(alt. title@ “how Gary Neville ever managed to play for Manchester United”)

Wanted; serious media hound, must possess exquisite writing skills which are perfectly adapted and adaptable to the needs of our clients (from corporate brochure to rap), must enjoy granular, detailed work such as formatting and proof reading, must possess and be prepared to nurture a deep pool of media contacts (from daily newspapers to the most obscure subscription trade title) and – most of all – must be prepared to take direction and work as part of an extremely structured team. Hobbies and interests? If you must, but see below for hours of work; and make sure it’s nothing too dangerous as we don’t provision much time for illness or injury. Hours of work, 9h until 18h (that’s just the weekends, we reserve the right to finish later during weekdays). In short, we are looking for a PR apprentice who is capable of and prepared to learn the roles of our esteemed industry.

Also wanted; social media guru, must live and breathe new media, possess a large and lively personal social media profile, must be prepared to improvise, work independently and convey the essential in 140 characters or less. Neither structured pros nor proof-reading nor formatting are likely to feature heavily as part of the role. Working hours are not structured, but you will be expected to deliver insight and response in real time from your mobile (wherever you may be; whether queuing for lunch or moshing at Glastonbury). Speaking of moshing; do people still do that? We are very interested in your hobbies and interests you see. In fact, your outside interests could actually be good for business, especially that of our clients; particularly if you regularly blog about them. Oh, yes we are quite relaxed about your blogging and Tweeting on company time; in fact, depending on your aforementioned outside interests, we’ll actually require you to furiously blog and Tweet on behalf of our clients. To summarise, just about as far a departure from the traditional PR apprenticeship as you could imagine.

And here’s the dilemma . . . agencies need both of these people. Despite the demise of Rupert (or perhaps because of it) traditional print and online media is not about to disappear. The proven skills required to deliver compelling PR will still be required; and that includes an attention to detail and pure copywriting skills. However, agencies also need social media experts to help give a voice to their clients’ products and services, to help position them across the increasing range of user generated content platforms and to continually monitor online opinion and feedback on the same.

So what’s the solution? I realize that this will prompt hails of “cop out” but I actually believe that there are two approaches to this dilemma. The challenge is basically to figure out which to apply to which candidate:

· Approach 1. The apprenticeship; social media mind sets should be coached and trained to deliver a minimal level of detail, copywriting and structure. They should also be required to undertake ‘due diligence’ in terms of media knowledge, press contact and drinks with the usual array of trade press misfits (insert your own).

“Traditional media mindsets” should likewise be supported to understand and participate in a minimum level of social media life (i.e.. on a personal level through Twitter, online communities etc.) and learn to effectively select and communicate the benefits of various platforms.

· Approach 2. Play to their strengths; in footballing terms, Gary Neville was never going to make a centre forward (despite his finishing), and Romario never likely to track back and defend. They were specialists, and what amazing specialists they turned out to be (well, Romario).

While Manchester United and FC Barcelona can afford such luxuries, can PR agencies afford employees who are not going to “track back”? In this case, adhere to deadlines, write up minutes from meetings or, even, proof read? I believe that agencies can employ specialists; but on certain conditions:

  • The size of the agency or department; while such social media specialists are great within a structured and functioning team, they are going to be of less use in a start up environment where staff are expected to do everything from cold calling prospects to making the tea.
  • What is the social media specialism? Does it fulfill a current or future client need, is it really a specialism we are talking about, or simply someone who never learned to punctuate
  • Does this person possess experience or knowledge that is not currently covered by the existing more generalist staff. This is a vital consideration if you decide to accommodate a genuine specialist, in order to avoid resentment amongst the incumbent team.
  • Finally, above all, do you want to see this person working for the competition? If not than you’d better him or her!

So that’s the agency dilemma and my dual approach (cop out) to addressing it. Specialists (particularly social media ones) can cause disruption and resentment within a team due to the nature and relative informality of their work. They can also prove a secret weapon for agencies who can genuinely harness them.

I’d love to hear any feedback on the dilemma and my suggested approach; at what size can a team/department start considering social media gurus as stand-alone hires? How can you tell if the candidate before you requires Approach 1 or Approach 2? What’s the best way to incorporate them into an existing team to maximize performance and minimize disruption? How should they be trained and measured?

If nothing else, let me know your thoughts on my incorporation of Gary Neville in yet another blog about PR!

“Why Cloud will only see widespread adoption if the IT industry has a Stock Market-style crash”

Given that my job is providing PR consultancy to the IT industry I appreciate the absurdity of recommending some kind of Stock market crash as the way forward for the IT industry. I went through the dot com bubble – it wasn’t pleasant. However, I am not making this suggestion because I enjoy scaremongering or want to see anyone out of a job, but because I am at a loss to understand how else we can correct and move beyond this ‘Age of Institutionalised Complexity.’

Enterprise IT departments, ever since the early days of mainframes, have built up stockpiles of hardware and software, which I would contend they rarely fully use. Sure, technology has pushed greater integration and commoditisation, but major organisations are left with bulky IT infrastructures creaking under the weight of their inefficiency.

Yet models exist which could enable CIOs to become more agile and responsive, but adoption – although on the increase – is not widespread.

It would appear to the cynical eye that enterprise IT environments have become so institutionalised by this complexity that wholesale change isn’t possible without some kind of dramatic event, such as a crash.

“Why isn’t every IT department moving wholesale to the Cloud?”

Ok, perhaps I’m being a little too impatient for change – and probably only have a superficial understanding of the technical requirements – but enterprise customers, in particular, are not grabbing the opportunity of Cloud Computing to move wholesale away from hereto expensive and restrictive relationships with their existing IT providers (as Ray Wang highlighted last year at the SAP UK User Group).

If we believe the analysts Cloud is heading in only one direction with revenues soaring and yet we’re still having a debate about the theory of Cloud – how it should be applied, etc (single tenant, multi-tenant, private cloud, public cloud).

Surely the long-term benefits far outweigh the challenges? Yes, cost is stripped out of IT structures, but more importantly it should create IT environments with the flexibility to respond to ever changing business conditions.

Call it resistance to change, fear of the unknown, or plain stubbornness – there is a need to overcome such blockers as the IT industry will collapse under its own complexity unless it adopts new models such as Cloud.

“Stupid is as stupid does…”

Despite the traditional IT vendors taking flak from every angle for their poor innovation (you only have to read Vinnie Mirchandani’s book, which suggests a lot of the innovative application of technology is being done by non-IT companies) we’re still moving quite slowly given that ‘Cloud’ has existed in some form for quite some time. (Simon Wardley suggests the concept first appeared in 1968).

In moments of greater frustration it seems the only conclusion is that humans really are as stupid as some believe. Thankfully, though, further investigation leads me to a different conclusion, one prompted by a term referenced by Dennis Howlett on Cloud – ‘Institutional Memory’.

Like Dennis I reviewed the excellent keynotes by Mark Masterson and Simon Wardley at OSCON and started to build a clearer picture of this notion of ‘Institutionalised Complexity.’

Both speakers underlined the fundamental in the clash between innovation and the desire to achieve predictable success in business. Masterson applies this view to the previous decade, describing an era he calls the ‘Age of Productivity’ which was focused on reducing the likelihood of failure and cost of failure in return for predictable business success.

The outcome has been that companies focused on initiatives – both in business and IT – driven by this need for predictability and as a consequence pushed IT products/service development towards commoditisation. As Wardley explains this creates a fundamental issue for innovation, because it requires a risk-taking, uncertain environment to prosper.

Wardley’s solution for IT vendors and their customers wanting to reinvigorate innovation is to recommend they analyse where products and services have already been commoditised. He highlights functions, such as HR, CRM, and Finance – all mainstays of ERP – as prime areas for exploitation. Areas where value has been eroded so much that they are ripe for the Creative Destruction process. Masterson sees breaking free of the constraints of the ‘Age of Productivity’ as the opportunity for open source software and argues that companies should be focused on the ‘Age of Growth.’

“Trapped in an Institutionalised Mindset”

Logically that should mean the time is right for mass adoption of Cloud Computing. Yet I have a concern that most enterprise IT departments simply aren’t prepared or willing to enter this ‘Age of Growth’ because they’ve become so institutionalised in their adoption of IT. Cloud Computing challenges this mindset at every level, in terms of how IT is acquired, supported and how its success is measured. JP Rangaswami even suggests that attempting to apply traditional measures such as Service Level Agreements (SLAs) is wrong, that IT departments need to be designing their IT infrastructure for a ‘loss of control.’ Applying the linear models of the ‘Age of Productivity’ is wrong, companies need to be thinking in terms of language such as ‘self healing,’ ‘self aware’ and ‘heuristic.’

Having grown up being driven by the need for risk aversion and predictability it will be difficult for any IT department to cope with such significant change, particularly at a time when there is even greater pressure on IT leaders to demonstrate value to their business peers. Therefore I contend that the easiest way for such technologies to gain much wider adoption is that the IT industry has some kind of implosion with both vendors and IT customers being forced to start again.

I appreciate this is slightly insane, well possibly very insane, but let me cite two reasons why:

1. All good things come to an end because they become too complicated: Clay Shirky has written about a book by Joseph Tainter, “The Collapse of Complex Societies.” In it Tainter analyses why supposedly sophisticated societies such as the Romans and the Mayan Indians eventually implode. In his view complexity has stifled each of these societies and it leads Shirky to suggest:

Complex societies collapse because, when some stress comes, those societies have become too inflexible to respond…When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler…Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.

2. History is repeating itself: a quick look at any number of examples demonstrates why this logic is applicable to business and therefore IT. The automotive industry went from innovative to commodity driven by Henry Ford and hung on for dear life, until its recent collapse due to the stress of the global economic crisis and changing attitudes to the environmental impact of car travel. While some of the incumbents fight on (eg: Honda, who’s tagline has been ‘dream the impossible’) a range of new manufacturers are emerging. For many the well-publicised collapse of the Financial Services industry has been due, largely, to the complexity of its products and the inability of regulation to cope with this complexity. The Media and Entertainment industry is in the throes of a similar challenge, with various sectors in different stages.

“An alternative solution would be to simply embrace the chaos”

The simplest conclusion for the IT industry is to embrace collapse and its accompanying chaos, but perhaps we don’t have to see Rome burning. Rather enterprise IT users should prepare for a period when IT structures and their accompanying ‘rules’ have to be reset. Cloud Computing is the vehicle for that change and there is a significant opportunity for Cloud vendors to help their customers move towards this ‘post-proprietary’ era of adoption.

To encourage change Cloud vendors need to follow a number of steps, mainly to appeal to the current institutionalised mindset, but also to lead their customers to place where they believe that risk-taking isn’t dangerous.

Step one – build trust: recognise that technology> won’t lead to change alone – accept Simon Wardley’s point that it is only one of four triggers that drive uptake. Unless the concept for a new technology is clearly defined, unless the customer recognises its suitability for its environment and the customer has been convinced to change their attitude, the technology will always sit on the shelf, no matter how good it is.

Step two – change the benefit discussion around Cloud: both Nicholas Carr and Paul Strassmann have said – in one form or other – that there is little value in IT spend and in fact Jevons Paradox showed that technology adoption increases consumption, rather than saves money. There is a need to appeal to the predictability mindset, because cloud will never achieve widespread, commoditised consumption – similar to other utilities – unless vendors show how Cloud can bridge the default position regarding risk aversion and the desire for repeatable solutions. But making  a conversation solely about cost reduction will never move IT users out their comfort zone to experiment fully with the Cloud.

Step three – embolden customers to take risks: for me this is encapsulated by provoking customers to respond to Shirky’s question: “Would this be an interesting thing to try?”

It goes to the heart of the point about moving the discussion beyond cost. If Cloud vendors can show the benefits of piloting their technologies can be done at minimal risk, they can begin to break down linear approaches to IT adoption. However, to do this they must bring customers on a journey that explains what their roles will be in the future, because a guaranteed blocker to change is an IT Director, who sees his or her role being replaced by a new technology. (Classic example – which I’ve witnessed – try selling database automation technology to a room full of Database Administrators)

Cloud Computing suppliers are beginning to reassure more and more enterprises that they have a role in their IT infrastructure, but they are yet to build significant trust among the broader ‘Church’ of the enterprise IT industry. The danger is that the traditional vendors are not only feeding that hesitation, they are using this period to catch up, so the Cloud specialists don’t have long to drive their advantage home.

For this ‘Age of Growth’ perhaps the new motto should be: “Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

Or as Mrs Doyle said it more succinctly, “Ah go on, go on, go on…”

@cairbreUK