Sweat, retire, congratulations.

There are moments where you marvel at the genius of others. For me, always a slightly bittersweet experience; wonder at the ability of the human mind and painfully aware of the limitations of my own.


One such moment was hearing about "What3Words". For those unfamiliar with this, a brief description below. The inventors of What3Words have divided the world into 3-metre squares. Each square is identified by a unique combination of three words. Rather than entering postal addresses, grid coordinates or longitude and latitude into navigation devices you can simply enter three words and be directed to a location with stunning accuracy.

The UK emergency services now send a link to the app to lost mountaineers and stranded motorists so that they can directly help easily and efficiently when the individual in trouble provides their three-word location.

It really is genius. They've solved the problem of the inaccuracy of navigating to postcodes, they've standardised and simplified the entry of physical addresses from vast combinations of building names and numbers, streets, districts, counties and countries to justify the entry of three words.

In demonstrating the app to my colleagues, I used the location of the ActiveOps Head Office (the one with inadequate soap dispensers). The three-word combination returned was "sweat, retire, congratulations". It seemed eerily appropriate to a life in service operations.

I wish the inventors well in their pursuit to commercialise the invention. I'd like to think that those that solve genuine problems will succeed.

We often sit in "sweat, retire, congratulations" debating how best to explain the problems that we solve and how to find solutions for those we have yet to solve. The first of these (explaining what we actually do) is the one that we have the most trouble with.

The discussion goes a bit like this.

Person one (let's call them Richard).

"We're like Uber. We solve the problem of uncertainty. With Uber, you know when your cab will arrive, how much it will cost and where you are when you're on the journey. Uber isn't more comfortable, safer or cheaper than the alternatives, it's just more certain.

In service operations you have thousands of different tasks. They all take different times to do and the work is split across hundreds of places (myriad queues within myriad systems). So how do I ever know how much there is to do, how much I have done and what's outstanding?

And that's just the start of the problem.

You have thousands of people doing the thousands of tasks. Each person has different skills, works at a different rate, takes holiday at a different time, is sick in an annoying unpredictable way and does lots of other things in addition to their core work (projects, learning and development, meetings).

So, how do I know my people are going to do the work that I have to do (even if I managed to work out how much there was to do).

We solve this problem. We show you, across all your types of work, how much there is to do, the resource that you have to do it and whether you'll do what you had planned to.

We make the uncertain if not quite certain (because nothing ever goes exactly to plan) highly predictable. You're in control"

Person two (let's call him Stuart)

"That's all very well Richard and I fully agree that we put leaders in control of their operations, but people don't buy control. We've yet to find to COO that says "the main problem is that I'm not in control, can you help me".

They have burning platforms to solve, so in explaining what we do we need to focus on the outcomes that come from being more in control.

The outcome that many of our customers want is to contribute to their efficiency targets. Our clients have all this hidden capacity and what we do is to help them release this. So, what we do is to get a lot more from already busy teams."

Persons three, four and five

"Stuart you're too obsessed with numbers. Whilst we bring control and control releases capacity let's remember that businesses are really about people.

By being in control, you are able to do things on time with much more surety and that makes customers happier.

And, because crises and panics are avoided in a controlled environment, operational risk reduces and it's a better place to work.

You're also to demonstrate to regulators, business partners and boards the control that you have and this creates confidence in your leadership."

I can imagine the same debates amongst the founders of What3Words. How do we convey all the benefits of our work in the simplest way so that millions of people download our app.

I don't know how our debate will end (or indeed if it ever will) but I'm certain of one thing.

Whilst three words to describe life in service operations may be "sweat, retire, congratulations", for our clients we bring the hope of moving to "control, thrive, chill".

(For those of a literal nature, Control.Thrive.Chill is in the middle of the Queen Maud Gulf Bird Sanctuary in Nunavut, Northern Canada).



“Stuart has over 28 years of experience of leading change in service operations. His career has spanned project and programme management, strategy, consulting and leading operations divisions and functions. After 17 years with HSBC working in the UK and India, he moved to Abu Dhabi heading operations for ADCB.

Stuart joined ActiveOps in 2016 and leads its Customer Success function.”

Stuart Pugh, Chief Customer Officer, ActiveOps