Master Data Management

Can Code Halos Help Digital Leaders Beat the Blues?

Like a lot of journalists, I receive a lot of books for review. Most of them, sad to relate, are destined for the remainder bin, if not pulping: too many ghost-written ‘how-to’ manuals or rickety premises constructed on marketing guff and CEO egomania; lots of testimonials by people you just know haven’t read the text. Code Halos is different, however. This is a well-written book that takes as its leading notion the idea that if organisations make better use of the contextual metadata and other information we all have floating around us, they stand a better chance of competing in a global economy that demands enterprises become smarter and more sophisticated.

An excerpt of the book is here but to get more background (the ‘code halo’, if you like) on the writing of the book I spoke by phone to two of the book’s three authors, Cognizant consultants Ben Pring and Paul Roehrig.

First up, I asked them about the importance of combining human-digital interaction and design.

“If you look at the hard data about market change and track the trajectory, there’s often or always an inflexion point where the incumbent is challenged by the newcomer,” says Roehrig. “Often they were overtaken by a better experience. The winners were consistently beaten by the [ability to make use of data] and a richer user experience.”

But it’s the combination of that design excellence with a broader understanding of how users interact with the devices that amplifies that user experience.

“The defining moment of change for the iPhone was when the device was plugged into this ecosystem of data and it was the central organising pivot,” says Pring. “Nokia was focused on the device. Zune was very similar to the iPhone in some ways but Apple did a better job of integrating all the elements of a digital and physical experience. Zune and [Nokia’s] N95 didn’t snap all the experiences together.”

For Pring, enterprises must take seriously the notion of design and they must do so right from the outset of any project.

“We think it’s extraordinarily important to have Design involved. How do you make a beautiful experience? Not every company has to hire a Jonathan Ive,” he adds, referring to Apple’s iconic designer of iconic objects, “but you have to have design built in. We talk a lot about design in B2C terms but we see it also as a B2B phenomenon.”

But, I argue, even if Apple has in recent years surpassed Dell in lists of most admired companies, there must also be supply-chain management, logistics and many other prosaic areas that go to make up a successful company.

“Absolutely,” says Roehrig. “It’s that old thing: strategy is for amateurs, execution is for professionals. That’s why the second part of the book is very, very professional and prosaic and directional. It’s non-trivial and some will fail. The devil is in the detail and we go into a lot of structural detail and talk about how companies might expand the notion of code halos to convert this theory into something meaningful every day.”

The idea of mining yet more data in a world already obsessed by business intelligence is clearly an opportunity but it’s also a challenge, I suggest. How will organisations adapt to make sense of, and benefit from, the new data glut?

“I see new roles being injected into organisations,” says Pring. “I heard a term the other day, ‘data artist’. It has to be more than just plugging numbers into a system. There will be new products and services and software tools too.”

What about governance, privacy and the law though? The recent news about Google and the ‘right to be forgotten’ has thrown a spanner into the works of the data miners and more impediments are likely to follow.

“It’s obviously volatile,” says Roehrig. “We spent a lot of time with [Harvard Professor of Internet Law and author of The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It] Jonathan Zittrain to think this through because the pace of technology innovation moves much faster than the law. But our sense is that the law won’t be able to stop [technological progress]. We’re all offering up information because it’s of value [for us]. Companies do need to provide a delete button though and we see this as a positive differentiation.”

In other words, those that can make the best use of data and reward data donors, while at the same time doing a great job on staying on the side of angels in terms of ethics, will prosper.

The writing of the book was slightly unusual with the authors locking themselves away to brainstorm ideas. Says Pring:

“The light-bulb moment for me was the idea of how the Trillion Dollar Club [of very large technology or technology–enabled companies] changed the sales model from ‘always be selling’ to ‘always be suggesting’. That to me was a very powerful moment and opened up a new framework and a new way to look at this.”

For Roehrig the inspiration was musical.

“We actually had sessions where we locked the doors and talked about chemistry, nuclear physics… and music was a big one,” he says.

U2 and Pink Floyd — each to their own taste, I suppose — were inspiring, but it was the King of the Delta Blues who led to a “gestalt moment”, Roehrig says.

“We talked about industry after industry where there was this inflexion point and some won and some failed. We talked about that sense of loss. We were listening to Robert Johnson’s Cross Road Blues and thinking about these people trying to do their jobs and then we thought that at this sense of failure and alienation there is a crossroads moment. That became the Crossroads model of competition in the book.”

Of course, Robert Johnson was also said to have sold his soul at the crossroads in Mississippi in exchange for musical greatness… and a commercial success that proved elusive. But that story might have been a myth and certainly, for anybody thinking about which road to take next, Code Halos is a thought-provoking read.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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