Weeknote 6: User group and MVP events; a new smartwatch; ghost trains; and the start of Christmas (Week 48, 2017)

Milton Keynes – Rochdale – London – Leicester. Not quite New York – London – Paris but those are the towns and cities on my itinerary this week.

Every now and again, I find myself counting down the days to the weekend. This week has been different. It was manic, squeezing work in around lots of other activities but it was mostly enjoyable too.

The week at work

My work week started off with an opportunity to input to a report that I find quite exciting. I can’t say too much at the moment (though it should be released within the next couple of weeks and I’ll be shouting about it then) but it’s one of those activities that makes me think “I’d like to do more of this” (I already get referred to as the extra member of the risual marketing team, which I think they mean as a good thing!).

Bills have to be paid though (i.e. I need to keep my utilisation up!), so I’ve also had some consulting in the mix, writing a strategy for a customer who needs to modernise their datacentre.

On Wednesday evening, I managed to fit in a UK Azure User Group (@UKAzure) meeting in London, with Paul Andrew (@MrPaulAndrew) talking about Azure Data Factory – another opportunity to fill some gaps in my knowledge.

Then, back to work on Thursday, squeezing in a full day’s work before heading to the National Space Centre in Leicester in the afternoon for the UK MVP Community Connection. I’m not an MVP anymore (I haven’t been since 2011) but I am a member of the MVP Reconnect Programme, which means I still get invited to some of the events – and the two I’ve been to so far have been really worthwhile. One of my favourite sessions at the last event was Tony Wells from Resource IT (the guys who create the Microsoft Abbreviation Dictionary) talking about storytelling. This time we had a 3-hour workshop with an opportunity to put some of the techniques into practice.

The evening started with drinks in the space tower, then an IMAX film before dinner (and a quiz) in the Space Centre, surrounded by the exhibits. We returned the next day for a Microsoft business update, talks on ethics and diversity, on extending our audience reach and on mixed reality.

Unfortunately, my Friday afternoon was hijacked by other work… and the work week also spilt over into the weekend – something I generally try to avoid and which took the shine off things somewhat…


I’ve had a full-on week with family too: my eldest son is one of six from Milton Keynes who have been selected to attend the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC) in 2019 and, together with ten more who are off to the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, we have a lot of fund-raising to do (about £45,000 in total). That meant selling raffle tickets in the shopping centre for the opportunity to win a car on Monday evening, and a meeting on Tuesday evening to talk about fundraising ideas…

So, that’s out every evening, and a long day every day this week… by Friday I was ready to collapse in a heap.

The weekend

No cyclocross this weekend (well, there was, but it clashed with football), so I was on a different sort of Dad duty, running the line and trying not to anger parents from the other team with my ropey knowledge of the offside rule

It’s also December now, so my family have declared that Christmas celebrations can begin. Right from the moment I returned home on Friday evening I was accused of not being Christmassy enough and I was forced to listen to “Christmas Music” on the drive to my son’s football match (the compromise was that it could be my Christmas playlist).

Even I was amused to be followed in my car by a certain jolly chap:

My part in decorating the house consists of getting everything down from the loft, putting up the tree and lights, and then finding myself somewhere to hide for a couple of hours until it all looks lovely and sparkly. Unfortunately, the hiding time was actually spent polishing a presentation for Monday and fighting with Concur to complete my expenses… not exactly what I had in mind…

New tech

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we now have a teenager in the house and my eldest son has managed to save enough birthday money to buy a smartwatch. He was thinking of a Garmin device until I reminded him how bad their software is when we sync our bike computers so he went for a Samsung Gear Sport. It looks pretty good if you have an Android phone. I have an iPhone and an Apple Watch (as you may recall from my recent tales of woe) but if I was an Android guy, I think the Gear Sport would be my choice…

Ghost trains

I forgot to add this tale to last week’s week note but I was travelling back home from Stafford recently when I noticed a re-branded Virgin Pendolino at the platform. My train wasn’t due for another 10 minutes so I didn’t check out where this one was going, so I was a little surprised to pass it again as I arrived in Milton Keynes two hours later, after I’d gone the long way (via Birmingham) and changed trains…

Checking on Realtime Trains showed me that I could have caught a direct train from Stafford, but it wasn’t on the public timetable. Indeed, although it stops at several stations, it’s listed as an empty coaching stock working (which is presumably why it is pathed on the slow lines including the Northampton loop). So, in addition to trains that stop at Milton Keynes only to set down (southbound) or pick up (northbound), it seems that Virgin run “ghost trains” too!


I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m in the car. This week I spent a lot of time in the car. I recommend these two episodes:

Twitter highlights

I’m no GDPR expert but this looked useful:

Company branding is great until it makes the information you give out next-to-useless:

Credit is due to the social media team handling the @PremierInn account for Whitbread, they quickly confirmed that it is a J not an I (though I had worked it out).

@HolidayInn were equally on the ball when I complained about a lack of power sockets (and traffic noise insulation) at their Leicester City Centre hotel. Thankfully they replies were limited to Twitter and email – not midnight calls as my colleague Gavin Morrisson found when he tweeted about another Holiday Inn!

This made me smirk (I haven’t “elevated” my Mac yet…):

If you don’t get the joke, this should provide context.

I like this definition of “digital [transformation]”:

This short video looks at how we need to “debug the gender gap”:

The full film is available to stream/download from various sources… I intend to watch.

And, to wrap up with some humour, I enjoyed Chaz Hutton’s latest Post-it sketch:

(for more like this, check out InstaChaz on Instagram)


That’s it for now… more next week…

How a lack of digital skills threatens digital transformation

I follow some very smart people on Twitter. Sometimes they tweet and blog stuff that’s way over my head. Often I agree with them. Occasionally I don’t.

Last night, I spotted a tweet from Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) that I felt compelled to rebel against. I’m late to the party (the tweet is nearly a week old – which is an age in the Twittersphere) but this is what Matt had to say, together with my response:

I’ve long held the view that locking down PCs is missing the point. Even when BYOD was “a thing” (around 2010), I was writing that we needed to stop worrying about devices and operating systems and to start looking at data and applications. Now that’s becoming mainstream thinking – mobile device management (MDM) is finally being replaced with mobile application management (MAM) – and organisations are finally realising that laptops and “hybrid” devices are also mobile devices (it’s not just about tablets and phones).

The age of lockdown is also starting to wane. Yes, organisations will still have corporate builds and still control what employees can do with the tech running on their networks but to get back to Matt’s statement – I simply don’t buy that the lockdown is causing people to have an inability to navigate the Internet safely.

A general lack of digital skills

You see, I’ll suggest that the reason “the workforce [do not have] the heuristic skills necessary to safely navigate the Internet” is a general lack of digital skills. We (in general) have not evolved our technical skills for the use of “office productivity” tools since the mid-1990s. When I was at Uni’, I used MS-DOS 6.0 and WordPerfect 5.1. By my final year, I had progressed to Windows 3.11 for Workgroups and Word for Windows 2.0. And the way most people use a word processor they might as well still be on that platform. In general, people don’t use the features and functionality in our bloated Office products. They just type words, put blank lines in for spacing, pick some fonts manually (ever heard of styles?) and save.  I could use similar examples for presentations in PowerPoint or for spreadsheets in Excel. The introduction of the ribbon in Microsoft Office circa 2007 was said to be an attempt to surface the features people use the most (but features couldn’t be removed entirely because telemetry told Microsoft that everyone uses some of the features, just not all of us, all of the time).

At his Middle School (then aged around 9-11), my son was commended for his tech skills because he was able to offer classroom IT support to the teachers. That’s not because he’s a tech genius but because the staff at the school didn’t know how to use Windows+P to connect to an external screen. To be fair to his teachers that’s not unique to them – it’s the same in most offices too. Similarly for booking calendar appointments for meetings (a black art to some) or not sending email attachments to share documents. The list goes on.

We teach our children to be safe on the Internet but many adults struggle too. “Would you like to see the dancing pigs?” Oh, go on then – click anything to make the box go away. Followed by “Oops, why is my browser opening all of these windows showing sites with pictures of scantily-clad ladies?”. This is not a new phenomenon either.

I’m in danger here of going off on a bit of a rant, so I’ll stop for a moment and focus on what many of us talk a lot about today – digital transformation – or rather how the digital skills gap is hindering our ability to transform.

Digital transformation

Consultants like me work with organisations to help them adopt new technologies in order to address business issues, embrace change and, ideally, adapt their business to innovate – perhaps even disruptively. At least, that’s the idea – far too many organisations seem to want to “run an Office 365 project” rather than to “deliver a flexible workstyle facilitated by modern end-user computing services delivered using a software as a service model”. If they can’t see past the tech, it’s unlikely they will deliver true digital transformation.

Even if their business processes evolve, do the staff have the skills to embrace the change? Do we have one generation (mine) still stuck in 1995, whilst the millennials want to do everything with apps on their phones (incidentally, I think a lot of the stuff written about millennials is rubbish too – but that’s something for another post)? As Lewis Richards (@stroker) notes below, being digital is a mindset.

People Change Management

Many of us understand change management from a technology or service standpoint – but what about people change management? This is where models like the ADKAR model (from Prosci) can help*

ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement – as illustrated below:

The Prosci ADKAR model

It’s about taking people on a journey and helping to manage organisational/people change:

  • We build awareness with communications, model offices, etc. to help people become aware that a change is on the horizon. People are naturally resistant to change, so we need to make them aware of it, take away the initial shock and let them get their heads around what’s happening.
  • After we’ve made people aware of change and helped them to understand why it’s happening, we turn our attention to helping people to embrace the potential. Initially, this is about desire – selling the benefits of the change so that people are asking “when can I have this?”.
  • Knowledge is developed through training. That might not be classroom-based – it could take many forms – but fundamentally it needs to address the skills that people need to adapt to the change – avoiding the digital skills gap I mentioned above that’s be brought on through years of introducing new systems and expecting people to just “get on with it”.
  • Once equipped with desire and knowledge, people gain the ability to function in the new way.
  • Finally, business changes need to change to take advantage of new capabilities. Critically, the new methods and processes need to be reinforced to ensure that organisations don’t fall back into their old ways of working.

Using this model (or something similar), we can equip people to adapt to change and even embrace it. And with suitably skilled people on board, digital transformation has a much better chance of success.

In conclusion

People’s apparent inability to use technology well is not down to the way that corporates have traditionally managed devices. It’s down to a general lack of education and training around digital skills. As we navigate the current wave of digital transformation we have an opportunity to redress that balance. And if we don’t, then we won’t see the benefits and we’ll fail to transform.


*This is not an advert for ADKAR – that’s just the model that I’m familiar with. Other change management methodologies are available. Your mileage may vary. etc. etc.

IT transformation: why timing is crucial

In my work, I regularly find myself discussing transformation with customers who are thinking of moving some or all of their IT services to “the cloud”.  Previously, I’ve talked about a project where a phased approach was taken because of a hard deadline that was driving the whole programme:

  1. Lift and shift to infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS).
  2. Look for service enhancements (transform) – for example re-architect using platform-as-a-service (PaaS).
  3. Iterate/align with sector-wide strategy for the vertical market.

The trouble with this approach is that, once phase 1 is over, the impetus to execute on later phases is less apparent. Organisations change, people move on, priorities shift. And that’s one reason why I now firmly believe that transformation has to happen throughout the project, in parallel with any migration to the cloud – not at the end.

My colleague Colin Hughes (@colinp_hughes) represented this in diagrammatical form in a recent presentation (unfortunately I can’t reproduce it on my personal blog) but it was interesting to listen to episode 6 of Matt Ballantine and Chris Weston’s WB-40 podcast when they were discussing a very similar topic.

In the podcast, Matt and Chris reinforced my view that just moving to the cloud is unlikely to save costs (independently of course – they’re probably not at all bothered about whether I agree or not!). Even if on the surface it appears that there are some savings, the costs may just have been moved elsewhere. Of course, there may be other advantages – like a better service, improved resilience, or other benefits (like reduced technical debt) – but just moving to IaaS is unlikely to be significantly less expensive.

Sure, we can move commodity services (email, etc.) to services like Office 365 but there’s limited advantage to be gained from just moving file servers, web servers, application servers, database servers, etc. from one datacentre to another (virtual) datacentre!

Instead, take the time to think about what applications need; how they could work differently; what would be the impact of using platform services; making use of a microservices-based approach*; could you even go further and re-architect to use so-called “serverless” computing* (e.g. Azure Functions or AWS Lambda)

But perhaps the most important point: digital transformation is not just about the IT – we need to re-design the business processes too if we’re really going to make a difference!


* I plan to explore these concepts in more detail in future blog posts.