Miguel Garcia-Gosalvez

Common Sense Practitioner

In my almost twenty years of professional experience I have been observing how much investment in terms of time, effort and money goes into strategic planning and how little, very frequently, is really achieved. That made me look more into the matter and try to understand the causes for that. It is clear to all that strategy cannot be divorced from action. Without implementation (execution) the best strategy is worthless. In today’s business environment, where globalized markets are defined by extremely rapid and in many cases non-linear changes, the ability of an organization to survive depends on its ability to implement the [right] strategy.

Everybody seems to agree on how important is strategy execution or strategy implementation. Despite that, it has not been considered as serious a management discipline as others that have no shortage of accumulated knowledge, literature or management gurus.  On March 14, 2013, I visited Amazon.com and introduced the term “strategic planning” on their search form. Immediately it reported 61,712 results. I tried then “strategy implementation” and got back 38,383 results. But when I tried “strategy execution” I got only 8,830 findings. Although results are measured in the thousands I strongly believe the difference tells us a lot.

In my daily work, in meetings and during informal conversations or just when talking to friends I find many people emphasizing how much effort they have dedicated into developing strategic plans for their respective organizations. Unfortunately, it seems that many fool themselves by believing that because of that investment their organizations are well run. It is not uncommon that, up to recent years, organizations pleaded for patience and because of that they got away with poor or limited execution.  In today’s world, the excuse that it will take time for a strategy to produce results or that the business environment is tough (which it really is!!) are no longer valid.

The pace at which markets move means that organizations can win or lose significant market share before they even realize what hit them. In many cases the problem is not with planning but with doing. Execution is not just something that does or does not get done. Instead, it is a specific set of behaviors and techniques that organizations (and their managers) need to master in order to have a competitive advantage. It is basically a discipline of its own, and it is the critical discipline for success.  What marks the difference between a successful organization and its less successful competitors is the ability to execute. Leaders who are unable to execute do not get a free pass anymore. I strongly concur with the idea that execution is one of the great unaddressed issues in today’s business world.

Business schools and management programs should really take notice. It is not easy to introduce these ideas because strategy execution is a discipline with fuzzy borders and it requires really diving into a number of topics. In spite of that, more can and should be done. Let’s get to work and start incorporating it into the business school curriculum.

 

by Miguel Garcia-Gosalvez

Despite numerous articles, papers and discussions there is still a general conception that associates, or even equates, “innovation” to “new technologies.” In the international development arena this is worrisome because, although there is no doubt that some new technologies can enhance and improve the lives of many people, in many cases new technologies do not solve the problems they are supposed to and may even create new types of problems.

It is not uncommon to see projects or initiatives that try to introduce new technological innovations, many times even more advanced that what is available in so-called developed countries. However, those who have experience in international development know the high failure rate of initiatives that rely on the latest and newest technologies. Despite the benefits that many modern technological innovations may be able to provide, we understand and appreciate that some basic and traditional tasks, such as training, deployment strategies, durability, etc. are directly linked to the success and sustainability of these innovation efforts.

We would be wise to recognize that “innovation” can also be found in the design and implementation of new processes and procedures that might not require new technologies but instead use existing technologies in a different, more efficient, and/or more effective way. Spending time observing and asking the right questions in order to understand the circumstances of the communities is certain to be of great value. Understanding topics such as those related to culture, sociology, geography, etc. could be the key to the solution of many problems.

For example, many service delivery projects in Africa are using an “old” technology such as the Short Message Service (SMS) more successfully than the one provided by the latest smartphones equipped with full access to Internet. The key to the success of some of those projects was not the technology itself but rather a deep understanding of the problem, an involvement of the communities affected, and the use of tools that are affordable and easily available. From the technological point of view, and given that there are more than 2.4 billion active SMS users that represent 74% of all mobile subscribers[1], we can confirm that people are familiar with SMS. They also understand how it works and it is always on.

According to market research firms such as A.C. Nielsen, in Africa more people have access to cell phone service than to clean water. For the most part, however, the available cell phones do not include the latest models but instead are simple, durable, with long lasting battery life and easy to repair. Foreign and local innovations have improved service delivery in sectors ranging from health to agriculture to financial services. For example, CycleTel (for reproductive health issues) and BloodBank SMS improve the communication between local district hospitals and Kenya’s centralized blood bank. SMS is also used to share crop price information between buyers and farmers, thus increasing market transparency while raising prices paid to farmers and getting access to more quantity and better quality for buyers. Mobile banking is also entering some African countries via SMS.

Governments, international donors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc. have to plan their assistance and solutions taking into account which technologies people can afford, already know how to use and will not represent an additional investment. That is what is needed instead of solutions based on the latest technologies that may or may not work or that will become unsustainable once foreign assistance dollars are reduced or eliminated. In addition, in the international development arena service delivery models have to be based on tangible results in order to catch people’s attention and that is also one of the reasons to use technologies already deployed and proven rather than technologies that might require not only extended investment but long implementation periods.

Innovations of any type cannot be created in a vacuum. They need to be designed and developed while interacting continually with end users. What makes perfect sense to those of us sitting in an office, far from the places where they are supposed to be used, might end up being a totally impractical, irrelevant or absurd innovation. That is one of the main reasons why all organizations involved in international development need to work closely and collaborate with organizations on the ground and with local people. Service delivery models have to make sense to those who will enjoy the service rather to the government agencies or organizations that might deliver them.

Delivery models based solely on technology are not good enough to deliver optimal results. The end users, in most international development programs and projects, are either not involved in the process at all or, if they are, consultation is often conducted at a very late stage of the process. Moreover, having an excellent technology and involving the end users might fail because of poor processes or procedures (e.g., training). This is why we represent graphically the ideal delivery model with an equilateral triangle where the three sides are equal.

Figure 1. Ideal model scenario where all three factors are considered equally

When more emphasis is applied on one or two of the three factors we end up obtaining triangles which different side lengths. Isosceles triangles (those with two sides equal) or scalene triangles (those with no equal sides) are not as perfect as the equilateral who was even given mystical significance. The value of this analogy is just to illustrate that successful delivery models rely on a balance of components. Making one side of the triangle longer or bigger will require, no matter what, changes to the others. Please see Figure 2 to appreciate this visually.

Figure 2. Scenarios where emphasis is not balanced between components

Innovation is not just technology but a component of a set that when combined appropriately can produce successful and sustainable results. Paying excessive attention to one or two of the components will force us to compromise the other and that is exactly what lies at the root of many innovation failures in general, and in service delivery in particular. For example, when technology is great but end users are not involved or poor training (processes/procedures) is provided the end result is likely to fail and may even condemn a good technology to obscurity.

These ideas may seem obvious but reality shows us otherwise. It is for that reason that international development professionals need to clearly understand and experience first hand these concepts to avoid being overly impressed by cutting-edge technologies, training techniques that promise miracles or consulting companies with “magic bullets.” Being informed, being in the field, and being in touch with end users while applying common sense might be more relevant than anything else and that is what we need to confront the many challenges that surround us.


[1] According to Wikipedia.


Conocí a Montse Ollé hace más de veinte años, cuando yo era estudiante en ESADE. Desde entonces, y a pesar de la distancia, siempre hemos estado en contacto, siendo ella una de las personas más generosas conmigo que me ha acompañado todos estos años. Todavía recuerdo ir a hacerle una entrevista al Parque Tecnológico del Valles en Sant Cugat, cuando ella lo dirigía y ese tipo de parques eran toda una novedad. Yo era un estudiante con muchas ganas de aprender y muy fascinado con los temas de política de empresa. Recuerdo que hablaba despacio, jamás la escuche decir una palabra más alta que otra y nunca hablaba por hablar. Tambíen me acuerdo, algunos años despues, de aquellos sábados por la mañana en que se daba un curso de creación de empresas a principios de los 90 en el edificio redondo, y al que yo asistía porque era Research Assistant del Departamento de Política de Empresa. Me fascinaba escuchar sus análisis y preguntas acertadísimas a los participantes.

Durante los años que trabajé en ESADE (1991-1998) siempre tuvo tiempo para sentarse conmigo y darme consejos (muy buenos) y que en cierto modo han marcado mi carrera profesional. Desde entonces, periódicamente, y hasta hace apenas tres semanas estabamos intercambiando correos electrónicos. Nunca dejo de contestarme a ninguna de mis preguntas o búsqueda de consejos incluso cuando su salud no era la mejor.

Recientemente ella ha sido una de las grande artifices de mi reconexión con ESADE. Nunca dejó de apoyarme ni de creer en mi. Durante todo el 2011 estuvo insistiendome en que diera alguna clases y que reconectara con ESADE de forma mas intensa. Así ha empezado a suceder y de nuevo ella me ha ayudado a buscar mi camino profesional. Lo impresionante es que siempre lo hizo de la forma más generosa y discreta posible.

Puedo decir que ademas de una profesora a la que admiro mucho también despido a una amiga.

My little homage to Steve Jobs.

The “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” commercial was a great success but the version that was aired in 1997 was with Richard Dreyfuss’s voiceover. There was a version, never made public then, in which Steve Jobs did the voiceover. That version was recovered and is the one included here. The “Think Different” campaign, devised by TBWA\Chiat\Day, was a huge success for Apple, reveling in the company’s outsider status and laying the groundwork for what is was going to become Apple in the future and how differentiated it has become from its competitors.

Here is a transcription of the ad:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things.

They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

There is no doubt that there is a boom of applications, the so called “apps”, available for mobile devices. Organizations of all types, private or public, for profit or not, big or small, have embarked themselves in a fever to develop mobile applications. Many of these organizations (because of its leaders) are showing a lack of vision, a misunderstanding of how technology and management of information might be able to transform them in a meaningful way. A way that could be measured and most important, that has a real impact. Impact can be more sales, lower costs, increased customer satisfaction,… or even a combination of all of them.

Managers in these organizations think, and behave consequently, that porting existing applications into mobile devices is great and the way to go. In some cases these actions are helpful but they are far from reaching their maximum potential. Being able to do a task or gather the same information that I can get from my laptop in my mobile device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) is a nice touch but that’s it. I live in a college town, Madison (Wisconsin), with a great university and a great community. Those in charge of the information technologies have developed “Mobile UW” a mobile application, graphically well designed and that provides useful information (directory, campus maps, news, buses routes and schedules, events calendar,…). This a nice first step that many organizations embrace but now it needs to be taken to the next level if we are really serious about transforming the organizations and consequently their impact.

The real value of mobile strategies surfaces when it transforms the way the organizations function as well as the way the organizations interact with their stakeholders (customers, suppliers, employees, etc.). Porting existing applications to mobile devices might be a nice way for developers to learn and master their programming skills. Transforming organizations does not start within the departments of information technology. It must come from within the rest of departments and units, that together with stakeholders, agree in a new way of doing business. It is after that when we develop the means to put it in practice. Continuing with the same example: the University of Wisconsin – Madison has wonderful spaces available to students, citizens, employees,… such as the Memorial Union, The Wisconsin Institute of Discovery, Union South, etc. that can be used for more and bigger things. I was reading on-line comments and feedback regarding the student orientation, advising and registration service which seems to be great but it seems clear that could be taken to a next level while providing a more personalized and even better service without the constrains of a limited office space. These ideas do not have to come from the department of information technology but from employees, students, etc. of those services (those who do the work every day know it better than anyone) and then it is the IT department the one who has to implement it.

We have to make sure that information technology departments are there to provide services to the organization and not to drive the way business should be done. A mobile strategy, as strategies in general, are designed to achieve a particular goal. Being able to use my mobile device instead of my laptop is not really a goal (it alleviates my back though). A real mobile strategy will redefine the way we work, the way we interact with ours stakeholders, the spaces we work in, the way we live our lives…..it will provide a real transformation.

Over the last few years we all have witnessed the convergence of three industries. Nowadays voice, data (mostly for internet service) and TV services are all provided by a limited number of companies.The days of ATT as phone provider, COX, ComCast or Charter as cable providers and AOL as internet service provider (ISP) are long gone. Traditional telephone companies now offer voice, Internet and TV. In the same way, traditional cable companies sell also phone and internet services. The traditional internet services providers as we knew them in the late 90s and early 00s have basically disappeared.

In the last years we are also noticing a migration from traditional services such as voice and cable TV to internet based services. It is not uncommon the people who do no longer have the traditional phone service and it is becoming more popular those who, together with a cell phone or not, use services such as Vonage or Skype. Regarding TV services, we are more and more migrating to services such as Hulu, Amazon, Netflix or iTunes which also use internet as the main distribution channel. The traditional pre-scheduled run of TV shows or movies is being replaced more and more by a model of TV a-la-carte or on-demand.

With that in mind it is not a surprise that the consolidation of services’ movement that we saw in the early 00s seems to have been reached its peak and new steps are being taken to move forward.

We watch TV and movies more frequently in the non traditional way, we watch what we want, when we want and where we want. We also talk and communciate with friends and colleagues with services that are also new, such as Twitter and Facebook. In that regard we can mention that Europe has seen in the last 18 months a drop in the number of SMS messages sent and received, which had become a great source of revenue for the phone industry in the last few years. People communicate more than before but thru new tools and some of what had had become cash cow services are on the decline.

How are these companies reacting to this new challenge? The wrong way, late and negatively:

a) The traditional unlimited data plans that we grew up used to are disappearing
b) The network neutrality principles we thought were embedded in the industry are vanishing

Those reactions represent obstacles to the new ways of, for example, watching TV and movies. Streaming movies using Netflix or Amazon services will get us into trouble with internet plans that have a limited amount of data transfer included. Also, providers could slow down access to sites or protocols that affect some way or another their interests and partnerships.

Despite all of that, and surprisingly enough, Skype hasn’t been bought by any major telephone conglomerate (AT&T, Telefonica, Deutch telecom, etc). All of them could have easily afforded that expense. Their strategy seems to go more to fight these threats rather than embrace them and transform them in opportunities: “There is nothing better than owning the pipes and what goes thru them”. Providing internet access and also VoIP provides them with economies of scale in regard to their current technology investments.

Microsoft can keep running Skype as now but that it will only provide marginal income. Integrating a service like Skype in Windows and Office applications can make those products attractive and prevent customers for trying alternatives (OS X, Linux based-systems,….). Windows and Office are cash cow products for Microsoft. Whatever it takes to keep those two products that way can make the investment worthwhile. Another thing to see in the near future if if they are able to take advantage of it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a fierce battle between netbook detractors and lovers. Despite the opinions about usefulness or lack of it, better or worse brands and models, finished qualities, etc. the truth is that netbooks are being sold by the millions and the number doesn’t seem to diminish. That has prompted some notebook PC makers to jump into the market. Asus, Acer and MSI were the usual netbook makers but now we have not only HP but also Toshiba and Lenovo. The growth of this segment has been so big that even Apple is rumored to be entering this market at some point in the coming months.

Although I became a Mac user and lover a few years ago, the truth is that I cannot eliminate completely my relationship with PCs and Windows. Almost every person I work with as well as the clients we deal with are PC users. For that reason, I decided to give a netbook a try and experience for myself the wonders and misfortunes of them.

I got a Samsung N110 which at the beginning of summer 2009 was one of the hottest netbooks on the market for two main reasons: an almost full-size keyboard and a promised battery duration of over 8 hours. The fact is that a netbook is as good as your expectations are about it. If you try to use your netbook as if it was a fully powered PC (notebook or desktop) you might end up very disappointed. On the other hand, if you understand that a netbook is a computer dedicated to providing basic features such as email capabilities, web browsing, word processing and videoconferencing, you will be very pleased.

Because of my work I fly regularly on domestic and intercontinental flights and I find that I can work on my netbook easily for about 8 hours with no worries. When I need to move around the city from meeting to meeting, I can carry my netbook without the charger for a whole day and easily have 40 percent of the battery left at the end of the day. Obviously, one has to learn a few tips and tricks to maximize battery life but I have to say that netbook makers have done a reasonably good job at creating battery management tools that help with those tasks. For example, when in battery mode, I have my netbook setup to run at the lowest possible brightness, to turn off my screen and hard drive after a few minutes of inactivity and even to go to standby or hibernation mode a few minutes after that if inactivity continues. Those tools, together with the incredibly easy option to turn off/on the wireless card, make a huge difference in battery life.

I am running my netbook with Windows XP as well as with Microsoft Office 2003. Yes, I am running Office 2003 instead of 2007 because I find it lighter in terms of power needs while I can get basically the same features. For videconference, I have found that applications such as Skype run very well both with voice only as well as with video.

New netbooks, lighter and with longer battery life, keep entering the market. The fact that you can get a very decent netbook that costs between $300 and $400 is still keeping that market niche growing.

The main conclusion is that a netbook is a very good second computer for those who travel regularly or spend their days going from meeting to meeting around the city. If you do not try to play high end games, edit video or photographs, but instead just perform the basic tasks mentioned above (email, word processing, web browsing, etc.) you can be very satisfied with a netbook.

Published also in the front page of Infonomia on November 30, 2009.

Que la crisis es real ya no lo discute nadie. Pero si uno abre los ojos ayer por la tarde, después de haberlos tenido cerrados por un año, y ve los resultados de Apple pensaría que la crisis no existe.

A pesar de que mucha gente critica sus productos por excesivamente caros, sobre todo si los comparamos con la competencia, se siguen vendiendo. La verdad es que Apple nos sorprende con productos innovadores en el diseño y en la funcionalidad, que son atractivos para el público. Tan atractivos que se siguen vendiendo, en números extraordinarios, a pesar de la crisis que nos azota a todos.

Los resultados del último trimestre (Abril-Junio 2009) son los mejores de su historia (sin contar campañas navideñas). En tres meses se han vendido 5.2 millone de iPhones, 2.6 millones de ordenadores y, a pesar de la caída, ni más ni menos que 10.2 millones de iPods.

Mucha gente se preguntaba acerca de la influencia de Steve Jobs en los resultados. Su ausencia de los últimos seis meses prueba que aunque la figura del CEO es importante, la estrategia y su implementación marcan la diferencia: Productos innovadores, continuas mejoras, control férreo sobre la marca, marketing diferenciado, canal de ventas propio, etc. son elementos de la estrategia que le han dado la razón.

No cabe ninguna duda de que muchos quieren imitar a Apple y de momento no lo consiguen. Apple ha conseguido lo que muchos sueñan: que usuarios de sus productos, todavía funcionales y válidos, compren los nuevos nada más salir (somos numerosos los que tenemos, por ejemplo, más de un iPod).

De todas formas no hay que olvidar que, poco a poco, Apple va ganando cuota de mercado en los ordenadores. La mitad de los ordenadores vendidos lo han sido a personas que nunca antes habían tenido un Apple.

Parece que Apple, con o sin Steve Jobs, acertó con su estrategia y no parece que vaya a cambiarla.

Hoy ya somos muchos lo que trabajamos en más de un ordenador (en la oficina, en la casa, con el portátil). Por el hecho de que muchos ya tenemos ordenadores portátiles, y últimamente los llamados netbooks, nos encontramos teniendo que llevar con nosotros los dispositivos USB (también llamados pen drives) con nuestros archivos y ficheros de aquí para allá.

Periódicamente, y con el fin de acabar el informe que empezamos en la oficina y que tenemos que acabar en casa durante el fin de semana o para acabar la hoja de cálculo de Excel con el último presupuesto, tenemos que ir cargando estos dispositivos y además hacer el ejercicio de saber en cada momento cuál es la última versión del mismo sin equivocarnos. Estos dispositivos portátiles USB también son utilizados en cierta forma como almacén de copias de seguridad e incluso, con aplicaciones como U3 Smart, como soporte para nuestras aplicaciones más comunes que podemos utilizar en ordenadores sin dejar rastro.

Durante los últimos años numerosas iniciativas han aparecido (y desaparecido) con el fin de ayudarnos a tener nuestros archivos sincronizados en más de un lugar. Desde hace unos meses he venido utilizando Dropbox que pienso que es la mejor de estas alternativas hasta el momento. Dropbox es la solución para sincronizar (y obtener copias de seguridad) archivos y documentos en múltiples ordenadores y en las tres plataformas más comunes (Windows, Linux y Mac).

Como muchos, me enviaba desde la oficina mensajes de correo a mi mismo con el fin de tener acceso a determinados archivos desde mi casa. Igualmente tenía problemas para compartir con colegas, amigos y familia ficheros muy grandes. Esos y otros problemas los he resuelto, de forma gratuita hasta 2 gigabytes, con Dropbox.

Es una pequeña aplicación que se instala en los ordenadores deseados. Se elige la carpeta a sincronizar y a partir de entonces todos los ordenadores elegidos tendrán el mismo contenido en el momento en que se conectan a Internet. Por ejemplo, cuando guardo un documento Word en la carpeta de Dropbox este documento queda sincronizado de forma casi instantánea en todos mis ordenadores e incluso puedo acceder al mismo vía web desde cualquier sitio. Además de acceder a los archivos vía web puedo compartir carpetas específicas con las personas que decida.

Un gran añadido es la posibilidad de mantener versiones de los ficheros con los que trabajamos por lo que podemos recuperar versiones antiguas (hasta 30 días de forma gratuita) de un mismo documento en caso de que sea necesario.

PS. Este artículo no está subvencionado o patrocinado por DROPBOX en ninguna forma. Está basado en mi propia experiencia como usuario y no he recibido ningún tipo de favor, regalo o incentivo por parte de DROPBOX ni de nadie.

Publicado en la portada de Infonomia el 24 de Julio de 2009.

A few months ago I wrote the attached white paper (480 Kb. PDF file) based on my experience in deployments around the world. Usually these deployments are in places where conditions might be difficult and usually are associated with events such as natural disasters, health related emergencies or even political transitions. Hard to reach, unreliable or non-existent utilities, and absence of reliable communication facilities are common in these places and situations.

International donors and non-governmental organizations make efforts to reach these places and assist people on multiple arenas, ranging from basic health assistance and food programs, elections monitoring. It is common to see deployments of experts on particular areas but often they lack the equipment, and in many cases, the basic skills that today are needed for day-to-day communications activities such as creating and establishing an internet connection, setting-up a wireless network, set-up and configuration of email accounts, printers, etc. These are real needs that must be covered in order to streamline the work of these staff as well as for safety reasons. There is no longer the option of calling the IT guy to come up and fix these issues. Many of these skills are today as basic as learning to drive. No matter what position you are in it is needed.

In this white paper, I attempted to provide an explanation and a hands-on checklist of the basic equipment needed for these situations. The emphasis is on the ability to “hit the ground running” meaning that the need to be fully functional from the information technology perspective and be able to communicate starts immediately, often as soon as the plane lands. Because of that, all the examples, images and illustrations explained here are related to equipment that people can carry with them in addition to whatever other luggage they might travel with. It is based on my own experience in activities all over the world

Download the 480 Kb. PDF file