Was it the sandwich or the service that sparked the bad dream? And does it matter? After the sandwich episode I cannot recall indigestion, though it is certainly true that anger was one of the emotions in play. You see, having ordered in the coffee shop of a top of the range global hotel group (pastrami and salad on rye, if you must know), and having waited 20 minutes to get it, I was saddened and incensed when the wait staff (glorious American gender obfuscation), moved my untouched plate to one side, placed my bill where it had been, and asked me, politely but with a not-to-be-refused firmness, to pay immediately since the wait staff in question was going off shift and needed to close my open account through the till. When I weakly moaned that I was going to ask for a cup of black coffee, then it was pointed out that this could be most easily ordered from a wait staff coming on-shift. This made me cross, and in no mood to eat a sandwich with due care and deliberation. Nothing could have been more in contrast with the attitudes that the hotel was trying to encourage, yet it was the gap between that aspiration, and the routines imposed on staff for performing process, that led to the problem. A problem that was not diminished at all when I quietly said that I was a foreigner, and wait staff must understand and humour my own national customs, which included paying for my meal after I had consumed it.

After I left this shoot-out at the sandwich corral, I reflected on the passage of arms that we are currently engaged with online in terms of of our marketing manners. In a recommendation-based world we would expect as friction-free buying process. We could craft our name and reputation online without the wait staff getting in the way, as long as we can be in reasonable control of our reputation. This probably involves supplying high quality goods at fair prices with great speed and admirable customer service. In other words, there will still be problems, and we are as prone to being let down by third parties as anywhere. But, actually, if we can create an immaculate reputation and maintain it, then many users will view the odd lapse with sympathy. Amazon above all others has succeeded in doing this. Goods do come quickly, you do know what is going on all the time, and while I sympathize with real booksellers going out of business, when you ordered a book from many of them you could wait 3 weeks or 3 months and had not a clue what was happening at any point.

All of which drove me to Badgeville (www.badgeville.com), because it promises me that it will “boost loyalty and conversion across the customer journey”. As so often happens a good word (“gamification”) has fallen amongst thieves here, and instead of meaning the turning of processes (like learning) into game-based routines which can speed information and knowledge acquisition, it now seems to mean reward systems for ensuring that recommendations are positive and posted. So after the initial distrust of recommendations on travel sites – are hoteliers writing their own? – we now have well-regulated sites, but recommendations and feedback supported and encouraged by rewards, points, grades, stars dished out by the product or service vendor. So, after almost 50 years, we come back to Green Shield Stamps! And Badgeville is an excellent site of its type. It appears to be strong on anti-gaming logic – no one can fiddle with the rewards structure – and it is a PaaS (platform as a service) play which runs across all of the vendor’s web exposure points – resellers, Twitter, FaceBook, etc. But it worries me all the same – is human psychology so basic that just by moving a reviewer from one level to another or giving them more points for posting on Pinterest, you can, as Badgeville so delicately says “re-inforce valuable behaviours”. No room here then for quirky old folk who won’t pay for their sandwich until they have eaten it.

But if you believe in the power of recommendation, pop in and see GlassDoor  www.glassdoor.com). This new take on the jobs board allows existing and former employees to post their anonymous views of the pros and cons of a company as a place of work. I checked Forrester. Very enlightening. You would need a raft of points and levels – a Platinum Ego Stroke – to even create some valuable behaviours for some companies here. When people are fed up with the job, they are quite explicit. If they feel blocked or taken advantage of they also say so. In current global jobs markets this will not make much difference, but one day this interesting idea will have a market. Or maybe by that time we shall have fragmented work altogether in such a way that we will all be self-employed problem solvers. Last week I met a sensible man running a tech unit in a major company who told me that he used Mechanical Turk all the time to source expertise and solve problems outside of the reach of his current team. So I was not surprized to find myself looking at GigWalk (http://gigwalk.com), a way of using the smartphone to divide jobs into small pieces and spread them across different geographies, all the while avoiding full time employment or the tax and insurance implications of staff. How will we handle the marketing messages when we do not even know who did the research or developed the answers?

We have a lot of learning to do about the future of work, which probably means more three letter acronyms. Meanwhile I award points and prizes to the man last week who described his product development mantra as 3D (Discover, Design, and Delight), and his friend who described a V3 product plan (Velocity, Volume and Variety). Getting down to two letters is a behaviour that I would like to encourage!

The network makes writing more accessible, in that it reduces the barriers to acquisition while similarly diminishing the challenges to contributions. This is why I am celebrating three new books by old friends already this year. Jim McGinty started it with a powerful drama called “Right to Kill; A Brooklyn Tale” (read my review on Amazon). Myer Kutz followed, turning away from heavyweight tomes on materials science and engineering to contribute “In the Grip”, a clever psychodrama with a twist that gave me real pleasure crossing the Atlantic Order these on Amazon! But the book I will put on the shelf and value long after the first two have become TV scripts and earnt their authors untold millions comes from Alfred Rolington (former CEO of Jane’s Publishing and Oxford Analytica) who will never get rich with “Strategic Intelligence for the Twenty First Century: The Mosaic Method” (Oxford University Press, 2013) but who fills a real gap for professionals in this field. Having always assumed that the intelligence community knew more than the rest of us and been disappointed, I see now why they knew less, and why a new way of viewing strategic intelligence is vitally necessary.

Have you read anything about defense intelligence since the great wave of books about Bletchley Park that suggested that any defense intelligence agency anywhere knew enough about the present, let alone the future, to effectively suggest what might happen next? Alfred quotes Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge historian who is the acknowledged authority here to great effect, and I would add a further rider: Andrew’s big MI5 book is depressing on several levels, but one is the reflection that it prompts that the strategic intelligence operatives employed on both sides of the Atlantic were either not the sharpest knives in the box, or were so constrained by the sclerotic selection of pre-ordained intelligence methodologies available to them that they could only report on the views that they were able to take of the scenery, not the whole panorama.

Alfred’s analysis of current working methods in intelligence services bears reading by anyone who thinks that business intelligence is very much better. Why didn’t we predict the Arab Spring? Because we were not reading the blogs and the social media and the network unrest, not only in the countries concerned, but, more importantly, in the Arabic-speaking world as a whole. The answer here is the Mosaic Method – Big Data analytics for the defense industry – which looks at both historical and personal perspectives over time. Being able to to search vast tracts of data to present the evolving views of representative individuals, to see the intelligence picture through the eyes of the other side or the several concerned parties, becomes a vital extra component alongside the very straight-jacketed and traditional methodologies currently used.

So my surprise here was the relatively unsophisticated nature of much defense intelligence work. Helpful techniques which would drive a predictive analysis approach are already widely deployed in industry. I reflect that Lexis Seisint (clue in the last 3 letters) was originally deployed in the Department of Homeland Securities, and that Thomson Reuters’ ClearForest was passed through the fence by the the Israeli defense Agency to allow it to be exploited commercially. In addition few major Big Data software players – Palantir would be a critical example – do not have a large slug of defense related expenditure in their growth graphs.

So our conclusion must be that while huge amounts of data are gathered and sifted, the ability to construct predictive analysis from them is in its infancy. Alfred remarks that SOCMINT, for social media intelligence, is a relatively new coinage. My first thought was that inadequate intelligence might be conducive to world peace, but on reflection I share Alfred’s view that an overhaul is needed, and one which acknowledges that we are living in a networked world. If McDonald’s can be expected by their shareholders to be able to predict from blogs and social media amidst the firestorm on obesity when the optimum point arrives to launch the salt/fat/sugar free VeggieBurger, then we should as mature nations be able to predict the Arab Spring.

And to do that we need to be watching the right things. I respond very much to Alfred’s suggestion that we are not looking at the right countries – BRICS are important, but it may be yet more important to monitor and know more than we do about Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iran (just look at the demographics) or Egypt. Very large countries with high proportions of their populations under the age of 21. They are like Europe in the Fifteenth century. Which leads to the other thing that I like about this book – it at least discusses the primacy of history for prediction. There is a class of intellectual dangerously roaming our universities who seem to believe that history began with Vin Cerf or Bob Kahn or even Tim Berners Lee. The truth is, as I see it, the exact opposite. Because we are moving into the unknown space of a networked society, we need to know more not less about how that society may react to change. Alfred reminds us, in his section on the Dark Web and elsewhere, that we have not yet fully explored what we refer to as the Web. This is the beginning of a story, not an ending.

Meanwhile, the OUP series is to be extended to cover cyber-security and cybercrime and Alfred has been blogging about this on the OUP blog: http://blog.oup.com/2013/02/cyber-attacks/

Here again is a critical area of intelligence, and reading this blog I reflected that by attacking Iranian nuclear installations with trojans the West may, as it has so often, be providing knowledge (in cracking cyber-attacks) which may one day be used against them. Like supplying training and guns to Saddam Hussein? Whatever the outcome, the importance of the subject matter – especially to those of us working on peaceful economic applications – cannot be ignored.

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