It’s the Right Content, Stupid…

right content

Get the right content…

“If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.”

That quote is from Bill Gates’ “Content is King” essay, written way back in 1996.

Bill was right on. It’s the right content that makes all the difference, and content marketers have noticed. Think about content marketing strategy for a moment. Content that works amplifies and supports prospect or customer website experiences, and print media / video consumption. Marketers, who understand their content consumer’s experience better and more deeply, will create superior content, appropriately targeted to purchasing phase, mood, and expectation. It’s the right content that gets superior marketing results.

The Right Content is No Accident

right contentRecently, I had a conversation with my colleague Chris Ross, former VP of Marketing for Burton Group and VP of Interactive Marketing for Gartner. Today, Chris runs Systym, a marketing experience design firm that is unique in the field, developing experience-based content strategies for their clients. He convinced me that creating the right content is no accident. I asked Chris about the basis of the Systym approach. He said…

We designed our [Systym] process to understand the content consumer and then develop a more relevant content strategy. At a macro level, we must understand our client’s buyer through segmentation and true persona development. Then, we build with that, walking through each persona’s experience with the products or services under discussion.

When I discuss content assignments with my clients, I use the familiar “Awareness, Exploration, Evaluation, Purchase, Loyalty, Endorsement” funnel as a basis to understand more about the content target. I asked Chris whether the Systym methodology was the platinum version of my approach. There is much more to Systym’s approach than the sales funnel, as you will soon learn.

The Systym Approach

right contentThe fundamental Systym concept is to optimize the mix of website, downloadable content, social media, and print, to maximize the sales result. Get the prospect’s experience right at the front end and turn the prospect into a buyer.

Correct sequencing and orchestration of the right content across the buying event space is critical. Sequence and timing are difficult to quantify, but necessary. One of the reasons people will be interested in Systym is that, in-house, they are doing the best job they can with the resources at hand, but are still coming up short.  At each stage in the prospect-to-buyer process, Systym considers urgency of prospect need in each segment, as well as the trigger(s) that transition prospects from one purchasing stage to another. At each point, Systym evaluates potential content resources and their relative contribution to prospect conversion.

OK, so the Systym methodology is finer grained and more specific than the old sales funnel. It is a highly customized, client –specific plan as opposed to an off-the-shelf instruction book.

Systym delivers a facilitated process, not just a template. Marketing automation firms offer game plans, like Marketo’s  Lean Content Marketing approach, but we will delve into “what does the content need to say” and determine whether each piece of  content should be, for example, a logical argument, an emotional appeal, or credible testimony. The output is a detailed blueprint on the back-end of the Systym process.

Clearly, Chris had our Burton Group Reference Architecture lesson in mind when establishing Systym as a hands-on facilitator of their marketing experience design process. Powerful processes need leaders.

At Burton Group, we offered clients our Reference Architecture, also a prescriptive methodology for weighing alternatives and making decisions about enterprise technology concerns across a spectrum of interest, including security, privacy, identity protection, and application software development. Though the full Reference Architecture was published and available for client use, it took the hands-on efforts of our consulting professionals to make this asset come alive and deliver value for our clients.

Ready for the Right Content?

I wondered about ideal buyer for Systym’s offerings. Chris told me…

The best Systym prospect is the marketing organization that has already embraced content marketing, and now they want to do it better. If they have already bumped into the challenges that we help solve, they will understand our value proposition perfectly.

What are those challenges?

Here are four common content marketing challenges…

1 – Resource constraints – Having more demand for content than resources available to produce it

2 – ROI concerns – Wondering whether their content spend delivers a return for the business (response, engagement, etc.)

3 – Sales funnel dropouts – Struggling to sustain activity throughout the funnel, yielding buyers.

4 – Efficiency issues – Creating duplicate content with tactical efforts, yet lacking assurance that the content aligns with prospect and buyer personas.

Chris emphasized that content marketing challenges are not confined to gaining new customers…

It’s not just about acquiring. It’s about retaining customers. Marketers must understand the post-acquisition (retention) buyer persona. When someone is already a customer, a business wants to retain and enhance the relationship. Systym designs and engagement experience to support a client’s business objective for their existing customer, whether it is cross-selling, up-selling, soliciting testimonials, or driving word-of-mouth sales.

Systym Delivers Rapid Time-to-Value

Whenever I speak with prospects about consulting engagements, I always discuss the likely time-to-value from the engagement. Time-to-value means how long it will take a client to begin deriving benefits from the engagement. Of course, if recommendations become shelf-ware, the time-to-value is infinite, so I make the assumption of a motivated client, eager to turn recommendations into action. Chris said…

From the time we deliver the final output, the client may enjoy immediate benefits. For example, they might suspend creating wasteful or redundant content and free their resources to address a content gap right that Systym identified. Another example is discovering that existing content is offering logical arguments at a time in the sales funnel when an emotional input would be more effective.

Here are a few success measures Chris mentioned.

1 – Gaining clear understanding of their audience, in a crisp fashion

2 – Knowing their core buyers and prospects, and how to address their experience needs.

3 – Understanding how to build content to complement the experience, at every funnel step

4 – Having a concrete plan to put into motion, ready to deliver value

Of course, these success measures make sense for the firm that is actively doing content marketing but wants to make it more efficient and effective than it is now. Systym isn’t offering an evangelism effort. Organizations not doing content marketing now might not be good candidates for Systym.

An Exciting Niche

With the explosion of marketing automation technology and the ubiquity of advertising agencies, including digital agencies, I wondered whether Systym’s offering might overlap the offerings of other more established approaches. Chris explained…

Systym has a unique offering. The whole idea of marketing experience design is a new discipline. Why has no one done this before? At Systym, we focus on a leading edge problem that many organizations are just starting to experience. Marketing automation firms don’t deliver the facilitation and consulting Systym does, and ad agencies are interested in media buying and creating content.

Personas and experience plans will be different for each client so this isn’t cookie-cutter work. Marketers often thought about generating a response rather than constructing an experience. Except for product-based user experience, or existing customer experience, there has not been a swim upstream to the prospect’s experience. Systym sits in the seams, between agencies, marketing automation, and internal teams.

In fact, considering or adopting a marketing automation solution is complementary, and is a strong indicator that a Systym play is right. By the way, Chris has recently posted about marketing automation. Without a solid plan, marketing automation adopters won’t attain the full value of their investment, because they have not done the full job of defining the experiences they want to provide. Marketing automation costs plenty, so create the right content, and get the marketing automation value you deserve.

Organizations already working with an ad agency will find Systym to be extremely complementary. Systym is about getting the right marketing experience plan in place, not about graphic design, content authoring, website building, or other agency tasks. Systym helps agencies by building a plan, which great news for an agency or any related consultancy.

The Bottom Line

right contentMarketing execs, managers, and other business executives all have a stake in marketing experience design. Systym’s approach is clear and straightforward, producing concrete results rather than an endless consultancy. Marketing experience design doesn’t have to be long or complex, but only as involved as it needs to be, and no more than that. If you can describe your buyer, then you have initial insight into your personas. For example, if you know you have three categories of buyer (e.g. homeowners, estate managers, and contractors), you are already on your way.

Systym engagement participants will include sales people, customer service reps, and executives who spend time visiting with customers. The combination of people from across the client organization will make the developed personas richer, and enhances detailing the buyer’s experience. For a timing perspective, your annual client meeting is a great opportunity for Systym to meet with your prospects and buyers 1:1 to gain insight.

Are you ready to learn more about Systym? Contact Chris Ross here, and see whether you qualify for a complementary content strategy briefing from the experts. Remember, a couple of hours with Chris could prove extremely revealing.

If you have your content plan in place, and want to discuss content development, contact me, and find out how Principal Consulting can make your content plan come to life.


The Open Data About You

open data about you

Is Open Data About You?

Perhaps more than you think, and the potential harm from wrong/stale open data could damage your reputation and adversely affect you financially. Whether it is the incredible growth of sensor data captured about our internet behavior, the consequences of unintended open data joins, or the massive increase in data breaches, you may be at risk.


open data about youYes, there are there concerns about which open data set contains what information about you and me, as I learned on June 24th, at the Navigating and Prospering in an Open Data World round table, held at IBM’s NYC headquarters. Meeting participants included John N. Stewart, Sr. Vice President and Chief Security Officer of Cisco Systems, Robert M. Groves, former Director of the US Census, now Provost of Georgetown University, John Walton, CIO of San Mateo County, Calif., and Jane P. Edwards, Privacy Council for IBM, and a dozen other open data stars.

But there is good news too, Analysis of open data can help us all.  For example, sharing demographic data can help with health issues. CIO Walton believes that a combination of government statistics and journalistic stories will lead to political action. For example, using population data for enabling outreach to help control the explosion of diabetes in the US.

Open Data About You may be Eye Opening

The experts made the following points abundantly clear.

  • Every hour, terabytes of potentially “revealing” sensor data is collected
  • Concentration of data means concentration of risk through unforeseen data use
  • “Accidental” joins of open data sets will produce unintended consequences from unintended insights
  • Data breaches are up 350% in the past 12 months, here in the US
  • According to Cisco, one-third of all devices have been infected with malware, and
  • Last year, 47% of all US adults had some of their Personally Identifiable Information (PII) copied.

Long after your activities and transactions fade from memory, the data that records them lives on as history. What can you do when the open data about you is wrong, and/or gets into the wrong hands? Being interested and informed regarding the open data about you is critically important. Ensuring that data anomalies are corrected is the next step. When it is wrong, get it fixed. Later,  I’ll show you how I fixed some errors in data used by marketers.

“Privacy is the first victim of Convenience”

open data about youSo said John Walton, the San Mateo CIO, as we discussed the balance of privacy and utility of open data. On the other hand, Robert Groves, the former Census director,, believed that data brokers, for-profit aggregators of open and other data, often miss the poor and the disenfranchised. These are the people who most need to be visible, especially for government services.

Julia Lane, Institute Fellow of the American Institutes for Research, opined that data brokers, presently unregulated in the US, need regulation. Emily Shaw, National Policy Manager of The Sunlight Foundation agreed, saying that we need to ensure that people are protected from discrimination through the use of stored data. Let’s have a look at some of the open data that is out there.

Big Brother – Data.Gov

open data about youIt wasn’t hard to guess that our government has a huge store of open data  about us. Where can you find it? At, the official US Government portal for open data. Today, there are more than 100,000 data sets accessible from the portal. Click the Data.Gov logo to see the data policy statements. Not all the data accessible from the site is from the federal government, Some may be sourced from universities, states, or other suppliers. Non-federal data may have restrictions on its use, indicated by banner.

A Riddle Unwrapped by An Enigma

So, what open data about you and me is in those data sets? Is the data that each contains correct? Searching manually, you would spend an eternity exploring, only to discover a data anomaly when it arrives as a problem on your doorstep. There are other ways to gain insight beyond a brute force approach. Visiting the Impact link on the Data.Gov site leads you to a list of third-party vendors making the information in this portal accessible for you.

Here is one that looked useful. You can click the graphic and visit their website, as I did.

open data about you

Let’s see what I’ve been up to

After registering at, I launched a “Stuart Selip” search against all the databases Enigma accesses. I found one piece of information on me, shown following. It is correct.

open data about you

I’m an outside director of a start-up called Woxxer, Inc. and this is an SEC filing statement about their financing. What if that information were wrong? A Google search revealed that SEC Form D filing instructions are found here, and there are instructions for filing an amendment to prior filings. If I were to have found an error, I would be obliged to have an amendment submitted. Not as bad as I thought it might be.

 Fixing a Problem with Marketing Information

There is a boat-load of open data used by marketers to assign you to demographic categories, identify your buying interests, and so on. If that information is wrong, you may find yourself getting all sorts of odd and unwanted email and snail-mail solicitations, advertisements, and similar material.

Can you find out what data aggregators have collected about you to be used for marketing purposes? In at least one case, the answer is yes. Better still, you can fix wrong information right online. I did exactly that. IBM Privacy Counsel Jane Edwards suggested I look at data aggregator Axciom’s site There, I was to find some errors in the data about me, and fix them.

open data about you

At the left, you can see the types of information Acxiom has on file. I decided to look at Household Vehicle Data, wondering whether it was up-to-date.

Well, it wasn’t. I haven’t owned a truck (a Bronco) since 2011, I have never owned an RV, and my insurance doesn’t renew in October. I fixed it. The slide show fills in the details. By the way, our household has several vehicles not in the database. Is that an error of omission, or are those vehicles not of interest to marketers? I have no idea.

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Fair Credit and Right to be Forgotten

One area of data aggregation where US citizens have specific rights is in viewing and correcting errors in credit history. Your credit score and history are used for many, often unexpected purposes, and you should ensure the information is correct. Here is a summary of your rights.Fair Credit Reporting Act. If you need to dispute a finding on your report, look here for guidance.

Recently, the Court of Justice of the European Union addressed the issue of search engines and the right to be forgotten. In this case, the right to be forgotten means

Individuals have the right – under certain conditions – to ask
search engines to remove links with personal information about them. This applies where the information is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for the purposes of the data.

You can see the summary description of the case here  (Right to be Forgotten) and the ruling of the EU court here.

The Bottom Line

The potential harm of wrong/stale open data about you can be great. Taking an interest in which information is out there and whether it is accurate and up-to-date is your responsibility. Whether the “you” is a corporate you, or an individual you, bad data in the wrong hands can be disastrous.

There are tools and approaches available to let you explore your open data presence and gain perspective on how you look to the casual inquirer, the marketer, and the credit evaluator. Take action today, right after you read this post.

The results of our ongoing survey into the results of poor data quality on business outcomes has revealed that the state of organization’s data, especially about their customers, is poor. If organizations with a profit motive can’t invest sufficiently to keep data about their customers clean and useful, you know that your open data may be at risk.

If you have a poor quality open data experience that you are willing to share, please do contact us to discuss. Sunlight is the best purifier, so please help us shine some light in the open data shadows.

Finally, I want to thank Gordon Feller, Director of Urban Innovations, Cisco Systems HQ, and Co-founder, Meeting of the Minds, and Rich Michos, Vice President, Smarter Cities, at IBM, who together organized the Navigating and Prospering in an Open Data World round table for inviting me to participate.

Discovering Open Data

discovering open data

For discovering open data there is no time like the present.

When Steve Adler of IBM announced the Open by Default website was live, I was intrigued, visited and poked around. You can read my interview with Steve about the new site, here. Councils, representing interest areas, are the organizing elements, and the Open Data council caught my eye. Why? I had no idea what Open Data (OD) meant.

When I pinged Steve to ask whether I was the only one who had never heard of OD, he assured me I was not. If you are part of the OD community, you know all about it. Otherwise, you might have some questions. So, fellow OD newbies, here are a few answers to the questions you might pose.

What is Open Data? lets you know that OD is

“A piece of data or content is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.”

discovering open dataThere is a full definition here, but you get the sense of OD. It is supposed to be open, easy to share, not discriminatory in use against individuals, groups, or types of endeavor, not limited by technology, and similar well-intentioned characteristics. No, this is not for your trade-secret data, your customer list, your browsing history, or other material you wish to protect and conceal. Here is a summary of the Creative Commons 3.0 license under which the Open Definitions folks published their definition.

Steve Adler has posted in Open by Default on performing a gap analysis of Open Data License Terms  and on open data not being “Open for Business” due to licensing issues. Licensing is important, and it’s a good idea to get the licensing thing right. Otherwise, you may find you have intellectual property (IP) rights in data you publish that you didn’t know you had. Then, despite your best intentions to share your published data openly, others would be restricted from using it. Worse still, you may find you are using data that the publisher won’t stand behind. Either way, check the license. It is not an afterthought.

Did you know all this data sharing stuff was so involved? I didn’t either.

Who works with Open Data?

The Open Data Institute ODI) posts a plethora of OD case studies that I’ll examine in a moment. ODI is a London-based organization with Sir Tim Berners-Lee as one of its founders. They are dedicated to

“… catalyzing the evolution of open data culture to create economic, environmental, and social value. It helps unlock supply, generates demand, creates, and disseminates knowledge to address local and global issues”.

Case Study Examples

discovering open dataOpenCorporates caught my eye when I reviewed the ODI case studies page. They take data published by governments all over the world, organize it and clean it to make it accessible, and useful. As of this writing, they have information on nearly 74 million companies around the world.   I was curious, and looked for my company, Principal Consulting, LLC.  Here is what I found, and where they sourced the data.

The Open Bank project also piqued my interest. After the financial debacle of the past six years, their goal of greater transparency makes sense. According to their Social Finance Web Application page,

“The Social Finance application (a.k.a. Transparency application) allows bank account holders to choose with whom they would like to share their transaction data. For instance, an individual might share their bank account with their accountant; a company with their directors and/or shareholders; an NGO or government department with the public.”

You can experience the Singing Bank’s musical interpretation of account transparency here. Perhaps a different take on things than the recent interaction of certain Swiss banks, American account holders, and the IRS.

discovering open dataCarbonCulture is doing some interesting things with energy savings, and they have attracted some high-visibility participants.

These folks collect and analyze data about the energy usage of public buildings, those used by Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the like.  Here is what they say about themselves…

“CarbonCulture is a community platform that is designed to help people use resources more efficiently. We have set out to make it easy and rewarding to do the things that save the most carbon, energy, water, waste and money. “


Why Should You Care About OD?

Perhaps it is time to harness OD to make some important changes in our world. As Steve Adler recently posted, “Democracy is the business case for Open Data.”  Steve is hardly alone in his belief.

discovering open dataWriting in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network last year, Lucy Bernholz opined “We Need Open Data to Save the World”. I admit that when “save the world” conversations start, I generally run the other way, but  CrisisCommons and The Awesome Foundation, based on OD are worth a look.

In addition, writing in the HBR blog network , Craig Hammer stated…

Open data could be the gamechanger when it comes to eradicating global poverty. In the last two years, central and local governments and multilateral organizations around the world have opened a range of data — information on budgets, infrastructure, health, sanitation, education, and more — online, for free. The data are not perfect, but then perfection is not the goal. Rather, the goal is for this data to become actionable intelligence: a launch pad for investigation, analysis, triangulation, and improved decision making at all levels.

According to Socrata,  who bills themselves as a data experience company, they use open data to help…

“public sector organizations improve transparency, citizen service, and data-driven decision-making. Our user-friendly solutions deliver data to governments trying to reduce costs, to citizens who want to understand how their tax dollars are used, and to civic hackers dedicated to creating new apps and improving services.”

Their whole business is about solving some real world problems using OD and a rich set of product offerings. Enjoy Socrata’s   Open Data Field Guide  to open your eyes to additional possibilities of OD.

I think you get the idea. You should care about OD because it opens the door to solving some of our world’s big problems.

The Bottom Line

There is a lot to know about OD, and I have only scratched the surface and offered you a few places to go to learn more. Next week, I’ll be attending an Open Data Conference at IBM in New York. Navigating and Prospering in an Open Data World should be interesting, and I’ll let you know what I learned. Until then, do visit some of the OD sites I’ve discussed and start your investigation of Open Data.

Rethinking Retail with ZigBee

rethinking retail with zigbee

Rethinking retail with ZigBee is a win-win for shopper and retailer

When I spoke with John Osborne II, Chairman of the Board of Zigbee Alliance and Ryan Maley, ZigBee Alliance’s Director of Strategic Marketing, about rethinking retail with ZigBee, here is what I learned.

Digital Reality

Between marketing automation platforms, Google Analytics, email click-through tracking, and social media monitoring, there is a lot of data about the behavior and interests of shoppers.  Whether understanding how prospects grow into buyers, or learning which content is compelling and which is not, measuring visitor behavior opens the door to managing digital resources more effectively. Remember that old truism that managing depends on measuring? That is shopping in the digital world. Now, think about shopping in the physical world.

Rethinking retail with ZigBee in Brick-and-Mortar

Brick-and-mortar retailers and other store owners would love to visualize the paths shoppers take through their stores just as they can see which website pages a browsing consumer visits. They would want to know how in-store advertising and display placement influences where shoppers pause, how long they pause, and what they buy, just as they can analyze which digital ads get hovers and clicks. The good news is that today, retailers can apply the same analytic insights to the in-store shopping experience as they do in the digital world. That is what a ZigBee-enabled retail experience can deliver. Let’s see how that happens.

ZigBee helps retailers perfect the shopper’s experience

In the recently released 2014 Internet Trends report, “re-imagining grocery shopping,” means in part, having someone else walking the aisles with the end consumer. The key phrase here is “walking the aisles.” Retailers want to know which aisles, how long, which stops, and so on. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new online service like Instacart that dispatches a personal shopper to the store, or a spousal call to action on a mobile device.

To compete effectively with purely online shopping solutions, brick-and-mortar retailers must offer a superior shopping experience, operate more efficiently themselves, and be open to interacting with the host of mobile devices that are now an everyday part of our lives. ZigBee makes all this possible.

rethinking retail with zigbeeA ZigBee network is a self-organizing, self-healing mesh, expandable to 64,000 nodes. Low energy sensors run for years on AA batteries and the multi-channel mesh offers great reliability. Based on open standards, and with many suppliers in the mix, retail adopters benefit from reduced costs to implement and support. So, ZigBee is a great low-cost open infrastructure for retail solutions. Let’s see why.



The Intelligent Retail Environment

The ZigBee intelligent retail environment addresses three big concerns of the retailer…

  1. Offer a superior shopping experience
  2. Operate more efficiently
  3. Interact with a host of mobile devices to accomplish goals 1 and 2

Superior Shopping Experience

rethinking retail with zigbeeSome shoppers want to navigate the retail maze to find the items and sales they seek in a minimum amount of time. Retailers want to know where the shopper is spending time, and which route(s) they have taken to find what they need. Everyone wants the shopping and checkout experience to be fast, smooth, and secure.

ZigBee provides these answers using the “Nearest Gateway” approach, as shown in the rethinking retail with zigbeeaccompanying graphic. The nearest gateway logs the identity of the mobile device, enabling shopper tracking throughout the store. The shopper can inquire about sale items and receive a steer to them, or find the best route to satisfy their cloud-based shopping list items. The retailer can point out where to find the day’s best deals, help shoppers take advantage of coupons, and ensure the checkout process slow-downs receive attention.

Operate More Efficiently

rethinking retail with zigbeeHaving the ability to direct shoppers to sale items, sending associates to the right store locations to offer assistance or eliminate bottlenecks, and ensuring the temperature of cold and frozen food cases stays correct, are all examples of efficient and effective operation that a ZigBee-enabled intelligent retail environment brings to the table today. Further, ZigBee monitoring helps ensure the quality and safety of food on the shelves, protecting customers and reducing liability.

ZigBee offers a broader vision for the future. Just in time (JIT) has been the watchword of manufacturing since Japanese automakers woke up their US counterparts in the 1980s. ZigBee technology will enable retailers to enjoy the same benefits of efficiency, while delivering fresher products to the shopper.

Variety of Devices

rethinking retail with zigbee

Today, a ZigBee network can handle the variety of devices needed to deliver a superior retail experience for shopper and an insightful data flow for the retailer. The integration of hand-held Android and IOS devices is not far off. Remember that ZigBee is a set of open standards, so adopters avoid the vendor lock-in that technologists suffer with proprietary architectures. Beating vendor lock-in is a subtle advantage at the outset, but pays large dividends as the corporate retail network evolves and expands.

The Bottom Line

rethinking retail with zigbeeIn case you were thinking that tracking shopper’s paths through the maze of aisles was a pipe dream, this graphic at your left should clear things up. The behavior of several different carts shows which areas of the store attract attention, and which receive a pass.





The graphic on your right is a “heat map” showing where a variety of visitors spent time, rethinking retail with zigbeeand where they did not. Would it be easy for you to collect this high-value information about shopper behavior? Without ZigBee technology, probably not so easy. The bottom line impact of ZigBee is clear.

For example, one major retailer sealed their deal internally by showing quick ROI with temperature sensor monitoring of refrigerated food cases. Once the infrastructure team saw the payback, they became ZigBee believers. The firm’s Executive VP said, “I’m very enthusiastic about the program and the choice of ZigBee.” It’s good to have the EVP on your side.

With ZigBee, rethinking retail makes great sense. It is time for you to learn more about the ZigBee value proposition for retail sales, or other B2B and B2C applications. To learn more, please visit where you can discover more about the technology, read a white paper, and even watch a webinar on ZigBee’s use in the retail environment. Click here to dive right in:


ZigBee Alliance – The greatest thing you have probably never heard of

Zigbee Alliance

ZigBee Alliance – What is it?

This week I had the opportunity to speak about ZigBee with John Osborne II, Chairman of the Board of ZigBee Alliance and Ryan Maley, ZigBee Alliance’s Director of Strategic Marketing. For anyone not already a dialed into ZigBee Alliance, we’re talking about a technology standards organization that

…offers green and global wireless standards connecting the widest range of devices to work together intelligently and help you control your world.

How does ZigBee Alliance help me to control my world? They enable the internet of smart things. This means supporting development and evolution of a range of specifications that define a possible 64,000-node wireless-mesh network with provision for green battery-less devices, internet connections, and home area networks.

ZigBee Alliance also provides standards for implementing ZigBee-enabled technology that solves problems like

  • Commercial building automation for efficient energy use,
  • Efficient health and fitness monitoring,
  • Smart home automation, LED lighting control, and
  • Smart shopping in retail sales environments

The foregoing is only a short list of standards, so look here to learn more.

Certification, too

Zigbee AllianceZigBee Alliance helps business and home consumers by certifying that product manufacturers have properly implemented the ZigBee standards they adopted. Some manufacturers list their certifications on the ZigBee Alliance site, while others will provide evidence of their certification certificates on inquiry.


Winning Big with Energy Management

Ryan told me that

Everyone is green, either environmentally or financially ,

so energy management offered ZigBee its first big success. Electrical utilities were early adopters. For example, the California Public Utilities Commission references Zigbee specifically for home area networks. Automated meter reading is a great ZigBee application with obvious return on investment (ROI). Every 15 minutes, Texas utilities automatically read the ZigBee-enabled electric meters of participating homeowners. This enables effective demand response. By participating in an opt-in program, homeowners can agree to allow automatically raising of home temperature during warm weather. Smart energy use for a few hours a day helps balance energy flow, reduces the need for rolling brownouts, and perhaps saves building an additional  power plant.

Will the EU take the energy efficiency lead with ZigBee?

Discussing smart appliances helping to save all kinds of green, John Osborne mentioned that ZigBee for smart energy-saving appliances might come into play in Europe before it takes hold in the US. The EU is seeking a targeted 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020 . ZigBee-enabled appliances will allow their users to make intelligent choices about when to use their appliances. Wouldn’t you like to get the warning from your washing machine that you were about start a very costly wash? Waiting a few hours could save you and the environment an unnecessary cost. The ZigBee Alliance thesis is simple…

Make people aware of how much energy they are using, and they will alter their decisions.

People in Arizona have already proven this thesis by learning to manage their energy use based on time of day pricing.

Is Zigbee in your home today?

Do you have a Comcast set-top controller for your cable use? ZigBee is already in 80% of homes with this type of cable box. The Comcast home security solution uses ZigBee sensors on doors and windows, and on Carbon Monoxide sensors and smoke detectors. Should an anomalous condition arise, the ZigBee sensor contacts the set-top box, which alerts the Comcast monitoring center.

Philips lets a homeowner install a small part, download a Smartphone app, and take control their lighting lights. Great design makes it easy. For more complex applications like the home security system, professional installers ensure homeowners get the results they expect.

I, Robot

Zigbee AllianceSamsung has indicated it will be including ZigBee technology in its popular Galaxy Smart phone line. Think about your home having a ZigBee-enabled security system. Now, imagine an unexpected event occurring, like a door opening when no one is supposed to be home. Your home automation robot will acknowledge the ZigBee sensor, scurry over and use its camera to see what is happening. It will use its Wi-Fi connection to report the problem to you and your security-monitoring firm.

Now go visit your refrigerator. That milk is way past its spoilage date, as your nose confirms. You scan the milk container’s bar code into your Smart phone, and out there in the cloud, your shopping list is growing. You head to the store where the ZigBee-enabled phone interacts with the ZigBee network in your supermarket. Your phone knows what’s on your shopping list, and the in-store ZigBee network guides you up and down the aisles to find what you need. Best of all, this time you don’t forget the milk.

Is this tale far-fetched? No, these capabilities will be here sooner than you think.

The Bottom Line

This blog post gives you a taste of ZigBee and some of what the ZigBee Alliance and its participating members have already achieved. ZigBee is cool, and it is changing your world for the better. Next post, we’ll examine how ZigBee is improving retail shopping today, at a major US food retailing chain.

Open by Default is a Self-Governing Commons

open by default is a self-governing commons

So Open by Default is a Self-Governing Commons. What does that mean, exactly?

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Steve Adler of IBM about Open by Default, the successor organization to the InfoGov community. Steve, IBM’s data strategist, founded InfoGov.  I asked him how he planned to take a great success like InfoGov and make it even better.

The short answer is he gave me was

You try something new, different, and empowering, like Open by Default.

This new community, also founded by Steve, will turn InfoGov into something more “of the people, and by the people.” Forget InfoGov 2.0. Open by Default is exploring new ways of engaging with colleagues and customers, following the model of the self-governing commons.


Steve gave me a quick review of how we arrived at Open by Default.

IBM has traditionally communicated with its constituency in a broadcast mode, and then engaged in 1:1 client meetings. The process wasn’t bi-directional, and it wasn’t open. The InfoGov community was launched in 2010 as a step in creating a more open and public dialog. At inception, the whole direction of the community was information governance. The organizational dynamics were designed for me to lead it. This meant that I picked the topics, scheduled events, and organized meetings. People in the community who wanted to try new ideas felt they should wait for feedback and permission from me. By 2013, I realized I had imprinted on the site, and others didn’t feel as though they could contribute freely.

New Ideas

Steve wants to change the velocity of activity on the community site and empower the community’s participants. When development partner Chaordix offered to use their new platform for a new website, the result was Open by Default, a new community with a new leadership ethic. In Open by Default, anyone can be a leader. Steve observed,

I’m not aware of any IBM competitor doing this. Others are fielding marketing sites rather than leadership sites.

To seed the new site with an initial direction, Steve launched four discussion areas, called “councils.” In 2010, InfoGov began as a US-based council with a formal membership process. As InfoGov grew in other countries, their organizations had no membership requirement, yet these were still called councils. In Open by Default, each discussion area is still called a council.

Four initial Open by Default councils

open by default is a self-governing commonsHere are the four initial councils that represent ongoing initiatives from InfoGov.

  • Information Governance Council – This is the large existing community that we all knew as InfoGov. Its many artifacts, including the Information Governance Maturity Model and the Poor Data Quality – Negative Business Outcomes survey all reside on the old site. An early and important council effort will likely involve an asset migration and value add as the artifacts re-emerge in Open By Default.
  • Systems Thinking Council – This council will further the work Steve began on System Dynamics (SD). SD involves modeling how large complex systems work and explores the effects of policy change on those systems. In the past year , InfoGov hosted 10 different presentations in this discussion area. Over 6,000 individuals participated in associated webinars. The aim of the Systems Thinking Council is to continue and expand this dialog.
  • Open Data Council – Steve is co-Chairing the open data standard for W3C. This is all about building a common standard for web data that should simplify technology interoperability and reduce the need for custom coding. Read more about the Open Data standard here.  It is part of the W3C Data Activity – “Building the Web of Data.
  • Information Product Management Council – Steve is also co-chairing the “Information as a Product” strategy council. The vision is to bring new rigor and discipline to packaging of information products.

What Happens Next?

Steve plans for his role to evolve from steward to mentor, helping to light the way.

The velocity change in the site will increase if the site serves our participant’s interests…today we are used to engaging in online groups, so it should be a natural transition process.


open by default is a self-governing commons It may require a lot of engagement from Steve to get things going, as he becomes the cheerleader and celebrator of community ideas. As the transition works, it should open the doors to others becoming council leaders.

One sign of growing empowerment would be community members organizing their own meet-ups. With Open by Default meet-ups, a group can organize a local event with like-minded peers. This can be a webinar, teleconference, or face-to-face get-together. To facilitate engaging in meet-ups, Steve will also fulfill a networking role.

Yes, some people may abuse the openness, and there may be some initial need for Steve’s oversight, but in time the community should grow to police itself as a “self-governing commons. “

An Open-Beta Challenge

Do you remember those old public safety announcements on the radio that said, “This is only a test… in a real emergency, you would be told where to go, and what to do”? Well, this new open community is a test, and Steve will provide some guidance on where to go and what to do.

He offered the following insight.

The new site is a kind of open-beta. The question of merit is ‘How should the content we have created and will create be represented here in our new site?’ This is a basic information governance challenge for the community.

An early experiment in information self-governance will be the migration of the information governance artifacts from the site to Open by Default. A critical open question for this process is how to bring over assets with a clear value add, rather than in a rip and replace scenario.

Doing More with More

Steve knows there is much more to this new site than migrating old content. He told me,

We’ll be going beyond what we did in the past. This is a framework where people will begin to persuade others to their point of view. Some have identified opportunities to create new assets that the community can leverage. For example, certain participants want to enhance the Information Governance Maturity Model, but the council will have to determine how [the enhancements] would be represented. As another example, when Cal Braunstein and Stu Selip created the Poor Data Quality – Negative Business Outcomes survey, Chaordix provided a technologist to link it to Survey Monkey. I would like to have people do surveys without external help.

The Year Ahead

It is going to be challenging to create a SourceForge-style model for collaborating on intellectual property. Participants should be integrating their ideas without needing professional help. Council members will be collaborating online to create assets that deliver value to the community.

Steve opined,

There will be some energy expended getting a critical mass – We are taking something people know and replace with a form that they don’t know. Will others perceive this as better?  In the beginning, it will not be so. However, over time, the site’s content must grow and become better. It may take the better part of a year to get things moving. One open question is how to attract more people to contribute more material.  I will still organize events and make things happen , providing a role model leadership for a year or so.

In the past, Steve arbitrated the list of topics to cover. However, he admits he is “not infallible,” and wants to let participants lead with topics about which they are passionate.

When I asked Steve what he would like to see in one year’s time, he told me,

I would love to be an attendee at an event led by someone else in the community. I would love it if others would teach the group new things. The reason the InfoGov community lasted as long as it did was that there were fabulous people who really contributed. Now we will provide a new platform where even more contribution can happen. Just showing up isn’t enough. It is time to be a leader and get peers to respond and contribute in return. Here, we have the platform where leaders can do it. We won’t keep the contributions of our participants a secret. IBM will use its twitter accounts to promote what is going on in our community.

I want to thank Steve Adler for having taken the time to discuss Open by Default with me for this post. It is clear that we are all new to this more dynamic community, so let’s pull together and make Steve’s vision of a self-governing commons a reality.

Life Lessons from Huey

life lessons

Life Lessons from Huey?

life lessons

Huey, in his salad days

Who is Huey? More correctly, who was Huey? He was our wonderful cat for nearly 13 years. Huey became much wiser than me this morning, as he passed from this world to the next. He knows what awaits us, and I can only guess. This is a post about how my cat taught me about being a better human.




Challenges and Victories

life lessonsHuey started life with the deck stacked against him. He was left at our local no-kill shelter, ARF, at the age of one day, suffering from cerebellar hypoplasia, a gift from his mother who had contracted Distemper. With a sick mother and several hungry siblings, it took the medical resources of an experienced team to keep him going. Huey and I didn’t know each other then. We met when he taught me his first lesson.



Be Genuinely Enthusiastic

life lessions

Huey goes for it…

I’m pretty hard boiled, but when tiny Huey saw me in the kitten room of ARF, he climbed straight up my pants leg and shirt. He came to rest on the back of my neck, and started purring loudly, I was sold. Huey, and his brother Dewey came home with us. If you are eager to tackle a challenge, don’t keep it a secret. Little Huey had to tackle that wastepaper basket, again and again, with verve..

Break Bread with Gusto

life lessonsEating together is a great way to find common bonds and drop real or imagined barriers. Huey never failed to line up for whatever we were cooking. From curried pork chops to rib steak on the grill, Huey was there, loving it. Our dinner guests enjoyed feeding him, and he responded with (lesson one) genuine enthusiasm. Who can deny the ice-breaking charms of a great meal and a bottle of wine. (Huey drew the line at wine, and did not imbibe).


Be Persistent

Huey’s physical challenges meant that sometimes his hind legs let him down. Not forever, life lessonsbut for a time. His response was not disgust or self hatred. Instead, his measured approach was to sit down, relax, and regroup. In the end, Huey got where he wanted to go, and did so with grace. Don’t give up… stick with it and you will succeed – get angry and you will fail.

 Be Kind and Generous

life lessonsWe adopted another kitten, named Emma. She was initially frightened and withdrawn. Huey took her “under his wing” and she soon blossomed. Did Huey act on instinct or did he see something special in the kitten? Who knows? What counts is that he made the right move and developed a friend and ally who stood by him for the rest of his life. Most of the time, if you do the right thing by others, they will do right by you. Better yet, you feel great about it.


Be a Friend in Need

life lessons

A friend in need…

Huey’s illness and decline took months, but it seemed like years. His loving friend Emma, the black and white cat seen in the photo, never left his side. Neither did we. When Huey lost the capacity to regulate wind and water, our home reflected our response to his decline. Whatever the challenge, and however you must dirty your hands, be a friend in need. You can accommodate much more than you think you can, so do the right thing unreservedly. In keeping with that thought, support your local animal shelter where cats like Huey, terrific dogs, and other pets are waiting patiently for you to adopt them.


The Bottom Line

I had nearly 13 years to learn from Huey. I have only begun to catalog the positive lessons he offered me. Perhaps your Huey will be a co-worker, subordinate, client, or manager. If you are lucky, your Huey will be a cat. Who knows? The bottom line is to be open to the wisdom imparted by others, regardless of their role or relationship. If I learned all this and more from my cat, imagine what you could learn from a colleague, or even your boss. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, even if Buddha didn’t say it.

The Disproportion of Theory to Knowledge

Disproportion of Theory to Knowledge

A Disproportion of Theory to Knowledge Means Speculation and Guessing

Thinking of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, it certainly is true. Much speculation but few facts.  I waited more than two weeks to make this post, first hoping that there would be a happy conclusion to the disappearance, and then hoping simply for some closure. It finally seems to have come to some resolution. Data analysis by Inmarsat shows that the flight “ended” in the Southern Indian ocean.

No, I don’t know anyone on the flight. However, having traveled frequently for business during much of my career, I feel as one with the missing. It might have been me. It might have been you. Tomorrow, It might be any one of us.

As of Saturday, March 22, this quote from the New York Times seemed to capture the situation best. I added the bold emphasis.

More than two weeks after Flight 370 disappeared, unbridled speculation surrounds the unfolding global drama. So much is uncertain about what happened on the plane, and so much of what has been disclosed by Malaysian authorities has been contradicted, that hardly any theory of its fate can be easily dismissed. 


News Hype CycleHowever, as of today, 3/24, data analysis finally tells us another story. Including the starting and ending dates, 17 days passed between the recognition of the aircraft’s disappearance and the data analysis that seems to have ended the disproportion of theory to knowledge.

Many Theories but Few Facts

I adapted the famous Gartner Research Hype Cycle to this story, as it seems to fit.Between the few hard facts that this tragedy admitted, there was much theorizing and speculating about what happened, and where the airplane went. Can a huge aircraft really disappear?

As a young boy, I read about Amelia Earhart  and how she disappeared on her globe-circling 1937 flight. I asked my father about whether he remembered the incident. Of course he did, but he assured me that an airplane could never disappear with today’s technology. That “today” was more than 50 years ago.

In the table following, I’ve entered one news story about MH370 per day, chosen from a leading news source. You can see where fact-based reasoning began, ended, and began again. What is the lesson here? Make your decisions based on facts, not guesses, hopes, or idle speculation.

News Posts About MH370 over 17 Days


Link to Article


Essential “Facts”

3/8 CNN Search intensifies for Malaysian airliner and 239 people, rescue ships head to sea

It [Flight MH370] has disappeared from radar. We know the nationalities of the people on board.

3/9 The Guardian Malaysia Airlines: object found by Vietnam navy thought to be part of missing plane

No wreckage has been found of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which went missing early on Saturday morning.At a press conference on Sunday morning, Malaysia’s transport minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, revealed that the identities of four passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight are under investigation.He also said that radar showed the plane may have turned back in mid-air.

3/10 The Guardian Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: officials widen search area

Search area widened Official says men on stolen passports looked like ‘Balotelli’ Hijacking not being ruled out. Oil slick and yellow object prove to be false alarms

3/11 Wired How It’s Possible to Lose an Airplane in 2014

It is still possible–although rare–for an airliner to seemingly vanish. “The simple hard truth is it’s very difficult to find things in the water,” said retired Col. J. Joseph, a former Marine Corps pilot and aviation consultant.

3/12 AOL Last words from missing plane were routine

The last message from the cockpit of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight was routine. “All right, good night,” was the signoff transmitted to air traffic controllers five days ago. Then the Boeing 777 vanished as it cruised over the South China Sea toward Vietnam, and nothing has been seen or heard of the jetliner since.

3/13 CNN Search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane expands to Indian Ocean

New information, U.S. officials told CNN, indicates the missing airplane could have flown for several hours beyond the last transponder reading. Malaysian authorities believe they have several “pings” from the airliner’s service data system, known as ACARS, transmitted to satellites in the four to five hours after the last transponder signal, suggesting the plane flew to the Indian Ocean, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

3/14 Huffington Post Malaysia Airlines Missing Plane: Radar Data Suggests Jet Flew Deliberately Toward Andaman Islands, Sources Say

An investigation into the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner is focusing more on a suspicion of foul play, as evidence suggests it was diverted hundreds of miles off course, sources familiar with the Malaysian probe said.

3/15 New York Times Malaysia Officials Open Criminal Inquiry Into Missing Jet

The search for Flight 370 turned into a criminal investigation on Saturday, after Malaysia declared that the plane had been deliberately diverted and then flown for as long as seven hours toward an unknown point far from its scheduled route of Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

3/16 India Today Final words from Malaysian jet came after systems shutdown

The final words from the missing Malaysian jetliner’s cockpit gave no indication anything was wrong even though one of the plane’s communications systems had already been disabled, officials said Sunday, adding to suspicions that one or both of the pilots were involved in the disappearance.

3/17 Reuters Malaysian airplane investigators look at suicide as possible motive

The co-pilot of a missing Malaysian jetliner spoke the last words heard from the cockpit, the airline’s chief executive said on Monday, as investigators consider suicide by the captain or first officer as one possible explanation for the disappearance.

3/18 CNN New evidence in Flight 370 search explains plane’s path

New information from the Thai government bolsters the belief that missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took a sharp westward turn after communication was lost.And it looks like that turn was no accident.A law enforcement official told CNN Tuesday that the aircraft’s first turn to the west was almost certainly programmed by somebody in the cockpit.

3/19 New York Times Newly Detected Objects Draw Searchers for Malaysian Plane

The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, announced on Thursday that satellite imagery had detected objects that might be connected to the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.

3/20 CBS News Possible Debris Near Australia Is ‘Best Lead’ Yet In Search For Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

A freighter used searchlights early Friday to scan rough seas in one of the remotest places on Earth after satellite images detected possible pieces from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane in the southern Indian Ocean.

3/21 New York Times Nations Start to Collaborate in the Search

The expansion of the multinational operation in the remote stretch of deep ocean illustrated how the increasingly bleak search for the jet was prompting some Asian nations to set aside regional tensions.

3/22 CNN China has new images showing object in southern Indian Ocean

China announced that it has satellite images of a large object floating in the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, but Australian-led search teams in the southern Indian Ocean found no sign of it Saturday.

3/23 New York Times A Routine Flight, Till Both Routine and Flight Vanish

More than two weeks after Flight 370 disappeared, unbridled speculation surrounds the unfolding global drama. So much is uncertain about what happened on the plane, and so much of what has been disclosed by Malaysian authorities has been contradicted, that hardly any theory of its fate can be easily dismissed.

3/24 NPR Analysis Shows Flight 370 ‘Ended’ In Indian Ocean, Malaysia Says

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday that new analysis of the flight path of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 showed that it “ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”Speaking at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Razak said the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the U.K.-based satellite company Inmarsat had used a first-of-its-kind analysis to determine the fate of the Boeing 777 and the 239 passengers and crew aboard.”Based on their new analysis, Inmarsat and the AAIB have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth,” the prime minister said.”This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” Razak added. “It is therefore that with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that with this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

What is next for MH370?

The Disproportion of Theory to Knowledge Now the search for wreckage and black boxes will ensue. These missing pieces of the puzzle must be found.The US Navy has already dispatched a “ping detector” to help locate the black boxes. Without those, and the cockpit voice recorder, we may never know what really happened. Without finding the wreckage, grieving relatives and friends of the crash victims will always hold onto some thread of hope, and their wounds will not heal. Let’s hope that fact-based reasoning takes the lead, and we soon learn what happened, so it does not happen again.

What is next for you and your decision-making?

I have written frequently about the miserable data quality situation revealed by our Poor Data Quality – Negative Business Outcomes survey. Respondents have told us that, in a big way, they lose money and suffer business challenges due to poor data quality. Decision-making suffers, customers are unhappy, opportunities are lost, and managers and executives have no confidence in the information on which they depend.

Principal Consulting and The Robert Frances Group can help you move to a happier state of data quality affairs. It all begins with an understanding of where your organization is today, and goes forward to help you address and implement sustainable data quality improvements. Contact us today to find out how we can help. Until then, Happy Landings!


Trust your Numbers

trust your numbers

Trust your numbers, but never trust your gut.

Always trust your numbers. Never trust your gut.

Those are the words of Daniel Kahneman, the economics Nobel laureate. In an video interview series with Inc. Magazine’s Editor in Chief, Eric Schurenberg,  Kahneman tells us that experts tend to be overconfident, and make predictions without enough information. We are also inconsistent decision-makers. Here’s the video, with an ad.

Only trust your numbers if you know they are credible. If you have high quality, credible data and interpret it correctly and with rigor, you will avoid the traps of overconfidence and inconsistency, and make rational decisions. But beware, credibility has two parts: the quality of your data and which data points you decide to use in your assumptions. Depending on these inputs, you can derive very different outputs. Remember that “Garbage in, Garbage out” (GIGO) still applies.

As luck would have it, I couldn’t reach Professor Kahneman today, but I did speak with my complicating factorscolleague Cal Braunstein, CEO Executive Director of Research at The Robert Frances Group (RFG). Cal and I are working on a Return on Investment (ROI) calculator project. It is the embodiment of Kahneman’s thesis of numbers over gut. I wanted Cal’s take on ROI, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and related approaches to making decisions by the numbers. Should you trust your numbers? It all depends…Here is what Cal had to say.



Which project “go no-go” approaches are RFG clients using?

To determine whether it makes sense to “do” something, our clients have traditionally considered Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), ROI, Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and Payback Period. Today, they are also looking at agility (time to market) and how fast they might make mid-course development changes. Our product vendors want to know how they can better define their value proposition.

To read more about lean start-ups and minimally viable products, look here.

Do clients start with one measure and evolve to use others?

Yes, you may find people starting with ROI because it is a relatively simple calculation. If the ROI you calculate  doesn’t meet your hurdle rate than there is no value in further exploration. If the ROI does meet the hurdle rate, then clients will drill in with a TCO to get a true feel for the costs.

Does the role of the evaluator influence their analysis?

Yes, another factor in choosing the analysis technique is who is doing the analysis. For example, finance people will do an ROI, but they have no real idea of  the nitty-gritty details that go into a useful TCO.

disrupt 2014It turns out that operations people are often more comfortable with TCO because they have real insight into the costs involved in building products, developing and offering services, or both. Cal cited a case of “go no-go” for adopting a new software suite.



The finance team performed an ROI to get a high-level view of the impact of acquiring the proposed software suite. It passed their testing, and the analysis task was passed to IT and Operations. These groups had us develop a TCO that considered re-training costs, staff back-fill, and the software vendor’s consulting fees, among other factors we knew would influence the cost of the project. In the end, the TCO revealed the new software acquisition would be a wash when compared to sticking with their existing solution. The acquisition was nixed, at least for the time being.

Why did your end-user clients ask RFG to do the TCO analysis?

data credibilityNow we all know that TCO, ROI, and the other typical analysis techniques have been around a long time. I thought it likely that both product vendors and enterprise clients could perform their own analyses. So, I asked Cal why clients would reach out to RFG. Do they trust Cal’s numbers more than their own?  It turns out the answer is “Yes.”



Often. analyses are used in an enterprise to make a point. As a third-party, RFG doesn’t have a point to prove. We simply want to get the analysis right. When we do the analysis, our clients know that what we deliver is unbiased and therefore more credible.

How important are the assumptions you make?

Well, they are extremely important. SWAG assumptions tailored to meet outcomes are no good to anyone. Making unrealistic or poorly informed assumptions will probably lead to incorrect conclusions. The idea is to help your client make a rational decision, not to game the analysis outcome to produce a particular result.

Do you have an example?

OK, think about the assumption of electrical costs for a data center.If we think electricity costs 8 cents/kwh but in some other part of the country it is really 12 or 16 cents, the decision one would make on investing in energy-saving devices would likely change. If the ROI or TCO analyst only considers what he or she pays per month, but does not look at rates in other parts of the country,  or in other countries, the analysis will have a built-in weakness.

 Another one, perhaps?

Sure. Another example concerns the operating characteristics of a server. If your assumption is that your servers run 4 hours per day and are otherwise off, but they run 4 hours per day and are older servers without multiple levels of powered down states and stay, you will make an incorrect assumption, and probably come to the wrong conclusion.

What about product and service vendors ?

The value of RFG for vendors is that nobody trusts the vendor’s numbers. When the vendor tells you “use my system and save millions,” who would believe that? A vendor’s homegrown analysis is designed to show their product or service in the best possible light. An unrealistic assumption set may sell a solution but then fail to deliver for a user. However, a report from an analyst firm like RFG informs readers about the analyst’s belief. There is no question that our work and our assumptions are transparent, and our results are credible.

 The Bottom Line

With any analysis that influences your decision-making, it is crucial to dissect  the analysis data credibilityto know if it is based on reasonable assumptions, and that the recommendations offered are credible and suitable to support your decision. In Dr. Kanheman’s video, he states

…if the algorithm is based on optimistic assumptions, the algorithm is not going to work.

Decision-making is a bias-prone and complex set of activities that engage your analytic and organizational abilities. TCOs, ROIs, and similar analysis vehicles can offer valuable insights, but the smart decision-maker considers the source and the method. Make sure you have confidence in the quality of the data used to prepare the analysis. Make sure you understand the assumptions made in the analysis, and make sure they make sense for your situation. Look before you leap.

Cal Braunstein and the Robert Frances Group team have decades of experience in preparing analyses and critiquing those prepared by others. Isn’t It time to get Cal and the RFG team working for you? Contact them now, and get your ball rolling.

Pick the Right Customer

pick the right customer

Pick the right customer with your data?

In the March 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), Robert Simons,  the Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, writes that organizations need to identify their primary customer type, and focus their business delivery there. With the right subscription you can read the article here. The author’s thesis is that organizations won’t dominate their markets by trying to be all things to all classes of customer. Winners know who they are targeting, and why.

However, if organizations rely on their own data to classify customers and determine, for example, their profitability, I question the value of their results. Our “Poor Data Quality – Negative Business Outcomes” survey shows customer data quality results that should make you weep. Please keep the following two charts in mind as you read on. Note that in both cases, more than 80% of respondents cited poor customer data as a cause of difficulty or a limit on success. Would you make smart decisions and pick the right customer with data in this condition? Click either graph to enlarge it.

[table id=4 /]

Four Steps to Pick the Right Customer

pick he right customerRobert Simons discusses four critical steps to pick the right customer for your organization. Let’s take a quick look at how poor customer data quality will shoot down Step 1 before you ever get started.

Step 1: Identify Your Primary Customer – Robert Simons identifies three decision elements to help you pick the right customer as your primary target. These elements are perspective, capabilities, and profit potential.

Perspective refers to your business vision, culture, and the folklore of your organization.

Your reputation in social media and survey results will give you insight into whether your various customers and prospects share your concept of perspective. Unfortunately, your poor customer data is not likely to help you get a clear picture of customer buying habits, returns, use of incentives, and other insights that might confirm your concept of perspective, or cause you to vary it.

Capabilities, according to Simon,  “refers to the embedded resources of the firm” and determines your organization’s critical differentiation for various classes of customer. You are probably positioned to serve certain types of customer better than others, but with poor quality customer data, you will have a hard time proving it. The same limitations you will have in validating your assumptions about perspective will challenge you in customer analysis.

Profit Potential segments your customers by their current and likely future profitability. Customers who can easily switch suppliers, buy only with incentives, have high rates of return, and need high levels of customer service are probably not your big profit generators. Does your poor quality customer data give you the profitability insights you need? Are you cross-selling and up-selling based on revenue instead of profitability? Customer data that is inaccurate, ambiguously defined, disorganized, or stale, is more likely to do your decision-making process harm.

Here are the other steps Robert Simons addresses.

  • Step 2: Understand What Your Primary Customer Values
  • Step 3: Allocate Resources to Win
  • Step 4: Make the Control Process Interactive

I will look at the impacts of poor customer data on decision-making in steps 2-4 with future posts. However, I think you get the idea. You won’t have confidence to make good decisions that are informed by bad data. Chances are, you won’t pick the right customer. Poor customer data quality will lead you to a negative business outcome when attempting to segment your customer base and pick the right customer for your organization.

 The Bottom Line

As Cal Braunstein of the Robert Frances Group and I speak with survey respondents we hear that many organizations are in denial about their poor data quality. One good way to send the wake-up call is to have us conduct a poor data quality – negative business outcomes survey especially for your firm. Your executives will receive eye-opening insights that will inspire the person in deepest denial to data quality improvement action.

One thing we hear again and again is that good things begin in earnest when high-level executives understand the data quality issue and get behind a data quality initiative. Why not get started down the road to data quality success today? Contact us, and let’s get your data quality improvement initiative underway.