What is digital

A fairly constant question that I get asked is… “what do you mean by digital” or “what is digital”? Digital is certainly a buzzword at the moment and there are a lot of very different versions of what digital means. Here’s how I think about what “digital” means.

Not analogue

In it’s broadest sense, digital is really just a series of 1’s and 0’s. or the opposite of analogue, but it’s not really helpful to define something by what it’s not. You then have to define “what is analogue” and this could quickly becomes a circular argument.

In my view, digital is technology that connects users and machines with information. More specifically, digital is the capture, storage & transmission of information between users and machines in a binary format.

With this broad definition, digital can have many different contexts, many of which we accept in everyday usage, such as digital music, digital books, digital cameras, digital commerce, digital marketing, digital advertising, and digital signals.

However, that’s a pretty dry way to think about digital and doesn’t really capture the essence of why digital is having a huge influence on modern day life. It’s not about the technology but the increases in connectivity, collaboration and information flows that are having such a profound impact.

 

Is it a channel?

I’ve written previously about the change From Online to Digital.Online was generally considered to be a website or a channel. When I describe digital it’s not about being a channel – it’s more about the connectivity and sharing of information between users & machines – which could be user to user, user to machine, machine to user, or machine to machine – this is much wider than just being a channel.

‘Digital’ outgrew the term ‘online’ because of new modes of interacting between users and machines that weren’t primarily the desktop browser. The term online wasn’t really suited to new interaction modes such as mobile web, mobile apps, connected devices like watches, machine-to-machine & the Internet of Things.

So, in my view, digital shouldn’t be considered to be just a channel. That loses the context and power of digitising information and connectivity. Digital should also bring together concepts such as collaboration, crowd sourcing, social cohesion & information reach. These are the drivers of digital change.

 

Digital in a business context

Taking the term digital into a business context, I generally use the following definitions for digital. In my view, these are the ways that business leaders should be thinking about implementing digital within their organisations.

  1. Digital sales. The use of digital to create a more efficient and effective sales process. This could include social commerce, mobile commerce, long tail segments, unbundling products, micro-payments, omni-channel & pre-paid.
  2. Digital service. The ability to service customers via a digital means. This could be customer self-service, peer-to-peer service, assisted chat & predictive service models.
  3. Digital marketing. Marketing of your existing products & services in an automated, digital way. Examples are next best action, recommendations, predictive personalisation, customer analytics, digital analytics & search engine marketing.
  4. Digital products. The creation of new products that are digitally based. Examples are digital books, digital music, .
  5. Digital processes. Redesigning business processes to take advantages of digital technology to increase efficiency & effectiveness. Examples are sales tools, sales tracking, B2B interfaces, etc
  6. Digital collaboration. Increasing the effectiveness of collaboration, both internally and across organisational boundaries with customers & partners. Examples are extranets, intranets, team sites, social media, partner portals, & customer portals.

 

Digital is everywhere

If you think that digital is everywhere, then you’re probably right, because it’s all about the technology that connects users & machines with information. However, it’s not a channel, nor about the technology. It’s all about the connectivity and increases to information flows that is driving the digital change.

I presented at the Janders Dean Legal Innovation Conference today about Professional Services in a Digital World.

The topics that I covered were:
1. Future World Scenarios
2. Physical & Digital Worlds Merge
3. Professional Services in a Digital World

Slideshare

Here are a copy of the slides on Slideshare

PDF

A PDF version of the presentation is available for download here. Janders Dean Presentation PDF.

WordPress Bootstrap theme

I’ve updated the design of my site using a WordPress Bootstrap theme. My new layout & design is based on a Twitter Bootstrap framework plus underscores WordPress starter theme called _tk by ThemeKraft. I’ve been learning about WordPress themes, Twitter bootstrap, CSS and PHP over the past few months so that I can customise the layout and content to my liking.

My previous theme was a premium WordPress theme that was really good for my level of knowledge of WordPress – but as per usual – I wanted to get under the hood a little.

The new theme is still a responsive design, as was my previous theme, but more focused on the small screen and ultra minimal layout. My web traffic was increasingly changing to mobile and tablet so thought it was the right time to change to a theme designed for the small screen.

I also have “designed” this directly in HTML and CSS snippets as a bit of a thought experiment as to whether an Agile design processes might just end up as prototypes in HTML. I’m not so sure about that… I think I was a lot slower than I could have been if I’d designed it first, however, part of this was my learning curve about Bootstrap.

I hope you like it. I’m still ironing out some kinks, such as converting some of the images and content to fit the new ultra minimal design. I’ve also got a backlog of things that I want to “design” into the site.

I’ll be making changes and updates over the next few weeks (read: months!)

References

Here are the references to the technologies that I’m using.

WordPress is a fantastic open source Content Management System. However there are some elements of WordPress that aren’t as efficient as they should be. One of these elements is the wp-cron.php file.

What is wp-cron.php?

wp-cron.php is WordPress’ automated task scheduler. It’s a ‘virtual’ cron job that checks whether there are any activities that need to be done on WordPress. Things like scheduled posts, cache synchronisation, CDN pushes and database backups are all scheduled by wp-cron.php. Plugins are also able to add scheduled tasks into the cron list. (For background, cron is a Unix time-based scheduling tool. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cron)

By default, wp-cron.php runs every time WordPress loads a page – both internal admin pages and public site visitors. This is obviously not ideal. It’s normally pretty fast to execute wp-cron.php, but…

  • If you have a lot of traffic to your site then this means that wp-cron.php is running more than it really needs to.
  • If you have irregular, or limited traffic to your site, then scheduled jobs may not run when expected.
  • When you are using an EC2 micro instance, like I am, then resources are at a premium and you want to minimise wasted resources.
  • When spiders or bots trawl your site they will initiate unnecessary wp-cron.php tasks.

This is why I call it a ‘virtual’ cron job – as it’s not really time based – it’s using site visits as a proxy for time based events.

How to make wp-cron.php into a real cron job?

So – what should you do? My view is that you should convert wp-cron.php into a ‘real’ cron job that uses the Unix cron daemon to fire wp-cron.php in a time based manner. Eg. Maybe every 10-15 minutes? This is probably frequent enough without creating unnecessary overhead. Obviously this depends on how strictly you want time based events to run on your site.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Disable the wp-cron.php in the WordPress config file.
    It’s fairly simple to disableWordpress from running wp-cron.php on each site visit. You simply need to add a line into yourwp-config.php file. I don’t think it matters where you add this line but I’ve put it near the top of the wp-config file. (Nb: You don’t do this in the wp-cron.php file rather the wp-config.php file.)

    define('DISABLE_WP_CRON', true);
  2. Check that wp-cron.php is disabled by scheduling a post and confirming that the post doesn’t publish. If wp-cron.php has been disabled properly then you will see a message that the post has Missed Schedule in the ‘All Posts’ page after the scheduled time has passed.
  3. Manually trigger the wp-cron.php job to see that it still works. You can do this by entering the URL for the wp-cron.php file. For my site it is
    www.stevenhallam.com/wp-cron.php?doing_wp_cron
  4. Insert a new Unixcron system task that will trigger the wp-cron.php file. This is the most complex part of the process and took me a while to get the trigger working properly. You need to understand a bit about how cron works across system & user tasks to get it working properly.
    1. If you have cPanel for your hosting platform, you can use the cPanel dashboard to insert the cron task.
    2. If you are using EC2 (like I am), the you can create a batch file in the cron.d directory or edit the system crontab file.
  5. There are two methods to trigger wp-cron.php. I found it simpler to run the PHP file directly rather than use a wget to run the file on your webserver.
    The first part of both of these methods is thecron shorthand for how often the command runs by editing the batch file from above. I’m runningcron as a system task, rather than as a user task,  so you also need to specify which user to run thecron task.

    # * * * * *  command to execute
    # ┬ ┬ ┬ ┬ ┬
    # │ │ │ │ │
    # │ │ │ │ │
    # │ │ │ │ └───── day of week (0 - 6) (0 to 6 are Sunday to Saturday, or use names; 7 is Sunday, the same as 0)
    # │ │ │ └────────── month (1 - 12)
    # │ │ └─────────────── day of month (1 - 31)
    # │ └──────────────────── hour (0 - 23)
    # └───────────────────────── min (0 - 59)
    
    1. PHP method
      */15 * * * * ec2-user php /var/www/html/wp-cron.php

      Just update the location of your WordPress files. Mine are under /var/www/html

    2. WGET method
      */15 * * * * ec2-user wget -q -O - http://ec2-52-62-235-187.ap-southeast-2.compute.amazonaws.com/wp-cron.php?doing_wp_cron >/dev/null 2>&1

      The second part of the wget line suppresses the return values of the wp-cron.php from your logs.

  6. Check that the unix cron task is working correctly by scheduling a post and see if the post is published as expected. This will obviously depend on the frequency that you set for the cron task.

That’s it. This will smooth out your wp-cron.php tasks into a more consistent, time based manner. It has stopped a lot of CPU spikes on my site as well.

Resources

Here are some good resources on how wp-cron and cron.

Adobe Symposium 2014

I presented a keynote at the Adobe Symposium #AdobeSymp on 22 July 2014 with Brett Cooper from Telstra Digital (@chilicooper) about how “Digital disruption can be a positive experience”.

Often we associate disruption with a negative connotation and words such as disturbance, deviation, interference, interruption, or discontinuity, come to mind. However, as consumers and businesses often experience, digital disruption can also be a very positive experience.

Disruption is defined in Wiktionary as an “unplanned, negative deviation from the expected delivery … according to the organisation’s objectives”. This definition of ‘disruption’ paints a fairly bleak and negative picture but if everything was predictable then we would never have experienced the industrial revolution.

“Predictability doesn’t necessarily equal value.”

So, the question is, how do you make disruption a positive experience?

Adobe Symposium 2014 Final

Why is this important?

Well it’s obviously difficult to make digital disruption a positive experience… otherwise everyone would be doing, and succeeding, at it.

The Deloitte report Short Fuse Big Bang that was released about 18 months ago predicted that two thirds of the Australian economy would face significant disruption within the following 5 years. The reality has been that digital disruption has occurred a lot faster than was predicted.

In the follow-up Deloitte report Harnessing the Bang, it is noted that it has actually been more like 5 months, rather than 5 years, for most industries to realise they are being disrupted. Furthermore, in the ‘Short Fuse, Big Bang’ quadrant of the report, the gap between those companies with increasing and declining revenues is widening, which is a clear sign that disruption is taking hold in these sectors.

Clearly, some companies that are adopting digital business models making disruption positive.

Controlled collisions

Last year, I presented at the Adobe Symposium about “Disrupt or be Disrupted” and how successful digital businesses create value by controlled collisions of mobile, analytics, social, cloud & cyber. These elements still hold true but I think that they are now almost ‘ticket to play’ and we are now entering ‘Act 2’ of Digital Disruption.

It’s not really sufficient to convert your existing products & services into a digital equivalent to be a successful digital business. To really create a positive experience, you need something else…

‘Act 2’ of digital

In my view, it is very hard to predict the future but I think that you can predict trends with a lot more certainty. This is one of the reasons why Mary Meeker‘s Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield, Byer Internet Trends report is so insightful. It helps businesses to make decisions about where to invest their scarce resources.

“Successful digital businesses prioritise new capabilities over old business models.”

In my view, these are the long-term trends for how to create and/or change your business into an ‘Act 2’ digital business. Most of these aren’t new trends… in fact, some of them have been prevalent for many years and the technology is only now catching up with the promise.

Your strategy should contemplate how to include one or more of these trends to convert it from a ‘me too’ strategy into an ‘Act 2’ digital strategy.

  1. Unbundling of services.
    Information flows have increased and transaction costs have fallen such that consumers are willing to select the individual elements of products, services and experiences that they actually want. This allows consumers control over their experiences and provides the ability for mass customisation. I like to think of this as the “Apple effect” where customers are willing to buy individual songs, applications, books & movies, rather than have others pre-select a bundle for them.
    Examples: Netflix, Apple iTunes, MOOCs, AFL LivePass, MLB.TV, Foursquare & Swarm.
    So what…? How do you unbundle your industry? How does this change your pricing strategies?
  2. Everything is ‘on demand’.
    Supply chains are shortening. Digital business models are re-creating value chains and flattening organisation structures. People expect that everything is ‘on demand’ and consumers see value in immediacy. All industries are being affected by the ‘on demand’ model – even those that you wouldn’t expect – such as automotive & manufacturing.
    Examples: Amazon Prime, The Iconic, L’Oreal Vending Machines, Appliances Online, Tesla.
    So what…? How could you change your business model to be ‘on demand’?
  3. Prosumers.
    The prosumer term was first coined by Alvin Toffler in 1980 so this trend isn’t at all new. It’s just that digital technology can now create ecosystems at low-cost. Producer / consumer, or prosumers, is where your consumers become your producers and vice-versa.
    This trend has many similar names and related trends, such as User Generated Content, peer-to-peer and crowd-sourcing. If you aren’t considering how to harness the “Wisdom of Crowds” in your business model, then you are probably missing a key part of your digital strategy.
    Examples: Lego Mindstorm, Amazon recommendations, Telstra CrowdSupport, BBC World Service tagging project, GiffGaff, Kickstarter, Wikipedia, Pandora, Foursquare,
    So what…? How can you create an ecosystem in your business model and include your consumers, and their insights, as part of your product?
  4. Trust economy.
    In a digital business model, the key ingredient is trust. Trust has always been an important part of business, probably essential, the catch is that trust is much more visible in a digital business. Furthermore it is now much easier to see trust at the personal level rather than at the brand level.
    Successful digital businesses build trust into their ecosystems and deliver value based on personal interactions.
    Examples: TripIt, Google Now, eBay, Airbnb, uber.
    So what…? How can you create a trust based exchange within your business model? Who captures that value?
  5. Scalable learning.
    The industrial revolution was based on efficiency at scale. I like to term this as the ‘factory’ model where success was determined by efficiency in production. However, the digital revolution, with it’s era of accelerated and constant change, is more akin to learning at scale. In general, barriers to entry are quite low and imitation is relatively easy. Competitive advantage is based on your ability to continuously build momentum, learn from your ecosystem, open up the boundaries of your organisation, and ultimately outlearn your competitors.
    Examples: Team wikispeed, Goldcorp, Li & Fung, Zara.
    So what…? How could you institutionalise learning in your ecosystem and outlearn your competitors?

 

Finally, how do you do it?

I’m constantly asked “Well how do you do it?”. The ‘what’ is reasonable simple. The first step is to start on a more efficient digital sales & service model, the second step is to look at new revenue sources and the third step is to introduce different business models. However, I think the ‘how’ is more interesting (and difficult). It isn’t a project. It doesn’t have a start and end. It requires continual momentum and perseverance.

I always look at ‘how’ as the following:

1. Build trust within your ecosystem as a ‘digital’ business. Without trust, you can’t move from being a ‘me too’ efficient sales & service digital operation into new digital revenue sources and new digital business models. Look at how you translate to personal trust rather than brand trust.
2. Out-learn your competitors. Standing still isn’t really an option in a digital business or a digital operation. There are low barriers to entry, imitation is relatively easy, and competitive advantage is temporary. Long term sustained performance needs smarter institutions that can continuously learn – from themselves, customers, partners, suppliers and competitors.
3. Create value for your ecosystem and some of it will make its way back to you. This is basically the way that Google think about strategy. Companies that create value for consumers can capture some of that value, somewhere in the value chain. The interesting part is figuring out where.

Hope you enjoy the presentation.

Afterwards At The Deloitte Digital Booth

 

Slideshare

The SlideShare version of my presentation is below.

 

PDF

A PDF version can be downloaded here Adobe Symposium 2014 Final.

 

References

Can open-source professional services work?

I’ve been thinking about whether the concepts of peer production and open-source could be implemented within services based industries, such as professional services and business consulting. What would this do to the overall impact of those industries? I quite often see the impact of digital disruption, positive and negative, to the delivery of services and it really makes me think as to how services-based industries can respond (and win!) One of the ways to respond may be to introduce digital business models, such as peer production and open-source, to the way that services based organisations compete.

Open source professional services

Open source professional services

Frameworks & methods

A lot of services companies think that their frameworks, methods, and models are completely unique and give them a particular competitive advantage. Please don’t get me wrong, some of these frameworks and methods are unique, have withstood the test of time and do have real tangible value. I’m certainly not suggesting that all frameworks and methods don’t have value nor a reason for being. However, some frameworks & methods, might actually be limiting an organisations’ competitiveness as rigid structures and repeatable processes can ironically limit learning cultures.

Open-source services

I recall the story of when IBM started using Linux as one of their Operating Systems and began contributing to the Open Source development practices of Linux and Apache. I can just imagine how difficult those board room and/or executive level conversations were within IBM about whether they should participate in the open-source community. Yet, in the fullness of time, most people would now view this decision as a sound strategy. http://anthonydwilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/peer-innovation-and-production.pdf This raises a few key questions.

  • Is there value in peer production, mass-collaboration and open-source communities within services organisations? And who would, or could, capture this value?
  • What if services organisations were to move the level of competition from their IP, frameworks & methods to customer experience & client outcomes?
  • How and which frameworks could a services based organisation move into an open-source community?
  • Would this increase their ability to develop learning cultures and create a sustainable competitive advantage?

Learning at scale

The change in our institutions from “efficiency at scale” to “learning at scale” is driving major changes in the structure, resources and alignment of our organisations. See http://dupress.com/articles/institutional-innovation/ My view is that the organisations that adapt (and continually learn) the fastest, will ultimately be the most successful. I think there is a place for peer production and open-source models within services organisations. The question is where are the best used and how do they contribute to creating learning cultures? What do you think?

I presented at the RMIT Web Conference today in Melbourne with the somewhat inauspicious title of 2020: The Web’s Apocalyptic Future. I took a fast paced, 2020 view of digital disruption. I highlighted that whilst the word ‘disruption’ generally has a negative connotation, it can also be have a very positive influence.

The presentation covered the following topics and trends.

1. Future world scenarios.

I outline some of the likely future world scenarios in 2020. Specifically how the boundaries of an organisation are changing, information flows, collaboration at scale, crowd-sourcing, low barriers to entry, pro-sumers, Artificial Intelligence, hybrid thinking and The Singularity.

2. Living in an increasingly connected real and virtual worlds.

I discuss how we are living in a world that is blending real and virtual worlds with cyborgs, digital tattoos, augmented reality, contextual devices, social as the new search, and everything ‘on demand’.

3. Balancing the expectations of the future with realities that may emerge.

Whilst the trends might paint a rosy future, there are certain elements such as privacy, security, and unintended uses of technology that we should consider.

4. The role of education in a future digital world

Finally, I drew some parallels from the trends about how education might likely change. Topics such as scalable learning, Team Wikispeed, the learning organisation, unbundling of content, MOOCs, peer to peer education, education ‘on demand”?

 

The Web’s Apocalyptic Future

See below for a Slideshare copy of my slides.

 

PDF

A PDF of the presentation can be downloaded here.

Migrate WordPress to EC2 (AWS)

I’ve totally geeked out and I’ve migrated my site to Amazon Web Services. Here’s how to migrate WordPress to EC2 instance on AWS.

My WordPress site had become intermittently slow and the console had become almost unusable so I decided it was time for a change.

I came across the AWS offer for the Free Usage Tier so that seemed like a good idea. I’d been interested in putting AWS through it’s paces but it’s been a long time since I’ve been hanging out with ssh so it required me to brush up on some of my Linux. I’m now back in the world of LAMP.

Hopefully you will notice a speed improvement with the site. Miraculously, at the same time I started migrating the site, my DNS host started to have performance issues. (Let me know if there is anything broken…)

I’m sure I’ll write some posts about what I learn on AWS.

 

Here’s what I did…

1. Setup an AWS account.
I already had an Amazon account so I was able to use that.
It’s worth setting up a billing alert so you know when you’re not on the AWS Free Usage Tier.

2. Launch an EC2 instance.
Setup a key pair for you to be able to SSH into your instance.
Setup a security group so that you can access the EC2 instance by HTTP, HTTPS & SSH.
I use my Mac to SSH into my instance. You can use the SSH key that is generated. If you are using a Windows machine to SSH into your EC2 instance, then you can use PuTTY.
Choose the location to host your EC2 instance that is closest to the majority of your WordPress users. I chose Sydney based on my Google Analytics usage.
I chose a micro instance but this requires a fair bit of tuning to get working properly.

3. Setup the LAMP server.
You will need to install Apache, MySQL and PHP. Depending on the Linux version you chose for your EC2 instance, there are a few different commands to install these.
Lock down the LAMP server.
I used the AWS EC2 guide for setting up WordPress (see AWS guide here).

4. Migrate WordPress to EC2
I didn’t do all the steps from the EC2 guide for WordPress. You don’t need to do all of the WordPress install elements if you are migrating a WordPress instance. Mainly the setup of the LAMP and creation of database tables and usernames.
If you’re not changing the URL when migrating WordPress, you can pretty much just copy your files and database over to the new server. There is a good article on the WordPress site here about migrating WordPress sites.
I used FileZilla to copy my files from my old hosting company to EC2. You can connect using your SSH key.
I used MySQL Workbench to extract the database and import it into the new EC2 table. I used a tunnel via PuTTY to connect to the MySQL port.
Make sure that your httpd.conf file allows the .htaccess redirections to work in WordPress.

5. Tune AWS EC2
You will need to tune Apache for WordPress otherwise you will run out of memory. The standard setup of Apache will pretty much take up all the memory from a micro instance.
It’s also useful to setup a swapfile to stop thrashing.

6. DNS changeover
You should associate an IP for your site by using the elastic IP option in EC2.
You can then migrate your DNS entries to your EC2 instance.

 

References

Here are some good resources that I found on how to do this.

I am quite often asked what are really good digital or emerging technology books to read.

Here are the books that I keep pulling off the (virtual) shelf and getting inspiration from (in no particular order). Some of these books have been around since pre-2000 but are still great reads and have more often than not predicted trends with amazing precision. There are also some really thought-provoking concepts in some of these books.

If you’ve not read some of these, or seeking some inspiration, then well worth getting a copy and sitting back for a lazy Sunday afternoon. (I’ve also added their Twitter handles as most of them are interesting to follow as well.)

  1. The Innovator’s Dilemna – Clayton Christensen (@claychristensen)
  2. The Singularity is Near – Ray Kurzweil (@KurzweilAINews)
  3. The Spiritual Age of Machines – Ray Kurzweil (@KurzweilAINews)
  4. The Long Tail – Chris Anderson (@chr1sa)
  5. The World is Flat – Thomas Friedman (@tomfriedman)
  6. The Wisdom of Crowds – James Surowiecki
  7. Wikinomics – Anthony D. Williams, Don Tapscott (@dtapscott)
  8. Macrowikinomics –  Anthony D. Williams, Don Tapscott (@dtapscott)
  9. Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  10. Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
  11. The Power of Pull – John Hagel (@jhagel), John Seely Brown (@jseelybrown)
  12. The End of Business as Usual – Brian Solis (@briansolis)
  13. What’s The Future of Business – Brian Solis (@briansolis)
  14. Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey A. Moore (@geoffreyamoore)
  15. Science of Social – Michael Wu (@mich8elwu)
  16. The Age of Context – Robert Scoble (@scobleizer), Shel Israel (@shelisrael)
  17. The Future – Al Gore (@algore)
  18. Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson (@WalterIsaacson)
  19. Start with Why – Simon Sinek (@simonsinek)
  20. Change by Design – Tim Brown (@tceb62)

So, I’m sure that I’ve probably missed a few books from this list. What are your favourite digital business books?

I’m always reading new books so would be glad for some tips.