My Internet of Things?

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Welcome Apple! The Homekit is the latest entry into a crowded world of home automation. Along with big names like Google, Samsung, Comcast…, this market is full of small manufacturers who have their own controlling apps. In fact an acquaintance just created a device and an app using his own standards.

Given the projected size of the market (Gartner:$300B by 2020), the commercial interest is completely understandable. But will this market live up to it’s promise? In the home sector, it will depend upon it’s usability.

As a potential end user, I am starting to get confused. Should I buy every device from the same manufacturer based on the promise of integration? Should I buy what I want and use individual apps? Should I wait for Apple to release more information? Should I wait until standards start appearing? Should I just give up now?

As a potential end user, I would like to buy what I want and be able to plug it into whatever controlling application I choose to use. I can buy a mobile phone and choose any provider, right? I would like the device to be discovered and configured. I would like analysis on the data from the device (if appropriate) and I would like to be able to intuitively control it (again, if appropriate). And then, there is the issue of security, but let us leave aside for the purposes of this article.

I believe that the strength of the manufacturer comes from the work the device does and how well and efficiently it does it. I believe that the strength of the integrator comes from the usability of the controlling application. How easy is it for me to find a particular device, control it’s features. How well does the application perform the analysis and show me results. The strength of either does not lie in limiting my choices through control of the eco-system.

I understand that standardization is a difficult exercise. I understand that the commercial aspect should and will take precedence. But, my understanding also is that the long term commercial benefits will be better if standardization is achieved earlier.

I am sure Apple will blow me away with it’s usability. I hope it does. I hope it succeeds. But, I also hope it works with everybody else to create an open eco-system, not a closed one. Right now, it is way too hard for the end user to make sense of the Internet of Things.

What do the 9-to-whatevers think?

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Bluntness & Motivation

I have been going through a confidence crisis recently (not what you think though).  I have been trying to think why people are not confident in doing what they need to do.  The thought had reached a crisis level.

Yesterday, I came across a simple and direct article (completely unrelated to the topic) on bluntness (by Kate Nasser) which got me thinking tangentially yet again.  The article included a point on bluntness being different from diplomatic honesty.

Bluntness is considered a bad thing due to the connotation of the message not being given in the right spirit.  The basic assumption, though, is that the message being given is a negative message.  My thought raced to what if the message is positive?  Will being blunt become a pleasant experience then?

The mind then reverted to the confidence issue.  One of the elements of confidence is positive feedback for your actions.  Negative feedback is useful for correcting incorrect actions, but re-enforcing and motivating positive actions is critical to the act of confidence building – ask (almost) any parent.

We are often “blunt” or “diplomatically honest” when the results are not upto our expectations (what we perceive as incorrect actions).  We are quick to remind people about appropriate customer service (as customers), appropriate performance (as managers), appropriate xyz (as abc), etc.  We love it and feel like we are contributing to society as a whole.

What do we do when things happen correctly?  When we get a coffee at the right temperature?  When the travel department books the right flight?  When the resource at our disposal writes the correct piece of code?  Well that is just as expected!  The lack of negative feedback should clearly indicate our satisfaction?  Introspection time!  We all typically feel the need for a little bit more than that.

I am not suggesting that we lower our standards; that we should start giving people accolades for showing up to work.  Going beyond expectations should stay exactly where it is and the rewards should remain tough to get.  However, we should adjust our attitude to the “met expectation” rating.  There should be something in it for people who are able to achieve that.  A “thank you”, “that is exactly what I was looking for”, “this is appropriate” and myriad such examples could go a long way…

A long way to what?  To building the confidence of the person this was said to.  Of ensuring that they understand that they met your expectations and relieving them of the need to be body language readers to do so.  I am proposing that we stop making the lack of negativity represent positivity.

Thinking about my own behavior, do I do this?  Yes!  Consistently?  No!  Often enough? Not sure, but no harm in trying!  From today, I pledge to be more complimentary and verbal than I have been before.  I pledge to be more “blunt”.  9-to-whatevers: your views?

Working With Internal Clients

We all work with clients in our professional life. There is a large number of us who work with external clients – the kind we generate our revenue from; for a large number of us, however, the clients are internal to our organization. These internal clients may then work with the external client directly or the chain may be longer.

Is there a difference in dealing with the two? To begin with, let us talk about the similarities – in both cases, we need to address product quality, service quality, engagement levels, ROI for the client, and the ilk. I cannot think of many significant parameters that would not apply to the internal client.

However, there are significant parameters that need to be considered in addition when dealing with internal clients:

  • Captive Relationship  With internal clients, the relationship is in captive mode.  The client is forced to accept the service from you.  This breeds complacency.  As Google also says, complacency leads to a reduction in the motivation to improve – something we need to be very careful of.
  • Benchmarking  As the relationship is captive, there is no competition to benchmark onself against.  You need to develop a very clear structure of KPIs and SLAs along with your client which will allow you to measure and track you performance and it’s progress.  Without these objective measurements, ROI calculations and other benefit statements will be difficult to determine.  This will replace the pricing and product feature/range efforts that determine success in a competitive environment.
  • Strategy  As part of the same organization, both you and your internal client will be part of the same strategy framework.  In your day to day offerings, you need to defend the principles of this strategy.  This means standing up and saying no when the client requests go in a different direction.  This is tougher with internal clients since you can’t just “walk away”.

In essence, working with internal clients can be more challenging in certain areas, demanding external clients notwithstanding.  Well, are we 9-to-whatevers up for it?

What is Customer Service?

There are multiple aspects of customer service; and they are not necessarily aligned.

So, here goes a recent conversation I had…

Ring, ring…
Me: Hello!
Oper: I am calling from xyz mobile company. Can I speak to Axxxx
Me: Nobody by that name here
Oper: Is this 9xxxxxxxxx?
Me: Yes, but the name is Aviral
Oper: Please go to the store at location x and submit your documents
Me: I did that 2 days ago. Can you please get this fixed?
Oper: Sir! This is a welcome call. I cannot do that. Please take your documents to location x
Me: (in my mind) What are you welcoming me to – bad customer service?

Unfortunately, experiences such as this are not limited to Telecom companies. In the city that I call home, customer service often takes a back seat. This is true in stores, restaurants, and even in the professional organizations.

This led me to question why we put up with it. I did an (extremely) unscientific survey and came up with the following observations:

  1. People tend to pay more attention to what they receive than how they receive it
  2. People tend to avoid thinking about what they will do when/if something goes wrong

This led me to thinking about the various facets of customer service. My thoughts, incomplete on hindsight, identified customer service as what I got from people – sales, queries, complaints and the ilk. I was completely ignoring the initial quality of the product as an element of customer service.

I now agree that the best customer service is one where one never needs after sales support. However, this is not realistic and companies need to cater for the other parts also. This is especially true for places with forced interaction such as restaurants – food quality is necessary but not sufficient.

So, the unanswered questions in my mind:

  1. What is the right balance as far as the definition of customer service goes?
  2. What are the drivers for organizations to achieve this balance?
  3. As consumers, how much and how can we impact these drivers to get the right balance necessary for us?

For us 9-to-whatevers, the question translates into how much we think about the customer vs. the product as we perform our duties…