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£168 for a fuse! How this could have been avoided!

18 December 2013

We have a NEFF combination microwave / oven in our kitchen. It was installed by the previous owners and has been an applicance we have used almost every day since we moved in. So when it stopped working it needed fixing quick!

I have a degree in Electronic Engineering so I’m not usually put off attempting to repair something electrical. This time I was a little concerned as Microwaves means high voltages (~4000V I think). I trawled the Internet for some quick fixes but didn’t find anything obvious. The oven didn’t display any error codes – it just stoped working after three seconds when being used as a Microwave. (The traditional oven and grill both worked fine)
So I decided to contact NEFF to see what my options were. It apears there are two – either a 1-time repair of £99 + parts or £168 for a 12-month contract, which included parts. (More details here) I opted for the 12-month contract as if the Magnetron needed replacing the single visit would work out more expensive than the contract. Arranging the contract was easy – and fortunately it’s 12 monthly payments of £14. The engineer was booked and he turned up today.
Extracting the oven would have been tricky for me as it’s quite heavy, but the engineer had a height-ajustable table that he could pull the oven directly on to. Once he had the lid off he saw there was a fuse. A quick test with his multimeter indicated it was blown. So he replaced it and got on with testing the oven. Everything worked fine so he reinstalled the oven, completed his paperwork and was on his way.
So why didn’t I do this myself? Basically because it felt too risky. But having seen it done – and learning that opening up a microwave oven and looking for obvious faults is no different than any other appliance, I’d be confident to do it myself. (But I don’t need to for the next 12 months!). It’s a shame that the oven didn’t display an error code – as that would have made diagnosis simpler. But then they aren’t designed for home maintenance are they?

Early morning runs are good for the soul

4 September 2013
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This morning  I went out for a run at 6am – a luxury that I can’t remember last time I enjoyed. To many people the idea of going out for a 6-mile run, let alone so early, might seem anywhere on a spectrum from foreign to extreme. However it’s something I enjoyed since I started running properly in 1995.

My 1-year old daughter has been teething for the last couple of weeks, so my wife and I haven’t had a solid night’s sleep for quite a while. This morning I awoke naturally at 5.:45 feeling relatively refreshed having slept through. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to go out for a run.

It was a great decision. There is a very calm feeling at that time of the morning. The world is slowly awakening  and everything is still quiet. For much of my run all I could hear was my feet on the ground, my breathing, and birds tweeting (not the 140-character type either!) I find early morning runs are a great time to let my mind wander and just relax. I guess it’s somewhat like meditation – but I’ve never done that so I can’t be sure.

If you haven’t tried it, make the time to get out for an early morning run. Especially on a day like today when there’s a lovely blue sky and the rising sun looks is a warm orange globe in the sky.

Text Analytics Proof of Concept – after two days

30 August 2013

I spent Tuesday & Wednesday on-site helping to get the software installed and the data loaded. By the end of Wednesday we had IBM Content Analytics up and running with almost 29,000 records loaded. We had also taught the tool about my client’s business by loading a set of dictionaries that people in the business had created for us. This activity is critical to the effectiveness of text analytics as the tool needs to know what words it’s looking for.

Fortunately all the preparations we had made in the preceding weeks meant that getting to this stage was relatively hassle-free. I called in a favour to get some more storage space for the indexes (who knew that the indexes would be 10-times the size of the source data). I also had to brush off my linux skills to help get the data loaded (an issue with recognising milliseconds in a date field!)

The client is now going to spend the next couple of weeks experimenting with the tool to see what business value they can glean from the data set. It’s easy to spend ages discovering all manner of interesting observations -  the challenge is identifying those that can lead to a business change being made which will have a real, measurable impact.

Innovation – the moment of truth

23 August 2013

So it’s almost time to put the first innovation project to the test. I started my new role on July 1st and almost immediately started discussing how Text Analytics (or Natural Language Processing) could be of value to one of my clients.

Often when participating in an innovation partnership with our clients we start off agreeing a definition of innovation and then defining the scope and some key themes. However with this client they had already reached this stage by the time I arrived on the scene. They have a head of innovation, which is really helpful as it means that innovation isn’t something that people just fit in around everything else they do.

In my first meeting with the head of innovation we agreed to explore areas where Text Analytics might be of benefit to the business. I organised a workshop where my expert colleagues demonstrated what we have helped other clients to achieve and we discussed the art of the possible. By the end of the day we had identified a pragmatic candidate project to be a Proof of Concept (PoC). Pragmatic in that we believed the data was available and we could demonstrate value to the business within three months. We left the workshop buoyed with enthusiasm and a list of actions to complete.

By the following week my client had gained the support of a business sponsor and built a team of business (not IT) experts to work on the PoC. We had weekly meetings to plan and prepare for the PoC – specifically to arrange:

  • Evaluation software licenses
  • Somewhere to install the software (a suitably sized Virtual Machine)
  • The data in a useful format
  • A Text Analytics specialist to provide the software skills

I’m glad to report that everything is now in place. So next week the team will be installing the software, loading the data, and training the system to understand the terminology that is specific to the client’s business. It is a significant milestone to get this far – gaining not just the agreement of people to contribute to the PoC but for them to actually deliver on their commitments required good communication and goodwill from a number of people.

I’m excited to see what next week’s work will bring – watch this space!

Running twice a day – is it sustainable?

6 August 2013

I recently had the pleasure of a coaching day with Julian Goater, which a friend organised. He is a very successful runner and  who now shares his knowledge through coaching and writing (see The art of running faster) .

One of his recommendations for getting fitter and faster is to run twice a day. This is something I have had experience of when attending training camps by Mike Gratton but didn’t sustain it afterwards. Julian’s theory (which I paraphrase) is that it’s better to do two short, quality sessions a day rather than slog out one long run. The key being quality rather than just putting the miles in – to avoid getting in to bad running habits and getting injured.

So I thought I’d give it a go – the key challenge being making the time. Fortunately I have a flexible job, which really helps. The pattern is to go out for a short run in the morning – nothing taxing – just enough to get the metabolism going. The afternoon / evening session is more structured training: fartkek, intervals, etc.

Two days in and I’m already finding it challenging and rewarding. It’ll be interesting to see how I get on.

One week into my new innovation role and it’s already incredibly varied!

10 July 2013

Last week I started my new role as an Innovation Architect working in IBM’s outsourcing business. After just over a week on the job I thought it would be useful (at least for myself) to keep a record of what I’m up to. By writing this blog other people who might be interested in innovation and architecture can join in the discussion.

On my first working day I spent the morning with Tony Morgan, the Chief Innovation Officer planning a one-day innovation class that we taught later that week and earlier this week. The attendees were colleagues from IBM’s outsourcing business – predominantly Project Executives and Delivery Project Executives. These are people responsible for delivering IBM’s outsourcing contracts and growing the relationships. The goal of the one-day class is to enable the attendees to have innovation conversations with our outsourcing clients and for them to understand and make use of the wide range of innovation capabilities we have in IBM. The classes went well, and I enjoyed teaching them with Tony. The feedback from the students was positive, so I look forward to seeing the results of their innovation conversations.

Later on that morning (on my first day) I was with Tony, Clive Harris (the previous Chief Innovation Officer) and another colleague, Martin. Having run a 3-day innovation master-class for a range of IBMers twice this year we thought it would be useful to reflect and improve the course structure based on what we experienced as well as the feedback from the students. This course has a wider audience and includes a case study. Unsurprisingly we had quite a range of ideas on what we could do to improve the class, resulting in a long to-do list for us to work through before September.

Later last week I was on-site with one of my clients. The lead architect is John Graham, who is very keen on driving innovation for the client and with them. He was glad when I joined the team and I was glad of such a positive welcome. First stop was a meeting with someone from the client who interfaces between the IT organisation and the business departments. We had a wide-ranging discussion about how the end users could be better served by IT and some cost saving ideas. Later that morning I was fortunate to hear an interesting presentation by the Chief Operating Officer, who was explaining the business strategy to his team. The rest of the day was spent working on how we can incorporate cloud services into traditional managed services under a single delivery organisation. We had a number of enthusiastic discussions, resulting in an appreciation that whilst it’s not simple, it can be done. The skill appears to be in ascertaining where the existing processes stay the same, and where they will need to change. The same goes for job roles and tools.

This week I had a meeting with the CIO and Enterprise Architect of one of my clients. I already knew them well from my previous role, so this conversation was focussed purely on innovation. It was challenging and gratifying to hear that the innovations they are interested in are those that can fundamentally help their business. Whilst some IT leaders are focussed on innovative technologies, their interest is entirely on business value; their expectation is to consume services that deliver the value rather than be involved in the hardware and software.

John Graham and I also had a lively and positive discussion with a client about the use of text analytics. We discussed two related areas: improving the quality of IT services delivered to colleagues and improving customer engagement. We came up with an aggressive plan to get a pilot up and running in the next month. My role is now to get the right people involved from IBM. To get a feel for the technologies we might use, have a read of this article about Social Business at Wimbledon.

How do you like to communicate?

5 June 2013

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague today about two organisations that are struggling with their electronic communication.

Company x relies on email as a near-realtime medium so much that people often have conversations over email, which others might feel a telephone call would be more suitable for. Company y is a big user of instant messaging tools and also favours the telephone; email is usually treated with a lower priority than instant messages.
The impact of this cultural mismatch is that some people who work for Company x can feel that Company y isn’t sufficiently responsive. Meanwhile, some people in Company y wonder why people in Company x send so many emails instead of just picking up the phone.
Imagine a scenario played out entirely between people who work for Company x:
  • Bill has a question, so he sends an email to Jane, who quickly replies with a clarification question.
  • Bill replies to Jane with what he thinks is the right answer, but also includes Mark in his reply, to check his answer is correct.
  • Mark replies to Jane and Bill saying that Bill’s answer is correct and provides some other useful information.
  • Jane then goes away to find out the answer, sending it to Bill and Mark, and including Chloe who’s in Jane’s team and will be standing in for her next week.
This entire scenario would have happened over 20 minutes and is a normal working practice for people at Company x.
How might this have worked in Company y?:
  • Bob has a question, so he sends Jo an instant message, who quickly replies with a clarification question.
  • Bob then sends a separate instant message to Miles to see if he’s free to talk. Miles is free so Bob calls him to check his answer before replying to Jo with an instant message.
  • Jo goes away to find out the answer. Once she has it she sends Bob an instant message with the information.
  • To follow up, Jo also sends the answer in an email to Bob, including Christine who’s in Jo’s team and will be standing in for her next week.
This entire scenario also would have happened over 20 minutes and is a normal working practice for people at Company y.
So how should they address the different traditions of how people communicate?
One idea is to use whatever tool you feel most comfortable with. So if someone sends you an email but you prefer the telephone, then call them back instead of writing an email reply.
So here’s how the same scenario might play out between people working for Companies x and y:
  • Bill has a question, so he sends an email to Jo.
  • Jo calls Bill back with a clarification question.
  • Bill tells Jo that he thinks he knows the answer but he wants to check, so he sends Mark an email first, including Jo.
  • Mark replies to Jo and Bill saying that Bill’s answer is correct and provides some other useful information.
  • Jo goes away to find out the answer. Once she has it she sends Bill an instant message with the information.
  • To follow up, Jo also sends the answer in an email to Bill and Mark, including Christine who’s in Jo’s team and will be standing in for her next week.
This idea does challenge the status quo in both organisations, But then in order to work together people on both sides of the fence should be willing to adapt.
Personally, I really dislike the use of email for question & answer style communication. I prefer instant messages for stuff you need right away, and forums for involving a team in a discussion. But that’s me writing from my hilltop. Others can’t stand the intrusion of instant messages and feel more comfortable using just one tool for all electronic communication.
They key point is not to judge how people prefer to communicate – but to adapt your methods to suit others – and select the most appropriate tool for the message you wish to deliver.
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