Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 22:41

I am a big fan of Web 2.0 and the use of crowd sourcing to help provide answers for free.  I run several blogs such as the Egyptology blog, News from the Valley of the Kings, and the help many people give me is wonderful.  I try to pay that back by helping the people who contact me and by releasing some open source software.

It is pleasing to see this developing within the pensions area.  I am aware of two initiatives, mallowstreet and Trusteeweb.  I have some reservations about their commercial links.  Those links pay for the service, but it is a difficult balance.  I cannot specifically recommend either of the services, but membership of a service like that may benefit many pension scheme trustees as it gives them networking opportunities.  By ethos, I am more inclined to ctn (charity trustee networks) which is a registered charity.  It is aimed more broadly at charity trustees.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 00:44

Well I can't resist this story.  UBS, a bank I generally admire, has issued a 44-page manual istructing staff what they should wear.  Challenges for the guys apparently include a requirement that ties should match "morphology of the face".  The challenge for women is that underwear must never be visible through the clothes.  That means white blouses are out - and managing to wear any blouse without bra strap lines being visible is pretty much an unattaintable challenge for anybody who has more than a tiny bust.  Actually, I'd agree on the underwear point in one regard: I hate it when men wear vests underneath a white shirt as the vest is always visible.  And of course, the manual stipulates that men should wear white shirts.

The idea of guidelines about what to wear - and more importantly what not to wear - to work is a good one.  I'm just not sure this particularly instruction manual has hit the spot.   To be honest I'd rather my staff spent 30 minutes reading something that directly impacted the bottom line then a clothing manual.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 14:20

http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/3911/mathematicians-analyse-friendship-groups

This is the sort of mathematics which interests me, but so far the conclusions seem not to have gone beyond those we can intuitively see.  There are obvious business applications for those corporations large enough to pay for their own analysis.

For the rest of us it confirms one thing we already knew: people capable of leading groups in new opinions and of building new groups are rare.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 18:27

http://www.the-chiefexecutive.com/features/feature697/

I have been intending to write about interviewing for some time but this article says it very well for me.  It does, however, depend on the organisation. I have recruited on third quartile salaries and then the advice in the article is critical.  The key is finding candidates who are better than their CV and interviewing is about trying to find hidden skills. At the top of the market it matters less as there will probably be several good candidates to choose from.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 23:51

Outcome: I have syncronised calendar, but not contacts

The charger for my old phone died.  As the phone was 4 years old, it made sense to upgrade - in fact it was cheaper.  Historically I have used Windows Mobile and ActiveSync to keep my contacts and calendar synchronised between my mobile and Outlook on the laptop.  It's a pretty essential functionality.

So O2 recommended I go with the new Windows 7 phone.  Wrong advice for me.  In future I won't trust O2 to recommend handsets.  Don't get me wrong: the HTC HD7 is a really nice phone.  The problem though is that it cannot use ActiveSync and there is no way of synchronising contacts with Outlook unless you are using Microsft Exchange.  Many small business

The workaround suggested on the Internet is to sign up for an Hotmail account and add the Outlook Connector.  There are two problems with that.  Firstly it doesn't offer two way synchronisation and you will need to drag contacts which change between two separate contacts folders in Outlook, and do the same with your calendar.  Of course, you will need to remember which you last updated.  In other words, it doesn't do the job.  The second problem was even more serious for me as the Outlook Connector won't work on my installation and, reading support forums, I am by no means alone in that.

So the Hotmail solution is a non-starter.  The alternative is to synchronise to Gmail.  Google offers two synchronisation tools:

1) If you are a business or school and use the Premium Edition of Google Apps then the tool will synchronise both contacts and your calendar.

2) If you are a free user, then a different tool will only synchronise a Google calendar.  (You can still import your contacts from a static file but they won't stay synchronised.)

Once you have the in Gmail (so long as you don't mind doing that), then add a Gmail account on your phone and synchronise that.  By default it will only synchronise contacts and email but if you go into the settings you can click to synchronise you calendar as well.  You may find it won't initially synchronise over the air but if you connect your phone via your laptop then it will synchronise - or at least it does for me.  I assume it is a file size issue.  Once the first sync has been done, there doesn't seem to be an issue in synchronising remotely; however, since I only need the two synchronise when I am working on the laptop, it wouldn't be an issue.

So I have a synchronised calendar but not contacts.  If you use Premium Google Apps, then you should be able to synchronise both, but for me it is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs and it means that a Windows Phone 7 is not a good solution for some of us.  With hindsight I should have gone for an iPhone which, remarkably can synchronise with Microsoft Outlook!  Really check your requirements before you by a Windows Phone for your business.

(There may be a complex workaround for contacts - I need to spend more time looking at it.)

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 19:45

There is more news from the team working on this Theban tomb.  The team is back in Luxor and have discovered a miscellany of mummy parts in the courtyard which they believe have been jumbled by looters, probably in modern times.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 16:15

Sometimes tasks seem to big. An important approach is breaking them down into smaller components, something I refer to as eating an elephant bite by bite. Sometimes each component is worthwhile in itself. Careers are often built like that. A student might choose a degree in medicine but be unsure whether she wishes to become a surgeon or an endocrinologist.

Othertimes, the components don't represent valuable achievements in their own right and several components are needed together to achieve a business goal. They may need to be persued with a certain degree of synchronicity. The overall plan is usually termed a "programme" and the individual components "projects".

One of the reasons many so-called projects fail is that they should have been managed as a programme comprising multiple projects, not as one project. Many inexperienced project managers fail to correct structure programmes as multiple projects and indeed lack the skills to manage a programme even if they identify it correctly.

Eat those elephants bite by bite!

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 16:30

I loved last night's Apprentice (UK TV) when they had to make sausages. It felt so much more genuine than many tasks. At the top un business teams often do compromise people you have never met and working through the night and into the next day with them is par for the course.

I hope we see more tasks like that this series. In general I've also found Donald Trump on the American series so much more impressive than Lord Sugar ... I can totally see why Trump is vastly wealthier. Hopefully this will be Sugar's last series. He criticises the aggression of the apprentices but his own aggression is not a great model for business - although perhaps commonplace in the City. The Apprentice is so close to being educational but fails because of poor tasks and IMHO the approach of Lord Sugar. Let's hope that on the basis of last night we are going to get better tasks, especially more like on the American version where winning doesn't depend entirely on one-day profit which is the ultimate in short-termism

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 15:38

At the weekend I had my first flood of spam. One of my blogs was averaging a spam comment every hour. That's not totally desperate but it was intrusive as I was getting an email every time because I review all comments.

Since it could get worse, pre-emptive action seemed sensible. There are standard tools I could have implemented but I chose not too. Standard tools fall into two groups: those which inconvenience regular readers (eg Captchas) and those which spammers have learned, or are learning to circumvent. The concept of drug-resistant bacteria is well understood but equally security measures lose their efficacy as criminals learn about them. Criminals learned to disconnect burglar alarms and to forge passports. Airport security is a constant battle between authorities and terrorists.

Standard tools and measures have their place in raising the bar to protect against amateurs but they may be less effective against professionals.

I do, of course have one layer of standard defence against spam in place. Rather than add another standard tool, I chose to bespoke a defence. Since then, no spam has got through. My log suggests the spam flood itself is over, but my new tool is still logging attacks it has prevented. By policy I'm not going to describe how it works. I don't pretend it's foolproof. It's very effectiveness lies in its novelty. That's the key to security - some of the measures should be unknown and unusual.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 13:22

Many business report and proposal writers fail to uappreciate and exploit the subtleties of page layout. If documents are portrait with a single column of text, all sections of the text (other than headings) have the same visual importance. Are your remarks on issues relating to the Bosnian market as important as your penetration of California? Probably not, but visually in most documents they get the same weighting. The main tools at your disposal are emboldened text or capitalisation. Both have their place; neither markup is subtle.

I much prefer portrait layout with either two columns or one central column with broad coloured sidebars. That means content can be outset. A central box of one column width centered on the middle gutter is a great way of highlighting a short, key point. The reader will notice it when reading either column or when just skimming the document. Outset text you want noticed needs to overlap your normal column. Sidebars outside the text, with a low colour contrast (use grey text on a white background for example) can be used for remarks which aren't important. Use the device on every page and many readers will ignore those comments.

If you only have one column, inset a box of a key point. It's less powerful than an outset box across columns, but can still be effective.

If this seems complex, try reviewing a high circulation technical magazine like New Scientist. Watch how the editor uses layout to highlight and increase interest.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 13:46

I spoke too soon. Implementation is coming it has been announced!

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 14:14

The Equality Act 2010 was scheduled to come into force in October 2010. It needs enabling regulations and there are increasing rumours that those are delayed, perhaps indefinitely. Whatever one feels about the act, uncertainty is unhelpful. Personally I welcome the consolidation that makes it easier to follow and removes the irritating differences between equality heads. I dislike some of the detail.

Hopefully we will get a clear announcement before Parliament rises for the summer.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 01:12

I keep saying I will read the new Equality Act in full but haven't yet found time.  Last week I did a pro bono paper for a pension scheme and had occasion to review the pensions clauses in the Equality Act 2010, sections 61 thru' 63.  I knew there was a non-discrimination rule and had assumed it was drafted in terms of benefits.  It's not.  Section 61(2) reads:

A non-discrimination rule is a provision by virtue of which a responsible person (A)—
(a) must not discriminate against another person (B) in carrying out any of A’s functions in relation to the scheme;
(b) must not, in relation to the scheme, harass B;
(c) must not, in relation to the scheme, victimise B.
That means the obligation not to discriminate applies to the whole management of the scheme.  The drafting of a) is slightly less clear than I would have liked as it may only refer to direct discrimination, although one would have expected it to refer to indirect discrimination as well.  I suspect it may take time for Trustees to understand how it might impact on, for instance, their communication strategies.  In large schemes, should there be recorded versions of the booklet for deaf members for instance rather than just relying on printed material? 
 

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 10:17

Not sure how I missed it before, but there's a new acronym people are using:

GRC = Governance, Risk management and Compliance

It may come in handy here too since I discuss all of those topics.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 01:45

I'm quiet here because most of my efforts are directed at building an online Ancient Egypt magazine, which we are calling Egyptological Online. As part of the project, I have included an "how we built Egyptological" blog. There are four reasons for that:

  1. As part of our project governance we have identified the need for strong supporting documentation.  Publication encourages documentation which is written to a high standard.
  2. Our project is a community magazine and is written on open source software (WordPress).  Publication is consistent with that philosophy.
  3. Despite the proliferation of magazine-style themes for WordPress, most are designed only to support a river of posts more like a blog.  Support for editions isn't available in most themes.  We suspect that we will be approached and asked how we have built the magazine and whether we could help somebody launch a magazine on another topic.  Publication of or development notes means we can direct people to the blog rather than answer dozens of questions.
  4. Content equals traffic.  Search engines love links and traffic.  Unless a matter is confidential, it makes sense to publish it.
risk assessment matrix

The latest post is a practical example of how we have approached risk assessment.  (A warning though.  As this post was written (February 15th, 2010), Egyptological is still very much under development.  There are still a lot of test posts rather than final content and the design is still only 60% complete.  That shouldn't detract you from reading a good example of risk assessment in practice, but please don't expect to see a finished site.  If you are reading this sometime later, then the site should hopefully be finished!)

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 01:31

10 years ago I said the skill people needed when entering the business market was design ability. The new PC publishing packages had placed content publication into the hands of all but most lacked the design skills to differentiate their message.

That remains the case. Those instinctively capable of putting together the best visual presentation or advert are natural winners. It's something seen every week on TV's Apprentice.

I was wrong in part, however. Since few people possess great design skills, incumbents protected themselves by making design a specialist, backroom activity. In that way assistance could be hired but bounds set so those assistants couldn't out-compete existing leaders. The change I predicted will happen and is continuing to happen, but more slowly As the next generation takes over, I believe that those with superior design and presentation skills will have a material advantage.

Since the 50's the marketing psychologists have dominated. It perhaps reached it's zenith in the 90's in a world of spin, house-staging by realtors, and supermarkets using the choice of background music and even olfactory clues to influence buying behaviour.

I see a new skill set coming to the fore and supplanting marketing psychology. It's the skill right now I'd recommend to those entering business in the way I recommended design skills a decade ago. What is that skill? Anthropology.

There's been talk of tribes, or more properly neo-tribes, within marketing for a couple of years now It was popularised by Seth Godin but the ideas had been circulating well before Seth's book, Tribes. I've instinctively been using those skills. My News from the Valley of the Kings blog has encouraged reader contributions and comment and, rather than merely being a single voice (mine), has taken on some attributes of a neo-tribe. A friend and I are intending to take the concept further and build a whole online magazine supported by a tribe.  (See http://egyptological.wordpress.com/)  It seems totally natural. As editors we'll set some boundaries (essentially defining quality threshold s) to maintain community cohesion and enrol volunteer support. Within that platform it'll evolve flexibly around the dynamics of the tribe.

In a business sense, flexible evolution of products, brands and projects is the stuff of nightmares in cultures where the emphasis has been on control. Allowing the customer base to participate in, and even direct, the evolution of commercial offerings is challenging. It appears to be unwanted, and hard to control, democratisation.

In a commercial setting it cannot be, of course. That evolution must be shaped. Understanding and controlling, or at least influencing, the evolution requires the application of anthropological principles and theories, what I would dub neo-anthropology.

There is more, of course. Right now the hot new thinking is about creating and unleashing the power of tribes. But what happens once your competitors have built tribes? How should your tribe compete with them?

America will be seeing such a battle on TV in the next year when Simon Cowell brings X Factor to American screens to compete against the incumbent American Idol. I predict the winner is clear. Reality TV competitions succeed by fostering viewer engagement in a tribal effect. Simply put, X Factor deepens that level of engagement. In the UK, X Factor has become that must-know show for social engagement. While screened, a very common opening social gambit when networking were questions like, "Do you hate Jedward?" (Jedward referred to twins taking part in the 2009 season.)

More controversially, is it possible to subvert your competitors' tribes? Suppose a radio station has built itself around a tribal following - as many radio stations have. The tribe may have an expected style of both music and commentary. In traditional marketing, a competing radio station would attempt to offer something alternative. But what if a competitor's tribe could be manipulated, maybe to change the socio-economic background of the tribe to emphasise a less affluent membership? For instance could the base be manipulated towards school students and away from young wage earners?

I believe unleashing and manipulating the power of tribes will be the differentiator in marketing over the next couple of decades.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 00:30

I've just be browsing some articles in the CodeBreakers-Journal.   (As a mathematician by education, and with a background in IT, I occasionally like to see what's going on in the field of crypography.)   I came across the following quote by Bruce Schneier:

If you think technology can solve your security problems, then you don’t understand the problems and you don’t understand the technology

 That's so accurate; and so often I see clients who believe that technology is the answer to their security needs. Mohammed Fadel Mokbel, the author of the paper I was reading, went on to say:
... the most important and perilous factor in computer/internet security is the human integration with the technology   
That neatly explains why technology so often fails to deliver the level of security organisations expect.  I remember auditing one firm which proudly told clients it's offices were protected by pass cards so that only authorised staff could access work areas.  True.  During the day.  In the evening, however, once the managemenr team had gone home, the cleaners propped all the security doors open with buckets to create one vast open space.  By then the security guard on the front door had gone home and it was also pretty easy to get in via the front door - just catch the eye of any of the cleaners and look like you belonged there.  Essentially security during the evenings was non-existent.  Management of cleaners is a dull affair and is often passed well down the food chain to somebody has no clue about security.  (It shouldn't be, of course.  Office managers need to vary their hours and be in the office at a wide range of times.)  Technology is no defence again human ignorance, nor from managers who don't make staff understand why the technology matters.

A second problem is that technology is added on top of processes which are inherently insecure.  That doesn't work.  Security needs to be embedded into the process design and the process design integrated into the technology.  One of my pet hates is consultants who perform process reviews but don't have a background in IT and systems - and indeed don't have a background in organisation effectiveness in terms of human dynamics.  Process design requires a true multi-disciplinary approach.

Perhaps the underlying issue is managers who believe their security is fixed because they bought some technology "to take care of everything".  They know that's the case because the salesman told them it would.  Ignorance is the single biggest cause of security holes.

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