Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Zero-Minute Crises

On November 3rd, 2014 at about noon EST, Bank of America experienced an online banking outage impacting its 31 million online banking customers and 16 million mobile banking users. The outage lasted almost three hours during which the company issued a single statement via twitter, almost two hours into the event:

Some customers may be experiencing issues accessing online & mobile banking. We’re working quickly to resolve. Thanks for your patience.

Customers turned to social media for answers as attempts to connect directly to BofA failed. Having long ago forwarded local branch phones to a national exchange, customers found it impossible to get someone live from BofA during the outage since the national phone lines appeared to be completely overwhelmed. For hours a bank's customers could not access their money or get any information about when the system would be restored. One week later, Bank of America has yet to issue any statement to customers on why the system went down.

While this one event is unlikely to cause any long term damage to Bank of America, it is an example of a new kind of challenge that companies are facing, one which they are remarkably unprepared to deal with.

Computer security experts describe a zero-day (or zero-hour) attack as one that exploits a previously unknown flaw and thus developers have no time to address and patch before damage is being done. In the same way, companies are increasingly facing emergent communications crises for which they have no time to formulate and communicate a response.


Social media and ubiquitous mobile connectivity are forever changing the expectations that customers have of the timely responsiveness to their questions. In a 2012 study by Nielsen, twitter users were found to expect a response from companies in less than 2 hours. As companies in some industries meet or beat this goal, expectations will continue to rise (or shorten).

Companies have no alternative but to engage with customers, where those customers already are -- today perhaps twitter and facebook but in the future other places and sometimes dependent upon the company, industry, or community that needs to be reached. By comparison to the core marketing budget, the cost of actually communicating with customers on social media is negligible. And customers now expect companies to communicate (they'd much rather get an answer than an ad).


First - you'll need a social media listening and analytics platform scaled to the size of your organization and customer outreach. One client recently described the objective of such a system as "never be surprised again."

Second - develop a team that monitors and responds to customers and also the processes to connect that team with other core customer facing parts of your company -- sales, marketing, customer service...

Third - prepare to be changed by these customer interactions -- expect to gain insights and to make sure those insights get embedded into new ways of operating or into your product/service innovation processes.


I know, it seems like this should all be second nature by now. And yes I have been writing and speaking on this topic for years. But events like the recent Bank of America outage show that our companies are still not understanding the imperative. Do we have to wait for the HBR case study on how a lack of communication with customers has a measurable financial impact on a company to finally make the investments needed here?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Social is the Key to Customer Experience

This article first appeared on July 30th, 2014 on Social Media Today -- Social is the Key to Customer Experience

Recently my colleague David Cushman published an article titled The Strategic Role of Content in Proving Brand Promise -- which I highly recommend. David offers a terrific analysis and infographic on how to think about content marketing. But for me the core message was in the scalpel that David applied to the question of why marketers often struggle to succeed with social technologies. I have often railed against the common attitude that social is a "channel" alongside print, broadcast, outdoor, etc for the marketer to consider when planning a campaign. But David puts it very precisely in the first paragraph of his article:

Social Media has confused many marketers for many years. Mostly because it isn’t a media. It’s an exercise in relationship building.

Right. It's an exercise in relationship building. Or, taking the "exercise" metaphor a bit further, its the connective tissue for customer experience (you know, muscles, exercise...). Marketers are now in the relationship building business, not just the communications business. And that joins them to their colleagues in sales and service who have always been relationship builders. As a customer talking with a company I expect that marketing, sales, and service will all be engaged, or each engaged at the right time in my journey. And social can provide that connection to the company through the different phases of consideration, purchase, and consumption.

As I've written about in previous articles, companies in every industry are engaged in digital transformation -- reforming their business to adapt to the changing customer expectations and new opportunities afforded by technology. A focus on customer experience can help align your organization in that transformation process to understand the role of social and how it creates the need for a very different kind of cross-functional behavior across your business. In order to address customer experience holistically (across the complete customer journey) your company will need to develop four distinct types of systems and related operational competencies which will then be utilized across marketing, sales, and service functions.

Systems of Record -- Where your transactional information is stored - critical to empowering your employees to know what is happened in the past with your customer in order to track performance, define additional sales opportunities, and provide service.

Systems of Insight -- The extended data on your customers and prospects which provides the analytical base for insights, both about customer segments and about individual customers.

Systems of Engagement -- How you engage with the customer and manage those interactions

Systems of Co-ordination -- The platform for supporting interactions between employees and with business partners

These four systems together, used consistently across the organization, provide the framework for supporting customer experience. Social is key - providing both a way to link together the touchpoints of customer interaction but also to provide the means by which coordination can occur across the functional teams engaged in that interaction. Social can be a part of deriving insights, can be a part of how interactions are managed, and is core to the collaboration that has to occur in this new interconnected operating model.

So start exercising - you'll need strong social muscles to work through your digital transformation.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

From Advertising to Engagement

This article first appeared on June 28th, 2014 in Social Media Today: From Advertising to Engagement

How many of you have looked at the advertisements on the right hand side of the pages here on Social Media Today? Why is it that even here on a website dedicated to social, advertisers think that the way to achieve their objectives is some generic ad copy with a photo of someone smiling? Who clicks on these things anyway?

I'm not saying that advertising is going to go away anytime soon. But the savvy marketers have all realized one of the most important implications of digital transformation and the connected enterprise -- that they have to create meaningful engagement platforms that build relationships with customers and potential customers. And money spent on advertising must deliver people to those engagement platforms.

For the past several columns in this connected enterprise series I have been talking about the use of social in changing the way a company's own employees work together, changing how companies work with different kinds of partners, and even how digital transformation is impacting a particular industry (IME). In turning to what may seem like the most common way to use social -- engaging with customers -- I want to bring focus to what makes the best engagement strategies work and why they are critical for every company to master.

But let's start with advertising - the old way for a company to achieve its core objective: sales. For 100 years we have been perfecting mass marketing techniques. Buy the attention of a market and some number of people within that market will buy your product. Get the focus on the market, the dollars paid to reach each person, and the conversion rate just right and you make money. A lot of what happens in that process is mysterious (and the more mysterious the better for those Mad Men advertising agencies). But there is a basic formula to the possible ways in which you can get someone to pay attention to you in the interstitial world of broadcast media:

1) Interrupt: first break into whatever else your customer is doing, preferably in a way that makes them wait for you to be done telling them what you want them to hear before they are capable of going back to what they want to be doing

2) Entertain: then give them a little bit of entertainment value to tickle their brain cells into paying attention long enough for your message to sink in (although don't be surprised if you have to repeat an average of 6 times)

3) Inform: fill them up with your message goodness - buy now!

Whether the advertising is for a good product or a bad one and from a reputable company or a shady one, the formula is always about the same. And it worked for years - for a whole bunch of reasons that are no longer valid. Remember those bad old days where you couldn't research a product online? Where there wasn't even an online? Advertising was a content element in the media stream, a way that we actually learned what was going on in the world (at least the world of commercial products and services).

Companies now need to do a whole lot more to create the experience that we want as buyers of their products. Increasingly consumers have no patience for having their attention bought -- and this started happening BEFORE the Internet. The proliferation of cable channels starting in the 1980s combined with the advent of the remote control was an early way that consumers could avoid advertising by channel surfing. One client I worked with (a family style restaurant chain) did a study of the decline in television advertising effectiveness and traced the beginning of the end back to the launch of CNN.

But the Internet and social technologies have accelerated this decline in advertising effectiveness while simultaneously giving marketers an alternative -- a chance to transform their approach from advertising to engagement. Each of those steps in the old advertising formula have been replaced with an engagement step...

From Interrupting to Connecting -- the new marketing style starts with the curation of communities

From Entertaining to Collaborating -- your customers have things they want to do and when you connect to them instead of interrupting them you have a chance to work with them on what they what to do

From Informing to Supporting -- finally, the goal of the engagement must ultimately be the creation of value for your customers -- supporting them not just giving them the message you want to give them.

In the next three posts I will explore these three key transitions in depth and how marketers, salespeople, and service organizations must all work together to create valued engagement with markets.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BPM and the Employee Code Halo

This article first appeared on June 25th, 2014 on Social Media Today -- BPM and the Employee Code Halo

Every employee in your company has a Code Halo - a set of information and activities that can be managed through your company's information systems. Building a set of social collaboration systems for your employees to work with one another establishes a system where this Code Halo is stored, how it is exposed to other employees, and how it can be used to improve coordination between employees. This information is used in the workflows and business processes that employees engage in every day to get their jobs done. And in the digitally transformed company, the tools used to manage those workflows are a primary source for improved business performance.

In my last post I emphasized the importance of what I called the "engaged employee" and the need for culture change in companies engaged in digital transformation (Culture Change and Engaged Employees). This post was part of a series that have been appearing here in Social Media Today on the broader topic of how social technologies play a crucial role in how companies will need to reinvent themselves to address the challenges of shifting customer expectations (Enterprise Transformation and the Role of Social).

Having outlined how social is impacting the way employees work, the way companies interact with partners, and new models for customer engagement, I had started to outline the people, processes, and technologies needed in the transformation process. And in doing so, I utilized Cognizant's concept of Code Halos which I had written about at the beginning of this year (2014: Year of the Code Halo).

The first article in this section addressed how companies should be using technology to improve customer interactions and the overall customer experience. Customer Relationship Management (or CRM) software provides the core "system of engagement" for companies to manage across the customer lifecycle -- marketing, sales, and customer service should all share one unified view of the customer, a view that includes social profiles and activity (CRM and the Customer Code Halo). In this article I will explore a second key technology -- business process management (BPM).

I suppose many reading this article are asking, why is it that I should care about BPM? Sure I've heard of the concept, you might be thinking, but then you think, "it doesn't apply to me or to my company." To address this thought and hopefully increase your interest in BPM, instead of using the technical name, I'll begin by breaking this down to the building blocks in order to explain why BPM does apply to you and to your company and is crucial to the use of social and the transformation of your business.

Everything we do in business has a set of written or unwritten rules about how and when it should be done. And rules about who should be doing the work and with whom they should collaborate. Workflow, approval processes, standard operating procedures, protocols... these are all words we use to describe these rules. As social systems for coordinating our activities become more sophisticated, the expression of these rules will become more explicit.

Consider an HR process that would benefit from social interaction -- for example hiring a new employee. In a typical company recruiting process, at least 4 people will likely need to interact with a candidate and will need to talk with one another as well. Each will express their opinions and perhaps yet another person will actually make the hiring decision. This is the kind of complex coordination problem that social tools can improve.

Whether the company has explicitly written down the process or not, there is a workflow and a series of approvals that have to happen during a hiring process. When these rules are expressed in social systems, they improve and streamline the way work with one another and companies realize the greatest benefit from those collaboration investments.

A simple process outline might include

  • routing the candidate to interviewers in a particular order,
  • providing a copy of the interview notes and tracking whether they have been reviewed,
  • recording the rating given by each interviewer,
  • notifying approvers of the need to review the candidate,
  • flagging interviewers to answer questions raised by approvers, and
  • recording the hiring decision and generating an offer letter.

Business Process Management (BPM) can streamline this process, reducing the need for a person to manage each step, track progress, and make sure that participants are engaged. The goal of BPM should be to fully automate as many processes and process management activities as possible and to facilitate those that cannot be fully automated, reducing the rote work of coordination to a minimum.

Two primary models are emerging for the use of BPM in social collaboration activities between employees.

In some complex business processes where dedicated BPM solutions have been implemented, there can be specific stages of a process where social collaboration is needed. In these cases, the BPM system should trigger an event within the social system and track engagement or resolution so that the next stage in a process can begin.

An emerging alternative is to define workflows and approval processes directly in the collaboration platform without the use of an external BPM product. At the present the sophistication of such systems is relatively low by comparison to dedicated BPM products and so the workflows that can be implemented are simple. But this will be one of the areas of significant growth in coming years, as social collaboration software is increasingly used to facilitate employee collaboration.

Just as mastering CRM technology will be essential to your company's use of social in managing customer interactions, mastery of BPM will be essential to the use of social in managing employee interactions. These are just two of the core building block competencies needed on the journey to digital transformation. In the next article I will address how the organizational model will change to allow companies to effectively embrace these competencies and change from functionally independent activities to integrated and coordinated activities.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

CRM and the Customer Code Halo

This post first appeared on Social Media Today on April 30, 2014 -- CRM and the Customer Code Halo

"An extinction event (also known as a mass extinction or biotic crisis) is a widespread and rapid decrease in the amount of life on earth." -- Wikipedia

There is another extinction event going on right now -- related to our business ecosystem rather than our biological ecosystem. In certain industries we are seeing a widespread and rapid decrease in the number of companies that serve certain types of business and consumer needs. Information, Media and Entertainment is one such segment (as I outlined in my article The Ur Industry of Digital Transformation. A second industry going through profound changes is retail -- first moving (since the 1980s) to "big box" format and then more recently moving to online.

As I have been outlining in my series on Enterprise Transformation and the Role of Social, there are substantial changes coming to every industry - how work is done, who does the work, and how value is derived from the work by all of the stakeholders - employees, companies, and their customers.

In the last few articles, on the transformation of our customer communications From Advertising to Engagement, I have highlighted the changes in the behavior of companies toward their customers and in particular how marketing organizations will need to change themselves -- how the think about their role in customer communications and what they do with their customers to Connect, Collaborate, and Support...

But all of this assumes a substantial investment of time and money -- an investment which companies are not used to making. But not making this investment is one of the sure ways to become a part of the mass of companies that will become extinct, instead of thriving in the new digital ecosystem that is developing.

The investment that has to be made is in something we call Code Halos -- the ability to "see" the real-time, ever-present data and analytics that surround every one of your employees, customers, products, and the places you interact with those employees and customers. And the systems that help you use those Code Halos to derive insights, make decisions, and drive employee and customer behaviors.

What this means for your company is a massive investment in information technology and in the people who will be able to operate and derive value from this investment. I will start with teh Customer Code Halo and work over the next few articles through organizations, products, and finally employees.

CRM is The Core System of Engagement and Where you Manage Customer Code Halos

One of the things I am frequently asked by clients is how to measure the ROI of social. Nevermind that they never had a good way to measure the ROI for most of the things they did as a company. When considering doing something entirely new, there has to be a well grounded justification. But the problem with the question is that you can never get good at measuring ROI until you actually manage the information you are trying to measure. The starting place for organizations with respect to customer information is CRM - or "customer relationship management" systems.

Most companies have one or more CRM systems -- often more than one as a separate CRM initiative may have been pursued for sales vs. service or even for multiple different sales and service channels (even when serving the same customer). So a starting point is CRM consolidation -- getting all of a company's information in one place, so there is a single version of the truth for a company shared by marketing, sales, and service organizations.

The next step is to go beyond a company's own transaction and service records, and incorporate external data into the customer Code Halo as well -- social data, 3rd party data from vendors or partners, real world interaction data... anything that helps build a complete picture of the customer. The goal is to get a rich multi-dimensional understanding of your customer, and to have that information available to all of the parts of your company that engage with customers.

Having this complete Code Halo enables a new set of activities -- generating insight, personalizing experience, driving "next best action" and also tracking how your various engagement initiatives relate to the key measurements of that engagement: influencing purchase decisions, loyalty, and brand or product advocacy.

Customer Service

The new omni-channel customer service world is one in which customers will expect to be able to engage in a service request starting in one channel and continuing in another one seamlessly. I bought the product online but want to return it at a store. I tweet a complaint but want to get an email from the company in response. I call with a complaint but get a letter in the mail with an apology. How will your company make sure that your customer's have a seamless interaction with your company from channel to channel? By making sure all of the information about the interactions with those customers are stored in a single system of engagement, one Code Halo in a CRM system that every employee who interacts with your customer can see the complete record of interaction.


Improvement of every aspect of the sales process can be achieved through Code Halos - optimizing who your sales force is calling on, what products and product bundles are being offered, even closing the sale. And similarly to the customer service challenge, your customers will have an expectation of being able to interact through every channel seamlessly - start a purchase process online but pick up the product in a store. Mobile application ordering is one of the fastest "online" mechanisms but some vendors even support using mobile applications in stores. A few companies are even taking orders through social media.


Increasingly the marketing organization has to own the entire customer experience - not just the first part of the journey - demand generation and consideration. Marketing needs the aggregate customer insights that come from seeing all of the customer Code Halos, and also the individual insights about what the personalized experience should be at any given moment. It is both reflective and real time, dynamically segmented and all about the individual. Ultimately marketing also owns the ROI question and must track engagement through to transaction and advocacy to establish which marketing investments should be scaled down and which ones should be scaled up. As a result the CRM system of engagement has to support an analysis of the interactions with customers as much as holding the raw data itself

In every industry, for every company, there is a pressing challenge to transform -- seize the new digital tools and engage with customers in new ways -- more immersive, persistent, and across the customer life cycle. CRM is one building block but companies will also need to master business process management (BPM) and master data management (MDM) capabilities as well -- more on these competencies in the next article.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The UR Industry of Digital Transformation

This article first appeared on February 11th, 2014 on Social Media Today: The UR Industry of Digital Transformation

Regardless of how and when you think that your company and industry will be swept into the torrential flow of change that we call "digital transformation," I think you'll agree that the very first industry to have felt the pain of creative destruction from social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) was information, media, and entertainment (IME). And the pain is continuing to be felt today -- the means of production, distribution, business models, and the very core building blocks of how these companies operate are all being transformed by digital technologies.

It makes sense that this would be the first industry to be transformed given that the substance of the products that these companies sell are just information. Not that the publishing industry thought so -- they thought they sold papers and magazines and books. Or the music industry -- they thought they sold records and tapes and CDs. Or the film industry which thought they sold (or rented) VHS or Betamax cassettes. Or the game industry which thought they sold game console cartridges and PC diskettes...

And when they sold their information products wrapped in a physical distribution format they needed newstands and bookstores and record stores. A huge part of their businesses were devoted to how products were manufactured, distributed, and marketed in these physical venues. Thousands of people dedicated their careers to learning the skills needed to be successful in these markets.

And then everything changed. But those thousands of people and their companies have had trouble keeping up with this change. So we have seen the bookstores, the video stores, and the record stores close. We've seen newspapers and magazines go out of business. And after all of this change I still visit companies in the IME industry who are steadfastly clinging to the old ways of doing business, perhaps not even knowing (and certainly not acknowledging) that they are on the edge of disaster.

Ernest Hemingway is credited with coining the saying about change (he was talking about bankruptcy) that it happens:

"Slowly at first, and then all at once."

I heard this quote for the first time while attending a talk by Andrew McAfee, a professor at MIT with a new must-read book entitled "The Second Machine Age." In this book Andrew and his co-author Erik Brynjolfsson outline in detail how the world is rapidly being transformed by digital technologies. If you weren't convinced already, and even if you are, this is an excellent book to read to get details and pragmatic implications clear.

The basic premise of slowly at first and then all at once explains in part why companies and industries are not more clear on the change that is occurring and what they should be doing about it. In your company have you looked carefully at the fundamental changes that are occurring which will, slowly at first and then all at once, invalidate your current business and operating models?

For IME companies the changes can be summarized by three really important transformations having to do with production, distribution, and business models. There are also implications that these three things have on marketing, sales, and service -- all of the core interaction points that companies have with markets.

An interesting facet of the transformation that is occuring is that SMAC rewards the smallest producers AND the largest while invalidating the business models of those in the middle, at least those in the middle that continue to operate independently rather than forming new kinds of business ecosystems. In IME what this has meant is a growing movement across all categories of information products where individual producers have taken control of their own future and are self-publishing. Books, music, games, and even movies can now be produced by an individual or a small team. Distribution can be through social networks or can be accomplished by leveraging cheap or free digital infrastructure provided by an industry that is adjacent to the IME industry -- Internet companies like Google and computer companies like Apple.

But before we simply assume that all media companies will perish at the hands of small producers, its important to recognize that something else is happening as well -- companies that understand how to leverage at massive scale all of the information available about what people are reading, listening to, playing and viewing are also positioned well to succeed because they will become smarter and faster than their competition about what it is we want, what we will pay for, and how to curate our social communities around content in order to excel at the new digital distribution channels.

Big media companies need to recognize the change in the three areas of their business that drive a transformation in how they do business:

1) Digital distribution of content means that an entirely new set of capabilities are needed inside the company -- no more managing printing presses or boxes of books going on to bookstore tables. Instead companies need to understand how to correctly position content into the digital flows of their customer's lives. Its not just about knowing how to generate a Kindle formatted book. Its about how to engage in curating the social communities of interest around the book's topic so that the pull engine is created around each media element. That requires a rethinking of product packaging -- how can a book, song, game, or movie be deconstructed into hundreds of information elements that contribute ultimately to driving demand for the full product? How will these individual parts be distributed into all of the social and mobile distribution channels that exist and how will the be targeted to the right communities of interest? And how can the publisher partner with and empower the creators to collaborate in supercharging this distribution?

2) A direct result of the first point is that marketing and sales has to be radically transformed into an organization that is building communities -- if you are a book publisher, do you have a community of people who like science fiction mysteries with a romantic twist? There is a market and if you have built a community around this niche you can be of enormous value to the authors of such works, thus remaining in the middleman "publisher" role instead of being disintermediated by cheap or free digital distribution. What is the business of publishers anyway whether books, movies, games or music? It has always been to provide access to markets and social communities are the new markets. It will be a lot more valuable for media companies to look at community curation as a core capability than as something distributed down to the individual media property level as community knowledge and curation capabilities can be leveraged at scale.

3) And that means in order to succeed in this second area of transforming marketing and sales, companies need to start taking data and analytics a lot more seriously. This is where scale will continue to have an advantage. Why is it that Google still has better search results than any other search engine? It is because they see every search and know what we have clicked on, so they can do a better job than anyone else in learning what a good result for a given search is, based on our actual behavior. Apply this to every information type -- what can you learn about what people are reading, viewing, playing, or listening to and how much more valuable will your insights be if they are at a massive scale? Your media company can know exactly what the next hit will be if you have enough data to usefully apply predictive algorithms.

How many media companies have taken on these three challenges? Build digital distribution competencies, transform marketing and sales into community development, and invest in big data and predictive analytics... and make these core assets leveraged across the business, not isolated and independent efforts by different brand and product managers. How about your company and your industry? Are there lessons here for you as well? Every industry will be caught up in this torrential change. Are you ready for digital transformation?

Friday, January 10, 2014

2014: Year of the Code Halo

This article first appeared on Social Media Today on January 10th, 2014 - 2014: Year of the Code Halo

Is your social data a “digital exhaust,” a “data shadow,” or part of a “Code Halo?”

Pundits are enthusiastically predicting that 2014 will be the Year of the Internet of Things or the Year of the Connected Home or even just the most interesting year in technology for a long time. Yet, the one thing overlooked is how organizations can make meaning from data generated by all of our personal activities, as well as all the code that surrounds all of the people and organizations we interact with. In fact, making meaning from what we call Code Halos has passed an important maturation point and is now creating a whole new ecosystem of interconnected technology enablers and business opportunities for enterprises that see Code Halos as the essence of their competitive advantage.

All of these exciting new trends have their roots in the data that surrounds each of us, the physical objects we use, the places we use them, the organizations we interact with, and the “collisions” between them — but it is in the tools we add to understand this data that the real value emerges.

Code Halos is the term that we at Cognizant have coined to describe this new capacity for meaning making. And I am willing to predict that you will want to know a lot more about Code Halos during the course of 2014. They are going to reshape the way we develop company strategy, product development plans, define how we engage with partners and customers, and even how companies organize and manage employees.

I think the first time I heard someone referring to the data that accompanies our activities online as a thing in itself it was around 1999 — it was Ann Winblad who, in reviewing a company I was proposing as an investment to her, talked about how we might capture the value of the data left behind the use of our service as opposed to making money on the use of the service itself. More recently some have taken up using the term data shadows to describe the stream of information we each leave behind us as we interact digitally.

While the existence of the accumulating data itself has been understood for over a decade, we haven’t always thought clearly about how to make meaning from the evolution of this data it, nor have we considered and its importance to our businesses. Yes everyone has “big data” on their radar screen and some have even recognized the importance of little data. But what, you may ask, is new about a “Code Halo” and why should we be taking stock of this concept today?

The crucial difference between the way that we have been thinking about data and the way we need to begin thinking about Code Halos is in our understanding of the relationship between the data and the things, places or people that generate the data, and in what happens when they interact (or “collide”). You can unlock a whole new way of thinking about your company, your products, and your customers when you make this simple switch:

Rather than thinking of data as something we “leave behind” instead conceptualize it as something that “we carry with us.”

There is a progression here in thinking about “exhaust,” to thinking about a “shadow,” to thinking about a Code Halo. The richness of Code Halo as a metaphor is that it evokes something that is ethereal but at the same time surrounds and enriches the person, organization, place or thing. A shadow is a mere two-2-dimensional representation of who we are. But a Halo is a part of us and even makes us more than we are just on the physical plane.

At this point you might be saying, “so what, why are the words so important -- why do I care about the difference between exhaust or a shadow or a halo?” In my experience, how we use language is a crucial part of how we formulate our perceptions and creatively interact with one another. If I tell you that I have a phone, you might think that I am going to be able to make a call. If I tell you that I have a smart phone, you’ll know that I can also access the Internet.

If you imagine that that your business has access to all this “exhaust” from social interactions you might, as Ann Winblad did in 1999, imagine how that exhaust can be processed into “digital oil” and reused in aggregate to generate insights or “fuel” other value-creation engines. Knowing in the case of my long ago company how certain advertising worked online with certain kinds of content might, for example, improves the way advertisers plan their ad campaigns (yes, someone else beat me in building that idea into a company…)

If you instead look at your customers as having “digital shadows” you might look at their social interactions as being pale representations of each of them, perhaps informing you to some degree on how you can improve your sales pitch or increase a customer’s satisfaction.

But stop for a moment and imagine the data as a Code Halo around your customer — the rich and living combination of transaction data, social data, data held by third parties and a set of analytics that brings a layer of meaning about how we are interacting with other people, organizations, places, and things. And then recognize that each of those organizations, places, and things also has a rich and living halo around them — or could have one if we were smart enough to be able to create, share and derive meaning from them.

If you could see all of these halos, and even enable them in your own products and services, how would you change what your company delivers to your market, how you do sales and provide service, and even how your employees work?

If you could see these Code Halos and understand what happens when they intersect with one another, what new opportunities could you imagine?