The Face of the Future

We hear a lot about robotics but have you ever really looked at how this segment is advancing and considered the possibilities? Robots – in particular human-like robots – have great potential to become the information source of the future. Rather than approaching a directory board, information kiosks will have robots in place to assist you in finding a location, business, or even information you require.

One example of how this might work can be seen in the technologies developed by Hanson Robotics – whose most famous creation is Sophia. Here, the robot takes on more human like appearances with the goal of providing a more comfortable interaction for humans. This combined with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), delivers a huge potential for human/robotic interactions to increase and become a new norm as public servants, research assistants, and more.

While we are seeing autonomous vehicles, there is something about being in a new location, and having a conversation with the car service driver, or Taxi driver, about points of interest in the area, places to eat, and entertainment venues you might like. Imagine for a moment that your Taxi driver is a robot.

On your way to your hotel, your driver recognizes who you are, personally greets you and asks if there is anything you would like to know about this city. Knowing who yo are, when you ask about dining options near the hotel, your driver responds with options aligned to your preferences, based on your personal profile – all of which has been accessed via the internet.

In My View

The type of robotics seen from Hanson Robotics, is a revolutionary area on the verge of exponential expansion. The use of AI combined with more human like features, beings about a new era in human-computer interaction. The question now is not so much how and where can they be used, but more how comfortable and amenable are humans when it comes to our future and interactions with robots.

Merged or Acquired? What now?

During my 35+ years in information and process management, I have seen many companies merge, acquire others, or be acquired themselves. Typically there are statements along the lines of business will carry on as usual, and we will focus on bringing the best of the two organizations together. So once the paperwork, financials, and other paperwork is complete, what happens next?

All too many times, I have seen total disconnects between the organizations. Management changes, cultures differ, product integration is not as simple as expected, and more. My point is, mergers and acquisitions require more than financial agreements and a handover to new owners.

People, processes, cultures, and products must be assimilated and integrated in ways both organizations truly can complement each other and deliver stronger products, enhance customer satisfaction, and provide an employee environment that is enriching and promising for the employees.

In My View

While due diligence is a key factor in any merger or acquisition, the real work begins once the deal is done. This requires a change management plan coordinated with teams from both organizations to ensure a smooth transition, retention of skilled, valuable employees and their knowledge, and ensures customers will not flock away in fear their investments in your products and services will be jeopardized.

As part of your transition, solicit involvement from the employee base, to become part of the transition team. Seek input from customers regarding how the newly formed company can better service them. When trying to integrate your products and services, seek to find real solutions that can be incorporated in the short term, while developing and building the products of the future.

Know Your Target Audience

OK, this may sound like I am positioning politically, but I am not. I am using the FL COVID-19 registration system, and those used in the various counties, as examples of how knowing your audience makes a difference.

One of the most frustrating things I hear and have experienced personally, is that registration for these systems assumes – and that is the operative word – the user community all have access to online applications via a PC, tablet, or smartphone. Wrong!

One of the first things you find when trying to register is direction to go online and complete the registration forms. In the case of my mother and several others in their 80s, they do not have a PC, table, or smartphone to access this information. When I did this for my mother, I was forced to enter an email address so she can be contacted. Nope, she has no email address. (I had to use mine.) Another challenge was the requirement of a signature. Ever tried signing your name with a mouse? It is like trying to sign your name with a potato.

If you are lucky enough to get through and make an appointment, there is a requirement to provide your email, print the email with QR code, and bring that to your appointment. Wrong again! In the case of my mother, when the time comes that she does win the vaccine lottery, I will get the email and print it. Remember, she doesn’t even have access to the internet never mind an email and the ability to print it. And she is not alone.

In My View

The situation I described above make the assumptions that no matter who you are, you are connected to the internet, have access to online applications, and have the ability to interact in ways that are foreign to them. In fact, even the automated phone systems send them into a frenzy of understanding which button to push and for what?

All of this could be avoided by simply understanding the target audience. With such a large population of seniors, one might think FL and the various counties, would have made accommodations that align with the technical – or lack of – capabilities to this populous audience. /the same holds true for businesses and many organizations, especially given the forced increase of remote workers, and students.

Know your target audience and design your business interactions accordingly. If seniors don’t have access to online applications, how can they possibly interact and do what is required of them? If students do not have PCs and internet access from home, how can they possibly be expected to engage in their educational programs and keep up with those who do? Take the time and know your audience.

Critical Thinking and Process Design

In a nutshell, critical thinking the the unbiased analysis of facts, in order to form a judgement, make a decision, develop a strategy, and implement an action plan. In business, it is critical that fact based decisions form the foundation of a strategy and plan to move the organization forward.

Many businesses have operational processes in place that were formed serendipitously in response to a need for action. The steps taken worked, and as a result became the way things get done. While this might work as a temporary solution, the goal should be process by design, in particular when considering process automation.

This is where critical thinking comes into play. As presented in an article posted in indeed, titled “5 Critical Thinking Skills to Use at Work (And How to Improve Them)”, there are five key elements to critical thinking that also align with process improvement methods. In process improvement one might consider these:

  • Identify a problem or opportunity with the business process
  • Identify why the problem exists or the opportunity for improvement
  • Collect information or data on the issue through research and process mapping
  • Organize and analyze the data and findings
  • Identify ways to improve and automate the process

In My View

There are many business processes still conducted manually or in less than optimal digital workflows. Critical thinking enables an organization to step back, and look at the process with a more holistic view, and in an unbiased way; the result being the provision of fact based options for the improvement and automation of business processes that target specific and measurable goals. This then provides a foundation for continuous improvement initiatives to refine and build upon the designed processes put in place.

The most difficult part of critical thinking is the removal of personal bias, and emotions that will influence the analysis and end result. If you feel this cannot be achieved internally, consult with external resources having no connection to your organization. If you feel that this is something you can achieve internally, begin using it today, and develop a culture that embraces change and fact based design.

In-person – Remotely

I know, you are thinking, how can I be someplace in=person, remotely. I will admit to the physical impossibility at this time, but what if you had the ability to perform complex manual tasks using your hands, from a remote location? What if you could feel the objects you are manipulating and even tell how much pressure you are applying, the same as if you were there, in-person? If tactile/haptic feedback using remote robotic devices enabled you to do exactly what I described, how would that change the way you work?

I was first made aware of the theoretical model in the 1980s and feel that the applications for this technology in healthcare, the nuclear industry, and other business sectors can provide significant benefit. The question for me was never if it could be done, but when. The reason for when technically, was not a matter of getting humans to manipulate robotics, but one of bandwidth required to effectively manipulate those robotics from aa remote location.

This morning I was reading about a company doing exactly this, it is the Shadow Robot Company. The basic concept is the use of a robotic system placed in the target location, and the operator placed in a remote location where digital gloves are worn and used to manipulate the robot hands. In the nuclear and biochemical sectors, this approach allows hazardous materials to be handled safely, without exposing the technician.

In My View

The use of tele-robotics opens up a plethora of opportunities for businesses dealing in hazardous materials, greater access to specialized skills like those found in healthcare, and areas where humans might be placed at risk. The next step might be one of increased mobility where the capabilities offered by Shadow Robotics Company might be combined with the mobility capabilities of the robots created by Boston Dynamics, allowing remote manipulation to be brought to a location without direct human intervention.

Imagine being able to address dealing with a hazardous environment by sending in a tactile/haptic feedback enabled robot rather than a human. The possibilities become limited only by a myopic view of what the future could hold.

Plan For The Future

I read an article this morning titled “The Kessler Syndrome“, and it prompted me to think about how we humans will often charge forward to achieve a goal with little thought of the long term impact. Simply stated, the Kessler Syndrome theory presented in 1978 describes a theoretical scenario where there are too many satellites and other low Earth orbit (LEO) artifacts circling the planet. This creates the potential for a catastrophic cascading effect should a collision occur.

At present, there are no strong, internationally agreed upon, Laws governing the number of devices, how they are placed, where they are placed, and how to dispose of those no longer functioning or of value. In other words, any government and now commercial enterprise, has the ability to launch and place thousands of LEO’s in orbit around the Earth. This of course increases the possibility the Kessler Syndrome could become a reality.

Sadly, I have seen this in business as well, Technology is seen as the solution to a problem, and without considering the impact, department heads authorize the purchase of new software, hardware, or services without thought of what exists, and the impact it could have in the future. As a result, there are multiple, similar, products and services in use across the enterprise.

When the enterprise is so overcrowded with business solutions that they begin to negatively impact the end user thorough a lack of integration, siloed storage, and constant duplication of information causing business processes to crawl. In the past, the approach has been to consolidate yet even when consolidating on a defined platform, the information poured int it is rarely sorted, structured, or disposed of, causing a chaotic situation within a single environment.

In My View

Businesses tend to do as humans have done in space, we keep adding while seldom subtracting. We tend to toss more technology into the workplace as a fix to a situation, without looking at the bigger picture and planning ahead for the future. As data is imported from the various systems to a single platform, there is little to no oversight on what is relevant and of value, what should be discarded, and how the information will be managed and structured for find-ability.

To some this may sound like a decades old statement, to others it will resonate and align to the situation they currently face. The point is, technology has advanced but human thinking has not changed a whole lot. Many businesses focus on the now and give little thought of the tomorrows, setting the stage for their own versions of the Kessler Syndrome, with the potential for a chaotic collision of systems and information.

In the Year 2021

2020 has brought about many changes in both our personal and business lives. The impact due to COVID-19, forced businesses to reactively restructure their operational processes, extend their information ecosystems, and realign their workforces to be mostly remote.

As time pressed on, these business came to realize that having and supporting a remote workforce is an accomplishable reality. In fact there are many now implementing or at least considering maintaining a permanent remote workforce model once the COVID-19 threat is under control and a return-to-office model is considered safe for the employees.

In My View

I believe that 2021 will bring about a continued increase in the remote workforce, as businesses strengthen and enhance their infrastructures and technology capabilities. As a result, we will see the need for tighter security and encryption tools, improved connectivity by internet service providers, more stability in video conferencing technology, increased flexibility and capability in mobile devices, and a renewed emphasis on improving and automating internally and externally facing business processes.

We will also likely see businesses moving to reduce their operating costs by eliminating or significantly reducing their physical offices, which in turn reduces overall operating costs for the facility, utilities, and other associated costs related to occupying and maintaining a physical office environment.

This is a time to learn, plan, and design a business model that is tuned for maximum performance, agility, and stability. It is time to put aside traditional thinking and look ahead and embrace the new way-of-working. It is time to take stock of what you have, where you want to go, and build the infrastructure and processes to get you there. 2021 is only the beginning.

See Your Customer. Be Your Customer.

I hear a lot about the “Customer Experience” and how businesses are trying to improve and enhance the customer experience using various technologies, changing practices, and in general, trying to utilize every tool available to ensure high customer satisfaction levels and retention. The one thing I think is missing from many of these initiatives, is the customer.

Companies think they know their customers using a variety of data points, and profiles, but have they actually watched their customers interact with these tools they are implementing? Here is a test for you. Take someone in your organization not associated with your projects – a VP perhaps – and watch how they interact with what you think is a improvement to the customer experience. Let them, and I encourage you to do the same, be your customer.

Look at your world from the customers’ eyes. Is the interface user friendly? Is it really mobile friendly or just accessible using a mobile device? When you call in to talk with someone, how many steps does it take to actually reach a person, and how much time have you wasted trying to reach that person? Does your customer actually have digital access to interact with you? There are many folks who do not have internet access or even devices to digitally interact with your business, as we are witnessing with the problems in education and online learning. How do you address their needs or do you even care?

In My View

In order to improve and enhance the customer experience, you have to be a customer yourself. Designing, developing, and implementing technology with an ivory tower view, will not work well and may even backfire on you.

Take time to be a customer and look at your business from various angles that include both having and not having access to the internet. Try calling in to your sales and service departments to learn and understand what your customer experiences. This same approach can be used for the finance department and every department that interacts with internal and/or external customers.

If you want to provide a great customer experience the best approach is to see your customer in action, and be your customer to experience what they experience. The results may surprise you.

Knock, Knock – Who’s There?

We all know a knock, knock joke of some type and we often respond to someone knocking at our door with who’s there or who is it. My question is this, do you really know who is entering your facility or website, where they are going, what they are doing, and how long they stayed?

This is where visitor management comes in to play, and becomes an important part of your overall security plan and valuable data in relation to designing and implementing strong security practices. Additionally, it may also help you better understand your visitors in ways allowing you to develop profiles for future marketing efforts.

Visitor Management Systems (VMS) are designed to let you know who your visitor is, streamline access to your facilities and/or sites, and provide documentation of their whereabouts. In the physical world, this provides you a record of where the visitor went, what they tried to access, and if they were trying to enter a prohibited area. In the digital works when a visitor enters your site, it provides similar documentation and can send alerts of attempts to access unauthorized information.

In My View

My point is, people come and go which is a good thing, but we need to know who they are, where they are going, and if possible, why they are there. When developing information governance programs, and practices, visitor management should be part of your discussion. Security, defensibility and more accurate profiling can be the result of a focused effort in this area.

Information: Hiding in Plain Sight

Imagine you are being audited or are under a discovery order to present all materials pertaining to a lawsuit. You have well planned, maintained, and monitored Information Governance (IG) policies and practices, including those related to litigation hold, and presentment.

As a result, you confidently search across the enterprise, locating what you believe is every shred of information requested. There is no place in your information ecosystem where information resides and you are unaware of its existence. Or is there?

The question I would now ask, is did you search the hard drives located in your copy machines and potentially, some of your printers? That is right, there is a hard drive in most of today’s copy machines and some high end printers, where information is held and stored. Not only can they They can store copies of documents, they also have usage logs that hackers can get to, as can anyone servicing the devices.

The question you have to ask is this: “Are my copiers equipped with hard drives and use logs capabilities, and if so, how do I manage these in a way that my organization is not placed at risk and will maintain compliance requirements?”

In My View

Look at the specification sheet for your devices and locate the reference about hard drives in that devices. If you do not find one, there is a chance the device does not have a hard drive. Likewise, you will want to learn the processes to erase informatoin stored on that hard drive or how to access it in times of litigation and audit. This includes not only the documents stored there, but also the use logs.

When it comes time to change out a copier or printer with a hard drive, you will want to erase, remove, and/or destroy the hard drive before turning it over to the supplier. This may require assistance from the service tech, but you will want to ensure that all information – as some may be sensitive or confidential – is not vulnerable to being accessed by unauthorized persons.