Smart Contracts, Remote Teams, and the Influence of Blockchain

The Current State of Affairs

More and more companies are outsourcing their digital innovation projects, opting to partner with remote teams overseas that can outcompete the local market. That said, when working with distributed teams, some fundamental aspects of the working relationship may also change. Regardless of the risk of entrusting a long-distance party with product development – no matter how high the talent level is – it’s still important to reduce the business risk as much as possible the same way it is at home.

Systems still Operate in a Centralized Fashion, Mostly

In most agreements in this space today, parties engage in transactions with one another through a centralized broker or central system, and these are often external. In doing this, each party trusts the central system rather than each other. Although the practice is majorly tried and true, placing the trust on a third party to execute the business is inherently risky because it makes both main parties dependent on the third, not to mention it could also be unnecessarily costly.

Enter smart contracts.

Smart Contracts are a Blockchain underpinned software that stores the negotiating terms, contract verification, and subsequent execution of the agreed terms. These contracts are executed on top of the Blockchain using platforms like Ethereum, designed so that “applications run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud, or third party interference.”

In general, smart contracts offer a new way to remove trust issues and decrease costs by removing the need for a third party when fulfilling contract terms. Decentralizing the process using a smart contract makes it more secure, more cost effective, and faster.

Smart Contracts work and are executed entirely by triggers within the code, so there’s no human interaction during the execution process. This removes the need for the third party involved in more traditional contracts, saving time and money and reducing the overall risk of one side not holding up their end of the deal.

How does a Smart Contract help with remote teams?

For everyone involved in a remote work agreement, smart contracts enable easy transactions safeguarded by knowledge that the Blockchain technology authenticates them independently. For smart contract users, this means that when an agreed deliverable arrives and verified, the contracted supplier is paid automatically by the self-executing smart contract. In this way, the contract will also save time as suppliers won’t have to chase up payment of invoices for services since these are automatically completed via the smart contract.

Fortunately, the same thing applies when payment is confirmed for a product. That product can be transferred automatically to the buyer and its delivery information would be logged within the Blockchain. This provides a complete and incorruptible record of transactions logged on the Blockchain, all in chronological order.

Aside from the increased level of trust, smart contracts also give those involved:

  • More autonomy: There’s no need to involve a third party, and once everything is set up there is no need to jump back in to complete anything.
  • Safety and backup: Cryptography removes the risk of being hacked and as your documents are duplicated throughout each part of the chain, there’s no risk that they’ll get lost.
  • Accuracy: Decreased human interaction with the process removes errors that can arise from manual input. There is a complete and accurate record of everything that has happened within the contract so all components can be tracked.

The upshot

Smart Contacts remove the middleman, lower costs, and make the overall process of remote working agreements more efficient and safe. Expect smart contracts to play a big role in the future of work, as well as other areas as the technology matures.

Beyond the 9 to 5: How remote work and flexible hours are changing the game

One of the most sought after employee benefits today is a flexible work schedule and environment. That includes all the old and new buzzwords like home office, flextime, telecommuting, digital nomad, and remote working. Apart from compensation, a flexible work setup is among the first things a job seeker looks for in the market today, and this comes as no surprise. Technological advances have long been paving the way for the remote worker to accomplish everything at a distance with cloud based tools, real-time collaboration platforms, team messaging applications, and advanced video conferencing.

The natural progression to digitalize the workplace has led to as many as 43 percent of Americans working remotely at least some of the time in 2016. Overall, most of the advantages to the employee are easily recognizable, and they include:

  • More comfortable work & life balance.
  • No lost time in traffic during peak hours commuting to and from work.
  • Savings on childcare for working households.
  • Reducing the need to take leave when unable to be in the office.
  • The ability to plan conveniently with more control over a schedule.
  • Overall satisfaction of not juggling all of the above.
  • While the benefits on the individual are strongly pronounced, the impact on the company is not always so clear. Significant brushback arguments often accuse remote working allowances to cause unreliable results, inconsistency from too much rescheduling, slower outputs, stifled teamwork due to less physical presence, and sacrifices to company culture. Nevertheless, many employers that embrace flexible working environments (software development companies in particular) are finding that the positives far outweigh the negatives. Here’s what many of Digital Knights approved teams are saying they gain from it:

    Increased employee retention

    Arguably the biggest driver for companies to offer flexible working options is the impact on employee retention rates. A report from the New York Times stated that “flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job,” and Thrive Global says according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, “89 percent of companies report better retention simply by offering flexible work options.” In an industry like software development where experienced developers are hot commodities, flexibility has become an integral part of the employment package.

    Increased productivity

    Giving employees the freedom to make their own hours has lead to an increase in productivity for many teams. When it comes to agile development, it’s not a necessity for everyone to be working on the same thing at the same time. Employees can decide when to work based on what best suits them – some people are morning people while others are night owls. Digital Knights teams have expressed that employees who feel free to control their own schedule produce higher quality work more regularly.

    More engaged team members

    If employees are happier in their work environment then they are likely to be more engaged. Sara Sutton Fell, founder of Flexjobs, said, “Employees who feel empowered to structure their work and personal lives according to their needs are more satisfied. In fact, when asked whether they’d rather have a flexible work environment or a salary increase, professionals overwhelming choose flexible work” (Source). Teams within the Digital Knights network have backed up this sentiment, noting that if people feel trusted with more freedom, they also feel more respected and in turn become more engaged and willing to help with things outside of their direct remit.

    Access to a wider pool of a talent in a broader geographical area

    Companies that embrace the offering of flexible work and utilize the tools to their advantage have fewer reasons to limit their recruiting geographically. This can provide massive benefits on the whole as it opens the door to more talented individuals and can turn into a strong culture that attracts other great people. Given this flexibility, it also grants companies the opportunity to work with talented individuals who can’t support traditional 9-5 roles because of disabilities, family responsibilities, or other reasons.

    Making remote work, work

    Taking everything into consideration, it’s important that flexible working is not only offered as an employment perk but that it also works well for both parties. Individuals need to be ready for the added accountability when nobody is watching, and the company needs to update its processes to handle a more dynamic environment. Everyone should have an understanding of what kind of jobs or tasks make remote work a better option, and the company needs to take the necessary measures to ensure that communication, company culture, and responsibilities are upheld. Moving forward, all signs point to flexibility becoming an even bigger mainstay in the the workplace.

    For more tips on workplace transformation, read How to get the most out of remote teams in an agile environment.

Techstars Connect adds Digital Knights to alumni perk network

Digital Knights is proud to announce its invitation to join the perk network of the renowned seed accelerator, Techstars!

Techstars is a worldwide technology acceleration network that runs nearly 40 accelerator programs globally and nurtures an entrepreneurial community among its past and present participating companies. Techstars Connect is a private resource for founders and staff within the Techstars Network.

Beginning now through to March 2020, Techstars alumni will have direct, reduced rate access to the Digital Knights development service for building cutting-edge software with verified tech partners.

This goes for all members of the Techstars network regardless of location, and is available through the Connect perk network, here: https://connect.techstars.com/

The bulk of Techstars’ rich and growing network consists of technology-oriented software and web-based companies and startups, which means finding talent that can produce and deliver fast enough is a significant and constant concern.

Now, however, with on-demand access to the entire Digital Knights network of experienced and reliable tech partners, Techstars alumni who are struggling to find – or have difficulty trusting – teams of developers finally have a data-driven solution.

Digital Knights is eager to assist the many worthy Techstars portfolio companies continue their growth by empowering them with valuable data and rewarding tech partnerships.

Keys for winning Startup Weekend from a back-to-back champ

Polina Tibets, Head of Due Diligence at Digital Knights

After a two year hiatus, Techstars finally revived its Startup Weekend in Berlin, which took place earlier this month. The intense, 54-hour event brings together the brightest minds around to create startups from scratch, and pits them against each other in a competition format. Students and professionals from a range of backgrounds participate – demonstrating that anyone can have a great business mind, regardless of background or expertise!

“Startup Weekend is a must-do for everyone who wants to be an entrepreneur. Shortening the experience from six months (usually) to one weekend shows if you’re ready for the role.” – Dinarte Jesus, athlead.de co-founder and Grandpal team member.

I was eager to join this event for the second time (having first participated in June of 2016 in Monterrey, Mexico) simply because I love the notion that anyone can develop an idea and nurture it to solve global issues at scale. Isn’t that cool? The satisfaction of solving real life problems and making money out of it is absolutely exceptional and gives such a big thrill that I knew I had to be a part of it again. My team also won last year by the way (you can check out the winning product, Clean 2 Build, here), so I wanted to see if I could do it in Berlin too!

“Startup Weekend is a crazy experience. You arrive on a Friday evening, pitch an idea, and a team of random participants forms. I got lucky to have an amazing bunch of people work with me over this weekend.” – Brian Daly, Network Catalyst at Techstars, and Grandpal team member.

The weekend went something like this:

Day 1: Meet, Pitch, and Team Up – In just a few hours most of the attendees pitched their ideas, created teams, and got ready to work.
Day 2: Learn & Work – Everyone showed up early and started cracking! Mentors floated around visiting teams and offered useful advice and direction.
Day 3: Present & Choose – Teams made final preparations and pitched onstage to a panel of judges. Judges included HTW Berlin entrepreneurship professor Heike Holzner, Global VP for SAP .iO Fund Alexa Gorman, and Zoi partner Wolfgang Baudendistel.

The pitching process drew out ideas like a social video challenge app and a modern garden design platform, but our team ended up moving forward to create Grandpal – a platform that allows family members to book and pay for social care by finding a ‘Pal’ in the neighborhood willing to invest quality time with their elders. We wanted to remind society how valuable our elders are and create meaningful social bonds.

After pitching our idea to the judges, I am pleased and proud to say Grandpal won! The judges thought that while this was a really good idea with a lot of value to a huge part of society, it was the only one with a social community angle and I believe this is what set it apart from the other great ideas presented. The judges decided it not only had the highest viability, but it also held the most potential for social impact in a meaningful way. All in all, winning the competition was without a doubt the best way to end a fun weekend full of learning, growing ideas, and thinking with different perspectives. Still, this weekend proves that it’s not about the ideas, it is about making them happen. The amount of satisfaction we all got by learning to work through real-world issues and the challenges companies face when trying to build solutions around them was amazing. I think this is the kind of learning that we all crave as entrepreneurs.

What I have learned:

The most important takeaway from Startup Weekend is that you need to bring an undeveloped idea and see where it leads you. That means you can’t have started to build a social following, written any code, or otherwise started to build your idea prior to the event. But there are still some things you can (and should) do that will help you out on the weekend and that are still in the spirit of the event.

How to prepare?

If you haven’t read it, then you really should check out The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, as many of the principles and methodologies that are utilized over the weekend are inspired by this book.
Get familiarized with the Business Canvas model, you will develop this further with your team on the weekend, but the idea is that you should have a basic understanding of the business model behind your idea, or how to create one.
Have an idea? Pitch it as a starting point! Don’t get married to it, it will evolve over the course of the 54 hours. Think about the Blue Ocean Strategy. Remember, being open to new ideas from your team members will lead to a better end result.
So your idea didn’t make it to the top or you didn’t feel like pitching? Join a team that you believe in. Don’t chose an idea just because you think it might win. Observe the synergies after the pitch and talk to the individuals that presented, see what you can give to the people regarding the project.
Use the network! You are going to be in a room full of people from different backgrounds, embrace it and ask for contributions.

Creating a startup in 54 hours is super challenging and feels impossible, but we proved that it can be done with teamwork and perseverance. Can’t wait for next year and the chance to go 3-for-3!

Polina Tibets can be found mentoring and participating in various events in the Berlin startup community and elsewhere. To reach out for future events, reach her at polina@digitalknights.co or on LinkedIn.

Digital Knights joins Simple Token as Advisory Member in the push for Tokenization

Amid the rise of corporate and consumer-facing Blockchain technology, Digital Knights is pleased to announce an agreement with Simple Token to become an advisory member for the side-chain protocol, utility-token, and SaaS platform for business and consumer-app tokenization.

Simple Token enables any company to create, launch, and manage its own branded digital token economy, powered by Simple Token’s protocols and software. The OpenST protocol, live and available, enables companies to launch their own Branded Tokens, minted on open scalable side blockchains staked against the Simple Token Ethereum based ERC20 token. The Simple Token SaaS platform, under development, gives companies the tools to manage, customize, monitor, and analyze their token economy.

Yesterday, Simple Token named Digital Knights as one of the first four member companies ahead of Simple Token’s official sale of Simple Token, abbreviated ST, an ERC-20 token on the Ethereum mainnet on November 14.

In a combined effort to advance tokenization, Digital Knights will offer its services to Simple Token and its members. Digital Knights will also explore tokenization of its own business and platform, as well as provide the Simple Token SaaS tools to its approved tech teams for tokenization of the applications they develop. Altogether, this collaboration aims to find new and unique ways to innovate on top of the Simple Token strategy by welcoming the experience and expertise of approved tech teams in the Digital Knights network.

Digital Knights is looking forward to joining forces with Simple Token to foster an environment where innovation thrives, adoption comes early, and all parties benefit.

Read more about the announcement.

Learn more about Simple Token.

On the Rise: Tech Due Diligence

From bootstrapped startups to corporate boardroom tables, more and more people are asking questions like: Is our tech solid? Is our tech sound? Is our tech good enough to accomplish our development goals?

Nearly all industries have gone or are going digital, and nearly all industries are evolving around innovation–or at least they’re ripe for it. The subsequent arms race to find quality developers has led to greater risk and more confusion both at home and abroad, and as a result, people are more unsure than ever about what they’re really getting when they hire tech talent.

Enter tech due diligence.

What is tech due diligence?

Tech due diligence is a way to evaluate a given group’s technical capabilities and qualities necessary to build a digital product or software before a single new line of code is ever written. Performing tech due diligence follows a similar process to that of venture capitalists looking to acquire or invest in a company. In this case, the stakeholders are conducting a thorough examination of a development team and it’s environment to ensure both technical proficiency and overall compatibility. The result is a clear reduction to the risk of failure and a definitive pathway to successful collaboration.

So why is it needed now?

The fast-paced digital landscape has led to increases in both the demand and the supply of tech resources. The problem is, these increases pay absolutely no mind to quality, which means the market is flooded with noise and fragmentation. And this is only set to continue. The demand for reliable tech talent has reached fever pitch and it’s no longer restricted to just the bigger players like Google and Facebook as more and more industries are becoming fully reliant on IT and CS related staff members.

“Software developer jobs are expected to grow 17% from 2014 till 2024”.

– Forbes

Amid this growth, the recruiting struggle continues. This report from McKinsey highlights the hardships companies face to hire quality tech talent in a scramble to upskill their teams–and this is a trend set to escalate. However, it’s not just that. At the same time that more and more less-than-capable developers are offering their services to the market, the competent ones are also having trouble finding projects that are interesting and valuable themselves. As a result, good businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs are losing time, money, and effort by enduring rotten partnerships, meanwhile the truly great technical counterparts are struggling to differentiate themselves in the market full of lesser competition. What does this mean? It means that on both sides, the need for third-party verification is at an all-time high.

Is anyone doing it?

Well, Digital Knights is, for one.

Although there may be distinguished individuals performing tech due diligence on a for-hire and case-by-case basis, Digital Knights does it on a larger, more accessible scale. By reverse-engineering a ‘teams-first’ approach to test hundreds of boutique software development teams across the globe, Digital Knights has already put in the time and legwork that other companies don’t want to or simply can’t. As such, Digital Knights has established a quality assurance framework for digital innovation and software development in a world that has no real standardizations or regulations.

What’s Digital Knights?

The founders of Digital Knights experienced first-hand what being severely let down by tech partners felt like and decided that enough was enough–there was just too much failure in the digital innovation space. Today, the company is both a tech due diligence powerhouse and an exclusive gateway to its own network of trustworthy and gifted tech partners. On a rolling basis, businesses and entrepreneurs come to Digital Knights for connections to approved teams for on-demand collaboration in building digital products such as mobile apps, VR experiences, and IoT systems. The result is a data-driven alternative to the failure-ridden market standard of IT outsourcing that instead boasts a project success rate of 98 percent.

On the flip side, tech teams themselves seek out Digital Knights to undergo its strict due diligence methodology–a custom-built process put together in a combined effort with industry renowned CTOs, serial entrepreneurs, and tech due diligence experts with over 20 years of experience in vested outsourcing. After teams undergo the rigorous six-week test, not only do all receive a full report detailing team strengths and weaknesses across various technical and non-technical categories (no matter if they pass or fail), but they also receive instructions on how to remedy areas that are unsatisfactory ahead of a reassessment as well as how to improve their own abilities to attract potential clients. Only seven percent of teams at this time meet the standards to become Digital Knights approved on the first try.

“The due diligence process was important to us for two reasons. First, we got an independent and honest review of how we as a company are seen externally and how we rank in both the technical and communication areas. It boosted our confidence and provided actionable suggestions for improvements. Secondly, we view the Digital Knights network of approved teams as an emerging mark of quality within the custom software development market.”

– Adam Warski, CTO, SoftwareMill

What’s next?

Tech due diligence is still growing as an integral piece of the innovation puzzle. When done properly, it erases risks and modernizes decisions for top executives, CIOs and CTOs, non-technical founders, and product managers.

If you have a digital project coming up, get in touch with Digital Knights for a consultation to ensure you find the right team for your company.

Speeding up innovation in a corporate environment

How do you not only make corporate innovation easy, but entrench it into the fabric of your company? Bring the spirit of startups into the corporate world.

The State of Play

In the 21st century market share is ephemeral. Just get in your time machine and go ask Blockbuster. They actually had a chance to buy Netflix – the nimble and disruptive new DVD rental platform founded by Reed Hastings. When Reed proposed that Blockbuster should buy Netflix for $50 million Blockbuster declined. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Netflix’s market cap is now valued at $19.7 billion.

What we can learn from this is that Blockbuster did not have the vision or capability to adapt to the shifting sand beneath their feet. They didn’t realise that things move quickly in the digital world and those who cannot adapt fall from grace spectacularly. With the power of hindsight, it’s obvious that Blockbuster should’ve moved into a more online-centric business model and bring their huge customer base along with them. But they didn’t. In many ways business leaders in the modern era are subject to powerful forces of corporate survival of the fittest, with companies investing in R&D to better anticipate future climes and to avoid pulling a Blockbuster.

The above is a very extreme example, due to the polarity and public nature of Blockbuster and Netflix, but the scenario is hardly uncommon. This has led to the startup within a corporation. Keeping on top of technology and trends is etched firmly in many corporate playbooks nowadays, but how do you reconcile that in an environment where, in theory corporations can access today’s most promising talent pool, have the budget to try and fail, can theoretically out-innovate anyone else, but in practice, deeply ingrained processes, cultures and incentive systems tend to actively suppress innovation that threatens the status quo?

“Skunkworks were emblematic of corporate structures that focused on execution and devalued innovation.”

How Corporations Have Reacted

In the last couple of years, corporate giants such as Coca Cola, General Electric, American Express, MasterCard, and IBM have been tapping into the agility and unbridled creativity of the startup world by hosting innovation contests and funding the ‘best’ for internal startup projects.

Unlike hackathons, which, let’s be honest, are usually just PR exercises with no concrete outcomes, these companies are trying to create continuous innovation, and for the companies who can master it– the art of executing on core products while continually inventing new products and new businesses – they shift from skunkworks style innovation by exception and into innovation by design.

If corporations can pull it off, and infuse entrepreneurial thinking into the the ranks, the prize is talent.

“At least 90% of millennials say they would rather work at a startup than a corporate giant…”

Talent Acquisition

As someone who deals with startups, entrepreneurs, and corporates on a daily basis I can say that in my experience the startups are a younger crowd. Of course, age, wisdom, and experience are virtues and highly sought after commodities in the corporate world, but with that comes a perceived staleness that startups don’t have. Working in startups is hard work but somehow more attractive. Things move fast and there’s a lot of room for bringing your own ideas to the table and actually have a say on how things should be done. It’s not exactly hard to tell that millennials in particular are lured the “feeling of newness” that startups possess.

If corporates can tap into this intangible feeling of newness and manifest startup culture (hard to define, but characterised by creativity, innovation, entrepreneurial thinking), talent follows. Innovative companies like startups attract more talent than corporations, but this can come as compromise. The structured and regimented corporate environment can be attractive to people who want that security, and infusing entrepreneurial vigor means you can have the best of both.

Innovation Hubs > Skunkworks

Of course, it isn’t easy to create a startup within a company (sometimes called an ‘Innovation Hub’), and even then Innovation Hubs within larger corporates are constantly searching for quality & fast-acting boutique dev teams that can execute these MVP products being created. Replicating the haphazard moves of a 3-7 person outfit can be done within an Innovation Hub, better yet with the safety net that these hubs have with the funding from the corporate mothership.

“It’s marrying the stability of established industries with the iterative and agile nature of startups.”

If corporations can nail the startup within a business model, and actively allow the unit to create products that can influence the core offering of your business, then you get continuous innovation and avoid the Skunkworks, which – if we’re honest – are emblematic of corporate structures playing at innovation.

Failure as a Metric

Part of distancing your innovation hub from the Skunkworks model is being able to not only tolerate failure, but to embrace it and to learn from it. Silicon Valley celebrates failure because of how important it is to realise that things need to be piloted in the real world and if they fail they fail. There is no shame in failure, as long as you can call yourself more experienced after the fact. Evaluating things to death and discouraging risk is sure to turn off free radicals of innovation. Innovators must be given the room to fail and try again. It’s essential.

Technical Resources

 

“The default speed for a startup is breakneck, and it’s how continuous innovation is fostered.”

A startup’s agility from the development side of things is usually down to their methodologies. Corporations are slow, glacial entities. Breaking through the sluggish approval/moremoremore/more/ and committing to one or two week sprints effectively replicates the agility of a startup, and helps you build much more viable products that not only work, but do not miss market windows or become obsolete before they are even finished. The default speed for a startup is breakneck, and it’s now continuous innovation is fostered.

If assembling or outsourcing a tech team to build products your innovation team is coming up with, instill agile principles (or hire teams who already develop within the agile framework) to make sure the speed in which the innovation hub builds is like a legitimate startup or high calibre tech studio.

In summary, successfully creating a startup within a company that actually possesses the key attributes of a startup and can retain them within a rigid corporate environment is hard. Successfully marrying the iterative and agile nature of small companies to the structured and sometimes bureaucratic decision making of corporates means innovation by exception becomes innovation by design.

The Skunkworks is dead, but long live innovation.

Outsharing – Taking Outsourcing to the Next Level

You have an idea. It’s a superb idea. You’ve done your preliminary analysis and yep, there’s a market for it with minimal competition in an important vertical. It could be Ed-Tech, Fin-Tech, or IoT, you’ve got your idea, and you want to realize it.

So, who’s going to build it?

Knowing who to trust to make your product, your corporate innovation project, or even bolstering your current architecture is a difficult choice. As many companies do not have the time, money, or expertise to properly vet prospective tech resources, many turn to hiring freelancers to speed up development. Outsourcing dev work is not inherently wrong, but when you’ve heard countless nightmare stories of expectations not being met, the concept of due diligence comes into play. This is especially relevant to startups who cannot afford delays to their development due to a limited runway or other extenuating circumstances. With this is mind, let’s talk about why you should be upgrading your outsourcing to outsharing when you start your digital product development.

First, let’s discuss why companies outsource tech in the first place.

Primarily, companies outsource to reduce labor and operational costs. It’s a simple premise – if I outsource, I pay less overhead. It’s an attractive proposition; there is theoretically some freelancer or team of freelance developers who can deliver the work I’m requesting at a reasonable price point, and promptly, and I don’t have to vet and hire in-house tech myself so I can focus on my core business. Outsourcing allows me to tap into knowledge and skills that I don’t possess and can reduce my time to market, and that vendor knowledge can better inform my hiring procedures in the future, should I move my development in-house.

The problem is that this is ‘best case scenario’.

“most companies report only adequate satisfaction with their outsourcing initiatives…”

–   Aberdeen Group

Finding teams or individuals who care about the digital product they’re building can be a challenge, many are focused solely on getting paid then moving on to the next client. As long as initial conditions are met, then that’s as far as it goes, so there is no shared passion or creativity with the visionary. Boutique development studios are active in the development of digital products, providing creative solutions to things that pop up during development, and the process feels more like a partnership than hiring a digital labourer – this is in stark contrast to the majority of outsourcing firms. Despite the considerable limitations, trust issues, and a general culture of producing the bare minimum, outsourcing is a thriving industry, and it’s not going away anytime soon, but how can we make the experience of outsourcing less unpredictable? How can we make sure that when we choose remote workers to build our digital products, that they are the right team for the job capable of quick execution? Or have excellent communication skills and the creativity and expertise to take your scope (which may be loosely defined) and turn it into a working and good product? The answer to this is outsharing.

“….a great team, aware of how to employ the proper methodology, can turn an entrepreneur’s rough product concept into a solid software solution.”

Outsharing is a relatively new term, coined to differentiate its practice from outsourcing but still be part of the remote working sphere. Outsharing places a huge emphasis on working partnerships rather than the usual model of hiring somebody to do the job for you; it encourages collaboration. Through outsharing development with boutique tech studios, you experience an altogether new outsourcing experience – one that works.

“…(outsourcing) customers are no longer focusing on bringing services back in-house, but are focusing on optimising vendor relationships…”

Historically, outsourcing, and IT outsourcing in particular, was the ‘cost of doing business’, but as the core activity of a young digital company is tech – innovation and differentiated outcomes actually matter, more than that they are expected. Startups strive to break new ground and solve problems creatively during the development process, and this is difficult with a standard outsourcing company or a makeshift team of freelancers. Companies are starting to realise that great digital work comes from both parties – the customer and the supplier – being tightly aligned. That synchrony leads to innovation which is a win-win for both sides: the client gets the digital product that matches what they envisioned, and the tech team has created something they can be proud of. This is happening more and more – startups, in particular, are no longer being swayed by the low costs of freelance portals, but want something more from their remote teams – the higher cost means better quality that can outweigh the initial investment, along with a much greater mitigation of risk. Bad development leads to cost after cost as you’re always putting out fires caused by the wrong stack for the job, or messy code. Point being, with a little due diligence you can avoid an outsourcing nightmare by outsharing your development instead.

If you’re a startup, SME, or corporate who would like to learn more about how outsharing your development can help you, get in contact with Digital Knights.

digitalknights.co

Crafting a New Legacy: Beyond the Traditional Design Agency Model

“With new technology driving rapidly changing consumer behavior, continuous digital transformation is imperative”

Key Takeaways
  • Being unable to expand your client offerings is limiting
  • Clients expect more from a technological standpoint.
  • Product Design Budgets are beefier
  • Agencies are beginning to invest in technological education to level the playing field.

In a fast moving digital economy, speed is everything.

New technology is changing the way consumers behave. According to a study conducted by Smith & Beta, “62 percent of agencies report clients are asking for more advanced digital work, but over 43 percent of respondents feel inadequately prepared to provide such work.”

The Times They Are a Changin’

 
Some agencies sensing the change in the wind have started to focus on diversifying their product services rather than sticking to single stream of revenue. Despite being able to repackage some of their services and creating pseudo-diversified revenue streams, they are still susceptible to the same scalability problems they faced before. No matter how you spin it, you’re still consulting, or designing, or branding, and winning new business and hiring staff to work on new projects means when you lose a client the hires are shown the door just as quick. Rather than building a revolving door to facilitate this turnover, truly diversifying means offering something you couldn’t, or didn’t, offer before.

“I think that lots of agencies can design a product, but they don’t have the engineering to build a product. Of those that can, I don’t think many have, because it’s just hard.”

– Jules Ehrhardt, ustwo

In the case of a design agency, it means having the resources to say ‘We can design this product beautifully, and we also have the quality engineering to build it’. No matter how well practised your hand over procedures are, the raw efficiency of being able to offer full spectrum product development makes you that much more attractive than those that don’t – not to mention handovers themselves can also be incredibly risky. The product development team will be responsible for the final product and if the execution is not up to par, the quality design you’ve invested a lot of effort into is all but wasted.

For the client this makes eminent sense. This should be obvious.

Sometimes Business Needs Must Supercede Creative.

 
When we talk about design, we think of it as art. We do. As creatives we want our creativity to be considered as such, but when we talk about products, we need to limit the abstraction. Boundless creativity might feel great to be spinning, but nothing kills your flair like economic downturns that slash advertising and creative budgets. A company can’t pay it’s staff with ideas alone.

Generally, the budgets for products are bigger, and not frozen as readily as marketing budgets. Gone are the days of Agency of Records and lucrative decade long deals, we need to look at how to prolong engagements with clients. Product design lifecycles are longer than design lifecycles, meaning projects are now worth 6 months to 2 years. Consumers have higher expectations and according to Wendy Clark of DDB, clients ‘need partners that are built on a marketplace of speed.’ The common denominator in all of this is rapid execution. If you are slow you will drown. Welcome to the digital economy.

Back to Reality

 
This is all fantastic in theory. The harsh reality is that being able to add a digital product development arm to your business requires a rather large initial investment. Agencies can turn to boutique development studios too but finding the good ones who operate in the vertical your client does is hard work. For a design agency, assessing prospective collaborators is hard, because if it’s you organising the development part of the product, it’s your name and business that will be let down if your tech partner doesn’t execute the product to your client’s satisfaction. At least when the client has to source their own engineers the onus is firmly on them. Product agency reputation falls with their design excellence and their product development prowess. Ultimately thinking about the end result from the very beginning means better products, as ‘until design touches the code, the user, and reality, you’re not going to have the feedback you need to improve and iterate the design.’

The Heart of the Matter

 
Agencies focusing on ensuring digital fluency and being able to match client demands are investing heavily in educational programming for staff, promoting experimentation, making, and perhaps most important, understanding digital trends and technologies. Giants like Ogilvy & Mather are realising just how important being digitally savvy is to creative agencies, their NYC president Adam Tucker explained in Adweek that ‘digital must be at the heart of any idea we create.’

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Key Learnings about the Future of Work from Josh Bersin

“40% percent of americans believe it is not possible to succeed at work and have a balanced family life..”

Welcome to Late Stage Capitalism

The way we work is changing, this much is obvious. Modern communications and social media has turned businesses into real time experiences, top-down management is dissolving as young professionals demand more opportunity, leadership, and responsibility. Underpinning this shift is gasp technology.

With so much changing all at once, working out where you stand during this time of hardcore expectation turbulence is increasingly unclear. In ‘Aligning the organization for its digital future’ Deloitte Digital found that 90% of managers and executives expect moderate to severe digital disruption, and 92% feel they are not equipped to deal with the digital world they are inhabiting.

In his keynote speech at the Singularity University Global Summit, Josh Bersin took an unusual perspective on the future of work by focusing on human capital. When we think of technology disrupting business we think of the archetypal ‘robots taking human jobs’ cliché, when in reality the ‘issue’ (if you can call it an issue) is far more complex than simply automating your Starbucks experience.

The reality is that technology giveth, more than it taketh away.

In his keynote, Bersin recalled how IBM thought that offices of the future post-PC would be paperless. Bersin recalled how the spreadsheet was tipped to eviscerate the need for Wall Street analysts, because ‘the computer can do what they do.’ Rather than gut their jobs, analysts became proficient at using the software and optimized their workflow. There are now more analysts working in that industry than before the inception of the spreadsheet.

Given the wealth of reading material about how AI will steal your job, it’s essential to view these texts as speculative reactionary responses to a perceived job security threat. X stealing your job is a very sensationalist and narrow view that the press often takes, and it’s because the real world is too complex for them to distill into a soundbite or a headline. Simplifying a problem makes it easier for them to write and for their readers to digest.

Here’s Josh’s thoughts on the subject:

We Have Too Much Technology

 

“..this [social and mobile] industrial revolution is producing the least amount of productivity of any industrial revolution of the past.”

Bold statement, but according to research conducted by Deloitte, people in the United States alone check their phones eight billion times a day.

Eight. Billion.

Articles exploring our productivity are pretty much saying the same thing: we’re becoming less productive. An MIT economist recently wrote that this industrial revolution, that is the one based on mobile and social technology, is producing the least amount of productivity of any industrial revolution the past.

To put that in context, social technology is having less of an impact on positive productivity than:

  • Indoor plumbing
  • Automobiles
  • Electricity
  • The Telegraph

More technology isn’t necessarily better.  Who’d have thought that?

AI and Cognitive Computing Will Be Massive (Especially Voice Recognition)

 
Amazon has a thousand employees working on their voice recognition tool, the Amazon Echo. When the device takes off – and it will – there will be an unbelieveable volume of data being captured which needs an equally large volume of cognitive computing to process this quantity of data. (The NSA is drooling at the prospect we can tell.)

The reason that voice recognition is such an incredible step forward in AI and Cognitive Computing is that according to research conducted by Stanford students on voice recognition, your phone can type three times faster and more accurately than you can. This could mean, in the future, that peripherals such as keyboards wouldn’t just be unnecessary, but an active hindrance to your productivity. Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple, Facebook, and companies like Deloitte are putting a lot of funding into AI voice recognition, because they see it’s massive potential.

Predictive Data Will Influence HR More Than Ever.

 

‘..almost fifty percent of [sic] fitbit’s now are sold to HR departments on behalf of their employees because their employees are so overwhelmed at work..’

Almost 15% of companies now monitor or predict something about your behavior. Decisions will be made based on the data they’re collecting about your activity at work, such as your email traffic, your time at your desk, your screen heatmaps. According to Josh, Microsoft has bought a company that monitors email metadata, so he predicts that we could see some features in Outlook 360 that tell you things about your communication pattern versus other companies and other people in your company.

‘Trust networks’ within organizations play a large role in determining who are the people that are most trusted , and on the opposite side of the coin where do we have compliance or fraud risk in the company. Data has shown us that ‘toxic employees’, that is those who steal from the company or commit harassment, are actually contagious, and when you put other employees within a certain vicinity of the toxic employee, then over time they start acting the same way. Being able to identify these types of employees enables companies to to develop all sorts of interventions, so data will play a huge part in how HR operates in the future.

Jobs aren’t going away – they’re changing.

 

“When automation comes we simply do different things.”

In the early 80s the ATM started to proliferate our towns and cities.  Either way we’re all pretty sure that at that point in time articles were being written that spelled the end of the branch banker. Everyone probably thought they’d do all their banking electronically. There are now close to a million ATMs around the world and the number of bank branch tellers is higher now than it was in the 80s. According to Josh, we likely have ten times as many branches and the tellers. Josh raises a good point that they’re trying to help you solve problems that the ATM machine can’t do, so the jobs aren’t going away, we’re still working side by side with the machines.

Machines just don’t seem to match human performance on things like:

  • Courage
  • Empathy
  • Listening
  • Understanding

Josh gives the example in his talk about how people react when you’re in a meeting and somebody doesn’t understand what’s going on. It’s a human skill that’s used to try to bring somebody up to speed. There’s a host of skills we use that will probably never be automated, or automated fully, by our electronic counterparts.

Diverse Teams Are Better (But We Knew That Already)

 

“..if our economies are going to grow we’re gonna have to get comfortable with the fact that immigration is a positive thing..”

There have been studies after studies after studies on diversity and inclusion in business and every single one shows that the highest performing teams, the best decisions and the best customer service comes from diverse and inclusive teams.

  • When you have a racially diverse team people are willing to take more risks
  • When you have a gender diverse team people feel safer and they’re more willing to speak up certain things happen in a very positive way.

Diversity is a very important part of economic growth. If you take a look at countries like Germany, Japan, the UK, and the United States we are forecast to have a declining birth rate, whereas all of the really high growth countries are in Asia and India and in some of the more underdeveloped countries in the Far East and the Middle East. If our economies are going to grow we’re gonna have to get comfortable with the fact that immigration is a positive thing.

In Silicon Valley the heads of HR at almost every major corporation are talking about their program to reduce unconscious bias in order to build a better diverse workforce. They want to stop recruiting people from top universities just because they are top universities. Part of the diversity issue is the fact that young people entering the workforce have changed the workplace – bigger companies are still struggling to figure out what is it that Millennials really want, and some of this is not just not because they’re Millennials – that just because their young are looking for more dynamic, inclusive or real-time workplaces, and if you can provide them that that will enable the new world of work. In fact, in most young people’s minds diversity isn’t even an issue as most of them grew up in a world that’s highly interconnected and highly diverse.

What Does ‘Career’ Mean Anymore?

 
What is a career? Traditionally a career went something like this:

Bolt yourself to a big brand company > cross your fingers that you would have a ‘good career there’.

This is very different to how the world works today.

Future generations are going to have the opportunity to change careers, change companies and change professions (and will probably have to as technology changes how we work) and so they’re going to have to get comfortable with reinventing themselves constantly. Josh identifies the issue that people struggle with this whole topic is the fear and the difficult process of continuously reinventing yourself.

There are already companies pushing their employees to embrace this culture of reinvention. The CEO of AT&T was quoted in New York Times saying “there is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop.” Going on  he that “people who do not spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning will obsolete themselves with the technology.” You can read the full article here.

The Gig Economy is a Force of Both Good and Bad

 
Research seems to show a steady increase in the percentage of the workforce that’s operating in some contingent form. Behind this trend towards a greater percentage of us working on contingent basis is companies such as Airbnb and Uber and various other analogues of their business models. Entrepreneurs are starting to make a lot of money selling platforms and building platforms to supply this gig work.

The dark side of this though is that the people that are working in these jobs do not have vacation benefits, they do not have health care, they don’t get sick days, they don’t get paid time off when something bad happens at home, and they’re missing a lot of the basic fundamentals that we consider to be expectations at work. Josh indicated that Harvard professors are attempting to define and create (conceptually, at least) a new class of worker and a shared security account that allows people to “invest in sort of a semi security account when they’re only working part-time so they get some benefits.”

A long way to go, but steps are being made in the right direction, for now.

Companies Want Culture, But Possess No Idea of How it Would Look

 
When it comes to defining company jargon, culture is one of the most elusive terms out there.

Working in technology is often an exercise in adaptability. Jobs in tech are always in flux, they’re changing all the time. Employees often shuffle around teams, they do a bit of everything, their jobs being a long list of interconnected duties – some of which are simply done on the fly. Working in this sort of industry it’s hard to work out exactly what you do. (Just ask anyone who’s tried to define their job on LinkedIn..) For most people it’s company culture that provides the bond where conventional structures fail to provide the glue. Culture binds them together, we know this is just common sense. In a survey conducted by Deloitte, 88% of companies said that they believe their culture is a critical issue in their organization, yet only 14% actually knew what a good culture would look like.

You can’t transplant a culture into a company, it has to come from the top. How you interact, how you solve problems and talk to each other will pervade the rest of the company. (Who can forget Google’s famous “These Ads Suck” parable.)

A culture is what provides stability in what is often – at least in the tech sector – a tumultuous working experience. As the way we work changes and we reinvent ourselves to adapt, culture and a shared bonding ideology provides a strong foundation for our working lives.