Redistributed future: the IBM and Twitter partnership


“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet”

I get reminded of this quote from William Gibson all the time.

Almost everyday I’ll spot a situation where applying a technology that’s already available could make a difference, but the practicalities of cost, expertise or the logistics of making it happen mean the problem and the solution aren’t able to connect yet.

In business, the partnership announcement by IBM and Twitter yesterday brought those two things closer together.

Twitter is an invaluable source of insight for businesses of all shapes and sizes into market trends; what their customers think of them today – and are likely to think tomorrow – and a valuable early warning system to spot potential issues on the horizon.

Most businesses I encounter have some form of Twitter listening system in place; it helps them tailor their products to better suit customers, deliver greater value and be more successful as a result.

But they also use lots of sources of data to aid decision-making and a major challenge is integrating them – from market research material held in a structured database, to the unstructured conversation content that can be harvested from Twitter and other social platforms.

Twitter’s relationship with IBM means the two can be integrated, which is good news for businesses and I believe good news for customers too.

For business, it means better insight which can lead to new business models; attract and retain customers; transform processes and improve risk management.

And for consumers it means value, because if the businesses isn’t firmly focused on understanding its customers and the market environment to deliver value, then it will have a rocky ride indeed – no matter how good its data and analytics platforms might be.

Earlier this year Twitter acquired Gnip and now it’s partnering with IBM. I predict there’ll be more partnerships and alliances like this to come across the technology sector.

And bit by bit, the future gets redistributed.

Update (1 November 2014): I’ve just discovered that Google and PwC has announced a partnership, offering clients a combination of Google technologies and PwC consulting services. It will be exciting to see how these relationships play out in practice.

Service, motivation and collaboration

The other day my wife was out shopping with our three year-old daughter and popped into our local high street  branch of a large national grocer retailer.

When she came to pay, she noticed that alongside the usual array of sweets and chocolate bars by the checkouts, was quite an extensive range of painkillers and other medicines.

All over-the-counter products, but all on display at the perfect height for a three year-old to mess with.

Now, anyone who’s been shopping with a young child knows what it’s like: the moment you take your eyes off them they’ve either disappeared off down the aisles or they’ve levered open a jar of something-or-other for quick snack.

And when the time comes to pay and you’re distracted trying to find your loyalty card, dig out the right cash, or key in your pin number, that’s the perfect time for them to get up to mischief.

All this considered my wife thought stocking medicines so low down in a part of the story where young children could get their hands on them was a dubious idea.

So she decided to raise it with one of the store staff.

The response she got was a blank face, a shrug and “it comes down from Head Office.”

She mentioned it to a couple of her friends with children the same age and they’d noticed the same thing.

So when she next visited the store she asked to speak to the manager.

The response she got this time was pretty much the same as before: a shrug and “well, yeah, it comes down from Head Office, so that’s where we have to display them.”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

To be clear, my wife wasn’t expecting the store to remove the products from sale or change its stock lay out there and then.

All she wanted was to know that her comment was being taken seriously and would be followed-up with some kind of response.

I’ve not named the shop in this case because I think it would be unfair to and, call me cynical, but I suspect that you could walk into one of a number of large store chains and have a similar experience.

Some of the most successful and truly innovative grocery retailers in the world are borne out of the UK, leading the way in everything from supply and logistics to customer insight and intelligence.

But as they’ve grown – as with any business – the lines of communication within the organisation have been stretched and the ability of the people at the front line of customer service to deliver on the promise of the brand, weakened.

They feel distant from the heart of the organisation and somewhat disconnected from the brand.

I suspect some of this was at play in my wife’s experience.

I could say that the answer is technology, and to some extent it is – collaboration platforms can allow workers to connect with the wider business, be recognised and rewarded, and appreciate that their actions and contributions make a difference.

But arguably more important is the cultural and structural change that encourage workers to adopt new behaviours and recognise the possibilities in doing so.

In their management classic, “In Search of Excellence”, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman note that change happens when “one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality”.

The reciprocal benefits of collaboration. People at all levels brought closer together and distances reduced.

The retail environment is increasingly competitive and customer service is a key differentiator for brands wanting to build competitive advantage.

From internal collaboration to external customer engagement – and systems that bridge the two – there’s some truly exciting work taking place across all kinds of businesses.

I look forward to seeing more of it coming to fruition in store – for my benefit and for the guys on the shop floor.

Art and media innovation

Water lillies by Claude Monet. National Gallery, London

Water lillies by Claude Monet. National Gallery, London


When I started at Edelman, I was lucky enough to be based just around the corner from the National Gallery in London.

Sometimes, when I needed to clear my head, I’d take a wander down there to find some inspiration.

I never had the luxury of enough time to roam the halls for too long, so I’d usually pick a picture, sit down and focus on it for a while.

I suppose it was a kind of ‘creative meditation’.

But it worked, and more often than not I’d go back to the office feeling fresher and reinvigorated.

The ‘restorative power of art’ in action.

Only a few weeks ago the National Gallery changed its policy on photography.

Now visitors are free to snap any work anywhere in the Gallery, as long as they don’t use flash; it tends to bug other visitors.

The Gallery team talked about their experiences so far at a Social Media Week event they hosted a couple of weeks ago.

So far the new policy has proved to be a success, both in helping people get more out of their Gallery visits and raising the profile of the artworks through online sharing.

After the Social Media Week presentation I took a proper tour round and saw lots of people on cameras, phones and tablets snapping away.

They were all still taking time to appreciate the paintings and the new policy didn’t seem to be disturbing the flow of people through the halls.

The art is strong enough to speak for itself and command direct attention.

But walking round the Gallery made me realise the tremendous amount of media innovation on display and the power of visual storytelling.

Particularly the earlier works on display – painted at a time when literacy levels in Europe were low and access to media rare for those outside the elite classes – really show how choosing a simple subject, captured with plenty of nuance, can captivate an audience.

As technique developed in perspective, light, colour, texture and so on, you also see how painters adapted to heighten the impact of their work.

This week, North Korea has been in the news a great deal due to the conspicuous absence of Kim Jong-un from public life.

A bit of an odd link back to my tour of the National Gallery, but it reminded me that this is one of my favourite ever infographics:

Korea at night. From

Korea at night. From

It’s a photograph of the Korean peninsula taken at night from space.

Like the paintings in the National Gallery, it’s a simple, powerful subject that tells a million stories about the states of North and South Korea in a single image.

While I was in the Gallery I tried to get a snap of someone photographing a picture; it was tricky to do and I probably looked a bit like a stalker attempting it, so I gave up.

So instead, you’ve got some Water lillies.