Category Archives: Startups

GDPR — The Getting Started

THE GENERAL DATA PROTECTION REGULATION TAKES EFFECT on 25 May of this year. When we hit that deadline, you won’t comply. That’s what a senior lawyer told the audience at an event I attended. What he meant was that businesses generally won’t be able to get the changes done by the time GDPR comes into force.

The Regulations will affect all organisations to some degree. I can imagine several reactions. The truly awful manager might sit back and relax. “Well, if everybody else is going to have big problems complying with the regulations, we’re just one in the crowd. No need to rush!”

Even a sincere manager might be paralysed by the size of the job: “Should I get legal advice?”, “Do I need to employ an expert in security?”, “How can I run the business while all this work is going on?”.

A better approach would be to treat the big demands of GDPR as a good reason to get started. After all, even if you’re not compliant by the deadline, the effort you’ve put in to move in the right direction could make the difference between a slap on the wrist from the regulator and having the book thrown at you. “But they won’t be able to prosecute everyone”: no of course they won’t, but they will prosecute someone, and under the regulations it’ll be possible for those who’ve had a bad experience with your company to report you for any mishandling of their data.

Another point: why think about GDPR only in terms of avoiding prosecution? While it’s true that new regulations often fail to achieve much and just add paperwork, think about what you’re required to do under GDPR. Shouldn’t we have been doing a lot of it anyway?

Could it be a great opportunity? Get your organisation compliant, then tell everyone. Awareness of data rights and of cyber-security are only going to increase. Meanwhile your non-compliant competitors may get whacked by the new fines that GDPR brings in. The best manager will start now and keep going.

You Need Trade Gossip about Technology – Here’s Where to Find It

Several decades ago I started working in tech, expecting to be among calm people who would gather data, carefully assess it and make reasoned decisions which would be correct most of the time.

Yes. It wasn’t like that; but with improvements in testing and in the ease of gathering information it can be more like that sometimes. So uncertainty is vanishing? Now we get all the facts in order and make a systematic, reasoned choice? All the time?

No. Technology has exploded. Your knowledge increases, but it’s a smaller proportion of the total. You have far more decisions than you can ever research properly. Of course, you’ll work hard on the really important ones, but there’ll be plenty of others that are less important, but can still bite you if you get them wrong. What to do?

First: collect information as you find it. Don’t wait until you need it. When decision time arrives, a great article you looked at a few months ago is no help if you can’t find it (how to store and retrieve information effectively is a topic for another time).

Second: If it’s not a key decision, pass it to somebody else if you can. You’re thinking about a product. Someone tells you it’s nothing but trouble, and it’s being eclipsed by some other technology. It may be hard to find people who can work with it. If that’s an informed opinion, save yourself time and look at something else. Perhaps you must have that product, in which case you’ll know that you have to work around certain problems.

You don’t have technical experts on hand just when you need them? Collect trade gossip; if you’re up to date on what’s being said about companies and products you may be able to make a good decision on instinct. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than “paralysis by analysis”.

Good Quality Gossip

A good discussion-format podcast doesn’t just cover the main topic; there’s a lot of value in the passing remarks about products and companies. They’ve helped me make decisions that I’ve been very happy with. Two podcasts you might consider are:

  • RunAs Radio: Richard Campbell has loads of technical experience, a practical approach, and is also a businessman
  • Hanselminutes: Scott Hanselman covers everything from social enterprise to tech topics.

It’s worth listening even when the subject isn’t of immediate interest. Don’t be intimidated by the technical jargon. Part of the benefit of these shows is that some of it will eventually make sense, and you’ll have “tech cred” when your people realise you understand it.

Another source of useful trade chat is networking. Many networking forums put you in touch with “people like you”. Business is tough sometimes, and that kind of networking is fine for emotional support, but more concrete benefits may be limited.

Networking at a professional association is different. It’s one place where you can talk freely with people you probably couldn’t reach during working hours. If you’re a startup you might try the BCS Entrepreneurs Specialist Group. Their events calendar is here.

Drucker’s “Seven Sources for Innovative Opportunity”

Apparently some authors get really annoyed if you ask them where they get their ideas. A similar question hovers over many discussions of entrepreneurship. Instead of causing offence it often leads towards inspirational quotes from tycoons, or talk of the “entrepreneurial personality”, as if tinkering with your own character traits is the route to success.

What I like about Peter Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship is that it takes an analytical look at entrepreneurship. His list of seven “Sources for Innovative Opportunity” should make it easier to search out opportunities, or at least help you avoid missing them when they present themselves. They are:

  1. The Unexpected (unexpected failure/outside event)
  2. Incongruities: the difference between reality as it actually is and reality as it is assumed to be or as it “ought to be”
  3. Process Need: Successful innovation based on process needs requires:
    • A self-contained process
    • One “weak” or “missing” link
    • A clear definition of the objective
    • That the specifications for the solution can be defined clearly
    • Widespread realization that “there ought to be a better way”
  4. Industry and Market Structures: as well as an opportunity, change here can be a threat to existing players
  5. Demographics (population change)
  6. Changes in Perception: can’t be quantified, and timing is of the essence, so start small
  7. New Knowledge (scientific and non-scientific)
  8. Drucker helpfully ranks the above in order of reliability and predictability, so profiting from “the unexpected” typically has a greater chance of success than building an enterprise on new knowledge.

    You have to read the book to put flesh on the bones. It was written years ago so the examples aren’t bang up to date, but the book is published in a “Classic” series and that’s what it is.