technology

Have you got an “Innovation Killer” in your business? Here’s five dead giveaways

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Inertia has killed a lot of giants. The clients we work with know this. All of them are looking to overhaul their legacy processes, to implement new digital products and to use technology to better serve their clients. That said, an organisation's fate relies on its people, and one bad innovation apple can spoil the bunch – this bad apple is otherwise known as the dreaded “Innovation Killer.” 

The challenge is that Innovation Killers aren’t always obvious. They play it cool and practice passive resistance. They travel in stealth mode. They know that at the very least they must give lip service to the future, even while killing it in the crib.

The Innovation Killer is the opposite of an organisation’s "Change Agent” – that sunny innovation advocate who champions the push to implement new digital technologies. 

Luckily, years of delivering transformative projects have supplied our team with five phrases that we all agree are dead giveaways you’re dealing with an Innovation Killer.     

1. “We’ve tried that before, it didn’t work.” If a project didn’t work the first time, that doesn’t mean it won’t ever work. It might have been tried in the past, but never at this point in time, with this team, and this technology. If the previous attempt failed because of technical limitations, it’s possible those limitations have been addressed in subsequent releases or through entirely new offerings.     

2. “That’s not how we do it here.” Innovation by its very nature changes how things are done. Rather than think of how new digital products change current processes, they should be viewed through the prism of how they improve current processes.  

3. “We could do that ourselves.” If that were the case, it would already be done.

4. “That doesn’t fit with our policy.” Policies are written to help guide businesses; they’re not meant to be wielded as swords to cut down innovation. Good organisations update their policies as they grow and transform, because policies are written to fit the processes and capabilities of the time. Transformational digital products can only deliver their real value if they’re embraced by the whole business – this often means policies need to be updated to encompass the potential of the new technology.  

5. “People don’t like change.” This is perhaps the most common Innovation Killer phrase I hear, and it’s a red herring. It’s not change people fear, it’s loss. Truly innovative and transformational projects are a time of upheaval, but it’s an uplifting upheaval. Thankfully, while this is the most common objection, it’s also the easiest to address. Through good communication, taking the time to explain how much more efficient and productive they’ll be, and how the new technology simplifies their life and the lives of their customers, the Innovation Killer can be brought around.

When it comes to digital transformations, you can’t innovate without changing the status quo. In the face of this disruption, the organisation’s Innovation Killer will inevitably make themselves known and how you deal with them can make or break a project.

The good news is that the Innovation Killer isn’t a bad person (not most of the time anyway), they just have an attitude that isn’t particularly helpful. Whatever you do, don’t write them off or disregard them. By taking the time to understand the root of their reluctance, and addressing it, they can be converted. How to do that will be the subject of another post, but I'll say this, there’s no more powerful Change Agent than a reformed Innovation Killer.

Amazon Textract - An Early Look

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Last year at AWS re:Invent, Amazon Textract was announced as a next-generation OCR service which not only performs word-based translation, but can also provide form and table value extractions in a way that makes it easy for developers to link into their own services. Today marks its Generally Available release.

Optical character recognition (OCR) has always been a challenging problem to solve. The technology to do this has been around since 1914, yet some companies still employee a human workforce to perform laborious data entry from forms and documents into their corporate systems. Textract aims to automate this problem however it does not currently support handwriting within the documents.

Form and Table Support

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In addition to word and line text extraction, form and table support is something that is rare to OCR technologies and even rarer to have it available as programmatically extractable information. Oddly, paragraph support is not present in the service.

Form information is available in API call responses as a key-value set and table information is available as cell blocks with row / column values and cell spanning information. All values regardless of type include bounding box coordinates (which is shown in the console demo screenshots) and confidence scores.

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Testing The Limits

As with most services, the demo document is the best case scenario so I wanted to test with something unknown to see how well it did, using a document I had readily available. Here’s how it did:

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From the screenshot you can see it did fairly well, though it did have some issues:

  • 90° Rotated Text Not Detected: One of the limitations of the service is that it only supports horizontally aligned text, so the text in this was not found correctly.

  • Multiple ‘X’ checks were not discovered: Though it correctly detected one checkmark (as the text ‘X’), it missed two in the same format immediately above it.

  • Did not detect single-row or single-column tables: In our testing with other documents, tables with a single row or single column were not detected as tables.

Pricing and Availability

Textract is marketed as costing $1.50 per 1000 pages, but it’s important to note that’s only for simple text recognition. If you want to detect table data, that price goes up 10x to $15 per 1000 pages and if you add form data the total becomes $65 per 1000 pages, a 43x increase!

As of today, the service has become generally available in the N. Virginia, Oregon, Ohio and Ireland regions. The service is expected to roll out to all commercial regions gradually as they improve the service.

tl;dr

Amazon Textract is a remarkable step up for OCR technologies. It exceeds competition such as the Google-sponsored Terreract project but costs can jump steeply when adding advanced features such as table and form information extraction.

If you’d like help designing an automated document scanning system, get in touch with us to find out how we can help you plan, design or build your solution.

How do you architect culture at scale?

Angus Dorney and Allan Waddell tackle the question of how you build culture and then scale it. Watch the video or read the transcript below.

Great teams on the horizon….

Great teams on the horizon….


Angus: Whew! (laughs)

Allan: You got this.

Angus: Yeah, I got this. Well, I think architecting culture at scale is, I think, important's things to do if you're going to architect culture at scale. First of all, you have to define an organization stands for really and I think that the values are in an organization's DNA are set extremely early on in the life, the lifecycle of that organization. It's something that you can't change as the organization grows up. And so, I believe, that in order to scale culture in an organization, you have to be very clear in what your values are early, those values have to different, they can't just be innovation on a tea and trust like every other single business in the world. They have to different. They have to meaningful. They have to be something that, ah, g-, is going to motivate your employees and engage them as they grow and, if you set the blueprints early, then that can be a guiding light for scaling locally and internationally.

Allan: Completely agree. One of the key things a scale is, you need to be attractive the developmental, the capability market as opposed .. and that needs to marry into, I mean, y-, your internal values might not necessarily be the same as what you present your clients, um, but they need to be, they need to be, but they need to be alive, if that makes sense. And so, when you talk about cultural scale, attracting great people is one of the benefits, well, of having great culture and then also attracting great clients.

Angus: Yeah, uh, I think that a lot of organizations will say, "Here's our values", and print out a poster and stick in on the wall,

Allan: Hmm (affirmative).

Angus: and that's completely ineffective so it's actually about defining what it is that you stand that for and the behaviors that, how you stand for as an organization but it's about reinforcing those things with, um, the way that you act, the things that you do so you have to build customs and forums and reinforcing mechanisms around those values themselves. And, you know, whether that's with the group meetings that you facilitate, definitely the way that the leadership team acts, the types of behavior that's acceptable and [inaudible 00:02:46] on a daily basis in the organization, the recognition, the awards that you give out, all of these things serve to reinforce those set of values rather than just sticking a, a poster up on the wall and hoping that that's going to influence the way people behave.

Allan: Absolutely, I think it's, culture is not just about what leadership decides-

Angus: Yeah.

Allan: It’s, you know, your team has to embody that culture and that's the only way, w-, client, if, you know, if clients have your team on site you can't, (laughs) deploy, ready, win and go. Remember that we're humble. Like it doesn't work that way. But the leaders on the ground have to really believe that and be cultural leaders for their team,

Allan: .. just recently we had a, one of our old hands back at the office, he, and, um, one of our team was talking about the experience they were having on site and how that related so much back to the values that we have, how it related back to the integrity and the humility, and I stopped what they were doing for a moment and believed it was their chance to really operate in that mode? And, I think that's like a watershed moment for us, when we go, "This is, you know, we think we're going the right thing.". I don't think there is necessarily a direct path to building a culture scale, it's a journey, and you have to adapt and you have be on, everyone has to be on the bus together, .. but that was a really good indicator that we're on to something.


Why The Technology Behind Bitcoin May Someday Save Your Life

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Allan wrote the following piece for CSO.  You can also read it there.

It’s time to chin up and stop grousing that we’re all late to the crypto-currency party. Most of us may have missed our moment to make millions off of Bitcoin, but the technology behind it could eventually save our lives. 

This potential is likely behind the government’s recent decision to use the budget to set aside $700,000 for the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) to “investigate areas where blockchain technology could offer the most value for government services.” It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a start that other many other nations haven’t made.

While the early arrivals to Bitcoin may be having more fun financially than the rest of us, the cryptocurrency frenzy is rapidly changing from a gold rush-themed greed-fest to a surprise party: turns out that blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin and dozens of other cryptocurrencies, has untold practical and even altruistic uses, from making food safer to boosting humanitarian aid; from improving electric grids to safeguarding workers’ rights.

Blockchain creates a shared digital ledger, an open book whose decentralised information can’t be altered or hacked.  This transparency and stability is where the potential lies.

In April, Blackmores, the natural food company, and Australia Post announced that they are teaming up with China’s Alibaba in a new Food Trust Network to develop a food tracing technology using blockchain. The world’s largest dairy exporter, New Zealand’s Fonterra, will also participate in the network, as will that country’s postal system. The project will start with Blackmores’ fish oil and Fonterra’s Anchor products.

In mere seconds, their system will be able to track food from the store shelf to the farm and shipment it came from, thanks to special codes on the food’s packaging.

The system has enormous potential to address health threats in our food supply in ways that could actually save lives.

For example, seven deaths and a miscarriage were linked in recent months to listeria-tainted rockmelon grown in New South Wales. After the first death, in mid-January, it took authorities working without benefit of blockchain about 40 days to find and contain the source; by then a total of 19 people would be affected.

Granted, even with blockchain, this particular outbreak would have been hard to trace. That’s because listeria symptoms can take months to emerge, shrinking the likelihood that victims will remember what they ate or where they bought it. Blockchain can’t work its rapid magic, remember, if the label is long gone or the store is forgotten.

 Even so, once the grower was known, the technology would have helped authorities instantly pinpoint which stores sold the grower’s melons and when; possibly even to whom. Given that the melons were sold throughout Australia and exported to nine  countries, that would have been a good thing.

The U.S. is experiencing a similar food health crisis with romaine lettuce. Dozens of  people have developed kidney failure from an E. coli outbreak tied to romaine lettuce. Authorities still haven’t found the source and are warning people against eating any romaine lettuce until they do. Twelve years ago, spinach with E. coli killed three Americans outright and authorities spent weeks afterward trying to figure out where the deadly stuff was grown and packed.

The technology has already proven to have profound benefits in humanitarian ways. The World Food Programme recently began using it to distribute food aid to Syrian refugees in a Jordan refugee camp.No digital middleman is needed to broker transactions, and there are no fees. For that reason, refugees shop at the camp’s ‘food market’ and at checkout, a biometric scanner charges the WFP for their selections. Meanwhile, the blockchain safeguards the refugees’ identities, eliminating paperwork. The Danish Foreign Ministry says it might soon disburse all of its humanitarian aid in this way. And when a British charity recently used blockchain to send aid to some Swaziland schools, Reuters reported that the savings paid a year’s tuition for three additional students.

It’s the decentralised and transparent aspect of the technology that has the potential to make power grids ‘smarter.’ By eliminating the need for a single centralised server, everyone on a network can share information simultaneously, which will make it possible to detect problems faster when power grids fail. One day blockchain may also be able to distinguish clean energy in the grid from that derived from fossil fuels. This will make it easy for governments to track how much of it is generated and used. And Western Australia’s PowerLedger is trying to use blockchain to disrupt energy retailing and permit the rise of the “prosumer” (the energy producer/consumer) by giving them the tools to trade power.

And just last month, the U.S. State Department and Coca-Cola Co. announced a plan to fight hidden forced labor in countries where the beverage giant gets its sugar cane. The notion is to rely on the tamper-proof aspect of blockchain to create a workers’ registry that also tracks workers’ contracts with employers. Such a registry can’t force companies to honour their promises, but at least there’d be evidence of what those promises were.

To be sure, there’s a downside to the technology, which is that it requires massive amounts of energy to work its magic. But computer scientists from the MIT and other universities are racing to develop greener varieties.

Too bad all this potential for good is so often obscured by all the hoopla over blockchain’s profit-making potential. As one U.S. enthusiast, Naval Ravikant, said, it’s truly a shame that this technology of trust burst on the scene “dressed up as a get-rich-quick scheme.”

So relax. You’re not late to the most important party. It’s only just getting started, and with the right initiatives and policy, it will benefit everyone in ways we can’t even imagine yet.