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Professional development in an age of uncertainty

March 13th, 2018

Yesterday the University of Exeter Business School presented its report on professional development and the needs of Executive Education in a seminar at the Business School.

‘Executive education in an age of uncertainty’ shared the findings of a study involving nearly 50 business and public sector organisations in the South of England.

Codexx was pleased to be involved in the study as the lead research partner and build on its existing relationship with the Business School by supporting Bill Russell, the Director of Executive Education in this project. 

The report provides insights into the challenges and approaches organisations are taking for professional development in these ‘uncertain’ times – with a combination of Brexit, economic challenges, accelerating technology and new business models. It also identifies key requirements for the providers of Executive Education based on the feedback from organisations in the study interviews and questionnaire.

The report also shares the new degree and executive education services the Business School will be launching from 2018, enabling organisations to make use of the Apprenticeship Levy for Level 6 and Level 7 personnel development.

You can read the report here.

Executive Education in an age of uncertainty

For more information on the Executive Education programmes, contact the University of Exeter Business School here.

 

How’s your innovation health?

January 11th, 2018

Innovation is increasingly a critical competency for all businesses – in today’s global, dynamic markets. But many businesses lack effective capabilities in innovation. Our latest video on our YouTube channel looks at innovation challenges and the use of ‘best practice’ assessment to drive innovation improvement. We also overview the use of the Codexx ‘Foundations for Innovation’ (F4i) assessment solution – developed in 2006 with the support of John Bessant, then Professor for Innovation at Imperial College Business School in London. And we do all this with a light sprinkling of humour…. and why not?

Take a look:

Why great products are not enough – the story of Nokia

January 4th, 2018

The second video in our series ‘Why great products are not enough’ covers Nokia and its fall from market dominance in mobile phones in 2005 to market exit less than 10 years later. There are key lessons to be learned from Nokia’s experience. In this video Alastair Ross reviews Nokia’s fall and analyses why and how it happened and the key weaknesses in Nokia’s business model and capabilities.

 

Lean in law firms – five key lessons

December 4th, 2017

by Alastair Ross

I’ve been working with many major UK law firms since 2005, helping them to improve both the value and the efficiency of their services. A key philosophy I have used in this work has been Lean thinking. I thought it would be useful to reflect on that experience and capture five key lessons I’ve learned over the last 12 years about applying Lean in law firms.

Lesson 1 – A law firm is not a factory (not quite anyway)

I first applied Lean back in 1990 as a manufacturing manager in IBM. It was not known as Lean then – but as ‘Continuous Flow Manufacturing, ‘Just in time’ or Kaizen. Later I used it in improvement projects in chemicals, automotive and aerospace companies. In the late 1990s the term ‘Lean’ was coined by Womack and Jones to cover this improvement philosophy and tools. In 2005 I began working with major law firms in the UK that were feeling the heat of increasing competition and market deregulation. It quickly became clear that Lean thinking could be readily applied to help these firms improve their service value and delivery efficiency. But it was also clear that the culture in a law firm, the ‘craft’ based working methods and the terminology meant that Lean needed to be communicated and tailored differently. Partners did not readily relate to case studies of car factories – they needed to understand how lean could be applied to knowledge-intensive services such as law. And equally lean approaches that worked on the factory floor did not always work quite so readily in a legal team!

Lesson 2 – Process thinking does not come naturally to lawyers

Lean thinking is naturally focused on how work activities and resources are applied to the flow of value from the business to the customer – the so-called ‘value stream’. This value stream is realised in a business process that delivers products or services to the customer. So lean thinking is used to assess and improve these processes. This approach comes naturally in a manufacturing environment where there is a common understanding of work being codified into production processes. But this is not the case in a law firm – ‘process thinking’ is an alien concept especially for work types where one fee earner may currently perform all of the work. This is where process mapping is very effective in getting a team of fee earners to draw up the activities that are required to deliver a service – thus producing a visual map of the process. This can then be used to highlight wastes and begin the journey to improvement. Doing this in a collaborative way with fee earners in a change team is the best approach in my experience – getting lawyer buy-in to the improvements and also creating a cadre of ‘process improvement advocates’ within the firm. (And by the way this is why I am not a fan of Six Sigma for law firms – it’s overkill and not as easily deployed as Lean).

Lesson 3 – There is a lot of waste in legal services

A core element of the Lean philosophy is a ruthless focus on the identification and elimination of waste. But what can be considered as waste? It is any activity or resource that does not add value to what is provided to the customer. Waste accumulates in businesses just like dust and debris in a house. Regular hoovering and the occasional major ‘spring clean’ is the solution in a house. And something similar is required in a business to keep its business processes effective and efficient. But what if a business doesn’t feel the need to do this? If the competitive and market pressures are not sufficiently tough that they need to do such ‘process housekeeping’? This was pretty much the situation in the legal sector for many years – times were good and margins were high. But since the financial crash in 2008, the dramatic impact of the internet and other information technologies and in the UK the deregulation of the sector – things have changed. Law firms are feeling the pressure from budget-squeezed clients, new entrants and new business models. So now firms are looking at their how they deliver their services – and they are finding much waste: Poorly defined, inefficient working methods, inefficient use of people (so much legal work is performed at too high a skill level), errors, rework and poor use of IT, for example.

There is a positive message: With this high level of waste, there is much improvement possible.

So firms can significantly improve their competitive position by using lean to identify and radically reduce this waste (see Lesson 5).

Lesson 4 – Start with a partner champion and a fixed fee service

Making change in partnerships is tough – much more so than in a corporate where the ‘it’s my way or the highway’ diktat can more readily be applied… The other major challenge is that ‘the billable’ hour discourages law firms from improving efficiency – as it results in reduced revenue. Great for the client, but not so compelling for the partnership. But the fee regime is changing with more clients in the UK looking for budget certainty and so enforcing reduced and fixed fees for many transactions. This has created financial pain for firms – much of my work has been with firms who have been forced to move to a fixed fee for a service and are making little or no profit for each matter.

To effectively harness this ‘burning platform’ for improvement, a Partner ‘champion’ is needed – one who is positive and committed to driving major improvement in the service. They are critical in being the business partner to an external change agent, in leading a change team of fee earners and removing road-blocks to change within the firm. From my experience, the presence of such a partner champion is a key ‘Go/No Go’ for a Lean improvement project.

 Lesson 5 – More for less is an achievable outcome

There is a common believe in professional services firms that cost reduction will inevitably lead to a reduction in service quality. In other words something has to give – you either have a high quality or low cost service, you can’t have both.

 This is simply not true.

My work with multiple law firms covering 20 legal services has enabled direct cost reductions of between 25 and 75% – whilst improving value to the client, with more consistency and responsiveness. Why is this possible? Because firms can reduce service cost by reducing or eliminating the waste inherent in legal service delivery (see Lesson 3). This waste adds no value to clients and indeed consumes lawyer resources and time – so removing it will not have any negative effects on client value. Only positive ones.

 So service quality can be improved and cost reduced at the same time.

So what’s the key message for law firms?

It’s a simple one, if a firm is not yet using Lean thinking as part of its transformation work it’s failing to grasp a major opportunity. For Lean can deliver significant business improvements with little capital investment (IT can help, but it’s not mandatory) and provide a foundation for ongoing improvement. And if a firm is looking to exploit new technologies such as AI, it had better make sure it’s building on solid foundations – automating a poor process may simply deliver the proverbial ‘pig with lipstick’….

 

This article was first published by Alastair Ross on LinkedIn on 1st December 2017.

Why’s your innovation engine misfiring?

November 29th, 2017

Innovation is increasingly critical to business survival

We live in times of major change driven by a combination of globalisation, rapid technology development, the accelerating impact of the internet as a platform for social and business collaboration, security threats and changes in the power balance between the East and West.

The result is a turbulent environment where businesses continually need to adapt their business models and value propositions to meet new competitive conditions. In this challenging environment the ability to effectively innovate is becoming a core competence for businesses seeking to prosper in the short term and survive in the longer term.

How do you ensure that your innovation system is up to the job?

And and if it isn’t, how do you improve it?

Our latest whitepaper tells you how – you can read it here:

Why’s your innovation engine misfiring?

How healthy are your legal services?

November 20th, 2017

Business challenges are driving services thinking in law firms

Today law firms must compete on the basis of their legal services – not just their lawyers.  Clients buy legal services to get problems solved and these services are typically delivered by lawyers – but with increasing competition, the impact of IT and the internet and deregulation in some markets, this is changing. With the aim of meeting client demands of ‘more for less’ and doing so profitably, progressive firms are giving increased focus to improving the value of their services and the efficiency with which they are delivered.

The legal service paradigm has changed

Twenty years ago ‘legal services’ were simply the aggregate outcome of the work of a number of lawyers with a specific set of skills. The way the work was performed and delivered varied by office, by partner, by fee earner and over time. There was little consistency in how the service was performed or delivered.

The legal world is very different today. To find out more and how you can assess and improve your legal services read our new whitepaper: How healthy are your legal services?

If you would like to know more about Codexx experience or services in this area, please contact us.

 

 

Transformation in a mid-sized law firm – Whitepaper

September 11th, 2017

Major law firms are operating in a time of great change with significant pressures on their core business model, driven by a ‘perfect storm’ of factors:

  • Digitisation of legal service delivery, using the internet & mobile
  • More sophisticated and price-focused clients demanding ‘more for less’
  • Continuing austerity – impacting public and private sector legal budgets
  • Deregulation to enable new entrants and new business models

The UK legal press primarily gives coverage to the large law firms – particularly the so-called ‘magic’ and ‘silver circle’ firms licensed in England and Wales – and how they are responding to market, regulatory and technology challenges.

But how are mid-sized regional firms dealing with these challenges? These firms are typically competing for work where rates and indeed margins are significantly lower than for the large firms competing for M&A and complex litigation work – and these are being further squeezed in this challenging environment.

To better understand the challenges and effective approaches for making major transformation in such a mid-sized law firm we returned to one of our legal clients with whom we worked in 2011-12 on a Lean programme. At that stage, ASB Law, a progressive south coast firm, was just starting out on a programme of major transformation. We interviewed Andrew Clinton, who has been the Managing Partner of the firm since 2006. He has been championing and leading the firm’s programme of transformation.

Andrew was open and frank about the firm’s approach to transformation, its challenges on this journey and its achievements so far. He agreed to the documentation of this interview in a Codexx whitepaper and sharing it in the public domain. We have done so and also added a commentary based on our re-engineering and innovation experience with multiple firms in the legal sector since 2005.

This paper provides a practical and detailed review on the approaches, challenges and lessons learned in making and sustaining major transformation in a mid-sized law firm. We have also included a framework for the effective design and management of transformation programmes. To read the paper click on the link below.

Driving transformation in a mid-sized law firm – ASB Law Case Study – September 2017

International SAP Conference for Professional Services – October 2017

September 11th, 2017

How can Enterprise Systems like SAP enhance the performance of professional service firms? To help answer this question, SAP will be hosting their first international conference for Professional Services in Amsterdam on the 10-1th October 2017.

Alastair Ross, Director of Codexx, will be presenting on the 11th October in a special forum on ‘Driving Successful Innovation in Professional Service Firms’. His presentation will address key aspects such as:

  • Forces for and against change within professional services
  • The need for an holistic approach – People, process and IT
  • Establishing an environment for innovation
  • Re-engineering & automating services delivery – Key success factors.

Further information on the conference and presenters.

The new professional will be doing less content but delivering more value

August 24th, 2017

How will the form of the professional services firm and the role of professionals change in the next decade?

This is an important question given the importance of professional knowledge workers such as IT specialists, designers, architects, lawyers, management consultants and accountants to the modern economy.

There is a major discontinuity emerging between the established paradigms of professional services and the emerging new paradigms that will be needed in response to key market and technology-driven transformation forces. Understanding these changes and how they will impact existing firms, professionals and those aspiring to a professional services job is important to the future of firms and professionals.

“The lawyer of the future will be doing less law.”

Those were the words spoken by the managing partner of a progressive UK law firm. They were said in one of a number of interviews I recently conducted with knowledge-intensive service firms including lawyers, management consultants and IT services businesses. Whilst these words specifically refer to the legal sector, there was a common theme in these interviews – and in my project work with professional service firms – that knowledge workers – whether they are lawyers, accountants, doctors, management consultants or other specialists – will, in the future, be focusing less on ‘technical content’ (i.e. their specialism) and much more on innovating new services, leading teams, collaborating with partners and building deeper client relationships.

Why will this happen and what does it mean for the future of knowledge workers and their firms?

 

What is driving these changes are major external trends:

  • Global competition – forcing firms to review and enhance their business models.
  • Client demands – driving firms to do ‘more for less’.
  • Global clients requiring consistency in service delivery across their locations.
  • Increasing IT value – enabling automation of repetitive knowledge work.
  • The ‘gig economy’ – offering firms a variable cost resource option.

In response to these trends, progressive knowledge-intensive service firms are taking the following actions in their business:

  • Streamlining and codifying repetitive work to enable lower cost service delivery.
  • Moving lower value work to less experienced and expensive personnel.
  • Applying IT solutions to automate repetitive work elements.
  • Experimenting/piloting AI solutions to automate more complex work.
  • Planning for reduction of core employees through contracting and outsourcing.
  • Broadening the capabilities of their senior professionals in non-technical areas.
  • Establishing more robust approaches for developing and managing services.

Many firms are using mergers to increase their scale which will help with funding major investment in IT and other improvements. However mergers in professional services are often problematic due to cultural misalignment and poor post-merger integration. They also dilute management focus. So the merger response to these challenges is by no means a ‘silver bullet’ – indeed it often results in major collateral damage….

The paradigm of the knowledge professional – be they a lawyer, accountant , consultant or other specialist – focused on performing fee earning work will change.

It will change to one where their time spent delivering expert content will reduce and be replaced by time spent in the following areas:

  • Developing new higher value services and partnerships.
  • Developing methods for delivery using automation or lower-skilled personnel.
  • Building a deeper understanding of client challenges.
  • Managing the delivery of new services and client relationships.
  • Leading and coaching junior personnel.

So how should firms and individuals prepare for these changes?

Firms need to develop new operating models that embrace these trends with strategies to achieve them. These strategies need to cover their organisation and skills development, their services design and delivery and their IT infrastructure. These strategies will deliver new business models that enable them to succeed in this new business landscape.

Individual professionals need to develop their skills portfolio to prepare them for this new world. They need to complement their deep content specialisms with broader capabilities in areas such as consultative selling, team leadership, project management and innovation. A useful model for this new world is as the ‘T-shaped’ specialist. In addition to these skills-based changes they need to take ownership of their individual skills development and branding. For they will increasingly be ‘going to market’ as an individual resource – as a subcontractor for a specific project – rather than as an anonymous professional ‘foot soldier’ working for a firm*.

*Tom Peters was certainly prescient when he wrote his book ‘The brand you 50’ in 1999, with his message to white-collar workers about the need to create their own personal brand.


This article was first published by the author on LinkedIn on 24th August 2017.

Cyber security – a scenario of the 2030s

July 11th, 2017

‘Knowledge is power’ is an old maxim attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan scientist and philosopher and ‘father’ of the scientific method, writing in 1597. In today’s global interconnected world, knowledge – specifically digitally represented knowledge – truly powers our lives and our businesses. Within the last twenty years digital information has replaced many once-familiar physical assets, such as notes & coins (‘cash’), CDs, DVDs, photographs, books, the need to travel (other than for pleasure), the need to visit physical shops or offices – the list goes on.

Our digital world – the good and the bad

Our digital connectivity enables almost instant response to events through access to information transferred between computing devices and thus people and organisations. This increasingly frictionless information access powers our economy, linking businesses, suppliers and customers and people with their families, friends and social networks. However this powerful and easy exchange of information can be a double-edged sword – for information can move in any direction and sometimes when and where we don’t want it to. The increasing impact of information theft, hacking, infection and related disruption is becoming clearer with recent events showing that damage is not limited to the virtual, but can also impact physical infrastructure and thus degrade social, governmental and business processes and services.

Our values lag the new information paradigm

Our values and our business models have been slow to keep up with these changes. Illegal downloads of music and video and ‘copy and paste’ of copyrighted information from the internet is commonplace and not considered as ‘theft’ by all-too-many people – unlike the taking without paying of a physical good from a shop or a home. We still instinctively assess the value of an asset with its ease of replication. So we can relate the price of a physical product – like clothing, a mobile phone or a car – with its cost of creation or duplication. But many find this difficult to do with a digital product – since it can be copied in an instant effectively at ‘zero’ cost – surely that makes it ‘cheap’ or ‘free’? goes the justification. Our values and indeed our ways of living and working need to adapt to these relatively sudden changes in the paradigm of value.

So how do business models need to change?

It is increasingly clear that businesses will need to transform their strategies, processes and organisations to survive and prosper in this new information paradigm. To explore the potential impact of these changes, it is useful to construct and analyse plausible scenarios and use the learning to develop appropriate strategies. To construct a useful scenario, I have taken a relevant extract from my recent fiction book ‘A joy to serve the company’.
Let me set the scene: It’s the late 2030s and we’re in a car factory in the North of England run by a major Japanese automotive company. Alex Hunter is an experienced factory engineer called to a meeting with Yasuhisa Akiba, a senior leader in Corporate Excellence – known as ‘CEX’. Read the excerpt and reflect on its likelihood and what it might mean for today’s business models…….

Akiba had been standing, leaning against the wall, as he spoke to Alex Hunter who sat on the other side of the table in the large stark white-walled conference room on the top floor of the Eden Bridge administration building.

“Anyone with money can make cars, if they have the knowledge,” he’d said. “Differentiation of products and competitive advantage is founded solely on the intellectual assets owned by a company. Information is not only important; it is the key to our success. There is no way we can compete with the Chinese majors on the basis of costs – they will always have the economies of scale. PAG’s new megafactory at Dalian will have almost one hundred and fifty thousand employees and two hundred and fifty thousand robots when it is fully operational next spring. Even their European factories in Tatabanya, Prague and Koln are five times the size of Eden Bridge. We can’t compete with their scale! We must compete on the basis of innovation. And innovation is founded on our dynamic open culture and our leverage of our information assets. Far from information being a support to our business, as you claim Alex Hunter, it is the core of our business. It is for that reason that company information protection and offensive competitive analysis are so fundamental to our success.” He stared at her. She met his gaze.

“Do you understand?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Look at your left wrist.”

“What?”

“Tell me what you see.”

She frowned and looked down at the thin rounded metallic black rectangle strapped to her left wrist with a dark red band. “It’s just my iband,” she said with a shrug.

“’Just my iband’. You speak as if it is nothing special.”

“Well it isn’t really is it? Everyone has one these days.”

“You talk as if it is simply a common mobile communications device. Does everyone have a subcutaneous high bandwidth network implanted under their skin and linked to an implanted telecommunications module with an interface security unit?”

“Well no. Only other professionals have that sort of tech. Most people just have a basic comms module on their wrist.”

“That is right. You loosely call this device an ‘iband’, but that is simply lazy western slang for all body-mounted or implanted data processing and communication devices. Your iband is actually a company AMU7, the product of two decades of development of mobile communications and decision support technologies in the company laboratories. It was a massively expensive undertaking. Do you understand?”

Alex nodded.

“So tell me this: Why did we simply not buy it from Samsung or Huawei? Get them to develop it for us? It would have been a lot cheaper.”

“Er, I’m not sure.” She shrugged. “Maybe we should have. That sort of stuff is their core competency. Ours is making cars.”

Akiba appraised her for several seconds. “So you would have been comfortable with Huawei, a major Chinese-owned electronics company developing the technology that all our associates use to develop and share our most sensitive company information across our entire global operations. Or for Samsung, which is partly owned by Leno Investments, a major Chinese investment house, to have done the same?”
Alex Hunter felt her cheeks redden. She avoided his eyes. “Oh, I see.”

Akiba walked across to the window and stood in silence looking out. For a long time. It felt like minutes to Alex who began to feel even more unnerved. Then suddenly he turned back and faced her.

“As I explained. It is not good enough to be able to just make cars. Information is critical and it must be kept secure. The AMU7 is a key tool for empowering our associates with the knowledge assets within the company – linking them with other associates, with our AIs and with our knowledge management databases. And it does so in a way that protects our information assets from external intrusion. With built-in industry-leading firewall and anti-virus capabilities. With the ability to sense other intelligent devices and autonomously launch intrusion attacks to gather information. To link you automatically to the company for vmail, voice or data sharing. To work seamlessly with personal surgical enhancements such as optical or neural implants. With encrypted signatures on external devices such as your wrist unit, so that they will only work when connected to your subcutaneous network. Indeed if the AMU7 senses an attempted connection to another network or tampering of its external seals it will auto wipe its data and destroy its key bioengineered chips.” He snorted loudly. “Your so-called ‘iband’ is a key company asset. It easily triples the productivity of an associate in their work. It also turns each associate into an active information gathering asset. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Alex nodded.

“Let me give you an example of this. Last year the AMU7 of one of our Chinese marketing associates was able to extract a design data file on the transmission system of a new PAG coupe under development, from a PAG associate, whilst boarding a flight at Beijing airport. The latest AMU7 software AI sensed the PAG associate’s device within its monitoring range and was able to overcome its firewall and remain undetected whilst it found and extracted that file and a number of others that were of interest. Neither the PAG associate nor indeed our associate was aware of this action taking place. Our associate’s AMU7 encrypted and sent the files to our Competitive Analysis AI once it was within range of a company-approved network. The information contained within them proved to be extremely valuable as the PAG associate turned out to be a senior team leader on the new car project. It allowed us to adjust the design parameters in the development programme for our new competitive vehicle to enhance the vehicle’s performance.”

Alex frowned. “Wasn’t that illegal?”

Akiba appraised her. “Illegal? In what way?”

She swallowed. “Well, theft of information.”

“Was there theft?”

“You just said…”

“All that happened was two associates from competing automotive companies boarded the same flight. There’s nothing illegal in that, is there?”

“Well no. But that’s not the point. What about the data theft.”

“What data theft?”

Alex frowned again, with growing irritation. Akiba continued before she could speak. “No-one was aware that this data exchange had happened. Certainly no bystanders and not even the associates themselves. This was not a pre-meditated action by our associate. As I said, he was not even aware it had occurred. His only involvement was that he happened to be wearing the AMU7. So no crime occurred. It was simply the operating software on the AMU7 acting on the basis of its own capabilities. You might say that the software AI had committed a theft of data, but does the concept of ‘theft’ apply to a piece of software? I think not.”

“Surely the responsibility lies with those that designed the AMU7 software in the first place? They were the ones who programmed in this functionality.”

“But they did not programme it to take such an action. They merely gave the embedded AI certain capabilities and set its overall objectives as a company asset. The AI decided to take this action. It saw the benefits to the company in doing so.”

“But still, it stole information –“

“Did it really steal information? If you were standing at an airport and overheard someone talking about some aspect of their business that interested you and so you continued to listen and absorb what you heard, would you be stealing that information?”

“No of course not, that’s completely different.”

“Is it really? The AMU7 continually ‘listens’ for information across its bandwidth of sensors and if another device is not secured against it, then the AMU7 will capture whatever information interests it. You call it ‘eavesdropping’ in the English do you not? That is what we humans do. We listen to the conversations around us and absorb any information that we happen to find interesting. And that is simply what the AMU7 does.”

“It is a good argument, but whatever you say about its legality it doesn’t sound ethical.”

“Ethical? Now that’s a word I haven’t heard for a while.” A thin smile momentarily cut its way across Akiba’s face as stared at her, his eyes empty and cold. He was a man of middle-height, dressed in company-approved black. His appearance was nondescript. Until you saw his eyes. They were large and dark and they bored into her. She averted her gaze and begun to feel even more uncomfortable. She was sweating. The warm sun on her back, pouring through the large window in the conference room was only one reason.

Why was she here? What did he want? Was he trying to intimidate her? Was this some sort of test? She’d been summoned from the factory floor by an iband call half an hour before and told to report here. To meet a man who had flown in from Japan to meet her. With little introduction, Akiba had lectured her since then on the company and the competitors. Now he walked over to the table and sat down opposite her.

“Ethics are a luxury to be enjoyed once survival is certain. And in this global war of business, even the survival of a company as mighty as ours is not certain.” He nodded. “But Alex Hunter, I have talked enough. It is your turn now. Give me your assessment on the impact of the theft of a data file containing key information on the LC3 engine management system.”

She was taken aback by his sudden question but managed to think quickly and luckily this was an area she was familiar with. But of course Akiba would have known that.

“The LC3 management system is one of our latest control platforms for our mid-range models. And as engine management is one of our core competencies, the LC3 control architecture would be dynamite in the hands of a competitor. They could directly copy the design, with some trivial design re-engineering to mask the fact that it was a copy, and use it. In consequence, we’d suffer a significant loss of competitive advantage, as we’ve always been strong on engine performance and refinement. This would allow a competitor at one stroke to capture the results of a decade of research and development. It would cost us tens of billions of rimbies, er Renminbi, if we were to attempt to regain that lead through further R and D or a long term loss in market share if we did nothing.”

Akiba shrugged. “A satisfactory assessment. So given the serious impact of such information loss, how would you prevent it from happening?”

Alex pursed her lips. “Well, I can’t see any significant deficiencies in the way the company guards its information today; the information fortress approach with entry and exit screening of all personnel, no communications linkage with non-company systems, except for unclassified v-mail running on an isolated system; AI-based firewall and anti-virus protection around all key systems. Er, regular auditing of associate practices, massive key-based encryption protection systems on all our information systems, heavy security presence on all company sites, an endemic need-to-know culture….” She tailed off. “I’m sure there’s more, but then I’m not a security expert, that’s the job of CEX.”

“And what do you know of Corporate Excellence?”

She shrugged. “CEX is just there, in the background. I use its systems, its processes, as just another part of my company life. I pass through the body scanning machine every day, I complete my monthly information audit, I input anything I hear about competitors into the Competitive Analysis database and I keep my mouth shut about the company when I’m outside of work.”

“Well I’m going to talk to you about what happens ‘in the background’ as you call it, Alex Hunter. About some of the messy work – things that some might call unethical,” he gave a tight smile, “– that go on to ensure that people like you can simply do your job. I’m going to tell you about what lengths the company is prepared to go to, and indeed has gone to, many times in the past, to protect its knowledge and assets from outside, and inside, interference and to seize information and assets from our competitors. And in doing so I’m going to destroy a lot of beliefs you may have held about the company; in fact it will never look or be the same to you again after this meeting.”

She suddenly felt light-headed. “Just a moment, Akiba-san, before you start,” she cleared her dry throat. “I may not need to hear this at all. What obligation will hearing this information place on me?” She swallowed. “What I’m asking, is do I really need to know?”

“It’s really very simple Alex Hunter. You do need to know, because you’re going to work for us.”

——————————————————————————————————–

Excerpt taken from ‘A joy to serve the company’ by Alastair Ross.

Available in paperback and Kindle here.

Image sources: Alastair Ross and Pixabay.com. 

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