You need a war room!

War Rooms v2.0

In the past, war rooms were strategic places in army camps where the decision makers had the tools and information to decide their military movements and actions, as we can see in movies like Dr. Strangelove, or more recently, in Game of Thrones.

While the context of use of a “war room” has changed since then, the concepts and impacts of using one remain the same. They rely on three big pillars that will become the foundations to build successful projects in your company:

  1. Dedicated place
  2. Key information sharing
  3. Organised and direct collaboration

Dedicated place

Neither an unused office nor a meeting room; a war room has to be a specific place that will only be dedicated for projects (one at a time) and/or missions around them.

It is important that teams take ownership of the room and make full use of the available space. A key characteristic of a war room is that every surface should be usable: walls are whiteboards and/or full of post-its, posters or any interesting content. This is spacialisation: to externalise minds and ideas in order to get them “physically available to touch, see, organise” (Invisionapp, 2016).

On this basis and thanks to the fact that it is editable — ideas are not frozen —, a war room is a room-sized communication tool that promotes making new connections as well as finding new insights and generating problem solutions.

Key information sharing

Due to its accessibility, the war room should become a controlled source of information for every person involved in the project. It will be the communication center not only for teams, but also for leaders, contributors, and stakeholders. It will allow posting and keeping record of key aspects of the project “that may include change notices, requests for immediate actions and/or decisions, general status updates” (Williams, 2015). That is the basis of an organised collaboration that allows teams to adapt quickly and efficiently.

Organised collaboration

Gathering everybody in the same location and getting everyone on the same page has a lot of benefits. Knowing what everyone is doing and allowing direct communication will boost creativity, honesty, and promote helping each other. It will also improve confidence, team commitment, and give a feeling of shared responsibility.

Access to information will provide team knowledge and result in well-informed decision making.

Additionally, even if a war room has to be considered like a place where classical hierarchy doesn’t matter, it can be very useful to designate a facilitator. That person will act as the conductor, who the team can rely on. Her/his role will be to master all the information, clearly define the goals of each session, keep everyone on task, and set directions when needed.

In short, organised collaboration will result in optimising the iteration process (less wasted work), the efficiency and the working speed of the teams.

How to setup your war room?

Now that we have seen the benefits of hosting a war room in your company, and that you have assigned a dedicated room to it, here are three guidelines to make it real:

  1. Maximise your space: install whiteboards, chalkboards, use walls themselves (pin-it information and/or paint them with Ideapaint (http://www.ideapaint.com)), flipcharts, post-its, and keep them up-to-date — add in all new or updated information.
  2. Make changes: use flexible furniture and open seating so that you can transform your space quickly, and add some mess into the room — let the wild creativity get inside it.
  3. Use it!: as long as you need it, and “only exit the room with clear responsabilities and accountabilities for next steps” (Wodtke, 2015).

Now, give it a chance, encourage people to use it, and let your projects reach another dimension. Would you like to give a war room a try, contact us, we’ve got a plan cooking!

(EN) Fintech Summit Belgium in sketches

Onze verontschuldigingen, dit bericht is alleen beschikbaar in Amerikaans Engels.

Tailor made is great for suits.

About 4 years ago I was working as a business analyst at a large financial company. They were planning to build a monster. The monster would consist of a top market CMS buried beneath a pile of customization. Because surely a large organisation has its very own incredibly specific needs when it comes to managing content.
webmasterempire
At the time I fought this plan with every piece of ammunition I could find. It was the time I started using sketches to explain technical stuff to non-technical people. I explained the business what path they were starting to walk and where it would lead. How expensive content management systems evolve. And how, as a customer, the only way you can get something out of this massive investment is to keep the pace of product updates. Unfortunately most product customizations make updates difficult. In this case the customizations would make updating impossible. And your investment would be dead and useless in about a year.
I lost my battle. The decision was made higher up in the organisation. They bought the product and started the customization. (I left and created Foursevens.) We are now 4 years (!) later. The first website (!) on the new CMS is about to go live. The CMS product has recently been acquired by a company known to kill most products as soon as support contracts end. The financial company has decided to abandon the CMS. I can only begin to imagine the scale of the investment they have done in the last 4 years. Leading nowhere.
kleerkastKlein
So let’s face it;
  • most companies have content needs that are VERY SIMILAR to most other companies, however unique your company might be. That is why off-the-shelf CMS systems exist.
  • the commercial stories around CMS systems are notoriously optimistic and couldn’t be further from reality, you can’t base a purchase on them
  • the decision to create customizations needs to be evaluated, reevaluated and reevaluated
  • customizations that block a product from updating are a place you don’t want to go
In every technology choice you ever make, the first question really needs to be: does it already exist and can I buy it. If you consider a CMS but your adaptation is going to cost more than the CMS itself, ask yourself whether you have fully understood your business needs. Cause at the end of the day you buy a system that needs to help your content people to get websites published, updated and serving customers needs. Involve those content people as much as possible as soon as possible before making a choice. And don’t let anyone ever tell you tailor made software is always the best choice.

The hackathon way of learning.

There you have it, I have finally discovered what hackatons and tech challenges are good for. Mind you, I have always known what good they are for those organizing them. But it took me a while to discover what use they were to me as a potential  participant.
Until I decided I wanted to know more about Big Data and Data Visualization. I accidentally stumbled upon the announcement of a data visualization challenge organised by Tableau and Google. And a few days before I had met a young expert in that field. I decided to drag her into the challenge with us.
So suddenly we found ourselves with
  • an expert to work with and guide us
  • access to a huge data set
  • accounts to the right tools to get the job done (in this case Tableau & Google BigQuery)
And not to forget
  • a clear mission
  • a deadline!
This challenge created the perfect context for fast learning. So if you ever find yourself wanting to learn something new and time is limited; look for an expert, find a challenge or hackaton and get started!
And if you would like to know more about our interest in Data Vizualisation, come and share a cup of tea with us.

Foursevens TV

‘Let’s do something different’ I said in a marketing brainstorm last year. Let’s interview some interesting people who have something to say about digital innovation. To dive deeper than buzzwords. And maybe someone else might find that interesting too. So we’ll film it! Or we do podcasts! No podcasts are for nerds. We film it, everybody likes video.
So that’s how we got to publishing Foursevens TV! A little nervous at first. But very proud of the result. You will find new stuff every week. Some of our own material and also fabulous things made by others. Because we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.
Have a look and let us know what you think!

Let’s make apps more courteous.

I met with Sentiance yesterday. You can use a lot of words to explain what they do, this is my version: they offer a solution for apps and websites to know a lot of stuff about their users; what they’re doing and what their habits are. From whether he’s on the bus or in the car to where he’s probably heading next (work, pick up the children from school, the supermarket), what his normal schedule looks like or if he has a dog.

Relationship

Based on this information we can make our apps and websites MUCH more intelligent. We could send relevant information and offer functionality and reminders at the right time. Which made me think about my own behavior and how irritatingly current apps communicate with us, due to lack of information about us or the willingness to do something useful with readily available information.

Notifications often irritate

Ever since I own a smartphone, I found myself turning off most notifications. Notifications were either totally useless or send me information at a time I was not interested. Both come from lack of understanding me as a user. And instead of making me a happier app user, they would irritate me to the point of turning notifications off. At times even deleting apps altogether.

We live in patterns

Not only notifications show a total lack of familiarity with who I am as a user. I have been a Youtube-user-with-login for roughly 3 years. After 3 years of daily usage, Youtube has not yet worked out that I have day-behaviour, early-evening-behaviour and late-evening-behaviour which are different.

Meaning;

  • during the day I use Youtube for work, watching mostly tech videos
  • between 19:00 and 19:30, every day, I watch videos with my two small children
  • during the evening I watch documentaries (streamed to my tele with Google Chromecast).

We watch stuff in either Dutch, English or Spanish.

Nonetheless, when I give a presentation to clients and it contains a video, it will invariably end with something like this;

ScreenshotYoutubeSuggestions

Hello Bumba, hello Samson, Zandkasteel and Bobo! Not now please, I’m not with the kids right now!

And before a video starts I usually have to sit through mostly French speaking video ads.

Apps can become courteous

Although it is easy to imagine scary ways to use information from Sentiance, there are many simple things we could do with it to massively improve apps and be courteous to our users, by showing that we understand the basics of their behavior, preferences and context. Sentiance is a fascinating platform, have a look, imagine what it could do for you. And get in touch if you feel like trying.

Technology in the classroom: time to experiment!

Yesterday I was invited to share my views on technology in the classroom to a group of 25 educational experts. Here’s a brief overview of some of the topics.

Experience based learning

The biggest impact technology can have in teaching is by creating a realistic environment. We learn faster and better in an environment that gives us lots of stimuli and lots of useful feedback on our interactions with the new material. learningprocess

I introduced my audience to examples of experience based learning like the collaboration between English students in Brazil and people at a retirement home in the US. You can watch that moving story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAsHjPchfDw. It gives me goose bumps every time I watch it!

I also made them remember their geography classes and presented how that class would never be the same again thanks to a smart sandbox; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9JXtTj0mzE and we watched how augmented reality could help electronics students work and learn at their own pace. We also looked at the power of artificial intelligence and the effect it has on small children in Cognitoys.

Virtual reality

And then I really got out the big surprises when we watched virtual reality, thanks to a Google Cardboard and the fabulous virtual reality documentaries of VRSE. Having never experienced virtual reality before, it had a stunning effect on them.

Inspire and experiment

I hope these examples inspire people. Give them ideas on how much more realistic an environment we can create thanks to technology. These examples show how a lot of things can be done, today, with readily available hardware and experimental software. Because this is the time for experimenting. So many things are being invented that could be turned into learning experiences. Today no one has a ready answer on how to integrate these in a school environment and curriculum. Therefore it is up to everyone in education to experiment and learn. If there was ever a time to do crazy stuff; this is the time!

A few of our favorite things

crossdevice

I want to tell you about the apps we use. Those that allow us to work the way we want and need to work.

Working remotely

Foursevens believes in the need for proximity. When working on projects, we request room at the customers offices to work. Our teams are therefore working ‘remotely’ at all times. (except once a month for work-together-day of course). I am the only one working regularly from our office. And I am on the move at least half the time. But it is very important for us to work as a team, to share information, to learn from each other.

Working together apart

The app that has no doubt improved our working lives more than any other has been Slack. We’ve been using Slack for a year now and it has replaced 90% of our internal email, if not more. We have a very simple setup, a few project related channels, one channel for sharing what you’re working on that day and one for non-work-related things you want to share. Slack in combination with work-together-day keeps our team in touch, makes it very easy and appealing to share experiences and ask a colleague for help or advice. Even though we sometimes don’t see each other in one month.

Avoid traffic

I have a lot of meetings and used to drive around from one meeting to another. First I started geographically clustering my meetings to avoid excess travel time. But I was still spending a lot of time driving. I now, very often, use Google Hangout. Not only for meetings with colleagues but also with customers and partners. With each meeting request I start and each meeting request I receive the first question I ask myself is: Can we do this over Hangout? With the arrival of a Chromebox for Meetings in our office, there really is no simpler way. In combination with a big screen it is nearly as good as sitting around the same table.

Files

We have been using Dropbox but I have to admit we are about to migrate to Google Drive. Dropbox has done an excellent job for years, but we are moving out because Foursevens has recently become a Google Apps customer. Can’t say if it will work for us yet. I can only say Dropbox is a life saver. We have it running on all our devices, and at Foursevens that means at least 3 devices per person.

More apps and cloud solutions

Code is stored in Github
Project tracking is done in Jira
Prototypes are built in either proto.io or justinmind.com
Ideas and blog posts are written in Evernote
Meeting notes are handwritten in Noteshelf
And of course we have a sales pipeline tool: Pipedrive!

These are the cloud-based tools and apps that allow our team to collaborate and be in touch whenever and wherever we need to be. There’s no excuse left not to create a collection of tools that work for your organisation. And if you want to know more about our own experiences, come and visit us for a talk and a cup of tea!

HR and digital transformation

moderntimes
HR departments will have a lot of work in 2016, reinventing themselves. Any organisation that takes digital transformation seriously is bound to transform its HR processes. HR departments have a major part to play in digital transformation.
The processes put in place by HR departments were meant to deal with increasingly layered organisations in which measurable tasks were performed by a growing group of workers. Goal setting and performance management are key terms in an HR driven environment. They belong to a culture of supervision, control and efficiency seeking improvements.

Digital culture is based on trust

Digital organisations live in a culture of trust, respect, collaboration and open and direct communication. One where people are allowed to take some distance, evaluate the current way of things, question established beliefs. Innovation happens when your employees get off the beaten path. When they bend the rules, experiment and find out what happens. When they collaborate over established department boundaries. When they let go of pre established responsibilities and focus on customer problems instead of organisational structures. That results in a series of unpredictable successes and failures. But they learn from their mistakes and move on to new experiments. Not quite something you can squeeze into a cycle of yearly personal and team goals and evaluations.

HR 2016 to do list

If I were an HR manager, this is what I would plan for the start of 2016;
  • Look how many of our processes pass on/impose the established way of working as opposed to motivating the quest for new ways of doing things.
  • Is my department focussed on strict profiles and the boundaries that come with them?
  • List the processes that are meant to control people, based on a culture of supervision.
  • Find out how well our managers know their team members.
  • Find out if managers trust their team members and to what extent team members trust their management.
That would give me a fairly good idea of what I am up against for the rest of the year.

Driving force

HR departments could become a driving force in digital transformation, if they are willing to question their very foundation and transform into the coach of a flexible and open organisation.
If you want to know more about digital transformation, let’s share a cup of tea and talk about it.

Foursevens turns four.

Birthdays are moments of celebration. Of looking back and wishing good things for the future. Today (more or less) Foursevens turns 4.

Pride and despair

This year, Foursevens has made me feel proud, brought me joy and has driven me, for moments, to dark despair (like toddlers tend to do).

Proud moments were of course the delivery of VDAB.be, the Crelan mobile banking apps, Vives’ online platform, Visit Flanders websites. Welcoming some wonderful new people in our team. Having the opportunity to present our ideas and beliefs to a slow-but-steadily-growing audience.

(If you want to know about the despair, better contact me and we’ll chat over a large cup of tea. But hey, I can’t complain!)

All things new

Being 4 also means exploring new things and doing a lot ‘for the very first time’. So for the first time we went on a weekend out (to Amsterdam). For the first time we sponsored an event. For the first time we introduced work-together-day. For the first time we’re organising a course. (On digital innovation potential, it’s almost finished and we’ll let you know when you can subscribe cause we would love to have you subscribe!). And for the first time our Project Prep work is really catching on, we’re running four of them simultaneously as we speak.

Year 5

Of course there is so much Foursevens still has to learn. So in its fifth year Foursevens will need to play outside a lot more. Make more friends. And not forget to show and talk about the wonderful things we’ve done already. And we certainly need to stay true to what we believe in.

A special thanks goes to all Fourseveners, you are the greatest people to be and work with. And also a shout out to our best friends on the playground this year: Calibrate, Gumm, Bazookas and Appreciate. Playing together is powerful stuff.

If you are interested in Foursevens, come and have a cup of tea, if you’re lucky there might be some cake left! Drop an email at info@foursevens.be

Digital Innovation in Insurance

DigiInsurance

 

If you are interested in the full results of our Insurance survey, please drop an email and we’ll be happy to share them.

 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Mobile Day in 30 drawings

MarketingChannels

Bert Hendrickx: Where to put what type of messages when?

Bolcom90s

Maurice Jongerius: an average purchase on bol.com takes 90 seconds.

MobilePayment

Bert Hendrickx: Only SMS payment has become very popular. It is simple.

WebsiteJobDescr

Jaap Willem van de Plasse: Ask your website what his job is.

Valuechecker

Tommy De Kimpe: What value does your app offer?

TommyDKExplode

Tommy De Kimpe: What happens when beautiful screens are all you thought about.

TommyTrain

Tommy De Kimpe: The nervous journey of a customer with mobile train ticket.

UserMotivation

Tommy De Kimpe: Mastery of an app motivates users to continue. Make it easy.

NicolasMMobileShopping

Nicolas Mertens: When mobile commerce becomes bigger than desktop.

KisstoPay

Nicolas Mertens: Biometrics will become much more important as a means of online identification.

NoCase

Nicolas Mertens: Some people still believe their business has no case for mobile.

GeobasedTours

Peter Symons: Location based mobile experiences.

MauriceScreens

Maurice Jongerius: Take down those screens in shops, nobody wants them. Go Mobile.

DeviceIntimacy

Maurice Jongerius: We think of mobile as an device that is always close to you.

BOLCOMappversusweb

Maurice Jongerius: People buy more once they have our app. Convenience, always available.

BolComRetailtoPublish

Maurice Jongerius: The retailer becomes the well informed publisher.

MaximeVDBDownload0

Maxime Vandenbussche: A shower of large numbers and then a really shocking one: half the apps in the appstores are never downloaded.

MaximeVDBJobs

Maxime Vandenbussche: Steve Jobs was wrong in 2010.

MaximeVDBManyWays

Maxime Vandenbussche: the unstoppable array of mobile app ad options.

JoGFocus

Jo Goyvaerts: Try to excel in one thing. Focus.

KBCIDEA

Mieke Daniels: We learned to combine expertise with ease of use.

MumsSay

Thomas De Vos: Personal Assistant apps are on the rise.

WhileDriving

Thomas De Vos: Notifications while driving.

CXVueling

Dimitri Blomme: A true Mobile Moment when Vueling reacted to his early arrival at the airport.

Dieteren

Ramses Bossuyt: The mobile journey at D’Ieteren. (Is that a coach in there logo?)

DoorOpens

That window opens right into the stadium, did you know?

FrontRow

The disadvantage of the corner front row seat.

Waldorf

Hey there is a Statler and Waldorf booth!

SelfiePieter

Did Pieter Baert take a selfie on the field (he didn’t).

TiredPencils

The pencils are tired.

Innovation and refugee camps

I’ve had the privilege of helping out a little in the Brussels refugee camp this summer. Although my tasks were very humble, I couldn’t help observing how the camp was a most fascinating, self-organising happening. My professional self believes businesses in the struggle for innovation can learn a lot from what happened there. So here’s what I learned.

The camp started with a soup stall and ended up giving shelter, medical services, food, education, clothing and things to do to more than 900 people. It went from 1 to 900 in three weeks time.

Communication substitutes structure.

Unlike what many people think; the Brussels refugee camp was not a centrally organised relief action. Instead a number of individuals and unrelated NGOs, appalled by the dreadful circumstances of newly arriving refugees, started offering first food then shelter. Day by day more volunteers arrived, NGOs started taking up tasks, each one focussing on a particular problem as their responsibility. All in ad hoc agreements, all by talking a lot to each other, reassessing the situation day by day. One organisation stood up and started ‘coordinating’ volunteers. They opened a tent, put a sign on top ‘volunteers register here’ and that was it. This didn’t mean the Volunteer stand had an overview of the work that needed to be done in the camp, it only meant they would inform arriving volunteers briefly, give them some supplies and tell them to walk around and ask where help was needed. In case of an urgent need, a particular service (the kitchen, the showers, the clothing tent etc) would come up to the Volunteers stand and let them know they needed people. Nothing more than constant communication assured the right flow of volunteers towards the tasks at hand.

Stumble upon your ‘user’.

Every day more refugees arrived in the camp and their waiting times increased, which meant a longer stay in the camp. The number of inhabitants was rising quickly. Since all the volunteers and all the refugees were in the same spot, a small park in the centre of Brussels, those trying to solve the evolving needs and problems in the camp were at all times close to those in need. The response and feedback from the refugees to the help offered would force the camp to reorganise/rethink repeatedly and to invent solutions to new problems. To give an example: it quickly became clear that many refugees had smartphones as their only way of communicating with their loved ones left behind. So some people invented the ‘charging tent’. A tent with lots of extension and charging cables, a sign that said ‘Charging Station’ at the entrance and there it was. Another problem solved. Not long after, this news arrived at the very nearby tower of Proximus and they offered to install free WIFI in the camp, which was  a blessing. All quick, pragmatic and effective solutions to real problems.

Continuous improvement

The camp lived in an apparent state of permanent chaos. Or at least that is what it looked like to outsiders. Instead new solutions were being invented and built alongside the existing ones, permanently. The camps school became too small and unfit for the weather conditions so while classes continued a new spot was chosen and a more robust tent was set up. The kitchen facilities soon ran out of space and capacity, so a number of volunteer architects and handymen were gathered and started building a new kitchen shed out of reclaimed wood. All the while normal activities in the camp continued in parallel. With both occupation and weather circumstances evolving quickly, the camp was in constant movement, there was not one day when the camp looked exactly like the day before.

The fuel of motivation

And to fuel all this activity, there was of course the tremendous energy, optimism and hard work of thousands of volunteers. Both people who would come to the camp and help as people donating things in the ad hoc warehouse. There were people of all backgrounds working as volunteers, of all ages, colours, mother tongues, professions etc. (I once found myself cooking with the chef-of-the-day being an Irakese ex-military, who didn’t speak a word of French, Dutch or English, he was assisted by a Belgian girl of Moroccan background who would translate his instructions to an even more diverse group of helpers). The one thing which kept everything together was their motivation to do something. To arrive at the camp and GET THINGS DONE.

Big Data and customer retention

I’ve had a little conflict with my Telco last week. They kicked me out, I am no longer a customer.

For ten years I have been a loyal customer of this Telco, one direct debit payment gone wrong meant the end of our relationship. I went from loyal customer one day to ‘debtor’ the next!

Apart from my rising bill in 3G internet connection, this whole situation made me think how my Telco didn’t know I was ok and how Big Data could have helped them.

Bit data power

If I were a Telco this is what I would do with my data;

1/ find out how long a customer has been a customer. I would have learned that Ines has been a customer for 10 years.

2/ calculate the payment history of my customer. Our algorithms would have told me that this one direct debit gone wrong was a rare anomaly in her history.

3/ look at other criteria of loyalty: Ines moved three times and never gave up her Telco, even though other big data tells us moving is a key moment in which we lose customers. Ines once got charged WAY too much by us, but she stayed, she had to change hardware three times, but she stayed, even though company errors are key moments to lose customers.

Who’s the bad customer?

Big data could have told me we wanted to keep this customer, not ditch her at the first mistake. It is not always easy to find good business cases for big data, cases that can be put into practice and have a clear ROI. This is one good case that would help companies achieve ‘smart customer retention’. Keep the good ones, ditch the bad ones.

Less is more. Also in Digital.

The big pile of code

“Now this really is proof: I am doing a much better job than she is”. I found myself standing in the big boss’s office, next to my then ‘colleague’ developer. We weren’t getting along very well. And to prove he was the better developer, he had PRINTED both my and his code of the last two months. We were working on different modules of the same software. His pile was a few centimeters high, mine was tiny in comparison.

After being perplexed for a few hours at this brutal attack I found this the funniest thing that ever happened. Any developer could have told the boss more code for the same functionality is always a bad thing. Less is more. Little did I know it wouldn’t be the only time quantity was valued over quality in my projects.

Write more words

Only a few weeks back one of our analysts got this sort of feedback. The document he had produced, although it contained each item of information necessary and all the stakeholders were happy with it, did not contain enough WORDS. It was the project manager of this large, very structured and process based company that said this.

Accurate and pleasant

Let’s put the time behind us where the value of work is based on quantity. Let’s forget document templates that require to introduce the topic in 4 different ways before allowing us to actually make some sense. Let’s only write stuff that people want to read, are happy to read, can read in one go. It will improve overall happiness, and it will certainly greatly improve everyone’s motivation.

This is what we do in our projects. Our analysts write stuff that is both accurate and pleasant to read. It makes efficient use of business’ time, they don’t need to book half a day to go through endless documents. It turns communication with developers into a breeze. Now how’s that for a change!

I eat failure for breakfast (2) Fail in project mode

A little story I heard this morning: A freelance digital consultant is asked to review an ongoing project in a large company. He writes a report pointing out that a number of things need to be reconsidered and that it is a good idea to step aside and rethink the goal of the project. The report causes a big shock in the organisation. They hadn’t expected criticism but later admit they agree with most of the report. They don’t know how to handle change at this point in the project and the consultant report becomes ‘a situation’. The project continues its predefined course.

 

Corporate projects don’t fail

Running a digital project in a large organisation is a process, a well defined process, with a clear beginning and an end. A process with certain tasks, people and roles and a well defined number of steps. The first law in projects there is that they move f-o-r-w-a-r-d. They are never supposed to move backwards. The way they move forward is reported in a ‘progress report’. Progress reports are designed to move forward. Possibly too slow, but forward they go.

I have seen a number of projects, in my humble career, that should have been stopped at some point. Projects of which everybody directly involved agreed they were lost. The types of projects that go horribly over expected date and budget. The kind of project that causes rumours around the organisation and anyone involved in those projects gets the stain of ‘project disaster’. But rarely have I seen someone pull the plug. And the longer things go wrong, the more money is spent and the more difficult it becomes for someone to come forward and say: ‘Shall we just stop now?’. So these projects continue, come to some undefined end and anyone who can get away from them and loose ‘the stain’ will do so. Rather sooner than later. In many organisations these projects become taboo. You don’t mention them anymore once they’re finished. Consequently an opportunity for learning from a failure is lost.

Startup reinventing

Not quite what happens in startups. Do startups ever change mode, I wonder? Is there something like initiation and project mode? There probably is in the financial side of the picture. I will find out more in the interviews I will be doing in the coming weeks. But from what I have experienced and witnessed, startups have a long period of redefining themselves and if necessary reinventing themselves as they go. There are a number of reasons why this happens.

As a startup dives deeper into the reality of things, they encounter surprises. Sometimes good surprises but lets face it: this planet is much better equipped for bad surprises. One of the surprises can be technical. Assumptions were made that don’t hold true when faced with reality. In that case quick and very creative thinking needs to be done in orde to either fix the problem or find a way around it. Or simply bite the bullet and stop.

Blinded by the light

Another very common case is the misunderstanding or misinterpretation of your market. You were focussed on a certain problem and trying to solve that. You were blinded by your own enthusiasm but when you get to the bottom of it you notice that the much larger problem is lying right next to it. You can then either continue barking up the wrong tree or shift to a new problem and invent a new solution. That means you let go of all the hard work you have been doing up til then and go back to the drawing table. This is one of the topics I will be discussing with Bart Van Der Roost, COO and co-founder of Neoscores, in the first of a series of interviews (coming soon!).

Struggle for survival

The only way a startup can survive is by choosing the right problem to solve and by offering the spot-on solution to that problem. It is this struggle for survival that allows and forces startups to rethink themselves. Do they like it: no. Does it hurt: certainly. Does it cost money: of course. But the sooner they identify that plans aren’t going in the right direction, the less money and effort it costs to stop and rethink. Startups are in a context of life or death. The success of the project is the succes of the company. The failure of the project is the end of the company. Corporate organisations never work under this type of pressure.

I eat failure for breakfast (1): Fail at ideation.

Fail fast is a popular adagium in these times of innovation and startup culture. Large companies are told to ‘learn how to fail fast’ even though failure is totally against the DNA of any large company I’ve ever visited. So I want to have a closer look at startup failure to see what we can learn from it. And what it actually means: fail fast.

startupFragrance

Ideas are cooking

Long before a startup turns into a formal organisation, ideas have been cooking. Sometimes in one person’s head, often in a small group of friends, family, ex collegues or whatever constelation thinkable.

It will usually take a few months up to a few years before an initial idea turns into something ready for startup. The idea is first turned into ‘a story’. Something you can discuss at the kitchen table or the local pub. Something you start sharing with others. A blurry collection of ideas and images slowly turns into something more concrete: A clearly defined problem that is answered by an even more clearly defined solution. In the endless repetition of this initial idea, first to spouse, children, parents and friends the idea becomes well defined. Put into the right words and told in the best possible order.

Listener feedback

Each listener will give his feedback, based on his own context and his personal relation to the problem. The creator will adapt his story slightly each time he considers feedback relevant. This process can take anything from a few weeks to a few years and really is the first path for failure. The idea has to stand the test of telling and retelling. It will have to pass through the approval of a large number of people. Not just any people, people the creator has chosen to share his story with. They are therefore important people, people whose opinion matters. People who were chosen because in the mind of the creator, they might one day become the first users.

The large majority of startup ideas will not survive this stage. They fail long before anyone mentioned the word startup. In the best of cases they have planted the seeds of innovation thinking in the creator, who goes on to look for new problems to solve or different ways to solve the same problem.

Corporate project initiation

Now let’s look at this very same process in a corporate environment. There is a process of project definition. This process is different in every organisation but boils down to this: tell higher management what you want to build next year and how much it is going to cost. Do this in such a way that they get convinced this is where they need to put their money. If the idea has to go through stages it will be stages of ever higher management. And stages of better defining how much money is involved. And stages of technical investigation and technological choices. It is never stages of convincing ever more potential users.

If a corporation would copy a startup project definition process this would happen;

Instead of writing stuff down (in either Excel or Word files) the project owner would think up a story. He would then go out and visit as many customers/potential users as possible and ask for feedback. He might spend a considerable amount of working time in the pub. He would update his story as many times as possible and if enough customers were convinced of the potential, and without knowing what it is going to cost, higher management would open the innovation tap and some money would come out for the next step without any guarantee this path will lead to something.

Coming up: fail in project mode.

Consultancy Manifesto

Consultants

We are a team of consultants. We thrive when we dive into new circumstances every so many months. We find drive and motivation in new challenges and trying to accomplish things in unknown surroundings. It keeps us awake, it keeps us fresh, curious, eager and modest too.

What’s in a name?

But what does it mean to be a consultant in this day and age. Many jobs have been turned into consultancy positions in the last decade. So in order to give new meaning to an ever expanding term, we decided to set things straight and write it down. This is what consultancy means to us. This is the consultant we want to be.

Hence: The consultancy Manifest. Share us much as you like,if you agree with it, it is all yours now.

47Manifesto

Download the printable Manifesto

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Flexible lives in inflexible surroundings

I have a car. Yeah! A family car. The only car me and my husband have. Every few years I get another one. And each time I evaluate what type of car I want. And need. I used to have no kids, by the next car I had one kid and one on its way and then I had two kids.

(hang on there is a point to this story)

redcar

For about half of 220 working days in a year I sit in that car on my own. During weekends I either don’t sit in the car or the whole family sits in the car. There are child seats so we can’t take anyone with us. During 15 to 20 days in the summer we try to use every cubic centimeter of my car cause we go camping. There’s a lot of stuff you need to take a family of two toddlers camping for three weeks!

In all  of these occasions the size of my car is exactly the same. It has five doors, four seats. That is because the size of my car is based on the cubic centimeters we need to go camping. Which leads me to the conclusion that my car is too big for 345 days a year.

Self-driving non-self owned cars

So when me and my team talk about self-driving cars and the decline of car ownership that will hopefully come with it, I realize that one of the most important things technology brings to our lives is flexibility. Flexibility in how we use things and on the other hand flexibility in the use of resources. Resources that are on the rebound, to put it mildly.

Looking back at 2015, in say 15 years from now, I’m sure it will be difficult for people to understand why I was driving a too big car for 345 days a year. Why almost everyone was driving a too big car for 345 days a year.

How do we do innovation?

You cannot win them all, so every once in a while (!), we don’t win a project. Someone else wins, because we pitched a crazy idea and the customer didn’t like it. Or because we do funny drawings and the customer didn’t like that. Or simply because we weren’t good enough and one of our competitors was better.

Failed projects

It hurts a little bit every time that happens. I usually get over it but I cannot help listening in when I hear about such a project afterwards. And lately I’ve heard about quite a few failures. Ambitious innovation projects that came to nothing. Good plans that were buried after months of work and buckets full of euros. No result and lots of frustrations on all sides. I hope it is not a pattern but it has made me think.

Turn it into a thing

This thinking is now turning into something. At Foursevens we are currently investigating why we are good at projects. (disclaimer: I believe none of our customers will mind me saying we are good at projects, if you are a customer and object to this statement, please contact me and I will update this disclaimer). It is important to know that Foursevens has seen an ‘organic’ growth for the last four years. Every new person has come aboard to learn from and share his own expertise with others. We have come to do stuff ‘our way’. But we have never exactly defined let alone written down what ‘our way’ is.

360° aspects

So one afternoon, on a shady terrace in the centre of Brussels (all credits to Bravo BXL), we sat down and started tying it down. The variety of aspects we deal with in projects, and that we think make the difference between success and failure, is huge. It goes from ‘how to choose your team members’ to ‘who owns the budget’ to ‘what criteria are used for choosing technology’ and many many more. We will be sharing these insights with you and will be posting about it here. We might even create a newsletter, how’s that for a plan!

Do you employ gear?

moderntimes

If I were a Digital Innovation Manager today, the first thing I would want to know is: Does my company employ gear or captains?

Gear type companies

In a corporate culture, people feel like small gear in a VERY large machine. They see no connection between their daily routine and the future of the company they work for. They believe that what they do cannot possibly influence the results of the company. The future of the company is something ‘bosses’ decide on. It is ‘management’ that decides where things are heading. The awareness of a shared responsibility and power is absent. Responsibility and power are for people higher up.

Business transformation

An organisation built on ‘gear’ will have a terribly hard time to change course. If large companies can be compared to oil tankers (as does Jo Caudron in his must-read book Digital Transformation), people in the gear-type-company are barely aware the tanker is moving at all. Let alone that someone like them could change its course! This organisation will not reinvent itself and will not enter the arena of business transformation.

Captain type companies

I used to work at a company where everybody was convinced everything could be changed by everybody. Where everybody had an equal right to opinion. Each individual was very aware of his or her impact on all the things we were doing. These sort of settings are rare. They scare the hell out of traditional managers. Some people left this company very quickly, they thought it was chaos. Some people thrive as never before.

Startup culture

Starting my own company, Foursevens, was the result of this company culture. Foursevens itself is this type of company. It is this kind of culture where business transformation can flourish and bloom. This is why large companies can learn from startup culture. Startup culture is reinvent-yourself-100-times-per-month culture.

Want to talk about this? Contact us, we’re friendly!

Developing for accessibility

What is accessibility

“Accessibility enables people with disabilities to perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the web.” – Jesse Hausler.

The goal of Accessibility is to make the Web a place with equal access and opportunities to people with diverse abilities. The domain of accessibility has systematically been overlooked in the past. Even today, things are not really what they should be. Companies don’t focus on people with disabilities – or ‘with different abilities’ as I prefer – to use their product, for budget and time reasons. Sadly enough, they don’t believe the market is big enough to make the investment, leaving different-abled people out of many applications, which could otherwise be very useful to them.

My experience

Recently I joined a highly professional team, working on a banking application for tablet. Accessibility was part of the scope of this project, and for me, it was the first time to actually work on something that would also be fit for people with different abilities. My job was to find the flaws in the application where these people might get confused. We focused mainly on the visually impaired. So I sat down, plugged in my earphones in the tablet, started accessibility mode (VoiceOver), fired up the app, closed my eyes and went through the application. (For those who have never used it, VoiceOver reads out what is on the screen, content and buttons alike.)

It needs mentioning that I am not a professional in accessibility, and that there are companies out there who focus specifically on this subject (although the ones with mobile knowledge are hard to find, we fortunately came across Accessibility Partners). The following is my experience.

It was a frustrating experience and I found there was still some work to be done in order to have accessibility on an acceptable level. It was probably frustrating because I am not used to working without seeing what I’m doing. The learning curve for getting used to accessibility mode (different swiping commands, finding a button, etc) must have had some part in this. Add the OS differences (Android versus iOS) in accessibility commands to this list and you’ll probably guess why this was not easy. I found a couple of issues, but I was not sure that some of them would be real issues to our users for I was not sure how they actually use it. After a few tries myself, we decided that we would get richer information from an actual user. Accessibility user testing is what we needed.

The need for access

What I did find myself, was that some parts of the application where wrongly implemented. Some plain text for example, was implemented as textfield by mistake, which was read out as such and therefore confusing for our accessibility target group. The tests showed us some development mistakes as well as accessibility flaws. In the end, we managed to get a reasonable accessibility level. Although many companies still need to see the need to address accessibility, many others already do so. App- and game developers for instance spend time trying to figure out how to make their products more accessible for different audiences.

As developers of web and mobile apps, and in a world driven more and more by digital, we all carry a part of the responsibility to create inclusive applications.

This was CX Conference

I visited CX Conference yesterday and here I share the sketches I made.

Jo Caudron – Digital Transformation & Customer Experience

The difference between Digital Disruption and Digital Transformation

dissectie

Email is outdated.

mailOutdated

Disruption first happened to things you can put inside a computer.

saveincomputer

10.000 self-driving cars would have an enormous effect on a cities economy.

10000cars

Any challenger that can jump ahead in the value chain will do so.

kisscustomer

Transformation needs to start from a problem.

problem

What pressing problem does the connected fridge solve?

connectedfridge

If you are a traditional company you cannot turn into a disruptor.

ShrinkTanker

The traditional business needs to stay healthy in order to fund the innovation initiatives.

fundZodiac

If you organisation is slow at coming up with new projects, invest in challengers instead of trying to do something yourself.

fundthegarage

And the surroundings totally inspired to the first and last sketch;

dissectieklaar

Bernard Lahousse from Foodpairing: The tasting experience in a digital world.

Smell is the most important sense in food tasting.

theNose

A chef needs to create new recipes quickly and efficiently.

ChefProblem

We didn’t know what an API was, but then we went on and created one.

APIforChefs

We can introduce tastes you don’t like by matching them with tastes you do like.

Sprouts

We missed the experiment with the rabit and the brush (effect of sound on taste).

FoodpairingExp

NOTE: I will add the links to the videos as soon as I can get hold of them!

Connections case study

Connections presented.

Connections

We want to inspire online and tailor offline.

OnlineOffline

When you start with personalisation, start small.

Personalisation

Pieter Baert: Service Designing for teleticketing.com

Pieter introduces himself.

Pieter

Lady Gaga and the evolution of buying tickets.

Tickets

You need to get out and talk to customers. Especially if you are a large organisation.

GetOut

To create personas you need to talk to real people. Or to Pieter’s family in law.

FamilyInLaw

Koen Vanderhoydonk: Future of Banking

Octopus Card in Hong Kong, started 10 years ago.

OctopusCard

Google Trends as a big data example. Predictions can be made.

GoogleTrends

Fidor bank increases your interest rate when Facebook likes increase. (would love to read the small print on that)

LikesInterest

Belgian banks still struggle with the technical complexity of past mergers.

MergedBanks

Children of today will look at banks differently.

KidsBanks

Learn to fail fast.

Speed

That’s all folks.

The Gen Y Banking survey.

GenYbankingFoursevens

International Payments & Innovation

So, you have a kid studying at the other end of the world, you have family living abroad, you have a friend you want to help out during her transition period and you have a good heart: you’re going to transfer some money. That’s a noble initiative and “Uncle Bank” is more than pleased to help you out.

Since Google has been a good friend for ages, that’s where the search for money transfer mechanisms starts. We learn that there are three main ways to get the money rolling: the Hawala (based on the Hindu word for trust) system, a growing number of money transfer operators (the Western Unions and Moneygrams) and financial institutions aka “The Bank”.

Hawala

Hawala is purely informal, there’s no paperwork involved and the cost is minimal. The system is not regulated and has the stench of being corrupted by financing terrorist organisations and money laundry. As my investor profile is “defensive”, this is not an option.

Operators

Money transfer operators on the other hand are regulated and offer a multitude of possibilities to withdraw the deposited money, in cash, account based, card based, in person or automatic but there is an associated cost.

The bank

The third option, transferring money via a bank is even more regulated and monitored but again comes with a non-negligible cost. And well, I know the guy at the bank’s branch and the scarce times I pay him a visit, he offers me a coffee.

Where things go wrong

Cost is not the issue, customers are willing to pay an honest fee for a decent and secured service protecting customer interests, be it through a bank or a money transfer operator. However, after looking into documentation publicly available from a number of Belgian banking websites, two major questions pop up:

1. How come a higher degree in finance and math is needed to get a rough estimation of the cost that will be involved in the transfer?

2. How come, in those rare cases where the bank did the math and a clear cost is published, I don’t consider the cost as “honest”?

The first question reveals a lack of transparency, the documentation found is overly complicated, as if there were something to hide. The ‘dishonest’ cost might be due to compliancy with legislation, regulation and security. But considering the existing infrastructure and global communication systems, the cost seems exaggerated. It makes you feel like some of the money rolls into someone else’s large pockets.

How digital works

That is where the perception of a bank goes from “Uncle Bank” to “Scrooge McBank”, violating rule number one in digital: establish a clear and bi-directional communication with your customer. It is hard to see, as a customer, why banks are not moving along with digital evolution.

If digital can simplify day to day payments in such a natural way, than digital should help banks simplify international payments in a secure and reliable way.
Claim: We’ve conducted a little research within Belgium, based on information publicly available from the a number of major banks operating within Belgium. We didn’t behave like financial hotshots, consultants… just like Joe Average who wants to send some money to another part of this cosmic particle of dust.

Car Mechanic 3.0

A little thought I had this morning, when my car reminded me it needs maintenance.
My first thought every day for the last 6 days when I start my car: ‘Dear car, reminding me of maintenance every time I step into my car does NOT help me. I am driving and therefore in no position to look up the number of my dealer and make an appointment.’
But what if my dealer would do the work for me? With current technology it would be easy to accomplish the following;
  • based on previous records of my car the dealer calculates when my car needs a next maintenance
  • based on everyone’s records this calculation is refined to make it more reliable and precise
  • two weeks before that calculated date I get an invitation by email with three possible slots for car maintenance I can choose from
  • I choose the slot that best suits me, it then sits in my agenda and I drop of my car at that date
Disclaimer: My ideas are for free, we don’t sell ideas at Foursevens, if you need someone to make them come true, call us.

Work-together day

We are consultants. We are the kind of consultants who believe in close collaboration with the customer. We therefore tend to work at the customers premises. As a team, we only see the colleagues who work at the same customer, the rest of the team we only see now and then.
Consultants have to be a source of knowledge and expertise, constantly updated knowledge since we work at the edge of new technology. We build that knowledge by studying, reading ridiculous amounts of articles and by gathering experience on our projects.
Every consultant struggles, somewhere along the way, in some project. We sometimes struggle with very new or very old technology, we sometimes struggle with complex organisations or organisational politics, we sometimes struggle to convince customers of alternative solutions we see. We don’t go with the flow. But that struggle can be a lonely journey if your team is far away and little known to you.

Monthly work-together day

Since last year Foursevens has started a work-together-day. Once a month we convince our customers that our consultants work a day at our own office. We work on our projects but share, discuss, request reviews to one another. And we eat together, have coffee breaks together.  We get to know new people, we chat about every day life and do what ‘normal’ colleagues do every day.
Thanks to work-together-day we have been able to create a strong company culture. We have increased the sharing of experiences and knowledge and learning possibilities for everyone. We can relate to other people’s struggle because we know what they are doing. And by building relationships, we are more active online, on our collaboration platform, and we continue sharing.
We often help customers implement a new way of working and therefore constantly explore new and better ways of working for ourselves.

2030 according to Foursevens

A weekend together in Amsterdam. A rainy afternoon in a nice pub. That’s all we needed to get going. As digital innovation consultants, we often help our customers imagine what their future can look like. We investigate what they do today and come up with possible digital services that would ensure a bright future for their customers and their organisation. It is rare that we make time to imagine our own future or the future of our society. You see, our society is not a customer of ours. But with a nice drink at hand we started to imagine what 2030 will look like. And we’re happy to share some of our ideas;

3D printer in every household.

3dprinter

A 3D printer will become as common and affordable as a regular printer. Most people will have one in their homes by 2030 and will have very easy applications to select designs and have them printed.

Self-driving becomes standard.

selfdriving

Self-driving cars will become the standard in certain areas with dense traffic. It will still be possible to drive these cars manually. It will also still be possible to drive a ‘manual’ car, but they might get excluded on some roads.

Growth of small businesses, decline of large corporations.

LargeSmall

Small businesses will become much more important in our economy. Digital small businesses will be the largest growing kind of small businesses. Technology will make starting up a business and running a business easy, cheap and attainable.

Digital Direct Democracy

ddd

Politicians have some serious disruption heading towards them. The representative democracy as we know it today is nearing an end. Technology will allow for a shift towards direct democracy in which direct and immediate involvement of the people is made possible.

Intercontinental travel through space.

UplaceinSpace

The last 20 years have not done much to air travel times. Instead of faster airplanes, we believe some forms of commercial space travelling will emerge, resulting in faster intercontinental travel times. Shopping malls could make much more sense in space than they ever have on earth. Some duty free shopping on your way to New York?

Conclusion

Our conclusion is: we live in exciting times. And there is much more fun ahead. Do you believe these are scary times? Do you believe your organisation is not up to this? Then maybe we need to talk. We help companies make sense of digital innovation, especially those companies who prove bad at reinventing themselves.

Business disruption in real life.

Some time ago I had the opportunity to speak at a Utilities conference. The two other speakers that morning were from creative agencies who help their customers rethink their business model (by first visualising their current business model, a practice not so often done in large organisations).

But once a company or department has achieved to rethink its business or has come up with creative new digital services, in comes reality. Large organisations are built to last. They are organised to keep things going, at a slow but steady pace. They are solid and reliable. They are like a block of concrete when it comes to digital disruption.

This presentation is about how we ‘climb the mountain’ of digital innovation together with our customers. How we identify and empower people in a digital project, at the top, the bottom and outside of the organisation. How we go from small to large, one quick step at a time. It tells the story of how we prevent pitfalls by running parallel tracks. It explains how we prevent misunderstandings and disappointment by creating realistic prototypes.

If you want to learn more about how we work or want to find out how this has been put into practice at customers like VDAB, GDF Suez or Crelan, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Dear bank: this is the first impression you make.

Belgian banks have been investing big budgets in both mobile and online banking in the last three years. Conversion rates are a hot topic and so is online customer acquisition.

But is a bank’s website really the first encounter potential clients have with a new bank? I’d like to argue it is not. I believe most people’s first experience with a bank comes from a visit to the ATM machine. Running to the bank around the corner from the pub, a quick withdraw from the ATM close to work or next to school before picking up the kids. People very often visit other banks. People very often have a first impression of a bank that is not theirs.

So I did a little experiment. On my walk to lunch today, I stepped into every bank I passed by and tried to withdraw 10 euros. This is what happened.

The experiment

The first visit almost gave me a fit. I chose to withdraw 10€ in notes of 5€. I was met with the message ‘Available reserve insufficient’. A quick look at my mobile banking app reassured me. The error message didn’t mean I didn’t have any money left, it meant the ATM didn’t have any 5€ notes left!

Bank1

My second visit seemed to go down well, until I got an error message. Slightly less discomforting, but it didn’t get me much closer to 10€. The error says something like ‘Due to a technical problem we can’t give you money’.

Bank2

It was as if these ATM machines knew I was taking pictures of them!

My third visit brought me to a bank where customers get ATM machines with a seat and non-customers need to stand up. It didn’t give me the option to withdraw 10€ so I decided to choose 20€, but saw trouble coming. I was apparently supposed to do the math myself, but the screen informed me that: ‘You can withdraw a sum of 20€ and larger, but we only have 50€ notes sitting here’. Ahaa, I thought, someone sneaked in a little algebra exercise! Just to annoy the machine I did type in 20€ and had to wait for the error to appear. No money for me here.

bank3

My last ATM machine was a friendly one. It did what it was supposed to do. It didn’t allow me to choose impossible combinations. No errors, no funny messages. I got 20€ and went for lunch.

Bank4

One shot exercise?

We talk to many companies with plans for new websites and apps. It is a bad idea to create something new without having a look at what you already have. You need to look at all the other ways you’re already talking to your audience, customers or users. This is why we help our customers look at their digital, online and offline services as a whole. We help them choose the technology and implement the working methods that will allow them to move on in every one of them. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

RFP procedures block digital innovation

When choosing enterprise solutions ‘RFP procedures’ are a common practice in most large organisations. RFP stands for Request for Proposal. RFPs tend to contain a bucket list of features. They aim at turning different product offerings into lines of comparable items in an Excel sheet. Belief is that a quick calculation of ‘off the shelf’, ‘no can do’ and ‘custom work needed’ answers will direct the decision makers towards the right product to buy.

changeyourmind

The list of features is usually based on three sources of information. First of all the product the company is currently using. The focus then lies especially on features that are missing from the current product and the frustrations that currently exist around bad features. Features that are heavily used with success often don’t make it to the list. Secondly the feature list is filled with what is currently fashionable. A quick read of marketing material from competing products serves that purpose. Vendor road maps with no relation whatsoever to the companies own maturity in the matter also serve as inspiration. And last but not least a totally random guess by management about where things are heading, adds the last few feature requests. Actual users of the current product don’t play a role in most RFP processes.

This is why an RFP will never favour products that answer a need or solve a problem in a totally innovative way. When product selection is based on old criteria, common solutions to existing problems, only products that answer needs in an old fashioned way can win the race.

Is there an alternative? We believe there is; first talk to your users, you’ll be surprised about how much they know and how clear their vision on the problem at hand can be. Then look at what products have achieved in other companies and make your shortlist. Then let the vendor prove what his product is worth by doing a proof of concept onsite. Will this take time? Yes it will, but so does your classic approach. Will this cost money? You probably want to be fair and pay candidates a little for their proof of concept work. But compared to the long-term cost of a wrongly chosen product, oh boy will this be cheap!

Are you lost at how to take it from here, we’ve done this before, we can do it again; Contact us!

This was Mobilism 2015

Foursevens went on a trip. All of us. We had the enormous pleasure to attend to the Mobilism Conference in Amsterdam on March 27. We got up terribly early to get there in time, cause with such a strong lineup, we didn’t want to miss one bit. Here’s our impressions of the day, in writing by several team members, in sketches by @niske.

Stephanie Rieger

RiegerImages

The tech media constantly talk about Silicon valley and how Europe tries to catch up. It almost seems innovation takes place exclusively in the western world, with the exception of the big Asian device manufacturers and of course we heard about Alibaba, which is presented as an improved copy of Amazon.

Stephanie Rieger opened our eyes. The way ecommerce is tackled in Asia is fundamentally different from the West. This might be changing in the near future when the ‘Western’ way will be influenced by Asian experiences. We need to learn from new business models, the emergence of tiny businesses with enormous leverage thanks to online platforms. Online innovation in Asia can be an enormous source of inspiration. The slidedeck is online here: http://www.slideshare.net/yiibu/the-emerging-global-web

Peter-Paul Koch

PPKImages

Some of us are old enough to remember the early days of web development. Trying to get things to work in different browsers was a pain. If we believed back then was complex, Peter-Paul Koch showed us things are worse in days of Mobile. We learned why Google allowed device vendors to alter Android (hardware differences only would not have allowed them to ‘differentiate’ enough). We also learned how HTC ended up with two Chrome versions on one device. Peter-Paul Koch explained why Chrome stats will always be lacking information and slightly incorrect. But if we ever run into issues related to Android and Chrome versions, we have won the book and taken it back to the office, we are safe!

Agnieszka Walorska

AgnieskaImages

Agnieszka Walorska focuses on User Experience and Digital Innovation. Minority report and the Simpsons already predicted it some years ago, responsiveness is the present, but anticipatory is the future. An intelligent bedroom that wakes you up and suggests your outfit for the day. A connected home that tells you what to eat or drink, a smart fridge preparing your grocery list or a self-driving car guiding you through the day. As long as it stays relevant and provides assistance, the anticipatory experience is satisfying. Take the leap over the uncanny valley and anticipate!

Tim Kadlec

TimImages

Proxy browsers, not something we had come in contact with recently, but the term sounded familiar. Luckily there was Tim Kadlec (@tkadlec) to explain what this topic is really about. A regular browser requests a page from the server, while processing the HTML it fetches more resources while building the HTML DOM, CSS DOM and so forth.

On high-end devices with a decent connection this all goes relatively smooth, but without so much luck it becomes a hassle to visit websites. This is where a proxy browser (like: UC mini, Puffin, Opera mini) comes into play, such a browser requests a page from the server, the server responds to a middle tier server that does the transformation into one single response before sending it back to the device. Reducing network load & processing power for the device, but raising the need for server roundtrips. Something to keep in mind, who knows when our visitors start using it 🙂

His slides are here https://speakerdeck.com/tkadlec/better-by-proxy-at-mobilism-2015

Seb Lee-Delisle

SebImages

Seb Lee-Delisle, digital artist and speaker, certainly is passionate about what he does. He turned his hobby, lasers and all things big, into a job. It was at times hard to see how Seb’s business related to Mobilism, but he did talk about light and sound as possible input and output types. The conclusion of his talk is that you can build a party around digital-physical interaction. It has a bit of magic that people adore. After his speech the famous Churchill quote “We are all worms, but I believe that I am a glow-worm” came to mind. (And if you were left wondering why he can’t travel to the US, here’s the story.)

Sacha Wolter

WolterImages

Did we mention there were passionate people at Mobilism? Sacha Wolters talk about the Internet of Things was both inspiring and optimistic about the power of IoT technology in a fully connected world.  With a focus on early-prototyping he walked us through a number of every day issues and how they can easily be solved. We loved his case for DIY prototyping (those who know our connected dollhouse will know why) and the enormous innovative and creative power of small children. The future looks bright.

Petro Salema

SalemaImages

‘Disruptive innovation shouldn’t result in disrupted users.’ Salema’s talk was a great eye-opener for our underdeveloped Western mobile payment initiatives! He explained what MPesa is and how it has created cashless societies in East-Africa. It uses widely available mobile phone technology to answer to the needs of a very large group of people. With 70% of Tanzanians not entitled to a bank account and enormous penetration of mobile telephones, the target group is huge. No need for a bank account, you can pay by SMS. In the West a mobile money solution needs to get over numerous legal, compliance and security hurdles, to only name a few. Petro Salema taught us to keep things simple and bend the fish while it is still fresh.

Inspiration weekend Amsterdam

Inspiration weekend Amsterdam

Last weekend Foursevens headed out to Amsterdam. I want to share the things we did, because each one of them is a source of inspiration. Foursevens works on digital innovation projects every day and we are keen to see what is going on in other places whenever we get the chance.

The agenda of our weekend in Amsterdam.

We were at the Mobilism conference on Friday, the last Mobilism conference ever. Without a doubt the best conference we attended this year. In every way; great speakers you rarely get to see anywhere else, excellent talks and Q&A sessions, great presenter, wonderful and attentive audience (that includes us of course). All this in a beautiful venue, good food & drinks. It was the best idea ever to come here with our entire team. Truly inspirational. Lucky for you they will put all the talks online.

Our next stop was the CitizenM hotel. A hotel that packs a whole range of innovative ideas and technology into one. If you are into innovation, in any type of business, book a room here, you will understand what innovation feels like.

Saturday morning started with a workshop at Gewoonboot; a sustainable meeting room boat. Great views over the water, excellent service. Lots of information on how they built it and made it sustainable in energy and water usage. And surely these surroundings helped to have a very productive workshop.

Lunch at container-built restaurant and bar Pllek. Or how old port areas can be turned into lovely meeting places. We got there using the free ferry from the Central station. In the afternoon we visited the future 3D house printer at 3D Canal House. We looked in vain for a subscription list. We’d have put our names down as future clients, that’s for sure. But they’re not quite there yet.

Our last stop was Westergasfabriek where instead of a walk, the weather drove us towards de Ketelhuis where we loved the two-people-cinema, what a great idea! That could totally work elsewhere too.

We had dinner at Instock, a pop-up restaurant that cooks with supermarket leftovers. They are soon moving to more permanent locations so this initiative will continue.

The rest of the evening was spent in non-innovative and certainly not sustainable places, we’ll spare you the details. But we all survived. Amsterdam is a great location for an inspiration weekend based on sustainable innovation.

Digital transformation is not a website

In 2014 Foursevens has had the privilege to create solutions that have transformed business in several organisations. We have helped a healthcare company convert paper flows into the use of tablets. We have built a cloud software product for a hardware company. We have helped a bank reinvent customer acquisition. We have investigated how a public service can turn into a digital service.
The introduction of new technology in older IT environments has been a challenge. We have come to consider IT reluctance towards our projects as a fact and have developed strategies to cope with it. In a positive and collaborative way. Based on the belief that if you can’t convince people to collaborate you’ll never get systems to work well.
But taking the technical hurdles towards innovative technology is not what digital transformation is about. Digital transformation is organisational transformation.
Our research in a public service taught us how organisations continue to look at ‘the website’ as something which doesn’t concern them. The customers of this public service can either log in to the website for some self-service, they can visit an office and talk to someone, they can also contact the call center. A day of observation at the call center quickly showed how the operators have no idea of what the customer can do in the self-service website.
The website was built to reduce the number of calls to the call center, but the creators of the website had no clue of the top ten requests in the call center. They were disappointed with the levels of user adoption. We observed the offices and saw how they hand out little copied pieces of paper with the address of the website. Customers are left to figure out the subscription on their own.
Digital innovation bumps into limiting factors of a variety of business departments. Digital innovation doesn’t go down easily in very structured and highly departmentalized organisations. There must have been a time when it was good to isolate different business functions into separate teams to standardize them and improve productivity. That same structure is why large organisations fail to reinvent themselves in a digital age.
Foursevens is currently in research on how we can help our customers even more in achieving true digital transformation, one step at a time. I will be writing more on this topic in the coming weeks.

Barbie and the connected dollhouse

Today we spoke at a Utilities seminar together with Wijs and Wonderland. The topic of the day: Digital transformation. While speaking is something we enjoy doing, out of the ordinary product demos go really well with us too.

For those of you outside Belgium I need to add some context. This winter Belgium runs a serious risk of experiencing power black outs. A number of nuclear plants are currently out of order which will likely cause, in case of peak usage, a shortage in electricity production. The media have therefore been filled with stories about the ‘organised blackout’ and the repercussions it will have on both households and businesses.

Our premise for the demo: how can digital innovation turn the bad guys into the good guys? In other words, how can utilities companies turn a difficult situation and having perception against them into an opportunity to connect to their customers.

Barbie

We have used only readily available technology to come up with a scenario that could prevent blackouts; the dollhouse has a Belkin powered washing machine and light, a Philips HUE coloured light (that’s our warning system) and a Philips HUE light powered oven. Granted, nobody heats an oven with a light bulb. But hey this is Barbie!

The story

Barbie is, as she always has been, ahead of her time. She has joined the ‘Blackwhite’ campaign of her utilities company, called Utico. She has informed Utico online what appliances can be turned off in case of lack of power production: her washing machine, the oven and the light in her bedroom. In return she will receive vouchers for her favourite webshop.

So here’s Barbie sitting in her house. She has her washing machine on (always some clothes that need washing!). She’s also baking a cake cause Ken will join her for tea later today.

Barbies connected home

At a certain moment the light in her house goes orange: that’s the sign Utico sends her that Belgium is going into code orange: time to limit energy usage.

Code orange

Utico now stops Barbie’s washing machine, oven and bedroom light. Ken will have to do without cake. But Barbie feels good, she has helped prevent a power outage and receives yet another shopping voucher!

connected house

End of story

We won’t turn every household in Belgium into a connected home any time soon! But we do believe in the tremendous power of digital and the business opportunities it offers. We also believe in exploration of ideas through rapid prototyping. If you want to know more about this topic, feel free to contact us, we’d be delighted to discuss Barbie’s house with you.

Responsive web & Teamsite/Livesite

So, you would like to create a website using the HP, Autonomy, Interwoven, … ehm the Teamsite/Livesite Web Content Management system? Well, we suggest continuing reading because we will be revealing a few pointers. We were lucky to create a Responsive website in TeamSite/LiveSite for a new bank.

Let’s get started with the Page Type
In order to have a good base to start from, the Page Type has been changed into HTML5. Most importantly the doctype changes to, but that is not the only thing.

To avoid mobile browsers scaling the website to a virtual viewport width of 980px, we need to provide a viewport Meta tag specifying the width to be the device-width. An initial-, minimum- and maximum-scale set to 1 to avoid the visitor to scale the website. The goal is to have CSS3 taking care of optimising the page to display it appropriately with the real estate available.
When you want to have either a ‘sticky’ header or footer, it is best to specify user-scalable=no as well in the viewport, otherwise Android 2.2+ visitors will see a regular -scrolling- navigation.

If it is required to support Windows devices (should be a no-brainer), it is best to take a look at the Meta tag regarding the compatibility. The Page Type in our implementation used to contain , this caused issues on mobile devices, so we had it changed to: “IE=edge,chrome=1“. It is advised to revise the encoding Meta tag, in our implementation this was already set to UTF-8.

For good measure, we added a “lang” attribute to the HTML element, thanks to this Google Chrome will detect the website’s language correctly and people having enabled the Translation function will be able to use it appropriately.

In an ideal world, it is best to start your Page Type from an HTML5 boilerplate. It is worth looking at how to organise the resources linked to the page, combining and minimising CSS and JavaScript to avoid multiple requests going back and forth between the server and client. As well, try to use image sprites, this will improve the performance without any ‘cost’. These last pointers should come as no surprise and should already be ingrained.

When you need to support a wide range of devices and browsers, you will most likely run into situations where certain browsers will not support a nifty little feature you would like to use. Just know there are a few tools at hand to overcome this problem. One option is using a feature detection JavaScript library, for example Modernizr, another is thinking about Graceful Degradation, Progressive Enhancement or the use of Polyfills.

What about navigation
Well, that being done, our page framework should be more or less set up. Now another quite important factor for a Responsive website is the navigational structure and how the page will be rendered, or say, displayed on a wide range of devices. You need to think of a good page layout and how this will behave once it scales down … or up? Needless to say, good and intuitive breakpoints are a must-have! What happens with the navigation? One way to maintain a logical and elaborate menu is kicking it off-screen by using an off-canvas menu. At least take some time to think about a Layout Pattern considering the devices (more good reading material: http://goo.gl/YgnAM http://goo.gl/MeC7C).

The chosen Layout Pattern will -obviously- influence the Canvas/Layout needed. In the more recent versions of Teamsite/Livesite you can create a Fixed Layout with a Canvas in which components can be placed. This page “frame” is the starting point of your responsive page. These regions can be hidden, shown or behave fluid altogether.

Navigating the site should be clear and fast, one way of achieving this is by avoiding a lot of inter-page navigation. Using overlays and horizontal navigation can help you to reduce the total height of the page. There are a few JavaScript libraries out there to help you get close to native horizontal navigation, for example FlexSlider or bxSlider.

Components are next!
For the project we were working on, we did not have the time to develop components, so the site had to be created with the component library at hand. Despite that, there are still a few things we learned. It may sound obvious, but we noticed that it is not always common practice to generate clean, syntactically correct and semantically meaningful HTML.

When creating a Responsive website it is best to avoid using iframes and tables. Getting these elements to behave responsive is a challenge. Another top tip: avoid generating onclick attributes on HTML elements, or any inline JavaScript for that matter, try to strive to Unobtrusive Javascript. Just know that as of HTML5 you have the ability to use Block-level links, meaning you can enclose block-elements in inline elements, whereas before this was not in line with the W3C standards.

If you do have the time and budget to create new components, keep in mind to support High Density displays for images. When appropriate consider using the new HTML5 elements. Depending on the requirements, use a responsive and streaming video player with support for iOS devices if the native HTML5 Video is not suitable.

Well, we’re almost there, bear with me for this last paragraph …

Last but not least: caching
When setting up the environment it would be good to investigate how you can best organise the infrastructure. Do you have a load balancer, IHS, Webseal, …? Well, consider how you can set this up properly so your static resources are cached somewhere in your infrastructure without passing each and every request to the LSDS, static resources being images, JavaScripts, CSS, documents. In this way, you spare the server to only render dynamic resources, while still using the JCS cache obviously.
Another thing is to consider using CDN hosted resources; these might already be cached by the visitors’ browsers.

Tha … tha … that’s all folks!

Where does Foursevens come from?

7777 is het ‘four sevens’-patent dat werd geregistreerd door ene Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company op 26 April 1900. Voor die datum worstelde Marconi met interferentie tussen de stations. Zijn onderzoek resulteerde in de creatie van een zender-ontvanger-systeem waarin alle componenten op elkaar afgestemd waren. Wat een heerlijke inspiratie voor ons werk.

Dank u Mr. Marconi.

Can an app change my habits

After a week of trying ‘drink water’ apps, I have some conclusions. First of all I haven’t drank much more water, the only app that did get me to drink a little more water was Drink-O-Matic free version (here for iOS). And if I wasn’t that good a drinker, at least this app was fun to use. My other conclusions are;

  • Be nice when you open the front door. Imagine I walk into a fashion store and just when I tread the shop floor someone comes up to me and shouts ‘How much do you weigh?!!!’. Unless I belong to the 3% that is overjoyed with their own weight, I would turn around and run away. To never come back again. And tell all my friends to stay away too. An app can only make one first impression. That first impression will make me decide whether I stick to this app or delete it after first time use. Unless you have a very good reason to do so and the effect is immediately visible to your user, be nice and welcoming.
  • Make it fun to change a habit. I have downloaded an app to try and change a bad habit (in this case not drinking enough water). The least an app should do is motivate me to continue. Therefore a little bit of fun wouldn’t hurt. If using an app to change a bad habit is worse than continuing the bad habit, I’ll embrace my bad habit and never use your app again.
  • I want you to notify, please do so. I am not a fan of notifications, noises and any other more or less intrusive behavior of apps on my phone. But if FOR ONCE I allow an app to notify and chase me, please do so.
  • One task is one task. Apps that are specifically meant to perform one task should focus on that task. Any extra stuff needs to nicely blend into or around this task without getting in my way. Extra stuff should not become a dense fog hiding my important task.

Writing for 2 readers

What is the live cycle of an analysis document? One or more analysts are asked to analyse a project. In the best case they will talk to a lot of people and write down their conclusions in a document. In the worst case they will only look at a lot of existing tools and put down conclusions in a document. Big documents, packed with long texts, diagrams and the lucky few might contain some wireframes.

Dutiful reader one
This document is sent out to the project’s stakeholders; marketing managers, project managers, business experts. They are now asked to approve the analysis. They are in fact asked: ‘is it ok we build this thing and spend your money for the coming X months’. What ‘this thing’ is, can only be imagined by reading 200 pages of somewhat technical descriptions. If they’re lucky there will be some visuals hinting at what the end-result might be. Most readers will flip through the pages, looking for something to catch their attention. They will then come across a more pressing matter or something more enticing to look at and leave. If all goes well, one guy might take the time to read through the whole thing and send some comments. Because he felt he had to.

Critical second reader
The analysis document is a tad technical because this document serves a second purpose. Once the stakeholders have given their approval, this document will be shipped to a team of developers. The lead developer will read the document and write a technical analysis. Lack of time might make him start preparing the planning directly, cutting the work up into smaller pieces, deciding who will be building what. The lead developer will invariably have lots of questions, see lots of voids and ask the analyst to come and clarify.

Economy of scale
Would you write a blog post if you would know only two people would read it (I’m sure I wouldn’t!)? Would you write a magazine if you would know only two people would read it (and it wouldn’t even make them happy)? Would you write a short story? Would you write a novel? Then why are so many analysts writing 200 to 300 page analysis documents for no one to read?

We are analysts. We don’t do too many documents. We especially don’t do long documents. Imagine our architect would have written a ‘house analysis’ document. Barely a few sketches of what some parts of the house would look like. And a lot of words explaining what our ‘bathroom needs’ are and what our ‘kitchen needs’ are and what our ‘moving from one floor to another requirements’ are. Architects do drawings, maps, 3D rendering, they build models, if you’re lucky they will even do videos of you walking through your future house.

We want to have business walk through their future digital product before they decide it’s worth their money. We do drawings, mockups, prototypes. And we talk and explain what needs explaining. We then agree and write things down for developers to read. We want developers to receive detailed user story descriptions, data mappings, screen descriptions. They understand user stories and it allows them to easily do their work.

Analysts talk to business people and IT people. We join them around great ideas. Not around long documents.

To Xamarin or not to Xamarin

One of the words we have been hearing a lot lately is Xamarin. Xamarin is a mobile development platform that helps customers deliver apps for iOS, Android and Windows. So we started investigating and discussing whether Xamarin is something to recommend to our customers.

The Platform

Xamarin is a platform for C# developers. It can deploy to all major mobile operating systems. This would lead to a drastic reduction in development cost if you want an app for iOS, Android and Windows.

Looking under the lid, the cost reduction only goes for the business logic of your apps. The UI of apps built on Xamarin, is built in native code. That is, once for each mobile OS. Xamarin believes that generalising presentation is too complex and would lead to bad user experience. At the same time, they are playing in the same league as other Mobile Development platforms that do offer full cross-platform development.

What’s in it for our customers

Most apps we build have very limited business logic inside the app. We are talking e.g. employee apps, mobile banking apps, apps that rely on data. Most, if not all, business logic of these apps is managed in cloudservices. The app calls a backend via services and shows this information in a beautiful interface. The user interacts with the app and his actions are again sent to the backend to be processed.

When looking for a cross-platform solution in this context, you have little to gain from Xamarin. On the contrary, Xamarin will introduce a layer of technology (or say, complexity) that you didn’t need before. And you will still rely on native mobile development expertise of all three flavours to build your apps.

If you want to read more on the Xamarin topic, away from the cheering crowds, we also recommend this article: http://www.whitneyland.com/2013/05/why-i-dont-recommend-xamarin-for-mobile-development.html

If you would like to discuss this topic with us, contact us at info@foursevens.be

Projects are popup shops

Have you ever walked out of a shop because the shop assistant wasn’t friendly? Did you ever decide never to return to that restaurant because the waiter was rude?

People react well to friendliness. I learned from Willem Verbeke (link in Dutch) that biological things happen when treated in a friendly way. People get an oxytocin boost. It makes them feel good. It makes them feel confident and full of trust.

We don’t run a shop at Foursevens. But then again, any project could be considered a shop. A temporary shop with a certain goal. We could call it a pop-up shop. And part of the success of this pop-up shop is that everyone wants to come in and collaborate.

We believe being friendly is an important factor in the success rate of our projects. It allows us to convince and motivate people to collaborate. As a consultant you arrive in a ‘community’ as an outsider. Some people will warmly welcome you. Many people haven’t asked for you to be there. Some people will even doubt the need for your popup shop to ever open its doors. But by approaching everyone in a friendly and respectful manner, we build healthy relationships. Relationships that allow for open communication and that can lead to positive collaboration.

We believe in friendly.

User Research on the Go

One of our analysts is currently working on ‘something with eBooks’. Talking about this project we quickly understood we are not very active ‘users’ of eBooks ourselves. Being regular commuters, we realized there’s always hoards of ‘ebook users’ on the train.

And so began the analysis of this new app. Our analyst Stijn hopped onto his morning train, ready to attack anyone reading a book on a tablet or eReader with a short set of questions. User research on the go. Or should I say ‘mobile user research’.

Stijn walked the train from head to tail and stopped at every eBook reader. He found most people really helpful to give insight in their reading habits. Each interview took no more than 5 minutes. In a very short amount of time he gathered loads of valuable input. Based on this input, which was confirmed in the evening train, he set up the first concept of the app-to-be. As a lightweight solution to user research, this was certainly a successful experiment.

The Power of Talking to People

I am a consultant. I spend most of my time in other people’s offices. I spend a few weeks there and move on. Most offices of large companies and organisations are similar. Most offices are very grey. (did you know color-psychology says grey shows ‘lack of energy, lack of confidence’).

Is open office space open?

A very popular thing in most of these organisations is email. Email has become the main way of communicating. Most employees prefer to send an email when they have a question. They send an email when they want to share something. They send an email when they have an opinion. They send an email when they have a document to share. They spend large part of their day sending emails and responding to emails of collegues. Collegues who sometimes sit only a few metres away. They invariably complain about receiving too many emails. You’d start to wonder why all these organisations have adopted open office space and VOIP telephones.

Walkie talkie

And in comes this consultant. Eager to make a difference. To get things done in this surrounding I use two extremely effective, horribly simple methods: ‘walk and talk to people’ and ‘pick up the phone and call’. Finding the right person to talk to in an open office space is very easy. You walk to the floor where this person sits and then ask whomever if they know Mr This-and-that. You might have a few stops before you get there, allowing you to meet more people and get to know new parts of the organisation.

Face to face contact cannot be replaced by anything. People communicate better, are friendlier and more positive in face-to-face conversation. It is easier to convince people when talking face-to-face. And as an analyst I have some convincing to do. Calling on the phone is an ok substitute for talking face-to-face, especially if you’ve met before. It will save time, it will save space and direct conversation is certainly the strongest antidote to misunderstandings.