Get Reworked Podcast Episode 28 Guest Alan Pelz-Sharpe of advisory firm Deep Analysis

Get Reworked Podcast: Now Is the Time for Bold Thinking About Change

February 01, 2022 Information Management
Mike Prokopeak
By Mike Prokopeak, Siobhan Fagan

Get Reworked Podcast Episode 28 Guest Alan Pelz-Sharpe of Advisory Firm Deep Analysis
The current moment is a powerful opportunity to reshape and remake work. But getting it right is both relatively straightforward and fiendishly complex. 

In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Alan Pelz-Sharpe, information management expert and founder of advisory firm Deep Analysis, about the road ahead. Organizations are poised to make giant leaps forward, he says, with powerful and useful tools to manage information and deliver better customer and employee experiences. But it's going to take a lot more than writing a check. 

Listen: Get Reworked Podcast Full Episode List

"If people aren't prepared to make bold moves to get rid of decades of junk, if they're not prepared to be honest about how miserably inefficient some of their processes are and get rid of them, or completely rethink them, then it's limited," Alan said.

Highlights of the conversation include:

  • The problem with information management in companies today.
  • Why it's long past time to clean out the digital junk in your data closet.
  • Why you should approach customer experience and employee experience as one challenge.
  • The No. 1 reason most business applications fail.

Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk with Alan about the metaverse and web3, his side career as a DJ and what his photography background teaches him about digital transformation. Listen in for more.

Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe: Even if a law firm's going to demand all of its team are going to be back in the office, its clients aren't necessarily. Its customers aren't, so we have to deal with this new work environment. I think that's very exciting. It brings about change.

There's definitely big change ahead. But I have no idea whether it'll work out well. The history of IT says parts of it will.

Siobhan Fagan: You just heard from Alan Pelz-Sharpe. Alan is the founder of Deep Analysis, which is an advisory firm that focuses on innovation and information management. He's also just a very interesting person to talk to. He's got a background in photography. He's a house DJ, he has a bachelor's in theology.

And he has over 25 years of experience in the IT industry, which is why we brought him here today. We're really excited to talk to him, so I can't wait to bring him on. How about you, Mike?

Mike Prokopeak: I'm excited to get started. Let's Get Reworked.

The Problem With Enterprise Information Management

Siobhan: Welcome to the podcast, Alan.

Alan: Thank you very much for inviting me. I'm looking forward to this.

Siobhan: So Alan, we invited you today, in part because of your background. And while we just shared a little bit of your bio, I was hoping that you could sort of ground our audience in when it was that you started in the tech world. And maybe to help that along, you can share what the big technology was when you started.

Alan: Oh, wow, that's a long time ago. Yeah, was sort of crazy really. I was working, believe it or not, in television as a researcher and I was a photographer. And guess what, I couldn't earn any money and I got a job in oil and gas, a temporary job. And it was paper-based document management or document control, as we called it back in those days. And it just so happened that sort of coincided with electronic document management systems. So I ended up working on literally one of the first big document management projects, certainly in the engineering sector, in the UK.

And all I could see at that time was, why is this such chaos, and it became a fascination for me. So yeah, we're talking sort of very earliest versions of Documentum. We're talking the 90s, that long ago, and, you know, sheer accident. But that sparked a career for me. And I've been following it ever since.

Siobhan: So I love that you just said why is there such chaos, because we're now going to talk about our current state. And right now we see these great advances in technology. We're seeing unprecedented work by AI. We're seeing blockchain coming to the fore. If we listen to certain vendors, quantum computing is going to come and be able to solve problems previously unimaginable.

But people still can't find the information they need to get their jobs done. So how do we get from here to there?

Alan: Well, it's interesting, I mean, so the technology from those early days has come on enormously, right? I'd say the last five years, probably there's been more advances than in the previous 20. So the technology is coming on at a pace that the challenge here is that the business problems haven't changed, right? You know, if you couldn't find what you wanted out of a pile of 200,000 documents, well, then you're not going to find it out of a pile of 200 million. It's just one of volume.

The problem is exactly the same problem. The problem is that we don't categorize, we don't file, we don't use librarian-type surfaces mentally, even. We just tend to hoard. It's like if you've ever seen one of those episodes of extreme hoarders or whatever, that's most people's storage in IT system. And so it's a cultural problem. It's a problem that we never throw anything away. We keep everything, but we're not sure what we've kept and all the technology in the world won't help you with that.

Siobhan: Do you see part of the problem being that companies keep throwing technology at what isn't a tech problem?

Alan: Always, always and you know, people have made billions out of that, and a lot of rich people in the IT sector. You know, we've got the same thing going on now. Does AI do a great job of reading and categorizing information? Yes, it does. It's absolutely brilliant.

Will it solve the chaos you have? No, it won't because it needs structure. It needs order to start with. If you don't have that in the first place, AI can't help you.

But that doesn't mean people won't market it and sell it to you. And it doesn't mean you're not daft enough to buy it, frankly. So again, it comes back to the fact that the technology today is amazing. I mean, it's absolutely amazing. But if you're a company that's been around or a government department that's been around forever, making sense or bringing some order to the chaos, which is going to involve some cultural change, some rethinking some re-imagination and some really tough decisions.

If you're not prepared to do that the technology can't help you.

Time to Get Rid of the Junk Information

Mike: So then where do you start, Alan? Short of hiring a corporate librarian, where do companies start with that to address that issue that you just raised?

Alan: Well, that's a great question. And actually, I think a corporate librarian probably isn't a bad idea.

Mike: Sounds like a pretty good idea.

Alan: Yeah, I mean, somebody who's actually been to college and figured out how to manage information. That's a quite a good start. No but actually, yes, people who've got degrees in library studies should be and often are extremely in demand and well paid.

That said, where do you really start? You start by making some really tough decisions. I mean, to give real world examples here, I've talked to companies and just in the past year, actually, who've got between 15 and 20 billion files, I say, between 15 and 20, who knows could be more. Nobody actually really knows, but we know it's 10s of billions. Why? There is no logic to that. I mean, I don't care if you're the biggest insurance company or bank in the world, there's no logic to that.

Those are the kind of hard decisions you have to sort of really get some buy-in and start getting rid of the junk. You got to start getting rid of the junk. Because why would you spend a fortune organizing 20 billion files, it just doesn't make any kind of sense. You got to start getting rid of the junk and see what you're left with. I always recommend the big bucket approach. This stuff is obviously business critical or regulatory required, or whatever. This stuff I'm not sure about. This stuff is junk, and the biggest bucket is always the junk.

And it's getting people to take that first step to actually deleting, destroying, clearing out the junk. That's the first big step everybody should be taking.

Mike: Did the movement towards Big Data lead us astray? I mean because that was kind of the rage 10 years ago or so, that we've got the tools to be able to analyze all this data. So let's just keep it all.

Alan: Somewhere within this 20 billions of files, there's a nugget of gold, is there? You're never gonna find it it's there anyway. I mean, don't get me wrong. There's value in big data properly managed. That's a perfectly valid practice.

But yeah, cloud storage, big data thinking, why get rid of anything when storage is cheaper? Allegedly, it's not actually, but it brings with it way more problems than it brings advantages and positives, frankly.

The Great Opportunity to Improve Employee Experience

Siobhan: So Alan, if I can shift the perspective to the employee perspective, because clearly there's business problems with not being able to find information. But at the same time, we're in a period where you hear about the employee experience, all of a sudden employees have expectations that their work tools will work in a decent enough manner, or at least not be horrible.

So where would you say that we are as far as employee experience right now with back office technology with 10 being absolutely fabulous, and 1 being dismal? How would you rate that?

Alan: Well, to put a positive spin on it, I'll give it a 2 instead of a 1. I mean, no. It's rubbish, right? And how dare these employees demand a decent product to work with? That's the attitude of some employers. But I think realistically, I don't want to be pulling positives from the pandemic, because it's just horrible. But the reality is the shift to remote and hybrid working has exposed just how flimsy and poorly constructed some of these systems are, many of these systems are. So there is on the positive side, there's a much greater understanding that the employee experience needs to be good.

I mean, if you compare the customer experience, right, you know, the experience of going on to, I don't know, Etsy or some trading site, or whatever it is you do. I mean that's been improving year on year on year. The employee experience hasn't changed very much in 20 years for many people or many organizations.

I think there is an understanding now that it has to. The challenge, again, there is how does it shift? You know, there's many different ways of doing it. Instead of big applications, you break it down into smaller services. That's a big topic for another day. But I think fundamentally, there's an understanding that you really shouldn't be deploying any new business applications unless you've actually talked to people who do the job and understand their needs.

That seems obvious but I can tell you I have seen projects very recently where they've gone live, and they've not involved any of the employees and they can't understand why it's not working.

Mike: Well, that's a real shocker.

Alan: Yeah. No, they guessed it.

Mike: Spoiler alert: It doesn't work if you don't involve your employees — what they're looking to do. So if I'm a manager then and I'm in that situation, is it salvageable? Can I do anything about it? And if so, what?

Alan: Yeah, actually, a lot of the time you can salvage it. Because the truth is most applications, particularly these days, they do actually fundamentally work. It's more the user experience is overly complex or just poorly thought out, there's an understanding that you do task A followed by task B, followed by task C, but what they didn't understand is that when you do task A, you walk over to this desk and you ask Brenda, or Siobhan, what they know. And there's all these complexities.

And so user experiences, that sort of front end, absolutely, they can be improved dramatically without unplugging everything you've built at the back end. And if you take the world of customer experience, there's a legion of experts who can build great user interfaces. They're very ergonomic, very intuitive. And I think for those kind of people, there's a great opportunity inside the office, the back-office, the employee experience, to take those skills and apply them there.

Where to Start in Solving the Challenges

Siobhan: So how can we bring those two parts up? We've got the back-end problems that we started off talking, we were talking about the information management and all of the rot in the back-end, then we also have the user experience on the front-end for the employees suffering. Where would a business start?

Alan: Well again, like a lot of these things, some of it just comes back to re-framing the discussion. And I think another thing which has come out of the pandemic, is this greater awareness now that a happy employee probably equals a happy customer, which equals happy shareholders. We've had 20 years, probably, of focusing solely on the customer experience so it feels right solely on the customer experience. I think there's a recognition now that that's just totally out of balance.

And one of the things you can focus people on, and I've seen this happen quite effectively, is stressing that, well, you know, you've built a great customer experience but guess what? Their expectations are now crazy, right? It looks so easy. Why haven't I gotten an instant answer? Why haven't you immediately got back to me? Why haven't you done this? Why haven't you done that? And so you've got to improve the back-end to meet the probably exaggerated and unrealistic at times customer demands.

So to give a real world example, I think I may have given this before on a podcast, but let's just say there was a government in Europe. Visa applications, and they had a website for that. And it hadn't changed in God knows how long, and you filled your application in and waited two or three weeks to see if you got approved. And it worked all fine. Then they redesigned the website. Made it slick. Made it mobile. And guess what, complaints went through the roof. Because the expectation was, well, it looks like Amazon, why didn't I get it delivered tomorrow? Because they change nothing at the back-end. It's exactly the same process.

And I think that's happening to a lot of people. Customers are expecting immediate responses, accurate responses. Well, if you haven't changed the back-end processes, they're going to get them at the same time they got them before.

Siobhan: I think that's the first time I've heard a compelling argument for a bad user experience, Alan.

Mike: That's what I was thinking about. It's like, you just left it how it was.

Alan: Well, be careful what you wish for. I mean, for this it's true. If you make it look slick, well there's just an assumption that it is slick all the way through.

There's an insurance company here in the US that I know quite well. They have a wonderful user experience, until the users actually experienced the service. Because at the back-end there are piles of paper and people at desks.

Siobhan: Don't forget the fax machines, Alan. Don't forget the fax machines.

Alan: Plenty of fax machines still around. Big money still in faxes.

Why Most Business Applications Fail

Siobhan: So Alan, you said not that long ago that the tools that we're currently using in the workplace aren't meant for an 8-hour workday. I was hoping that you can expound on that a little bit.

Alan: Yeah, I've no idea why I said that, actually. So, sounded good at the time probably is the truth of it. Well, I think the thing is, if you look at the way people build and design business applications, whether that's a CRM system or legal billing system, whatever are the tools that get the work done, they're designed with the process in mind, not the people in mind, and that's where things don't work out too well. There's never really much consideration given for what you might call the peaks and troughs of a workload, right?

So if you have people in the office from 9 to 5, or they're working from home from 9 to 5, or whatever, that's fine. But a computer system works 24 hours. And actually a lot of systems can be optimized to process asynchronously. This is getting very technical, it could do very quickly. But there's a focus on everything being synchronous. I push a button, it happens. A lot of systems really don't work that well that way, particularly when you're processing in the real world people are processing lots and lots of documents and forms. Yeah, they've not really been designed that the user reality, the workers' reality, their work date isn't reflected in the architecture of the system. It's not reflected in the workflows of the system.

That's getting into a bit of psychology, a bit of organizational psychology, and maybe a big topic for another day. But it's absolutely true. It takes something like a Salesforce, I mean, it works perfectly fine, or HubSpot or whatever, not just to name one vendor at a time. The IT works fine but it's not really been designed to work with the working patterns of the workforce. I've used the word "work" way too many times now, I'm sure. And it's funny, those are simple tweaks that can make a system much more efficient processing, overnight processing, low bandwidth areas, etc.

Again, I'm a bit wary of getting into too many technical details here. This is sort of an architectural discussion but it's that thing of, the computer does this, humans do that. Where's the middle ground?

Mike: Yeah, I mean, it's user experience. It's again, just reiterating that in designing products and designing systems that you're using in your organization that you're taking a user experience mindset to that, and I guess design thinking to bring in another buzzword.

Alan: Yes, design thinking is a great example. Design thinking is used a lot at the customer experience, but not the employee experience.

How to Design With Employees in Mind

Mike: Well, so that brings up a question when I was thinking about your response there, I was thinking, OK, user experience, design thinking, we have this trend towards employee experience.

There's a difference though, when people are talking about employee experience than when they're talking about user experience and design thinking. How do we reconcile the two, because I feel like we're already there, if not, on the verge of employee experience becoming such a buzzword that it almost becomes meaningless to some degree.

How do we make sure that we retain that focus that you just talked about there, that you've got to design with your employees, your users in mind, as we ride the employee experience wave?

Alan: Well, one way of doing it is to just sort of eradicate that sort of the customers or the citizens or whoever, but the end end-users, whatever you want to call them, are in one box and employees are in another. I mean, we go back to sort of change management days and business process re-engineering. There was a lot of thought around this. It wasn't implemented, but it was a lot of thought given to it, is that ultimately, our focus should be on the process. What actually happens from beginning to end? Where are the peaks and troughs? How do we make it really efficient and accurate and beautiful?

The focus on improving the customer experience hasn't focused on the underlying process. And it's one of those things that you probably end up bringing into McKinsey or something to really figure out what truly happens. So let me break this down into sort of more manageable terms.

In the customer experience world, people have been doing journey mapping for years. And I would say that the last four or five years, it's become very, very, very trendy. Shouldn't you be using that all the way through from the back- to the front-office? How many projects really utilize something like journey mapping beyond the customer experience, as opposed to the end-to-end process? When you do it from the end-to-end process, you end up with something much cleaner, much simpler, much more scalable, hopefully.

Mike: Hopefully, I like that little coda at the end there, hopefully.

Underrated/Overrated With Alan Pelz-Sharpe

Mike: Alright, so we've got a lot more that we want to talk to you about today. But we also like to take a little bit of break sometimes in these conversations, particularly when we're kind of getting into some deeper and heavier concepts, and like to play a little game we call underrated/overrated.

And what we'll do is we'll throw a few topics at you, and you can tell us whether you think that concept or that approach, or that idea is underrated or overrated and feel free to give a little bit of explanation why or break the rules if you want. We're just looking to have a quick little lightning round here and get some thoughts on the topics du jour from you.

So are you willing to play along with us?

Alan: Absolutely.

Mike: Alright. I'm gonna throw the first one out, and this has not been sponsored by Mark Zuckerberg. But the metaverse, do you believe the concept of the metaverse is underrated or overrated at this point?

Alan: Massively overrated.

Mike: No hesitation.

Alan: No hesitation whatsoever.

Mike: Does that mean you don't see any value in it?

Alan: Oh, I think ultimately there could be but I think it's a great vision as opposed to anything terribly practical right at the moment and certainly for the world of business. I mean, it's not that new of an idea, actually. It's come up in various forms over the last decade or so. And it hasn't panned out previously, so not so hopeful it will this time either. Plus, I think there's a ton of privacy and legal and ethical issues that nobody really wants to address right at the moment that they'll have to before anything happens.

Siobhan: Wait, you're saying technology won't self regulate?

Alan: I've got a feeling it won't.

Siobhan: I'm gonna throw out another one of these terms du jour, web3. Underrated or overrated?

Alan: Yeah, that's a more difficult one to answer because conceptually, I'd say it's underrated. I think for the enterprise is just the very concept, to just being able to log in once and the sort of distributed yet the centralized approach is actually very exciting.

So in terms of it being a concept, I would say, enterprises in particular have definitely underrated it. I think it's got a lot of potential. Practically speaking, really hard to shift what's already there, the existing web. But I think that does have potential. I think that distributed approach underpinned by blockchain, I think it's got a lot of potential.

Siobhan: Alan, would you be able to provide, and I'm putting you on the spot here because I know I couldn't do this, a succinct definition of web3.

Alan: Well, I'll have a go. Don't think everybody's going to agree with me. But oddly enough, if you look at the web today, it's actually very flaky. The core infrastructure can fall over in five minutes. Cable gets cut or whatever. And frankly, it's in the hands of very few people, or very few organizations who are essentially controlling it.

The concept of the sort of web3 is really many different mini internets, which are independent of each other. So if one falls over the others ... you have an underpinning of again, the distributed network, which is a blockchain. So if I am validated and credentialed here then I am everywhere. And so theoretically, it's much more robust but also malleable. I mean, you can do a lot more with it.

But again, we're talking concept here. It's not a reality at the moment. At the same time, you could look back in time and say, well, people's internets and whatever, you know, the idea is not that new of having many internets. What's new is underpinning it with a blockchain, which is immutable as all blockchains are, and that identity carries across, wherever you are.

Siobhan: Thank you for taking that on, Alan.

Alan: Yeah, I was gonna say, about as clear as mud. But if you had a whiteboard, it would make more sense.

Mike: You certainly did it much clearer than either of us could. And definitely, much clearer than the venture capital firms who are investing in web3 are making it, that's for sure.

Alan: Well, clarity isn't always in their best interest.

Mike: Alright, next topic for underrated/overrated is robotic process automation (RPA). Do you feel like this is underrated or overrated as a solution to many of these challenges?

Alan: Overrated. RPA, robotic process automation, is a very powerful set of technologies. It brings a lot of value. I'm not being dismissive of it.

But the other thing it brings is, if you're an organization [and] you think RPA is going to solve all your process problems, you're in for a big surprise. As soon as you start deploying a couple of hundred bots, you really have to question whether you should be redesigning your processes in the first place, and maybe you're doing everything wrong.

So do they bring value? Absolutely, they do if somebody is manually typing in data from one screen to another, which happens in just about every organization on the planet. Why, you can automate that if it's the same every time. But that's the limitation of RPA. It's robotic process automation, that's what it's called, but it'd be better off being termed repetitive task automation because it's got to be the same every single time. And in the real world things aren't most of the time. There are variances, and that's where RPA comes unstuck.

Siobhan: But robots are so much more fun to talk about.

Alan: Well, they don't want to talk about robots anymore. No, I have clients and you have to be real careful here to make sure not to state the clients who would prefer to talk about digital workers.

Siobhan: Hmm.

Alan: Which to me...

Mike: You're creating some ethical questions there.

Siobhan: Yeah, yeah. Alright, Alan. So last up in this round of underrated/overrated. DJ Frankie Knuckles, underrated or overrated?

Alan: It's not possible to overrate DJ Frankie Knuckles. He is the godfather of house music. Without Frankie Knuckles, we wouldn't have had Carl Cox who wouldn't have picked on, we wouldn't have house music as it is today. And I'm a big, big fan of house music.

However, without Frankie Knuckles, we wouldn't have had techno, and the world probably could do without techno.

Mike: So you're not going to EDM festivals anytime soon. Is that what you're saying?

Alan: Oh, I will if they've got deep, funky soulful house playing, I'll be there. I love my house music.

It All Comes Back to Processes

Siobhan: Well, thank you for playing underrated/overrated. I will definitely have to listen to some house music in your and DJ Frankie Knuckles honor this evening, but we're going to bring you back into the world of the enterprise workplace.

What I've been hearing as you've been speaking, Alan, is the word processes keeps coming up. And how a lot of these problems are occurring because of the processes. And I was just wondering, in that context, what sort of legacy issues do businesses need to deal with before they can start thinking of this brave new world, which may or may not include web3 in the metaverse?

Alan: Well, everything comes back to processes. I think that's the key thing, but processes are hard. And so people try to avoid them and buy some new technology to try and fix a problem.

But you know, processes at the heart, A follows B follows C except when this happens, etc. So you know, think flowcharts or whatever. Virtually every enterprise IT project should be starting off, not virtually, all enterprise IT projects should be starting off with business analysts analyzing what's really happening in the business today, or as we would call it, the "as is." If you don't know how things are operating today, you can imagine and you can fantasize as much as you want about your future wonderful system, it ain't gonna happen.

So that's become easier over the last couple of years. There's been a flurry of tools coming to the market which go under the banner of process mining and task mining which can automate some of that discovery. They can actually look at your systems and say, oh, this is happening, did you know this, or they can look at the screens of people in a call center and see you know, oh, they open that and then they type this in here.

So there's been advances in that world, but it's still the area of projects where people tend to not want to invest and put time. And it's probably almost certainly the number one reason most IT projects still fail or fall short of expectations, because there's not enough time put into that.

So it all comes back to process. But it also comes back to the fact that if you don't really know what's happening today, then you can't change it. And almost nobody knows really what's happening today. How you think a process works and how it actually works, is almost always two different things.

Siobhan: So Alan, I want to kind of stick on this processes topic for a minute because when businesses are bringing in these new tools, a lot of times they're trying to drive efficiencies in existing processes. And they're not using it as an opportunity to actually rethink how they should work.

So do you think that that is an opportunity that's missed? Do they need to establish what these processes are before they can rethink how to work?

Alan: Well, I think no. I think well, there's two things. You can go about it in different ways of course. I think it's perfectly fine to imagine how you would like things to work in an ideal world and map that out in advance. I don't think that's a bad thing at all. It's just basic goal setting.

But I think when people do discover how even the simplest of business processes are actually quite complicated, you're right, they fall into the trap of just trying to tweak it to make it better, to make it a bit more efficient, a bit more cost effective. And too often they walk away from the exciting opportunity of saying, isn't there a better way altogether? Do we even need to be doing this anymore?

Those are exciting, that sort of rethink, reimagine, reframe exercises that management consultants love, of course. The challenge in organizations is it requires a bit of a leap of faith. And it's often hard to get sign-off. It's much easier to get sign-off on something that says, well, we can do it 20% more efficiently than we did it before rather than saying, I don't really know if we should be doing this at all anymore today.

How to Avoid the Mistakes of the Past

Mike: Alright, so lots of mistakes have been made. We can probably agree upon that in businesses, especially when it comes to technology and how they're implementing that to solve some of these problems. But you know, what are the lessons that they can learn from that?

I mean, that really is the point of it all, is you're gonna make mistakes everybody is, but what do you learn from it. And what if any mistakes are you seeing that are being repeated through this cycle of learning?

Alan: I fear I'm coming across as Eeyore here. I mean, all I'm doing is saying the negatives. I'm actually quite excited about where things are going. And I do think in this world of tech, AI, blockchain, RPA, cloud and better customer and employee experience. I think there's a real opportunity. I think we're really standing on the brink of some firms at least taking that leap of faith. So I don't want to be too negative.

But I think where you do see, well, I've mentioned one of them, not enough business analysis at the beginning of projects. That's probably the one that gets me the most, because if a project can take a year, and you won't spend two months doing proper analysis, well, it's not going to take a year, it's probably going to take you two years because trust me, it ain't going to go well.

So it's the best investment you can make. And that year may well come down to six months if you do that work properly. So I think that is the most repeatable mistake that organizations make. They don't do enough business analysis. They don't sit with the people who are actually doing the work at the coalface.

I can tell you a real story. I did a project for a pensions company here in the Northeast, and I spent a day with them, the management, and we mapped out how these processes work. And I was really only there as sort of an independent to give us a thumbs up or thumbs down. I went home that evening, and it just bugged me all day. I knew something was missing. And I literally drove six hours the next morning back to the office. I said, can I actually sit at a terminal and watch them work?

I spent about an hour talking to a woman called Janice, I believe her name was. And I said, so Janice, I know how you work and know what you do and explained it to her. And she nearly wet herself crying. I mean, I couldn't have been further from reality. And she told me how things really worked, how emails were exchanged, went over to a filing cabinet and pulled out this thing.

That's where projects go wrong. Managers and supervisors think they know what's happening. And it doesn't bear any resemblance to the real world. And honestly, you get that bit right, your success rate is up 70%-80%. I can't back that up with anything scientific, but your success rate is much, much higher.

Get the Basics Right When It Comes to Redesigning Processes

Mike: So I've been grappling with this question ever since you mentioned you're a photographer. I want to ask sort of about the revolution in digital photography, and how that's changed things and if there's an application here. Because I have worked with a number of photographers, and I can remember asking them of when they move from film to digital, that basically makes it so that anybody can do your job, right?

And then suddenly, we had phones in our pockets and our smartphones became professional photography tools, and suddenly it became like, oh, yeah, sure anybody can do this. But that's not necessarily true. And he was actually really insulted, as he should have been, in hindsight, when I asked the question. Do you feel like we're kind of in that similar state right now, that we kind of feel like, oh, all the tools are available, anybody should be able to do this?

Alan: It really does take a professional. And you know, if we take the photography analogy here, if you really want to make it as a photographer, and I'm still quite involved in the world of photography, if you really want to be a great photographer, stills photographer, or movie, you still need to know the basics of light, and apertures and shutter speeds and film speeds. And you know, you still need to know all of those basic things.

What the digital camera does is it basically lifts the base level of what's average. It basically eliminates some really, really bad pictures. But the really good stuff, it has no impact on whatsoever. And I think that's the danger, it makes things too easy. And it gives you a generic look. And that's the case in a lot of IT, where it's easier and easier to deploy. That's good. Instead of spending two years and a fortune, you can try something out. And I think that's a terrific thing. That for almost no cost. If that if you're an organization, you think this blockchain thing sounds quite interesting. Go online, try it out, you can do that this afternoon. It's fine. If you want to try out something else, you can try it out tomorrow.

So that ease is great. But it can give a veneer that masks some really horrible messes underneath. If you're not aware of them, if you don't have the basics of consulting analysis, IT, to understand that then you just keep putting a veneer on a veneer.

Mike: Yeah, but it's an art is what you're saying.

Alan: There are some basic skills that everybody should have. I mean, if you're kicking off a big customer data platform project today and you get the 10 people who are going to be involved in the project from the company around a table, and then you bring in the vendors and the systems integrators, so say you got 20 people around the table. How many of those people have actually worked on a project like this before? Three, four? You need a level playing field. And I think that's where a lot of these projects go wrong that the basic skills are not there. And it's too easy to implement the technology.

So on the one hand, it's great that you can try things out at low cost today, I think that's fantastic. The downside is you can deploy things very quickly and actually make a situation even worse.

Siobhan: So in a sense, it's giving a false sense of security. Like, it's easy, so therefore I'm doing something great.

Alan: But I think we could go back to RPA. I think that's one of those things. Oh, it's really easy to deploy a bot. It is. Did it fix it or did it make it worse?

Why We're on the Cusp of a Workplace Revolution

Siobhan: So Alan, I'm going to quote you to yourself again, which I hope you don't mind. But back in May 2020, you wrote, "I feel we are on the cusp of a revolution to reframe and reinvent the future of the workplace." And I wanted to check in and see if you still feel this way. And what form will this revolution take?

Alan: Oh, I absolutely do. And I think it ties back to what we were just talking about. There's so many tools around now, which are really good. When I started out my career, most of them were terrible. They fell over all the time, they didn't work, they were difficult to use.

The tools today are so much better than they ever work. There's so much more affordable, they're so much easier to get your hands on. And those are ultimately positives. And I think there is a reframing of the workplace going on.

We're just doing a paper at the moment on the legal sector and one of the slowest moving sectors, frankly. But even if a law firm's going to demand all of its team are going to be back in the office, its clients aren't necessarily. Its customers aren't. So we have to deal with this new work environment, and I think that's very exciting. It brings about change. Adoption of the cloud, not always the right thing to do. But objections to that have pretty much gone. Things are typically more secure. I think people are a bit more adventurous.

So no, I think we are on the cusp of that. I think whether it works out well is a whole different thing. There's definitely big change ahead. But, I have no idea whether it'll work out well. The history of IT says parts of it will.

Siobhan: See now, Alan, I was given you this grand gesture to make at the end to get away from the Eeyore, and here we are.

Alan: There's a British expression, which probably doesn't translate in America. I don't know. It's the curate's egg, you know, how were your eggs, vicar? Well, it was good in parts. I think it's that sort of thing.

You know, I think we are seeing a lot of improvements. But I do genuinely worry about going back in our conversation here. If people aren't prepared to make bold moves to get rid of decades of junk, if they're not prepared to be honest about how miserably inefficient some of their processes are, and get rid of them, or completely rethink them, then it's limited.

So I think some organizations will make giant leaps forward. I really do. And I think that's very, very exciting. I'm trying to be positive here. That's about as good as I'm gonna get, I think.

Mike: Alright, so if folks want to hear more of Alan's positivity, but also his thinking around where things are headed, where would you suggest they go, Alan?

Alan: They can come to our website. All our research is open sourced, so it's free to read, and share whatever, at We wish it was dot-com, but that's $20,000 so it's dot-net.

And it's all there, and more openly and freely, is access to us. If you're an enterprise, that means you are a buyer, I don't care if you're a government department or private company, it doesn't matter. Not a technology vendor, not an investor. But if you are a buyer or user of these things we've been talking about today, you can set up a call, just go on our website and set up a call. Completely confidential and it's free. And you know, we learn from that, and hopefully we can provide you with some good guidance too.

Mike: And what about following you personally? Where would you recommend they go?

Alan: Well, I'd love to say some big club where I'm DJing. But that's not happening. And I'd love to say it was all the various conferences that I used to speak at, but they're not happening either. So the number for Deep Analysis on Twitter, or just LinkedIn to me, and you know, we can start a conversation.

Mike: Great. Well, Alan, thank you so much for joining us today. And we look forward to having more conversations with you again as this moves forward. Thank you.

Alan: Thank you.

Wrap Up and Final Thoughts

Mike: So the one thing I'm really walking away with, Siobhan, it goes back to early in the conversation which is throw it away. I think we do have this tendency to just hoard all of this stuff and just keep it around. And because we have basically limitless ability to store documents and information, we do. But maybe we shouldn't be doing that. That's one big takeaway from this conversation for me.

Siobhan: Honestly, I think that Alan has done so many things in his life. I mean, why not add another one to it and just start a Netflix series about hoarders, digital style?

Mike: He can be the Marie Kondo of digital transformation.

Siobhan: Does this data bring me joy?

Mike: You're right. And most likely, the answer is no. But this podcast does.

Siobhan: I feel the same.

Mike: Alright, talk to you later, Siobhan.

Siobhan: Bye Mike.

Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.

Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us, and we'll see you next time.


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