Passionate about #AI? Then look no further…


(Cross-posted @ Horses for Sources)

Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath make up the top three in the inaugural HfS Top 10


The rise of RPA is nothing short of spectacular as the market closes on $2bn this year. It has captivated the attention of the digital operations executives with the promise of cost-savings beyond labor arbitrage, cost avoidance by extending the life of legacy IT, quicker implementation than traditional IT projects, business-user friendliness, auditability and compliance, straight through processing, and let’s be honest – terrific marketing!

However, confusion around RPA deployments is also rife. There are growing questions whether RPA can deliver on the promised ROI and outcomes. Most RPA initiatives continue to be small and piecemeal. Truly scaled RPA deployments are rare. The industry is still struggling to solve challenges around the process, change, talent, training, infrastructure, security, and governance.

With the mission to demystify this confusion and uncover the truth to successful RPA deployment, we conducted a first of its kind RPA CX research to develop the list of “HFS Top 10 RPA Products” (See Exhibit 1). The research is based on interviews over 350 clients and product partners across the ten leading RPA products across:

  • Ability to execute based on product functionality (Ease of integration with legacy IT, Unassisted automation functionality, OCR functionality, Scheduling functionality, Development tools, Exception handling, Required set-up coding, Ease of product configuration); integration and support (Service extensions and connectors, Documentation, Certification program, Training and customer support, Experience in serving multiple geographies, Adoption across multiple industries, Required IT skill-sets), and security and governance (Uptime and SLA commitments, Version control and upgrade management, Centralized controls, Regulatory compliance, Enterprise security, Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity Planning (BCP))
  • Innovation capability based on flexibility and scalability (Accommodating process / environment changes, Licensing model flexibility, Ability to handle multiple processes, Workflow templates and library of processes, Handling multiple inputs) and embedding intelligence (Processing structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data, Operational Analytics, Dashboards, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities)
  • Voice of the customer based on the RPA products ability to drive business outcomes (Realizing cost savings, Speed-to-market, Overall satisfaction, and Client reference ability)


Key highlights from the HFS Top 10 RPA Provider assessment

  • Overall RPA Client Experience has been ‘Good.’ The aggregated average CX scores across all assessment dimensions is three on a scale of 4 implying a good overall experience. For most clients, RPA has created value in addition to reducing costs (just not as much and as fast as they heard in the first sales pitch!). For almost all the RPA products assessed, security, controls, accuracy, integration, and out-of-the-box functionality performs as promised. Basically, RPA works!
  • Getting RPA “production ready” is not as easy as promised. The client experience with the amount of coding/configuration required is rated amongst the lowest. Management of version control and upgrades as well the training and support offered by RPA providers was also sub-par. The primary reason behind this is a classic expectation mismatch – the RPA providers oversold and overpromised, raising the client expectations beyond normal, that then resulted in less than required client investments towards process and change management. The disappointment associated with RPA is not about the technology itself.
  • RPA is not very smart (at least as of today). The dimension around embedding intelligence in RPA was rated amongst the lowest by clients. There is considerable confidence in RPA’s ability to process structured data but drops down significantly when asked about unstructured or even semi-structured data. Clients are not convinced about the Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities of their RPA products. The good news is that most RPA providers recognize this and are investing in building out capabilities especially around Machine Learning (ML). At HfS, we believe that the holy grail of service delivery will be at the intersection of the Triple-A Trifecta – Automation, AI, and Analytics

Bottomline. RPA works but is not a magic wand. Best practices are emerging

Based on our in-depth conversations with the RPA clients, we developed a set of best practices that you need to keep in mind when implementing any of the RPA products:

  • RPA is not a silver bullet. Keep expectations realistic
  • RPA cannot automate everything. Choose the use-case wisely
  • RPA success is not about technology. Treat it as a change agent
  • Automated processes are still processes. Invest in documentation, especially as for complex automations
  • RPA vendors are product companies. Do not expect them to behave like service providers
  • Do not side-step your IT folks. RPA success requires IT-business collaboration
  • RPA products are still nascent. Do not short-change security and testing
  • RPA is not a one-time exercise. Change management and ongoing governance and the keys to continued success
  • RPA is not the holy grail. Business outcomes driven by integrated solutions are
  • RPA does not solve your data issues. Data-centric mindset is the key
  • RPA offers more than cost savings. Think beyond cost-reduction and figure out how to measure success

Stay tuned for the full report… coming very soon


(Cross-posted @ Horses for Sources)

This medical pioneer trains digital doctors with AR and VR

Dr. Shafi Ahmed is a practicing cancer surgeon who specializes in laparoscopic, or keyhole, colorectal surgery. In his words, “that’s kind of my day job.”

He’s also Associate Dean at the prestigious Barts Medical School in London. It’s worth noting that the Medical College of St Bartholomew’s Hospital (the oldest remaining hospital in the UK) was founded in 1123 and has provided medical education since that date.


Dr. Ahmed is also co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of Medical Realities, a company that uses virtual reality and other immersive technologies to “solve big problems in surgical training.”

And, crucially, he is a foremost proponent of using virtual reality for medical education.

Given this background, it was a no-brainer for me to invite Dr. Ahmed to episode 281 of the CXOTalk series of conversations with the world’s top innovators. The discussion explains how virtual reality is advancing both medical education and telemedicine.

Watch the entire video, which is embedded above, to gain insight into the practical benefits, challenges, and ethics of using this technology to train digital doctors.

You can also read the complete transcript and see edited summary comments below.

How did you become involved with virtual reality for surgery?

Dr. Shafi Ahmed: I initially was one of the Google Glass explorers. We used the Google Glass to live stream an operation around the world. I taught about 14,000 students across the globe in a single operation. They could see what I was watching, and they could text me during the operation, which would come off the Google Glass. I could answer in real time. It was a way of connecting people around the world in a way that hadn’t been done before.

That further forwards with the virtual reality, and we created our own kind of live stream using 360 cameras. Then we could bring people into the OR with me in virtual reality using a smartphone and a Google Cardboard. That was a different way of teaching the art of surgery. On that day, I taught 55,000 people in 142 countries in 4,000 cities. It just shows the impact that people have.


More recently, I’ve been working with holograms, avatars to connect doctors around the world to discuss patients, to perhaps educate people and to reshape the way that human traction is forming in medicine. I’ve also used social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, which kind of had much interest around the world, reaching millions of people using this media because they’re free [and] they’re accessible.

Students these days, who are much younger than we are, they’re using social media in a way that we haven’t seen before. It empowers them, and you can teach 1,000 people in a single day across the globe just by the power of connectivity, Michael.

Why is there so much interest in medical training of this type?

Dr. Shafi Ahmed: Surgery is often shrouded in mystery. It’s almost that secret society we’re in. We go into the operating theater. We wear masks. No one knows what happens. We want to be more open and transparent so that the public can see what we do. We’re only human. They can share our kind of work and look in to see not just the operation, but how the team works in the operating theater.

Also remember, regarding the students, they’ve been taught surgery for hundreds of years, in the same way, all crammed in together into the operating theater. For example, our medical school. We have six, eight, maybe ten medical students at a time who sit in the OR. Often, they don’t get a chance to see what’s going on because it’s busy and the team is around the patient in the OR.

If you look very carefully, the students in the back of the room are on their smartphones, on Instagram, on the Net going other things, not learning or engaging. They spend six to eight hours a day in that environment learning, so we’ve got to challenge that and say, “How can we teach it better? How do we use these technologies so that we allow you to get a good value for your training and teaching?” That’s been the remit of my work.

Where does VR fit into the history of medical education?

Dr. Shafi Ahmed: People are now using the web internet to learn themselves. I see both augmented reality and virtual reality just as an extension, as a continuum of platforms. We’ve got to figure out where AR and VR, for example, will allow us to teach people in a way that is validated, makes sense, and that adds something to their educational experience. That’s where we are regarding the platforms.

Virtual reality has an advantage, of course, because when you put your headset on, whether it’s a smartphone and a headset, or a tethered or a large device, more powerful devices, we’re immediately immersed in a 360 environment. Most of the time we’ve been training on videos and 2D interfaces. You can imagine having a cup of coffee, watching what’s going on on YouTube, trying to learn the fundamentals of a video operation.

Video has moved on. Now it’s going to be VR where you can see yourself in 360 degrees. You can see the whole team working and see what’s going on. We very rarely have been concerned with the soft skills, they call it, how the team is working, how the communications are going in the operating theater. What are you doing?


Rather than having the points of view, you see a total immersive area of learning. You know what? That’s quite important in surgery. People forget surgery is not all about the actual operation and doing it immediately in front of you. It’s how you’re communicating with the team to give the best outcome for the patient. If things are going wrong, how are you dealing with it? How is that team behaving? I think all of those things add more of intellectual stimulation for learning in that platform. That’s where VR is an advantage.

We’ve been playing around with virtual reality. We’ve played around with 360-degree video, and that’s been quite interesting. Many people now are thinking about storytelling, VR, and 360. Very early on, this was going back, Michael, about three years ago, we made our own 360 cameras, and 3D printed some platform for a few cameras like GoPro and things to stick together. We then produced some images and videos we stitched together ourselves because that wasn’t available at the time.

Very quickly, I learned that the 360 videos are one element of learning. It’s great. You can add other things like hotspots, like learning material. Make it into a learning package rather than just the operation. That’s what I’ve been working hard on the last two and a half years with my team, Medical Realities, to create a learning platform, content that is powerful and that is validated so that it becomes the way of learning in the future.

What are the primary advantages of virtual reality in medical education?

Dr. Shafi Ahmed: Okay. I think, first, it’s very much a visual platform. You may remember most learning now is visual. Video content is what we use now to drive our learning pathway. Video has become such a powerful medium now, whether it’s YouTube or something else.

Then we’re looking at, what’s the real advantage of virtual reality? It is immersive. When you are in the headset, you do feel as though you’re there, which is different from watching a 2D interface on television, for example, or on a computer. That element of immersion where you feel that you’re physically in the same room adds a different dimension. You’re suddenly concentrating on the environment, looking around, and there’s more pressure on you. If you’re replicating operations or simulation, for example, there’s more realism attached to it rather than the traditional method of learning on a video screen maybe using traditional simulation models where it doesn’t feel as real. I think the realism certainly is an added value to this.

Virtual reality, sadly now, is hardware driven. A lot of companies out there are bringing headsets out one after the other. That’s not the answer. We have to find compelling content in virtual reality to drive the industry and also to drive the headsets to people’s houses and homes. The content that has to be compelling. It has to be validated and reliable, which needs to be shown in trials and projects to make the whole virtual reality kind of pathway more helpful to people.

What is the future of medical education?

Dr. Shafi Ahmed: We are still practicing medicine like it was 50 years ago with the same disciplines of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and clinical sciences, sometimes integrated, sometimes separate two and three years or three and three years, for example. That’s going to change.

Why does it have to change? Because much learning we do is unnecessary. We don’t need to learn every muscle of everybody, for example. I think it’s irrelevant. We can teach the muscles in different ways. We can teach in AR and VR in the future, so I think that will change.

The curriculum takes a while for things to move on. Remember, you must go through various regulatory bodies to evoke change. Even if it’s just an exam question, it takes a two- or three-year cycle. That’s the problem.


At our medical school, we are trying to create doctors of the future. If you look at where technology is heading towards, I call the future doctor the digital doctor or the connected doctor. We are looking at individuals in the next five to ten years who will practice medicine differently to we practice with the onslaught of all these technologies I described like blockchain, like artificial intelligence, like wearable sensors, big data, pharmacogenomics, nanobiotechnology, and VR and AR. All of these are coming together at the same time to impact healthcare, but we haven’t taught our medical students what’s going to happen or how to deal with these changes.

I think it’s the beginning of changing the way we teach our medical students of the future. You know something? They’re different from us. Doctors now don’t want the careers that we had before, the 120 hours of work every week, for example, for X number of years training hard. They want flexibility. They want to see the world. They want to travel. They want to be entrepreneurs. They want to challenge healthcare in different ways.

I often call them portfolio doctors now. It’s a new term again based on the career pathway. You can do more than one thing in medicine. That’s where we are at the moment, and that’s where I think we need to drive medical school education to produce the doctor of tomorrow, Michael.

CXOTalk offers in-depth conversations with the world’s top innovators. Be sure to watch our many episodes! Thumbnail image Creative Commons from Unsplash.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure)

It’s time to give these poor Millennials a break


What is wrong with us old timers these days?  We go to conferences where we make sure no one under age of 40 comes near the place, and we spend half our time bemoaning the lack of a “digital mindset” from our colleagues because we all have these world-class digital mindsets ourselves. And can someone please explain what the f*** a digital mindset actually is?  And can someone explain why everyone blathers on about their company’s inability to change with the times, but never admit they don’t really want to change anything either…

But let’s be honest, we treat our beloved Millennials like some sort of obscure species whose members only communicate digitally with each other, like to wear these really big expensive headphones, drink far less than we did at their age, and no longer go to bad discos to find romance. Not to mention an unhealthy love of avocado toast that helps their quest for a purpose in life because of failed parenting strategies leaving them permanently depressed because of low self-esteem.

In addition, we’re now accusing them of lacking ambition and only caring about their next vacation. But how can we blame these poor folks from feeling like we stitched up the world before they came along… as most cannot come close to affording the cheapest shoebox in any half respectable neighborhood, the poor folks in the UK are going to get cut off from working in Europe soon, and the lost Millennial souls in the USA had to choose between two septuagenarians as their president, who hardly represent the emerging mindset of the digital youth (even though you do have to be impressed with the President’s twitter skills…).

So imagine the refreshing impact when HfS analyst Ollie O’Donoghue, a proud representative of the Millennial race when he’s not trying to annoy Amazon, piped up on LinkedIn with the following staunch defense of his species:


Click here to join Ollie’s LinkedIn discussion


The Bottom-Line:  Love them or loathe them, Millennials are the Future

So to quote Ollie directly: “Entitlement goes both ways. It’s just previous generations got what they were entitled to. They worked hard, bought a house, paid a mortgage, got relative financial and social security. The reason so many Millennials are checking out of the economy is because they work hard and get, well, nothing. Home ownership is the stuff of legend, even job security is a thing from a bygone era – and something a lot of ‘future of work’ commentators are making worse.”  So let’s use this opportunity to bring Millennials into our inane conversations about a future of work with less need for people, about our businesses being persistently disrupted by imaginary digital competitors, about blockchain’s emergence to destroy whatever we have left… because if we don’t, we’ll have a big hole left in our corporate legacies that we’ll struggle to fill, as all the talent will be checked out on the beach dreaming of their next avocado latte.


(Cross-posted @ Horses for Sources)

Sports, engagement, and tech company lack thereof

As those of you who know me, know, I’m a huge sports fan.

I love the Yankees, really like the New York Giants, like the Rangers and the Knicks, though can’t tolerate the Knicks owner(ship), who are a blight on the game of basketball. In the latter case, thus, I, like other somewhat rudderless or at least broken-ruddered NBA fans, like watching the Golden State Warriors. I have a second NFL teams that I like beyond the Giants, though not as much: the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams, due to the love of those teams by a pair of my unrelated friends. Baseball, its only the Yankees. Diehard, Diehard 2, and Diehard 3 in my commitment.

Oddly, due to my CRM “reputation,” for the last six years I’ve been actively involved with the business side of (mostly) professional sports teams/leagues/venues via an association called the SEAT Community (Sports Entertainment Alliance in Technology), which are, if I had to characterize them, what you might think they are, the leading consortium of the technology buyers in sports. They are the ones who buy CRM systems, data/analytics systems, IoT systems — any systems that either operationalize their organizations and support the sales and marketing cycles of the teams or that support the engagement of fans. They were founded and still are led by the extraordinary Christine Stoffel, who not only has this community she created, but also was one of the first senior level women in sports back in 2007 when she led IT for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Each year, at around this time, I attend the SEAT annual conference as a member of the Executive Advisory Board of SEAT. I do my job there: Speak on some topic or another, introduce people to each other, cross pollinate the tech world with the sports business world, etc. And I love every minute of what I do there, not only due to my love of sports, but because the attendees are these enormously engaging, highly skilled professionals, both young and somewhat older (though not many my age) who love, love, love what they do.

What’s not well known about sports teams (but germane to this post) is that they are not enterprises, though a few (Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Real Madrid) can be classified marginally that way given their revenues. Most though are mid-sized businesses with small business sized staff. The business staff, including the people who make the decisions on which CRM, customer engagement, data warehouse, analytics, social media tools, and technologies that the teams are going to use, have small budgets for what are huge tasks and big choices. The reasons are the obvious ones. The markets aren’t all major cities, though are urban, for the most part, and more importantly, the players get paid far more than they are actually worth for the entertainment value they bring and thus the seats they fill and the ancillary revenues they help drive. Some of the larger entities, like the Yankees, built their own regional network to take more control over the ancillary benefits — and their YES Network is the most watched regional sports TV network in the US of any kind. But, more typically, in whatever sport they are in, they are getting a piece of merchandising and TV revenue that is due to the excitement that is generated around a good team and exciting players. But that means the expectations are so outsized and absurd that when a player has a bad year, you hear the media saying, “He only got a raise from his $3.5 million to $4.7 million,” as if that’s normal, when the only thing that a normal human being would get if he performed equally as poorly at his job would be fired.

But, even with these smaller budgets — the money effectively left over after the salaries of the players are paid — the sports business side is expected to manage the expectations of these millions of fans who love their teams. To compound this, the sheer quantity of fans and the sheer level of the expectations of each of these fans is breathtaking. Expectations are outsized, often even entitled, and enterprise scale. That’s because the fan’s perception of the team, aside from the romantic view, is that the team is as big as the salaries they pay.

You know that this is true. You know that because you’re a fan of some team somewhere — I assume most of you are — and you (and me too) have ridiculous expectations of what that team, which you have loved since you were little, should be doing on the field all the time and for you whenever you ask. Rarely would you demand that performance level from any other entity you interact or transact with — mostly because you don’t care as much, so you don’t bother.

This is the power and dilemma of sports. They (and maybe music or movies) have a unique problem. Most of us, most industries, and most companies would kill to have advocates and evangelists who are promoting and communicating about our brand nonstop and passionately believe in it. It is literally the optimal customer for you: They both transact and get others to do the same. Sports’ problem is not finding or creating advocates. They have millions of ready-made advocates per franchise. How to manage and communicate and embrace them in ways that ultimately satisfy both the team/league/venue and the fan is what their problem is now.

The power of a team lies in its ability to influence those millions of devotees. The impact a team can have on a brand — an external one – is enormous. It’s why companies in the tech world like SAP, NetSuite, Oracle, Salesforce, and others associate with the teams of their choice as sponsors.

This salient fact goes to the heart of why I’m writing this: Given the impact that these teams/leagues have on a brand and given the outsized love that fans give to teams, several of the technology companies — and I will be calling out some shortly — are doing something that I think is incredibly poorly thought through. Yet fixing it would take so little effort; the cost would be minimal and benefit exceptional.

Let me explain.

SEAT 2018 happened and you weren’t there — at all

You know me… I’m not a hostile person and never will be. But I am straightforward, probably due to my New York DNA. I’m saying this to set a stage. Because I’m naming names soon for tech companies that are showing a disgraceful lack of support for an industry.

As I sort of said, I’m a member of the executive board of SEAT, and the only non-sports person on it.

For the record: I’m speaking on my own behalf here, as Paul Greenberg, CRM industry analyst and individual guy — not on behalf of the executive board at all. My opinions are my own, but then again, who else’s would they be?

I have attended six SEAT conferences, including the 2018 one in Dallas Texas that I just returned from. They are wonderful events where I speak on non-sports topics that have relevance to sports — this year customer engagement, but not fan engagement, per se. I interact and mingle with both the teams and leagues and venue folks and the sponsors who I often know from my “regular” life. It is relaxed, enjoyable, and the content is always valuable. What makes this particular event unique in the world of sports is its composition. The attendees are the people who buy all those systems that I mentioned before. In other words, the people making the purchasing decisions for whether or not to choose one CRM system or another are those who attend — roughly 1000 of them. They range in title typically, from senior manager to C-level executive. But they are the ones who decide that they are going to buy someone’s CRM system.

What I found out, non-scientifically over the years that I’ve been there, are numbers and inferences like this when it comes to what technology vendors are used by the teams, leagues, and venues (and these are numbers I was told, not from formal studies):

  1. Microsoft Dynamics DOMINATES the CRM landscape — estimations are about 65 to 70 percent of all sports including teams, leagues and venues, and over 80 percent of major league baseball use Dynamics CRM or some part of it.
  2. Salesforce is making important inroads – with teams like the San Francisco Giants, Golden State Warriors, Detroit Tigers, leagues like Major League Soccer, etc. But Salesforce, oddly, lacks a sports vertical, so they have no real focus around it. To me, lost opportunity.
  3. KORE Software, a combination of a standalone solution and an integrated solution designed for sports, has over 100 teams in their stable and some major sports industry influencers like Russell Scibetti and Mark DiMaurizio working for them.
  4. Tableau has about 80 percent of their market share in at least baseball and high percentages elsewhere. Significant enough to show some major support for the industry.
  5. Marketo has been a choice for many teams for a marketing automation platform. Again, in sufficient numbers for Marketo to show that it appreciates the business.
  6. Oracle Hospitality has a significant presence; I think mostly in venues. Again…
  7. SAP is gaining significant market share in the data management and analytics side of things in both teams and venues.
  8. Thunderhead is gaining ground for the customer journey orchestration and the associated analytics with several teams onboard.
  9. SSB is also a player that competes with KORE more than anyone else and is highly visible.

Yet, at SEAT — the SPORTS INDUSTRY CONFERENCE THAT HAS THE BUYERS OF THOSE VERY PRODUCTS — only Oracle, KORE SSB, and Thunderhead sponsored it and did what any sensible reasonable company in this situation should do: Show support for the industry that they are participating in, rather than being disrespectful, which is what it is, by not being there when this is a no brainer to attend. And the effort and cost are minimal by comparison to what they spend.

Clap, Clap, Clap, and OK and Booo

I applaud these companies for being there (of the tech companies that I know from the CRM, engagement, CX, ecommerce side — there were others).

  1. Oracle (Hospitality, Sports, & Entertainment)
  2. Adobe (via Magento)
  3. Thunderhead
  4. KORE
  5. SSB

Here is who attended but should have made a more significant effort, and I trust will next year:

  1. SAP (had their Sports vertical lead there, but didn’t sponsor)
  2. Salesforce (had their chief evangelist there but as an individual)

Here are the scofflaws that didn’t even bother to send anyone (or, if they did, they certainly didn’t make their presence known nor did they appear on any attendance list):

  1. Microsoft
  2. Tableau
  3. Marketo

The three latter companies should be ashamed of themselves — especially Microsoft and Tableau, which have majority percentages in sports market share in their respective domains. How do you not even bother to show up and show support for an industry that has given you the lions share of their business? I can’t fathom it. Especially if they (the vendors) have an organized sports practice at the company. This is the conference that the folks who buy their technology and make the decisions on whether or not to continue to buy the technology attend. Not MIT Sloan, which is a sports analytics conference and a place to hunt for a job in the sports industry. SEAT: Sports Entertainment Alliance in Technology. Get it? It’s in the name.

Excuses? Nuh-uh

Let me make something clear — and again, this is my observation, not SEAT’s executive advisory board — the tech companies that don’t attend SEAT don’t go unnoticed. At one point or another, there were multiple conversations about the non-attending companies above. They took two roads. The first, and honestly, the lesser of the number, was the lack of attendance at SEAT and wondering why companies like Microsoft, which, to be fair, had sponsored SEAT in the past (and years ago, even sponsored a speech by me at one point — or, actually sponsored a session that I was going to be giving regardless), weren’t there. The other was far more prevalent and, portended far more issues than not attending SEAT – complaints about problems that the teams were having with all of the companies. These were complaints related to:

  1. The technology itself and their particular implementations of it.
  2. The lack of responsiveness to help them when they need it.
  3. The ignorance of the needs of the teams/leagues/venues as they evolve.

This is far more potentially deadly to the companies that could, by attending, have at least indicated a willingness to communicate by being there and to put out the fires in the making. But they weren’t, and since this is a conference where best practices and, like any other human endeavor, industry gossip got shared big time, wells started to get poisoned, as complaints were shared and thus reinforced. The good will — that the tech companies had — started getting reduced, and the lack of communications reinforced by the fact the companies weren’t there to support and respond.

It wasn’t all bad. Not at all. But I will say, what used to be a trickle, is now a stream, and if I was Microsoft or Marketo or Tableau, I’d do something before it became a river.

I can imagine their excuses — and one of them is actually somewhat valid, but shortsighted: “We don’t get enough revenue from them to justify support.” Its true, these are hardly the defining revenue streams for these companies. And, “Well, a few of us (Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP) pay millions of dollars (or hundreds of thousands) to be sponsors and we have suites at the stadium etc.” But that actually just bolsters what I’m about to say: It’s not an excuse at all. (And maybe they would be wise to not use that either.)

So, let me make this easy by addressing the no shows:

Revenue is not the reason that you work with a sports team — as you well know, because some of you do purchase skyboxes and sponsor walls at the stadia. The ancillary benefits, the marquee value, the brand equity, the willingness of a team to say that you provide tech that makes them work better etc., is a major plus. Think team endorsement of a brand like, say, Coca Cola. You think it doesn’t impact Coca Cola sales? You know it does. Brand association is the where the power is, and it impacts revenue in many places. So, don’t me give that revenue argument. You wouldn’t be sponsoring teams if you didn’t understand the immense value that the association with the teams and leagues and venues provide. To emphasize the point, studies done by the Sports Business Journal and Turnkey in 2017 found that:

“47 percent of the 400 fans surveyed correctly identified Gatorade as the league’s official sports drink, the highest recognition rate ever received in the study by any NHL sponsor.

Gatorade spent $4 million advertising during NHL telecasts last season, according to data from, up 150 percent from the 2015-16 season.

Along with the NHL, Pepsi has league sponsorship deals with the NBA and NFL.

In another Sponsor Loyalty Study down by SportsBusiness Journal and Turnkey Sports, but this time for the NBA, Gatorade, a partner with the league since 1984, saw its fourth consecutive year of improved awareness among avid fans and continued to inch closer to its all-time high of 64 percent among that group, which it established in our inaugural study back in 2007.”

Look, I’m not trying to say this B2C example is the same as a B2B relationship. It isn’t. But it reflects the power of sports and the willingness of the brands that are consumer direct to pay out a lot of money over a long period to retain the relationship because they recognize the value of sports in influencing decisions to purchase. This has an impact on decision makers in B2B deals, too. I think you all know that. Think all the way back to the 1950s and 1960s. There was a reason that part of the courting of the decision-makers that went on then was taking them to ballgames. You’ve all felt that power. I know you know it yourselves.

This is also where you stop the poisoning by being available to answer questions and dissipate the rumors that are being reinforced by being shared when you are not there to answer them; show the teams that use your systems, that you actually care about the problems that they are having with your technology in their specific deployment by being responsive on the spot; and interact with the teams to show them that you are willing to support them.

This is where you stop viewing every conference in the universe as either worth it or not worth it due to its lead generation opportunities. Let me be crystal here: Conferences are never worth it as lead generation vehicles. If they happen, and a deal or two comes from it, its pure serendipity. They are valuable for the networking, the visibility, and the ability of someone who might become a lead down the road to have at least: A) seen what you have to offer; B) be aware that you are supporting the industry they are in (a big plus); and C) provide them with the ability to evaluate you in a first somewhat informal way with your competitive peers. That’s it. If a true lead comes out of it, you have a bonus. But it’s a bonus, not a reason to be there.

Another reason? Sure. The people who attend SEAT are senior management from those sports teams/leagues/venues. Many of them are part of much larger entertainment empires (e.g. Kroenke Sports & Entertainment) or are expanding their offerings far beyond the game and the merchandise itself (e.g. Golden State Warriors, Dallas Cowboys). There is a lot of opportunity due to the wide spread idea of sports being a leading experience in an experientially based environment. These guys are building empires, not stadia ,and if you are a tech vendor that can’t see beyond their own… tennis racket… then don’t come.

Just saying.

I hope that all the vendors I’ve called out read this and realize I wish them no malice as irritated as I sound. I see lost opportunity, disrespect for an entire, influential industry, and no apparent concern. It bothers me — despite the fact that I like Microsoft and Marketo. I don’t know Tableau as well, so I can’t say that I like them or not. But I also think that if you are going to be involved in an industry, and that you understand that we live in a digital world that involves not just software and services, but emotional responses, behavioral signals, a potentially viral response to the effort expended, which can go in either direction, and the power of an industry that rests well beyond the revenue it provides, then an effort should be made at a minimum to respect those you are taking the money from — and to some extent, to fear the consequences of that lack of respect. Also, if you can’t see that, think of the opportunity you are losing for sports brand support by the increasing disrespect that your disregard brings, as the relationship erodes over time.

I’m an industry analyst that makes literally no money from the sports industry. In fact, it costs me money to work with them, because I’m free to all them. But I’ve met some amazing and now lifelong friends and highly experienced practitioners, which makes it worth it to me well beyond the coolness factor that sports always provides. And even though its companies like Microsoft and Marketo who’s world I am a part of, considerably more than sports, I think that these tech companies need to be called to the carpet to fix their relationships with the teams/leagues/venues so that they aren’t in a position where there is nothing left to fix. I don’t mean to be harsh. I really don’t. I respect the companies I’m calling out. But its time for them to step up and support the sports community, which means, honestly, to support those very people who support them with their dollars and their use of their products. That means honor those who are honoring you.

In this case, that means, the SEAT community. Plus, simply, how smart is it to do it, and how hard is it to do it? Very and not at all.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Social CRM: The Conversation)

The High Potentials

Ask any room full of corporate types “Please raise your hands if you think you are above average”, and I will bet you a venti coffee that more than half the hands will go up. I have also asked and have been asked this question myself. As soon as we raise hands, we also realize that we don’t really know what the average is and neither can we rationalize how most people raised their hands. The next thought is “I see that Joe raised his hand too and he is absolutely below average – so there are some people here who think too high of themselves”. Generally – the point is well made every time this exercise plays out – but the collective “we” still think pretty high of ourselves 🙂 . I think this is a good thing and even when misplaced , this element of confidence is what drives us all forward .

I don’t think anyone questions the idea that some amongst us have more potential than others – we just don’t agree easily by how much. We don’t (usually) hold a grudge against the ones who are unquestionably smarter than us – we generally admire them. However if we think they only have a marginal edge over us – there is a good chance that we don’t agree to treat them as a “high potential”.

At various points in my career across multiple companies , I have been tagged as a “Hi Po” . I have identified and groomed a bunch of HiPos myself . And I have listened to hundreds of colleagues tell me “there is no way that person is a HiPo” . And I have also fallen from grace as a HiPo from time to time – in cases where I agreed and in other cases where I disagreed with the assessment . My perspective has evolved on this topic along the way, and probably will change some more.

To begin with – I think organizations should rethink whether they have a logical way of identifying HiPos . This is one area where it’s a big mistake to lower the bar – even if that happens unconsciously. The obvious immediate risk is that you risk the business by giving critical role to someone not ready for it . Perhaps the greater risk is that other deserving candidates lose faith in the system and choose to put in less than their best , or worse – to jump ship !

Some critical questions could be raised on the people who make the decision and their process.

1. Are the people making the HiPo determination qualified to do so ? How were they selected ? Are they in tune with the market and what the future needs ?

2. How do they validate their decision ? Is the process audited from time to time and changes made ? Has bias crept in ? What happens when it is clear that a mistake has been made ? Is there an appeals process ?

3. Are candidates chosen because their peer group is pretty weak ? How do we know if they truly have high potential compared to the market ?

Sometimes it’s made pretty public on who are the high potentials in the team – and at other times it’s kept somewhat of a secret. Either way , over a period of time – everyone will come to know who these people are by looking at what assignments and promotions they get . In a transparent system – there is a good chance that others strive hard to be a HiPo . In an opaque system – there will just be a lot of frustration and corporate gossip. I have often felt that the reasons for lower transparency are in a large part because managers don’t want to deal with a large number of employees asking them why they were overlooked .

What if you think you truly have higher potential than the organization credits you with ? Everyone goes through this a few times in their career. Most of the time we attribute it to bad luck and try again and usually things even out for us over time. However , occasionally there is the case where you think you are repeatedly overlooked and less qualified people keep moving ahead of the pack.

Most of the time there is no sinister motive from managers and it is just a game of chance that didn’t do you any favors this time. But the true test of whether your organization is undervaluing you is to test yourself in open market.

A classic case in my industry is people who get stuck at a senior manager or an associate partner level and can’t seem to make it to partner level . They also see some others fly through the ranks and make partner at a relatively young age. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I think the partnership appointment process is a fair process in all the firms I know. I also know that a small percentage of people end up not getting through it for no fault of theirs. For such folks – my advice has always been “Go apply at another firm and see if they will hire you as a partner”. If you are a partner at one firm , there is a good chance you can make a lateral shift as partner elsewhere . But it’s an order of magnitude harder to do that if you are not yet at partner level . But it does happen from time to time – and unless you try , you won’t know if you were truly overlooked where you are or if you still have work to do . And the “still have work to do” might not be as big as you might think – usually it’s something as simple as signing up for a public speaking class. Or it might need you to build a better network – which is usually easier where you already work , compared to trying it in a new employer.

There is also the part of being more self aware. We need to realize that some people are smarter than us and deserve more success than we do. What we should not accept is any systemic bias – like “it’s because I am a woman or Indian or because I chose to raise a family ” . Those need to be fought !

This was all about what could go wrong in choosing or being chosen as a HiPo . But what about the great case of being chosen as a HiPo ?

I can say with no hesitation that being selected is generally the easier part. The really hard part is to continue to stay as a HiPo and realize that potential ! It takes very little effort to derail

To begin with, you are in a hard spot – knowing your management rooting for you and having high expectations , while some of your overlooked peers may play passive aggressive with you and team.

Staying grounded and humble is the best strategy . You also need to develop thicker skin – it can get lonely for a little bit while you find your feet . Your tone of communication will be put to test – it’s very easy to be interpreted by others as condescending or patronizing . And you have to resist the temptation of staying YES to everything – you are a HiPo , not a superhero!

But the most important – and perhaps the most gratifying part – is to help others in their journey to be HiPos . As you get bigger roles that are a stretch – your success depends on building a motivating your team. The ones that blossom as HiPos are typically those that quickly realized they need more HiPos around them to hit it out of the park . And you need to be ver comfortable with the chance that one of your protégés might end up as your senior somewhere along the way .

(Cross-posted @ Vijay's thoughts on all things big and small)