Wednesday, 31 December 2014

On disruption and communication 2

Brighton Sea front frosted 2
I didn't anticpate quite so many examples to my December blog post on disruption and communication so soon. As a follow up I'd like to briefly mention some of these, ranging from at best inconvenient and stressful experiences to the frightening and life taking.

Taking the first and the seeming inability of the British rail system to cope with our seasons. They suffer with trust and respect as a lot of the people using the system for holiday travel are also regular commuters. Indeed my Facebook feed has a number of people complaining that they have to put up with this all year round. 

With the scenes at Finsbury Park and the snow closing Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport and Leeds Bradford International airport, it's got to have a knock on with passenger trust and with the relatively trivial nature of the impact there isn't much opportunity for the companies involved to show respect. Apart from maybe top execs giving up their bonus ...

As an aside a couple of years ago I was stuck in a similar delay to engineering works with a signal failure just outside London, it was seemingly the slowest train journey I have ever taken inching at a snails pace closer into Kings Cross. If I had known about the delays earlier then I could've stayed a bit longer with my family in Yorkshire.

At the more serious end of the scale this month was the sad news about an Indonesian AirAsia flight going missing. As the news of the disaster unfolded I was struck by the respect from both AirAsia in changing their brand logo to a muted grey version and local rivals Scoot tweeting about not running sales on the route:

In my previous article I talked about trust and, in my opinion, living and breathing respect for your customers and partners is the best way to gain that. This is a bit of an extreme example, but it also shows why operational knowledge and a human touch is needed so why I don't think automation is appropriate in social media and why it shouldn't be silo'd off. Social media should sit close enough to the action to be timely, (social!) and helpful.

While we remember those that have lost their lives we should not forget that, despite media focus due to the region's airlines involved this year, 2014 was the safest year for air travel in the modern era. Let's look forward to fewer accidents and safer flying in 2015.

Further Reading

Sunday, 28 December 2014


I don't usual write about my workplace directly on social media or this blog. But today I'm just going to briefly touch on some of what makes it a good place to work for me. Basically for me a good work place always boils down to two things 1) the people and 2) a general sense of inquisitiveness.

Working Late by Thomas H√łyrup Christensen
I work for 15below a software development company that specialises in the travel industry. It's fair to say we are probably market leaders in the kind of workflow driven notifications that we do.

We have internal tools that started for a particular business need and are now side projects such as Gallifrey, what I love watching here is how is allows people to play with techniques that aren't always useful in the day job - such as click once deployment in github

We also have internal tools, which are part of say our build chain, that get open sourced - such as the aptly named Build.Tools or fixes to how packaging works in NuGet, which as well as that project spawned and article on how NuGet Install is broken (and follow up from Michael the author of NuGetPlus).

Some of our internal research and prototyping also turn into blog articles such as Lua for scripting workflows or Adaptive techniques for polling. These ideas don't always make it into the product, but hopefully someone in the wider community will find them useful.

We also bring in ideas where possible, such as TDD that tie in neatly to lessons 2 and 4 from what one of our co-founders has learnt over the past 10 years.

That's just a small selection of articles that scratch the surface of what gets me up in the morning to go to work.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

On disruption and communication

Brighton Beach Snowman 1 by Neil Chalk
As the festive season gets into full swing, I am glad that I am not reliant on using mass public transport before I can relax and enjoy myself this year. Especially after reading the news this morning - predicting rail disruption caused by floods in the mild weather

For around the past decade my day job has involved helping travel companies in passenger communications; as distilled into these top tips of The 3 Big Ideas In Managing Passenger Disruption or in Managing Travel Disruption that looks at more crisis orientated passenger communications.

But from the small journeys that I have taken in the past week, whether by bus or train, one takeaway has been that small delays can be frustrating when you don't know the reason or trust the information provided. And trust really is a key issue, as important when things are going right as when disaster hits. After all if people can't trust the information you give them when things are going smoothly they aren't going to feel reassured when things are going wrong.

The second thing I think is important for really smooth crisis communications is being really good at doing it. Having a good plan that can be executed in a crisis is essential. For it to really be well implemented then you need good communications to be second nature. You need staff familiar with using the same tools and infrastructure, the best way of doing that is to be good at communicating when things are going well, aside from the small delays. This ties neatly into my first observation, building trust when things are going well also helps train people for effective communications when a disaster strikes.

Well, my brain is just about ready to switch off now and enjoy some mince pies. So season's greetings wherever you may be!

Edit: I've written an addition to this piece looking at some of the events in the past week - On disruption and communication 2

Related videos

Some videos going behind the scenes at airlines, a mix of business as usual and irregular operations ...

Sunday, 14 December 2014

On innovation systems and careers

fishbowl jump by Kay Kim
A few days ago Timehop popped up a link to Brighton: The UK's Silicon Valley or Just a Feeder City for London? that was written a year ago and the situation has changed that much (although 15below could be another name to go with Brandwatch! ;-)) The story laid out was quite familiar, very few of my friends at university stayed in the area though and I moved out for 4 years getting experience in ... you guessed it in London! It also chimes in with the effects of innovation systems talked about in the book Get off the Grass: Kickstarting New Zealand’s Innovation Economy by Shaun Hendy and Paul Callaghan.

In Chapter 3 of Get off the Grass the authers tell the story of the origin of Sillicon Valley and how agglormeration had made it successful, this area previously had an industry manufactoring valves that had powered electrical circuits before transitors.

The story of Silicon Valley nicely illustrates the three key aspects of the agglomeration process. First, knowledge spillovers played an important part in the development of the transistor as employees jumped from one start-up to the next, taking their skills and experience with them. Second, the economies of scale in production that developed as the military and the Apollo programme increased their orders for transistors eventually took the industry to the point where the transistor was cheap enough to be incorporated into consumer goods. Once Silicon Valley had gained its edge in the semiconductor industry, it became very difficult for firms in other regions to remain competitive.

The Silicon Beach label and attempt to create a creative digital agency centre fails because of this diversity. We have the graduates produced by the university but none of the traditional printing and publishing industry, to supply experienced skilled workers, or large companies to use the services of a creative agency. There is some scepticism locally about how much substance there is to this kind of effort and the local benefit of the two universities in the city, for example @SkidRowOn_Sea isn't a fan of the hype given to digital agencies:

Part of the reasons behind this were discussed in chapter 4 of Get Off The Grass with the success of Nokia and interplay between the parent industry providing the skilled workforce, much like Silicon Valley, and the investment in academia in related fields of study provided the ecosystem

one of the key ingredients behind Finland’s success was the development of a cluster of companies and institutions around Nokia that created a robust innovation ecosystem in which business could flourish.

Ultimately you can't just create a Silicon Valley by supporting start-ups in one industry newly transplanted into an area. Although agglomeration effects help, you need to develop a whole eco-system with not only supporting industries - say suppliers and potential customers - but different kinds of companies in the same industry to allow progression and experience to stay in the area to do this.

So, what happens if you do graduate, find a job in Silicon Beach then after a couple of years want to move on but aren't keen on commuting - and with tweets like a regular occupancy in my timeline, is it any wonder people aren't keen on commuting?

Ancedotally, After a while this tends to push people into moving up to London if they can't get a job back in Brighton. This troubles me a bit, you lose some of that "knowledge spill over" talked about above. Personally to get around this I mainly attend out of work meetups in London, for example either at the BCS HQ or ThoughtWorks briefing, to meet a wider range of people working on more varied projects. London has by far the largest percentage of graduates in its workforce compared to other major cities.

House prices are forcing a reaction against this pushing push people away from London, but according to Office of National Statistic (via the Guardian) they aren't coming down the coast, they are going to cities like Birmingham and other regional centres. 
What does this mean for Brighton? well we suffer from proximity to London that has an unusually high draw on graduates, we don't seem to have an industry for agglomeration effects to be beneficial ... although with software product companies like Brandwatch, Pure360 and 15below growing in size with their network of national and international clients I am fairly optimistic that we may be at the start of this process. It will require some commitment in providing the office space and infrastructure to support companies as they grow from moving and importantly allow other companies to setup bases here, how different would the landscape look for graduates and expereinced workers alike with a Facebook or Microsoft having some kind of local presence?

Further developing an onboarding process for a green field product

This is  part of a series  about my side project  Bashfully , which aims to give graduates and other new entrants to careers a seasoned prof...