Stop managing your website

At the end of the day, these technologies will hopefully push companies toward better, more user-focused content

When US-based content strategist Hilary Marsh made this comment during her visit to Aarhus in November for the annual J. Boye conference, it resonated really well with me. Both in terms of new technologies like artificial intelligence and chatbots, but also in the context of the decade-old role of web content management systems.

Still, to be honest, most companies have cared less about their content, and much more about their website in recent years. They’ve deployed systems designed to manage content, and tried to tweak them into website management systems, at times even coupled with an attempt to magically manage the entire customer experience. Clearly, this is not working out.

Stuck in a mindset of managing websites?

How did we get here? 2018 marks my 20th year working with digital and what continues to amaze me is the ever increasing scope that we try to cover.

First, it was about managing chaos which basically meant moving traditional old Microsoft Word files online. Web sites were little more than digital brochures and consisted of pages.

Later we moved onwards to managing websites with increasing elements of interactivity, like filling out a form or displaying a dynamic page with recent news. Wauv.

Onwards and the focus shifted for some to managing experiences, multiple devices, mobile-first and digital transformation and here we are. Today with 2018 knocking on the door and with AI-devices like Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home arriving in households around the world, the game is changing one more time.

In my job, I see too many who remain stuck in the mindset of managing websites. Some also overinvest in technology to try to manage (digital) experiences, only to find out that at the end of the day, what Hilary Marsh said is exactly spot on: We need better content and the content needs to be managed. Without good content, our efforts fail us and ultimately our customers go somewhere else.

Adaptable and intelligent content

The good people at the Content Marketing Institute have shared two excellent articles which illustrate the importance of content, how to work with it and how to create the right mindset:

Both are several years old and cover important progress in how to think about content and work with it.

First, adaptive content is content that can, at each instance of use, change (adapt) – not just in appearance but in substance – based on a number of factors. In other words and to cut a long story short: Imagine content that makes customers love your brand.

Second, the term intelligent content is not just another buzzword. The term’s widely accepted definition was developed by Ann Rockley years ago:

Intelligent content is content that’s structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.

To bring this back to managing websites vs. content, I’ll quote Karol Jarkovsky, VP Product at Kentico Software:

Unless you switch your mindset to managing content rather than websites, you will have a very hard time adapting to the new and emerging channels that have arrived this year.

The content landscape is increasingly crowded and customers are naturally gravitating towards more interactive channels like chatbots and various voice-enabled home assistants like Google Home or Amazon Alexa

Here’s to a 2018, where you focus more on managing your content!

Marketing wants this. Development wants that. What is a digital leader to do?

what-to-do-tue-volder
What to do?
Artwork by Tue Volder

When you look at how to speed up a complex digital project and deliver high-quality end-user experiences, the palette of options placed in front of you is daunting. It’s never a binary decision what to do next.

What I’m seeing experienced digital managers do—when their organizational challenges get too wild—is to put shared tools in front of different teams with different needs. That way, they nudge their divergent teams to work together on advancing projects.

Technology is never the silver bullet. But it does serve in a bridge-building function. Sometimes, it’s a shortcut to deliver better projects when the organization and cross-team processes are unruly and fluid. This article reflects on what some of the most proficient digital leaders I know actually do when introducing technology.

The lone digital ranger

My daily work is leading product management of the Magnolia CMS. I incessantly interview digital managers who are challenged with getting marketing and development teams to work well together. All of them realized long ago that technology alone rarely solves problems, so they use other means to get results:

They are well-versed at building processes and they focus on organizational structure. They facilitate fluid handovers but also obsess over tools and integrating systems—and they hold in high esteem the marketing creed of forging memorable customer experiences.

The digital leader becomes the central orchestrator and facilitator for digital experiences—by connecting people and content or data through processes.

Alas, that turns out to be a surprisingly lonely position.

Here comes the trojan horse: Disguised as technology

While those digital leaders typically agree that technology itself cannot magically save their projects, they still end up turning to technology to speed up projects and improve quality.

You might ask yourself why. My take is that their organizational challenges are too overwhelming and hamper progress in their projects.

What digital leaders still achieve through technology is a shared toolset that fosters collaboration and supports the productive process that drives things forward. Implementing processes through deploying tools and asking people to work with them is a subtle and sometimes surprisingly effective way to operationalize change management. They’re building the bridges they need by using technology as a trojan horse, squeezing it into the organization to help people band together.

The horse may be camouflaged as just another technology tool—but out of it jumps better collaboration.

Why software has a hard time pleasing both sides

Because of the internal culture of software vendors, most products lean to either marketing or engineering. This is an obvious, yet difficult reality about software:

—Technology-centric products cater to development teams producing systems

—Marketing-centric products cater to marketing teams producing experiences

In theory, it is straightforward for software to empower both developers and marketers at the same time. Behind the scenes, however, there are problems that make it really difficult for software vendors to achieve this. For example:

  • The ways marketers and developers work change rapidly—whereas software to support their workflows takes time to produce
  • The collaborative culture between developer-focused tooling and marketer-enabling features is hard to establish
  • Establishing software ownership that strikes a balance between different needs requires an equal and deep understanding of both sides
  • As you try to cater to opposing needs, complexity rises—and with that, speed of developing software goes down

Software that strikes a good balance between marketing and development are simply just phenomenally rare.

My work is leading the product management of a large CMS. That means constantly dealing with the interconnection of technology, processes, project methodologies, design thinking, integration strategies, user experience, collaboration scheme changes—and a whole host of other topics that a CMS implicitly or explicitly interfaces with.

We try hard to focus on innovation that balances the collaboration between marketing and development, because our world is divided per definition—and because we think this is where digital managers can get the most value from technology. Again, it may look like just another tool—but it can help remodel the way teams work together.

The duty of a digital leader

Let’s face it. As a digital leader, you don’t have the luxury of choosing sides. You have to build the bridges—whatever it takes. With handover processes, with agile methods, with organizational changes—or any other gadget, method or procedure you can find in your toolbox.

A sound approach for digital leaders working on revving up their digital projects is to focus on the bridge rather than the two islands it connects. One way to do that is to look for technology solutions and also particular software products that are committed to traverse the cultural silos between marketing and development. That may just be faster than the change management your organization otherwise needs to get people to collaborate naturally. It just doesn’t work for a digital manager to rely on technology that leans too heavily to one side.

How to form trust in the digital workplace

When people ask me what in my experience is the biggest barrier to innovation in our workplaces, it almost always falls back to workplace fears: Fears about expectations, fears of being seen, fears about making a mistake. Dig a little deeper and we can see that they are all ultimately based on a lack of trust. A lack of trust from management in our workforce and a lack of trust from our workforce in the environment that they work.

To build innovation as a culture, as a way of work, it’s fundamental that we have a workplace built on trust. Innovation flourishes with openness: experiences and insights shared, creative energy surfacing and a diversity of views. Conversely, innovation is killed by a workforce that keeps their heads down and just focuses on the task, staying within the boundaries of the cubicle.

Today, much of our work is done on digital platforms. The digital workplace is no longer just for connecting distant teams, it’s part and parcel of everyday work. In fact, we’re just as likely to have online conversations with people in our building than face-to-face ones. So if our work is more virtual than in-person, it becomes more and more important to focus on the behaviours we exhibit in the digital domain.  Without this, we significantly reduce the ability to connect and converse, solve problems and establish shared understandings, like we do when we catch someone for a real conversation.

So let’s unpack some of the human factors that build trust and see how we can apply them in the digital workplace. Building trust based on hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.

Listening and mirroring emotions

Eye contact and responding with similar gestures. These reactions make us relax a little: we’ve got someone’s attention and they seem to like us. But in virtual conversations, who is even listening to us? And even during video conversations, such as Skype and WebEx, it’s nigh on impossible to see the reaction of the audience, and that’s before they’ve dropped out!

In our digital worlds, we need to respond in a way that establishes a similar reaction. A ‘like’ is a good start. It helps to build some semblance of acknowledgement. But to start to form a trusting relationship, a more proactive response is needed. When reacting to a post, add some context: why did you find it useful? How does it connect to what you do? Do you have similar experiences? This opens a positive channel of communications, a thread. Initially, this gives us more confidence to be active in digital conversations and ultimately, building new and productive relationships in the workplace. As a bonus, it also enriches the knowledge in the conversation.

Having things in common

Shared experiences, interests and odd hobbies is a well-proven means of building trust. Immediately it creates empathy with the other person. After all, they are a little bit like me! When we first hold conversations with strangers, we usually go for safe common ground such as the weather. But digging a little deeper usually helps find some common interests like sport, television shows and pets.

What this means is that the often disapproved but tolerated posting of your pet cat doing something almost amusing becomes an important workplace trust building activity. We start to build emotional connections to colleagues. The social network platform starts to become a safe place to talk. This builds us towards an environment where we’re more likely to connect with people who can help us, who need our help or with whom conversations can start to build new and exciting outcomes.

Posting things that mean something to us, or responding to somebody with a similar experience or interest. These are small but very effective ways to build trust and develop a network. Just don’t forget to build business issues and process into your social channels otherwise you’ll be stuck with those bloody cats.

We’re not perfect

The high achiever – always seems to thrive, always perfect. Don’t we just hate them! Jealousy is an innate human trait and for good or bad, it’s just there. It often clouds our judgement under a blanket of emotion. Conversely, we connect more easily with people who aren’t perfect. People who make mistakes, who are fallible. It’s not schadenfreude, it’s just good old fashioned empathy again. It’s hard to have empathy for the person we see (rightly or wrongly) as perfect. After all, that’s just not human, is it?

This one is the hardest of the lot, but thoroughly effective: admitting mistakes, out in the open of our digital ecosystem. In the workplace we’ve always been rewarded for displaying strength, not vulnerability – and so vulnerability is not something we’re comfortable displaying. But innovation is built on mistakes. Human nature is built on mistakes. It’s how we’ve evolved to the top of the food chain – by trying new things, learning from what works and what doesn’t, and adapting our behaviours to suit. So leaders, show strength and admit where you went wrong, What would you do differently next time? You’ll find your teams will trust you much more for it.

Equal favouritism

It’s great to be the head of the pack, surrounded by close colleagues. But what about those who aren’t in the club? If you feel left out, you’re less likely to trust those in the pack. And research by Google on building the perfect team shows that team performance is enhanced when meeting culture allows everyone to have a say, that someone is actually listening to you, rather than just the dominant voices in a room.

In a digital environment, the same applies. Don’t just respond to your mates, showing favouritism to those you know. Break out, and make connections with new people. If someone you don’t know has stuck their neck out to post something, to share what they’ve learned, then respond in kind. Showing that people, especially management, are open to new ideas from those who may not have a seat at the table, is fundamental in bringing the quiet voices out, and offering a vital contribution. How many good ideas have been kept in the locker because they were never shared in the first place?

A smile

Finally, let’s finish with the simplest, most effective way to build trust with someone you don’t know. A smile. It opens us up, suddenly changing the dynamic of an interaction. But how do we convey a smile in a digital world?

It’s actually easy: have a warm smile in your company profile picture. According to research from New York University, people with a positive profile picture on professional networking sites are more likely to appear as trustworthy. And are we really more likely to start a provocative conversation thread with someone with a terrifying face? So put the pout face away and give a good cheesy grin.

 

Trust is one of the most valuable commodities in today’s digital workplaces. As we’re rolling out new tools and changing the rules of how we interact, it’s vital that we change how we help our workforce. Focus on them as people. Bringing in to play some of the measures above will gain their trust. It will increase adoption. It will increase productivity as our digital conversations become more mature and, ultimately, justify the high business value we place on them.

Coredna – a digital platform vendor built for speed and scale

janus-boye-sam-saltisHave you ever put a new CMS, marketing or e-commerce tool in place to address a specific problem, only to find an ever-increasing workload and new problems emerge?

During the recent years, cloud and the software-as-a-service approach have been differentiators in a crowded and fast-moving marketplace, yet these have rarely really addressed the customer need for a dramatically reduced time-to-market.

Today most of our members working in large, complex and global organisations remain plagued by custom solutions and digital efforts that don’t scale, both in terms of cost and resources required.

Coredna is a Boston-based start-up with Australian roots that attempts to address these problems. Coredna is also an active member of the J. Boye community, including the US Software Product Manager Group. I met up with their CEO and Founder Sam Saltis on a recent trip to the US, to further understand their disruptive approach.

Don’t customise if you don’t have to

With a 15+ year digital agency background from Australia, Sam has experienced the ins and outs of digital projects and have seen customers overinvest in software for their digital communication projects or marketing stack, only to find painful long implementation cycles, costly integration demands and increasing costs.

One of the key parts of the Coredna approach is to offer a pre-built stack, which means that out-of-the-box Coredna comes with ecommerce, content marketing, CMS and intranet features. Unlike other vendors, say like Kentico or Sitecore, Coredna offers more than a toolbox that needs to be customised for each and every implementation, Instead it comes with the features ready to deploy and use and then you can customise only if you have a very specific requirement.

This translates to both reduced implementation times (weeks rather than months), but also removes the continuous pain felt by others which have to worry about upgrading their custom code when a new version arrives. This has certainly been a regular conversation in many groups with members using Adobe Experience Manager or similar solutions loved by the analyst community.

The ecommerce platform Shopify takes a similar approach to transactional websites and has been skyrocketing in popularity.

Innovating faster

Compared to the more well-known vendors, Coredna has a substantially smaller engineering team, yet are still able to innovate fast, release new features and fix bugs at an enviable pace.

When I spoke to Sam about this, his answer started with this question:

What is cloud really?

According to Sam, their impressive rate of innovation is not only because Coredna only has 1 product line to maintain, but also because they are a true software-as-a-service vendor (SaaS).

Unfortunately like many other terms in this industry, SaaS has been surrounded by hype and confusion and to many vendors, what it really means is: We host it for you. Really what they deliver are platforms – digital infrastructure – which you then need to customise and implement for each and every project. This makes it so much harder to release new features as testing is much more complex given the different customisations out there with customers.

Scaling your digital efforts for growth

While scalability is the holy grail to entrepreneurs and start-ups around the world, it is also very relevant to older, larger and complex organisations making the digital transformation. We all need to use digital to scale our businesses.

When it comes to pricing, Coredna starts at USD $500/month and goes upwards towards $20k/month based on consumption criteria.

With most organisations looking into 2018 with an ever more complex stack of various tools ranging from CRM via marketing automation to CMS and digital workplace platforms, we need a fundamentally different approach if we want lift-off to ever happen.

With demanding customers like Nintendo who hosts about 200 domains on the platform, Coredna has the potential to both change the game among several software categories and also help customers escape the usual gravitational forces.

We’ll be watching closely!

 

Scaling design thinking

The promise of combining new ways of collaboration with design thinking to come up with important innovation sounds almost too good to be true.

This was at the heart of a popular session at the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference where Maren Christin Huebl from German software giant SAP gave a talk on fostering a culture of innovation with design thinking.
 

maren-in-action
photo credit: Steffen Elberg, Jyske Bank (tweet)

 

What’s the mindset of design-minded intrapreneurs?

Maren is one of the community leaders from the Design at Business community which also includes organisations like Daimler, Fidelity and Nestle. They’ve done a great job at bringing people together to collect lessons learned and share experiences towards scaling design thinking, in particular in large, complex and global organisations.

maren-speaking-power-of-design

Photo by Ib Sørensen

 

Company culture was brought up several times in the presentation and Maren kindly shared a booklet on why mindsets matter. The booklet made the point that generic mindsets described in the context of design thinking fall short of what makes successful design-minded intrapreneurs in large businesses. And it came with the missing mindsets that have driven design culture at scale. These include:

  • Shamelessly human-centered
  • Confidently iterative
  • Courageously committed
  • Respectful instigator
  • Business savvy

Read more in the highly recommended mindsets booklet (free, no registration, PDF download)

Learning from SAP’s 14 years journey in Design Thinking

During Maren’s presentation, she also shared from SAP’s vast experience in design thinking. She honestly covered ups and downs including initial frustration that design thinking could not be practiced and later how design thinking by checkbox was not working.

In recent years SAP Design has made great progress including enhancing their understanding of innovation culture and specifically redesigned leadership as shown in this slide:

sap-redesigning-leadership

The point of putting experts front and center resonated well with me. Readers of the Edelman Trust Barometer will also remember that experts are among those considered most trustworthy inside an organisation, only surpassed by peers. According to Maren, there seem to be two sides of the same coin of “putting experts front & center”:

  • fostering trust at the customer side (“trusted advisor”)
  • a higher involvement at the employee side, because they (finally) see the impact of their work, and can directly influence it

Scrum and agile methods has also played a key role in developing design thinking further at SAP. Maren highlighted how scrum has helped distribute power in her project team, create a better overview and how it has created a sense of team empowerment.

Putting ideas into action: Focus on empathy

As a final part of her session, Maren did an empathy exercise. She focused on the ideal work environment and had participants work with an empathy map.

EmpathyMap

(click for large version)

This reminded me of the famous Harvard Business Review article titled Connect, Then Lead from 2013, which made the point that warmth trumps strength.

Maren took a slightly different, yet related path, with this key question to kick off the discussion:

How does the ideal work environment look and feel like?

The Design at Business community has a created the Work hard – Play hard: The creative space book (free, no registration, PDF download). The book covers creative spaces inside corporate environments and comes with some great examples, including J. Boye members Philips, Siemens and Swisscom.

To cite from the conclusion of the book – as it relates to how creative workspaces help scale design thinking:

…the creativity that is unleashed not only allows people to build better products
and make customers happier but also to build a better company, leading to a sustainable
cycle of innovation, learning, and growth of incredible potential

Let’s continue the conversation

You can find Maren’s complete slides here:

There are many good resources on design thinking. Whether you are just embarking on the journey inside your organisation or have been a practitioner for several years, feel free to share your story below.

Artificial intelligence: How to capitalise on the huge potential

If you’ve been working with digital for the past years, you have probably heard of mobile-first. When mobile-first was introduced by Google in 2010, it had a tremendous impact on how solutions were developed. Programmers and others started to think about smartphones and tablets before thinking about desktops and this required a huge change in thinking and also led to a fair share of confusion.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Google introduced AI-first. AI-first means to think about artificial intelligence at the beginning of each new initiative. How might AI help improve a solution? How might AI make for a better customer experience?

AI has tremendous potential, but how to capitalise on it? This was the theme of a workshop which was designed by UK-based MMT Digital and I had the pleasure of chairing as a part of the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference.

Below I’ve shared some of my key learnings from the 3 hour session, but first thanks to Samuel Pouyt from the European Respiratory Society for kindly sharing his AI perspective and deep insight.

Learning #1: AI has been around for a while and we’re already using it

As Tracy Green shared in the beginning of the workshop, the term artificial intelligence was coined in 1955 by John McCarthy, a math professor at Dartmouth.

She also talked about general purpose technologies like the steam engine, electricity and quoted a recent Harvard Business review article titled The Business of Artificial Intelligence:

The most important general-purpose technology of our era is artificial intelligence

The article is a worthwhile read and also make a compelling case for how AI is poised to have a transformational impact on business.

I had brought my Amazon Echo Dot to the workshop which is one example of how AI has been made available to the consumers. While Amazon initially released the Amazon Alexa personal assistant in 2014, the Echo Dot became widely available in 2016. Today it sells for less than $50 on amazon.com. Since then Google has released their Home device which is also quickly finding its way into households.

workshop-participants-laugh-at-alexa
Amazon Alexa made people laugh during demo time, but the widespread and quick adoption in households, somewhat similar to the introduction of the iPad, means that expectations go up and AI also becomes expected in work projects.

How are you using AI today?

Learning #2: Voice is quicker and better than typing

For me personally, 2017 became the year, where I started using voice, instead of typing. Saying “Alexa” or “OK Google” has become a normal part of the day, yet this blog post was still typed the good old-fashioned way.

Tracy also brought a recent Stanford research project to the workshop which found that speech is 3x faster than typing for English and Mandarin text entry on mobile devices.

This brief video from the Stanford experiment shows speech recognition writes text messages more quickly than thumbs:

The HBR article on The Business of Artificial Intelligence also makes the point that the error rate is now lower for algorithms than humans.

If you are not sure, how widespread the adoption really is, according to eMarketer, forty-five million voice-assisted devices are now in use in the U.S. For more read: Alexa, Say What?! Voice-Enabled Speaker Usage to Grow Nearly 130% This Year

Voice search is one big topic to be further explored and Christian Köhler from byte5 in Frankfurt, shared valuable implementation insights, also from the perspective of search engine optimisation.

Learning #3: Chatbots are here to stay

I owe much of what I know about chatbots to Ditte Wolff-Jacobsen and have previously held a brief talk on chatbots, largely based on her insights.

Chatbots are conversational and Sara Walsh from Capital One has already shared extensively on designing the conversation. Take a look at this open source approach to turn your traditional web forms into conversational forms.

The use cases from chatbots are far ranging from the employee experience towards better customer experience. To mention just one example, the Dutch carrier KLM have come a long way this year to make chatbots a useful part of the travelling experience. Take a look at BB – their Blue Bot.

At the workshop Jake DiMare from Luminos Labs in Los Angeles, also brought 2 examples from the US:

  1. Gwen – Your personal gift concierge which is powered by IBM Watson
  2. Leading Hotels of the World who has been using AI to improve the hotel research and booking processes

Might chatbot be the wrong word for these use cases? IBM seems to call the same thing virtual assistants, which certainly sets a different level of expectation.

Tracy Green brought a local council example from the UK to the discussion. Read more in this article: Could AI chatbots be the new face of local gov? Enfield Council thinks so. The Council is half-way through a project to introduce IPSoft’s Amelia chatbot to act as a front end to digitised front line services.

Finally, Sharon O’Dea from the UK made the point that if you want to start with a chatbot, it might be smarter to explore internal use cases to build experience, instead of launching external ones first, where they might negatively impact the customer experience.

Learning #4: Metadata auto-tagging is one valuable use case

Metadata is vital to store and manage information about your content and with organisations drowning in content, be it text, video or images, there is a huge pain related to search & retrieval as well as sharing information. Manually tagging content with descriptions, copyright details and so on is incredibly time consuming.

Theresa Regli took the lead on this one during the workshop. She is a thought-leader on digital asset management and works as Chief Strategy Officer at KlarisIP. Theresa generously shared insights on the technologies for automatically generating metadata, including visual recognition, context comparison and machine learning.

She also shared key findings from a recent research, which included insights on the maturity of the currently available global API models, the error margin and on the significant time and effort which is required to train the tools.

Learning #5: The future of business is content-driven

Back in 2015, NY Times featured the now legendary quiz: Did a Human or a Computer Write This?

Do try it and you’ll likely be surprised at how well a computer can write.

Last year, content marketing guru Robert Rose held a popular keynote on strategic content at the J. Boye Philadelphia 16 conference, where he opened our eyes towards how far AI has come in terms of writing better content.

From the workshop last week, US-based content strategist Hilary Marsh said something which I agree with:

AI will push companies toward better, more user-focused content

Tobi Stadelmeier who is VP Engineering at German-based CoreMedia brought examples of what’s out there in terms of Natural Language Processing, Text sentiment analysis, video indexer and much more. He also shared the progress CoreMedia has made in terms of using AI to improve both the editorial experience inside the CMS and well as the customer experience.

Learn more about AI for your 2018 projects

There’s so much happening at the moment when it comes to AI. Jake DiMare has already shared some of his take aways in It’s AI-first at J. Boye 17.

In advance of the workshop, Ina Rosen from Copenhagen-based agency Operate not only reviewed my slides, but also shared some of these pointers:

The end of the beginning of a totally new financial system

Volumes have been written about bitcoin, blockchain and cybercurrencies, in particular recently given the hype and immense fluctuations in the value of bitcoin.

Last week, Bebo White held a popular keynote with observations on cybercurrency and blockchain. Bebo is Departmental Associate (Emeritus) at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in San Francisco and was on the team who installed the very first Web server in the US.

He certainly managed to capture my attention when he  opened with these questions:

  • How many of us have actually been around at the beginning of a totally new financial system?
  • How many of us were dubious about the World Wide Web?

In his talk, Bebo compellingly argued how Bitcoin and other cyber currencies can pave the way for truly global and digital financial system.

Digitizing our monetary systems

There is one example of data exchange that is essential to a successful society that has so far evaded digitization – exchange of value in mutually accepted monetary systems. This does not mean convenient digital representations of money or value such as are found in online credit card transactions or stock market trades which serve only as digital proxies for genuine currency or securities.

Instead, it refers to a new financial system designed specifically for the digital age wherein value resides only in digital form especially suited for digital transactions.

The design of a robust digital currency system has long been a major software engineering challenge. Perhaps the greatest incentive for its development comes from the meteoric rise in E-commerce. Global buyers and sellers longed for a payment system that closely resembled the anonymity of cash, did not depend upon existing payment infrastructures such as credit cards or wire transfers, and was not based upon a specific national currency requiring exchange processes and fees.

In short, a new financial system designed specifically for digital storage and transactions and for the network era was the dream.

Bitcoin: realizing the dream of a digitally based financial system

The latest attempt to realize this dream comes in the form of cybercurrencies such as Bitcoin. The very mention of Bitcoin conjures up in people’s minds criminal enterprises such as Silk Road, corruption and theft in the Mt. Gox scandal, criminal money-laundering, or anarchistic attempts to circumvent national currency systems.

While such “bad press” for Bitcoin is true, they also illustrate that it represents a system that can and should be taken seriously. When the famous American bank robber Willie Sutton was asked “why do you rob banks?” his response was “because that’s where the money is.”

Perhaps examples of Bitcoin abuse are indicative of its potential to store and process real value. Bitcoin is outlawed in some countries because it represents a break in the financial control that some governments hold over their citizens. Bitcoin is empowering to a population that for various reasons may not have access to a formal financial institution – all they now need is a mobile telephone. The number of Bitcoin that will ever be in circulation is fixed thereby providing a permanent hedge against inflation – something that no national currency can honestly claim.

The technology underlying Bitcoin and other cyber currencies is robust being based upon the same asymmetric encryption schemes that protect millions of secure transactions and communications every day. The Bitcoin ledger, called the Blockchain, insures the validity of transactions and is an innovative application of crowdsourcing. None of the negative incidents attributed to Bitcoin can be traced to its algorithmic methods.

It is impossible to say whether Bitcoin will become widely accepted and will survive in the future. However, Bitcoin has been successful in starting a discussion about the viability of digital money and the role that it can play in our increasingly digital world. Like music on vinyl records and pictures on photographic film, banknotes and coins may find a deprecated or niche use in the future behind their more powerful and flexible digital form.

The enormous potential implications on society

A significant part of the keynote took a step away from the history and technical details and rather focused on the social implications.

It’s more than just payments as Bebo said.

He shared examples of how blockchain comes with empowerment and transparency which has made organizations such as the UN use it for their refugee work. A recent example is documented by SingularityHub: 5 Reasons the UN Is Jumping on the Blockchain Bandwagon

In another example, he brought up this CNBC article: Cash is useless in Venezuela thanks to hyperinflation — so people are turning to bitcoin

He did not ignore the recent press and controversy around the enormous power consumption required to mine bitcoins.

One of my personal main take aways from the talk, was how blockchain might be the true lasting disruptive legacy of the cybercurrency discussion. Bebo brought this quote on Blockchain to the discussion:

a technology that allows people who don’t know each other to trust a shared record of events
– Bank of England

Shaping the digital future step by step

Bebo has been a frequent and very highly rated speaker at J. Boye conferences in both Denmark and the US.  He first became involved with the emerging WWW technology while at CERN in 1989.

You can find Bebo’s complete keynote slides here:

Deloitte has written a good paper on Six Control Principles for Financial Services Blockchain (PDF, published Oct 17)

In the global J. Boye network, you have the opportunity of experience macro-thinkers and leading industry experts like Bebo or everyday practitioners in fields spanning leadership and strategy, communication, digital workplace, collaboration and many more.

For more details, see Bebo’s slides from the J. Boye Aarhus 14 conference titled: Are You Ready for Bitcoin? (Is the World Ready for Bitcoin?)