Tuesday, March 29, 2005

True. Especially in business

"If you want to know the past, look at who you are. If you want to know the future, look at what you are doing now" - Buddha

Monday, March 28, 2005

Mike's favorite quote

I found it quite funny... Thanks Mike.

"Never trust a tall dwarf, he's lying about something"

Saturday, March 26, 2005

How infotech can help intermediaries strengthen their position

It's been a busy period lately... that's in part because I had tons of things to finish before taking a break. I plan to spend most of my next week improving my windsurfing / funboarding skills. One of the things I really like about windsurfing is the parallel to business life: using the environment, setting course and optimising my way of sailing to achieve better results.

When fundamental parameters of the business environment change and new ways of achieving results become reality, there is a need to adjust people, models, practices and organisations. This story is about IT and web technologies being used to strengthen the role of an intermediary rather than to disintermediate a business. Intermediaries can be extremely useful if they perform activities in which they add the most value.

A couple of days ago I spent an interesting half-day with one of my customers who is an insurance broker. His environment is changing  as some of the insurance companies he works with attempt to alter the balance in their relationship: they want to take over activities the broker used to execute simply because the organisational structure and tools currently in operation on the broker's side are not able to cope with demands for more rigorous management of the business. Clearly, the insurance companies have a point, but they also push the envelope a bit in the sense that they want to increase their control and reduce the intermediary's commissions. This challenge triggered my customer's decision to seriously review the core processes of his business and to set a strategic objective of becoming a value adding service node that owns customer trust and defines customer experience. The broker also needs to revamp their IT infrastructure and better exploit web technologies to be able to provide adequate reporting to the insurance companies and to better serve their customer base. The beauty of this project is that it could lead to the definition of the model insurance brokerage for the XXIst century in their geography. What I personally find exciting is how IT and web technologies can help an intermediary stay in the loop and be valuable again.

Disintermediation is not the only way to go with technology, contrary to what has been said over the past few years by consultants in dire need to prove the business case of their proposals by removing players from the chain leading from the production of a good or service to the customer.

Monday, March 14, 2005

A few good quotes

Provided by my good friend Benoit who lives somewhere between Indonesia and Malaysia and works as a consultant.

alex's favorite one:

"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions." Naguib, Mahfouz

The wise ones 

"Sometimes the solution isn't a bigger hammer ; it's a sharper nail" 
"The rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield" Warren Buffett 
"Look before, or you'll find yourself behind" Benjamin Franklin 
"If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable." Seneca 
"The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining" John F. Kennedy  
"The problem is not that there
are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that
having problems is a problem." Theodore Rubin

"Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell." Anonymous 
"The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be." Paul Valery 

The funny ones 

"Finance is the art of passing currency from hand to hand until it finally disappears." Robert W. Sarnoff  
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein 
"The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax." Albert Einstein 

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Social bookmarks?

I discovered social bookmarking only recently and I just find it amazing as a way to help people share on the web. If you are interested in exploring the concept, this is an example. This is another example: deli.icio.us. There was also a nice post on the topic on Francis Pisani's blog. Pisani is a correspondent of Le Monde in San Francisco.

How social bookmarking could be interesting for someone was not obvious to me when I found out it existed. I just felt it was "a cool way for people to share perceptions and good tips about web resources". Now, that is perhaps nice, but it does not give us a business requirement or a specific need that the tool is able to satisfy for people. A cool way to share about web resources is nice and good. Does it allow me to say "to perform what"? No. So I felt quite awkward although interested by the potential I could perceive instinctively.

It turns out I am sometimes a little bit lucky and so a concrete example occurred to me today during a discussion with a young lady who attends the same NLP training as I am. Virginie has a job that I find fascinating: she researches and writes content for a publisher on various topics with an objective to contribute to the creation of a thematic encyclopedia on well being, which is distributed in the context of loyalty and marketing programmes.

Virginie likes doing her research and absorbing new material and in her job she operates like a "transformer" of knowledge: she researches sources of information and exploits them to understand and cross-check facts and data to build her knowledge of a topic. She subsequently uses that knowledge and the research material to produce content for the encyclopedia. In her mission, Virginie feels it is essential to make sure the content is as objective as possible: the readers need to receive facts and not her interpretation or her opinion on the subject matter. Therefore Virginie needs to find several sources "of good quality" on a topic to perform her job. A few minutes after speaking to her I realized that social bookmarking could be a great tool for her as a starting point for identifying sources on a given topic. For the sources extracted from social bookmarking, Virginie could have:

  • a feel for quality in terms of other people's perception of the nature of the material, but not necessarily in terms of the intrinsic value of the material provided by the source;

  • a fairly large number of sites and resources generally perceived as belonging to the same category, with which to carry out cross-checking;

  • an indication of relevance of the site, i.e. one way to check how a given site is rated by other people in terms of connection to the topic she is working on.

To be sure, a social bookmarking site will not give Virginie any indication as to the criteria used by the users of the site to buld their categories. Furthermore, Virginie will still have to cross-check sources, make sure she understands what she is writing about and to produce content for her customer (today the publisher of the encyclopedia).

Well you know, infotech (in this particular case its applications to social bookmlarking) cannot do everything and should it really? I just believe the tool is a great candidate to help her work more
productively and to facilitate her access to relevant information on
the Internet. It does not replace, nor eliminate the relevance of
search engines. Rather it adds a human dimension to the categorization
of material present on the Internet.

Infotech just gives Virginie a better way to focus on her true mission in a better and more harmonious way. Infotech makes people power possible.


Friday, March 4, 2005

NLP - phase 2

Today is the first of four days of my second phase of training in Neuro Linguistic Programming. It's ben a month now since I attended the foundations class. All I can say is that I have seen enormous benefits in my projects and in my daily life from applying what I was taught during the foundations class. I was lucky to have a fantastic trainer and to be following the training with an exceptional bunch of highly motivated individuals.

The benefits are already enormous. What I really like about this part of my training programme of 2005 is that what I learn is applicable in a number of fields in my activity including my personal R&D project dealing with organisational design. I believe that the tools provided by NLP at the level of individuals and team communication can be applied in ways that leads to desired effects in terms of organisational structure. Now I must research this and test the statement in field conditions.

For me NLP can also provide tools to help talent emerge from the inert industrial age organigrams and dry workflow / process diagrams. I am committed to show that in the Information Age Talent Rules. For me people make the world go round (or not).

Thursday, March 3, 2005

All you need to know to build a high-tech start up

John Nesheim's High Tech Start Up is a great book for anyone interested in setting-up and/or growing a company whose business involves advanced technology. Now, let's be clear: in my opinion, there is no such thing as a low-tech company. There are mature businesses that may not feel the competitive heat that would motivate them or justify innovation, but that does not mean they are low-tech businesses. In that sense John Nesheim's book is very interesting, even though it mainly provides the US perspective. In any event, for anyone interested in innovating with a new or with an existing business this book is a must read; it will not provide all the answers but will make the picture a hell of a lot clearer.

Invisible fool?

I started working in entrepreneurial ventures back in 2000 right after the so called tech-bubble burst. This was no tech-bubble; it was a financial bubble created by the financiers IMHO. Then they started wailing and screaming about their losses and told us how much it hurt them and how those crazy techies were the bad guys. Who started valuing simple database entries at 10, 20, 30 or 50 USD/entry because that was supposed to be the value of a customer? Who forgot that lines in databases are not real customers? IMHO again, some VCs should start at long last start being responsible adults: they made decisions and had to live through the consequences. That's just fine and fair!

Anyway, when I got involved in entrepreneurship, I thought it was a good time to do it because everything was going down and I hoped to have the opportunity to properly design products with my teams at a less frantic pace than that which characterized the late nineties, when everything was labeled "urgent". And because the European VC market was so weak, because I had this negative opinion about most VC firms, I went for bootstrapping. Eventually I failed in so far as the creation of a new business with a new set of products was concerned. Today I consider this to have been an excellent experience... Therefore I did not fail. Except for one thing.

In the days of bootstrapping, when resources were tight and there were so many "important" things to be accomplished by so few people, I started working day and night to tackle more matters. This meant that my quality of life went down the drain. And as a consequence, everything but work and a limited number of social occasions were simply suppressed from my calendar. But, with them I also suppressed the opportunities to meet friends and acquaintances I liked. The saying goes "out of sight, out of mind".

"Out of sight, out of mind"... It  occurred to me recently that in the early days of automatic translation systems based on artificial intelligence there was a Turing test machines had to pass to be considered reliable. It involved a translation from one language to another and then back to the first; if the resulting sentence was identical to the first sentence, then the system had passed that test. I recall that in one round of tests, the testing team started using idiomatic expressions, amongts which was "out of sight, out of mind" and the translation was from English to Russian and back. The result was quite funny: "you invisible fool"... So I guess that while I was working so hard at bootstrapping, leaving friends and acquaintances out of my busy life, I somehow became an invisible fool.

Never ever leave people out of the equation. It is never possible to know where a good idea or a solution will come from. It is not possible to predetermine in which setting a brilliant (or not so brilliant) idea will strike me...

I now know it is better to live my still very busy life in close connection with the people I enjoy, running interesting projects that make a real difference and having tons of fun with passionate commitment taking no shortcuts.

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going" - Anonymous

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Quote of the day

"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing." - Abraham Lincoln

The question-mark-power

"A question mark is the shortest path from perplexity to some understanding" - ap

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

PC security

There was a post on Slashdot today commenting an article published in The Denver Post yesterday regarding personal computer security. The test involved computers running different versions of various operating systems and the results are quite interesting (see PDF version of the article provided here: Download 20050228_TheDenverPost_PCSecurity.pdf
) especially considering the fact that these machines were simply connected to the Internet. No browsing, no emailing, no activity of any sort...

Security and prevention of risk is like all the important things in life: one only sees their value when they are missing. Same thing with the environment, clean air, education, peace, freedom, democracy... Then again, an excess of those important things may not be that good 'cause it would come too close to "A Brave New World".