An unused executive dinner speech

An empty table, set for fun.

I hosted an executive dinner a few weeks ago. I’d put together this opening talk, introducing the customer who was kind enough to come go through their story. I didn’t really get a chance to give it, which was probably for the best. Maybe next time

Thanks for coming – we’re glad y’all took the time. I know it’s hard.

My favorite thing about Pivotal is that I get to meet new people, computer people. My wife is always befuddled that I’m a wallflower in most company, but then, turn into an extrovert around computer people. So, it’s nice to meet more people like myself.

I’ve been at Pivotal almost five years and I’ve seen people like yourselves go through all sorts of transformations. They’re getting better at doing software. That’s setting them up to change how they run their business, to change what their business is, even. You can call it innovation, or whatever. Anyhow, I collect these stories – especially the parts where things go wrong – and in the Pivotal spirit of being kind and doing the right thing, try to help people who’re getting started by telling them the lessons learned.

Tonight, I’m hoping we can just get to know each other, especially amongst yourselves – us Pivotal people know each other well already!.

Most organizations feel like they’re the only ones suffering. They think their problems are unique. I get to talk with a lot of organizations, so I see the opposite. In general, everyone has the same problems and usually the same solutions.

Given that, I’d encourage you to talk with each other about what you’re planning, or going through. Chances are someone right next to you is in the same spot, or, if you’re lucky, has gotten past it.

As an example of that, we’re lucky that [customer who’s here] wanted share what’s been going on at [enterprise]. There’s lots of great stories in there…

So, let’s hear them…then let’s eat!

Speed, Accuracy, and Flexibility, IBM circa 1920

IBM punched card machine.

The purpose of a sales force is to bring a company’s value proposition—its “deal”—to customers. That value proposition results in the development of a company’s “go-to-market” strategy, how it will implement that plan. Central to that activity can be a direct sales force, people who meet face-to-face with customers, a typical approach with complex and expensive equipment. For simple products, a catalog or store can suffice, and today even a simple website will do. In 1914, ITR’s and Hollerith’s products were complicated, and so one had to make a clear case about why customers should buy them.

There was considerable consistency across the decades about IBM’s value proposition. Watson explained to a new batch of executives that, “We are furnishing merchants, manufacturers and other businessmen with highly efficient machines which save them money.” For the larger IBM community, he followed with, “That is why we are going to make more money for this business.” He spoke about how IBM created value. By 1920, Watson was preaching that the way to accomplish C-T-R’s goals was “to serve better industry’s vital requirements—the need to conserve time, motions and money.” He introduced a signature for IBM sales literature, too, that delivered a sound-bite value proposition used for decades: “Speed, Accuracy, and Flexibility.”

From IBM: The Rise and Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon.

Link: Why Did WOW Air Fail?

For one, there’s tons of competition on transatlantic routes. Not only from ultra low cost carriers, but the reality is that nowadays even legacy airlines have incredibly low transatlantic fares, because they know they have to compete. $400-500 roundtrip fares on major carriers are the norm in the off season.

When fares are that low, it really makes you wonder what the point is of flying an airline like WOW Air. Even if they charged $200 roundtrip (which is way lower than their usual fares), you’d end up paying more by the time you paid for baggage, food, drinks, seat assignments, etc.

How are other airlines able to charge these fares? Because the major airlines aren’t making money off economy transatlantic fares in the off season. Think of those cheap fares as paying a bit of gas money, but the reality is that airlines make their money off the handful of people on each flight who are spending $10,000 for a full fare business class ticket. That’s where the money is, and the rest is only working towards breaking even. Ultra low cost carriers don’t have those lucrative passengers.

Source: Why Did WOW Air Fail?

a dream I could only watch instead of do

She never brought up Daniel again, but it didn’t really matter. I’d already made it a habit to consider the way my life could have been if I’d said yes when Daniel had asked the question I knew he didn’t even think was a question, just a rite of passage we had to go through. (You could see a marriage approach some couples in Texas the same way you could watch a summer storm churning on the plains, miles before it hit.) It was possible my life wouldn’t have been any more or less enjoyable had I turned from person to wife, wife to parent, had I stayed in White Deer and parceled my hours out to a family, turned my mother grand. (A life might comfortably disappear into a well-worn groove between house, school, and grocery store. (All lives disappear one way or another. (All hours get spent.))) But as pleasant as it might have been, that kind of life also seemed—somehow—elsewhere, like a dream I could only watch instead of do.

From Certain American States: Stories by Catherine Lacey

Maybe the legacy organization actually knows what they’re doing

Usually we’re told that improving IT means changing the old organization. I’ve been re-reading The Art of Business Value, and re-came across this, to the contrary:

This way of thinking has always struck me as a little strange. Our goal is to deliver value, to figure out how to meet the needs that are determined by the organization, and yet we consider the organization to be the biggest impediment to doing so. The only explanation I can think of for this is that we are implicitly assuming that there is a stable, objective, preordained definition of business value, and we are determined to deliver on that definition despite the organization around us. In my experience, this arrogance is not warranted; in fact, the organization probably understands value in ways that the Agile team does not, and the obstacles to Agile adoption actually tell us something useful about business value in the organization.

Because, in fact, the organization knows the “business value,” the strategy, it’s in charge of reliving:

The organization has had to learn what business strategies, values, protocols, and behaviors work in its environment to support its ultimate aims, whether those are maximizing shareholder value or accomplishing mission objectives. That learning forms the basis of tacit assumptions and norms, the organization’s collected wisdom about what behaviors foster success. And if success means accomplishing the ultimate goals that serve as the sources of business value, then the Agile team must come to understand those values, strategies, goals, and operational modes that are embedded in the culture around it—that is, the business values that have been known to foster success.

From The Art of Business Value.

Link: Adobe Summit 2019 analysis – CX hype is countered by Chegg’s digital turnaround story

Chegg isn’t digital-only today. They still ship five million textbooks a year – but their mission has changed. And, as Narayan pointed out, they now need new metrics. Rosensweig said those metrics include subscriber growth, revenue growth, engagement, renewal, and conversion rates. But there’s an underlying metric: create something awesome.

What we learned was you not only have to get them to subscribe, you [also have to] lower your cost to customer acquisition, which at one point for us was 27 dollars. Now it’s $3.50. Our renewal rates were 63 percent; they’re now in the mid-80s for a monthly renewal.

Source: Adobe Summit 2019 analysis – CX hype is countered by Chegg’s digital turnaround story

Link: Naspers plans to spin off its Tencent stake and other holdings

Naspers, which started out as an Afrikaans newspaper group a century ago, has since gone on to invest in a host of startups, mostly in emerging markets. The runaway success of Tencent has created an enviable headache: Naspers has become too big for the Johannesburg stock exchange, where it now makes up a quarter of the local index. Such scale requires foreign investors, not all of whom are keen on South Africa’s currency and political risk. Amsterdam, where Naspers already has staff, has similar listing requirements to Johannesburg.

Source: Naspers plans to spin off its Tencent stake and other holdings

Link: The skills leaders need

people tend to assume that confident individuals are competent, when there is no actual relationship between the two qualities. Those confident people are then promoted. Overconfidence afflicts both sexes, but men more so; one study found that they overestimated their abilities by 30% and women by 15% on average.

Source: The skills leaders need

Hotel robots bad, coffee robots good

Jeff Bezos walking with robot dog

But when the robots were put in place, things went wrong. The concierge struggled to answer guests’ questions. The dancers in the lobby broke down. The luggage-carriers could not climb stairs or go outside. A question-and-answer robot could not handle anything beyond basic inquiries—and responded to at least one guest’s snoring by waking him repeatedly to tell him it could not understand what he was saying. Rather than saving labour, the robots actually required the hotel to increase staffing in order to assist and repair the struggling robots. So the hotel recently decided to lay off more than half of its 243 robots.

Hotel robots bad. But, from the same “newspaper,” as they say, turns out robots are good for coffee and burger production:

Gavin pathross likes his Americano at a particular strength, with exactly 2.8 shots of espresso, an order that human baristas struggle to get right. But the baristas at Ratio, his new coffee shop in Shanghai, are anything but human. Customers specify, order and pay for their coffee via their smartphones. A robot arm then grinds the beans, pumps shots of espresso and carries out the rest of the work. The robot can supply water and coffee in any ratio desired—hence the shop’s name. Once it has prepared the beverage, it passes the finished product to a human waiter for serving.

Eirini – Bringing Cloud Foundry & Kubernetes Together

Eirini For DevelopersFor Developers there are two big wins from Eirini. Firstly, if you want a Cloud Foundry cluster and you have access to Kubernetes but not VMs, Eirini lets you get it and kick the tires really fast. Secondly when you do need or want to pull the escape hatch and drop down to Kubernetes, everything you’ve cf push-ed is available as native Kubernetes objects under the covers.

Eirini For OperatorsThe big win from Eirini, though, is for Operators. Many platform operators already need to maintain a Kubernetes stack, for the stateless services their Cloud Foundry uses. Today, in order to provide an Easy Switch for developers, those operators need to manage two schedulers (Diego and Kubernetes), and any tooling and monitoring they use needs to be duplicated between the two. Deploying both the Diego and Kubernetes via Bosh can make this a bit better, but it doesn’t solve the bulk of the problem. Eirini standardises the underlying infrastructure so it’s all Kubernetes under the covers.

Source: The Fresh Prince of Cloud Native: Bringing Cloud Foundry & Kubernetes Together

Link: Standard Bank contracts with AWS for mass migration to the cloud

The bank has selected AWS as its preferred cloud provider with the intention of porting its production workloads, including its customer facing platforms and strategic core banking applications to the cloud.

From what I can tell talking with banks, they’re over that 2010 thing of “public cloud isn’t secure enough.” Now it’s a scramble to move their shit up there.

Source: Standard Bank contracts with AWS for mass migration to the cloud

Link: Digital, Strategy and Design

Strategy involves determining the company’s intent. Strategy is expressed in an understanding of the environment, an expression of ambition, decisions regarding the allocation of resources and plan of execution. Strategy provides a perspective on where and how the company will win from the inside out.
Design entails understanding and expressing customer intent. Expressed in terms of persona’s, needs, journey maps, touchpoints and prototypes. Design provides a perspective on how and why customers win from the outside in.

Source: Digital, Strategy and Design

Link: The platform play: How to operate like a tech company

One of the global leading banks created about 30 platforms. One such platform was payments, which consisted of more than 60 applications that previously had been managed independently from each other. The top team decided to bring the 300-plus IT people working on development and maintenance of payments together with the corresponding people on the business side. Under joint business/IT leadership, this entity was empowered to move quickly on priority business initiatives, to modernize the IT structure, and to allocate the resources to make that happen.

The team shifted its working model and started running the payments platform as an internal business that served all the different parts of the bank (think payments as a service). This approach made it clear where to focus specific tech interventions: removal of nonstrategic IT applications; modernization and accelerated shift of the target applications into the cloud; connectivity to enable swapping solutions in or out easily; and, most important, a major step-up in feature/solution development for the internal business clients. This platform-based way of running the business was then progressively rolled out across the group. Prioritization is set by the top team (because empowerment does not mean anarchy), and all IT interventions are run the same way, to ensure consistency and replicability.

Their notion of a platform is more like the old API economy thing:

A platform-based company will have 20 to 40 platforms, each big enough to provide an important and discrete service but small enough to be manageable. To simplify platform management, it helps to group them into three broad areas: customer journeys, business capabilities, and core IT capabilities (Exhibit 1).

For example, in personal banking, the customer-journey platforms cover the customer experiences of searching, opening an account, getting a mortgage, and so on. The business-capability platforms deliver the banking solutions, such as payments and credit analytics, and the support capabilities, such as employee-pension management, visual dashboarding, and management information systems (MIS). Finally, the core IT platforms provide the shared technology on which the journeys and business capabilities run, such as the cloud platform, the data analytics environment, and the set of IT connectivity solutions.

Source: The platform play: How to operate like a tech company

Link: Google makes emails more dynamic with AMP for Email

With AMP for Email, those messages become interactive. That means you’ll be able to RSVP to an event right from the message, fill out a questionnaire, browse through a store’s inventory or respond to a comment — all without leaving your web-based email client.

Some of the companies that already support this new format are Booking.com, Despegar, Doodle, Ecwid, Freshworks, Nexxt, OYO Rooms, Pinterest and redBus. If you regularly get emails from these companies, then chances are you’ll receive an interactive email from them in the coming weeks.

Source: Google makes emails more dynamic with AMP for Email

Link: Oracle’s Georges Saab on the Impact of Faster Java Releases

When the new six-month cadence was announced there was some talk about “release fatigue.” Have you seen that in the Java community?
It’s sort of like asking, if your kids had Christmas twice a year, do you think they’d experience “Christmas fatigue?” The parents might, I guess. What I’m hearing people say now is that they are seeing so much evidence that updating to 9 and finding the move to 10 and 11 so smooth, they’re excited about the new cadence and what’s coming down the pike.

Source: Oracle’s Georges Saab on the Impact of Faster Java Releases

Product management in the enterprise

Inside this interview, there’s an excellent explanation of what product management means in an enterprise. By “enterprise,” I mean a company who’s product is not technology. That is, most every company and organization out there. To that end, there’s a great example of doing product management and design at a food services company: discovering the actual problem to solve to meet business needs, and solving it by experimenting with a small batch loop.

See also the original show notes.

Link: Exploring the “Unknown Unknowns” in IT-enabled Digital Transformation Estimates

These low-ball estimates are sometimes provided by consultants working to get their foot in the door, or by executive sponsors working to gain approval for their programs. Excluding low-ball estimates, the primary cause of poor estimates tends to be a lack of experience and background of the leader.

Source: Exploring the “Unknown Unknowns” in IT-enabled Digital Transformation Estimates