seems for people to set up Spam accounts on LinkedIn

7 – Why do we still need phones?

Just what it says on the tin.

6 – Career Planning

A piece of crowdsourcing that turned into a presentation for a client earlier this month.

5 – Engineering Serendipity

Thoughts on generating some of your own luck.

4 – Big Data – it’s really not magic

One of a few posts I’ve written on the hype that is Big Data.

3 – Talking in Crowds

Most people don’t speak when in a group of any size. Why should we expect anything different when people are online?

2 – Early Adoption

Why early adopters shouldn’t expect prior evidence (and how CEOs appear to be a pretty risk-averse bunch)

1 – What the heck is an enterprise app?

Reflections on the news of Apple & IBM partnering around Enterprise Apps (and demonstrating the power of having a post featured on the front page of LinkedIn, with over 5,000 views of this post to date).

So there we go. A busy year of blogging in 2014. Here’s to the next one!

Why do we need phones?


With news this morning about how BT are looking to acquire EE, I’ve been having conversations with a few people recently about the point of telephones in this day and age. There’s an awful lot of assumption and learned behaviour associated with these devices, and the continued existence of telephones (desk-based ones in particular) is today primarily a psychological thing as much as any deep business requirement.

I’ve written in the past about how we learn to do things in certain ways, even when those ways are outdated or (even) plain wrong – whether it be the preference for people to use SMS over email when running late for an appointment, how many people won’t send an SMS message to a number that doesn’t look like a mobile number, or even the way in which many people write their phone number (oh, for the love of God, if you put (0) in your phone number on your email signature, read that article and sort it out).

All of this learned behaviour, often as a result of misinterpretation or misinformation, and yet all forming barriers to how we might implement change.

I was speaking recently to a client who are looking to introduce hotdesking environments to much of their office space, and also want to replace their existing “landline” telephone system. I do wonder these days why one would bother, especially when IP-based “traditional” telephony systems are so chuffing expensive. If you abstract out the idea of voice communication from the network on which it is delivered, I can happily “do voice” on my mobile, on Skype, on Google Hangouts… and all of those three services allow me to call out to traditional voice lines too. But with email and instant messaging and Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and collaborative documents and and and… well, I just don’t make quite as many voice calls as I used to (and it’s not just me).

In fact, unless you are visiting a customer contact centre, one of the striking things I find in modern open-plan offices is how few people are on the phone. And how even fewer use the expensive IP deskphone if one is available.

In our mobile world, the idea of a geographically-fixed telephone is increasingly anathematic. But maybe it’s that fixed nature that makes them still so popular… in conversation yesterday a colleague mentioned research he had seen that seemed to indicate that we have a preference for calling fixed-line numbers because we find it easier to imagine where the person we are calling is. It’s cognitively easier to process. An interesting proposition.

Meanwhile we seem to be on the verge of a new mega-telco with the BT/EE merger. It’s been the case for years that fixed-line telephone companies have known that fixed-line telephones won’t be a valuable market for ever. It’s why the likes of BT have bought their way into the world of television (and possibly also why you can’t easily buy domestic broadband without a telephone line).  Diversifying into “triple plays” and “quadrupal plays” (telephone, broadband, TV and mobile) is the accepted way of the industry.

But ultimately, bundling services that sit on top of networks seems to me to be a mid-term kludge that won’t last for ever. In fixed-line, there is effectively one major provider (BT OpenReach) who provide the network for others to provide services on top. I’ve spoken with people in the mobile industry who predict similar over time in that world. The services themselves, rather than the network is where the value is – and today much of the selling of those telecoms services relies on people making assumptions about their own use of technology (say, “I must have a phone”) that increasingly are out of step with their actual behaviours. Interesting times are ahead…

The Top Posts of 2014 – Part 2


Back in January I caught up with Mark Chillingworth for a cup of coffee at the British Library. Mark is Editor in Chief of CIO Magazine in the UK, and one of the upshots of that meeting was that he asked if I would start contributing a column to his online service. On January 20th my first Blog post on CIO was published.

My writing on my own site is fairly rough and ready – it’s snippets of ideas, sometimes reasonably well thought through, sometimes more stream of consciousness or something that I can’t express in the diminutive text of Twitter. When I write for CIO it’s for an audience, and I tend to take more time to think about who I am writing for. The articles I think are somewhat different as a result. Here are the top five from the first year of being a contributor:

5. CIOs – what’s stopping you?

In an era when many senior technology leaders are trying to be seen as digital leaders, do their own actions (or inactions) belie the realities of their aspirations?

4. Digital starts at home

Similarly, it’s great for CIOs to be rethinking their role, but important that they don’t completely turn their back on the traditional systems upon which businesses depend.

3. Music nerd’s guide to digital transformation

Different scales of digital transformation, drawing on the experiences of the music industry.

In the era of Cloud, why do we still have to buy software subscriptions through third parties?
And the most popular post on CIO was about the stages of digital transformation organisations traverse.

Failing gracefully


The shutdown of airspace across the UK at the end of last week raised an issue that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while: that we have long since reached a point where the systems which we have developed, and the interconnections between those systems are too complex for us to understand.

From what I have heard and read it seems that the shutdown was a failsafe mechanism that triggered as a result of data from two separate components becoming out of sync. The result of that error was the controlled landing and redirecting to flights in the south of England.

The backlash is symphony of “must never happen again”-type simplicity. But with systems as complex as air traffic control, change is not just difficult, it’s positively resisted. It’s not a world where you want to start getting all Minimum Viable Product agile, quite frankly. The implications of failing fast are too horrible for words.

But in a world of complexity, the reality is that you can’t necessarily say with absolute certainty how things will work. The failsafe mechanisms that obviously worked well last week are the answer – “designed to fail gracefully” if you will. But our public debate about computing-related issues still lives in a world where computers should be absolute, predictable things that don’t go wrong (and when they do, there must be somebody to blame).

I figure we’re all going to have to get our heads around chaotic systems and the implications that they have for us. Most importantly that when they go wrong, we should be looking for grace in those failures.

Weeknote 225: the ramp-down


Things I have learned this week:

- there’s an awful lot of (IT) history on my doorstep
– most technology problems aren’t the technology
– most people problems aren’t the technology
– the same event run to different audiences can have remarkably different results

Next week: the last working week of 2014

The Top Posts of 2014 – Part 1


So for the past couple of years at about this time of year I’ve pulled together a quick view of what have been the most popular articles on my blog over the preceding 12 months. It’s a useful reflective exercise to see what has chimed with people, and also gives me the opportunity to remember some of the things I was talking about over the year soon gone.

This year I’ve become a bit multi-channel. At the beginning of the year I became a blogger over on the website, and also from the summer started cross-posting material from here onto LinkedIn.

So there are three round ups this year – one for each of the three channels I publish through. We’ll start with the top ten articles here on MMITII…

10 – My Life in PCs

There are a couple of things to point out before really getting into this. Firstly that only three of my top ten viewed articles on my personal blog were actually published this year. And secondly, there seems to be an audience for pieces like this that reminisce about old gadgets.

A round up, from 2013, of all of the computers what I have had since the 1970s.

9 – My mobile life

The article at number 10 was a follow up to this one, again from 2013, about all of the mobile phones I have ever owned. It’s probably useful that I wrote all of this down then, because I’m not sure that I could remember all of them now…

8 – Ding dong the curve is dead

There were a few things that I had trouble adapting to in my stint working at Microsoft, and at the top of that list was the performance management system and the dreaded forced bell curve. I have yet to see a less motivational, more divisive management technique, and this post was written at about the time in late 2013 that Microsoft announced its demise.

7 – Porter’s Five Forces (and the news for CIOs)

The oldest post on the top ten, going back to 2010. I read recently that Michael Porter is currently charging around $150,000 dollars per performance on the speaking circuit, so he’s obviously in demand. This article explores how the world of the CIO is now under competitive threat, and I also did a presentation along the same lines here (over 10,000 views now, despite the awesome “Pleeeease make videos to help with insomnia” review it’s been given).

6 – The red flag man

The first post actually from 2014, an exploration of the troubles facing self-driving cars. Inexplicably, in the past couple of weeks this post has had a lot of views in Sweden.

5 – Meaningful job titles

From 2013, one of my favourite posts exploring the pointlessness of job titles in our ever-changing world.

4 – Crap tech industry metaphors: 8 The Hockey Stick

Part of an occasional series on stupid metaphors rife in technology companies, a bit of poking at the idea that exponential growth can be sustained for ever (it can’t).

3 – Seven reasons to App

Probably the most useful thing to come out of my time at Microsoft – a quick guide to why you might want to build an app rather than a website from a customer’s perspective.

2 – Becoming a digital architect

Work from January this year on the theme of Digital Architecture. Will be exploring this again in 2015.

1 – Six months with Chromebook

And at number one, again from January 2014, a look at the experience of being a Chromebook users.

So there we go. One final thought on the lack of 2014-posted articles in the list is that it shows the extent to which I use my blog as a repository of material to point people at after the event.

Innovation is a team sport


I’m currently about 2/3rds of the way through Walter Isaacson’s latest book, The Innovators, an ambitious project to chart the history of what I guess one would call the world of “digital” – computing, programming and devices. From Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage coming up with the ideas of a multiple-purpose reprogrammable computing device, to the valve-driven analogue and digital computers of World War Two, through the invention of the transistor, microprocessor, mini- and personal computers, the Web and beyond, it’s a story well told.

There have been a few observations that I have made along the way. The first is a bit parochial – I hadn’t really understood the significance of the National Physical Laboratory on my doorstep in Teddington has had in the evolution of modern technology. In popular British culture the NPL is probably best known (if at all) for the work that Barnes Wallis did there on developing the bouncing bomb. But Teddington was not only home to Alan Turing after the war, but also where Donald Davies coined the term “Packet switching“,  a cornerstone concept of the Internet. The NPL is a very significant place in the history of computing, not just in the UK but for the whole world. Funnily enough, it was also a place I was able to visit for the first time earlier this week.

The much broader idea from Isaacson’s book, though, is that for all that we talk about innovators as individuals (you know, the pub quiz stuff of “Who invented?”), very few innovations come from the minds of an individual – much more they are born of teams of people who worked together, and disparate folk who happened to have similar ideas at similar times. Take television, for example (not one covered in the book): in the UK most folk would hedge a bet of John Logie Baird as the inventor of TV. However, the mechanical device that Baird created was far from the cathode ray tube-based devices that TV became.

The narrative that we like to have about innovation and invention is often focused around individual genius – but the reality is much, much more collaborative. What Isaacson does is to piece together this more complicated narrative. When we are looking at how to innovate within our organisations, what should become completely clear is that teams, not lone geniuses, should be the key.

Matt Ballantine's thoughts about technology, marketing, management and other stuff…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,989 other followers

%d bloggers like this: