cloud computing

Our Friendly AI Survey

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At Kablamo, we work with artificial intelligence at a pretty high technical level and with often very specific objectives (e.g., archival video management).

Being at the coal face means it sometimes really helps to gather a more general, everyday, "real" world take on how people think of AI and how they think it could change our future.

This survey is about helping us all to understand that perspective a little better (and, hey, it might even be fun).

Is Cloud All or Nothing?

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When it comes to cloud adoption, there’s largely two schools of thought on the best approach. The first involves migrating most - if not all - business functions in a large scale transformation project. The second involves shifting functions piece-by-piece as and when the need or desire to do so becomes apparent.

You want to enable organisations to pursue both strategies. Perhaps most importantly, however, you want to take the time to listen to the organisation and understand which approach would be the best fit for their unique business circumstances - even if your advice runs counter to their initial thinking.

Regardless of which strategy is pursued, making the choice to move business functions to the cloud provides multiple benefits to an organisation. Whether it’s an improved security posture, better disaster recovery and backup processes, increased flexibility or lower IT overheads, embracing the cloud can bring huge competitive advantages.

When it comes to SMEs, perhaps the greatest benefit of cloud computing is that a smaller company can leverage all the tools larger enterprises use without the upfront investment needed for on-premise enterprise computing equipment.

The flip-side of this coin is that larger enterprises can use new-generation tools to either replace or compliment their current investments. This helps large organisations compete with newer, more nimble entrants to the market - assuming of course they’re willing to make the leap.

No matter the size of an organisation, a full-scale transformation project can be daunting. Many organisations can fall into the trap of rushing into a complete IT overhaul without being completely aware of the internal skill sets or retraining required to make the project a success.   

It is in these cases we’d advise a client to test the cloud waters first. Rather than migrate all functions at once, it could be more beneficial to embrace the cloud application-by-application. Below we’ve listed the most common business processes our clients migrate to the cloud, and outline some of the benefits of doing so. For the cloud-curious, these applications make the most sense to migrate first in order to introduce an organisation to cloud before exploring a more wide-scale transformation;   

Web Facing Applications: Websites, content management systems, mobile apps and online commerce sites should be the first applications to consider migrating to cloud. Not only are these typically more modern, meaning migration is much simpler, but they’re also less essential to business than applications like ERP -  if there’s any teething issues during the project, there is less disruption to business. Not only are these applications some of the simplest to migrate, but their performance can be greatly improved by shifting them to cloud as they typically require scalability to balance unpredictable online volumes - scalability that is both difficult and expensive to achieve on-premise.

Customer Relationship Management: CRM software keeps track of every aspect of the customer relationship from first contact throughout the entire lifecycle. A robust cloud-based CRM improves a business’ knowledge of its customers as all interactions are recorded and easily accessible; whenever a customer gets in contact, that customer’s history is available to the agent at the click of a button. Critically, cloud-based CRMs can extend this functionality to agents in the field as a smartphone with an internet connection can access all the same data as a computer terminal at HQ.  

Human Resource Management System: HRM systems focus on the human component of your business. It encompasses everything from payroll and benefits planning, to talent acquisition and reporting. A cloud-based HRM system enables an organisation to confidently manage the changing nature of work, for example more staff wish to work remotely and gig economy workers are becoming more prevalent. A responsive system enables employees to more efficiently track and log their time, while the inbuilt analytics of these systems gives the HR team a better of insight of employee productivity.     

The most important takeaway, though, is that cloud computing has something to offer almost every business. For some, it is leveraging powerful hardware, software, and services for a pay-as-you-go price. For others, it is a level of data security they could not achieve on their own. For developers, it is remote collaboration and multi-platform tools for creating, testing, and deploying highly available applications.

When considering cloud, it can seem intimidating. Not every organisation is ready to shift every application all at once, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Each business is unique and at a different stage of their cloud journey. Regardless of whether you’re ready to go all-in on cloud or would prefer to dip your toe in the water first, it’s important to find a partner who understands the specific outcomes your business wants to achieve and has the technical ability to help you achieve them.  



Bring Your Humans...

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If you want a tech transformation.

Transformations are disruptive. I don’t mean this in the lazy, cliched, and sigh-inducing “X company is the Uber of Y industry, poised to disrupt the industry”, I mean it is a process of change that requires some adaptation.

Digital transformations involve overhauling processes and reimagining how an organisation does business. It’s not as simple as calling in a carpenter to renovate the office kitchen - although this too can cause some disruption - because transformations are underpinned by an aspirational vision of what the organisation could be.

This desired future state, by its very nature, is disconnected from the organisation’s current reality. It is this disconnect that is the cause of most of the disruption. Humans, being creatures of habit, become accustomed to doing things in a certain way - in a business context, this means using certain programs, processes, or resources to achieve a particular task. Transformation projects aim to overhaul this status quo and ultimately give a workforce access to tools to make it more efficient, more collaborative, and more responsive to change.  

While these are all noble aims, an organisation’s humans must be brought along for the journey so they understand why this transformation is taking place and what that desired future state looks like.

A people-first focus enables you to really listen, to ask the right questions and discover exactly what an organisation needs. This open and frank communication - devoid of any preconceptions - allows you to intimately understand what the organisation actually desires to achieve.

This free-flow of information is something we encourage our clients to undertake with their staff during a digital transformation. It is a disruptive time for any organisation, but below are a few tips to ensure employees understand what changes are coming and - most importantly - why they’re coming;   

  • Collaborative Enthusiasm. During a transformative project, every employee has a role to play and needs to be ready to collaborate across teams and disciplines. For example, the marketing team may need to start promoting the tech transformation before it’s implemented, and needs to mesh with the IT team to make sure their message is accurate and timely. Make these roles clear, and ensure the teams understand what they need to do and why they need to do it.

  • Common Vision. Building enthusiasm and cross-department collaboration is far more successful when the entire enterprise shares a common vision and understanding of the project. Outlining the project and its goals in a product development framework document is one important way for key stakeholders to gain an overview of the project and to communicate the cogent information effectively to employees.

  • Technical Skill. This encompasses not only the skills and knowledge of your employees but also your managers’ ability to evaluate potential vendors and the tech they’re providing. Sometimes the “best-dressed” vendor isn’t the best choice for a project; do your people have the knowledge to determine this? It is important to have an honest conversation with your technical team before evaluating any transformation initiative - what skills do they have and where are the blind spots?

These components won’t fall into place overnight. They require planning and a clear view of the organisation’s strategy and desired future state, but each needs to be addressed. Ask the hard questions: Do your people have the technical skill required for their particular piece of the project? Are they excited to join in the process of transforming your enterprise’s technology? Does everyone share the vision of the enterprise’s future that this technology will usher in?

Also apply these concepts when choosing vendors or consultants, who each contribute a piece to the overall project. How well do they know the product or technology they’re working with? Are they enthusiastic about the project and able to collaborate effectively with your humans? Inasmuch as you can share the details of the project with them, do they understand their role in making the company’s vision become a reality?

Evaluate the answers to these questions before launching a project, and return to them periodically throughout the process to make sure your people’s skill sets, enthusiasm, knowledge and collaboration - as well as those of your technology providers - are on track.

After all, technology is only as effective as the people using it. Bringing your people onboard early in the process ensures your organisation can navigate the coming changes as seamlessly as possible.  

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A BUSINESS-PRACTICAL WAY TO THINK ABOUT AI

A salesperson representing a company that deploys artificial intelligence solutions walks into a CTO’s office one day and starts talking about the company’s product. You’re the executive assistant observing the conversation. What do you see? Can you see an animated individual talking incessantly about how great his company and its products are, and another one nodding and looking knowledgeable while not seeing the relevance of any of that to his business?

This scenario plays out everyday somewhere in the world, and it’s not uncommon for such meetings to end with the prospect holding an even bigger bag of questions than before. Questions like “How appropriate is this product or service to my business, specifically?” are often left unanswered. Nothing like “It will reduce your manpower requirement by 32 FTEs” or “This will speed up your average response time by up to 23%” ever breaches the surface.

If you’re the business owner or executive responsible for the decision, questions like that might leave you wondering whether it’s worth the effort at all. More often than not, the salesperson will gloss over many of the challenges, which only makes the decision even harder.

To help put your train of thought on the right track, we’ve identified some key elements that any business eyeing AI deployment needs to think about no matter what its size. Hopefully, these points will help clarify your position on AI and whether it’s really viable or even necessary for your organization.

First things first.

Quantify It

A lot of businesses fail to calculate the benefits of new, AI tech at work in a tangible way.

For example, if you’re responsible for customer support at your company, you need to ask how much AI chatbots will help reduce your issue resolution time.

If you operate an online store like Amazon.com, you need to know if a machine-learning-based inventory management system bring down your backorder levels or prevent the system from displaying out-of-stock items. Will customer ratings go up as a result? That’s the sort of tangible measurement that will help you develop your digital work.

It’s the same when adopting any new technology, like moving to a cloud computing environment. Moving to the cloud is a good thing for the most part, but unless you know exactly what workloads should be moved and how that will materially impact your revenue or other key metrics, it’s only going to be a trial and error exercise.

Ask metrics-related questions to help you pinpoint the areas that can positively impact your business. If you’re measuring a specific metric like backorder levels, the AI system you’re considering should ideally move the needle for that metric in the right direction, and considerably so.

Just as you quantified the benefits, you also need to consider the cons.

Understand the Downside

AI is a sensitive topic because of the perceived threat to jobs. What’s good for your business metrics might not be too great for your company when it comes to attracting new talent. If a lot of your business depends on bringing in the right people and your company is known for rapidly deploying efficient automated systems that result in job cuts, you might end up facing an HR crunch or labor unrest at some point. Here are some examples:

In early June 2018, casino workers in Las Vegas threatened a city-wide strike against companies like MGM Resorts International. One of their sticking points was the increased level of automation threatening their jobs.

Dock workers around the world regularly call for strikes because of the rampant automation efforts by freight companies and port authorities. In reference to the labor strike in Spain on June 29, 2017, the following comment was made by a leading port technology portal:

“Given the contemporary state of globalised business, it also means we inhabit a world of globalised unions, and with Spain seeking to gain Europe-wide support for its tangle with the EU, it is not impossible to imagine a much larger response to the burgeoning trend of AI automation in the near future.”

After a conversation with several human resources department heads, Deloitte vice chairman and London senior partner Angus Knowles-Cutler said,“The general conclusion was that people have got to (come to) grips with what the technology might do but not the implications for workforces.”

You need hard data to help you make the final decision, especially when facing strong opposition from the company’s stakeholders. It makes it easier to filter out unwanted investments that could hurt you versus those that can take your business to the next level in a positive way. In a future post, we'll explore an example of how one company implemented automation too quickly and too widely, and finally called the whole thing off.