DanMaycock.com

Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Category: IT Strategy

Discussions around strategy topics related to IT (technology roadmaps, transformation, RFPs, etc)

3 Reasons Why You Need a Chief Analytics Officer

Data has exploded in a way that rivals mobile’s explosion ten years ago. Everyone is out there buying masters degrees, data visualization licenses, and data scientists by the truck loads in a way that mimics corporations buying mac laptops, mobile developers, and app store branding when iPhones blew up the smart phone space.

The Analytics ‘Trend’ Isn’t New

There are a lot of great things taking place right now with all the interest around data analysis, but the funny thing is that data analysis is nothing new (neither is data science). There’s a good 30-40 years of work on data, from data architecture to database administration (not to mention the millions of excel spreadsheets that corporations are running critical business functions on) that live inside companies and create a legacy layer that this latest wave of data analysis is building on.

Other new trends, such as big data analysis and the cloud computing revolution, have further spurred companies to consider ways to extract usefulness from their existing data and move away from churn or ARPU and develop distinctly competitive analysis with phrases like “regression analysis” and “predictive analytics” becoming much more common in corporate board rooms.

Translating Data

The big problem is, as was the case with mobile, is that you have to be able to translate interesting technology into impacting ROI-laden investments that drive top or bottom line revenues (or create efficiency and lower costs of course, as well). There’s a good deal of buzz around big data being an overused term, and a hundreds of millions of dollars spent on visualization tools will, at some point, taper off when the average business user turned dashboard builder runs out of things to visualize due to saturation, bad data, etc.

So Who / What Is This Chief Analytics Officer?

A Chief Analytics Officer could be a Director of Data, or a VP of Analytics, but having someone at an executive level that can drive a centralized data strategy for the company should exist for these three reasons.

  1. Centralizing Your Data Resources Will Help Avoid Silo’ed Capabilities

To turn all this hype into profit, it means building a centralized capacity. A capacity which sites outside of the IT-to-business politics and hype to buy visualization tools, and instead focusing on building a stack of capabilities, from the data lake to the dashboards, geared around revenue generating use cases taken from business partners who need more usefulness from their data without having to build silo’ed data science teams that rely on fractured data sets.

When anything is this pumped up, every department is going to want to get involved and build capabilities, since every business group uses data in some form or another. The problem is that it takes a variety of experiences and backgrounds, along with investments, that need to be built at a corporate level with a plan to centralize some capabilities and decentralize others with a clear data strategy that everyone can get behind.

Centralizing this capability means one strategy, one leader, and limitless opportunities for everyone to participate without each department deciding their own game plan for riding this data wave.

  1. Consolidating data to maximize usefulness, while aligning that effort under a single leader

The topics around big data, and data lakes are growing overwhelming, with more and more companies working to consolidate all their data in one place to allow for both advanced analytics & traditional business intelligence functions. At the same time, a data lake built in the wrong way can cause latency along with too many executive peers building extensive requirements which ultimately brings any progress to a halt.

Bringing your data consolidation effort under a single leader, tied to a data strategy that brings the bigger outcomes into focus and alignment while leaving the smaller day to day details up to a single org unit means your company can spend less time planning & debating, and more time driving value from your data lake.

  1. Impact is prioritized, over ‘interesting trends’

Much like the millions of dollars spent on corporate mobile apps that never got traction, companies today are spending millions of dollars on real time streaming, data visualization, and corporate education on DAX programming all in an attempt to capitalize on the data analytics hype and create a stronger bottom and/or top line revenue stream through the use of data analysis.

The thing is, data isn’t a new domain for technology, nor is investing in Big data going to revolutionize your company.

There’s a good deal of effort being spent on building impressive looking visuals, which add no incremental value over the same data displayed in an excel chart. Furthermore, companies investing in hiring legions of data scientists without clear revenue-driving hypothesis will find they spend a good deal of time figuring out just what to focus on.

As is the case with any over-hyped technology, whether it’s enterprise wide tableau licensing or infrastructure to support web traffic analysis for real time personalization, the tools are only as good as the capabilities on the team and the business cases they are actively working towards.

Focusing on a single leadership structure to come up with the real tangible value for investment in data analytics means there’s a common set of goals that’s driving the spend, and a clear idea of what each department and employee is focusing on.

It’s not so much that a single team owns every analyst, but rather each instrument is calibrated so the whole company sounds like a beautiful concerto vs a number of instruments playing at different rhythms.

Furthermore, when it comes to the vendor onslaught and procurement nightmares that naturally arise in the midst of a technology boom, there’s a clear investment strategy for how the company plans to leverage capabilities such as big data or advanced analytics. This can influence everything from recruiting and training, to infrastructure and software licensing, and help ensure each investment is additive vs expensive and lacking in impact.

There’s a good deal of interesting happenings in the data space right now, but companies need more impact to back up the cost.

There are no doubt other benefits I’ve missed out on taking data seriously, and putting someone in charge who is somewhat removed from the politics and inefficiencies that come from burying the capability inside an existing org (similar to the CIO coming of age, and now no longer reporting to CFOs in most companies).

The aim is however, to ensure your data analytics efforts are making a meaningful impact, and driving the kinds of returns most companies never experienced during the mobile app boom almost ten years ago now. And in so doing, benefiting every company that invests in the great capabilities a data-driven org has at its disposal.

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Explaining The New Brand for DanMaycock.com

So I changed the look / feel of my social media all around a single image – the evening skyline for Seattle, but there’s a bigger meaning behind it.

For the new brand, the focus is around four core themes

Data (Water) – Thought leadership on Analytics, Data Science, and Visualization along with the platforms and infrastructure to support that analysis.

Strategy (Lit Skyline) – First hand experience, and best practices around both corporate and start-up strategy, from company fundamentals to marketing planning and best practices on sales / branding.

Innovation (Space Needle) – Understanding of what meaningful innovation looks like, how it can help both SMBs and Corporations, along with first hand experiences taken from my book, and consulting background.

Leadership (Night time) – Stories, best practices, and advice on leading teams in corporations, to helping build and launch start-ups based on my work advising and starting companies.

The new brand then, incorporates these four themes in the photo

The Space Needle represents Innovation, as it’s a symbol built during the World’s expo in Seattle to represent America’s pursuit of an Innovative future. My book “Building The Expo” is all based on the premise of companies looking to build their own “World’s Expo” to showcase innovation to the world, but many companies end up building symbols without the results and follow through to back it up.

The Water represents Data, as data really is a vast ocean of bits collected across companies that can help companies as much as it can hurt them, based on how it’s managed and used. Just as good data analysis can grow a company’s revenues, bad data can lead to worse decisions that can have the opposite effect.

The Nighttime represents leadership, or rather the need for leadership as people often find themselves in the dark without it. Strong leaders can guide any company through even the darkest of nights with the right guidance and best practices, along with proven experiences.

The Lit skyline represents Strategy, in that it takes several bright ideas to help drive companies from failure to success. At the same time, too many ideas can be blinding without the right actions and results to go hand in hand with a good strategy.

These elements not only work together to make a beautiful image, but what they represent can help people, regardless of their role and company.

It’s for those reasons, that I chose this image to represent my new personal brand. If you’re interested in learning more about how I can help you with any of these areas, please subscribe to my newsletter, or contact me at dmaycock@gmail.com

Thank you,

Dan Maycock

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Why You Should Care About Celebrity Photo Leaks

Maybe it’s because I worked for a number of years getting devices like the iPhone certified to operate inside a military and commercial aviation company, but I’m not at all surprised to see celeb photo leaks occurring.

Consumer electronics of any kind live in a constant pendulum of accessibility vs security. The more secure something is, the less accessible it inherently becomes, and visa versa. Any company that’s building an internet connected device today is going to take a number of considerations in mind when thinking about the right level of security to place on a device, including cost, supportability, and even export control (you can’t leave the US with a device that exceeds a certain level of encryption for example, per federal regulations).

For corporations, there are tools called mobile device management platforms such as Good Technology (www.good.com/) and Airwatch (www.air-watch.com/) that are designed to “harden” a consumer device so they’re safe for corporate data. With the growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), this has become a booming industry for companies that want to offer state of the art mobile technology but at the same time want to make sure it meets the same standards as the corporate laptops that have had years of security and encryption work done on them, from anti-virus to whole disk encryption.

With these tools though, the mobile devices become harder to use. Either because of the data being silo’ed on the device or having to use a very complex password every time you want to login.

The celebrities that had their private content leaked online had their phones hacked via an iCloud security breach – basically, the content was accessible via a consumer-grade cloud hosted solution designed for storage and sharing of content. There’s a good chance these celebrities didn’t realize that content was being “auto-saved” or even accessible via iCloud, but therein lies the problem. How much content do you share on your device, without realizing it? I can guarantee you that hackers are pretty aware of common vulnerabilities, and typically aren’t the types to openly share new ones (assuming they’re not the good kind of hacker, or “white hat”).

It is a horrible act when someone’s privacy is violated, and no doubt when it’s a celebrity the effect is 1000 times worse than an average person given how quickly it spreads. As long as people put sensitive content on devices meant to be sold to the broadest possible audience though, out of the box security will only go so far to solve these issues. This is especially true for company secrets, when text messages are just as sensitive sometimes as e-mails.

This doesn’t mean it’s time to go back to desk phones and typewriters though, because it’s a happy medium where convenience and being up to date meets up with adequate levels of protection. When I worked with corporate clients around mobile device security, I used this metaphor that’s useful when discussing how to manage your internal mobile security.

Think of a bank having three layers

Layer One – The Lobby, it’s open to the world for most of the day and is generally accessible. There’s a lock on the door, and a security guard, but people can get in and out pretty freely.

Layer Two – Behind the counter, people aren’t allowed back there but employees can get in and out fairly easily and have some layers of security between them and the average customer. Sensitive material is back there, along with certain amount of currency so security is in place but it’s also accessible to any employee.

Layer Three – The safe. This is the most expensive and secure piece of real estate in the bank, and is designed for security and not accessibility. The most sensitive material is kept here, as well as storing the majority of the money and very sensitive items. Few people get or need access, and no one from the public is allowed in.

If you are building a bank, the whole thing isn’t a safe – it would not only be super expensive, it’d be inaccessible to the general public which would defeat the purpose. At the same time, you need a safe because of the threat of theft, robbery, etc.

When you think about mobile security – what in your company belongs in the “safe”?. Consider if that content should ever even be on a mobile device. What belongs in the backroom? e-mails, corporate documents, attachments, etc. This is where Mobile device management comes into play, and where you should consider what falls in that employee only area. As for the lobby? Marketing content, sales material, website stuff, anything open to the public doesn’t need to be secure. This could be what lands on a consumer mobile app, mobile website, or general access content.

Things like these leaks will continue to happen, as more people put more of their personal lives on internet connected devices built around sharing and accessibility. Security will get better, but not so good that the devices become too difficult or cumbersome to use. Within that area, consider what should be on a mobile device (for sensitive photos, I recommend a device that’s not connected to a cloud hosted service), what should be secured on your device, and what is generally open to the world. These “three layers” will help you avoid any confusion or surprise when it comes to sharing content via a mobile device, and will help any unnecessary data leaks when it comes to your sensitive corporate documents.

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Why Everyone Should be a Data Miner

In thinking about the topic of data mining, a lot of different types of roles pop up in people’s minds. From data scientists typing away in giant data centers, to DBAs sitting in cubicles processing large amounts of corporate data, to an analyst building a spreadsheet for an annual report contribution.

Maybe it’s something far more physical, bringing up images of pick axes and hard hats and a big block of data (however that’s visualized, probably with 1’s and 0’s – all matrix like). Regardless of the image that comes to mind, it’s probably hard to fathom every business professional in some form or another becoming adept at data mining, and considering it a critical competency to keep in their professional toolbox in the years to come. Yet, when we explore the topic, we can easily see how data mining could become one of the preeminent skills that set folks apart in an era where it’s harder and harder to stand out from an increasingly noisy and competitive work climate. Lets start by looking at the six attributes that make up data mining (as defined by Wikipedia)

  • Anomaly detection (Outlier/change/deviation detection) – The identification of unusual data records, that might be interesting or data errors that require further investigation.
  • Association rule learning (Dependency modeling) – Searches for relationships between variables. This is sometimes referred to as market basket analysis.
  • Clustering – is the task of discovering groups and structures in the data that are in some way or another “similar”, without using known structures in the data.
  • Classification – is the task of generalizing known structure to apply to new data. For example, an e-mail program might attempt to classify an e-mail as “legitimate” or as “spam”.
  • Regression – attempts to find a function which models the data with the least error.
  • Summarization – providing a more compact representation of the data set, including visualization and report generation.

Though the definitions seem somewhat dense, think about how you’d be able to take any job – from being able to use regression analysis to construct a real estate data model to improve pricing predictions, to using summarization to build a better financial report for your senior leaders to interpret how great of a quarter you had.

Though some methods of data mining are harder than others, and you can quickly get in way over your skis without proper learning, knowing how to sift through data, and pull out the useful stuff, will give you a greater sense of the world you work in by understanding the data that matters and it’s so easy these days to learn data mining techniques online!

Just typing in “data mining classes online” produces hundreds of leads, from Coursera to MIT open courseware. Though some options go into areas like Data Science, which is much deeper level analysis, it all starts with understanding data and how best to derive meaning from it – regardless of how deep into the weeds you want to go.

This in turn gives you a big foot up against your competitors, who are largely relying on other services / people to hand them processed data and conclusions to do something with. Going from a commodity to a distinct competitive advantage means going in a direction others aren’t, and just having a nicely worded dictionary isn’t enough these days – you need to be able to turn that dictionary into a novel, and tell a story with the data that will reveal things about your business or your industry that’ll drive better decisions through unique insights.

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The Ugly Side of Subscriptions

I was recently re-subscribed to a newspaper, which I didn’t notice until checking my credit card statement and seeing a sizable renewal fee (not the cheapest newspaper to sign up for yearly access to). The thing was that they tried to get a hold of me at an e-mail address I no longer have access to, to confirm I wanted to resubscribe. I of course didn’t get the e-mail, so they assumed that was a yes, and now I’m going back and forth saying it was something my old company paid for, for a specific reason that’s no longer relevant.

They essentially informed me that they couldn’t cancel my subscription, and I’d have to wait to next year to cancel. Having experience being trapped at a gym in a simliar set of circumstances, I contacted the credit card company and am now working through the situation with them around mitigating this auto-renewal train wreck. What it’s highlighted for me though, is that there are companies in the world that still think it’s ok to trap their customers into contracts. Though they did offer to reduce it by 10%, it was not about the price (I’d gladly pay for it if I used it) but that they took advantage of a check box I didn’t uncheck last year, and an e-mail I didn’t get, to say I gave my indirect approval to get charged for another year.

Though I’m not a customer today, there’s a chance I would be in the future or that I’d come in contact with other people using the service, and this just sours me on ever wanting to deal with them again. I know though, this newspaper isn’t something individuals subscribe to and that it’s something that companies subscribe to for their executives & financial analysts. Regardless, when is it ok to trap someone in an agreement they had unintentionally consented to? Is it ever ok to cause someone to feel trapped into an agreement, you didn’t readily create an opportunity to opt out of? Yea, they might get my fee for the year, but I’m not all that inclined to recommend them to folks in the future, and is it really worth one subscription fee for a year to get that?

It’s the ugly side of subscriptions, and I get why they make it hard to quit, but this model comes to a head at some point where consumers have other options and decide to either use free resources or go month to month with no strings attached.

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Building businesses in no tech enviornments

I was recently driving down the road on the way to work, and was struck by just how few “high tech” businesses I crossed driving from Kirkland, WA to Redmond, WA (home of Microsoft). You’d think, given the amount of tech savy people in the area, that the streets would be lined with tech offices, all buzzing with new and innovative ways to leverage groundbreaking technology.

Yet, despite what most of what I read about the age of start-ups and the power they have over mankind, all I saw were dry cleaners and mom & pop’s restaurants with the occasional gas station.

It dawned on me then, that despite all the buzz that occurs in technology circles about entrepreneurship and the future of technology, most people are doing just fine without it. The latest apple product isn’t replacing my need to get a dry cleaner, and the newest Samsung tablet isn’t helping me get gas in my car. For most of the day, even though I work on a laptop, I must rely on fairly non-technical solutions to make it through the day. Whether it’s the $30 coffee maker I rely on to get me going in the morning, the relatively low-tech shoes I wear to walk from my car to the office, or the basic plastic water bottle I drink out of it once the coffee is gone, there’s little I do that’s “technical” outside of what I use my laptop and occasionally my phone for.

This led me to suspect that perhaps, just maybe, there’s innovative ways to change peoples lives and start businesses that perhaps don’t deal with gadgets or software. Perhaps the next hot thing is something much neglected, yet is something people need.

Often I go to start-up seminars and it’s full of solutions either using the web, a device, or a power source to function. Yet, if I could create a better solution that’s completely non-tech, how much competition would I run into? Depending on what it was I was trying to improve on, perhaps quite a bit – but as much effort as it would take to make a better shoe, how much more effort would it take to build a better smart phone.

It seems that most start-up minded people these days are bent on leveraging technology to push the ball forward, and make their mark on society. Perhaps though, society has room for more non-tech solutions than one thinks.

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What’s New is Old

There’s a phrase that history repeats itself, dating back thousands of years to the phrase “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” and the phrase is pretty spot on when you consider events like trying to attack Russia in the winter (Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hitler) or fighting a foreign army in their own country for control of the government, with an ocean in between you and them (American Revolutionary War, Vietnam, Afghanistan both times).

Often times in technology, it seems that people talk about the next great thing and how technology has changed mankind forever. If that were the case though, things should be getting better as the technology improves, because technology is a tool and people have more tools at their disposal. People though, take a lot longer to change, and when left up to their own devices – People can do some pretty rotten things. Much like Porn is often the great early adopter of new technologies (Phonograph, VHS, DVD, Internet, etc), criminals are often the most hard working when it comes to bending new technologies to their will, and often have the means to stay one step ahead of ruling bodies, because there’s people on both sides and people love money & power, regardless of what side they’re fighting for.

At any point in history, when we look at new technology, people used it at some point shortly after it was created to get their way – whether it’s medieval kings conquering nations with military advancements, or governments using drones to monitor & assassinate foreign terrorist leaders. However, there are times in history when real leaders stand up and stand for something which galvanized the will of man to do good – even if it was only one group, and only for a short period of time.

Even with technological superiority, evil can’t always trump that human will – because people in that time rediscover their own humanity, and help push the needle back the other way. Repression turns to rebellion, plutocracy turns into protest, and the corrupt forces that work to turn mankind towards a self-seeking purpose fall by the wayside because no one likes being forced to work for someone else. This is the great failsafe often build into technology, it’s only as good as the system is maintained, and a system can only be maintained as long as there are people willing to keep it running.

With the threat of big brother government stepping in, those that feel the world is being forcibly controlled by the rich don’t realize how frail our systems are, and how futile money is if ever people decided not to buy things from the people selling. The rich stay rich, because people don’t think it’s a big enough priority to change what they’re doing to dismantle the 1%. All the 99% would have to do is open small businesses, pay the taxes they have to pay, and only buy from locally owned & operated companies long enough for shareholder-controlled enterprises to completely panic and change the way they do business, not to mention the politicians that wouldn’t get elected because they listened to lobbyists instead of their own electorate.

I’m all for government, and I’m not for any kind of forcible conflict or change through warfare/rioting – This can be done 100% legally and peacefully – What I am for, is people taking responsibility for the situation we’ve found ourselves in. Children are overweight because they’re eating the wrong food, people are not making money because they’re doing the wrong kind of work, and America is is debt because it keeps borrowing money. The sad thing is, things aren’t bad enough yet that people are willing to make the changes necessary to reverse the course, because we’re being fed enough bread and watching enough circuses that Rome can burn around us and we’re cool with that. The thing about history repeating itself though, is that a new way of doing things will arise from the ashes of Rome, and we’ll be another chapter in the history books of great nations that fell asleep at the wheel because we were the frog slowly cooking in the pot, because those in power are awfully good at keeping the followers just alive enough to not put up a fight.

People tell me they don’t like either candidate running for office, but it turns out it’s not too late for a third candidate to run for office and get elected – there’s no winner by default in the US Presidential election, so if people really care about change then just don’t vote for either candidate , because good enough isn’t good enough – don’t settle for someone applies to presidents like it does for spouses. You’re wanting change, a country that does good, and a nation that repairs roads and fixes obesity then elect people that honestly are going to do that – Where there’s smoke there is fire, and I keep hearing from people that the scent is overwhelming this year.

You want change – Vote for a candidate you really believe will make a difference, or write in “Someone else” in your presidential ballot this year, and tell other people to do the same – You have more technology to spread the word at your fingertips than any other generation in history and can make a difference more powerful than Ghandi, Alexander the Great, or Aristotle. All you have to do is decide, like they did, to do something different and decide to bring others along with you.

Change happens the same way it always does, people decided they want a change then they get others rallied up to do the same, and change happens. If you don’t see change, be the change you want to see happen and don’t let another election go by without standing up for the life you’re telling everyone you wish you had. History only goes one way – backwards – and we have alot to draw on, regarding people that didn’t care enough to change before change was forced on them. Let’s be a milestone & not a caution for generations to come, because it’s not too late – It just takes a vote.

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Building a Strategy that Sticks

What I’ve found more often then not, is that mobile strategy is more about how companies adopt to change and adapt their existing business to something disruptive, then it is about devices or the software running on them.

If a company is seen as innovative, up front, and dynamic then the corporate culture seems more hospitable towards disruption and works to incorporate whatever does the job most effectively as quickly as possible. When a company, in the eyes of the employees, is seen as being “traditional” or slow to pick up change, adopting something like mobile devices becomes more of an issue of buy-off and stakeholder agreement than it is about the technical hurdles to bring the devices into the company.

If strategy is anything, it’s a plan to move in a new direction successfully. Whether you’re talking about merging two disparate companies, or adopting mobile devices, strategy itself is an engine for change and crafting a plan on how to tackle it. Yet, companies can often be their biggest enemies when it comes to executing on a strategy, and successfully adopting whatever goals or principles are being aimed for.

The key I’ve seen in making the strategy engagements I’ve worked with stick is focusing on user adoption and stakeholder involvement, more than it is war rooms with sticky notes and high priced memorandums distributed throughout the entire company. Until a company can effectively traverse the opinions and politics of an organization, understand the triggers towards aligning employees under a unified direction for everyone’s benefit, and clearly outline that strategy is never a silver bullet but rather a target everyone should be shooting for, then even the largest most advanced strategy engagements are doomed to fall short of their target.

A strategy built on quick hits, focused on effective collaboration, with iterative steps is much more effective than a 150-page dissertation outlining massive lists of opportunities. Not to mention, something far more useful for companies, and something we’ve seen work time and time again. By empowering teams, focusing on collaboration, with goals aimed around incentives employees care about, and more importantly helping them feel like it’s something they’ll see the benefits from, then you’re setting up a strategy that is sure to gain traction and help lead to more effective strategy initiatives.

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