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    Entries in Technology (331)


    Learn a new word: Fault Tolerance

    Why does your car continue to run if one of the tires goes flat?

    How was Sully able to still steer and point the plane, eventually landing in the Hudson River, when both of the plane's engines had lost power?

    How are our organizations able to (more or less), carry on when something goes wrong, or someone fails to get the email, or Jerry in accounting just screws up?

    It's called Fault Tolerance, and it's today's entry in the wildly popular 'Learn a new word' series. First, some definitions from our pals at Wikipedia:

    Fault tolerance is the property that enables a system to continue operating properly in the event of the failure of (or one or more faults within) some of its components. If its operating quality decreases at all, the decrease is proportional to the severity of the failure, as compared to a naively designed system in which even a small failure can cause total breakdown. Fault tolerance is particularly sought after in high-availability or life-critical systems. The ability of maintaining functionality when portions of a system break down is referred to as graceful degradation.

    fault-tolerant design enables a system to continue its intended operation, possibly at a reduced level, rather than failing completely, when some part of the system fails. The term is most commonly used to describe computer systems designed to continue more or less fully operational with, perhaps, a reduction in throughput or an increase in response time in the event of some partial failure. That is, the system as a whole is not stopped due to problems either in the hardware or the software.  A structure is able to retain its integrity in the presence of damage due to causes such as fatiguecorrosion, manufacturing flaws, or impact.

    Why does fault tolerance matter?

    Obviously it matters a ton in complex, mission-critical technologies and machines that rely on hundreds, if not thousands of components, connections, and systems. If every time a single failure point in a car or a plane or in a power delivery grid caused the entire system to crash and become inoperable, then, well, we would hardly every drive or fly anywhere and we'd be sitting in the cold and dark in our houses most of the time.

    As the sage Bender once said, 'Screws fall all the time, sir. The world is an imperfect place.'

    But why does falut tolerance matter more generally?

    Because I think we don't spend nearly enough time thinking about what will happen when something goes wrong in our organizations, or in our lives for that matter. Even just thinking about bad things happening is so unpleasant for folks that we tend to underestimate the chances of them happening, and undervalue the impact when they do happen.

    But the engineers who design systems and processes and machines with the idea of fault tolerance in mind seem to have come to terms with the inevitability of bad things happening - like both engines going dead on a jet plane, and have proactively designed the system response to such failures. 

    Put more simply, they know something is going to go wrong, because something ALWAYS goes wrong. The trick is knowing ahead of time not just that something will go wrong, but how to prepare the rest of the system and people and processes to not allow the thing that went wrong to crash the entire system.

    Something always goes wrong. In your car and in your semi-annual budget task force. 

    Be ready instead of surprised next time. Think about fault tolerance and what it means for your shop.


    Maybe automation will hit managers as hard as staff

    Super (long) read from over the weekend on the FT.com site titled 'When Your Boss is an Algorithm' that takes a really deep and thoughtful look at the challenges, pain, and potential of automation and algorithms in work and workplaces.

    While the piece hits many familiar themes that have been covered before in the ongoing discussion and debate about the cost/benefits of increased automation for front line workers, (Uber and the like largely controlling their workers while still insisting they are independent contractors, the likelihood of reduced wage pressure that arises from increased scheduling efficiency, and how the 'gig economy', just like every other economy before it, seems to create winners and losers both), there was one really interesting passage in the piece about how a particular form of algorithm might just impact managers as much if not more than workers.

    Here's the excerpt of interest from the FT.com piece, then some comments from me after the quote:

    The next frontier for algorithmic management is the traditional service sector, tackling retailers and restaurants.

    Percolata is one of the Silicon Valley companies trying to make this happen. The technology business has about 40 retail chains as clients, including Uniqlo and 7-Eleven. It installs sensors in shops that measure the volume and type of customers flowing in and out, combines that with data on the amount of sales per employee, and calculates what it describes as the “true productivity” of a shop worker: a measure it calls “shopper yield”, or sales divided by traffic.

    Percolata provides management with a list of employees ranked from lowest to highest by shopper yield. Its algorithm builds profiles on each employee — when do they perform well? When do they perform badly? It learns whether some people do better when paired with certain colleagues, and worse when paired with others. It uses weather, online traffic and other signals to forecast customer footfall in advance. Then it creates a schedule with the optimal mix of workers to maximise sales for every 15-minute slot of the day. Managers press a button and the schedule publishes to employees’ personal smartphones. People with the highest shopper yields are usually given more hours. Some store managers print out the leaderboard and post it in the break room. “It creates this competitive spirit — if I want more hours, I need to step it up a bit,” explains Greg Tanaka, Percolata’s 42-year-old founder.

    The company runs “twin study” tests where it takes two very similar stores and only implements the system in one of them. The data so far suggest the algorithm can boost sales by 10-30 per cent, Tanaka says. “What’s ironic is we’re not automating the sales associates’ jobs per se, but we’re automating the manager’s job, and [our algorithm] can actually do it better than them.”

    The last sentence in bold is the key bit I think. 

    If the combination of sensor data, sales data, and scheduling and employee information when passed through the software's algorithm can produce a staffing/scheduling plan that is from 10% - 30% better (in terms of sales), than what even an experienced manager can conjure himself or herself, then the argument to replace at least some 'management' with said algorithm is quite compelling. And it is a notable outlier in these kinds of 'automation is taking our jobs' stories that usually focus on the people holding the jobs that 'seem' more easily automated, the ones that are repetitive, involve low levels of decision making, and require skills that even simple technology can master.

    Crafting the 'optimal' schedule for a retail location seems to require plenty managerial skills and understanding of the business and its goals. And at least a decent understanding of the personalities, needs, wants, and foibles of the actual people whose names are being written on the schedule.

    It seems like algorithms from companies like Percolata are making significant advances, at least on the first set of criteria, that include predicting traffic, estimating yield, and devising the 'best' staffing plan, (at least on paper). My suspicion is the algorithm is not quite ready to really deeply understand the latter set of issues, the ones that are, you know, more 'human' in nature.

    Or said differently, it is unlikely the algorithm will be able to predict a drop in productivity due to issues an employee may be having outside of work or adequately assess the importance to a good employee of the need to schedule around a second job or some other responsibilities.

    There is probably a long way to go for algorithms to completely take over these kinds of management tasks, you know, the ones where actually talking to people is needed to reach solutions.

    But when/if all the workers are automated away themselves? Well, then that is a different story entirely. 


    VIDEO: Steve on DisrupTV talking HR Tech, Disruption, and the NBA

    Quick spot for a long holiday weekend getaway Friday. Wanted to share some video from Ray Wang and Vala Afshars' DisrupTV show, where I made an appearance I did last week.

    On the show, Ray, Vala, (and with a special late in the show appearance by Holger Mueller, talk about HR Technology, digital disruption and transformation, and I even make a VERY bold prediction for the upcoming NBA season.

    You can catch DisrupTV on the show's Vimeo page here, my appearance, (about 20 minutes), is here, and also embedded below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).

    DisrupTV Featuring Steve Boese, HR Technology Conference 8.26.16 from Constellation Research on Vimeo.

    Hope you found the topics interesting and maybe, just maybe, you will agree with me on my NBA dark horse pick!

    This was a really fun conversation - thanks to Ray and Vala for having me on the show!

    Have a great, long weekend!


    HRE Column: Five Big Themes in HR Tech and #HRTechConf

    Here is my semi-frequent reminder and pointer for blog readers that I also write a monthly column at Human Resource Executive Online called Inside HR Tech and that archives of which can be found here.

    As usual, the Inside HR Tech column is about, well, HR Tech, (sort of like I used to write about all the time on this blog), and it was inspired by the planning process for the upcoming HR Technology Conference, (October 4-7, 2016 in Chicago).

    As the Conference program comes together one of the most common questions I get from people is if there is a theme or a main subject of focus at the event in a given year. And this year, as in the past, I don't generally set out to program to a specific theme or set of ideas, but rather the overall themes and ideas that people and organizations are most interested in tend to reveal themselves, and the program takes shape. On this month's Inside HR Tech column I take a look at some of these 'big themes', what they suggest for HR and business leaders, and point readers to sessions at the Conference that are great examples of how we will cover those themes at the event.

    Here is an excerpt of the HR Exec column titled 'Five Big Themes in HR Tech'

    The 19th annual HR Technology Conference and Exposition® is fast approaching (Oct. 4 through 7 in Chicago) and, in my capacity as program co-chair, I get a unique opportunity to talk with dozens of executives from HR technology solution providers, organizational HR leaders, industry analysts and thought leaders as I review and prepare the conference agenda.

    Through these many conversations, solution demonstrations and my participation in industry events, I try to get an overall idea on which trends, themes and important ideas are driving the practice of HR and are reflected in the HR technology landscape. This year, I'd like to share what I think are the five big themes and trends in HR tech, what they suggest for HR leaders and offer a little bit of a preview of how these themes will be covered in the upcoming HR Tech Conference.

    1. Making Sense of HR and People Data

    If there has been any single, consistently cited HR trend in the last several years it's the increased use of data and analytics in the practice of HR and talent management. This trend is still in the early stages of more mainstream and common adoption in organizations, and once again at this year's HR Tech Conference we will focus on some success stories of organizations that are making early and important progress in implementing analytical approaches and technologies to inform and improve people processes and talent-management decisions. As analytics and data-driven capabilities become more accessible and available in HR technology solutions, it will be critical for HR leaders to stay up-to-date on these latest developments, to learn from early-adopter organization successes, and to position themselves and their HR teams for what is coming next.

    Featured Session: Using Predictive Analytics to Improve Hiring and Retention at Foot Locker

    2. Engaging and Retaining Talent

    Just as analytics remains an HR "trend" that does not show signs of diminishing in importance any time soon, the organizational challenges of engaging and retaining the best and most talented employees continues to rank high on the agendas of most HR and business leaders. As the economy continues to improve, and unemployment rates decline to near "full employment" levels (at least in the United States), talent management has likely never been more critical to the success of the modern organization. The stubborn skills mismatch in many in-demand job roles only adds to the need to improve talent-management practices. The HR technology marketplace, of course, is responding to these challenges, with an evolving set of solutions to help HR leaders and organizations with these important talent concerns.

    Featured Session: Taking Talent Management from Antiquated to Innovative at White Castle

    3. The Continuing Impact of Marketing on HR and HR Tech

    A few years ago, we began to see more collaboration between marketing and HR in the areas of recruitment advertising, employment branding and candidate experience. Today, most HR and talent-acquisition leaders have seen the value of this increased amount of integration and collaboration, and the adoption of many marketing principles in HR and recruiting processes. It's not just Candidate Relationship Management systems where we see this manifest in HR technology -- in the last few years new HR tech solutions for managing HR and recruiting content marketing, crafting, shaping, and communicating the employer brand, and helping employees share their unique career stories with the outside world have emerged.

    Featured Session: The Employer Value Proposition: What the CHRO Needs to Know

    Read the rest at HR Executive online.....

    You know you HAVE to clock over to HRE and check out the remaining big themes at HR Tech this year right? Well, hop over to HRE to find out.

    If you liked the piece you can sign up over at HRE to get the Inside HR Tech Column emailed to you each month. There is no cost to subscribe, in fact, I may even come over and take your dog out for a walk or re-seal your driveway if you do sign up for the monthly email.

    And one last thing, the Early Bird pricing for the HR Tech Conference expires on Wednesday, August 31 - head on over to the Conference website to be sure in register before that great discount expires.

    Have a great weekend!

    Have a great day!


    VIDEO: "Alexa, I hate my boss"

    Earlier this year I blogged about and Trish McFarlane and I did an Episode of the HR Happy Hour Show loosely based on the annual Internet Trends Report by famous analyst Mary Meeker. In the most recent report, a fair bit of time was given towards the increase in capability and use of 'voice interfaces', e.g. tools like Siri, Cortana, and Amazon's Echo device.

    Check out the video below from HR Tech provider ZipRecruiter on what an HR/Recruiting use case of the voice interface might look like incorporating Amazon Echo, (and it's 'Alexa' persona), and ZipRecruiter's database of open jobs. The video is really short, take one minute to check it out, then some closing thoughts from me after the clip. (Email and RSS subscribers click through).

    Pretty cool, right? I admit it is kind of a simple, almost too simple example of the voice interface, (and I grant that this may even be 'real' functionality, just kind of an example), but I still was intrigued by the possibilities and potential of voice interaction with smart applications like Alexa to facilitate finding information and effecting interactions.

    You could pretty easily imagine this video continuing with Alexa alerting the job applicant that her application is being considered, and suggesting a few times for an interview with the recruiter or hiring manager. Or maybe even the pre-screening type questions could just be 'asked' by Alexa right after the application is received, and the applicant can just have the conversation with Alexa rather than a HR phone screener.

    At any rate, I thought the video and the application was very cool, I am not aware of any other HR tech provider working on something like this, so cheers to ZipRecruiter for thinking about the future and how technology will change the way we interact with talent and talent technologies.

    Happy Wednesday.