Daily Archives: October 28, 2007

What Does the doctor Do?

Note: This is written as a narrative and contains a lot of background on the doctor. Although the doctor believes that this information will help you put what he does into perspective, he understands that you might be time constrained and / or be more interested in a straight-forward listing of the services he offers. If that is the case, please refer to What Does the doctor Do? … For Executives instead. Thank you.

Pre-script: This post deals with the sustainability issue most important to me – me!

As time goes on, not only do I continue to spend a significant amount of time having what seems to be the same one-sided conversation explaining what I do, what I don’t do, and why I do, and do not, do what I do, or do not, I also find myself answering “uh, me” on a regular basis in calls with solution providers and other professionals in response to “Do you know anyone who does X?“. I know the one-sided broken-record is the curse of the consultant, but, even though I generally try to keep this blog not about me, or my company, I have come to the conclusion that a post might be a good idea as it could not only save a prospective client, or non-client, some time, as they can scan this post and determine whether or not I may be a good (first) contact, but it could also save the “Oh …” that often follows. And, if you don’t care about what I do, or do not do, then you can simply skip this post (which is a wee bit lengthy) and come back tomorrow where we will return to your regularly scheduled programming at the same-bat-time on the same-bat-channel.

In order for me to explain what I do, I need to give you a bit of background on what I’ve done, what has led me to where I am today, and why. Some of it you’ll find in the “about” posts, some of it you’ll piece together from comments on this and other blogs, and some of it you may infer from my writings herein. But nowhere have I made a concerted effort to try and explain what I do. My resume is long, and my formal academic CV longer, but I’ll try to keep it to the important points.

I started out by pursuing my graduate degrees in Theoretical Computer Science – Multi-Dimensional and Spatial Data Structures and Computational Geometry in particular – and teaching in Academia, but soon ventured off into industrial training, then consulting, and then IT R&D – first in e-Commerce, then in sourcing and optimization, and then into the broader supply chain from a process and modeling (especially for optimization and analysis) perspective. My academic background gave me a solid background in the fundamentals of computing, algorithms, and sophisticated mathematics – the keys to efficient software and complex modeling and problem solving. Five years of course development and delivery in academia (including internet and web technologies before they hit mainstream and object oriented technologies before they were the buzz word of the day) gave me a lot of teaching and training experience. My industry background forced me to become an expert in e-Commerce and Supply Chain processes and data requirements as well as the technologies that enabled them. I’m also an experienced software architect in both the (traditional) client-server and internet/web realms (who, given sufficient time and resources, can also code the back-end of just about anything).

This sounds diverse, but there are some common threads between everything I’ve done and what I now do – and these are a triumvirate focus on knowledge transfer, enablement, and innovation. And now you’re probably asking “What?“. However, before I can answer that, I need to get into a bit of the “Why“.

It wasn’t long into academia that I quickly lost interest in writing paper after paper (in the detrimental publish-or-perish mentality that has only compounded in recent years) that merely presented incremental improvements to a theory or a heuristic relevant to only one problem of a handful of practitioners in one or two obscure verticals. The anti-epiphany came after I had spent a few hours working through a dense 30-page paper in a well-respected journal only to realize that it was merely a simple and obvious extension of Theory T developed by Mr. X 20 years ago in the Y domain of computer science applied to the Z domain of computer science, which is almost the same, but just uses different terminology.

I also had no interest in writing papers whose sole purpose was to sit on a shelf and collect dust merely to build a publication record, which, these days, is not indicative of the relevance of the underlying work – especially since most administrators, whom I would swear do not know the difference between the front end and back end of a dog, only care about quantity, not quality. This is partially because it doesn’t take long to realize that a huge amount of great work is already sitting on the shelf ignored because most of the great academic researchers in any specialty have little or no interest in applying their work outside of the ivory tower. Great work, especially in computer science, should not be only great theory, but theory that has an application. Furthermore, although it’s rarely recognized as a worthwhile scholarly effort by the ivory tower inhabitants, I believe that working to take the best of what’s already known, to extend and modify it, and then to help someone design and build a great software application that will actually be used, and have an impact, is just as important as working on the next great theory – which the vast majority of pursuers will never even come close to. And this is why I developed a great interest in “knowledge transfer”.

Furthermore, I spent a lot of my early industry career working as a lead architect, R&D director, or chief scientist for what are now mostly unknown, and out of business, companies that produced solutions that were considerably ahead of what competitors had on the open market. Since it made no logical sense that the solutions should fail from a technology perspective, I spent more and more time asking myself why the solutions failed, since I refused to accept all potential clients were incapable of seeing the benefits, and discovered most of the time that the reason was the solution was solving the wrong problem (i.e. the business analysts, or, in most cases, the managers who assumed they knew what the problem was and skipped the analysis, did not do their homework), it wasn’t being marketed or sold properly (the salespeople were not properly educated and in a few cases just incompetent at that particular job), or the company was being poorly managed (and smart people could see it was not a wise investment from a long-term perspective).

Thus, I came to realize that not only is knowledge transfer from academia to industry (as there is a lot of knowledge there to draw from if you know where to look) and knowledge transfer within the company (everyone needs to speak the same language, understand the same problem, and work towards the same solution) important, but so is knowledge transfer and understanding throughout the supply and demand chain. This requires each participant to speak each other’s business and technical languages, but each group (marketing, engineering, finance, etc.) to be able to understand each other. Considering that each discipline has it’s own dialect these days, and that many individuals who specialize in one discipline have no idea what individuals in other disciplines do, this is a challenge for most companies. And this is where enablement comes into play – it’s not just a matter of writing code, but building a solution that enables the people who need to use it in solving their problem (and not just what someone perceives their problem to be) and, moreover, makes them want to use it.

This challenge – speaking a common language to identify, understand, and solve a common problem – can really only be solved by having one or more individuals who can work across the business – from market research through to engineering – and do so with competency and guide a core cross-functional team towards identifying a solution. This is more than just saying “we need to do X” and selecting a suite of applications that “do” X, but understanding what X is, what processes it involves, why, what fundamentally needs to be done, how those processes can be streamlined, and what new processes and technologies can be brought to bear to make it better. And thus the need to be innovative.

So where does someone like yours truly fit into the picture when he has done research, teaching, training, educational and marketing material preparation, coding, architecture, R&D & Operations management, process consulting, operations research, optimization, analytics, and business consulting in various B2B, B2C, and C2C e-commerce and supply chain spaces (and done so in the last decade alone) but yet does none of these things while focusing on knowledge transfer (as exemplified by this blog and the eSourcing Wiki), enablement, and innovation? The answer, confounding to your average recruiter, is everywhere and nowhere. Simply put, the doctor does what most others do not.

Going back to one of my previous statements that the supply chain professional of tomorrow must be a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-one (as opposed to a jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none) – I broke the mold I endeavored to fit. But the trade I focus my mastery on is not one that can be defined in any traditional business terms. My focus is purely on innovation – where innovation is relative to where you are today – and helping an interested company take their capabilities and solutions to the next level. Although the Big5 would plug what I do into a business process consulting, change consulting, management consulting, and maybe even a scenario consulting practice where the end goal is to help you make your business more efficient, more profitable, or both by identifying efficiencies, new processes, or technologies that you can bring to bear based upon the best (or most in vogue) business practices of the day, and then bring in their six sigma black belts, lean experts, or kaizen kamikazes to help you accomplish your goal, what I try to do for my clients, although very similar, is a bit different.

Unlike your average consultant who comes with his or her firm’s “best practice proven methodology” with a specific goal of “streamlining your processes” to improve your operations and bottom line, I don’t subscribe to any particular best practice methodology, don’t assume that any (overly) specific endeavor will guarantee results, and, most importantly, I don’t just work out the business part of “X” and ignore the ramifications of the suggested change or the technology that will be required to achieve “X”.

Specifically, like some of your newer boutiques in the space, my goal is to understand what your problem is or what you want to do, what underlying restrictions you have in developing a solution (based upon budgetary restrictions, manpower knowledge, and technical restrictions of existing solutions and infrastructure), and then choose, modify, or develop an appropriate methodology for the project. I try to balance the process with technology in helping a client design or build a solution, versus selling one or the other as the magic bullet. I work across the chasm that often exists between the marketing, sales, and business development and the engineering team – to make sure that both parties converge on and understand what’s required, why, and how it needs to be done. But most importantly, I try to identify a path of innovation appropriate to you and help you walk down it. This could be as significant and complex as a R&D project to develop brand new technology with features and functions no one else in the world has, as mediocre as slightly altering one step in a seven-step business process that allows you to improve efficiency 50% with almost no effort, or as important as helping you nail down your positioning, strategy, and marketplace communications. It’s all relative, it’s all specific to you, and it requires someone who doesn’t fit in any of the roles on your organizational chart. It has to be someone external, someone capable of looking at the business from a different viewpoint, and someone capable of looking across the business, which today means understanding technology, processes, and business requirements on an equal footing and how they interconnect, someone with the ability to put that puzzle together in a (slightly) new way that is beneficial to you and your customers, and, most importantly, someone who can actually help you, or your team, as appropriate, do it. That’s my view, but maybe I’m paying too much.

In short, the doctor does Innovation for the Real World, whatever that happens to be. And if you still don’t understand what the doctor does, then maybe someone like the doctor is just what you need.