Pic: Julie Hawker, CEO of Cosmic Ethical IT
Julie Hawker, CEO of Cosmic Ethical IT, reflects on the book by Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK. In an age when, on average, emails are replied to in 1 hour and text messages are replied to in 1 minute, how can we better manage the constant demands (or perceived demands) on our time?

Having recently read this book, I’ve been able to digest and interpret a number of current and future challenges for business leaders and their use of digital in the business.

Let’s start with the common current experience in our businesses. How many of you reading this article can relate to this: –

“I prepare myself thoroughly for my yearly two-week break from work, have planned a delightful destination and precious time with loved ones, and I can’t wait. I set up my ‘out of the office’ responder and do a mental rehearsal of my sincere determination to stay switched off and enjoy my leave. However, during a dull moment of said holiday I ‘mistakenly’ switch to emails and discover several hundred (and more) downloading, some of which catch my eye for a sneaky peak at an exciting or challenging development. I spend a few hours mulling it over then do my best to return to holiday mode. And then, day 12 of my 14 days is here and I start to calculate in my mind just how many emails there are going to be waiting on Monday morning and I decide one of two things:

-    I can sacrifice my Sunday this week just so that I am able to return to work without the pressure of the urgent emails which I could easily review from the comfort of home and take my time
-    I rule out any other business activities, no matter how important, for Monday and Tuesday (possibly Wednesday too) knowing that email catch-up will take at least that long.”

Just about everybody working in a modern office environment will relate to this scenario. The question is  ‘what are we going to do about this folks’! (Also, should we still be using auto-responders as an effective way to fill up other people’s inboxes whilst they are away on leave too?)

Top Tips for Managing Your Email

  • Regularly review your incoming email and unsubscribe from any publications that you’ve not opened in their last two editions (you won’t open the future ones either).
  • Take responsibility in your own behaviour with emails – don’t be surprised that when you spend a whole morning/afternoon of catching up with emails and sending out lots, you’ll get a whole lot more back in return (and particularly don’t send out a large number of emails just as you’re about to go on leave).
  • Make sure people you regularly communicate with know about your absence and encourage them not to send emails during the period.
  • Set up an effective system to manage spam and unwanted emails – these clutter up your inbox and need regular monitoring even when you’re not on leave. Don’t put off responding to emails Get advice and support from colleagues and contacts about how they manage their emails to reduce the regular burden.

Now, let’s look further ahead and some of the challenges which business leaders are already facing and which many more of us will experience over the coming years. The arrival of ‘big data’ means that more than ever we will have access to information, data, knowledge and intelligence acquired and processed by our various digital systems and devices. The level of information surging towards us is growing weekly at present, and only a few businesses have really developed ways in which to filter, process and take meaning from the information mountain. Are they sipping at the font of wisdom then? Well, in most cases the answer will be ‘no’, but they are beginning to develop the processes and systems which will enable a use of information and data in a wiser way.

Most small businesses, and certainly the majority of larger businesses have embraced the use of CRM (customer relationship management) systems in larger or smaller scale. In the main these are being used to manage marketing, sales and pipeline activities more effectively, and in some cases this use extends to ensure thorough and effective after-sales experiences too.

And the use of social networks in business has posed a whole new set of challenges – how quickly can we respond to tweets and status updates?  How effective can we be without a dedicated digital resource and skills?  And just to put these challenges in context, the challenges of keeping up are clear.

  • 75% of engagement on a Facebook post takes place in the first 5 hours
  • 2 million searches a minute happen on Google – and 15% of those are brand new terms
  • 92% of people want brands to make their  ‘ads’ feel more like storytelling or games
  • 72% of people who complain on Twitter expect a response within an hour

Although (in itself) a bit of a ‘turn-off’ subject, Data Protection needs to be regarded at the forefront of our data management and processes.  Digital marketing depends on good management of your data protection policies, systems and implementation, and already this year we’ve seen some top brands heavily impacted by their lack of controls – Sony, eBay and Adobe all suffered at the hands of the hackers in 2014 and the result was a further loss of trust by some consumers about the use of cloud technologies, as well as the attention paid to protection of privacy and data by major corporates. In other words, as humans we need to pay strict attention to the treatment of our customers and collaborators (other humans) in using digital technologies and not let the machines take over this responsibility.

Top Tips for Data Management

  • Be sure your CRM is working for your business – review, update and change it to make sure it does; e.g. conduct an annual audit of CRM data and clean-out old records as well as refreshing; if your CRM does not offer opportunities for marketing developments – then look for improvements.
  • Have a clear, consistent and updated approach to Data Protection in your business? – take advice if needed and make sure that the human interests in data privacy, protection and effective security are being well-served.
  • Do an audit on your current web, social media and digital systems – review your SEO, digital marketing plans and see how they align with what’s happening and developing online right now – are you keeping up and do you know how to take a market advantage by using digital technology more effectively?
  • Develop the skills and capacity to keep updated on social media and to respond to your customers’ requests and input – consider ways in which you can achieve this effectively (and how important it is in your wider business plan to develop in future)
  • Walk-the-talk – make sure that you are seen as a leader in your business on data issues by championing the role of the human in making good decisions, providing insights and developing innovative approaches in the business.

Now, let’s look further ahead still, to a time when data, information, news and knowledge has increased ten-fold and is being partially filtered to suit your requirements and settings, but it is still coming from a wide variety of systems, technology, devices.  It’s just been advanced to a stage whereby the algorithm is in charge. The algorithms of our modern technologies represent a huge advance in our use of digital systems – with the ability to process, manage and generate information and data at very advanced levels and with incredibly high levels of customisation, evidence and tailoring to fit context. Indeed, there’s been talk of an algorithm attaining a position on the Board of a digital company - take a look at this article.

All hail the algorithm then? Well, no actually. As Dave Coplin explains -

  1. Algorithms can only make predictions (e.g. “this must be spam”, “this ad should be placed here”) based on experiences drawn from a huge trove of “training” data.
  2. They can only learn from that data by processing it within a model that has been given to them; they can’t learn from data alone.
  3. As the volume of data expands, the machines learn from the results of previous predictions and fine-tune the model. This iterative self-improvement is one of the most powerful features of machine learning but it basically means they can improve on the results of the model, but they can’t improve the model itself.
  4. The machines draw conclusions and develop solutions based on probability; they are not human, as such they have no emotion or biases to augment their perspective.

And here’s where the good news really starts to come to the fore for many of us. What opportunities lie ahead for human interpretation, real human wisdom and space for creativity? The room for serendipity lies ahead and to the left! (And there’s no room on our Board for an algorithm!)

For further information visit: www.theenvisioneers.com


Julie Hawker, CEO Cosmic Ethical IT 2015

Julie's strengths include strategic planning, project development, relationship and network development. She is a keen advocate of IT solutions which truly improve businesses and lives. Julie contributes in various training programmes and our consultancy service, particularly where organisations are seeking to develop leadership and their business models. She is well known for her passion for social enterprise and successful achievement in all our work.

Tags: digital leaders Digital Leader Digital Marketing Digital technology

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