The Future of Tidying Up

The most impactful book that I’ve read about business recently is one that’s got nothing to do with business. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is, as the author puts it, about “the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing”. Kondo’s sleeper hit (I stumbled across it after I noticed it was in the Wall Street Journal’s non-fiction bestseller list week after week during the spring) is both a manifesto and a how to guide for people drowning in “stuff”. The manifesto, put simply, argues that you don’t need 95% of your “stuff”, and the how to guide part gives practical advice on how to decide what “stuff” to keep (ask yourself, does the item give you “joy”?) and how to treat the few things you should keep (“stop torturing your socks”).

At first glance you might rightfully ask “what the expletive does this have to do with business and IT, and the future of work”? But if you slow down and think about it for a moment, the answer increasingly becomes “a lot”. Here’s why …

On my travels, meeting with IT and business executives interested in the future of their work, a constant refrain is (variations of) “we love your ideas Ben; we’d love to build Code Halos … we know we have to migrate to our digital future. But. We have such ingrained, complex, mission-critical systems, that we can’t change them; we daren’t risk cutting “Wire X” because we simply don’t know what will happen if we do”.

In essence, many, many, many large Fortune 500 companies are hampered from pursuing the new code rush because their legacy technology prevents them from doing so. In an era where the competitive advantages of technology have never been greater, these organizations are maintaining (at huge expense) systems that are a terrible competitive disadvantage

And the reason for this? They’ve never tidied up.

Anyone who’s been around corporate IT for a while knows that the concepts of decommissioning systems, sun-setting them, killing them, turning them off, are entirely alien. Even when new systems and apps and processes are developed these typically “sit” on top of their predecessors. System gets built on top of system and before you know it you have a logical architecture that is the proverbial plate of spaghetti.

There has never been a culture in “big boy IT” of throwing things away when they’re past their sell by date. There have never been any brownie points for people to question the value of old systems or for dealing with the often complicated and uncomfortable (potentially career limiting) political issues around “Fred commissioned that app; I don’t want to tell him, an executive VP, that the system’s no good anymore”. 

Vendors, for obvious commercial reasons, have always talked about “forward compatibility” and “roadmaps”, to convey the sense that the systems that their customers buy can support them indefinitely. 

On occasion finance executives have tried to introduce ideas like “zero based budgeting” to get IT to take a hard, cold look at their existing footprint, but to little avail. Y2K proved that old systems never die.

What little glory there is in IT comes from building new stuff, not tidying up.

Kondo’s short, modest, small book has obviously touched a nerve with lots of people who at a personal level feel that the constant treadmill of buying “stuff” is sort of crazy. Who know that they don’t really need a new white T-shirt, but buy it anyway, even when they know they don’t have any room in their cupboard to put it in in the first place.

Over the summer we’re moving house and as we’ve been getting ready to pack up it’s become almost laughable how much “stuff” we have that we don’t use. Thirty dinner plates, 500 DVDs, old bikes, irrelevant financial information etc. etc. etc. … the list goes on and on.

Of course, all of these things (well, most of them) were useful, or meant something, or were entertaining, when we got them. But most of them have served their purpose. Holding on to them serves no purpose now. Very little of this “stuff” gives us “joy” (if we’re honest) now.

A psychological dynamic that makes it difficult to throw joy-less stuff away is the feeling that in doing so, you’re throwing money away. In some ways you are, but, as Kondo outlines, the money you spent on the item was the price of the joy it generated while you used it. If the item no longer gives you joy, there is no need to keep hanging on it. In accounting speak we might say the item is “fully depreciated”.

Much of IT is “fully depreciated” and hardly generates “joy”.

As the great Scottish philosopher Edwyn Collins might say “rip it up and start again”. But few listen ...

Why? Why does corporate IT hang on to the old stuff; why is starting again so difficult? Well, to be fair, tidying up millions of dollars of IT systems is a tad more complicated than cleaning out the sock drawer. Given the mission-critical nature of many IT systems it wouldn’t be advisable to throw them away just like that. I guess we wouldn’t be too happy if American Airlines threw away their flight management software whilst we were up at 35,000 feet.

But unless IT (and business) executives get honest about the need to tidy up, they, and the companies they serve, are going to simply sit and watch the incredible opportunities of this new golden age slip further and further away.

Strategies to deal with this conundrum do exist; Vinnie Mirchandani’s new book about the world of SAP contains a series of ideas about how to build around SAP rather than on top of it. Of course, Cognizant’s “dual mandate” strategy helps clients generate cost savings in existing systems and funnel these savings into investments in new systems.

But perhaps the commentariat needs to be more strident in arguing the merits of throwing stuff away.

Ten years after Professor Collin’s seminal work was first aired Hammer and Champy’s Reengineering the Corporation hit the top of the charts. The lead single, and perhaps still the most hummable part, was “don’t automate, obliterate”.

Kondo’s book, in its own, quiet, non-revolutionary way, is saying “obliterate”. For IT departments (and budgets) to grow again Kondo’s advice – the vast majority of what you have, what you’re doing, where you’re spending your money … give you no joy … is spot on. Without her knowing it, Kondo, may have given us a new way of thinking about how we chase the most important business opportunity of the next decade. As she puts it this could be “life changing”. 

The New Mobile Consumer - Latest Research

I am deep into researching mobile consumer behaviors at this time, and am amazed at the impact that mobile technologies are having on us - especially millennials.

Here are some examples from my research:

  • People that use mobile devices to purchase products and services online, shop online far more frequently than those using only desktop/laptops. In fact, mobile shoppers purchase online once or more a week at a rate 82% higher than desktop/laptop online shoppers.
  • People that use mobile devices to purchase products and services online, conduct research late at night, at a rate 46.1% higher than desktop/laptop online shoppers.
  • People that use mobile devices to purchase products and services online, check store inventories late at night at a rate 66.7% higher than desktop/laptop online shoppers.
  • People that use mobile devices to purchase products and services online selected "ease of navigating the website or mobile app" as a top factor that influenced their decision to purchase online from a particular retailer/website at a rate 42.2% higher than desktop/laptop online shoppers.
  • People that use mobile devices to purchase products and services online selected "the ability to buy/reserve online and pick-up in store" as a top factor that influenced their decision to purchase online from a particular retailer/website at a rate 53.4% greater than desktop/laptop online shoppers.
  • People that use mobile devices to purchase products and services online, report they have shopped for an item in a store, but purchased it online from a different retailer, at a rate 22% higher than desktop/laptop online shoppers.

The source of this data is Cognizant's 2015 Shoppers survey of 5,000 people. It shows that people accustomed to using mobile devices to shop online for products and services represent a category of shopper that behaves very differently than traditional desktop/laptop online shoppers. Retailers and etailers that don't account for these differences with customized/personalized digital experiences will lose to competitors that do.

I will be finishing this research and publishing a major study on this data in the next few months.  If you would like to schedule a full onsite briefing please let me know.

Every click, swipe, "like," buy, comment, deposit, jog and search produces information that creates a unique virtual identity - something we call

Code Halo

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Mobile Consumer Behaviors - The Questions to Ask

Digital Transformation is the process of updating your business processes and IT infrastructure to align with today's and tomorrow's consumers.  Today that is important, but hard to do.  Mobile consumer behaviors are changing far faster than most IT budgets and initiatives, and that can cause problems.  If your customers are adopting technologies and changing their path-to-purchase journeys at a pace that is faster than you can deliver, then you are opening up an opportunity gap for a more nimble competitor.

Here are some important questions to be asking your organization:

  1. Where are our customers to be found online?
  2. What technologies are our customers using to shop online?
  3. How are our customers' path-to-purchase journeys' changing?
  4. Are we meeting our customers along their path-to-purchase journeys and supporting them?
  5. Are we digitally transforming at a pace that will keep us aligned with our customers' pace of change?
  6. Is our IT budget aligned with the required pace of change?
  7. Are we re-engineering business processes to align with required digital transformations and mobile consumer behaviors?

According to comScore's quarterly State Of Retail report, in the first quarter of 2014, 78 percent of the U.S. population age 15 and above bought something online. That percentage is expected to continue to grow. In addition, reports the key age group of 18-34 year olds spend nearly $2,000 per year online now. In addition, in a recent Experian survey 55 percent of e-commerce shoppers in the U.S. live in households with incomes above $75,000 (40 percent were in households earning $100,000 and above). We are into serious numbers worthy of our attention.

The point has been made. We all recognize there is a lot of money to be made catering to online shoppers. The problem - just when many companies thought they had their e-commerce capabilities and strategies under control, consumer behaviors change. How? They jumped to mobile devices in the form of smartphones and tablets for much of the path-to-purchase journey. In fact, in our analysis over three-quarters of path-to-purchase journeys are already completed before vendors are contacted, and much of it was completed using mobile devices. If a retailer waits to be contacted before attempting to influence the consumer, they have missed the boat. If marketing campaigns are desktop/laptop centric, they have missed key opportunities and demographics to influence. If customers don't contact vendors until late in the path-to-purchase journey, then how can retailers effectively influence buying decisions? They need to understand consumer behaviors in general, and mobile consumer behaviors in particular.

In a recent survey I conducted of 108 business and IT professionals, all purchased products and services online. Of those, eighty-nine percent purchase products and services online using mobile devices (smartphones and/or tablets). However, when asked what means they typically use for online purchases, thirty-nine percent answered desktops/tablets, twelve percent mobile devices, and forty-eight percent answered both desktop/laptop and mobile devices regularly. This data highlights the fact that many mobile consumers still wait to purchase products online using desktops/laptops even if they researched the products on smartphones and tablets. The use of multiple devices and computers in the path-to-purchase process highlights the need to support customers across all channels to ensure they have a beautiful and consistent customer experience. This is not easy as there are a lot of moving parts and technologies involved.

To add to the complexity retailers face, different parts of the path-to-purchase journey are favored on different devices. Yikes! On-the-go searches and quick information discoveries are favored for smartphones. Just search for a product or service and save the link. In-depth research and rich product comparisons are often done on tablets with bigger screens. For online purchases, consumers still overwhelmingly use desktops/laptops as they are assumed to be more secure. Understood? Don't, however, forget that many consumers still only use desktop/laptops and their behavior is different. In fact, Cognizant just completed its 2015 Shoppers Survey of 5,000 people and forty-three percent typically only use computers for online shopping activities.

How often do people use mobile devices to make online purchases? From my recent survey (108 business and IT professionals):

  • Daily 1.8%
  • Weekly 28.7%
  • Monthly 43.5%
  • Quarterly 19.4%
  • Yearly 5.5%

What time of day do consumers shop using mobile devices? Here are the top three times from my recent survey ranked in order:

  • Early morning
  • Mid morning
  • Early afternoon

Seems simple. Focus from 6 AM to 2 PM in each time zone, right? Wrong! When you break down the data by age, there are considerable differences. That means if you are selling to an older age group, they have very different online and mobile consumer behaviors than 18-24 year olds. The younger age groups spike upward in online shopping late at night, after all of us old people are asleep in bed. Besides, desktop users find shopping in bed quite painful.

What location are mobile consumers at when they shop online? That depends on what stage in the path-to-purchase they are in. Here are the most popular locations for mobile consumer shopping from my recent survey ranked in order of popularity:

  • Home - living room
  • Work - desk
  • Home - bedroom
  • Home - TV room
  • Coffee Shop/Restaurant
  • Commuting - automobile/taxi/train/airplane/subway

If this mix is not rich enough, let's add gender differences! In a November 2014 study conducted by Burst Media and Rhythm NewMedia titled Online Insights - Mobile Shopping Behaviors, it was found that of consumers who use mobile device(s) to help with shopping, 58.3 percent were women and 47.7 percent were men. That difference is meaningful.

I will stop here for today. I am writing a lengthy report now on all the details of these studies. If you would like to review these findings in detail and arrange a briefing, please contact me. The bottom line is that consumers' path-to-purchase has been significantly impacted by mobile devices and if retailers and etailers are not in step with these changes, they will lose to competitors that are.