Ada Lovelace Was a Marketing Genius, Too

Read the original article here.

The world’s first computer programmer could also be described as a pioneer in B2B technology marketing. Her wisdom and discerning insights into the potential of technology not only advanced science but also serve as a guiding light today for those of us tasked with articulating to others tech’s potential.

Lovelace was an aristocrat, fortunate to study mathematics in the early 19th Century. Her mother, also a mathematician, believed what we might call a STEM education could prevent Ada from following in the footsteps of her father, the sensual Romantic poet Lord Byron. Lovelace began studying Charles Babbage’s prototype digital computers in the 1830s.

And don’t get thrown off to that reference to digital. Today “digital” suggests electrons moving around. But here digital means reducing the world to ones and zeroes to better compute what’s going on in it, rather than figuring things out via analogs. Read Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators, for an excellent history of the people who advanced computing for the details.

Here’s where the marketing comes in

What cemented Lovelace’s place in history in 1843 was her translation and ridiculously extensive annotation of an Italian mathematician’s article on Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

Despite her mother’s efforts, Lovelace inherited her father’s gifts with the pen. Her science was like verse. “The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves,” she wrote in one of her notes in the article. The substance of her thoughts was even more powerful. Her annotations envisioned applications of the Analytical Engine that went beyond basic calculations, creating the first known computer program with an algorithm that produced Bernoulli numbers.

Her contributions remind us of the importance of an often-overlooked tool in tech: human perspective. Rather than focusing solely on the nuts and bolts of a remarkable innovation, she considered its applications. She perceived new worlds where the benefits of technology could be brought to fruition.

These insights are extremely important for the future of enterprise AI. Advancements in AI, machine learning, and other technologies have promised ambitious but too-often-unrealized advancements for organizations in many industries. Many of those advancements have yet to be achieved not because AI is incapable of performing them. Rather, too few companies have created AI-enabled applications that busy professionals can integrate into their workflows without significant training, teams of data scientists or other accommodations. Until the hype cycle around generative AI achieved liftoff, selling AI in a general sense wasn’t really moving the industry forward. In other words. business solutions that AI makes possible was the name of the game.

Generative AI has changed that game, but its utility will still be expressed most tangibly through business solutions. And it will be what business solutions can and can’t do that will ground the conversation. You might accuse me of sidestepping consumer applications, and you would be right. But let me save that for a future piece.

First tech white paper?

Lovelace foresaw the distinction. When she wrote her groundbreaking notes, Babbage and his colleagues were hoping that the British government or others would finance the completion of his complicated machines. Unfortunately, they never received it, though researchers have been seeking to replicate and finalize his inventions in the 150 years since Babbage died thanks in part to Lovelace’s notes.

And today marketers might call those notes a white paper, or a document that aims to both inform readers – usually prospective customers or partners – about a complicated technical subject and persuade them of its utility in solving problems. It’s a translation and explanation of a solution, one might say. While Babbage and his team were concentrated on the nuts and bolts of their engines, she was busy showcasing their work to the rest of the world and describing its material benefits to potential users.

She was on the frontlines. That’s where B2B marketers in enterprise AI need to devote their attention today.

When the sugar high of generative AI fades, it will still be delivering understated but significant value in business operations in a wide variety of industries today, from clinical trials for pharmaceutical development, to consumer lending, to manufacturing. Much of that value will originate in incremental advances with AI that don’t garner headlines because it may be more on the user interface side. The momentum is clear, however. AI is at the center of the digital transformations changing the global economy today.

B2B marketers should take a page from Lovelace and clarify just how big it can be, and what stands in the way.


Multiplayer Professional Services Are Eclipsing the Single-Player Variety, and It’s About Time

Lawyers, accountants, and marketers can learn a lot from Fortnite and Donkey Kong

Too many professional services firms are approaching today’s world of Fortnite-like complexity with strategies more appropriate for Donkey Kong.

Here’s what’s going on.

Web1 games and arcades

The concept behind the classic video game Donkey Kong is simple. For 25 cents at an arcade, a player could guide the hero, Mario, up the girders and ladders of a construction site to rescue the distressed Pauline, who was being held hostage by Donkey Kong, a giant scary ape (though actually the protagonist if you know the actual backstory). Along the way, poor Mario would have to jump over or destroy obstacles like barrels and fireballs that Donkey Kong at the top of the steel tower rolled his way.

The whole thing took place in two highly pixelated dimensions and four colors, pitting the player against the CPU-controlled ape. The game was the cutting-edge star of the early 1980s vibrant arcade scene. By today’s standards, it looks painfully dated, but the franchise became a cultural icon, spawning films, and fashion trends.

The podcast Acquired has a great rundown of the game in the context of the history of Nintendo. We can’t recommend it enough.

Enter… more players

Fortnite, in contrast, is much more sophisticated. And Acquired does a great job with that larger story too.

The game presents three-dimensional hybrid worlds featuring zombies, traps, and fights to the death against dozens of live players who are simultaneously online anywhere around the world. Within months of its release, Fortnite — which can be played on any major computer or gaming format — had become a true cultural phenomenon. Four years later, it remains on the cutting edge.

We could keep going with the evolution of this process by tackling Roblox, but let’s keep it to these two.

So, you’re going to extend the analogy to lawyers?

Now let’s apply this contrast to our industry (marketing) and other professional services like fund administration for instance. In fact, let’s focus on fund services where interesting things are afoot.

Fund services are generally the outsourced partner accounting and operations work of venture capital and private equity firms.

One can view fund services as a series of individual workflows. Composing these workflows are many tasks related to each stage of a particular service. Each stage may include numerous financial reviews and revisions, like attorney approvals, name corrections, and adding phrases here or there to documents, before the service can move forward to its completion. The process is like an assembly line. It’s Donkey Kong.

Serial work vs. parallel processing

Automation makes the process easier and faster. An assembly line worker who has been manually installing rivets will be more productive with an electric rivet gun. It’s much more efficient. But it’s still an assembly line. It still requires the worker responsible for one stage of service to complete the job before passing his work along to the next stage. It’s still Donkey Kong.

Most financial services software reflects the pitfalls of the single-player approach. Single-player software is helpful because one person can go in, do his or her work, and leave so someone else can enter and complete the next step. It’s orderly. But it’s also limited. Project leaders and team members, for example, don’t necessarily know where things stand, for anything at any given point, unless they are in the application. None of the people involved knows where they are in the workflow until everything is completed.

In a multi-player professional service or fund administration model that resembles Fortnite, in contrast, far fewer people must wait for someone else to complete their job before another phase can begin. Numerous people can be in an application or document at the same time. Anyone given access can make necessary changes and everyone can see what everyone is doing.

Let the adventure begin!

Multiple actors can simultaneously review and amend documents. Everyone is always dealing with the current version of the text. It doesn’t matter if they are internal, external, or from a third party. It doesn’t matter if they are in the same place or working from points scattered around the globe. Everybody sees the dialogue and decisions that are being made in real-time. Monitoring progress is built-in, making it easier to understand the status of a process at any time. It’s Fortnite.

In Donkey Kong, Mario could only ever rescue Pauline. In Fortnite, you can do so much more.


Here’s how it applies to fund services for example: In a single-player financial tech application, a financial services provider can see a document that a limited partnership has sent, verify the data and note that lawyers have signed off on it. When it’s a multiplayer system, the fund services partner can see and do all of those tasks but also observe delays or problems across limited partnerships and, importantly, intervene and act quickly to fix them. In addition to the fund services partner understanding where tasks are within the flow, they have full audit control with transparency across all parties in the flow.

This is where leaders in the industry like 4Pines Fund Services come in. In the software development world, the multiplayer approach is not particularly new. But it was rare in the private equity industry — up until recently. These kinds of changes are generating a buzz as budgets and operations are getting more focused. This is only going to increase.

This is also where a co-sourcing approach to data and cutting-edge fund administration tech stack comes in, for example, to fix real problems. You’re working to close communication gaps and fix transparency issues between fund managers, investors, and service providers. Most importantly, you’re helping chief financial officers and general partners to identify bottlenecks and key performance indicators to improve speed and efficiency. The automated system reduces human error significantly at critical points within clients’ workflows. Everything is near-instantly trackable, traceable, and auditable.

Fund administrators and private equity managers seeking the most innovative professional services are opting for the multiplayer approach. And this is happening in marketing and legal services.

In private capital, it improves communication between general partners, limited partners, and analysts. It efficiently shepherds sub-docs and other correspondence and compliance through quick and efficient approval processes.  It replaces slow pipelines and obstacles with the latest technologies and solutions that keep fund services running flexibly, seamlessly, and dependably.

So what about your industry? Are you ready to play at a higher level? You’d better be.


Do You Know Everyone on Your Vendor’s Team?

Making all team members directly accountable to you through modern platforms means fewer surprises.

Most marketing, public relations and sales agencies will tell you with pride that you will have a single point of contact who will own their relationship with you. You will barely see the other folks working for you.

It’s also true in other industries from fund administration in private capital to IT implementation.

The problem with this model is that your single point of contact might be the only person at the service provider who knows your business. This situation is why private capital CFOs for instance keep their fund administrators after they’ve invested significant time in a long-running relationship. It’s also why they switch fund administrators when there is too much churn at their service provider’s firm.

The same thing happens in marketing and public relations, but let’s stick with the fund services model for the moment. We’ve seen the future in that particular space.

Who’s in charge here?

Should you really need a designated advocate and single “throat to choke” to get the rest of your partner’s team to understand your needs?

Talking to leaders in the fund services industry has caused us to ask whether a “single contact” is a cover for the fact that everyone else touching your operations is a specialist who is shuffled in and out to perform work without deeply understanding how your business works.

Leading teams are built around a more robust model where you have a more complete and visible team helping you out, that sees and knows what you are trying to achieve. It’s something that’s caused us to reflect on our own business, including in the past two weeks when the two primary leaders of our outfit were off the grid.

Have we done a good job of ensuring we have a deep bench that’s well versed in our clients’ work and how to best support them?

Every person, a point person

Does your partner ensure all team members can serve you directly along with the team lead.

I don’t want to overstate that point. Different members of your partner’s team have different levels of experience and unique specialties. Going back to fund administrators, these firms often err on the side of a single point of contact where knowledge of your needs and style are consolidated.

But more sophisticated firms are now erring on the side of the full team being allowed to focus on your needs on a sustained basis. Every member of your outsourced team becomes immersed in what makes you unique in the private capital ecosystem. They develop well-rounded private equity professionals versus specialized fund administrators.

The result is that every member of the team serving you is known to you, and fluent in your firm’s culture, process, and aims.

That approach often surprises clients. It frankly feels like a truly in-house team (I know, this rhetoric is over played… but when it really happens you know it).

Here’s where tech can come in.

The Amazon approach to fund services (and professional services)

In this system, if it’s supported by the right tech, team members handle client inquiries in near real-time, through chat — coordinating the full team to eliminate fragmented responsibilities and multiple meetings and emails.

That also means being built to allow for small teams that focus on smaller sets of clients. (Amazon has shown how this approach scales with Jeff Bezos’ “Two-Pizza Teams.” We should be able to feed your team with two pizzas. That’s the right size to be cohesive, collaborative, and aligned with your team.)

This is fueled with data securely available to all team members so they have up-to-date knowledge of who has talked to the client, when they spoke, what the client’s latest questions or directions were, and how they or others can help the process. Client teams are well-informed, don’t encounter duplicative questions, and don’t wonder where outstanding work stands. Lastly, you expand the efficiency of each outsourced team member and the intelligence of their work with data operations and automation. When you’ve done this, you’ve reduced friction significantly.

This approach also means you’re able to move from peaks and valleys of activity to streaming work that is more agile than any legacy approach.

We expect others will attempt to copy this strategy, and we encourage them to do so.


Where Should Advisors Fit Into Your Business?

From talent managers to operating partners and marketers to fundraisers, leaders at private capital firms are becoming increasingly frustrated. The fundraising cycle is slowing, budgets are shrinking, and everyone’s looking at how to get to sustained profits… yesterday.

So, do you need an advisor to help you through challenges like this? It’s another expense, not an immediate contribution to the top line. If you do, what exactly do you want in an advisor?

Let’s look at employee benefits for example. We’ve done a fair amount of work in the insurance, benefits, carry and compensation space. So, we’ll take a deep dive here to illustrate some points.


Corporate employee benefits and health insurance costs are steadily rising with an apparent scant increase in value (thought let’s save that for a separate debate). Yet, balancing savings with team wellness makes for tough choices. Not only is the health insurance market confusing, fragmented, and risky, this proverbial maze is constantly changing and always full of surprises.

The common solution of switching to another prepackaged deal has its drawbacks. Transition costs can often outpace regular price hikes. Prepackaged solutions can’t always match an employer’s unique needs, either. And given the current labor market — an exceedingly tight and competitive space that places employment benefits and other perks under the microscope of potential and existing employees — retention and recruitment challenges are constant.

To better navigate this maze, private capital firms may find it advantageous to seek help from a benefits advisor who can serve as an extension of their deal, operations, and procurement teams. In fact, advisors who stand apart from the broker and are familiar with the dynamic between general partner teams and portfolio companies is especially valuable in the private capital world.

This point goes beyond benefits and talent. Independence, when it comes to advising on something that can make a decisive difference in your business can be more important than getting that thing in a package wrapped up with the service you’re trying to analyze. The same goes for having independent investor relations counsel in addition to an investment bank, not relying entirely on the investment banking team for counsel.

Let’s explore this further in the benefits context, starting with the challenges posed by the current benefits and insurance landscape.

Status quo no more

The employee health insurance market is not designed to be easy to navigate. Adding yet another layer to this fundamental challenge, the benefits maze is also constantly shifting and evolving. As soon as you have a strategy for navigating your way forward, the landscape changes.

While cost containment remains a steady concern among private equity firms, retention and recruitment issues have begun to influence health insurance and other benefits, too. These offerings are a vital part of professional employment packages.

Conducting a comprehensive review and developing a competitive benefits strategy that matches the unique needs of current and potential employees can be difficult, however, when prepackaged or “status quo” solutions are the only options on the table. Also, given the current pandemic environment and its widespread effects on the economy and labor market, it’s clear that we’re living in volatile times.

So, customization appears to be the name of the game. And that goes for much or the operations landscape, right down to marketing and the IT stack. But customization also incurs costs.

Customizing, a magic bullet

Developing a strategy that provides bespoke, yet cost-efficient plans may be the best way to contain spending while keeping team members happy.

Easier said than done.

True benefits strategy takes shape when you ask the right questions, build a framework that helps explain why things are the way they are, and then test your assumptions until a realistic — and sometimes uncomfortable — picture of a company or portfolio’s situation emerges. That’s when you can measure a company against industry benchmarks and start implementing realistic solutions, including those that include cross-portfolio oversight and collaboration.

Part of this process entails unbundling the various components of health insurance options to find the most efficient approach to piece together a bespoke plan.  Of course, this process can be extremely challenging. Navigating all possible options and their complexities requires a level of expertise that may not be available within the firm. Hence, the need to outsource benefits strategy.

Seek guidance from outsiders

Think of an independent an outside advisor as an experienced traveler navigating a changing river who knows how to test what’s happening under the water. In addition to knowing where the maps will steer you right, an advisor knows when and where the maps are out of date. Ultimately, an independent advisor can guide you through the trickiest and most rapidly changing parts of your perilous journey.

For example, would it be more advantageous to adopt a self-funded approach with stop-loss protections or would it be wiser to establish a licensed company offering a captive insurance plan? Might the adoption of a reference-based plan provide better pricing than another that’s carrier-determined? Could alternative funding vehicles help ease expenses on the high-cost claimant end? Most importantly, is the necessary data there to make the clearest assessment before a final decision?

Wanted: a great advisor

What, then, makes a good strategic advisor? Here are some things to look out for:

  1. Does your advisor ask about your goals? For example, in our benefits example are you seeking to cut excessive costs, retain employees or undergo a complete overhaul?
  1. Do they ask about your current plan’s transparency? Let’s consider prescriptions in benefits. Do you really know how much everything costs? Have you considered a transparent pharmacy benefit manager?
  1. Do they ask about your third-party administrator or outside resources? Have you reviewed your administrative services only (ASO) agreement?
  1. Have they suggested new plans? For example, have they suggested direct contracting, reference-based pricing, limited, center of excellence or captive insurance models? Do these plans reflect the needs of employees? Employees value plans customized to suit their personal needs.

Adding value

The healthcare insurance and benefits landscape may be a shifting maze whose only fixed features are rising costs and flat or declining values. That’s true of many business systems and functions currently, including marketing and public relations.

That will likely remain the case if prepackaged solutions remain front and center in the development of enterprise-level strategies. There are plenty of other options available.

Seeking the help of an experienced strategic advisor may be the best way to develop a process to expand your bottom line while adding significantly more value for your current and potential customers, investors, and employees.


The Online Industrial Experience Is Gravitating Toward A Single Screen

CEOs are trying to squeeze out opportunities with smaller budgets, despite ongoing supply chain snags and amid questions on rates and inflation. They are undertaking major overhauls of their sales and marketing strategies as what seem to be the last vestiges of physical commerce migrate online.

Now many companies are discovering that, while they have prioritized the reinvention of customer-facing products like websites and webinars, they don’t necessarily have the foundations that allow them to capitalize on the new tools they’ve created.

On one hand, they’ve embarked on digital restarts in order to keep pace with the competition. On the other, they now fear a digital nightmare as the web-portal façade of their business shows signs of strain as they rush to deliver at the new pace of sales that their digital strategy has delivered.

Executives who might feel as if they are frauds because they’re in this predicament aren’t alone. Many CEOs are realizing they’ve been underinvesting in the core operational processes and technologies necessary to efficiently and effectively turn around quotes and deliver products in an increasingly dynamic world even as they’ve kept pace with Industry 4.0 and similar developments in their plants. They need tools to marry their front-end and back-end capabilities, in other words.

The solution lies in unified e-commerce platforms, or one-stop-shop applications that can be customized to specific businesses to manage B2B and B2C transactions, sales orders, marketplaces, and vendors in a manner that integrates with enterprise resource planning, from supply chain oversight to human resources.

Questions, questions, questions…

The following questions can help CEOs to understand how to become heroes in this era digital transformation.

Do your supply chains operate with resiliency and flexibility? Do they meet customer needs and at the same time cope with constant, fast-changing market conditions?

Having easy-to-use order management, e-commerce, organized data streams, and constant access enables visibility, efficiency, flexibility and the power to anticipate product lifecycles, delivery speeds and market demand for personalization and customization. The goal is not necessarily to know more about supply chains. It’s about knowing how to manage supply chains in order to deliver products consistently. Much of that information is already within a company’s daily business flows. But many companies lack e-commerce solutions that help them unlock the insights that would help them overcome supply chain challenges.

Do you have cloud-based enterprise commerce systems and processes? Can you deliver data visibility and integrity across core operations?

Enterprise commerce sits at the heart of the business. It needs to be customized to the way your company works. In manufacturing, SymphonyAI has pointed out it’s not enough to have automation. It has to be tuned to the culture and capacity of your business to incorporate automation into workflows. Otherwise, your business will pay a price with employee burnout. The same goes for order management and commerce. Can you enable leading edge decision-making to unlock realistic innovation and drive growth?

Are you leveraging a complete technology approach effectively to unlock performance efficiencies and ownership mindsets in your talent?

The U.S. rate of employee churn across industries is 22 percent. CEOs understand this problem well. Replacing a frontline employee can cost sixteen percent of what would be paid in wages if they stayed. Finding more senior level professionals can cost six to nine months of their salary.

Communications is perhaps the best way to retain talent. Forrester found in the early days of the pandemic, for example, only about 43 percent of employees believed their organization had a plan for what was happening. Getting that right made it easier for executives to focus on customers and other stakeholders. Finally, installing a business continuity plan for the duration based on strong employee communications and performance loops delivers value.

Finally, can your business support your customers’ drive to take control of configuring and pricing complex products and services and get the self-help and support they want digitally?

If you want to optimize revenue, you will need to offer up and refine a low friction buyer and customer experience. Get this right, and you will also gain normalized useful data you can invest downstream in business and financial functions, in addition to learning about your customers and monetizing what you see. Mark Nathan at Zipari has been a pioneer in this area for the health insurance many manufacturers look to for their teams.

Unified commerce

These core operational processes define intelligent, integrated and agile cloud-savvy businesses.

Direct digital transformation investments are expected to total $6.8 trillion globally between 2020 and 2023. That’s a compound annual growth rate of almost 16 percent, according to IDC. What’s called the digital transformation services market is forecasted to reach $186 billion by 2024.

Moving computing power off company-owned machines and onto more nimble cloud-based services is the evolution that every industry is undergoing at present. Gartner predicts that global spending on cloud services will approach $400 billion next year. That’s almost a 50 percent increase compared to last year.

And yet spending money does not equate becoming a new hero of the digital restart. It takes more than cash to overcome the struggle with legacy technological debt. Beyond technology, the emerging digital manufacturing leaders are also looking at the organizational, process and cultural foundations of their businesses. Asking these questions starts companies on the right path.

What’s next?

The result is avoiding lost sales opportunities, distribution shortfalls, inconsistent financial management, sub-optimal resource planning and high employee turnover.

Making all this happen, frankly, will take more than the services of most consultancies today. Staffing agencies masquerading as true business partners won’t cut it. And few digital transformation prophets are purpose-built to innovate the next generation of digital operating platforms for the next generation of commercial pioneers.

But the market has a way of pulling forward what it needs to move to the next level. CEOs can and will rise to the challenge of satisfying record high demand while simultaneously harnessing the technology of the future.