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Podcast: Reinventing Business – The Shift to Self-Managed Organizations

ET Group CEO Dirk Propfe joins the MacKay CEO Forums, CEO Edge Podcast to share his insights on ET Group’s journey of Reinventing Business – The Shift to Self-Managed Organizations.

The CEO Edge Podcast brought to you by MacKay CEO Forums provides valuable insights and practical advice from Canada’s top CEOs and trusted advisors.

Take a moment and give it a listen: https://bit.ly/29dzhzD

ET Group Shuns Typical Business Mentality, And They’re Growing Because of It

Craig MacCormack of Commercial Integrator has featured us with his latest article “ET Group Shuns Typical Business Mentality, And They’re Growing Because of It”.

By eliminating traditional MGMT structure, ET Group Toronto starts a conversation across the AV industry and finds clients who want to know—and spend—more.

Take a moment and give it a read: https://bit.ly/29dzhzD

 

 

4 ET Group Policies That Will Shock Traditional AV Business Leaders

Craig MacCormack of Commercial Integrator has featured us online with his latest article on “4 ET Group Policies That Will Shock Traditional AV Business Leaders”.

AV business leaders: have you recently considered how to run your company better? Perhaps you can take a cue from how ET Group treats employees.

Take a moment and give it a read: https://bit.ly/29dG509

What we Learned From our First Design Sprint

Over the last several years we have had a burning desire to build out our Advisory Services after many years of working with clients that need a fully baked A/V Strategy prior to undertaking massive office change. Many companies pull in A/V technology companies after offices are nearly complete. A/V Strategies are critical in the early stages, often informing how offices should be laid out and how technology can be used to help people collaborate, innovate, and be more efficient.

Chris Wheeldon from Two Raven Consulting Services was brought on board to help us undertake our Service Design Sprint. This is an interview we conducted with Chris on his experience hosting our sprint and what was learned.

What is a Service Design Sprint?

The short answer is that it’s a way for a team of 4 to 7 people to create a new service for their business in just five days. It was designed to be a fast and inexpensive way to innovate.

The longer answer is to unpack the term into three parts:

Design is a people-oriented approach to creating. Done properly, it steps back and looks at the big picture realizing that the whole, is more than just the sum of the parts. Putting oneself into the shoes of others is a key element. In a workplace, these others include the occupants, the service support people and those who approve changes – financial, legal, managerial, etc. Thinking like a designer means considering an ecosystem of people, not just one or two.

“Service design, as the name suggests, specifically creates new services and improves existing ones. It thinks about the journey of the customer and the touch points that people encounter as they interact with a service, and looks for ways to improve the effectiveness and experience of those touch points. Service design changes negative or neutral experiences into positive ones by remembering that services are parts of a system and that people who use a service do so because they want to get something done.”

How does it differ from a more traditional process?

Design sprints differ in several ways from conventional methods of innovating.

They deliver results quickly – solutions can emerge in as little as a week – and rely on the members of the team to do the work of understanding the problem and creating a solution. Because of this they are much less expensive than the traditional consultant model. Most companies can learn how to run sprints on their own. This reduces the cost of innovation and dependency on outside consultants.

Design sprints can be an effective way to bond siloed departments around a common challenge. Their co-creative approach builds an enduring sense of ownership and empathy within the team – they understand one another better and care more about shared concerns.

Sprints enable companies to work like startups, who have what’s often called a “fail fast” mentality. What this really means is that through a sprint process they start with a minimal solution, learn quickly what works and what doesn’t and can easily adjust course to suit. This lets companies move towards the right outcome with smaller investments of time, energy and money.

Can you talk about the process you undertook with ET Group?

It started as a conversation – to understand what they wanted from a sprint and whether it was the right model for their stated objective of building an advisory business.

The sprint was run over four workshop days plus an interview period and looked something like this:

  1. Defining The Challenge

The first day was about framing the initial problem to be solved. The team started by sharing what each person knew about the challenge and its environment. This is the start of empathy within the team – sharing what everyone knows and assumes. This helped them decide who they needed to interview.

  1. Insight-Gathering Interviews

The team conducted several interviews over the next week and a half, mostly with visionary leaders that they knew. They were exploring what these people experience now and what their struggles are when planning for AV services. The team amalgamated all this learning into an overall map of customer experiences, including the most painful parts.

  1. Co-Creation + First Test + Lean Start-Up

Building solutions came next. Each person on the team came up with a solution to address one or more pain points, then shared it with the others. Then, each person added their own thoughts. No critiquing was allowed. After everyone had shared their ideas, each person drew a final version of their solution. Then they all voted on what they liked about each proposed solution.

With these ideas fresh in their minds, the team developed their Minimum Valuable Service. The MVS is unique to Service Design Sprints and is a map of how they want the customer to interact with their new service. In contrast to other types of mapping – value stream, swim lane, etc. – it starts off by identifying what the customer is trying to achieve at each step, then describing the tools they are going to apply to meet those needs. It’s minimal because everything not essential to addressing a pain point is parked for later.

Finally, the team ran a test of the new service and gathered feedback. This is really an on-going process but at this early stage the question is whether the customer even values the solution. If not, then a new solution can be quickly built and tested with the information they already have on hand. By designing and running simple experiments that become more sophisticated over time, the team will get to the right solution that they would not have seen from the outset.

Was there an “a-ha” moment that led to surfacing their goal?

What’s interesting is that at the beginning the team doesn’t know exactly what their goal is – only a general one. The process encourages them to have questioning minds and discover those unmet customer needs that are the source of true innovation.

Why would you encourage others to try it?

Service design sprints are akin to project management in that they aren’t specific to any industry – they’re a way of looking at re-building services with an outward-facing, questioning mindset and using a team-based approach to create better ways of doing things. By applying an approach that uses experiments to produce the evidence that decision-makers need to perceive the value of an innovation, it can potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on a new initiative.

The Workplace of the Future is Already Here

For the last several months I have been using the Beam telepresence robot from Suitable Technologies and even though we’re fully equipped with lots of video technology in our office already, I found that Beam allowed me a whole different type of presence in the office. I can freely join meetings or gatherings in the office on an ad hoc basis and I’ve found it’s really great to see what’s happening firsthand while I’m at another location.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Suitable Technologies to discuss using Beam telepresence technology. I am excited to share my thoughts and hope that you enjoy the read as much as I enjoyed the interview.

https://suitabletech.com/news/blog/full/1766-the-workplace-of-the-future-is-already-here

ETG wins Business Excellence Award at the NSCA Leadership & Business Conference

I recently had the pleasure of attending the NSCA Business and Leadership Conference in Dallas, Texas.

The annual conference in its 20th year,  is well known for being an industry leading event. I was not only attending as a participant, but also had the privilege of accepting an award on behalf of ET Group.

The NSCA conference incorporates their annual Excellence in Business Awards. The award criteria is broken up into six different categories and looks for companies that are leading the industry, and providing solutions to industry challenges. This year, ET Group was nominated and successful in winning an award in the Differentiating Strategies category.

In the last year, we have identified a major shift in the industry, and wanted to refocus our offerings to our clients. We understood that it wasn’t just about offering a product. We wanted to provide our clients with exceptional value. Advice and consulting became part of our offering. Our new approach weaves people, space and technology together.

This shift for us, has required our employees to be strategic. They partner with the client and really embed themselves into the organization’s culture to truly understand their needs, and where we can provide the most value. Changing how we work with clients, required us to change as an organization and adapt our own internal processes.

To achieve a real change within our own organization, we adopted design thinking, different participatory leadership approaches, moved to a self management model, decentralized decision making and encourage an advice process. We work in teams and have a work from anywhere culture. We noticed that it was also the little cultural nuances that mattered. We ensure staff take all of their vacation entitlement, understanding how important this is for our overall culture. In our customers eyes we are viewed as relevant and progressive.

The results of our commitment internally to adopt the principles we were presenting to our clients was amazing. We  have been able to grow our revenue by thirty percent, have a happier and healthier organizational culture and offer our clients value, in ways that we have personally experienced.

Although the journey hasn’t always been the most comfortable, I know, personally I have reverted to old habits, but I am fortunate to work with a team that keeps me accountable and is committed to making this work. Winning this award is a fantastic accomplishment for ET Group and our entire team, and I feel honoured to have attended on behalf of the organization to accept this award.

Brad Flowers
Principal at ET Group

Embracing Technology for Accelerated Growth

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a MacKay CEO Forums breakfast panel discussing embracing technology for accelerated growth. The speech was well received and a number of participants suggested I share some of the insights with a broader audience. This my attempt at doing so. I hope you will enjoy it and find some of the suggestions useful!

Some context. At ET Group, we help our clients weave people, space, and technology in a way that facilitates collaboration and fuels innovation, which I believe are two of the most critical creators of value and growth for any business. As such, we live and breathe different types of social and digital technology innovations and have had lots of learnings along the way.

To get started, I invite you to answer the following questions:

  • Have you ever owned a Sony Walkman?
  • What about  a CD player?
  • What about an iPod?
  • Now, do you still uses any of these devices?

I bet most of you had or still have some of these devices and most of you do not use them anymore. Why is that?

Next question; Do you have a Spotify, Apple Music, or Google Music account?

Most of you probably answered yes.

Final question; Do you listen to music?

Assuming of course that most of you listen to music, we can deduce the following: most, if not all of us, listen to music, and listening to music is the “job we are trying to get done”. Listening to music stays constant, while the technology we use to “do the job” changes and evolves, and that change and evolution will continue.

I’m sure you would also agree that as good as they are, Spotify, Apple, and Google Music are not the end of the evolution of technology to help us listen to music.

This brings me to my key message: Using technology to accelerate growth for your business is not about focusing on the technology itself. It’s about having clarity on the “job to be done”.

Once you understand the highest ­value work that you need to complete, you can choose the right technology to help you get that job done ­­faster, better, with greater collaboration, and with better engagement. By doing this, you will truly be using technology to enable accelerated growth for your companies.

As discussed with the music example, technology changes constantly. This constant change comes with a desire to embrace the “new”, to jump in with both feet now, so that we don’t feel left behind. But there can be a cost to being too quick to adopt technology simply based on a bigger, better feature set. We run the risk of being seduced by the allure of something new before we truly understand how it will support us to do the work we need to do.

I’ve experienced this first hand at ET Group, and it’s been a transformational learning experience for me and for my team.

A story about ET Group:

I believe very strongly in the power of real ­time communication to strengthen team dynamics and collaboration. And so, inspired by this belief, we set out to improve real ­time communication and collaboration at ET Group.

We are a small enough company that has the luxury of experimenting with different technologies to see what works best for us. And “experiment” is exactly what we did.

In trying to improve our communication and collaboration; we installed Polycom hardware in one room and felt like we were off to a great start. Then we paid for a managed service to give us the functionality and quality we needed. This was expensive yet worthwhile. Once those were in place we wanted video at the desktop ­­ so we tried a number of platforms (Vidyo, Polycom, Cisco Jabber, Videxio, Microsoft Lync). Everyone now had video at the desktop. But not all platforms could connect with each other and we started to see “islands of technology”.

We had to make a choice, so we mandated Videxio as the single desktop video platform. As with most mandated decisions, it did not satisfy everyone. Instead of increasing collaboration, it was disrupting key business processes and people were getting restless.

After buying additional infrastructure to integrate some of the technologies we continued adopting new tools. Now it was time to try out Slack. Slack ­­was a great platform for asynchronous communication and real ­time collaboration, but I didn’t get the right buy in or communicated its purpose clearly. Instead, I simply started using it and asking people who worked closely with me to use it as well, believing they’d see the value and embrace it. I thought that I had the perfect solution but the result was not what I wanted. 100% of the company was on the platform but only 20% were using it.

Things didn’t seem to be getting any better until we discovered Cisco Spark. At first, Spark looked like Slack with a smaller feature set. But soon we realized that this platform could potentially replace our phone system and video infrastructure, connect to our rooms, provide asynchronous communication and messaging. In short, it could lots of different “jobs to be done” that we really needed on a daily basis.

We went all in with Cisco Spark, and today we live and breathe with it. It has transformed how we work and how we get things done to fulfill our purpose and bring value to our clients. Through Spark, we can work in a more elegant and effective way.

Although we did eventually find a solution, we got there by taking the long path. ­­A much longer path than we needed to. The most important lesson of the story: If we had started by clearly defining “the job or jobs to be done”, we would have been able to avoid spending so much time, energy, and money on iterative and redundant solutions along the way.

We learned a lot from our journey. And I want to share with you the five biggest things I learned ­­and that I believe are critical for the search and adoption of any new technology:

5 Key Findings:

1. First, approach the process with humility. Listen to different people and perspectives. We all know that listening well is one of the key attributes of great leaders ­­ and it’s absolutely critical where technology is concerned. Listening allows us to truly understand “the job to be done” in all areas of the business. As CEOs, we know how value is created, but we may not know exactly how the job is being done.

2. Second, choose the right decision ­maker. Identify a person who will gather input from all those who will be affected by the change, and have expertise around the matter. This requires humility and the ability to balance priorities from a range of inputs.

3. Third, bring in outside expertise when you need it to help surface the jobs that needs to be done. Some organizations are already great at this ­­ and if yours is, you’re ahead of the game already ­­ but many are not. There are fantastic advisors out there who can help uncover the information you need. Invest in using those advisors.

4. Fourth, clearly share the thinking behind technological change ­­ and allow people to own their part of the solution. This fosters engagement and buy­-in from inception through implementation.

5. Fifth, and most important: invest the time up front to fully understand the “jobs to be done” before jumping to a solution. I can’t emphasize this enough. By slowing down, you’re able to hone in and identify the high ­potential technologies that will truly transform your business.

If you take this approach, you’ll be amazed at how smooth the adoption of technology will be. You won’t need to worry about buy-­in, because the people using the technology had a voice in the decision making process. And this means that the solution you provide them is one they helped choose ­­ and one that will help each of them do the “job they need to do” better. The effect is extraordinary. I’ve experienced it myself, and it now informs every technology advice we provide to our clients.

To restate my key message, embracing technology for accelerated change is not actually about the technology. It’s about understanding the highest­ value work your internal teams and your customers need to do. Once you have that clear, your path to a solution is easy to chart.

The Office of The Future: It Starts with Collaboration

“When we work together, open up, and share ideas, the solutions and possibilities that surface are limitless.” – Dirk Propfe, President & CEO

ET Group had the pleasure of working with London Life: Freedom 55 Financial as their trusted technology advisor to design and implement the Office of the Future. London Life was looking for a fundamental shift in how the organization operates by redefining the customer and advisor experience. The overall success of this project was due to two key factors. Firstly, the leadership team on this project recognized the need for real change. An upgrade in technology or a design facelift wouldn’t be enough or sustainable to achieve the desired results. The team went far beyond aesthetics and technology. They were committed to weaving people, space and technology together, fundamentally changing how the organization operates. To embark on this transformational journey, the leadership team recognized the need for a cross functional team augmented by strategic partners with deep subject matter expertise and a willingness to collaborate and co-create together.

This collaborative and co-creative approach was the second factor for success. I believe workplace transformation projects are highly complex and require a co-creative approach where people are willing to learn, let go of their assumptions and beliefs, and experiment with new solutions and approaches to discover breakthrough innovation. Freedom 55 recognized not only the need but the value in bringing the right partners together to complement their team. ET Group, Figure 3, and Flexpaths were the advisors and partners that were invited to provide additional insights and expertise around People, Space, and Technology. By inviting the right partners, co-creation and collaboration flourished to offer a more holistic solution that addressed many of the emerging needs of Freedom 55.

Please check out the article to learn how collaboration is breaking through barriers and providing innovative solutions to change the future of workplaces.

Virtually Virtual: Intouch Magazine Feature with CEO Dirk Propfe

I am pleased to share I am on the cover of Intouch Magazine talking about virtual collaboration and the future of work. I feel this is very timely as ET Group is undergoing a major transformation that is very exciting and important to deliver on our purpose of weaving people, space, and technology together.

I am thrilled for the cover and accompanying article on Virtual Collaboration not just because they shine a light on the awesome work of ET Group but because I feel this article highlights how we as organizations and society at large are evolving and embracing new ways of working that are richer, more effective, and more human to connect us around common purposes regardless of our physical location.

Virtually Virtual, Dirk Propfe, CEO, Ivey Business, WesternWe are living in a highly complex world where challenges and opportunities are becoming harder to comprehend and address. I feel new ways of working, and the virtual technologies and healthy team practices that are fueling them, are a necessity to help address the challenges we are facing. Complex issues can only be addressed effectively by inviting our individual insights and talents and by weaving them together with the contributions of others. Virtual collaboration is allowing us to tackle these challenges without being limited by time and space. It is as if the virtual realm is finally becoming mainstream.

This is very relevant to our work here at ET Group of weaving people, space, and technology together as it becoming more and more important to help build bridges between the physical and virtual realms. As we continue to do this effectively, we are helping our clients evolve and embrace the future of work. Delivering on that potential reality is really inspiring for me personally and for our team as it makes our work more meaningful, resulting in higher engagement and personal growth for our amazing team members. In any case, I highly recommend the article to anyone wanting to learn how to collaborate virtually more effectively. Stay tuned if you are interested to hear more about my perspectives on the future of work and ET Group’s ongoing evolution.

Dirk Propfe

Digital Signage – The Browser Takes Over!

InternetThe browser is slowly taking over as the user interface and connectivity platform for Unified Communications (UC). Voice, video and content sharing are all available from your browser, whenever you want. There is no longer a need for special applications to be installed on your devices allowing you to communicate with others. Less plugins and add-ons allow the browser to enable these types of programs and more native browser code enables the applications to work across browsers. UC technology is moving to the browser, this trend is gaining momentum and it makes sense.

Using a browser makes it easier for businesses to connect with consumers right from their web pages without having to worry about having an app like Skype or Facetime installed on the user’s device. For users, having the browser as the common tool for accessing applications, web content and UC makes life simpler because there is no need for specialized applications for each task.

Digital Signage is Moving from a Player Based to an Open Web Based Architecture

In a previous blog on the Next Phase of the Digital Signage Market, I discussed how the 2nd phase of the corporate digital signage market is characterized by the ability of the digital display platform (DDP – an evolution from just digital signage) to be open.

Phase 1 of the digital signage market on the other hand, was characterized by what I call a Player Based Architecture (PBA). The development of this market was described in this blog. The key feature of this architecture is the focus on the player that is attached locally to each screen. The player software and often the player hardware are proprietary. This approach solved a lot of IT scarcity issues as the market for digital signage developed, but today this approach has limitations within the enterprise that are not easily managed across the organization.

The Player Based Architecture has led to:

  1. A fragmented marketplace with 100’s of solutions confusing buyers looking for a corporate solution
  2. Departmental decisions being made for digital signage solutions and corporations who now find themselves with numerous digital signage providers that cannot be reconciled into a single platform
  3. Almost no interoperability between players and content systems from one vendor to another. They are totally isolated silos.
  4. The user departments mentioned above in #2 wanting to move the support of the digital signage solution they purchased from their department to IT, because it is an IT solution
  5. Corporate customers who want to leverage the network of digital displays across their organization as a single platform that is capable of digital signage and much more

The Browser is a Key Piece of Unifying IP Technologies

An open digital display platform (DDP) that is IP based allows customers to use the DDP for digital signage and much more:

  1. You can switch from digital signage being displayed on the digital screens to any other content – easily, centrally, without additional hardware, cables or manual intervention at the screen location
  2. Other IT platforms can easily integrate to the DDP
    1. Live streams – Telepresence, broadcast, webcasts, webcams, etc.
    2. Internet of Things systems – Security cameras, fire alarm systems, etc. ( here is a blog by Geoff Mulligan, “Interoperability Is Key to Unlocking the Internet of Everything” which underscores this point)
    3. Live database updates – SQL, Oracle, etc.
    4. Potentially thousands of web widgets and content sources developed by hundreds of companies
    5. Any other Internet compatible content

Looking at what is happening in IT from an architectural point-of-view, the browser is becoming the focal point and the common platform for:

  1. User interface
  2. Applications
  3. Common development languages and tools

A web based architecture (WBA) makes a real open system.  The browser and IP are the unifying technologies.

More and more technologies are moving to the browser. Unified Communications (UC) is a perfect example. In a recent blog on Skype and Skype for Business coming together, I wrote about how Microsoft also seems to be heading in the direction of the browser despite their massive base of Skype application users. UC is moving to the browser, via WebRTC. The browser is where the market is heading, and by taking advantage of this trend, you will simplify your systems, save money and speed deployment.

An Open, Web Based Architecture

The transition to a digital signage open, web architecture means using the browser as the player software, instead of proprietary software. Moving to a web based architecture has lots of advantages:

  1. Players – Your choice of player widens substantially and costs go down
  2. Capabilities – As the browser manufacturers enable more and more features within them, programmers in turn, can build richer capabilities within their browser code
  3. Browser choice – software that runs in a browser can easily run on any standard browser – Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.
  4. Compatibility with other technologies that use a web based architecture, e.g. UC, Internet of Things. This allows what were formerly islands of technology to easily connect with each other.
  5. Improvements to the browser are occurring constantly and cost the consumer nothing at all.  When the browser software clients are improved, updates are easily deployed.

YouTube

Let’s use a very simple example to illustrate the freedom and capability that a WBA can provide over a PBA.  Almost everyone is familiar with YouTube.

What if you wanted to play a YouTube video as part of your digital signage Show? If you were using a PBA, you would first, have to figure out if the player software would support playing a YouTube video. Many would not. But the progressive PBAs have built some capability into their player software to handle some web content.

Not any web content, but some web content. Player software is not a browser.  It is a custom made application. The app may have enabled some browser like capability within the player application, but it certainly would not have the full capability of a browser. An analogy would be, Microsoft enabling some Internet Explorer capability within Word. They could certainly enable some browser functionality in Word, but Word would never be like Internet Explorer or Edge, Microsoft’s new browser.

What happens when you click on a YouTube video on your PC or mobile?

The video begins to play – right away, and the video stream starts to buffer while you are watching the video. This same simple process does not happen on your digital sign with a PBA, assuming that it is capable of supporting a YouTube video. The PBA must first stream the entire YouTube video to the player software client. Then the player software has to incorporate the YouTube video into it and initiate the play of the new Show that contains the YouTube video. This whole process can take a while.

In a Web Based Architecture, the browser is the player software. So when you tell a Show to start playing a YouTube video it does so immediately just like playing a YouTube video from a browser on your PC. With a WBA, you can also:

  1. Update just a part of the Show with new content without having to first stream and then restart the Show
  2. You can immediately start playing a new Show without having to first stream and then restart the new Show
  3. Play any kind of Internet content without requiring modifications to the player software
  4. Track playback of any content on the player using simple cookies and audit trails
  5. Cache content on the player using the latest Application Cache features of HTML5, to continue playing even when the network fails

Your Greatest Strength, Is Your Greatest Weakness

The greatest strength of a WBA for digital displays is that Google, Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla and others will continue to develop and enable the browser with more functionality and capability. This will make a WBA architecture even more powerful over time and since browser software is free, you won’t have to pay for any of these improvements.

This can also be a disadvantage, because you are at the mercy of the companies who own the browsers to continue to enable them with greater functionality. In the first phase of the digital signage market the WBA was at a disadvantage, because browser functionality was limited and so was network capacity and availability. Those limitations are no longer there, but each of the different browsers has its own quirks. You can mitigate the quirks as you become more familiar with options and tools.

I believe that the digital signage market will become dominated by solutions that are based on web standards and Internet Protocol. That is where other technology is heading and digital signage needs to interact with these technologies in order to continue evolving as a platform.