Sunday 26 April 2009

MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

While surfing, I stumbled upon the web site of MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. Launched on October 13, 2006, it focuses on answering one key research question: How can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, group, or computer has ever done before?

It’s indeed an interesting question to investigate. Prof Thomas W. Malone, who is director of this center, has mentioned in his remarks at the official launch that the center will conduct three types of research: case studies, new examples, and systematic experiments, in order to answer this question. The center has published many working papers, which I am planning to read carefully in my next visit to the site.

Million Dollar Consulting

I just finished reading the book titled "Million Dollar Consulting Toolkit" by Alan Weiss. Though I have read quite a few books on consulting, I found this book to be different due to its hands-on approach. It is most useful for those consultants who are working solo but can also be used by consultants working in big consulting practices.

Alan Weiss has built a million dollar consulting practice, as a solo and in this book he has shared everything, right from tips to templates, in this book. When I started reading this book, I was puzzled to see so much nitty-gritty details. But then I found that to be its strength. The book provides field-level guidance in following areas:

  • Office and Practice Management
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Self-Development
  • Travel (here you will find a wealth of tips for business travel)
  • Project Delivery ( a good number of checklists are here)
  • Forms (templates for invoice, expense reimbursement etc, more useful in USA context though can be modified to suit local conditions)
  • Financials
  • Legal (again USA-specific details though can be adapted to local conditions)
  • Advanced marketing (covers publishing, speaking, newsletter, referrals and repeat business)

A must-read for the one who is planning to start as a solo consultant!

Measuring the Impact of Electronic Data Management (EDM) on Information Worker Productivity

I just now finished reading a research brief from MIT Center for Digital Business on measuring the Impact of Electronic Data Management (EDM) on Information Worker Productivity. Authored by Sumit Bhansali and Prof Erik Brynjolfsson from MIT Sloan, this research brief has reported the findings from their project, in which they studied the effects of digitizing work on information workers' time-use and performance at a large insurance firm.

The authors used four complementary data sources:

  1. Extensive on-site observation (of 4 managers) and interviews (17 pre-EDM interviews and 20 post-EDM interviews)
  2. Detailed time use records at three different time points (one pre-EDM and two post-EDM)
  3. Office-wide surveys (one pre-EDM and one post-EDM)
  4. Accounting data on multiple intermediate and final performance metrics such as current year closure rate, previous year closure rate, retention rate, YTD loss leakage and YTD average amount per claim on physical therapy cost and chiropractor care cost.

Some of the important findings reported are as follows:

  • EDM changed task composition at the individual level. EDM led to a significant decline in the substitutable routine labor input and an increase in non-routine cognitive labor input at the information worker level.
  • EDM caused the "IT-enabled slack", which allowed information workers to spend more time on value-adding communication activities as well for more personal time relaxing and resting at work or at home (less overtime).
  • Post-EDM, both the quantity and quality of routine informational inputs significantly increased, which in turn increased the productivity and performance of workers performing non-routine tasks that demanded those inputs.
  • Introduction of EDM got associated with the positive effects on the performance metrics.

We all know that introduction of new technologies such as EDM improves employee productivities. Such research projects help establish this proposition with systematic evidence and can help (perhaps!) establish the business case for New Technology Introduction (NTI).


Today during internet surfing, I stumbled upon web site of InnoCentive Inc and got to know about this interesting venture.

Founded in 2001, InnoCentive has built up a web-based marketplace, where organizations (called as Seekers) submit challenges for individuals (called as Solvers) to solve for financial awards along with professional recognition. InnoCentive's Seekers include commercial, government and non-profit organizations such as Procter & Gamble, Avery Dennison, Pendulum, Eli Lilly and Company, Janssen, Solvay, GlobalGiving and The Rockefeller Foundation. The company claims to have 172,000 registered solvers from 175 countries. Interestingly, till April 7, 2009, $4.1 million has been awarded for 472 solutions. Some noteworthy solutions are as follows:

  • In November 2007, the Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) awarded $20,000 to John Davis for his creative solution for a challenge related to oil spill recovery issues.
  • An electrical engineer from New Zealand solved the Challenge to create a dual-purpose solar light to serve as both a lamp and a flashlight to be used in African villages and other areas of the world without electricity. The seeker, SunNight Solar in this case, awarded $20,000 to the solver in March 2008.
  • In late 2007, the TB Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, received solution from two solvers for a Challenge seeking a theoretical solution to simplify the manufacturing process of a current drug compound.

There are four types of challenges that Seeker can post:

  1. An InnoCentive Ideation Challenge is a broad question formulated to obtain access to new ideas. It's like global brainstorm for producing a breakthrough idea. The submissions are typically about two written pages.
  2. An InnoCentive Theoretical Challenge contains detailed solution requirements that Solvers must fulfill in their responses. A solution to a Theoretical Challenge should solidify the Solver's concept with detailed descriptions, specifications and requirements necessary to bringing a good idea closer to becoming an actual product or service.
  3. An InnoCentive RTP (Reduction to Practice) Challenge requires that the Solver submit a validated solution, either in the form of original data or a physical sample.
  4. An InnoCentive eRFP Challenge is a request for a partner or supplier to provide materials or expertise to help solve a business challenge.

The company has provided detailed instructions about IPR requirements for each of these types of challenges. The company earns its revenue from Seekers who pay a fee to post Challenges and, in some cases, also pay a commission on the amount awarded. InnoCentive does not charge Solvers to view Challenges and submit solutions. It also offers to R&D organization its product called InnoCentive@Work, which is a customizable internal web-based community platform.

With its 32 employees and venture funding of $16 million, InnoCentive Inc seems to be a company, which can't be ignored in current innovation-centric global business environment.

Activity Based Performance Measurement (ABPM)

While surfing, I stumbled upon the slides presented during MIT Data Center Workshop on May 20, 2005 by Robert Laubacher of MIT Sloan. The topic is Activity Based Performance Measurement (ABPM). I found this topic interesting and hence made further search and browsing to make following notes:

ABPM can be used to measure value created by new technology or management intervention. It can assess business performance at the activity level and then aggregate these fine-grained metrics upward to the business unit and firm level. ABPM is based on two insights:

  1. Calculating the costs of an activity is a matter of decomposing it into constituent parts, determining the cost of each part, and aggregating those costs. The benefits of an activity usually arise from how it affects other activities in the value chain. For example, quality programs reduce product defects and so reduce costs associated with factory rework and staffing customer service units. Higher quality can also increase future sales, due to greater customer satisfaction and enhanced firm reputation.
  2. There are common patterns in the types of benefits associated with activities that have similar underlying characteristics. For example, checking the quantity of goods is an activity that takes place at many junctures in the retail supply chain. Quantity checks of this sort occur at the receiving dock of the manufacturer's warehouse, when shipments arrive from the factory; at the manufacturer's loading dock, when shipments are placed on trucks for transportation to the retailer; at the retailer's distribution center, when the truck arrives; and so on, all the way to the point where the consumer makes a store purchase, and the clerk checks the quantity of each item in the shopper's cart.

Using ABPM to assess the impact of a new technology like RFID involves four primary steps:

  1. Develop potential post-implementation scenarios
  2. Identify activities affected by the new technology
  3. Map the activities with vs. without the new technology
  4. Measure benefits and costs by comparing differences in outcomes of pre- vs. post-implementation activities

There are two types of benefits: localized vs. distant benefits. The benefits tied directly to the activities affected by new technology are localized benefits. Other benefits, by contrast, involve connections between activities directly affected and activities that occur within other units of the firm or even within outside firms. The distinction between localized and distant benefits is important because it shapes the extent to which a firm or business unit implementing new technology has direct control over achieving the full benefits of the technology. When most of the benefits are localized, the group implementing the new technology has a high degree of control over whether or not it achieves the benefits. But when many of the benefits are of the distant kind, the implementing group must rely on other business units or supply chain partners to achieve the full potential of new technology.

Though I do not feel I got the full understanding of ABPM, the insights and the other details associated with ABPM are nevertheless useful!

Thursday 2 April 2009

Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server 2007

Today I attended a brief training of Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server (MOPPS) 2007. MOPPS 2007 is part of Microsoft's Enterprise Project Management suite, which also includes Microsoft Office Project Server. It allows creation of a project portfolio, including workflows, hosted centrally, so that the information is available throughout the enterprise, even from a browser (as per Wikipedia entry).

As I understood, the product provides two major modules: builder and optimizer. The scope of training session included only builder module, which is all about maintaining data about projects and resources. Obviously, this data maintenance can be configured to be very systematic hence can become quite useful for gaining visibility into project portfolio. The software allows grouping the projects as per programs, portfolios and organization units. It supports workflow feature, which allows move the project across the stages such as RC&BRD, Reject/Hold, Imp/Dev. The stages are specific to the project class such as application maintenance and application development. The software allows configuring which data fields (grouped as tabs) become editable or read-only or invisible depending on the current stage of the project. That makes the data collection quite disciplined. The examples of groups of data fields include budget cost, benefit estimation, strategic impact, Risk, schedule, cost tracking and document management. Also there is an audit trail, which captures all the user actions for possible review later.

The trainer also showed a feature called dashboard, which as name implies, can show the selective attributes (mainly iconic attributes) of selective projects. There is a similar feature called scorecard, which can show selective attributes of all projects. This scorecard, which is part of Builder module, can also be used for navigating through the projects.

Overall I found this training session useful for getting an awareness of the software product.