Category Archives: Technology

A drone camera that fits on your wrist

Drone and wearable technologies are both truly transformational technologies … but what happens if you bring these together?

Called Nixie, this brilliant device is a personal photographer that combines a quadcopter with a hi-def camera that can be worn on your wrist.

The project is one of 10 awaiting a decision from Intel for funding. Given the interest in this, I don’t think that further funding will be an issue.

Real innovation comes from rethinking problems. This is just the start of things to come.

 

 

Don’t add features to make products successful – instead remove complexity

Adding new features to products and services will not help them be successful if this is at the expense of simplicity. Instead of simplicity you may be able to substitute the words beauty or usability, but the core point remains. If you want to add new features, then these need to be added without ruining the core values and functions of the product.

  • A new feature should never ruin the beauty of a product
  • Additional complexity should not make the product harder to use.

The temptation to add that one extra feature, is always going to be there. The demand for new features though needs to be balanced with the drive for simplicity.

Simplicity matters, because at the heart of simplicity is customer focus.

By demanding simplicity, you drive a focus on what is important to the customer. Instead of adding every feature you can, allowing every possible combination, put yourelf in the shoes of the customer and make a choice for them about what matters most. In doing so you reduce complexity for both the customer and you as the supplier. More importantly, you take responsibility for the product. You cannot hide behind always saying yes. YOU need to understand what matters most to customers and be excellent at this. Feature bloat means mediocrity. Allowing limitless options, but allowing customers to make poor choices is not a good strategy. Take responsibility and help your customer. Don’t sell them what isn’t needed. Don’t add features they will never use and don’t change something because you simply want to make your mark on an established product line.

Deliver what will best deliver the outcome that the customer wants.

Not all customers will be happy, some will demand features that were not included or options that are not available. This is inevitable when you seek simplicity. The goal is not to make everyone happy. The goal is is to exceed the expectations of your target customers; to make the customers that YOU want very happy with your product. In defining the customers that you want to sell to you need to make a choice. Successful products don’t seek to sell to the whole market. They may end up doing this and have wide appeal, but successful products start by having a target customer and being the best choice for that customer, then growing and improving.

It doesn’t matter whether the product is luxury or commodity, high or low price. The same principles apply:

  • Know your market [specifically define who it is AND who it isn’t] then design to meet their needs
  • Don’t add features they don’t want or value – never play the more is better game without validating this with customers first. Likewise don’t ignore clear demands for new features – but in adding these, add to the experience not ruin it
  • Be careful about changing the fundamentals of your product. Do this with extreme care and only after extensive testing

Extensive testing doesn’t just mean rigorous scientific sampling. It can do, but what is most important is talking to your customers. Talking to them about what they love, what they don’t like and more importantly about what they want to do, but cannot.

Your most powerful question, ‘who wants this?

Your second most powerful question, ‘why?

Your most powerful word, ‘no

Your most powerful tool, the red pen of deletion

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is easy. It isn’t. The stories about getting this wrong haunt every product manager, but the stories about getting this right should equally inspire. Building a simple product, a simple product or service gives you a great platform on which to grow a long term future. In fact it is hard to think of market leading products and even companies that have not embedded the principles of simplicity and brilliant balancing of function and form.

Get this wrong. Launch a bad product or service, particularly in the early years, and you may never be able to recover from this.

Apple is always the classic case study to show success, and its focus prioritising design and user experience shows why, but other companies equally deliver simplicity – whether at the high or low end of a market.

  • Sharpie pens vs. Mont Blanc
  • Uniclo vs. Arcteryx
  • Premier Inn vs. Four Seasons
  • Mini vs. Ferrari
  • Southwest Airlines vs. Virgin Atlantic

Looking at the list it is also clear that simplicity is intrinsically linked with customer experience and quality. These are connected. They always are. It all comes back to customer focus. Driving simplicity forces you to remove what is NOT needed, what reduces value and what makes life harder for the customer.

One final point for those who are going to drive for simplicity. Be patient. What you are proposing is not a product change, but a culture change. Technical teams will challenge you and demand complexity. Sales teams will highlight every micro-feature that the competition has and push you to replicate this. Listen, then speak to the group who really matter – your customers. Evidence from this group is what really matters and trumps everybody else every time.

Simple really.

 

Accenture and the future of consulting

AdAge reported last week that Accenture is buying Fjord a leading design agency. They concluded that Advertising Agencies should be worried.

I don’t think so. Not just yet.

But I think Accenture’s consulting competition should be terrified.

I don’t see this as Accenture just moving into the space of advertising. Instead I see it more as Accenture injecting itself with a shot of IDEO, mainlining Razorfish and doping with FROG. What Accenture is doing is something much more fundamental then adding some design skills. It is defining a new type of consulting business.

The consultancy and system integration skills are still there, but it now strengthens its design and innovation muscles, takes a big step away from from the pure technology consultancies and system integrators and starts to make life very difficult for its competition. This isn’t simply expansion of skills – but vertical integration and the design of a new value proposition.

Anything involving design is notoriously challenging to manage, and balancing the innovative culture of Fjord with the execution focus of Accenture will never be simple, but if does manage this, then the consulting world is going to start looking very different. This should just worry the technology and business consultancies, but also the design companies who also now face a massive potential global competitor.

The good news for the best design companies is that you are likely to start getting into some interesting partnership conversations in the coming weeks and months. Personally I’d be talking to Engine Service Design … service design is an area that is in its infancy, has massive potential and these boys are some of the best.

Accenture are the first to bite the design cherry, they certainly won’t be the last.

 

The role of design in preventing government IT failures

The solution to failed Government IT projects is not better (whatever that is) technology – or another IT project that miraculously has some insight that the smart people working on the original project didn’t have. And yes, whatever you think, the people working on large IT projects are generally very smart people  – but you are right that however smart they are, a very large number of Government IT projects fail.

Not just fail, but F A I L.

  • Fail in a ‘£10bn Patient Records write off’ type fail
  • Fail in a ‘still stuck with paper world print off and sign‘ type fail
  • Fail in a ‘have you heard of Facebook or social networking‘ type fail
  • Fail with a ‘45 minute application process with no save’ type fail

And my insightful piece of original input to this …?

The problem with failed IT projects is not the IT.

Not the technology, not what is built, not that painful unusable system. Not that slow, hard to use interface, or that unreliable program.

The seeds of failure, in fact the genetic code of IT failure is embedded into the Government IT project long before the technology is switched on. A computer is nothing more than a processor of information. It is a tool. It does what we tell it to do. It may have some machine learning, but the program has not developed itself, it is doing what a human has told it to do. Even with intelligent machines and artificial intelligence a human has defined the conditions and the boundaries of its operation.

The Government IT service delivered may be completely useless and not fit for purpose, but the problem is not the technology. It is the people and the processes that decided what the technology should do and how it should do it long before an exorbitantly expensive procurement process was started. [When you understand the process, you can understand why Government IT is always so expensive]. 

So if the technology is not the problem, then better technology is not the solution.

Whatever better technology is, it is still technology, so is missing the real source of the problem.

Better technology may help the end solution work better, but it is unlikely to be the best possible solution. So whatever you read in the IT press, a new platform, engine, database, open source codebase or new architecture is not going to magically solve the problem – regardless of what the evangelists and salesman tell you. A new platform may be better, but it is a better technology outcome, not necessarily a better service outcome.

The reason for this is that the starting point to solving any challenge begins with questions, not answers. Technology is a ‘how‘. It is an answer, but it is one of many possible answers. To validate whether the answer is correct we need to understand the context and boundaries of the question. This requires asking, ‘what‘ and ‘why‘ not just ‘how‘.

How‘ can only be answered with confidence once we know the answers to ‘what‘ and ‘why‘. You may also want to ask ‘when‘ and ‘where‘ too before moving onto ‘how‘.

So if the solution starts with understanding ‘what and ‘why‘ we need to look at the best people to do this. And this is not technology people.

Remember the old proverb, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail“.

To IT people, everything is solvable by IT … in Government this typically means big monolithic, expensive, [very expensive] IT. Lovely BIG technology projects.

Instead we should look anthropologists, sociologists, scientists [whether data, social or behavioural]. Look for people who immerse themselves in the complexity of people. You may also want to involve advertisers, marketers, counsellors and psychologists. You want people who study people.  You want who seek to learn about behaviour, how social situations work, how to influence, change behaviour and attain the desired action.

Perhaps more than anyone it is about designers.

It is not a great coder! Sorry.

It is not a database specialist. A statistician perhaps, but never someone who focuses on designing a potential technology solution before wanting to understand whether technology even has a role to play in the solution. It is not someone who jumps to a whiteboard proclaiming they know how to fix this. What you need is someone who leans forward and keep asking ‘why‘; inviting an ever increasing understanding of the problem.

Their goal is not to find the solution but to understand the problem and the relationship between this and the outcomes that are desired.

So does this fix Government IT problems?

Answer: No.

There is one more critical change that needs to be made.

Stop Government IT projects.

That’s right.

Stop Government designing IT solutions. 

Instead focus on understanding and defining the desired outcomes – and nothing else. State the problem as it is understand, then ask for ideas, proposals and thought on how to better understand the problem and qualify potential solutions. Not a solution, not a technology solution, but solutions to the problem.

Instead of appealing to technology companies, engage service designers, pressure groups, citizen bodies and the general public to help UNDERSTAND the problem and possible solutions. Not THE solution, but possible solutions. Note that this is plural.

Then test the solutions. Real world tests, with real people and real problems problems to validate proposed solutions. Prototype, mock-up, whatever method you want. At this stage you may want to involve technology people … but be mindful that technology is likely to be part of the solution, not THE solution. 

Remember the golden question at this stage, “how do you know this to be true?

or put more bluntly … “I don’t care what you think. Prove it. Show me the data

At this point there is an interesting irony. We flip from being focusing on people and behaviour which are highly variable and often subjective (qualitative) to evidence of what works , which is the opposite; hard, quantitative and varifiable. We start with designers, but end with mathematicians and analysts. The order of course it critical. Do it the other way around and you can get beautiful square wheels; well designed, but useless.

Or in the case of Government IT you get ugly expensive square wheels.

And then when you have the data. When you have validated it, correlated input and output. When you know what works. When you know what matters. When you understand how to deliver the required outcome and can prove this … THEN … you can start looking at ‘how‘ to build the solution. Recognise that the best solution may be to learn from several prototypes and separate ideas. Open innovation is what you are looking for. Sharing ideas, sharing learning.

Then you can start to build the solution … knowing of course that what you have is the start of a journey of continual improvement; a development process that includes continual measuring and learning; a process of A/B testing and micro-changes to colour, single digit pixel layout changes, an obsession with the time taken to core complete tasks and manic reporting of incomplete transactions.

Looking at the recently announced Universal Benefit solution, and its widely reported 45 minute application process with no save functionality, it becomes painfully aware of how much change is still needed. When you see a design that no commercial IT company would ever support you know something is very wrong.

It is over 15 years since the original eGovernment visions were published. Personal technology and our relationship with it has completely been transformed, but most of government IT hasn’t moved a jot. Early visions of joined-up government are still in future roadmaps, after many billions spent on ‘integration’ and the development of digital services.
Government still wants to send me paper, thinks efficiency means more people and is still unable to conduct a conversation electronically through the channel of my choice. The myth of technology as a silver bullet capable of compensating for a lack of vision or clarity of strategy exists as much now as it ever did.

There are some beacons of hope though.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is a team setup to transform government digital solutions. Its approach to user centred design, to shared learning and open engagement is a big step forward. My only concern is that the technology focused philosophy and a mandate that is driven by moving to digital channels risks making the same mistakes as previous projects, albeit with better designed websites. The assumption with GDS is still that the solution is a move to an integrated digital service. Surely this in itself is contrary to true user centred design principles, which don’t presume to define the solution before understanding the problem.

Surely there are government services that are not best delivered digitally? Ones where redesigning the roles people play, reengineering the flow of services, or the amending interaction between departments could deliver greater benefits than a better website?

A brilliant website is not a great deal of use to someone who is illiterate, dyslexic or simply uncomfortable with technology. Commercial companies increasingly respect this with many increasing the channels that they offer, maintaining telephone services, re-establishing  face to face services and putting the quality of service experience as the primary metric regardless of the channel chosen.

Whilst healthcare, social services and education will benefit from better designed technology services, by limiting ourselves to electronic channels, we are potentially missing major improvements from rethinking and redesigned the human, social and cultural aspects of the service.

With the majority of business and citizen government services now online, perhaps we can move our attention from cost of provision to quality of outcome, allowing designers to innovate in something other than code and APIs?

Perhaps the recent Design of the Year award for gov.uk will give help give government the confidence to broaden the scope of the GDS. Such a win would have been almost unthinkable until the GDS was established. Perhaps the time is now right to trust its designers to tackle problems where the solution is not a digital service.

That really would be innovative.

This post is a rewritten version my response to an article in Computer Weekly about Government IT. The original post was to the Facebook page of one of the authors, Jerry Fishenden. His article was the fifth part of a series called the Great Deverticalisation that used the analogy of a High Street to highlight the differences between how small businesses and Government approached IT. This version takes a much broader perspective of the problem and the potential solution than the original Facebook reply.

How to use technology to ruin your service

The rule is simple …

Technology is there to serve people. Not the other way around. 

No exceptions.

In the hierarchy between people and technology – people are at the top.

Always.

Technology should make life easier, not harder.

It should things faster, simpler, less painful.

It should help, guide and teach us.

But too often it fails.

It breaks, it gives poor results, it can be unreliable, unstable and despite our best intentions, it often does this when we most need it.

But that doesn’t matter.

Why?

… because good design, good human-centred design knows that no technology is infallible and plans for this to happen.

Good design plans for technology failures. Big (everything fails), little (inconvenience) and everything in between.

[At this point, we could substitute the word design with service]

But … good design (service) always gives the final responsibility to a human.

Humans are not perfect – but they are better at managing computer service failures better than any computer is. If your computer system isn’t working – don’t (ever) use a computer to fix the problem. Use a person. People don’t want an automated notification, they want someone to say ‘sorry’ and answer their questions about how/when/if the problem will be fixed.

Too often though, we see technology as a magic bullet, able to solve complex human service problems.

So lets look at a case study in how not to implement technology. A brilliant example about Swiss Railways explained here by the BBC. This is worth highlighting, not because of the failure of Swiss Railways, but as an example of technology failure with many railway companies across Europe. Swiss are not alone in failing to implement technology to make things better – but they do stand out in terms of the failure to put people first.

Instead of using technology to improve service, to help customers self-ticket, to allow last minute bookings and changes, to move to cheaper, faster and more customer centric design, they provide a case study in how not to do it.

They are not alone … British trains have yet to adopt e-tickets, you still need to print them out a station. You cannot display a ticket on a phone – although I can when I fly. I cannot update my ticket or change it online – as I have a paper ticket – I need to take this into a station to change it.

Dutch Rail seems to want to only accept Dutch credit cards outside of Amsterdam … with ticket machines rarer than hens teeth outside of Schipol. Trains are great, but many times I have needed to find a cash machine to buy a ticket at a machine. Welcome to the credit card era!

These recent Swiss changes win though. Perhaps their experience of technology is better than mine – or that of their travellers and of BBC writers.

So a quick lesson for all companies…

Technology has great potential, but it fails. Plan for this. Give people the authority and respect to make the best decision and you will be fine. Build a system where technology is in charge, and you have a recipe for bad service and unhappy customers.

Just assuming one simple fact could have transformed the Swiss experience … TECHNOLOGY FAILS.

So, the ticket machine doesn’t work. Pay on the train. Add a small surcharge, but still keep the customer happy.

if the machine fails, you should be apologising NOT fining passengers.

Ah, but Swiss Rail respond – we want to disincentivise travel without a ticket. We want to stop passengers not paying.

And so do your law-ibiding travellers, which are likely to be the majority.

So do that. Employ ticket inspectors, but allow them use judgement. Capture credit card details. Fine on the second or third infringement. Identify patterns of evasion. Use the technology to solve YOUR problem, not make life harder for the customer.

Unless you don’t care about unhappy customers … then you really have problems.

BYOD. Just say no.

BYOD = Bring Your Own Device.

Don’t do it. 

Well – certainly look very carefully at the small print before saying, ‘yes’.

Don’t assume that you should automatically say ‘yes’ when offered a shiny new Macbook Pro or other shiny i-object through a BYOD scheme.

What? After posts praising this welcome shift back to empowered users, I am proposing that you consider saying ‘no’?

Absolutely.

Why?

Because many of the BYOD schemes I have seen proposed, are nothing short of cost control measures designed to placate frustrated users without addressing the fundamental problems or corporate IT. They don’t change any of the fundamental problems. Your company provides a provide a better PC, or a more up to date phone, but many of the original issues remain. Agreeing to a BYOD scheme and mixing your work and personal life could be very risky for you.

Yes, the kit is better, but it is still owned and managed by someone else, and you are still bound by the same restrictions you were before, and the reliance on corporate kit could leave you very exposed.

Some points to consider:

Compliance (in all forms):

Even if you are given the cash to choose or buy the kit, the fact that you connect this to a corporate network can mean that you are subject to the same limitations, restrictions and controls as any traditionally provided piece of kit. The security people (rightly so) will still want to ensure that their network stays secure, so are still likely to demand that your kit has ‘compliance software’. This can mean anything from ensuring the kit is patched and protected against viruses to intrusive monitoring software that tracks what you are doing with detailing reporting back to your company.

If you have compliance software on the machine, you have NO PRIVACY. This doesn’t just mean that what you do can be tracked and monitored, but what you (or any family member) does out of work hours on the machine can potentially leave you liable for disciplinary action. This includes: sites accessed, content downloaded (or even watched), comments made on websites, tweets; anything you OR anyone who uses the machine does. There is no personal boundary, no privacy, no grey line. You are liable.

Advice: Unless you live on your own and live the life of a nun, get another PC.

Intellectual property:

This varies from company to company, but many companies consider everything that you do whilst using their devices, whether in work time or not to be their property. Have an idea for a new business? Be careful where you write about this. If you do anything related to this on your work PC, your company may be able to claim ownership of this. Whilst you may think this is unlikely to be a problem, start working for a competitor and you could find yourself mired in a world of litigation. This is not just for software developers either. Finance, sales and HR can also be IP and privacy mindfields.

Advice: Never mix the day job and else, use a personal PC. If you are looking for another job NEVER EVER do this from a work PC. Access to websites is tracked most companies. Even if you don’t leave your job, just looking could harm your chances of promotion if your company is monitoring web access closely.

Remote wipe. 

More and more companies are installing the IT nuclear weapon called ‘remote wipe’ – the ability of an IT administrator to remote erase all of your data without your permission. This has long been a feature on many work machines although you may not have realised it was there. On mobile phones and tablets, many IT departments consider this an essential function in order to grant access to a company network. They have a point as no one wants a lost or stolen machine to compromise a network, but this is worth examining closer, as it clarifies things a great deal for you.

Remote wipe means that this is NOT your machine. You may have bought it, own it, create on it, but you are not in control of it. If a remote IT administrator can erase your work – he can also erase your photos, music, bank details … and whatever is on the hard drive without your approval. Remote wipe is not just for corporate managed devices of course, but the key question is who can decide whether a device is wiped? If this is a work PC, then fine, you accept this, but think carefully before putting personal files on the machine.

It isn’t just about the wipe. Corporate machines can almost ALWAYS be remotely secured or locked. You may feel secure in employment, but a completely spurious HR query could see your machine locked pending further investigation. Are you using the machine for non-work activities that you rely on?

Advice: Never keep personal data on a work machine. If you must, ensure that this is backed up securely to a location or site that you control and manage. With some companies defining access of USB storage devices as a disciplinary offence, this could be harder than you think. Keep it simple – keep your stuff on your kit.

Whose life?

Who controls and manages your life – you or your company?

The answer should always be you. Always.

Whether you are employed or self-employed,or own the company you should be in control of your career, your future, your ability to work, your portfolio, your ideas, your ability to be creative, your ability to communicate. If you run your life on corporate kit, you have ZERO control of this, because it can be taken away without any input from you. Even as a company owner, you are liable to legal challenges externally. The fact is that if you rely on corporate technology for your personal life you are taking some very big risks.

There are some scenarios where a separate machine is not always practical, with travel being one of the most cited examples, but with the size of technology falling and the usability of devices improving; will a personal iPad do what you need whilst you are travelling? Carry your work laptop if you need to, but carry the iPad for everything personal. At home, the option is very simple. Use a work machine for work, and just work. Use a personal machine for everything else. Yes, having two machines requires more space, but you also buying security, privacy and the agility to own your digital life. That is certainly worth the cost of a machine.

Advice: I’m sure you have figured this out by now.

BYOD, no thanks.

So if you are asked about whether you want to participate in a BYOD program, look very carefully at the terms and conditions before saying ‘yes’. Don’t be swayed by the thought of a new machine. Ask very simple questions about the scenarios covered above. Ask them in simple language too. Don’t be swayed by technology BS. Pose simple questions and ask for simple clear answers.

If you need a better machine at work, make the business case for one. Show the return on this. Don’t assume that BYOD is the only option. A more simple option may be, just buy better kit using the same old work scheme. After all, the demands for BYOD are a reflection on this failing – so try and fix it. Don’t assume the only answer is BYOD – the answer may be to recognise the value of personal productivity and provide better tools. If the answer is still no (as it is likely to be in this economic climate), then work as best you can with what you have. Of course, you need to consider your personal productivity and it may be worth investigating a personal purchase for things like writing or graphics creation, but be careful about ownership and liability. Yes, you may not work as fast on the old work machine, but you know that when this is off, it is off – and what you do in your own time, in your own space, in your own life stays just that – yours.

If you do need to work on a personal machine for your work, here are three simple tips:

1) Patch and protect. Don’t be lazy. Patch the software, run the security patches, and update the virus checker.

2) Have clear responsibilities defined. What do you pay for? What does the company pay for? Who pays if the machine dies? Who controls the data and security? Ask simple questions, demand simple replies. If you are working remotely, make sure you discuss the travel details? How do you get a fix/replacement machine? How quick?

3) Define clear boundaries for interchange of data. Can you use a shared secure location/site/service to interchange files rather than connect to a network. That way the site can be secured, and there may not be a need to directly manage your PC. If you connect directly to a corporate network, chances are you have zero privacy, whatever you think.

4) BACKUP to a device/service that you use. If you encrypt this, make sure you can decrypt this from another machine. There is no point backing up encrypted files that you cannot access.

5) BACKUP … worth stating again! Kit dies. Fact. Be prepared. Time Machine is superb if you own a Mac.

 

Making the kit work for you …

But we are in a recession and new kit is expensive!

Absolutely, so make the technology pay its way. If you buy a new Macbook Pro, this will cost you about $1500 that is $500 per year over three years (in terms of splitting the cost). That equates to $42 per month. About 2-3 large lattes a week. So use the machine for something that is worth $42 to you. This doesn’t just mean generating extra income, but it could do. Use it to improve your writing, your design skills, take online courses, sell stuff, contribute to building your brand externally … get the idea. See the $42 as a combination of insurance and investment in you.

And if you needed any more evidence of whether you could be fired for a misusing a work PC, then read this.