KPMG: Ignoring the HR Block Case Example or That Will Not Happen at the Exceptional KPMG

January 19, 2021

Here’s a fact of life at allegedly blue chip consulting and service firms. Miss those billability goal, and you are invited to find your future elsewhere.

I read “KPMG’s Marisa Ferrara Boston embraces Auditing Disruption with Watson.” My immediate reaction was id the capable, dutiful Marisa Ferrara Boston overlook this article in Beyond Search: “Watson and Block: Tax Preparation and Watson.” Probably. Business analysis from rural Kentucky is not on the KPMG list of suggested readings.

The point of my write up was in early 2017:

The idea is that H&R Block paid cash money to IBM to integrate Watson into the H&R Block proprietary tax preparation system.

The problem, based on information available to me, the Block Watson service added complexity to the tax workflow.

Oh, oh.

Here’s what KPMG has in mind:

KPMG has partnered with IBM to integrate Watson Discovery and Watson Machine Learning into the auditing workflow. KPMG uses Watson as a backbone to a question-answering pipeline for auditors and risk analysts, enabling KPMG audit professionals to better review, classify, and search across documents to extract important attribute values.

Interesting idea. Replace billable humans with super smart, reliable, fast IBM software.

What could go wrong?

If the Block IBM deal went nowhere, the resistance came from the tax professionals the system was supposed to help. Block and IBM parted company.

At KPMG, the litmus test will be billability. Unless the smart software generates more billable hours (regardless of how the bean counters fiddle the calculations), the KPMG IBM deal is likely to be found wanting. Nothing creates more waves in a blue chip professional services firm than a partner responsible for a number who misses his/her bonus. Nothing.

This quote from the IBM blog misses the point for a big time consulting firm. IBM writes:

“I feel really lucky to be able to be in a position where I’m still in the fight to be able to help push these things along,” says Marisa. But deployment is only half the battle. When it comes to maintaining innovation in automation over time, “it’s never over,” she says. “These AIs are living. They need to be nurtured in an appropriate environment. They’re not just something that you create and consider the job to be done. If so, you have failed, and probably in a very expensive way.”

Notice that employee revenue is not mentioned. Cost control is not mentioned. The partner bonuses are not mentioned. The ire of an unhappy KPMG client who is “surprised” is not mentioned. What about the managing partner who learns that a baby Enron or Autonomy has been birthed by the energetic Watson? Exciting? Yep. Very.

Perhaps some KPMG wizards who will find themselves working at HR Block will be able to ask their new colleagues, “What did you think of that IBM Watson integration?”

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2021

Digital Content: Confused Yet? I Am

January 19, 2021

I read “CMS Vs. DMS: Understanding the Key Differences.” The write up did not unlock my understanding. From my vantage point, there is a trade association called ARMA. You can get information about this organization from its Web site. As I recall, there are individuals who receive certification to deal with certain types of “records”; for example, nuclear power plant information. Other groups get involved with the nuclear industry, and there are hoops through which one can jump to figure out how to keep track of engineering change orders, the entities touching specialized components, and figure out who has been trained on what.

I am not exactly sure how other entities got involved in some of these often complicated tracking and managing functions. An organization called the Association for Intelligent Information Management used to be called something else. Maybe “imaging” when that seemed to be a great way to get members and run conferences.

What’s this abbreviated history have to do with the CMS versus DMS thing?

Yep, that’s a very good question. For the life of me, it seems as if document management evolved from the records management effort. But the document management experts quickly figured out that lawyers and pharmaceutical companies had to keep track of their information and had some specialized needs which ARMA either couldn’t or didn’t want to upset its apple cart.

Then the Web happened and the content produced for Web pages was even crazier and more disorganized, volatile, and multi-media enhanced than anything the vendors of software and services for nuclear, pharma, and legal eagle sectors possessed.

Enter content management systems. Wow. These were often tricky beasts, whether it was the wonderful Broadvision or the more Volkswagenish Ektron, a new business was born. The customers for CMS were not nuclear types or the chemical structure folks inventing drugs to help people at very reasonable cost absolutely everywhere.

Now let’s get the straight scoop from the CMS versus the DMS write up. Ready? Here we go:

The differences between document and content management systems are nuanced and depend on the scale to which you are using them…

I interpret this to mean that there is no difference. Your mileage may vary.

And how about this:

Where a DMS excels is at the preservation and organization of company documents (records), a CMS is often focused at content presented at websites, which is not specifically locked in individual documents, according to Elmendorp [another expert]

But what about systems focused on company records. Maybe the type of records the ARMA professionals are trained to manipulate, archive, and retrieve?

But do these systems work? Ho, ho, ho.

But here’s the key to the “key” in the title:

Where BPM, EFSS and CCM Fit In

What? What are these acronyms? But even more stunning is the inclusion of “multi-repository search tools known as Enterprise Search.”

Whoa, Nellie! Enterprise search is a solution to the management of content within an organization. News flash! Enterprise search is a utility often embedded in crazy software wrappers to allow someone to have a shot at locating the information needed to answer a business question or an eDiscovery mandate. Chemical structures, linked engineering change orders? Ho, ho, ho.

Who can figure out the differences, whether “key” or not?

Gartner. A diffused group of experts who have to sell information about the vendors to the potential licensees of these systems.

Confusion is the fertilizer for growing consulting revenues. What’s the “key”? Hire consultants. There you go. Insight.

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2021

Intel Reminds Apple That It Is a Horse Around Company

January 19, 2021

I read “Intel Suggests It Will Wait for New CEO to Make Critical Decisions to Fix Manufacturing Crisis.” The headline suggests that Intel cannot manufacture chips as it did in the glory days of Silicon Valley. Wow, who knew?

There are a couple of other gems in this “real” news story too; to wit:

Intel allegedly embraces this view of Apple, another small outfit in the computing business:

“We have to deliver better products to the PC ecosystem than anypossible thing that a lifestyle company in Cupertino” makes,Gelsinger told employees Thursday. That’s a derisive, ifgood-natured, reference to Apple and the location of its corporateheadquarters.

Yep, lifestyle. Apple, I would remind Intel, has managed to enter the chip business without any of the quantum computing lynchpin baloney like the Horse Ridge innovation. That’s a technical achievement which strikes me as a combination of marketing, jargon, and horse feathers. Maybe a horse collar or a saddle blanket?

Another interesting passage asserts:

In a note to clients after Gelsinger’s hiring [the new CEO], Raymond James analystChris Caso said Intel doesn’t have time to deliberate.

Okay, time. There’s the ever chipper AMD, the Qualcomm outfit, a couple of eager beavers in lands which favor zesty spices. Oh, yes, and there’s the Apple operation, which sells products from pushcarts.

The article details the failures and fantasies of a company which has created Horse Ridge. Unfortunately instead of a stallion, the computational cowboys are riding Norwegian Fjord horses in the chip derbies.

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2021

2021: Virtual Conferences and Even Virtual Products

January 19, 2021

I want to keep this note short. Navigate to “The Best Tech of CES 2021 Isn’t Real.” The write up states:

the “beauty” of shows like CES is the ability write about our hands-on experiences with products. But since we couldn’t roam the halls of CES in person this year, it was the perfect time for brands to announce gadgets that weren’t ready for store shelves.

The source did not mention that fabulous fakes were the grace note for that memorable year 2020; for example:

  • Fake news
  • Fake queen of England outputs, and
  • Fake cyber security with a lot of sunshine going you know where.

CES: Virtual conference, virtual products, and fake products. Yeah!

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2021

High School Science Club Management: The Microsoft GitHub Example

January 18, 2021

Anyone who reads Beyond Search knows that I eschew the old saws of management consulting. No Druckerisms here. I go for more evocative terminology such as HSSCMM or high school science club management methods. The high school science club was the last refuge for those who were not “into” the flow of athletes, elected school representatives, and doing just enough to pass a class in home economics. Nope, the HSSC was THE place for those who knew better than anyone else what was important, knew better how to accomplish a task, and knew better than anyone the wonderfulness of such an esteemed organization.

Thus, a HSSCMM is a rare thing.

I believe I have spotted an example ably described in “GitHub Admits Significant Error of Judgment…”  I would point out that GitHub is a Microsoft property and has been since late 2018, sufficient time for the outstanding culture of the Redmond giant to diffuse into the code repository/publishing entity.

The “error” concerns a knee jerk response to a person’s post using a forbidden word. After the employee was terminated, others in the science club management team decided that the dismissal was a misstep. Bigger or smaller than the SolarWinds’ modest toe bump? Who knows.

But, by golly, the Microsoft-GitHub science club alums convened and took a decision: Fire the personnel manager (sometimes called a people manager or a human resources leader).

The management precepts I derive from this fascinating chain of events are:

  • Be deciders. Don’t dally. Then without too much hand waving reverse course. The science club precept is that lesser entities will not recall the change of direction.
  • Seek scapegoats. Use the Teflon approach so that that which is thrown slides upon the lesser entity, in this case, the amusing people manager function.
  • Avoid linking the actions of one part of the science club to the larger science club of which the smaller is merely a decorative ornament; that is, omit the fact that GitHub is owned by Microsoft.

I may have these precepts in a poorly formed state, but I think this GitHub admits article provides a provocative case example. I wonder if Mr. Drucker would agree.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

The Twitter Leadership Thing: Is This Charlie Muffin Reverse Arrogance?

January 18, 2021

I read “Jack Dorsey Just Explained Why Twitter’s Ban of Trump Is an Extraordinary Failure of Leadership.” I like the subtitle as well because it contains an interesting word. Here’s the subtitle:

You are ultimately responsible for the platform you build

And the word snagging my jaded attention?


Charlie’s reverse snobbery has taken another step closer to becoming one of the management precepts of the high school science club management precepts.

The write up points out:

Social media platforms aren’t neutral. That’s by design. They are literally built to provide people with the ability to create and share content, which the platform then amplifies in various ways. That amplification is designed to feed people with an almost unending stream of content that reinforces their beliefs, desires, passions, or values.  As a result, platforms have enormous influence over the types of conversation that happen. Even more importantly, Twitter and other social media companies have massive power to move their users’ collective thoughts and belief systems, for good or bad. All of the things that keep people engaged, and make them want to keep using a platform, are the very things that run the risk of promoting unhealthy conversation.

Okay, that’s mostly correct. The context of online information is left out, but after decades of thumb typing, there are these glimmers of awareness. That’s a plus.

Even academics have discovered, when they rip themselves from their mobile phones and messaging about consulting engagements, that something has been going on. A good example is “How Social Media’s Obsession with Scale Supercharged Disinformation.” At least the corn hole bag is heading in the general direction of understanding online. The tweeter game has been going on for years, so the bag filled with inedible corn is arriving late.

I absolutely trilled when I read this opinion in the Jack Dorsey Explained article. Consider:

When the platform breaks, it’s easy to place fault with users. That would miss an important point. That’s what I find most powerful about Dorsey’s statement. Instead of placing the blame elsewhere, he owns the responsibility Twitter has to do what it can to promote healthy conversations. It would be easy for Twitter to simply wash its hands of users who have abused the platform, but that isn’t what Dorsey did. Instead, he took responsibility and indicated the company needed to look internally to figure out how to never be in this situation again. Considering how unique that message is, it’s not only a powerful lesson, it’s a refreshing example of taking responsibility.

Not exactly on time or on target. The beacon of management runs two companies and is apparently demonstrating his high school management method from an island in the Pacific.

And the tweeter? Yeah, a fine service, well managed, constructive, and just the thing to express important information.

And leadership? Examples include a verifiable identity for users, a subscription service, policies, and consequences for those who skirt them? What did that Sloan guy say about trying to do two things. Right, something like two objectives is no objective? Surf’s up, Charlie.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

Enterprise Search: Blasting Away at Feet, Walls, and Partners

January 18, 2021

I read a very good write up called “Is Elasticsearch No Longer Open Source Software?” The write up contains a helpful summary of the history of Elastic and its Lucene-based search solution. Plus the inhospitable territory of open source licensing gets a review as well. To boil down the write up does not do it justice, so navigate to the source document and read it first hand.

I noted a couple of passages which I found suggestive.

First, here’s a comment which strikes me as relevant to the Bezos bulldozer’s approach to low or no cost, high utility software:

if you want to provide Elasticsearch on a SaaS basis, you have to release any code that you use to do this: in Amazon’s case this could mean all the management layers that go into providing Elasticsearch on Amazon Web Services (AWS), so I doubt this is going to happen.

My view is that Elastic and its management team want to put some sand in the bulldozer’s diesel fuel. The question is, “WWAD” or “What will Amazon do?” Some of the options available to Amazon are likely to be interesting. The specific series of actions Amazon pursues will be particularly thrilling.

Second, another passage I circled was:

Smaller SaaS providers without Amazon’s resources will have to decide whether to do a deal with Elastic or Amazon to continue to offer a hosted Elasticsearch.

Based on my limited understanding of the legal hoo-hah with open source legal nuances, I think a customer will have to make a choice. Ride the bulldozer or go with the Son of Compass search. (Yep, that would be Elastic.)

For me, my meanderings through open source and enterprise search sparked these thoughts:

  1. In a competitive arena, open source will become closed. Too much money is at stake for the “leaders”
  2. Open source provides a low cost, low friction way to add functionality or enable an open source “play.” Once up and running, the company using open source wants to make sure the costs of R&D, bug fixes, and other enhancements are “free”; that is, not an expense to the company using open source software.
  3. Forks or code released to open source are competitive moves motivated by financial and marketing considerations.

Open source, open code, open anything: Sounds too good to be true. For some situations, enterprise search’s DNA will surface and the costs can be tricky enough to make an accountant experience heart burn. And the lawyers? Those folks send invoices. The users? Search is a utility. The companies appropriating and making their solution proprietary? Mostly happy campers. And the open source “developers”? Yikes.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

Yikes! Fund People, Not Projects

January 18, 2021

Fund People, Not Projects III: The Newton Hypothesis; Is Science Done by a Small Elite?” addresses innovation, procurement assumptions, and MBA chestnuts. The write up is long, running about 6,300 words. Here’s my summary of the argument in the research paper:

You bet your bippy, pilgrim.

Here’s the academic version of my summary:

The Newton hypothesis seems true, as far as citations are concerned: science is advanced by a small elite. This is not just “Einstein-level” breakthroughs, the small elite may not be 0.01% but 1-5% of the total number of practicing scientists. Even 10% would still cohere with the idea of scientific elitism. Citations at least on a first pass do seem to correlate with “good science” both casually (Highly cited classic papers) and by assessment of peers (Nobel prize panels; Nobel-winning papers are highly cited, and cite highly cited research).

The write up also explains why some technology organizations decline; for example, the Google. The reason is that really good people leave for greener pastures either mentally or physically. The result? Gmail goes down, Intel can’t make chips, and IBM can’t get Watson to deliver that mythical billion dollar business. Common sense, yes. Will significant change take place in staff management, procurement, or MBA thinking about innovation?


Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

MIT: In the News Again

January 18, 2021

I have used “high school science club management methods” to describe some of the decisions at Silicon Valley-type outfits. I have also mentioned that the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology found itself in a bit of a management dither with regards to the infamous Jeffrey Epstein. If you are not familiar with the MIT Epstein adventure, check out “Jeffrey Epstein’s Money Bought a Coverup at the MIT Media Lab.” High school science club management in action.

I read a story dated January 14, 2021, with the fetching title “MIT Professor Charged with Hiding Work for China.” Yep, someone hired a person, failed to provide appropriate oversight, and created a side gig. I learned:

While working for MIT, Chen entered into undisclosed contracts and held appointments with Chinese entities, including acting as an “overseas expert” for the Chinese government at the request of the People’s Republic of China Consulate Office in New York, authorities said. Many of those roles were “expressly intended to further the PRC’s scientific and technological goals,” authorities said in court documents. Chen did not disclose his connections to China, as is required on federal grant applications, authorities said. He and his research group collected about $29 million in foreign dollars, including millions from a Chinese government funded university funded, while getting $19 million in grants from U.S federal agencies for his work at MIT since 2013, authorities said.

MIT is allegedly an institution with many bright people. Maybe that is part of the challenge. The high school science club mentality has ingrained itself into the unsophisticated techniques used to track donations and smart professors.

Harvard has a business school. Does it offer a discount for MIT administrative professionals?

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2021

Mobile and Social Media Users: Check Out the Utility of Metadata

January 15, 2021

Policeware vendors once commanded big, big bucks to match a person of interest to a location. Over the last decade prices have come down. Some useful products cost a fraction of the industrial strength, incredibly clumsy tools. If you are thinking about the hassle of manipulating data in IBM or Palantir products, you are in the murky field of prediction. I have not named the products which I think are the winners of this particular race.



The focus of this write up is the useful information derived from the deplatformed Parler social media outfit. An enterprising individual named Patri10tic performed the sort of trick which Geofeedia made semi famous. You can check the map placing specific Parler uses in particular locations based on their messages at this link. What’s the time frame? The unusual protest at the US Capitol.

The point of this short post is different. I want to highlight several points:

  1. Metadata can be more useful than the content of a particular message or voice call
  2. Metadata can be mapped through time creating a nifty path of an individual’s movements
  3. Metadata can be cross correlated with other data. (If you attended one of my Amazon policeware lectures, the cross correlation figures prominently.)
  4. Metadata can be analyzed in more than two dimensions.

To sum up, I want to remind journalists that this type of data detritus has enormous value. That is the reason third parties attempt to bundle data together and provide authorized users with access to them.

What’s this have to do with policeware? From my point of view, almost anyone can replicate what systems costing as much as seven figures a year or more from their laptop at an outdoor table near a coffee shop.

Policeware vendors want to charge a lot. The Parler analysis demonstrates that there are many uses for low or zero cost geo manipulations.

Stephen E Arnold, January 15, 2021

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