Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Shiny Penny Syndrome

We recently finished our AIM innovations course and are starting the information management course. As I transition between the two, I can’t help but think of the shiny penny syndrome. A new shiny penny is perceived to be more valuable and sought after than an old tarnished penny, even though the two have the same value. This metaphor has been used in dating to describe a new love interest versus an old one but is also applicable to business and technology. In this blog I want to talk about the pitfalls of chasing after shiny pennies when perhaps the old penny just needs cleaning and polishing.

New Technologies

Often there are good reasons to implement new technologies, like the end of support for a legacy system or the need to interface with other updated programs or systems. The new technology can also result in efficiency gains and long term cost savings. When developing an innovation or technology plan it is important to ask whether this technology is a shiny penny or will it improve your throughput and create real revenue gains or cost savings. Acknowledging this early on will save time and resources that can be spent on improving the existing technology or choosing a new solution that really will deliver benefits.

Business Improvement

Businesses often chase after shiny pennies when they choose to acquire other companies to augment or enhance their own offerings. The wisdom is that it is easier to buy existing capabilities as opposed to trying to develop them from the ground up. This strategy often works, but sometimes it is a case of chasing a shiny penny. I have been involved in IT integration of acquisitions in the past and after a deep dive it is apparent that there was more flash than substance in the purchase. While it would have taken longer, the organization could have developed the same capability for less money and gained valuable experience in the process.

Leadership Changes

New leadership sometimes resembles a shiny penny. It’s tempting to think a new CEO or CIO will bring fresh ideas that will help get us turned around or get us back on track. While it sometimes works, there may be deeper systemic issues that can’t be solved with a new manager or a new team. After the honeymoon period, the old problems surface and the new leader can’t get any better traction than the previous executive, and then the new leader is sometimes replaced by even a newer, shinier penny. We can stop this rotating door by honestly acknowledging that we are trying to compensate for unresolved deep-seated issues with the organization or processes. It is admittedly hard to recognize and fix the real issues but doing so leaves us in a better position to succeed in the future.

Thoughts

Next time you face a major change such as new leadership or a new technology or adding new capabilities through a merger or acquisition, take just a second to acknowledge whether this is a new shiny penny or will it truly leave the organization in a better position to be competitive and successful.

Have you ever chased after a shiny penny? Did it work out? Let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear about your experience.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Technology In Fashion Retail

I wrote earlier this year about changing retail habits and the resulting empty malls, or dead malls as they have sometimes been labeled. More people are ordering goods online and having them delivered directly to their home. That is all well and good for batteries or electronics, but how do you shop for clothes and fashion accessories online? How can you tell if something is going to fit or if it will look good on you without going to a store to try it on? What is the future of fashion retail? Will retail clothing stores fold completely, or will they revamp their offerings to stay relevant in the digital age? How will technology play a role in fashion and the shopping experience?

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Pokemon Go introduced us to augmented reality by placing on-screen characters in the physical world. Retail stores such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus are working with developers to trade Pokemon characters for clothing and accessories. New technology such as Memory Mirror is being developed to allow someone to try on clothes without actually trying on clothes, at least not repeatedly. Memory Mirror will be a kiosk which looks like a mirror but can be controlled by hand gestures or voice commands and has icons for changing color or size. It can even project accessories such as various belts or handbags. It will connect to social media so shoppers can send pictures of themselves in the new outfit to their friends for a thumbs up or thumbs down. This technology is designed to limit wardrobe changes, which tend to drive customers out of a store. Products such as Zugara’s Virtual Dressing Room has partnered with Microsoft Kinect to create a similar product, but their offering will be available as a web app as well so you can see how online merchandise may look on you before buying. Most of these products are in development but promise a functioning product soon.

In this case, the old department store may turn into a giant dressing room but all of the sales channels will need to be synchronized so a person can buy the clothing while shopping, or order it online via smartphone. From first encounter to purchase, the technology will need to work flawlessly to provide a seamless shopping experience.

Visual Search

Visual search lets you search via an image as opposed to text. With modern smartphones, a shopper can capture an image of an item and search online for the best price for that particular item. This is bad for brick and mortar retailers because it turns their stores into showrooms without sales, especially if the shopper can find the item cheaper on Amazon or Zappos. The retailer is paying to display the merchandise but without the resulting benefits. GPS technology could turn that around for them. If the search engine knew that a customer was standing in Macy’s, for example, it could push the store higher in the search results and possibly offer a coupon for being a loyal customer. In this case, technology would enhance the traditional shopping experience by keeping the customer focused on your store.

Look

The new Amazon Echo Look, which is currently available by invitation only, promises to be your style assistant as well as a hands-free camera. As an extension of the Amazon Echo, you can take hands-free full length photos of yourself with depth perception technology and store those photos for comparison. You can get a second opinion of your outfit by something called Style Check “…a new service that combines machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists.” If I were a retailer I would try to find a way to insert ads to push Alexa to recommend my physical or online stores.

Thoughts

It’s not clear if retail stores will ever regain their preeminent position, but just as fashion trends change, so does the way we interact with these stores. Whether it be online through a computer or smart phone or actually talking with a sales clerk, we have more choices than ever before as to how we buy fashion.

Do you still visit stores to browse or buy clothes or do you purchase strictly online? What would draw you back into a store? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Relevancy in Higher Education

I was recently at the University of Washington in Seattle marveling at the 1800s architecture that still graces much of the campus. Many of the colleges on the West Coast were established in the mid-to-late 1800s; University of Washington in 1861, Berkeley in 1868, University of Oregon in 1876 and Stanford in 1885. The West was young and states were trying to establish an economic and academic base. This was in the early days of trains in the West, long before automobiles, connected electricity, or even the hint of modern computers. Students were eager to make their mark on the world in engineering, economics, the arts and other areas.

As I soaked in the 19th century architecture I pondered whether higher education is staying relevant to our current needs. Are we preparing students to lead and innovate, or are we stuck using 150-year-old educational paradigms? Part of this blog post is a personal exploration as to how I can improve my teaching, but it is also a call to action for those seeking relevancy in our world. I hope you will contribute insights and comments as we strive to improve education.

Modern Education

I am currently teaching the AIM innovation course and I continue to be amazed at the workplace complexities facing my students, structurally, organizationally, and culturally. It’s a miracle to me that any innovation emerges at all given the barriers they face. To combat this I try to present simple, sound models they can tailor to fit their needs and hopefully cut through that complexity on their way to an elegant solution. Part of my job is to teach sound principles, then watch as students extend and apply those principles to their own situations. I have to be flexible enough to recognize that we are trying to solve real problems, not just following rigid academic exercises.

Industry Partnerships

I believe that to maintain relevancy we need to form closer partnerships between universities and employers. It seems disingenuous to grant degrees to students without preparing them for life in the workplace. Many employers have extensive onboarding programs just to prepare new employees to adjust to their workplace. I think those onboarding programs could somehow be integrated into the academic curriculum so new graduates could start contributing right away. How would we know what was needed in such a transition program? The simplest answer is to ask employers what specific technical, social, and cognitive skills they require of their employees. Are we covering those areas in our curriculum, or are there gaps? Are we staying relevant to the needs of those who will employ our students? Are we rigid in our curriculum, or are we willing to add in a corporate, governmental, or non-profit component that could be co-taught by practitioners? Are we really preparing our students to tackle today’s complex social, political and technical issues?

Thoughts

It is important that we stay flexible in our teaching, stay current on workplace needs, and bring employers behind these 150-year-old walls to build strong partnerships. I think this is what 21st century relevancy looks like. What are your ideas? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.