Bulletin 15 June 2018 – On briefings, corporate transference and other tricks

I was sitting on a briefing call earlier this week when I confess my mind was starting to wander. Briefings, for the initiated, are where a company get to tell you things about themselves, and you get to ask interesting questions. Inevitably, they are designed to present things in a good light, so you can find yourself wondering about which bits have been left out. There’s some standard tricks that any briefing recipient needs to watch for.  

1. Corporate transference

This is an old, familiar phenomenon to anyone working on the outside of an organisation. Inevitably, as a system of people develops and matures, it solves problems and reaches states of epiphany — that moment of clarity when everything gets worked out. This is sometimes followed by, “We must tell the world!” evangelism, whether or not the world already knew about it. 

I remember a briefing a good ten years ago, by a software vendor (you can probably guess who) which had just worked out just how important IT security was. So, they proceeded to tell a room full of people that already knew this, in clear and unequivocal terms. Is vendor-splaining a thing? If not, it should be. 

2. Challenge-opportunity 

In a similar vein, organisations can be forced to address a weakness in their portfolio, offering or approach. “I know,” goes the mantra, “let’s not see it as a challenge, but an opportunity, right?” And so, out of the blue, there appears a great new service which is, great, yeah, just great. 

Now, it’s not for anyone to put anyone else down, but this approach can appear more than a little disingenuous. Every now and then it become difficult to resist the urge to call B-S, though this response is frowned upon in a professional setting. And so we keep steam, but we all know, don’t we?

3. Down-scoping

Case studies are always good value, as they make things real, bring the intangible to life. Behind the scenes of any case study activity are difficulties in getting customers to talk openly about their own problems, to appear allied to one vendor vs. another, and so on. The result is that examples, when they appear, are not reflective of the situation as a whole. 

The consequence can be that the example is of some obscure bank in Nebraska (I choose any place guardedly, apologies to Nebraskans who don’t feel at all obscure), or a department of a larger enterprise that happens to have got its own act together. “We’ve enabled new business value in ABC retailer” sounds so much better than, “An initiative in ABC’s new, yet short-lived customer experience facility used our stuff.” But it may be short-lived. 


The result of the above (and other) tricks is that the world can appear a wonderful place, at least for the duration of the briefing, yet the joy starts to fade just minutes after it ends, leaving the briefed wondering whether they heard anything useful at all. It also feeds a bigger challenge faced by the industry, which is: if we had all the solutions two decades ago (when I first started being briefed), why to the problems still pervade?

Part of the answer does come down to continued change, growing complexity and so on. But an equal measure needs to be placed at the door of our being a little too ready to accept the good news stories at face value. For sure, nobody wants to spend their working lives in a constant state of cynicism. Yet we remain unable to have any clear measure of progress, beyond processor cycles and storage volumes. Hm.

In other news, here’s a couple of articles from this week. 

 

5 questions for… Electric Cloud. Whence DevOps?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking a stack of briefings around DevOps as part of a report I’m putting together. The wood I’m trying to separate the trees from is, what’s so new now, compared to an awfully long time ago? Back when I was still literally a kid, software process people knew what configuration management and automation was; they also had tools and practices around operations, and ways of managing difficult conversations. So, if that’s not the topic at hand, what is? In this article, Sam Fell has some useful thoughts around the nature of complexity, which is a good place to start. 

 

5 questions for… Nuance – does speech recognition have a place in healthcare?

I’ve been a speech recognition advocate since I used to tramp round fields with my dog, transcribing interviews using a hacked-apart laptop, a scroll wheel and a headset. Which is also a long time ago. I am, frankly, surprised we (including me) seem to prefer sitting in front of a screen, with all the RSI and back problems we incur as a result, alongside the inefficiency. Will speech recognition have its day? Who knows, but I hope so for these reasons alone. In this article I speak to Nuance about how it could make a difference in the (needy) healthcare sector. 

 

That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading, as ever. 

Jon

Bulletin 15 June 2018 – On briefings, corporate transference and other tricks

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