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Week 93 – 01/01/2023

Just the two and half years since my last week note. A few things have happened since then. Pandemic continued, I got fat and lazier hence the stopping writing. Then I got sick of that and tried to lose some weight and get a bit fitter. Not doing too badly with that although one of my 2023 goals is to lose 3 stone so you know, slow progress.

In April 2022 I got promoted in my old job as Product Owner/Manager at Ideagen and then a few months later in August I got offered a more exiciting job as Head of Product at Total Processing in Manchester. A much better role that allows me to use more of my brain that I had done for some time. Looking forward to getting back to work as I have two new team members starting this month and I am still on the hunt for a third and we have so much to do. I have also been writing week notes in my new role, the CEO strongly encouraged it which was great. Managed to do 10 out of 12 weeks which is not bad going (the two I missed were Fridays I was off work/Xmas party day).

And now we enter 2023 I might try and get week notes going again. Might even try and write some actual proper posts. The death spiral of Twitter seems to have inspired the old web 2.0 hippies into believing the fediverse is real and the personal blog is back. Partly inspired by Phil Gyford’s Ooh Directory and a recurring misconception that I can actually write things. Let’s see.

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How much data do you think a bank captures about you?  A digital trail is left by each and every interaction with an institution e.g. payment over a branch counter, phone call to check the status of a mortgage application or a cash withdrawal from an ATM but just how much?  There’s the obvious things such as transaction records (I took £10 out of the ATM which debited my account) but banks actually capture much, much more information about your activity (where the ATM was located, which organisation owned the ATM, whether you got your PIN right first time etc.).  A phone call generates even more information ‘This call may be recorded for training purposes’ is a familiar start to calls with most service organisations but what is recorded?  More importantly, what is done with all this data?

The vast majority of the captured data is used by the organisation. Fed into huge CRM systems to track your relationship, into data warehouses for all manner of analytic purposes such as calculating your propensity to buy the hot new product, fuel for anti fraud systems looking for strange patterns of behaviour.  This data is very valuable to an organisation. This data is also very valuable to an individual. How many organisations feed back the value of this data to their customers? How many feed back the behaviours this data is showing? How many feed back the changes you could make if you did things slightly differently? I think that data is very thin on the ground…

Here are a few examples of the value of feedback. From one of my favourite forms of transport, trains. Take a look at this tube information display from London Underground. Notice anything missing?

Let’s see what it looks like with the missing piece added.

How does that piece of extra feedback change the whole context of the display? Before it just displayed the ‘what’. The ‘when’ adds so much more value.

Another train based scenario. You are sat on a stationary train admiring a beautiful hedgerow your mind wonders to why have you stopped? When will we be moving again? And what is the impact on the time I will arrive at my destination.  Think how many times the train guard has given you all those bits of information during one of their oh so eloquent Tannoy announcements. Ever had to ask a guard for a bit more information?

Final feedback lesson from trains. Timeliness. On the more modern trains in the East Midlands fleet that operate between Sheffield and London the seat reservations are displayed on small digital screens above the seat. At busy times (it seems) the reservation notices are not enabled when you first get on the train. Only once the train is 10 minutes out of the station do they get switched on causing a nightmare domino effect as people move seats, other people end up standing and generally the atmosphere on the train plummets to levels below the normal disdain laden malaise to outright annoyance. Provide the feedback on time and the problem would be avoided.

So what about an example from banking. Here is a line showing charges are due to be applied to an account.

What is missing from this information? The why...the what....the WTF?!

Personal Financial Management Tools such as Mint, Strands etc. Have been showing users more about their money for several years now. Pretty graphs showing your spending in a more usable way than a list of transactions. Allowing customers to see if they made a change to the amount of coffee they buy they could save an extra £x a year which could be used to pay off their mortgage x years earlier. Banks in the UK seem to be finally catching on. Lloyds recently launched their Money Manager platform. Rumours suggest Barclays will do something similar at some point this year.

Pretty feedback graphs from Lloyds MoneyManager

Natwest have been sending out an annual statement. A paper based PFM if you like that shows your annual expenditure highlighting where you spent the most money e.g. Tesco. To me these things feels very much like stage one. This is what you spend. This is where you spend it. This is what will happen if you change this behaviour. The quicker stage one becomes the normal functionality level for all banks the better. What interests me is what comes next. Feedback on your financial behaviour is only one element of a banking relationship and while it may be the most important, what insights can be gleaned from all the other forms of interaction?

The telephone call. So much information related to the act of dialing a beloved call center. Where you dialed from, the menu options you chose, did you correctly enter your security details, the length of time spent in a queue, the length of time on a call, the number of times you were passed around departments, what those departments were, who you spoke to, call reference numbers, the actions of what you actually called up to do, the entries on the various systems those actions incurred…oh and of course the audio of your call that was recorded for training purposes. All that information is captured. Next to none of it is fed back. You get the call length on your phone bill and if the actions were transactional ones i.e. move some money, you will see that in your online banking. But what is the value of feedback from the rest?

Relaying the menu options you chose might make the route easier next time you call, who you actually spoke with and your call reference number at hand online instead of scribbled on the back of an envelope, the time it took you to complete your transaction or the number of times you have called to try to get something resolved, call information could be linked to transactions/complaints and show you the trail of activity and if you do not remember what the operator said you can even listen back to your call to jog your memory.

Another area where I feel banks are poor is around security, or rather feedback to customers about security. Let me explain. Today I have no record of who and when someone logged onto my internet banking or accessed my account via telephone banking or wondered into a branch and tried to do something, even if it is me doing the accessing. Now hopefully strangers attempting to access my accounts does not occur too often but this data is most certainly captured by a bank and if something strange is noticed let me know (and not just by suspending my accounts). Why not play it back? Show logon/call/visit times, show IP/Mac Address of the device used to access (in fact why don’t banks certify devices you might use to access Internet banking? home laptop, work laptop, my mobile etc.). Modern browsers can send location data as well. Why not ask if users would like this information saved and shown to them in their logon activity records? Any suspicious logons (or attempts) could be highlighted to the customer as well as being flagged internally.  Yes  this might scare some people and generate calls but it should also act as a reassuring log to check.  Data already captured, fed back to people for their benefit. Feedback.

The Facebook attempted logon warning is an excellent piece of user security feedback.

As well as logon activity why not show a record of my actions undertaken online. Clicked on this advert, transferred this money, canceled a standing order,  called the mortgage helpline, placed a complaint. Show me what my relationship with your organisation looks like. Which leads onto how my relationship with your organisation is perceived. The above data is captured, stored in huge data warehouses and is fed into analytic engines to work out things about you based on your activity. Calculations are undertaken and you may get fed into a marketing campaign based on not only your demographics but your interactions with the bank. Scores may be calculated on your behaviours and applied to your profile showing what your actions mean today and what they may mean for the future.  If you make a decision about me why not feed that back to me. Show me how you worked it out and why. Honesty is the best policy isn’t it?

Applying for a product. The sales process of some banking products is less than straight forward. The mortgage is an especially complex process and one that is distinctly lacking in feedback, especially online feedback. Moving house is stressful. The complexity in arranging the mortgage adds to that. The amount of chasing that needs to be done between solicitor and bank. Chasing up to find out where the mortgage process is up to. Who or what is holding it up? When will my money be available. Today a lot of that information can only be gleaned by telephone calls or face to face meetings. Let us switch tangents wildly and consider Dominos Pizzas. Today I can order a pizza of my choice, personalised to the nth degree, I can see who is making it, I can see when it goes in the oven and I can see when it is ready for collection or where the delivery boy is in relation to my house. I can track a £15 pizza to this extent, all via my mobile, but I can’t track a £250,000 mortgage to anything like this level. The milestones/progress of this application must be captured but is not fed back. Something is wrong here.

Ever since I first set eyes on Friendfeed about 3/4 years ago it was obvious to me that banking relationships are very much like activity streams. Today the activity feedback is almost entirely transactional, one way broadcast i.e. marketing messages and customer service issues. This needs to change. So much more happens and is captured but it is not fed back. It would seem our enlightened government also agrees.

A recent publication called Better Choices, Better Deals, sets out ‘To put consumers in charge so that they are better able to get the best deals for themselves individually and collectively as well as looking at ways to empower the most vulnerable who may not otherwise benefit from these exciting developments.‘ On of the key themes of this piece is ‘A shift away from a world in which certain businesses tightly control the information they hold about consumers, towards one in which individuals, acting alone or in groups, can use their data or feedback for their own or mutual benefit.’ It will be interesting to see where this goes.

We are also seeing tighter regulation on what kind of tracking companies can take online. The new EU tracking cookie directives are making companies think about how they track what customers do online. Why not ask permission and show them what you are doing and why? The recent Apple location tracking furor shows what happens when companies are sneaky/negligent but look at how many people then went and visualised the data Apple captured. If they had asked and fed back would their have been an in issue and would it just have been another case of Apple doing something cool?

This stance also aligns with the work by Doc Searls on Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), Which aims to make customer data available to the people who create and allow them to take it where ever they want and to use how ever they want.

Is this just some Utopian pipe dream? Or do we need to see a shift in the way data is fed back to people? What implications have I avoided/glossed over? What compliance/legal issues have I willfully disregarded? What customer needs have I failed to take into account? Please give feedback.

A Gamification Conference you say? Surely not.

Yes indeed, a whole day in deepest darkest Shoreditch dedicated to that most questionable of neologisms, Gamification. The bastardised term used primarily to describe to Venture Capitalists what marketers are up to or more often the addition of so called gaming mechanics or elements to all manner of things such as what TV programs you watch and how you brush your teeth.  As this trend has grown off the back of successful implementations such as Foursquare and Stack Overflow then more and more people have been keen to add a dose of gaming ‘magic’ to their products. This has lead to a backlash from the game design community, as they cry ‘rewards and scoreboards are not games’ and ‘gamification is actually just pointsification’ and the marketers largely ignore them and carry on regardless.

I have been interested in game mechanics and theory for a few years now. I certainly had thoughts early on around how these seemingly simple rewards and interactions could potentially alter or promote different behaviours in the banking world. On the other hand I have also played a lot of computer games throughout my life from my humble Commodore 64 up to my current games machine of choice the Xbox 360 and as such they hold a special place in my heart.  I have talked in the past about the lack of meaning these gamification rewards have outside of the system or platform of play that you have chosen and my thoughts have still not changed on that point. So why on earth would I go to a gamification conference?

Because the salesman are circling. Because the term gamification is being uttered inside the organisation that I work by people other than me (how dare they). I want to ensure that if it is something that is seriously investigated it is done so with as much knowledge as possible on the pitfalls as well as the potential positives and that points and badges don’t get handed out for all manner of dull things. Like banking.

There was also two other very good reasons to attend the conference. Sebastian Deterding and Dr. Richard Bartle. Without a doubt the people I was most looking forward to hearing speak and neither disappointed.

Sebastian told a fantastic tale entitled ‘There Be Dragons’. The title coming from the phrase cartographers would use for unmapped areas in days of yore that were marked with that epitaph.  This was in reference to the fact that gamifaction is so new, we do not know what lies in the unmapped areas and that danger certainly lurks.  He went on to list 9 of these pitfalls (The version on Slideshare is even more danger filled as it contains 10 pitfalls). The pitfalls cover the gamut of issues around this trend from ‘The Crap Crab – Abuse is not a value proposition’ which looks at how the ideal game play area is an equal overlap between user interest and business interest and far too often the business forgets this. Through to ‘The Panacea Python – Looking for a quick-fix, one-size-fits-all wonder potion’ which is of course as mythical as the dragons mentioned in the title. For me this excellent talk highlighted so many reasons why banking needs to think long and hard before getting involved in this especially at the expense of features that need to take precedence. How about concentrating on making a game called ‘Make it is as easy as possible for me to see my balance’ or ‘get me on the phone to a customer service rep in seconds not minutes’ basically don’t go adding extra levels of challenge to processes that might already be challenging enough.

I have followed his work for a while now and he produces the most beautiful slides (the type face alone is a work of art and I am not even a type face nerd). The fact that he speaks so authoritatively and wittily even in a language that is not his mother tongue and you have a killer combo. I urge you to admire the design delight of the slides and the witty insights of the talk.

Dr. Richard Bartle
is someone who’s work I am only vaguely familiar with (sorry). His work on the 4 gamer types (he told us there are actually 8 in the more complex version for virtual world games) based on the Bartle Test is mentioned a lot and it is this reason he was actually speaking ‘The reason I speak at these things is because people keep talking about my work’. For someone who is not on Twitter his talk contained so many tweetable gems it highlighted what a shame it is that he is not.  He spoke of how gamification was nothing new indeed people had been turning things into games for years, ‘Scientology turned religion into a game years ago’ e.g. OT IV; the Operating Thetan drug rundown level.  His definition of gamification was the best of the day as he said gamification used to mean turning something that is not a game into a game. Now it means taking a game and turning it into something that is not.

He talked of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards and how the playing of an actual game is reward in itself, reaching that next level through challenging and skillful endeavour keeps you entertained. If the so called gaming element is actually you filling in a very dull form for which you are rewarded the ‘badge of paperwork’ people are not going to be too engaged with your ‘game’.

Richard warned that If gamification becomes ubiquitous then it will also become meaningless as people will understand the game, as the mechanics can only be simple and therefore quickly become very repetitive.  He did add that before that happens some people are going to make a lot of money and his tip would be not to tell anymore people about it but get on with it. Can’t recommend his talk enough so just go and watch it instead of reading this tripe (his slides are also available and they have an equally lovely type face although lovely for very different reasons to Sebastian’s).

My other favourite talk of the day was not really about gamification but more about platform design, APIs and separation of data and function. It also happened to be about a games platform and one built by the BBC. Tom Redin introduced the BBC Grid Platform which aims to reduce the overheads on creating games by aiming to have a more service orientated architecture which will allow games built to plug in to high score trackers, login authorisation models etc. The platform design was brought about after a majo tidy up of the BBC’s games and it showed a number of holes in the strategy and also meant that the removal of games lead to a huge loss of data.  The decision cam to separate function and data as much as possible to ensure that if a game was removed the data created was stored and could be used elsewhere.  The platform was designed to be fairly open although you had to have your game commissioned first before being given the keys to it. An interesting look at the way platforms should be designed and how the data should be as separate as possible.  It will be very interesting to see what the BBC do with that data as the Grid expands to cover not just games but other BBC areas such as News & iPlayer etc. More interesting from a data/social CRM type angle, more interesting to me anyway. Watch Tom talk about the grid.

The rest of the talks and panels had a few pearls hidden within. Guy Stevens looked at Gamification in the customer service arena. I felt his talk was much more on the social media side of things, I also think there are some overlaps between gamification and social CRM. He did give some good examples such as one of the key users in the Logitech support forum who had answered 45,000 questions for seemingly little more reward than some badges and ratings against his forum avatar but I feel it is a bit deeper than that. Guy also mentioned a nice idea on QR code usage on specific areas on physical devices such as washing machine seals so you can get a link to the part but also videos on how to fix. Again not really gamification but interesting none the less.

The rest of the talks that I saw, and I missed the first couple, were pretty nondescript, one of them had the word leverage in the title for example. There was one especially bad moment that stood out for me. During a platform demo by Bunchball via Skype (conference organisers if you intend to have people demo via Skype make it clear in your agenda) Bunchball showed their collaboration with Playboy which seemed to be adding a gamification layer to getting girls on

‘It’s a month-long competition where any woman who aspires to be in Playboy can get her friends to vote for her. If she succeeds, she is crowned Miss Social for a month and can get a pictorial (clothed or not) on’

Earlier Dr. Bartle had talked about the Overjustification Effect, which shows that if a person has sufficient motivation to achieve the reward they become morally desensitised, Richard used the example of the Art of Persuasion task from World of Warcraft where you need to torture someone to move forward. The Playboy thing seemed to be a perfect example of that as you are essentially playing a game to get young girls to pose naked…different kind of reward I guess and voting for, clothed or not, girls is not quite torture. Maybe my moral code has changed slightly since becoming a father.

An interesting event and one that I am willing to admit I went too with a bit of a closed mind, Why was that? I follow a lot of games designers and people involved in that industry and they are some of the smartest people I know. I think there maybe a touch of snobbishness in their arguments against gamification but I agree with them in the majority of cases. This event did nothing really to change my viewpoint and if anything it strengthened it, the marketers are here and they are going to make money. It certainly made me certain that gamification and banking will be used at some point but I think the focus should be on the actual functionality related to banking. There are areas that it could benefit such as those around financial education and perhaps to a lesser extent customer service and there are also some more interesting use cases for internal use such as the email game etc. but I still feel good design and the concentration on making services as slick and accessible as possible should beat any points and virtual rewards on offer…we will have to wait and see if people agree with me.

Hello World!

Obligatory first post and title. Here is my attempt at public blogging ‘great another rambling nonsensical blog to add to the echo chamber of dullness’ I can hear no one cry but please give me a chance.  I shall use this blog to spew out my random thoughts and opinions on technology, innovation, banking and much less besides.  I am also using this little experiment to find out more about that thing they call Social Media and how to operate in its strange and complex world.  And finally I shall hopefully use this Weblog to be challenged, inspired and mocked by the smart people out on the tubes.  So I hope this addition to the blogosphere is not too dull and that I can actually manage to write something worthy of occupying peoples increasingly precious attention.

Here goes nothing (hopefully not literally).