Forming Communities of Practice to Reinvigorate Business

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Forming Communities of Practice to Reinvigorate Business

Forming Communities of Practice to Reinvigorate Business

A colleague from one of New Zealand’s emerging winners in the software development market tells me that, despite its success, he is concerned about whether he is utilising the very expensive specialists in his business to best effect. He bemoaned: “It seems the bigger we get, the more time wastage we create. “Our best people are already frustrated at the inefficiencies and are headed to the door. “It’s hard enough finding top people without losing the best of the best to our competitors. We pay well. We have a great environment in our offices and our customers are blue chip – what am I getting wrong?” he said. Many companies face the same problem. The business grows and people begin to disconnect, both from each other and from the business’ strategic direction. As silos are created by management, knowledge sharing and common approaches to problem-solving are replaced by “standards and procedures”. The business becomes burdened under red tape while its creative excitement seems to be drained of energy with every additional memo. As entrepreneurs, we all know this story and understand that as businesses grow it becomes necessary to institute a level of structure to address complexity. While bringing order and control the unintended consequence can often be a stifling of the creativity and a growing structural inability to share ideas. People in all sorts of organisations share their experience, learn new skills and create innovations. In larger, more structured organisations these learnings can often end up remaining in the head of the individual or local team, simply because business rules, targets and individual measures make sharing ideas counterproductive to the individual. Communities of Practice Emerging across the business world now are “communities of practice” as a means of ensuring that the skills, experiences and ideas of our staff are constantly shared and refreshed to the benefit of the participants and, vitally, for the business An early exponent of Communities of Practice, US-based educational theorist and practitioner Etienne Wenger, has spoken about the challenge of restructuring organisations to improve performance while avoiding the destruction of innovative capital. In essence, he believed, communities could exist within an organisation and people continue to share and create new ideas regardless of the department or team they worked in. Knowledge and strategy, it seemed, could coexist without adding further inefficiency. So how do we establish and run these communities? With tools like mobile phones, Skype and intranets it isn’t all that difficult. All you need are willing people, a common purpose and a point of focus. These are three main components to be considered in establishing communities of practice: Domain The common ground that inspires members to join a community of practice drives their learning activities and gives purpose and meaning to their activities. Community A community creates the social fabric for learning. It brings together experts and learners while encouraging meaningful interactions - a willingness to share what is in their heads, for common goals and shared growth. Practice The community needs a point of action, or practice, around which it develops, shares and maintains its knowledge. By implementing Communities of Practice in the work environment, you can make a difference in how key teams operate... That helps increase efficiency and stops that talent walking out the door. Next month, I will examine domains and communities in more detail.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The boundaries between physical, digital and biological worlds are breaking down — giving way to a new world of computer based business known as cyber-physical systems. These cyber-physical systems are characterized by the merging of physical, digital, and biological realms in profound ways. Artificial intelligence (AI) serves as the primary catalyst of this transformation. Klaus Schwab, Chairman and Founder of the World Economic Forum wrote: We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity … the fourth industrial revolution is unlike anything humankind has experienced before.   We have all heard this kind of hyperbole before. So why should this matter and what are local companies doing to address the issues? Beyond hyperbole It matters because we have already seen our lives changed by these tools in the most dramatic fashion. The last presidential election in the USA was directed affected by the use of AI. These tools were used in identifying and directly addressing those electors who were undecided or felt strongly about key issues. These powerful compute engines, combined with good old-fashioned phone calls and door knocks, meant voters were either encouraged to vote by “people like them” who knocked on the door (e.g. young mum talking to young mum) or to not vote through messages directed directly to them about the futility of “rigged” elections. Leveraging AI in the New Zealand Business Context Politics and business are uneasy bedfellows so I will get back to the brief. How do Kiwi companies respond to international and local competitors who already understand and are leveraging artificial intelligence and bringing it to our competitive landscape? Let’s start with energy. It is one of the most fundamental parts of any business. Most of us just focus on getting a cheap price for electricity or gas and then move on to running the enterprise day to day. This approach just won’t work when machines are making the micro-decisions that can mean success and failure. International Competition Consider some of our major New Zealand computer companies. They are in a life or death struggle with public cloud providers like Microsoft, Amazon and Google. These gigantic multinationals have access to all the tools mentioned above and even deliver them “as a service” to companies everywhere. Competing with organisations like this is not just a question of having good people or getting the best price for inputs. It is about innovation and very, very careful monitoring of all the inputs and outputs, including energy. One of the most brutally competitive battlegrounds is over the provision of data centre services to the business market. In the past ten years companies like Datacom and Spark have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in state of the art datacentres. These datacentres require huge amounts of energy to keep them running. New Zealand's advantage New Zealand has a natural advantage because over 80% of our energy is created via renewable means. In the years ahead this advantage will become a cost and strategic advantage. As the forth industrial revolution unfolds New Zealand’s energy advantage that will drive our strategic advantage in data centres. Don’t believe me? Microsoft recently announced that a key new measure for its Azure data centres was energy inputs to data outputs. Thus Microsoft has directly linked energy usage as a means to define its compute power efficiency in terms of services delivered. So what are our Kiwi companies doing to compete on this stage? Both Datacom and Spark use tools like artificial intelligence to monitor, control and measure their energy inputs. Historically it was simply a case of installing a few sub meters and a cost calculator (macro energy measurements). Today these companies aim to measure and monitor right down to the lightbulb (micro monitoring). The rise of the internet of things has made this ability to micro monitor even greater. As new data centres and factories are being built across the country, architects are being required to include in their plans, tools and products that embed internet of things, artificial intelligence and micro monitoring in the very fabric of the design. Companies building factories in this country that do not think of micro monitoring of energy use as a strategic tool should be reminded that in the last few decades we exported more manufacturing jobs overseas than we created in all of IT. Ignorance of the strategic possibilities of micro energy monitoring is wilful blindness in a world where the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not only upon us,  it is rapidly transforming the competitive landscape we work in.

The Smarter Smart Energy Meter

Investment in energy monitoring has traditionally been dominated by lengthy CAPEX discussions and the technical specifications of proposed monitoring infrastructure which means spending more cash to find out where cost savings might be made. Little thought was ever given to the data output and associated software --most competing products delivered similar back end services and data displays which required users to export data to CSV format before being able to really interrogate it. That's changing with Panoramic Power smart sensors available now in New Zealand, through Total Utilities. My colleague David, has previously written a series of articles regarding the rise of artificial intelligence algorithms and how major corporations are using these to exploit customer data and drive behavior. Data obtained from raw internet traffic, page clicks, key search words and online transactions is now being structured by algorithms in order to deliver insights and show trends. Further to this, the data is normalised by user defined groups and then compared. Smart recommendations for energy flows If Amazon or Apple can recommend a book or record that I might like, why can't my energy monitoring software make recommendations? And if the data is all I really need, why should I have to purchase a very expensive metering asset that may only be required for 12 months? Of if my usage pattern changes why can't I quickly adjust my monitoring setup? Total Utilities encounter clients every day who operate energy intensive equipment, while the type of equipment varies greatly from production and manufacturing applications, cold storage, and commercial buildings, the issues remain the same. Clients need real time visibility of where energy is being used so that they can make strategic decisions and act quickly to save money. Further to this, they need to know when energy intensive systems are under stress and may require attention outside of their normal maintenance cycle. They want the ability to see their energy flow within their site in various graphical formats and to be able to benchmark their HVAC or compressors across multiple facilities. Total Utilities use Panoramic Power's IoT (Internet of Things) sensor technology and cloud based analytics to help customers understand energy consumption. Fast to install, fast to get benefits Worldwide there are eight billion data points per month across 800 sites in 30 countries. With more being added in New Zealand every week. Forty smart meters were installed in 1.5hrs at an Auckland CBD site the week before last and fifty were installed in 2hrs at a site in West Auckland on Friday. Each sensor is clamped onto the outgoing electrical wires of a customer’s distribution board. This eliminates expensive wiring, investment in new panels, lengthy shutdowns, IT connections and reduces health and safety risks. Once installed, it monitors the flow of electricity, sending information wirelessly to the cloud-based analytics platform every ten seconds. With such an ease of install combined with effective data presentation and representation, potential energy savings can be identified quickly by pinpointing specific areas for further investigation. It took less than two days for Total Utilities to identify that the lighting of a commercial building was switching on at 2am and running for two hours every morning despite the BMS (Building Management System) showing all lights were off. Simple measures were implemented quickly which means the energy monitoring system has already paid for itself.   While the above is a relatively rudimentary and common example, Total Utilities can just as easily correlate key variables such as chiller temperature against outdoor temperature on a monthly, daily and hourly basis across multiple sites located throughout NZ without the need for pain staking manual calculations. We then deliver clients meaningful information and advice quickly so they can act and make significant energy savings. Total Utilities believes that traditional energy meters are merely becoming a means to an ends as clients engage us for the value we create with intelligent data and analytics.

Is New Zealand business ready for Artificial Intelligence?

A decade or more ago I used to defeat chess playing computers for a small wager. It was simple stuff really – just find a weakness and ruthlessly exploit it – in my mind computers were basically binary and thus “stupid”. Today chess masters are fair game for computers. My party trick is ancient history and I am frankly a little scared about what happens when computers can outsmart humankind.  Terminator anyone? Some would argue that we have nothing to fear. Others feel exactly the opposite. Stephen Hawking recently wrote “The full development of AI could spell the end for the human race”. Elon Musk – founder of PayPal, Solarcity and Tesla called it “Summoning the demon”. The impact of AI in New Zealand Putting aside visions of Arnie and terminators for the moment we should also look at the impact that AI might have on New Zealand businesses. Most kiwi business owners and leaders are constantly aware of the need to innovate, optimise and seek competitive advantage by being cleverer than the guy overseas. Thus, we find ourselves asking: How do we get the best out of what we have? How do we employ better people and make them more effective? How do we use the limited space we have at our disposal? How do we get the machines that we paid heaps for to be more efficient? The questions are endless but sadly the time and money we have is not. I cannot count the number of times I have spoken to business people who know what needs to be done to make companies better, faster or quicker but simply don’t have the spare time to do it. Here is where Artificial Intelligence comes in. It not only analyses the data to answer the question but it can also act on the insight, often in real time. Don’t believe me? How do you think Amazon remembers your book purchases and even title searches and then suggest others that may be of interest? AI also allows Amazon to identify your location, match it to the right supply chain service to execute the sale and delivery via the cheapest and most direct route. Amazon's arrival in Australia is causing tremors across the whole retail industry there. It’s not just books they sell, you name it, they have it, at a price too cheap to resist. At the heart of this frighteningly effective, multinational monster is Artificial Intelligence We have always had AI – it has just been too expensive to make that much of a difference. Now it’s available as a service from the likes of Google (Google AI) and IBM – (Watson) and numerous clever startups. The availability of world class AI a via Software as a Service model means that we don’t need supercomputers and massive budgets to take advantage of AI in New Zealand. Next month I will describe examples of how AI is being used to optimise business’s use of energy and compute resources to save money and compete.

New Branding and New Services

Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings. Drawing is the honesty of the art. Salvador Dali Today Total Utilities announces its new branding. Over the last 18 years we have worked hard to assist companies in controlling consumption and cost. It's an exciting day for us and we are proud to share this with you. From today you'll see a change in the way we look, including our new ribbon logo. The spherical shape represents the whole as we take a 360 degree approach to understanding our clients and their utility requirements, whether it be Energy, Waste and ICT or Insights, Strategy and Solutions. What doesn't change is our desire to create a sustainable future for New Zealand businesses and how they manage their utilities by continuing to deliver ongoing value for our clients. We continue to work hard to provide new services to assist our clients such as Energy Monitoring and Targeting through wireless non-intrusive energy senors, Cloud Computing Analytics for consumption of computer services and qualitative and quantitative reporting aligned to overall financial strategy. Total Utiltities About Us Presentation We remain committed to delivering a personalised service and assisting our clients navigate a rapidly evolving commercial market place by underpinning strategic thinking. I would like to thank our existing clients for your continued loyalty and confidence in our company. To prospective clients, I hope that you will partner with us to discover real world solutions for sustainable utility consumption and cost optimisation.

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Improve Operations in 3 Steps

Posted 12 May 2017 by Chris Hargreaves

Effective energy management is the foundation of operational excellence. As businesses strive to reduce product costs, improve processes and optimise asset reliability; the missing link is often energy data and visibility into energy usage at the system level. Leading companies are realising that effective energy management can lead to better understanding of productivity losses in production, predictive analytics for asset failures and data analysis in energy consumption at the system level. Historically obtaining useful energy data has been extremely...
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How the Internet of Things is transforming Business

Posted 27 February 2017 by David Spratt

Over Christmas 2015 I spent a lot of my beach time getting sun burnt and considering the threat of global warming to my kids and to their kids. I eventually decided that, to save the planet, I could start by measuring the energy consumption of every electrical device in the world. This would help people understand how to use these devices more efficiently, they would use less energy and “voila” world saved! The only problem is – how the heck do I talk to every electrical device in the world? More importantly – how do I get them to talk back to me? Welcome to the emerging...
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