Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Covid-19, Demographics, Risk Analysis and Mobile Apps

Finally, it seems we have accumulated enough data from Covid-19 cases to focus in on how we can properly and strictly protect our vulnerable populations and reopen our economies.  We know that if a person has underlying health problems* they have a far higher risk so need additional protections.  We know that people over 65 years old and people living in long-term care facilities are more at risk.  In fact, the most recent update from Idaho's Covid-19 statistics show 58 of the 60 reported deaths occurring in individuals 60 or older.  If a person does not fit any of these three high risk categories, then their risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19 is small.  This data seems to suggest that giving different guidance to different segments of our population may have merit.

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Pandemic Inspired Tsunami of Channel Switching

In Boise, Idaho our local downtown retail chocolate shop, “The Chocolate Bar” transitioned into a chocolate factory and direct delivery service seemingly overnight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We have also seen other stores quickly reacting.  Costco now limits the number of shoppers inside their stores, while dramatically ramping up online ordering with home deliveries.  Whole Foods is now providing three ways of shopping locally: in-store shopping, online ordering with drive through pick-up and online ordering with home delivery.  All of these new and expanded options represent fast transitions to new or additional sales channels.

Fast transitions, or what military strategists often refer to as “fast transients,” are the ability to quickly transition from one position to another.  Today we are seeing examples of fast transitioning across many different areas including retail stores, restaurants and businesses as they attempt to meet their customers where they are.  In a recent interview my colleague, Rich Sherman, Senior Fellow, Supply Chain Centre of Excellence at Tata Consultancy Services called this, “Channel Switching.”

Ahead of the Curve - Pandemic Responses and Business

“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be a more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks." ~ Warren Buffet

Ever since the pandemic has taken over and dominated our lives, everyone seems to be talking and writing about “curves.” Not just the shape of the curve, although important in the context of flattening, but also getting ahead of it.  Here are three recent headlines that demonstrate my point, “Was Your State Ahead of the Coronavirus Curve?”, “Getting Ahead of the Curve — in Hopes of Flattening the Curve”, and “How Did Germany Get Ahead of the Curve?”

What does ahead of the curve even mean? I did some research.  It means, “When one is more advanced than others, or ahead of current thinking or practices.”  More research into the origins of the phrase led me to the classic Bell Curve model used to visualize data showing low, average, and above average performances.  If you are “ahead of the curve” you are on the right side of the bell shape and above average in whatever was measured.
Inside the Curve

“Getting inside the Curve”, is another phrase often used by military strategist.  Getting inside the curve refers to a fighter pilot being able to maneuver into an advantageous position by getting inside the turning radius of an opposing aircraft.  A more expansive meaning is used in maneuver strategies and refers to thinking ahead of an opponent and acting in a way that gives you an advantage.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Business-as-a-Service a Resilient Response to Pandemics

Ecosystem Platforms
I have spent nearly 30 years in and around Silicon Valley.  I have worked for small start-ups, medium sized and large established technology and services companies.  Looking back over my high-tech career and the careers of my peers, it seems our skills and expertise overall have easily transferred across different companies, roles, industries, technologies and solution categories.  For the most part, at least in the high-tech industry, business is business.

At the highest level all businesses have similar processes.  They need products and services to sell, customer acquisition processes, customer success processes, front and back-office systems and operations to keep track of everything.  All of these processes and systems must have experienced experts supporting them.  

Over the course of my career I have spoken with dozens of venture capitalists and angel investors.  In no case did these investors express an interest in spending money on the basic business processes listed above.  They wanted to invest in unique and clever products and services that are in demand and generate profits.  All the rest of the business is simply noise to many of them.

Using Data and Deming in a Pandemic

Throughout history military leaders have wrestled with the “fog of war" - the desperation of not knowing critical information.  Information as basic as where are my forces and where are the forces of my opponents?  We face similar information needs today in our battle against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“The ultimate purpose of data is to provide a basis for action or a recommendation for action,” wrote the revered quality improvement consultant W. Edwards Deming.  Today, in our battle against the COVID-19 virus, we are struggling to make informed decisions because of our own lack of data.  The absence of information both paralyzes decision-making and forces us to expend enormous amounts of time and energy defending against all kinds of scenarios that may not in fact be relevant.  We just don’t know.  Think about a scenario of being lost in a dark forest at night with all kinds of strange sounds and dangerous predators lurking about. How would you defend yourself? Which way would you turn? It would be difficult in the best of times, but the absence of data can make it even more excruciating!  We are struggling with this today.

Today the fog of war can largely be lifted with the combination of software systems, mobile phones, sensors and analytics.  With COVID-19, however, we have the necessary and important consideration of how to protect personal privacy.

Another relevant Deming adage, “The biggest problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.” Not knowing the status of COVID-19 in our communities is a big problem.  In order to move forward and open the economy again we need to understand precisely our COVID-19 exposure and status.  We must quickly remove the blind spots by collecting as much data as possible, while at the same time protecting as much of our privacy as possible.

I look forward to quickly reaching a point where we replace conjecture with good data.  Removing the blind spots is our next best step for our physical, mental and financial health.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Protecting Our Global Economic Network from Pandemics

The word pandemic comes from the Greek words “all” and “people.”  It is a fitting title given to the COVID-19 disease that crosses all people groups, economies and continents without respect to ethnicity or status.  It has a way of pulling back the curtains and showing us what makes the world run.

Pandemics travel on our community’s economic and transportation networks. Because pandemics are international travelers, they disrupt our global economic networks, which are the sources of much of our economic prosperity today.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Post-Pandemic Risk Strategies for Supply Chain and Procurement Leaders

In this interview supply chain risk management expert Joe Carson shares strategies for addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and preparing for the next one.



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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Six Degrees to Contagion - Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic

Small World Networks
Seventeen years ago, in 2003, Professor Duncan J Watts, published a book titled, “Six Degrees, The Science of a Connected Age.”  In it he wrote the following warning, “In a world spanned by only six degrees, what goes around comes around faster than you think. So just because something seems far away, and just because it happens in a language you don't understand, doesn't make it irrelevant.” Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people in the world on average are only six or fewer social connections away from each other.  It has been proven time after time to be true as the famous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game has demonstrated and the study of the small world networks phenomena.  What this means is you are only six or fewer social connections away from a person living in Wuhan, China where the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak first emerged.  

More thoughts from Professor Watts, “When it comes to epidemics…we are all connected by short chains of influence. It doesn't matter if you know about them, and it doesn't matter if you care, they will have their effect anyway. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand the first great lesson of the connected age: we may all have our own burdens, but like it or not, we must bear each other's burdens as well.” All of us are in this global community.  We all share earth, and we are only six or fewer social connections from someone who is infected by the Covid-19 coronavirus.  We might feel we are great distances away from an epicenter, but we are really only a relationship or a handshake away.

Monday, April 20, 2020

State and Local Supply Chains Challenged by the Pandemic

In this episode, I get to interview Brian Utley, CEO and Founder of Periscope Holdings, about the unique challenges government supply chains, especially state, city and local are having during the COVID-19 pandemics.  Brian shares how government-centric supply chain ecosystems are working together to solve these issues and to develop new strategies.



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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Pandemic Resilience is Knowing When to Quit

Thomas Edison
“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be a more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks." ~ Warren Buffet
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties.  It doesn’t, however, require you to return to a previous state.  Often the fastest way to recover is to quit and start again.  Think of a jeep climbing a steep muddy hillside.  Mid-way up the hill, tires spinning it comes to a stop.  In this situation your choice is often limited to staying in the same spot spinning your wheels or quitting and trying again.  Life often provides us with similar choices, and the COVID-19 pandemic will force many businesses to face this decision.  

Let’s talk about the role quitting plays in resilience.  As a youth I was taught that with enough hard work, belief and long hours anything could be accomplished.  Now as a veteran high-tech executive with thirty plus years of experience I no longer hold that maxim to be true.  Some businesses are just bad ideas.  Some good ideas are before their time.  Sometimes people in leadership positions shouldn’t be.  Some ideas just run out of money before they get to market.  Some good ideas just can’t rise above the noise and fade off into oblivion.  Sometimes pandemics happen.

Ecosystem Commerce and Pandemic Supply Chains - Interview with TCS Expert Rich Sherman

In this episode, I interview Rich Sherman, Senior Fellow at the Supply Chain Centre of Excellence at TCS.  He shares his insights on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on global supply chains and what can be done in the future to make them more resilient, adaptable and redundant.

 



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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The Steps Required to Stop and or Live with the Pandemic

Common Good
We have all learned a great deal about living with and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.  Not everything for sure, but enough to start sketching a plan for the guaranteed next one.  We don't ever want to be in a situation again where we must decide between our lives or a functioning economy.  We also recognize that both COVID-19 and poverty have their own associated health risks, so let's try to balance both concerns.

A working plan seems to be emerging from the fog of war.  It isn't fun.  It requires isolating those that feel sick, those that test positive, and those that are in contact with those that test positive.

This plan is also written without due consideration for individual liberties.  It is simply a list of what works to stop the virus from spreading, while keeping the economy functioning long enough for effective treatments and vaccines to be developed and "herd immunity" achieved.  An implementation of this plan, however, would need to balance the concerns for individual liberties against the common good. 

This plan is not original.  It is the aggregate of what has already been widely reported and argued to be working.  I have simply collected them in this living document and will continue to add, subtract and edit as we gain better insights.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Pre-Pandemic Assumptions and Presumptions

Over the last 3 years my wife and I have become avid backpackers with many adventures under our belt.  One of the biggest surprises I learned during my time in the wilderness was how often I make wrong assumptions.

It was mid-July and the lake we were backpacking to was still frozen over and the trail was covered in deep snow.  I had assumed warm mid-July weather would have cleared the trails.  Another time after fishing in a high mountain lake, I looked at the map and saw the trail passed directly above our location.  After over an hour looking for the trail we realized it didn't exist.  My assumptions that maps are updated regularly and accurately reflect the reality on the ground were wrong.  I can't tell you how many times I have learned that the obvious shortcut doesn't save you time.

We all make assumptions.  We assume something is true or certain to happen, without proof.  We also make presumptions.  We presume ideas are true, and then use them as the basis for other ideas until we have built ourselves a house of cards that is one fact away from collapsing.  As we ponder our changed mid-pandemic world from our home offices with our dogs and kids under our desk, it is a good time to reflect on the assumptions and presumptions that got us into this predicament.  

I think we presumed the biggest dangers in flying were potential terrorist attacks or equipment failure.  I think we assumed our doctors had the answers to whatever illness we picked up.  I think we presumed that since all companies seemed to be developing long and lean supply chains that they must be resilient, redundant and reliable.  I think we presumed that an illness in China was a Chinese problem.  I think we assumed that the local hospital could just order and quickly receive any supplies or equipment they needed.  I think we assumed that our economy would always be there in the morning.  I think we assumed toilet paper would always be available. I think we assumed our leaders had a plan.

As our anxiety evolves into acceptance of our mid-pandemic situation, perhaps it is a good time to re-evaluate the assumptions and presumptions we all have about the world around us.  What I have learned in this past month is we have far less control over our world and destiny than might have been presumed.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Flattening the Curve of a Risky Future

Today, in the midst of round one of the COVID-19 pandemic, I received an email from Delta Airlines sharing their efforts to make travel safe and normal. What will normal be post-pandemic?  Will society be comfortable going right back to flying all over the world again?  The thought of spending time in crowded airports, attending conferences with tens of thousands of people in one room, sitting in tightly packed business meetings and sitting elbow to elbow with coughing strangers on planes fills me with anxiety.  I don't think I am the same person that I once was.  I suspect most of us aren't.

As the pandemic and resulting economic anxieties extend further into the calendar and deeper into our mutual psyches, our habits will be altered - some temporarily, others permanent.  Just as our grandparents (and great-grandparents) before them developed a propensity to save and to be financially conservative as a result of experiencing the Great Depression during their formative years, we also will be known for the changes about to take place in us.  This pandemic will alter the curve of our future.

We have now all borne witness to the results of our societal decisions or lack thereof, and experienced the consequences.  I am reminded of a popular Greek myth of Daedalus and his son Icarus.  They were imprisoned in a tower by the King of Crete.  Being a great craftsman, Daedalus devised two pairs of wings using wooden frames, wax and feathers to escape and fly away.  Daedalus warned his son Icarus that flying too near the sun would cause the wax to melt and the wings would fail.  Icarus jumped from the tower, escaped and his wings allowed him to soar high over the ocean.  

It was not long, however, before Icarus forgot all about his father's warnings.  Soon he was flying higher and higher.  The warm sun quickly melted the wax, the feathers came loose and Icarus plunged to his death in the sea.  I think today we may have flown too close to the sun.

In 2015, Bill Gates, gave a Ted Talk titled "The Next Outbreak? We're Not Ready."  It accurately described what would happen if a pandemic similar to COVID-19 occurred.  He precisely warned of the impact and what the world needed to do to prepare for it.  Bill Gates was our Daedalus, and like Icarus we were captivated by the joys and excitement of flying high and far.  The question for us all now is - what next?  What will we do differently?  How will our future be reshaped?

After taking some time for lamenting and learning, we must go forward into the future wiser.  My friend and supply chain risk expert Joe Carson, who I recently interviewed in this blog post titled, A Mid-Pandemic Interview with Supply Chain Risk Expert Joe Carson, often encourages organizations to develop a "Risk Culture."  A culture of studying risk, identifying risk, understanding risk, planning for risk, and factoring in the cost of risk mitigation. 

The lasting impression we all may be left with post-pandemic is that risk is not just a hypothetical, but real.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
View my profile on LinkedIn
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Friday, April 03, 2020

A Faustian Bargain Involving Privacy, Pandemic and a Functioning Economy

Will the price of controlling current and future pandemics be our privacy?  Will societies, at some point, be willing to strike a Faustian Bargain and give up their privacy in return for a functioning economy?  A Faustian Bargain is described by the encyclopedia Britannica as a "pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance for some material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches."  Some countries have already made that bargain, and as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, more societies will be forced to confront this decision.  

In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, privacy looks to be one of the values required in the Faustian Bargain to keep an economy functioning.  The other option is to offer up life itself - a serious topic for another time.

South Korea, widely praised for their fast and efficient COVID-19 response and control, passed legislation in 2015 after a deadly MERS outbreak that gave government authority to collect mobile phone, credit card and other data from those who test positive to an infectious diseases.  They have now added a central tracking app called Corona 100m.  This mobile app publicly informs citizens of known cases within 100 meters of their current location.  Both of these examples are the result of a 2015 Faustian Bargain South Koreans made between privacy and pandemic control.

In China they are using mobile apps connected to government servers and tracking systems to dictate whether a person should be quarantined, allowed to ride subways, visit and shop at malls, work and be present in other public spaces.  A green badge on a mobile phone means the owner is symptom free, yellow means the person has had contact with an infected person and hasn't finished the quarantine period, and a red badge means the owner is confirmed to be infected, or has a fever or other symptoms and is awaiting a diagnosis.  Privacy advocates are quick to point out these mobile apps can be used by police, government agencies and other intelligence services for other forms of automated social control as well.

Raina MacIntyre, Emerging Infectious Disease scholar at the University of New South Wales lists the three actions societies must quickly employ to control a pandemic: instantly scale testing and diagnostic capacity, isolate those found to be positive, and track all of their contacts (and test/isolate).  This is a nearly impossible job to do during a rapidly expanding pandemic if you are using paper, pencil and other manual processes.

Smartphones with their mobile networks, apps, GPS, WiFi and bluetooth radios and other powerful utilities are amazingly powerful computers that can collect and spinoff all kinds of very useful data for those fighting and managing disease.  Many countries and people, however, are still not willing to make the Faustian Bargain between privacy, pandemic and a functioning economy. Perhaps we will someday find out if the saying, "Everything is for sale if the price is right," is a true maxim.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
View my profile on LinkedIn
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.