When the Right People Correlate the Right Information, Expect a Masterpiece

“All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is in making the connections.”

The remarkable gentleman who said this quote, Arthur Aufderheide M.D. (1922-2013), certainly lived by these wise words.

Dr. Arthur Aufderheide

Dr. Arthur Aufderheide (2008). Source: umn.edu

An energetic man with an innate curiosity of the world, Dr. Aufderheide was a medical school professor for the University of Minnesota who founded an entirely new area of scientific research: paleopathology – the study of the spread of diseases in ancient civilizations through the forensic analysis of mummies (or, in simple layman’s terms, think of it as CSI: Ancient Civilizations !)

Aufderheide pursued this unique research with gusto for three decades, traveling the globe locating and examining mummies, in the process defining best practices in the scientific examination of mummies taught and practiced around the world, while also aiding present-day understanding of the spread of diseases. His research would also rewrite history; for example, Christopher Columbus did not infect the native peoples of the New World with fatal diseases brought from the Old World as historians had long assumed; Aufderheide’s research revealed tuberculosis was prevalent in the Americas five centuries earlier.

Aufderheide’s innovative research revealed new insights by correlating new data drawn from new sources that had been waiting for centuries to be discovered. I believe anyone involved in business intelligence, big data analytics and enterprise information management can easily appreciate this.

Just as important: Dr. Aufderheide was the perfect person to make those new correlations. You see, Aufderheide came up with the idea for his unique research by combining his decades-long knowledge of disease with his many personal interests in archaeology, anthropology, outdoorsmanship, world travel and native cultures – the perfect correlation of his passions, interests and expertise. His research was so successful, inspirational to his students and earned the recognition from the global scientific community because he absolutely loved doing it – right up until he finally retired at the age of 86.

Of course, Dr. Aufderheide made a living doing this work, but he could have also “made a living” (as in “work for the money”) by remaining in his original career as a hospital pathologist, a job he no longer found fulfilling. Instead, at the age of 55, he wisely made a career change into academia. Had he opted to just “tough it out” in his old job, counting the days to early retirement, it’s safe to say his remaining life work would have been unremarkable at best. By the same token, a different university professor who found his work just as unrewarding most likely would have accomplished very little in the way of new meaningful research, even if he was given Aufderheide’s idea!

I see two key business takeaways from the story of Dr. Aufderheide and his successful life work.

First: Organizations that have an authentic culture of genuine passion for its mission will inevitably outperform competitors that don’t, even if those competitors are bigger with much deeper pockets.

Companies with true passion for their mission encourage constantly thinking and asking questons about the business

Source: iStock

This is true for a couple of key reasons; for one, passionate companies will only hire people who will share their passion. At a recent open discussion event at General Assembly Boston, start-up founder and CEO John McEleney emphasized the critical need for start-ups to hire with great care. You must “have the right people on the bus” and keep mediocre players out of the organization, by requiring any new potential hire to be sponsored/referred by an existing employee. Product Management executive Gopal Shenoy agreed, adding that former SolidWorks CEO John Hirshtick often said that “hiring is the most important thing you do in your company” – and expected managers to cancel any scheduled meetings if they were asked to interview a job candidate.

Also, while just about every organization wants to claim they fall into the ‘passionate’ category, many end up paying mere lip service to the concept. In contrast, the leaders of truly authentic passionate organizations empower managers and workers to passionately – and freely – pursue the company’s mission to the fullest without the drag of company politics, turf wars or internal arguments. Otherwise, an organization will end up with a lot of people just working for the money.

Second: Organizations with genuine passion for its mission have a substantial innate advantage when developing and/or utilizing technology. They will uncover more/better/faster new data correlations revealing new business answers drawn from new big data, information management, data analytics and other technologies. This is because they will relentlessly ask more new, piercing questions about their business.

And because they are free from the palace politics as mentioned above, those questions are not only asked freely, but also actively encouraged by leadership without judgment or blame:

Finally, I encourage you to check out Simon Sinek’s viral TED presentation related to this topic if you haven’t seen it yet (or if you have, definitely well worth watching again!):

Well, that’s definitely describes the kind of organization I’d love to work for. How about you? ;)

If you liked this article, you may also like:

Collective-We Firms Eat Exclusive-We Competitors for Lunch (and How to Become One)

When Performance Metrics Attack! Complete, Agile BI Requires Going Beyond Just the Numbers

“I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please” – An Innovation Message from Monty Python

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Posted in Business Intelligence, Information Management, Innovation, Knowledge Management

Why the Question “Is Your Product a Vitamin or a Painkiller?” is a False Choice

I recently read an article posing the well-known sales question, Is Your Product a Vitamin or a Painkiller? by George Deeb. It’s a good reminder that it’s better to be selling a “painkiller” technology product that relieves acutely-felt, pervasive business problems, rather than a “vitamin” product that offers some lesser, more specialized value.

I agree with Deeb that it’s much harder to build a large, scalable business around vitamin products than painkiller products, but a product-as-painkiller is not the ultimate or best product offering either.

In other words, the question “Is your product a vitamin or a painkiller?” is a false dichotomy.

The issues of trying to sell a vitamin product are described quite well in Deeb’s article. But painkiller products have their own issues. For example, one of the most frequent and frustrating “competitors” to a painkiller product sale is “none of the above”: To the sales manager’s chagrin, the prospect decides that while the business pain is real, alleviating the pain simply isn’t worth the effort. And the prospect just slogs along with things as they are, somewhat like Norm of Cheers:

In a real world example, business intelligence thought leader Neil Raden once recounted how the BI system he had implemented revealed acute “pains” in multiple business areas of the company. He proposed a prescriptive plan to resolve those issues, only to get brushed off by corporate executives. It seemed a lot like a frustrated doctor trying in vain to persuade a chain-smoking patient indifferent to his own health.

Meanwhile, new enabling technologies march on: painkiller products that once justified a huge capex in on-premises software, servers and services (CRM, marketing automation, legacy BI) are now offered inexpensively on a SaaS basis (SFDC, Marketo, GoodData) with more to come. In other words, more and more painkiller products are becoming available at lower “vitamin-level” cost and simplicity!

Another issue I have with painkiller products is they implicitly assume a business status quo. Consider Polaroid in the mid 90’s: like scores of other large companies then, Polaroid jumped in with both feet into ERP, the ultimate painkiller technology of its time. Polaroid even won major awards for its top-tier ERP implementation. While Polaroid’s ERP no doubt lightened many business pains by optimizing inventory, purchasing, quality control and such, meanwhile the company was failing miserably with new products and not addressing the deterioration of its instant photography market to fast-growing digital cameras. By focusing inward on business efficiencies, management probably became even more insular. I recall reading a Polaroid executive praising the company’s new efficiency of its instant photography “core business.” Not long after, in 2001, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy, with most of that “core business” long gone.

Clearly, while the cessation of business “pain” is important, such efforts are no substitute for the ultimate purpose of a business, as memorably described by Peter Drucker:

There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer.

Drucker further elaborated:

Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs…

To Drucker’s point, I believe that we are still quite early in the use of technology to enable highly effective, personalized, creative marketing that engages prospects and leads them into becoming customers. And the use of technology to help inform innovation efforts is even further behind. Again, quoting Drucker (this from his 1998 essay The Next Information Revolution):

Half a century ago, no one could have imagined the software that enables a major equipment manufacturer… to organize its operations worldwide, around the anticipated service and replacement needs of its customers… But [information technology has] had… no impact on the decision of the equipment manufacturer concerning which markets to enter and with which products…

For top management, information technology has been a producer of data [for operational tasks]… Business success is based on something totally different: the creation of value and wealth.

This requires risk-taking decisions… on business strategy, on abandoning the old and innovating the new… the balance between the short term and the long term… between immediate profitability and market share.  These decisions are the true top management tasks.

The technology products that will reap the greatest financial rewards will be those that address those “true top management tasks” that Drucker noted – which I suggest comprise a third category of products that go beyond both “vitamins” and “painkillers.”

To this key point, there is exciting potential in new big data technologies, for example, that enable a whole new level of insights into markets, products, customers and competitors by leveraging all forms and sources of information. (Please check out this article for further reading, including how Peter Drucker foresaw today’s big data revolution back in 1998!)

So the question “Is your product a vitamin or a painkiller?” is indeed a false choice, and businesses that rely on painkiller product revenue are at more risk than they might realize. It is critical for technology vendors to develop a superior third category of products that go beyond helping customers simply perform today’s operations in a “pain-free” manner, to also help leaders wisely grow revenues in new markets with new products (innovation) – and also spread the word among buyers of these new innovative products in the most targeted, engaging manner possible (marketing) in ways that far outperform your competition.

Artwork by: BTimony (click to see original)

Source: BTimony (click for original)

The last question is what exactly to “call” this key third category of products beyond vitamins and painkillers…

I think “cure” is a misnomer (a cure for what, exactly?)

What about… “steroids”? (I don’t think so)…  Perhaps “miracle drug”?

“Popeye’s Spinach”?!

What do you think?

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Posted in Innovation, Product Management, Product Marketing

Collective-We Firms Eat Exclusive-We Competitors for Lunch (and How to Become One)

Poorly managed organizations are likely to function – or, I should say, malfunction - with frequent use of the exclusive “we” – a divisive verbal tactic also known as the royal “we”. I suspect most business people can recall being on the receiving end of a ham-handed exclusive-we remark from a defensive boss, such as:

We don’t do things that way here.”
“Will you stop asking so many questions? We don’t tolerate ‘fishing expeditions’ around here!”

“I was about to say ‘WE don’t do THAT here’, but our last paying customer just fired us… so now WE don’t do ANYTHING here.”
Image by HikingArtist.com (CC)

The speaker is clearly excluding the person being addressed from the pronoun “we” to stifle communication. Such communication is also a sign of a dysfunctional exclusive-we culture, in which information sharing is discouraged in favor of information hoarding. Exclusive-we organizations will struggle to so much as acknowledge business problems before they become undeniable crises, leaving managers in constant ‘fire-fighting’ mode. Hardly a recipe for business success.

Successful companies use the word “we” a lot, too – but in an opposite, winning manner:

“What should we be doing that we aren’t doing now?”
“These questions are important. We need to be able to answer them.”

What a difference! This time the speaker is invoking the collective “we” to equally include the person being addressed, as well as everyone in the room, and literally everyone throughout the entire organization.

Leaders in highly successful organizations naturally speak and act from a collective-we perspective. Even better, they build a collective-we culture, actively encouraging and supporting information sharing and collaboration. Doing so transforms a company’s collective-we into a powerful company asset capable not only of quickly solving problems, but also proactively finding them – and, in the process, leaving hapless exclusive-we competitors in the dust.

Know What You Don't Know by Michael RobertoMichael Roberto, a leading business leadership authority whose excellent book Know What You Don’t Know I have written about previously, repeatedly emphasizes the vital need for organizations to develop problem finding skills. Roberto recently commented about new technologies that enable internal crowdsourcing (aka the collective-we):

Crowd sourcing can work inside of a company too, and we’re seeing more and more companies doing that; particularly global companies that have people spread out around the world. They’re using [new] tools to get people sharing [information] across different silos. So to me, that’s one of the most really fascinating developments that’s happening.

Eliminating information silos is the critical prerequisite to becoming a collective-we organization. Specifically, you must be able to freely unify all related information, from databases with text-based content, bridging the disciplines of business intelligence and knowledge management. Interestingly, Gartner just recently referred to this essential unifying technology using the older 3-letter acronym: Enterprise Information Management (EIM).

In an interview recently tweeted by leadership management and consulting firm Linkage, Michael Roberto shared valuable insights on effective problem finding that further affirms three major ways in which unified enterprise information management is a key technology enabler to build and leverage an organization’s collective-we:

Organizations must frankly answer, “Why did we fail?”

I think one really good way to [start cultivating problem finding skills] is to take a look at a failure that took place in the organization. Ask yourself, “Could we have seen it coming… were there some signals we missed? Why did we miss them?”

Organizations that have undertaken such “candid self-assessment” have discovered that they had been acting based on an incomplete informational picture that was indeed missing critical business signals. Such signals reside within trends in KPIs and metrics drawn from data warehouses and databases, as well as unstructured content (free-flowing text residing in document repositories, SharePoint, wikis, file servers and external websites).

Boil large quantities of information down to what really matters.

[In the] old-school way, you built a big report, you put it in a binder and it collected dust… the answer is not a big report. The [real] answer is three bullets… the couple of takeaways – and technology can play a role in helping to share those. But the most important thing is boiling it down… If you (have) a 100-page report… no one is going to read it.

Good organizations are already adept at boiling down large volumes of data into KPIs that can be trended over time, but that’s not enough. It is also important to mine “those key takeaways” from every “100-page report no one is going to read” through natural language processing (NLP) and text analytics, including extraction of entities (such as names, products, places), key phrase extraction, entity normalization, content classification and more.

It’s also important to note a unified EIM system will then present the user with the most relevant information related to the issue at hand, and not just a long laundry list of documents to sort through. As a result, “those key takeaways” from every “100-page report no one is going to read” will be discovered by users whenever they are needed to help directly address any given matter at hand.

In an intriguing real worldexample, a level 1 IT support technician for a leading financial services firm successfully resolved a serious enterprise application failure incident with no known workaround in the first call: the company’s service knowledge management solution surfaced an ideal resolution buried within a 100-plus page application development transitional document, written by one of the original Indian programmers.

Few people probably ever read the entire document, or even knew it existed; and yet, the company’s unified information architecture empowered the company’s collective-we from halfway around the world to fully leverage the problem-solving value within that document when it was needed.

“You can’t chase down everything”… so let EIM technology chase it down for you.

You can’t chase down everything [every piece of information for every possible issue]. I think that part of the job of the leader is to be able to prioritize… [and] recognize that you have talent around you that can help you.

The same financial services firm also integrated key information about their own employees, particularly areas of subject matter expertise and current areas of research. Through such “expert finder” capabilities, a worker within a global organization can find and reach out to fellow co-workers for help down the hall or anywhere in the world – once again, empowering the organization’s collective-we to cross international boundaries.

A collective-we organization fully leverages the power of the collective intelligence of the entire organization; its internal crowdsource of knowledge and expertise, including trusted partners and external resources, to solve business problems, and, even more importantly, find business problems before they become serious issues.

Note: This article is an updated version of my article originally appearing on the Attivio website.

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Posted in Business Intelligence, Information Management, Knowledge Management

Big Data Wisdom, Courtesy of Monty Python

Monty Python and the Holy GrailNote: This article was co-written by Mike Urbonas and Rik Tamm-Daniels.

One of our favorite parts of the hilarious 1975 King Arthur parody, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the “Bridge of Death” scene: If a knight answered the bridge keeper’s three questions, he could safely cross the bridge; if not, he would be catapulted into… the Gorge of Eternal Peril!

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to most of King Arthur’s knights…

The knights were either stumped by a surprise trivia question like, “What is the capital of Assyria?” – or responded too indecisively when asked, “What is your favorite color?”

Fortunately when King Arthur was asked, “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” he wisely sought further details: “What do you mean – an African or European swallow?” The stunned bridge keeper said, “Uh, I don’t know that… AAAGH!” Breaking his own rule, the bridge keeper was thrown over into the gorge, freeing King Arthur to continue his quest for the Holy Grail.

Many organizations are on “Big Data Holy Grail” quests of their own, looking to deliver game-changing analytics, only to find themselves in a “boil-the-ocean” Big Data project that “after 24 months of building… has no real value.” Unfortunately, many organizations have rushed into hasty Hadoop implementations, fueled by a need to ‘respond’ to Big Data and ‘not fall behind.’

Read the rest of this article on SmartData Collective.

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Posted in Business Intelligence, Information Management, Innovation, Knowledge Management

Marketers: What’s Your Fastball? What’s Your Curve Ball?

With the “new look” Boston Red Sox off to a fast start to the 2013 baseball season, and in anticipation of Opening Day at Fenway Park, I was reminded of a Kalido blog article with a great baseball analogy that has stuck with me, which nicely compliments some good Marketing advice from a friend of mine.

Steve Dalkowski. Source: SportsHollywood.com

Steve Dalkowski. Source: SportsHollywood.com

Writing for the Kalido blog, Mike Wheeler introduced Steve Dalkowski, probably the fastest pitcher in baseball history, whose fastball was routinely well over 100MPH, with top speed estimates as high as 125MPH. Dalkowski struck out 1,396 batters in just 995 minor league games in the late 50′s and early 60′s.

Unfortunately, Dalkowski’s incredible fastball was also incredibly unpredictable: He also walked 1,354 batters and won only 46 of the 236 games he started.

Mike Wheeler’s point was that focusing on raw speed at the expense of reliability is unwise and self-defeating, whether you’re talking about a super-fast pitcher with no control, or super-fast data delivery without the controls of (Kalido) data governance.

But there’s much more to Steve Dalkowski’s story – with a related Marketing lesson as well. Read more ›

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Posted in Marketing, Product Marketing

Big Data Analytics, Business Intelligence and the Mind of Sherlock Holmes

My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know. — The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Sherlock-Holmes-Big-Data-Analytics-and-BI-133x134Sherlock Holmes turned 125 years old last year, and he’s never been more alive and well. The world seems more captivated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary London detective than ever before. Much of this excitement has been driven recently by the smash BBC One TV series Sherlock, drawing rave reviews for its update of Holmes and Dr. Watson as present-day Londoners fighting 21st-century crime. (Similarly, the U.S. version of the series, Elementary, is also a major new hit.)

Pop culture critic and author John Powers cleverly explains Holmes’ enduring appeal as a literary hero and cultural icon:

Sherlock Holmes “possesses no superpowers — his parents weren’t wizards, no radioactive spider bit him — [and yet] his gifts are cool enough to be superhuman. Playing to our fantasies of being smarter than everyone else, Holmes performs jaw-dropping feats of perception.

It’s no coincidence that heightened interest in Sherlock Holmes coincides with the rapidly accelerating, proliferating sources of information around us: databases, documents/text, big data, social media, web content and more. Like Sherlock Holmes, we all want to make sense of seemingly unrelated information and “be smarter than everyone else” — or at least outsmart the competition, outsmart criminals and fraudsters, outsmart seemingly intractable business problems.

A quick review of Conan Doyle’s novels and short stories reveals Sherlock Holmes shared useful advice on effectively accessing, analyzing, and unifying information. His advice rings truer than ever in today’s increasingly information-rich but insight-deficient world.

Read more ›

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Posted in Business Intelligence, data analytics, data warehousing

The Pursuit of a Complete (Business) Picture: Lessons from Ansel Adams

My Attivio colleagues and I often describe unified information access as a technology that truly provides “a complete picture of the business.” I didn’t realize how appropriate that metaphor was until I recently visited a local exhibition of the photography of Ansel Adams (1902-1984).

Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River (1942)

Renowned for his iconic black and white photos of untouched wilderness in national parks and other areas of the American West, Ansel Adams was a true visionary of modern photography, whose style and innovations exemplify the pursuit of a “complete” picture.

I see a clear analogy between Ansel Adams’ pursuit of “pure” (or complete) photography and the pursuit of a complete business picture.

Read the entire blog article on the SmartData Collective.

Posted in Business Intelligence, data analytics

I'm Mike Urbonas, a Boston area enterprise software product marketing professional. I have always been a strong believer in how enterprise information platforms, data analytics and business intelligence can help transform an organization. Of course, the effectiveness of these tools depend heavily on the competence of the business leaders and managers using them. My blog explores both of these key issues, along with my thoughts on being an effective, revenue-enabling product manager and marketer.

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