Martin P Wilson

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Ideas, Innovation, Inspiration, Insight, IT

Facilitation and Mentoring for Success.

Washing Machine ControlsAt the weekend Thoughts will have a more personal, domestic or lifestyle topic. This is the first Something for the Weekend.

Recently I was repairing our tumble dryer and I got thinking about the number of redundant features on modern domestic appliances and other everyday equipment. Everything from mobile (cell) phones to washing machines seems to have programme options and facilities that no one uses; in many cases users are not even aware of them.

Technology and Elegant Simplicity

This was brought into sharper focus by this week’s death of Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple. Apple has built its brand around a philosophy of simplicity and good design. Ever since the original Mac, Apple has steadily removed features of marginal utility. At times this seems to have gone too far for many users but with time it has often seemed prescient as others have followed suit. Unlike so many manufacturers who use technology and add complexity Apple uses technology to simplify the usability of its products.

If one looks at a modern domestic washing machine it has programmes for everything. The temperature can be set from little more than room temperature practically to boiling; there are programmes with and without spin, variable spin speeds and even degrees of agitation. Talking to most people they use one or two, usually low-temperature, programmes for all their washing. Many people just separate light and dark washing into delicate and the rest.

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Organisation by Process or FunctionMany organisations are still organised by specialist function, which was fine for low-tech 18/19th century paper based processes and knowledge systems. Fundamentally, they still use the model of separating functional specialisations advocated by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations (1776). Fortunately, there are better ways in the 21st century.

Design the Organisation Around Processes

Organisations structured around their processes and using modern user-managed technology would enable the harnessing of functional specialism where needed as part of processes. Shifting the power to front line process owners from functional teams such as IT, Finance, HR will lead to a more natural flow to operations. It will also align services, responsibilities and technology with business priorities and customer needs. Departments should have end to end responsibility for one or more processes.

In their 1995 book Reeningineering the Corporation Michael Hammer and James Champy identified the elimination of hand-offs between teams as key to efficient processes. Whilst most major organisations have had process reengineering teams and since moved on to business process optimisation they have not really removed functional silos. Such silos seem extremely resistant to change, perhaps because most senior executive cut their management teeth running functional departments? Too often processes remain bounded by the departmental structures.

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Escape KeyThe constant focus on information technology (IT) as business enabler is an outdated model. IT infrastructure for most business purposes is, or should be, a commodity simply provided as a background service. The “cloud” has brought this into clearer focus but the same should be true of traditional third-party hosting and even data centres.

Do not let IT Hold the Business Back

"Big" information technology tends to be a drag on business change. Many organisations are hostage to centralised IT and expensive software development and systems implementation. Process owners and customer facing services cannot make changes to meet their business needs but have to work to timetables, and expense, defined by centralised technical functions and external suppliers. IT and especially large-scale systems implementation do no not appear to have made the same sort of productivity and responsiveness gains made by operational services.

Liberation of the end user and their processes has not happened despite the personal computer revolution and wider computer skills. IT services still run, pretty much, as though they use a large centralised mainframe. In my 1999 book The Information Edge, I highlighted the growth of informal, local systems based on spreadsheets and local databases that actually met frontline needs. The situation has become even more diverse with the cloud, e-mail, web services and mobile applications; this is because IT departments often still have a legacy  mind-set that IT must be centrally controlled.

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Gold Logo - transparentThe joy of consultancy and mentoring is the opportunity to talk with interesting people and understand their challenges, issues and opportunities. In fact for me it is less about talking and more about listening; asking questions that get behind the issue and make the client think. It is the pleasure of helping people achieve their dreams.

Clients, and others, suggest that my strength is that I come at matters from different directions and see past the obvious. Apparently I make people think differently about the problem and together we find new connections and fresh solutions. It is not for me to judge how accurate that assessment is but I do love ideas and applying imagination to business and personal challenges.

Solidus is Adopting its Own Advice and Changing

This facelift of Solidus will move it away from corporate dinosaur speak and consultancy weasel words. The aim is to be open, honest and to use straightforward language avoiding consultancy mumbo-jumbo. These frequent "Thoughts" will be opinionated but hopefully well-mannered and based on clear thinking and experience. If such ideas upset some people I am sorry but we were probably never going to have the chemistry necessary for a successful consultancy or mentoring relationship.

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Quick Thoughts

Has Military Action Ever Dissuaded Tyrants?

Syria - flagIn his speech before the war in Iraq Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, argued that not intervening would send a message that tyrants would feel at liberty to act without consequence. By military action in Iraq, he argued, those who would perpetrate atrocities would think twice. There would not seem to be any evidence, before or since, that would back up that contention.

We now have David Cameron, the current Prime Minister, making essentially the same arguments – do politicians ever learn from history?

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Government Spending is not Driver of Growth

Parliament Square London IC02001If more public spending is the only way to create growth then surely governments have become too large a part of the economy? Government is about spending and has little to do with creating wealth.

The best government can do is move wealth from individuals and business to those who serve government.

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Capped Bonuses, There May be Trouble Ahead

Politicians do not seem to be good at imagining unintended consequences. The cap on bankers’ bonuses, however popular, may be counter-productive in reducing risk.

Dark Stormy Skys and Beauty Often CoexistIf a smaller proportion of a trader’s income is at risk if a trade goes wrong they may pursue high-risk opportunities to get that big win. If it works they guarantee the full bonus and could also use it to negotiate a higher salary (and bonus) for the following year. If it fails the downside is limited by the capped bonus to a smaller part of overall income. At the end of the day traders are competitive and gamblers at heart so will they be more likely to pursue the big win when their own risk is limited?

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