An interview with North Shore Labs (NSL) CEO Simon Kaplan and Business Aspect's Michael Cook
Simon Kaplan is one Australia’s most respected voices in digital research, an agent of change who helps organisations adapt to the digital economy. His accomplishments are wide-ranging: a strategist advising corporates and governments; an academic responsible for multi-million dollar funding and research programs; an entrepreneur who has launched and led several innovative start-ups. Here he explains how one of those innovations, NSL Insight, can help unleash your organisations data-driven potential.
Michael Cook has the unique perspective of being both client and consultant for NSL Insight. After experiencing the benefits of NSL Insight at Business Aspect, Michael has been working with NSL to bring the benefits of this innovate approach to our clients.
Can you give us a short introduction to NSL Insight and explain what it’s all about?
Simon Kaplan: Five years ago I was working for NICTA (Australia’s R&D centre for ICT). Julia Gillard asked us to do something to help Australia’s economy adapt to the digital era. We realised pretty quickly that the biggest hurdles were not about the technology, but helping organisations understand how they needed to change. When organisations start to flounder, their natural instinct is to work harder on what they think they are good at. Sometimes they are right – but you would be amazed how many times organisations are blind to what is holding them back. So NSL Insight is a lightweight tool that was developed out of NICTA that provides a holistic view of the business - and flags issues before they show up on the bottom line.
Michael Cook: Any organisation regardless of its size or industry will benefit from understanding how their business and operational model aligns with its vision and culture. NSL Insight measures seven key non-financial aspects of an organisation that impact business performance using a short survey. Results are analysed against a framework of predictive success factors. The answers are within your organisation – you just need to be able to create a safe forum to gather honest feedback and understand what to ask.
What is unique about this approach?
MC: Basically simplicity, speed and cost. Because the survey is automated and only takes eight to ten minutes per employee – its affordable. Previously this type of exercise required significant investment of resources and was the domain of the big four consulting firms. Insight is subscription based which allows organisations to re-run the survey to track changes. This makes this information accessible to organisations of all sizes.
SK: I once worked with an organisation where the CEO was struggling to get the board to agree to changes he wanted to make in the business. Part of the problem was the chairman of the board was the previous CEO and discussions would invariably result in a dual of anecdotes. This went on for three years. We conducted a NSL Insight assessment and on presenting the results in a 30 minute meeting the CEO was able to get agreement to his proposed changes. Three years to 30 minutes!
Are there any trends (Mobility, Big Data, IoT etc) that you’re following in the industry that have piqued your interest as of late?
SK: All of the above! I am enormously interested in the way IoT, mobility and Big Data is impacting on our ability to integrate more seamlessly with technology. In most industries today we are still reliant on humans to interface with the technology. These trends all have the potential to remove so much bureaucracy from our lives. For example - rather than file a BAS statement every quarter we could end up with an incremental assessment process where GST is paid directly to the ATO. How much time have we saved collectively as a nation by automating Medicare claims!
MC: I have a more pessimistic view. I worry about the loss of privacy and increasing control these technology trends give government and other data aggregators over our lives. I think we need to try and safeguard our ability to be private individuals.
SK: That is a reasonable fear – it is always going to be a balancing act. But it’s going to happen anyway – people give up privacy without thinking about it if it makes their life more convenient.
What have been your most memorable or challenging professional experiences?
SK: I was Dean of the technology faculty of an Australian university during the dot-com bust. Student numbers fell off a cliff, and as funding is directly correlated to the number of students I lost 70% of my funding in one year. We were forced to find a new business model and over a couple of years we completely re-invented out structure, products and services. Fortunately, I had the support of the university and despite losing half our staff we came out stronger and had improved feedback from students and staff. I look back in awe at what we managed to achieve in that period.
MC: Similarly, IT departments are facing the same challenge today. IT organisations – especially in the public sector, are having budgets trimmed by a little here and a little there. Death by a thousand cuts. Ultimately they need to find a way to do things differently and I am often engaged to help them find a way to articulate that.
Do you have any advice for organisations looking to embark on a business improvement project?
MC: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. I would use the NSL insight tool as a starting and end point to conduct a baseline measurement. This not only creates transparency as to the impact of your project, but it can also help you craft the roadmap for your change journey.
SK: Call Michael.