Dharma Hacker, Future of Work

Welcome to the adventures

Thanks for visiting. This is a welcome post to orient you around what this site is and its core focus areas. I’ll break it down in three:

What

Mostly blog posts plus a few additional pages intended to capture adventures by the author and others, of the mind and at work 📄

Mind

So much of what determines progress happens in the mind and how we manage our attitude. Mastery is at an early stage. 🧠

Work

So much time is spent at work and business is a driving force for so much that happens in the world. It’s ever evolving and exciting. 🚀

Find out more about the author of this site, his adventures and latest work by sliding open the menu.

And one more thing on “why”. Because in the words of a famous adventurer of the spirit who has come to inspire millions:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

Helen Keller
Sense Making

The end of ownership and the rise of usership

Foundations

NOTE: this post is made up of 3 pages so click through the pages at the bottom to get it in full.

To own or to use is not a new concept. I started grappling with this at least 12 years ago when I worked for a technology division at Sony and we developed a mobile music streaming service with Vodafone. That was in the day before iPhone was launched, before Spotify, when the iPod was on the rise. I remember the naysayers at the time saying, no one will pay a subscription fee for a mobile service for music they don’t own. CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT??? Check out the video I recorded of the service back in the day in case you don’t believe me.

Erich Fromm wrote To Have or to Be in 1997 – from the blurb:

To Have Or to Be? is one of the seminal books of the second half of the 20th century. Nothing less than a manifesto for a new social and psychological revolution to save our threatened planet, this book is a summary of the penetrating thought of Eric Fromm. His thesis is that two modes of existence struggle for the spirit of humankind: the having mode, which concentrates on material possessions, power, and aggression, and is the basis of the universal evils of greed, envy, and violence; and the being mode, which is based on love, the pleasure of sharing, and in productive activity. To Have Or to Be? is a brilliant program for socioeconomic change.

How does that resonate for you 22 years later, in this day and age?

Sense Making, Customer Success

Balance customer success at scale with high touch when new demand spikes

I’m extremely lucky to work in a space that supports remote working, where demand is booming. COVID-19 has driven demand in the opposite direction for many, effecting their very existing. For the lucky few, it can also be something of a double edged sword. Supporting your customers the right way regardless, is crucial.

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As a Service, Customer Success, Startup Innovation

Cloudy with a chance of churn and how to retain your SaaS customers

One of the first things a customer will question in a downturn, is where they can cut or reduce recurring payments or OPEX. They will look for any reason, rational or otherwise. Licensing commitments aside, if you are a SaaS business and have been doing your job well, they should find only reasons to stay. Going forward, you can also do things to keep them committed.

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Dharma Hacker, Future of Work, Sense Making

How to respond to global challenges mindfully and the 3 stakeholders in success

The title of this post is hopefully not too oblique and its clear I’m referring in part, to the challenge of our time – COVID-19. And when I say mindfully, my principle context is the practice of meditation, where paying attention is key. By paying attention you become more aware. You become more concentrated and achieve states of natural clarity. All the better to manage responses (or non responses) to circumstances effectively. By stakeholders I mean the individual and groups, like organisations and broader societies.

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As a Service, Dharma Hacker, Sense Making

Zen and the right view of cloud technologies

On the path to the cloud, just as in life (as the Buddha would have us understand), one must submit our most cherished assumptions to rigorous questioning. We would make better decisions if we were clearer about the foundations of our own thinking. Cloud technology is a vast subject and this post tackles just a few assumptions, in the spirit of the DharmaHacker.

I am not presuming to have all the right views by any means and this post is also not going to tackle all aspects of this vast subject. Just the right few based on some recent conversations 😁

Firstly there are three clouds to speak of and I will focus mainly on the one that is normally atop a pyramid or stack: Software as a Service. The other two are Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service.

Do a search for more on this because there are many good views but I like this one from Giva because of its simplicity and my sympathy with their philosophy, notwithstanding the fact they accredit Rackspace with the original definition. For the sake of easy reference I’ve pasted it below:

SaaS is on the top of the stack because users interact primarily with software hosted on the cloud, and not the platform or infrastructure on which it runs. PaaS allows users to create and deploy applications. IaaS is simply the infrastructure and hardware that powers the cloud.

It also serves to make an important point I often emphasis with colleagues at the moment.

Where I work (Microsoft) there is a huge transformation underway on our journey to the cloud. There is much emphasis on our ever expanding set of cloud services that form part of Azure at Microsoft. Microsoft 365, the productivity cloud that fits into the top SaaS tier where I focus, sometimes gets short shrift because of the drive to expand usage of the underlying tiers.

I often emphasise the point made in the Rackspace definition about users.

It’s the users, stupid

Not only that, it’s the business. I don’t mean to underplay the importance of getting the foundational tiers up and running and operational for customers. This has to be properly in place.

But it is in the top tier where users are active and driving business outcomes that matter most. Whether on a pre-existing SaaS platform or on applications developed on top of the foundational tiers, you have to be focusing on what users are using, why and to what end. Everything else is secondary. Most importantly, this use in the top tier also drives use in the others.

And even when use is by a thing, as in IoT, it is still about who is using the output of all data generated in the IoT activity and to what business end is it being put that matters.

How SaaS works

A separate view I have to address is based on another conversation I had. It was in relation to digital transformation and the role parts of the business need to take in making it successful, like HR. It was also about using SaaS platforms to support the transformation and the role they played. A quote from an article was used to kickstart the conversation with someone from HR – article here, quote below: Digital Transformation is a Workforce Transformation and HR Must Assume a Leadership Role.

For digital transformation to succeed, internal processes need to follow the customer experience, not the other way around. This often results in radical changes such as the dismantling of processes and functional roles, as well as the demand for new skills and capabilities to meet evolving customer demands.

Based on the persons recent experience, their view was that:

HR processes have to squeeze into the new software configuration that due to high configuration costs can’t be modified to fit the desired process. Through implementation it becomes the tail wagging dog”.

My response, verbatim:

Firstly, in terms of the customer experience and internal processes referred to in the article, I see it as a cyclical process – captured in a doodle below.

“Then I think with cloud software (as a service) where you don’t run the software yourself, configuration (strictly speaking, its customisation) is not possible because all customers use the same version. This is opposed to when you ran an own version of the software on premise and could customise it to your hearts content to meet desired processes. That was costly and not just due to customisation effort.

The value in the cloud SaaS model is that you benefit from the feedback of many customers in frequently released versions of the software, with new features that meet the needs of most customers. Innovation can be focused on by applying technology to meet the majority of evolving business needs, instead of focusing on highly specialised solutions that take a long time to build and are costly to maintain and upgrade.

Not all clouds are viewed equally it seems. Let’s hope all generally end up with a silver lining though, whatever your view.

Customer Success, Future of Work

Corona as a catalyst for teamwork customer success and AI

I wouldn’t be the first to jump on the Corona Virus bandwagon, if that’s what I was trying to. No, I’m simply observing the ways I see others doing so, with varying degrees of success, and for good and bad reasons. Mostly it’s a way to conflate the unintended impact it is having, or where it is catalysing efforts and could impact several areas I personally have an interest in.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Mike Tyson

Corona has provided the punch. The world has stood up and taken notice and its plans are being put to the test. Reactions vary from the predictable to the bizzare.

Not to make light of a serious situation but who would have been able to predict that toilet paper would have been one of the highest items on the stockpiling list. My local grocery store shelf this morning > 🧻 ⛔ I wonder how public and commercial toilet facilities are coping.

I’m sure someone, somewhere in the pandemic planning world probably foresaw this. I cannot find evidence of it but it makes good sense for predictive planning systems to anticipate precisely these kinds of things. Especially with the help of AI these days but more on that later.

Or, to come back to the Mike Tyson quote and a real story based on it, after being punched in the face, you react with an effective riposte. Small aside, Buster Douglas did precisely that after a Mike Tyson uppercut in the 8th downed him. He recovered and came back to win in the 10th. He is one of the few opponents ever to beat Tyson, let alone recover from one of his fearsome punches – watch the incredible fight here.

The makers of Corona beer have had mostly bad fortune but their reactions have been questionable at a time when sensitivity is heightened. Good account of it here: Corona hits back at ‘misinformation’ about brand damage from coronavirus.

So what has this to do with the three related topics. Lets dig in.

Teamwork

Matt Mullenweg heads up Automattic which is the company behind the development of WordPress and he is a founding developer of the platform. He has long been a proponent of remote work, he calls it distributed work.

Automattic is a fully distributed company, not a single employee works from an office. They ceased renting office space some time ago although they still focus on regular physical meetups. A key element of distributed work is how to enable remote teams to be productive – to work together as a team.

WordPress is also one of the most successful open source platforms ever built. A large element of this depends on synchronising the efforts of remote and distributed contributors that don’t formally belong to the core organisation or team.

Technology and organising systems play a large role but no amount of technology is going to help teams that don’t want to or are not naturally inclined to work together as a team. Good outcomes management is also critical which I wrote about here: Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it.

Matt writes a fantastic summary of how Corona is catalysing a trend that he foresaw a long time ago and has been working on perfecting a strategy for: Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For.

The main point is that remote teamwork is going to become a really important aspect of the future of work. We would all do well to learn from the likes of Matt and his distributed company 👏

Customer Success

Nick Mehta who heads up Gainsight, one of the leading vendors of software that customer success professional like myself use, gets it too: 5 Positive Things SaaS CEOs And Leaders Should Do To Get Through COVID-19.

Number 4 of his 5 points is: “Success for All” means customer success has NEVER been more important.

They are all good points but point 4, alongside effective remote teamwork coalescing around the customer, plus add a splash of AI (see next point), are going to be the things that sets not only leaders, but companies apart.

This also takes an understanding that there is no single owner of the customer. Success has to be a “all in” thing. We are not yet there but I relish the day software facilitates this better as Gainsight are trying to do. More importantly, that warring factions within organisations over who owns the customer and customer activities cease.

Advance notice to old school Account Managers out there and if you are of the same mind, Tweet about it:

To old school account managers: the customer is not your sales target but our collective livelihood. You do not “manage the customer” and we can all take responsibility to lead them to successful outcomes, dependent on the right moment, skill and activity.

AI

If ever there was a moment for AI to shine, this would be it.

When we need to work better as a team, how can it help us do that? At Microsoft where I work, its no secret that AI is infusing everything and especially the platforms we offer to support Teamwork: The future of meetings – using AI to improve team collaboration.

Coming back to more effective teamwork around the customer and their success with your technologies and their business. Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Customer Insights helps teams have a single view of the customer and work better together on customer activities and their needs. It is infused with AI throughout.

Last but certainly not least. In fact this could be the most important use of AI to support our efforts around combating the virus. When we need to use AI to understand, predict and respond there are probably lots of things going on but I found this great account. Its mostly in a video although I cannot embed it here. Head on over to the ABC news site to find out more: Coronavirus research: Menlo Park lab using robots, AI to find COVID-19 medication.

Customer Success, Future of Work

Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it

With the coronavirus, workplace collaboration is getting a big boost. Just check Zoom’s stock price in the last two months. Workplace collaboration is hardly new but it does have a slew of new angles, technology vendors, experts, etc. The ingredient often missing in all the hubbub (literally and in the market) are effective outcomes.

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Customer Success, Future of Work, Startup Innovation

For citizen development to work address innovation culture first

I’m seeing more and more signals driving this trend which has only been around a short while. Gartner describes citizen development thus.

Its precursor was the consumerisation of IT. One of the key aspects of this trend was that decision making on the use of software in organisations was increasingly being taken by business users, not IT.

Once the floodgates are open you can imagine a logical next step would be to open up not just the purchase of applications by the business, but development of them.

The signals I’m seeing are two-fold. One is vendors’ increasing emphasis of it. The other is customers adoption of programs in their organisation. But for all these efforts, the crucial first element of success that needs addressing is a culture of innovation.

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As a Service

150 Million reasons the subscription economy is real

Amazon.com recently announced financial results for its fourth quarter ended December 31, 2019 – Source: The Information.

Amongst all the announcements is the staggering figure referred to in the title, in relation to Prime membership. From the announcement:

“Prime membership continues to get better for customers year after year. And customers are responding — more people joined Prime this quarter than ever before, and we now have over 150 million paid Prime members around the world,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “We’ve made Prime delivery faster — the number of items delivered to U.S. customers with Prime’s free one-day and same-day delivery more than quadrupled this quarter compared to last year. Members now have free two-hour grocery delivery from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market in more than 2,000 U.S. cities and towns. Prime members watched double the hours of original movies and TV shows on Prime Video this quarter compared to last year, and Amazon Originals received a record 88 nominations and 26 wins at major awards shows. A huge thank you to teams across Amazon for their dedicated work to build, innovate, and deliver for customers this holiday.”

That’s pretty good affirmation if ever it was needed and more in the same vein in terms of As a Service updates that I am tracking below. That’s 20 more reasons its real 😁

  1. Retail subscriptions are here to stay. What can we learn?
  2. Making a success of subscription – playing the long game
  3. YouTube in Talks to Follow Amazon and Apple Into Video Subscriptions Market
  4. Ways auto industry can transform with As a Service and employee experience
  5. Zoba, A Harvard Spatial Analytics Startup, Offers Logistics-As-A-Service To All
  6. 3 Predictions for the Subscription Economy in 2020 – Zuora
  7. US mobile app subscription revenue jumped 21% in 2019 to $4.6B across the top 100 apps
  8. Get ready for the emergence of AI-as-a-Service
  9. Why You Need to Adopt Data Science and Machine Learning in your Customer Experience/Success Program
  10. Desktop-as-a-Service: Work from anywhere, on any device
  11. How the Platform-and-License Model May Outpace the Product Model
  12. Berlin-based Grover gets €250 million to blaze a trail in the electronics sharing economy
  13. Turners’ new car subscription service a sign of changing times, CEO says
  14. The engine of the subscription economy
  15. Prioritizing Customer Success Is Key In The Subscription Economy
  16. Moving from a legacy economy to a subscription economy
  17. CES 2020 preview: Even more streaming services and subscriptions on the horizon
  18. Will the XaaS economy create ‘Netflix for cars’?
  19. Subscription-based economy trends: business tips, benefits & examples
  20. Goldman Sachs is entering into the banking-as-a-service market

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Future of Work, Sense Making

Half life of information and necessary rate of learning

I’ve just recently completed a series of certifications and learning modules for work. This is in addition to the training we have to do every year. It’s a lot of learning and pretty challenging alongside your day job.

That’s the point. It’s part of Microsoft’s (where I work) emphasis on a growth mindset since it focuses on the way you relate your sense of self to a challenge. My sense of self has risen immeasurably since taking on the challenge I can tell you and I am relishing it even more as I move forward.

The growth mindset theory popularised by Carol Dweck encompasses many aspects in addition to how you tackle challenges. One of them is the belief that your abilities can be developed, through learning for example (as long as you have a growth mindset).

Continuous learning is especially critical in an age of tech intensity which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also believes we are in, as I wrote about here: Tech Intensity and the Adaptive Organisation.

Learning refresh cycles

So coming full circle to my doodle. If continuous learning is the order of the day, how long before your past learning becomes redundant?

I caught myself in self congratulatory mode after finishing my recent certification thinking I couldn’t get too comfortable in the knowledge my learning was done for that subject.

A great piece on the theory of the half life of information ponders what the current rate of decay of knowledge is.

With my recent certification which was on Azure Fundamentals, I was pretty sure that things were changing so fast, I’d have to relearn things in less than a year.

My doodle posits that a year is the average time it takes for knowledge to be made redundant and then new learning needs to kick in. Of course this will vary by subject and industry.

What do you think?

As a Service, Future of Work

Ways auto industry can transform with As a Service and employee experience

The automotive industry is scrambling to transform itself in various areas: green (move to electric); smart (move to connected), etc. Much is being driven by nimble startups like Tesla, unencumbered by legacy concerns. This post focuses on two two areas that could further drive the turnaround and may be even more important because they are in white space.

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