Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cloud Sherpas: The future of retail hinges on worker empowerment

I'm at work on the first of my reports relating lessons learned from my time as a sales associate in retail.

In the meantime, Cloud Sherpas just published this article, which has a good overview of the challenges (and opportunities!) ahead in retail.


The Future of Retail Hinges on Worker Empowerment 

Let's talk more about this soon.  For now, here are some bullet points to consider:

  • The extreme personalization trend I've written about before is finding an exciting expression: the growing realization of the coming power of artificial intelligence (AI.)  Especially for lower value transactions, the day will soon arrive where an AI interface with the customer will be more satisfying to customers than one with a low-motivation, low-authority frontline staff member.  
  • will still have real live, look-customers-in-the-eye frontline staff. A huge opportunity awaits to empower your live front line to delight customers: with more authority to make customer service decisions, more information with which to satisfy customers, and a commensurate higher wage, reflecting the high value of interpersonal sales skills.
  • In the meantime, as the Cloud Sherpas article explains, there are a lot of ways to help your current staff add more to the bottom line.  This means real time access to inventory information, a genuine full-view-of-the-customer-no-I-really-mean-it-this-time CRM system, and tight integration of your social media, marketing, and e-commerce presence with your bricks and mortar stores. In fact, these will build the foundation you need to welcome the future.
Remember, all this discussion is only about technology as a matter of peripheral interest.  The real heart of the matter is this:

Going forward, retailers, even very large ones, have the technological power to make every visitor feel as if they have stepped into a small neighborhood shop, where they're known as an individual, valued as a friend, and treated like the most important thing in that retailer's existence.   In a world of everpresent mobile access and online shopping opportunities like Amazon, that's the mandate.  What will you do to take advantage of that power, and when?

By the way, the article I'm working on will present a simple report your IT department can add to your POS system and put in sales associates' hands. It won't change your life, but I estimate it will save each of your retail locations several thousand dollars a year in lost staff time and lost sales. I know this, because I was one of those associates who ranted when I spent hours of extra work because this report didn't exist.

Coming soon.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Enterprise IT Adoption Cycle: warning, graphic content

I lay no claim to this illustration at all, although I wish I had thought of it myself.

Illustration by Simon Wardley, 2012
For all the talk about competitive advantage and agility, enterprise IT departments tend to be inherently conservative beasts.  A classic case in point comes from this quote by silicon valley startup guru and former SAP strategist Ryan Nichols (originally published here in 2011:)

"You know, the reality is that enterprise IT is going to be looking to different vendors for different things, and I think one of my learnings from the time I spent at SAP is that SAP’s enterprise customers want SAP to be the system that doesn’t change, be the system that they don’t need to touch more than once every five years. That’s what they want SAP to stay, which is why it’s so tough for SAP to innovate and change because at the end of the day, their customers don’t really want them to."

I am a huge fan of Geoffrey Moore's work.  In this 2010 Slideshare presentation, he describes his concepts of Systems of Record and Systems of Engagement, and ties them to the challenges of moving enterprise IT departments beyond the last panel of Wardley's graph.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Back on track

This my blogging Mea Culpa

Why has Infrics been fallow for so long?  Well, the short answer is that I let my depression at not finding a professional job convince me that I really didn't have that much talent, not that much useful to say.

And THAT, I promise, is the very end of my whining. Time has renewed my appreciation that I have a lot left to contribute, and moving into my 60s has helped me realize that time is valuable.  At 20, there was a horizon WAY out there, and there was always time to go a different direction.  The horizon is a little closer now--time to get busy!

This is a listing of the main topics areas I want to approach with my return to active writing and posting, and some of the specific titles/subjects.

  • Embedded in Retail: observations of an industry analyst who has spent 2 years on the front line.

Management lessons from the emerging future:
  • The hidden value of your front line, and the enterprise failure to apply social network techniques to capture that value. 
  • The “reverse Maslow pyramid” effect and why it's so hard for useful information to make it up chains of management. 
  • Why personalization is both more important and easier than ever, and why it matters as an incentive to change your management approach. 
  • Personalization granularities, and why they matter to supply chain and marketing (the “no lawn furniture at Home Depot in FL when the weather gets nice” effect)
Other topics

  • The failure of HR, and how talent is going to waste. 
  • Updates on the business of research. 
  • How the 24 hour news cycle and SEO are poisoning the way we research and use information. 
  • Continuing the discussion of separation of digital ownership and rights management, and the house of cards implied by content ecosystems. 
  • A return look at Google: Chrome OS update, Google’s ongoing mess with digital content (the Photos debacle) and the evident failure of one hand at Google to know what the other is doing. 
  • A new hands-on strategic planning idea: using the concepts implied in technology trigger graphs as a way to make enterprise planning more effective. 
  • The horrible mess we've created by measuring the wrong things in business, and then acting as if those metrics are a useful tool.
So I am back, and I'd like your help.  If any of these ideas resonate, let me know so I can work on them sooner.  And please hold my feet to the fire; if I don't post at least once a week, drop me a line and say, "Hey! Where the hell are you and why haven't we heard from you?"

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How 2001: a Space Odyssey got the future right

Digital displays, computer graphics. Normal today, visionary 44 years ago. 
In June of 1968, I sat in a dark Cinerama theater, all three projectors perfectly synchronized on the big curved screen.  A prehistoric proto-human ape, having learned to use a bone as a weapon, throws it into the air in celebration...we track the skyward rise of the bone in slow motion...

And then the future happened before my eyes.

The astounding amount of personal space while traveling is pure fantasy.
The cinema-ratio flat screen video monitor?  Dead-on correct.
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a Space Odyssey redefined forever what a science fiction movie would look like.
Do hospital monitors look like this today because
we first saw them in "2001?"

But beyond that, it predicted the look of the early 21st century so accurately that, when we look back, it seems ordinary.  Of course there are digital displays. Of course all the video is flat-screen and 16:9 ratio, and there are handheld pad computers.  On that day in 1968, few had even considered them, let alone thought of them as ordinary.

Kubrick and his team visualized them into a world so everyday, there were brand names like Whirlpool and IBM on view.

A personal tablet. In 2011, Samsung argued in court that this scene
from 2001:a Space Odyssey was a reason that Apple
had no legal leg to stand on in claiming rights to the iPad design. 
2001 was so right in its vision, so complete and natural in its depiction of a nearly-inevitable future, I also contend that it powerfully shaped the future we got, especially from a design standpoint.  At once it is both a magnificent distillation of our 1960s expectations of a bright future, and a reference manual for what that future should look like, and what it would be like to live there.

Consider airplanes.  Chances are good, if you're an reader, you're one of many knowledge workers and executives who spend a lot of time flying.

Where did the look of modern aircraft interiors come from?  Look at the photos below:

Today, if you set foot aboard JetBlue, Virgin, or just about any version of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, you can almost feel as if you're on a set from the Kubrick movie.

Of course, there are many things 2001 didn't get right: mechanical push buttons were still everywhere for instance.  Heywood Floyd steps inside a phone booth aboard the space station, so there was no prediction at all about mobile phones, or personal computers.  And when he arrived on the station, a subservient secretary-type woman asks him to state "last name and christian name" (italics mine) for voiceprint identification. Ouch.  But on many levels beyond the special effects, this was a groundbreaking effort of futurism.

So how did they do it? What can we learn from Kubrick's movie that will make us better predictors of the future?  That's the next story.

All the images shown here from 2001: a Space Odyssey are screen photos from my own Blu-ray DVD of the movie, and of course are copyrighted by the current owners of MGM intellectual property.  Many of us have never seen 2001 in high definition, let alone in a theater.  I highly recommend it; you can find the movie streaming and on disc at Amazon.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Future: A Dog Wagged By The Tail of the Past

commentary from Don

Eero Saarinen's early '60s TWA terminal at Idlewild.
Long live the future. 

I've been nostalgic for the spirit that was everywhere in the mid-20th century, the idea that the future was going to be a wonderful place. The optimism.  The certainty of a brighter tomorrow.

The future we got is a lot different.  Our life today --yesterday's future-- does have things wonderful and amazing. But in many ways it is totally unlike what we thought during those great celebrations of the future, the 1962 and 1964 World's Fairs. (I am 61 years old.  I attended both fairs as a boy of 9 and 11.)  Why?

The study of emerging technology is all about the future.  What's going to happen?  When?  If you're thinking about it from a business standpoint, you add the element of "what opportunities and threats does the future hold?"

"I can't wait to live in the future!"
This illustration of the General Electric exhibit
at the 1964 World's Fair brims with the
certainty of a brighter tomorrow.
Figuring out answers to those questions is an art.  I think we can apply some process and analytical thinking to the art, and think about ways to be better at looking ahead.  Maybe predicting can't be a science, but I think (and will argue) that there are ways to structure the art and make it more like a science.

One of the best ways to do that is to look back at those glory days of future-optimism, to find the patterns in what they got right and wrong.  That's why I say "the future is a dog wagged by the tail of the past."  And what if a really good prediction about the future can help shape it?  I think there's a case for that as well, and will explore it.

So that's what's coming up.  Next story: a future vision from the '60s that got an amazing number of things right.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Catching up on the history of the future


It's been some time since I posted on  Many things have happened in my own life since last July, not the least of which is my sense of what this technology blog should be about.

This is a quick post, just to warm up, but three points to make:

  1. Tech reporting and commentary suffers from the "24 hour news" syndrome.  There are  scads of analysts and reporters trying to reach a limited audience, but there are few truly newsworthy things going on.  Like cable news, what happens in that case is that trivial matters get blown up to the status of "BREAKING NEWS!" Furthermore, search engine optimization has taken over editorial content and headline writing.  So we get a huge volume of stories that contain the same carefully-vetted keywords, and oftentimes the outcome is boring at best, bilgewater reporting at worst.  I'll try to keep my mouth shut unless I have something worth your time to say.  If fewer people find Infrics because I didn't worship the SEO gods, so be it.
  2. In a little over a month, it will have been 3 years since got started.  I'm happy to say that the big ideas I introduced as coverage areas have held up pretty well as guideposts for the direction of emerging tech and societal trends: a)the emergence of services that can be recombined in different ways to achieve enterprise value.  One surprising, and related, development is the way that idea is being expressed in the consumer space through companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb.  More on that soon.  b) the growing personalization of our interactions with businesses and each other, enabled by ever-increasing sophistication of data analysis, location awareness, social connection, and context.  c) the move toward decoupling of content, consumption, and transmission of information.  This idea, which I aggregate under the term "stateless," is gaining in momentum and influence.  In posts to come, I'll offer some ideas about what that means.
  3. In keeping with the "different from bilgewater" idea expressed above, I'm going to change the tone here a little.  You'll still see the occasional long-form analytical reports, but there will be a lot more "letter from Don to you" posts as well, more like a conventional blog.  I voluntarily left a job that paid me very well in order to start Infrics; some things about that choice turned out well, some things have been, shall I say, a learning experience.  I'll talk about both, and about what I've learned about business and enterprise tech along the way. 
One last thing.  I now live in northern California, in the San Francisco Bay area.  I'm a lot closer to some of the most exciting things going on in technology, so I hope to find some of them and share them.  If you're close by, let me know what you're up to.  Friends and colleagues all over the world, if you're headed to SF or Silicon Valley, please look me up.  I'm still at

Monday, July 1, 2013

What if Big Data is about more than detailed analytics? HP's ultrapersonalized Indigo printing

Big data: touted as a way to know more about consumers than ever before.  But twist the idea just a little, and you get new opportunities to personalize data and product delivery in ways never before possible.

HP Indigo digital presses allow Coca-Cola® to get personal

This page from HP demonstrates how digital techniques scaled out the big data idea to 800 million labels for Coke:

Personalization and big data are both examples new abilities to be granular at incredibly detailed levels.