Machines are taking over me – I

In the past weekend, I watched one of the last screenings of the Steve Jobs movie picture. The picture starts with footage of Arthur C. Clark, at a (probably) 60’s datacenter explaining to the reporter that in a near future, humans will have in their hands a miniaturised computer which they will have access to information. By the effect of the minicomputer intrusion, Arthur also points that future society will become dependent and blended with technology. This kind of assumptions are the ones that mark the character of a futurist, that can predict and envision years ahead what we are becoming to be, not the other way around, as we, part of a jittery, mouth-full instant communication global community, started to assume that futurists are the ones that can predict what it is going to happen in the next 6 months, or next year.

During the last couple of months I been in contact with at least two hands full of financial institutions. In most of them, the business initiatives around social business, ranked on top of their transformation programs, once they realised that letting customers blow to the horn when they are angry, damages the reputation of institution, as well as, social media should be used to serve the customer. With this in mind, banks wish to have an upgrade of the brand new 360 degree view of the customer. Hence, in the CRM system, apart of the account statements, the financial products the customer subscribed, it will integrate his social media feed, with social listening and sentiment analysis features. There is nothing new on this, the novelty is the customer profile built around the what we know about him, taking into consideration the spending partners, the investments done, the risk profile, combined how he expresses in social media, builds who the customer is. Or not.

Technological advances have open the door in the emergence of services that perform financial advisory services. Despite there are some regulation barriers to comply, the financial personal assistance is here to stay. The financial assistant, leveraged among others by machine learning, high performance computing and natural language processing are able determine the best investment needs, your tolerance to risk and what are your goals to be achieved. However there is some room for improvement on adjusting to investment portfolio or your debt stack taking into consideration portfolio diversification or futures in economy growth or income fluctuations. One of the biggest barriers to break is the fact that customers operate with multiple banks and such kind of intelligent advisory services stumble in the lack of open interoperability. Last, there is an emotional factor, which is, the human lifecycle phase that dictates our inherent needs and wants. Someone that is heading retirement have very different needs from the ones that are starting their professional life. And some humans do not want to retire at all, despite there are in a certain age.

Luciano Fiordi, in his book called the fourth revolution, quickly points one of the foundational philosophical well-know distinction between who we are – let us call this our personal identities – and who we think we are – call this our self-conception. The two selves-our personal identities and our self-conceptions – flourish only if they support each other in a mutually healthy relationship. Things get more complicated because our self-conceptions, in turn, are sufficiently flexible to be shaped by whom we are told to be, and how we wish to be perceived. Hence, the dream that bankers have about understanding who are you and how they can serve you better, it is still far for reality. This should not only be a reflection point in the banking industry, as well as across the mass market verticals. For those industry sectors like retail that are in the forefront of understanding customer behaviour it could be interesting for banks to carry a join design experience on who the customer really is. There is still a very long road ahead how to better serve bank’s customers.

Digital transformation can contribute to Social Irresponsibility

This is year we can sense and watch the transition to the massification of digital business and big computing analytics. From a system thinking perspective there are mindful discussions how to properly design the solutions that are changing how enterprises, governments, are operating, how social interaction technology are creating flat organisations, as also as, how humans are becoming lazy and distracted by the increasing confidence transfer to information systems.
Luciano Floridi, a Manuel Castells contemporary, calls this new age the infosphere, the combination of the internet and computer technology that is revolutionising our lives and work, and points out that in the same way, cloud, mobile and social put the power in the hands of the consumer, rather than in the companies we engage in, to become entrepreneurs and support a must needed self-economy, also it suggests that the revolution is as much about issues of morality, privacy, identity and meaning as it is about technology and what the new ecosystem can do, both for us and against us.

I used UBER for the first time 3 weeks ago, I was really interested to figure it out how the brokerage system works and the only flaw I found it is the lack of granular accuracy of the GPS that must be improved, particularly, when you are located in designated pick-up locations at airports, plazas, and multiple intersections (when used again the system, I notice this is definitely an improvement area). From a consumer point of view, it is cheaper than use a regular taxy service, with brand new, clean cars and polite drivers. Value proposition accomplished.

When you decompose internally the business model from the drivers point of view, it surfaces a different reality. In some regions, where drivers don’t have access to credit, they end up or driving someone’s else vehicle – like the taxy companies – that suppress 60% of the fare, Uber takes another 20%, meaning that in the end, the driver keeps only 20% of the remaining value. The driver must also feeds the fuel, hence what it takes as a result of his work is close to a meaningless figure. This is close to induced modern slavery isn’t it? Of course that driver knows it all, but he continues to believe in the dream of making trough, rather than stay in a unemployed condition, or working for a classic taxy company.

In the end, some new digital transformation ventures, can be very promising and tear down outdated business models that consumers are not willing to pay for it anymore, but when you look it deeper, it is just a market power transfer to the new entrants against the incumbents. The so called self-economy can aggravate the social inequality and responsibility of a business. Everybody is contributing to it.

Data privacy in the cloud enabled society

I am writing these words one week after the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo newspaper in France that sparked a long series of discussions about the reasons those attacks happen. One of the consequences of the incident, was the intention of the British government to enforce a policy that blocks citizens access to encrypted software applications, in order the government can listen, read and extract what it considers to be relevant information to avoid security risks.

The intention, aligned with what happened during the riots in London some years ago, where the police requested to Blackberry a mean to have access to the conversations of the looters (as the security forces leaned they were using Blackberry software to plan and execute the attacks) is creating a sound-wave of criticism. Against the intention are brought reasonable arguments about our own privacy and on the other side, there are also important arguments about defending ourselves against terror or criminal activity.

What I think is key around this discussion, is not the political or other motivational values, which in either case are valid. The key concern is consent. Consent to access our personal data.

It is very interesting to analyse from a societal point of view, is how some people are deeply concerned with personal data access from 3rd parties, when such concern does not exist about how a bank account manager can understand our lifestyle just looking to the bank statement entries. It seems that the society is not concern with that anymore, or to the fact that we allow software companies to track our life when we use our smartphone, to lead our habits in a way that some content that is presented in maps, social networks, news are today partially biased, based in our browsing attitude, the places we travel, the information we read and our shopping habits. Smartphones become learning machines about what we do.

Marie Wallace, made a very interesting presentation called “Privacy by Design: Humanizing Analytics” where she discussed the principles on how to create software applying the privacy by design principle.

What I think the challenge is, as I expressed in Marie’s blog, more than discussing on rules, policies and how to implemented coding, is the foundation principle on what should be private. The definition of a concept, a domain, is a consequence of the surroundings, of the environment we live and the multitude of human principles and beliefs. What in a society can be accepted as a practice in other can be condemned.

Privacy it is not anymore what it used to be. Take for example the attitude of different generations how they expose their life in social networks. The concept of privacy is constantly being redefined to a point that can be transform into a matter of transparency, for example, sharing your taxes declarations if you are a politician. But much beyond this, is how youngsters deal with it. In the past, kids interact in the street, today they are living in real time as much as they can. They broadcast their lives to his friends. As the younger generation that reach the labor market are used to be connected to information, the next generation will be in perpetual broadcast. Privacy will probably need to be redefined.

This concept of privacy is also challenged by the concept of transparency. In the book, the Circle, a novel by Dave Eggers, it is explored that in the future society must be transparent. Being transparent means you are not afraid of hiding your medical records because it can save your life, as also your are not afraid of exposing your earnings and tax situation. The book, pitches the necessity our of world become transparent (in a way a fictional software company creates applications where all our life is part of that company) in order to avoid crime, bribery, corruption. It particularly explores the trade off how becoming transparent, giving up our privacy, the world will become a better place, something that future generations probably will not care about and can create clashes against elderly generations. The flip side, is the classic Orwellian apocalypse that looms and take control of our society.

One of the solutions, to protect our privacy is as Butler W. Lampson points out, citizens own the data and define who can have access to it, again the consent principle.

What people most often want is a sense of control over their data (even if they don’t exercise this control very often). Many people feel that this control is a fundamental human right (thinking of personal data as an extension of the self), or an essential part of your property rights to your data.

The concept is aligned as someone already coined the era of the personal cloud, the challenge is, as Butler adds, societies around the world have different cultural norms and governments have different priorities, there will not be a single worldwide regulatory regime. However, it does seem possible to have a single set of basic technical mechanisms that support regulation.

However, will the governments rise against the new business models that use the principle, we own your data? Our we will give up our privacy and become transparent?

BPM Blogs worth reading 2013

Here is the list of BPM blogs I think work reading. This year there is a shift since I started to create the list. There are less pure BPM blogs. Nevertheless, here is the list, arranged by the first time, in categories.


On Intelligence:

  • Flux Capacitor – The place to look for process mining, from Fluxicon.

On Social Business:

On Complexity:

On Enterprise Architecture:

  • Tetradian – Tom Grave´s writes about enterprise architecture.

If you are interested in 2012 list click here. Till next year!

Process Mining Camp 2013 – Expedition on Social Mining

I hosted a workshop at the Process Mining Camp 2013 about Social Mining. Here are the results of the discussion with my peers and fellow miners.

Kick-start to the workshop

We’ve been supporting our way of working, based on the increased processing capacity of information systems that have created the illusion that the world was more stable, predictable and standardized.

However the pace of change in the economy has been increasingly accelerated, fuelled by a nexus of converging forces — social, mobile, cloud and information — is building upon and transforming user behaviour while creating new business opportunities that let people do extraordinary things and are automating repetitive tasks and decision making at large. This implies that our vision of the future has to be changed.

Any system, any process must be able to handle the complexity of its elements and be active and adaptive to survive. This implies that any attempt to limit the existing variety will lead to the system, the process, the organization will lose the ability to adapt. This is the reason that business processes are not anymore normalized, standardized and are getting more difficult to analyze.

For sure there are research methods to tackle this kind of challenges, there is an example like Simplifying Discovered Process Models from Dirk Fahland, Wil M.P. van der Aalst, but the thing is variation, complexity cannot be predicted, and such methods can work in predefined or controlled because organizations live in a world where interdependence, self-organization and emergence are agility, adaptability and flexibility.

It is a networked composed world in the design of collaborative-networked organizations.

These networked configurations comes to the composition of complex systems, from cells, to society and enterprises (associations of individuals, technology and products). In those complex systems, characteristics of emergence, order and self-organization, develop a set of network interdependent actions not visible in the individual parts. This is the reason why defining methods to analyze a domain fail if the domain and the parts change, which is what most of the times occurs once we are living in a world of variety.

The facts that are changing everything

There a hand full of facts that are changing everything the way we work, basically that are two domains that are making a huge pressure on enterprises.

The technology factor

As communication costs drops and speeds increase, cost will no longer be a consideration in many parts of the world. As the cost of communication drops, the shift will be towards applications. Combined with increased computer capacity and speed, we will be able engage with, and have access to information in real time. Cloud will free organisations from fixed and limited availability and processing power. The way we are used to working  will dramatically change.

The social factor

On the social factor, in leading GDP countries, we are facing a displacement of “assembly line” people to aspiring ones; this is because work can be transferred to those that can do the same thing for less than a half of the cost. This shift occurs in industry sectors from manufacturing to services. But in the near future tiny tasks will be fully automated and unfortunately those brave workers will be obliterated, unless there are new work opportunities, or chances to execute more complex work. People will have to adapt and start pushing their capabilities to new boundaries.

This shift has also a profound implication on the type of people companies are sourcing in the labor market. As leading companies expand and operations are outsourced or transferred to low wages economies, the future workers profile will be aimed at highly skilled persons capable of embracing business dynamics.

The convergence of three important process dimensions

The complexity were are living with, implies that we to look and align other kind of dimensions we were not used to look before to tackle the factors that are transforming the way processes are executed. Control flow perspective does not provide any kind of insight because there are not two similar instances and because under social collaboration paradigms the process is the conversation or the interaction and there are infinite ways to do that. Time perspective is important and will continue to be important but is definitely not the best way to understand behaviour.

In fact today we have immense analytical capabilities, but how do we understand a fundamental challenge for organizations that is how people socialize? How do they work? the configuration makes sense? It is too centralized, depends always from the same person and the same organizational units or is open and anyone can be invited to join? The type of knowledge applied is abstract, i.e. people can apply recurrent solutions to daily problems in a multitude of situations, and only apply customized solutions (concrete knowledge)? Knowledge is reused? Information flows naturally or processes are too structured and best practice oriented that are turning organizations into fragile systems because they are not able to change, react to unpredictable facts and adapt?

This was the background of the workshop.

The quest

Our society is constructed around flows. This construction is also applied inside organizations and among its stakeholders. This is what we are made of.

Flows are the sequence of interaction between physically disjointed positions held by social actors, that belong to a particular social network.

Dominant social structure are those arrangements of organizations whose internal logic plays a strategic role in shaping social practices.

Thence the trick is you are able to align network structure to the process type being executed and evolve the network type according to circumstances. In order words, you need to introduce and maintain an adaptive social approach. But that is not enough. You can have the best social network configuration, but knowledge is poorly used, or you let people set them free when it should be supposed to reuse solutions all and over again.

Social dimension – social networks configuration

Once the process transformed into something that is the conversation, we need to understand how people engage. In other words, what is the network configuration. It’s somehow accepted that network patterns can indicate the way people work and share information.

As a reference on social network patterns, and social network discovery techniques you can learn it here in this post.

Challenge #1
Centrality is used to measure degree distribution. But all measures are wrong and some are useful.

From the discussion resulted that:

Information (logs) about social iteration that spreads into e-mail, social tools like activity streams, messaging, video chat, that can help to discover the way socialization occurs are difficult to obtain, due:

  • The effort to obtain this information can be infinite, because is recorded across multiple platforms and most of the records do not have a common key;
  • Some information is inaccessible if is recorded inside systems that the company, the entity that has interest in understanding what is happening is not responsible for the system administration (event if it is administrated indirectly);

Privacy concerns. There is a clear division about the approach how information is considered private across different parts of the globe. For example, in most European countries, at large, data like e-mail, stored in the employer devices is still personal, even if it is corporate e-mail. This challenge is amplified if data is stored in personal e-mail or devices even if it is from corporate source).

Building the complete log can be overwhelming if social interaction is spread in multiples systems. Without entering into technical details, is much more  difficult that joining different database tables.

It’s more important if the social dimension could be embedded in the control flow, rather than being analyzed separately. If the process is the flow and the process is social the visualization should be integrated. I consider that this point is key for developers.

Knowledge types – What type of knowledge exists and how it’s applied

Healthcare industry has always been characterized by the involvement of multiple professionals for diagnosis and treatment of patients where information sharing plays a key role. Health professionals (as well as professionals from other industries), tend to work around problems, address the immediate needs of patients rather than resolve ambiguities. As a result, people face “the same issue, every day indefinitely,” which results into inefficiency. In other words, people like to design, the same solutions always. How can you overcome this challenge and what can be done so that the knowledge use can be more abstract and knowledge itself can evolve within the organization?

Knowledge consumption should be aligned with the type process design. For example a repetitive task is usually automated turning into explicit knowledge use, documented and understood by all. There is often a temptation to simplify the existing complexity, automating and standardizing how to proceed to the point of “crystallize” only a small part of the information that people have to process, making it difficult to cope with the changing conditions of execution, thus leaving no room to use of the tacit dimension.

Knowledge is not then just a twin flavor (explicit or tacit) but it’s more than that.

Challenge #2
How to discover and measure knowledge type?

There can be different types across parts of the process and measuring is not automatic.

From the discussion resulted:

People would like to spot the indispensables. The ones that makes the difference, when a solution is build. That could be measured by how many person in the company “like”, use, apply the knowledge that was created.

Many think that the problem with knowledge discovery and usage is related with the tools used to store and share it (portals, wikis or alike). Some examples were provided in IT context, like a patch, a pattern that was sent over the development team, was considered to be handy, because everyone was involved working in the solution and as such knowledge gets codified, but big

knowledge repositories are not considered to be useful.

The lynchpins, the indispensables, don’t like to codify it’s knowledge, because it makes them … dispensable (I tend to agree, but there are some generations that live under the share paradigm and make the others contribute to the company success).

A side interested comment was presented:

Knowledge finding automation is highly requested. Even with a Swiss army of systems to manage knowledge, it’s hard to find.

Discovering process types

Process are not from a single flavor anymore. Today it’s possible to find a very pre-defined type, but also a blend of every type available across multiples process instances.

Today processes are blended. You can handle a claim with a customer in a loosely manner and in the end pay a compensation using a by the book, best practice, “ever day the same thing”.

Challenge #3

How to understand what process type we are looking at?

The structured ones are easy to find, but Ad-hoc and Adaptive put extra challenges, particularly if parts are blended with structured ones.

From the discussion resulted that:

Most important that have super algorithms to spot patterns and discover process types, at this point of time is more important to have access to recorded data to actually let people think.