How many of you suffer from at least mild “cyberchondria"? Do you run to the computer to Google your latest ailments? Are you often convinced that the headache you have is the first sign of some terminal illness you’ve been reading about?
Well, Symcat takes a new approach to Internet-assisted self-diagnosis. It provides not only the symptoms but the probability of getting the disease, using CDC data to rank results by the likelihood of the different conditions. It then allows users to further filter results by typing in information such as their gender, the duration of their symptoms and medical history. No, that headache you’ve had all week is likely not spinal stenosis or even viral pharyngitis. But if you’ve had a fall or a blow to the head you might want to consider a concussion.
As Symcat puts it, they “use data to help you feel better.” Never underestimate the palliative effects of peace of mind.
I had the chance to ask Craig Monsen, MD, co-founder and CEO of Symcat, a few questions about how they got their start with the business and their innovation with open data.
What was the genesis of Symcat? Can you describe the "ah-ha" moment of determining the need for Symcat?
At Forrester’s North America CIO Forum two weeks ago, Frank Gillett, Chris Mines, and I presented a point--counterpoint debate on “The CIO’s World in 2020.” We debated and analyzed four key dynamics regarding IT and the CIO’s role in the future, and asked the 325 attendees to vote on the outcome they think is most likely to occur. The audience members’ votes were extremely telling:
80% believed that technology would still be differentiating. To set the stage for the audience vote, Frank argued that technology would be so commonplace and readily available via the cloud that a company’s ability to set itself apart via technology would be fleeting at best. I took the opposite side, saying that while much of today’s transaction-based systems will be nothing more than table stakes, systems of engagement-based systems and technologies around analytics and smart products would be central to a firm’s ability to set itself apart in the eyes of customers. The audience overwhelmingly agreed with our call that systems of engagement and other technologies would be differentiating.
85% agreed that most technology would be delivered via the public cloud. I kicked off this point by arguing that technology was too important not to be centrally designed, deployed, and managed by IT. Frank came at it stating that the velocity and variability of change required the use of public cloud-based services. The Forrester call was that companies will architect and deploy business solutions from a growing pool of external as-a-service resources, with IT playing the role of orchestrator.
As I sit at my kitchen table enjoying the quiet of my house before my kids come home, I know that I will move to my office and shut the door once that tranquility is shattered by their arrival. Then later this evening, once the house is again quiet with the monsters nestled in their beds, I might just take a few calls propped up on pillows in my bed. Yes, I do that regularly. Heck, they call it a laptop, right? This is the "home" scenario. On the road, workplaces and spaces vary even more. I really work best from a hotel room, or the hotel bar if I have a good headset on. None of this is new for me; I have played the role of an itinerant worker for years. But for a long time my employers continued to put my name on a door or cubicle. For me, that has now changed. No more nameplate for me. Employers are increasingly waking up to the fact that many employees (or "information workers," ugh... hate the term) just don't need or even want a fixed office or space. And, likely more importantly, the employers don't want that either. An empty office is an under-optimized asset. Both demand-side and supply-side forces converge to drive workplace and space diversity.
We hear a lot about empowered employees these days, and the changing nature of work and the workforce. Forrester's Workforce Employee Surveys investigate trends among information workers such as device usage, collaboration practices, workplace preferences, and attitudes about their employers. And, the signs are clearly indicating that the demand for workplace diversity and choice is on the rise:
IBM has just announced that one of Australia’s “big four” banks, the ANZ, will adopt the IBM Watson technology in their wealth management division for customer service and engagement. Australia has always been an early adopter of new technologies but I’d also like to think that we’re a little smarter and savvier than your average geek back in high school in 1982.
IBM’s Watson announcement is significant, not necessarily because of the sophistication of the Watson technology, but because of IBM's ability to successfully market the Watson concept.
To take us all back a little, the term ‘cognitive computing’ emerged in response to the failings of what was once termed ‘artificial intelligence’. Though the underlying concepts have been around for 50 years or more, AI remains a niche and specialist market with limited applications and a significant trail of failed or aborted projects. That’s not to say that we haven’t seen some sophisticated algorithmic based systems evolve. There’s already a good portfolio of large scale, deep analytic systems developed in the areas of fraud, risk, forensics, medicine, physics and more.
In case you haven’t noticed, the world of work is changing — people are more mobile, teams are more virtual, organizational structures are more fluid, work hours are more flexible, and offices have more ping-pong tables, latte machines and bring-your-dog-to-work days. In exchange for the more casual and flexible approach to when, where and how we do our jobs, we put in more hours whether they are accounted for or not. We write emails at the dinner table, work on weekends, travel more, and maybe accept lower pay and reduced benefits in exchange for a better work/life balance. Despite the tradeoffs, it seems to work for everyone. We get the flexibility we need and our employers get workers who are more engaged, more productive and better able to create and deliver meaningful value to customers. Over the last year or so, TJ Keitt and I have been leading research into workforce experience and IT's role in supporting a changing work environment and how to measure workforce experience.
The recent Executive Order Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum Open Data Policy – Managing Data as an Asset have brought much attention to efforts to promote the use of data by the US federal government. In fact, highlights of the US Federal Open Data Project are already impressive. Many agencies already provide their data in machine-readable formats through APIs, or at least downloadable data sets. However, I personally measure “highlights” in terms of the use of the data (not by the number of data sets accessible). And, many organizations already put this data to good uses in health, energy, education, safety, and finance. My recent blog, Open Data Isn’t Just For Governments Anymore, highlighted several examples of companies built on open data. Think Symcat, Healthgrades, oPower, or even Zillow which has been using public data for a while now. How many of you have “zillowed” your house, your neighbor’s house, or even a colleague’s house? Be honest. I have.
At our recent CIO Forum in D.C., I had a number of conversations with clients who either had gone through or were going through a business transformation. From our talks, one theme jumped out at me — most CIOs will either lead some part of this transformation or get run over by it. From their perspective, there was no middle ground. To paraphrase one CIO, “There’s no way you can just go along for the ride and not get hurt.”
A little data first. In a survey Forrester performed for Tata Consultancy Services, approximately 30% of those surveyed responded that the CIO was the most important senior leader in driving or supporting a business transformation; CIOs were rated highest — even above CEOs! With about a third of the sample coming from IT, the numbers were slightly skewed, but follow-up interviews with both business and IT people confirmed the results. To paraphrase the leader of IT strategy from one meeting, “Once past the vision phase, 80% of the work falls to the CIO.”
So why is the CIO asked to do so much in what is essentially a business initiative?
Let’s use KPMG’s Value Delivery Framework to illustrate. In it are five stages of a business transformation — discovery, strategy, road map, implementation, and monitoring — and a number of activities such as program management that span the stages. Of the five stages, implementation requires the greatest effort. From talking with those who have been through it, the greatest implementation challenges are in data, enterprise process redesign, project management, and organizational change management. And for at least the first three areas, IT is the group that is required to commit the most resources to these areas because IT has the greatest depth of experience.
Of the many questions I get from clients, many center on the use of social media for customer engagement purposes — because sometimes IT staff are asked to block employees from using social media. But what should you do when the owners of the business take to social media?
Today, a small restaurant in Arizona is the hottest thing on social media. Their Facebook page has gone from 2,854 likes on May 14 to 74,687 on May 16. Was this incredible growth in “likes” the result of some incredibly successful social media campaign? Well not exactly.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on innovation at Forrester’s Forum For CIOs, where I was able to share the stage with Lawrence Lee, Sr. Director of Strategy, PARC, a Xerox company, and Jim Stikeleather, Chief Innovation Officer, Dell Services. We had the opportunity to discuss the business imperatives for innovation, how to look at inventions and translate them into business value, and how to build the narrative that tells a compelling story around these innovations.
While the discussion gave me fodder for a suite of future blog posts, I just want to highlight a few things that came out of our talk to get you thinking a bit more about how to make your innovation program more effective.
Innovation is about turning invention into business value. The innovation process takes these inventions (whether internally or externally generated) and answers the questions to decide whether there is a business opportunity hiding within or to decide quickly (and cheaply) not to pursue that opportunity because of some learned facts.
Innovation requires both discrete funding and discrete staff. To think out of the box, we need to have both the funding and people whose metrics and goals are around innovation. As we generally want our best and brightest involved in our innovation programs, we also need to protect them from being called back to deal with the crisis du jour.
Software AG today announced its cloud strategy. It is based on services that are already available, one that will soon be available (H2 2013), as well as a service planned for Q1 2014.
Journalists have already been in touch with me, asking the following question: Is this an overdue “coming out” after many competitors have already announced or offered extensive cloud strategies — or is this a courageous act from a leading technology firm demonstrating its strength in innovation?
I've known Software AG quite well for many years and believe that today’s announcement marks the next stage in a 10-year corporate turnaround strategy. I well remember the time before Karl-Heinz Streibich took over a nearly bankrupt software vendor 10 years ago. Since then, the firm has been through a financial stabilization phase, which saw both a spending and innovation freeze in many areas. Then, Software AG started to renovate its existing products to stabilize its market share, innovating both carefully and cost-effectively. The third phase saw its acquisition of webMethods and IDS Scheer, which brought the firm sufficient scale in both current products and consulting services. For more details, see my earlier blog post.