Meet The New Consumer

New consumer

The word revolution is overused, but in the past five odd years, there has been a significant change in how customers engage with products and service providers. Thanks to a combination of technologies, the consumer of 2015 is vastly different from 2010.

Let’s look at 6 specific points of change, which will reshape how you need to engage with consumers today.


The Encyclopaedia Effect: The Consumer Knows More
When a customer walks into a TV showroom today, the smart money is on the probability that he or she knows more about the product than the person behind the counter. In part this is exacerbated by the high turnaround and relative inexperience of shop floor staff, but also because consumers today have all the means and have learnt to thoroughly research their purchase – including features, price comparisons, technologies, accessories and performance. Contributing to this is the ease of garnering information via social media.

How ready are you to deal with this consumer? If you’re a retailer, is this a nightmare scenario or are you able to use this to your advantage? Do you arm your shop floor staff with information? Do you enable consumers to do their own research in the store? Do you provide enough authentic information out there for consumers – so they can trust your information?

In many ways, this puts the onus back squarely on the product or service delivery. You can no longer paper over the inferiority of your products through better marketing or better sales. This is a wake up call for product development and service design people. Get it right or you will be found out.

BYOW: Bring Your Own Web

When I last bought an airline ticket from Pune to Chennai in India, I asked the question on facebook about whether I should fly Airline X who had recently had some bad press and I wanted to check if it was a good idea to fly with them. About twenty people responded. Eighteen said it was a really bad idea (one person was being ironic and one was professionally involved with the airline). I was able to make a decision based on a cumulative 5 minutes of research.

It’s the internet to go. It’s carrying wikipedia, amazon, google and the the world’s product databases in your pocket. Earlier, the physical world and the digital world were distinct. You did your comparison shopping on the web and then took a print out to the store. Now you take the web with you to the store. You scan items with your phone and price compare then and there. Or pull up reviews

and product comparisons. Or check calorific values and nutritional advice. This is not a small evolutionary change. It is game changing.

We know that the mobile phone has already in larger or smaller measures replaced wrist watches, calculators, sat-navs & maps, time-tables and a host of other products. Even a spirit level, if you’re into DIY. But it’s ability to tap into the www wherever and whenever you like is arguably its killer app.

And what about your consumer? What is she checking for while selecting your product? Are you making it easier to find that information? Are you enabling or constricting this behaviour? Does your sales process factor in the always addressable consumer?

Generation M: Beyond Millenials

You’ve probably become accustomed to classifying yourself as a digital immigrant or a digital native. Maybe your kidds are the natives in your household. The “digital generation” aren’t even a homogenous group any more. The internet generation is a different breed from the mobile generation.

The mobile generation, or as Tammy Erickson calls it in this HBR article, the Re-Generation, was born around 1995 or later, is the generation that wants to swipe every screen they come across, and expects to be on multiple screens at the same time. This generation is all about expectations of connectivity, and being willing participants in solving issues – digital activists or at least aware of their role and influence by the virtue of a simple “like”.

If we are to go with this classification, this generation is about to enter the work force, armed with the ability to touch-text like their parents could touch-type. This generation can start a flash mob or, unfortunately, a riot from their hand held devices.

If you’ve been thinking about the “mobile-first” mantra – this is probably the generation of users it is critical for. Expect your first point of contact with consumers from this generation to be on the mobile device. Maybe even a significant part of all your interactions will be on the device. 

Perhaps it’s time to start thinking beyond mobile-first, to mobile-only. How geared up for you for this mobile-only relationship?

The Shazam Effect: Telescoping AIDA

Back then (10 years ago), you heard a song, you tried to find out what it was, maybe you heard it again, then on the radio. Somebody told you what the song was if you were able to hum it. Or you searched the lyrics on the internet. You went to the music store / Amazon and bought the cd, if it was worth the £7.99, or whatever the arbitrary price point for the cd was.

Now you hear and like a song that you’ve never heard before, you “Shazam” it, and it tells you the song, artist, and offers you the chance to buy it with a single click off itunes. In 30 seconds, from never having heard the song, you now own it.

This telescoping of the traditional “AIDA” marketing and sales cycle is what the mobile world is accelerating. Real time is in. Waiting is out. Consumers are starting to expect this in more and more areas. Whether its your bank account or your energy bill, or an itemized break up of your estimate for fitting out a new nursery, there is an increased expectation to make it available now.

How real time is your business? How long do customers have to wait for information about your products and services? How much self service do you enable in the information buffet?


The Interface is Dead: Long Live The Interface

We’ve argued about multi-screens, second-screens and even third screens, but what is happening now, is much more amorphous. The screen is vanishing, yet it’s everywhere. On your watch, in your line of sight from a wearable frame, on your shoes and in your car. In fact, sometimes it’s not a screen at all, just a natural interface. Think of Nest, or Amazon Echo, and it’s not a screen that comes to mind, is it? And once we get into the internet of things, the environment will be one giant interface.

With both computing and interfaces becoming much more amorphous, you and your consumer will always be connected in multiple ways. Are you ready for this kind of commitment?

Federated Identities

The two biggest challenges historically, used to be creating a single view of consumer data and marketing to a segment of one. Today, both are addressable with current technology. This project from Metlife, US is a great example of the former, and Amazon, Apple and Google all do a good job of the latter. The conceptual battle ground has moved. What’s even more granular than the individual? Federated identities.

Your customer in her office and your customer at the park with her kids are not really the same persona. Her needs are different, different receptors are at work, her emotional states are different. How can you tailor the messaging to this kind of contextual personas which are segments of an individual? This is very relevant if we’re going to talk about real time and always connected consumers. You have to model the different personas within a single person, based on context. This is your next assignment, should you accept it.

In Conclusion

These categories are just useful labels to stick onto a wide set of complex and ongoing changes. The journey isn’t over yet, but already, not recognising and adapting to these changes could mean that you are out of step with the consumer of today.

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Digi-Tally: Through My Digital Viewfinder, Jan 21, 2015

This is still the week of the CES after-glow, and there’s a lot of reflection in the media about what we saw at CES. In a nutshell, and as summarised in the TWIT podcast, no tablets and more cars. Autonomous vehicles has been one of the areas that has moved forward quicker than most of us had anticipated and may have great positive externalities by way of enabling a sharing economy for transport. In much the same way as the word “television” has been redefined in the past decade, we may be entering a similarly transformative phase for ‘automobiles’. It may well be a reaffirmation of the name – a self driving car is after all truly auto-mobile. But increasingly we may start to see the car as a network, a node on a larger network, or a collection of smart (and inter-changeable) components. On the other hand the broader IOT examples keep mushrooming, and we’ll no doubt be exposed to weird and wonderful examples of the power of Internet of Things – from smart security to home automation, and from wearable health and wellness monitors to self managed environments.

It’s also been the week for spotlighting the great transition of technology eras – as we move from the PC & desktop era into the untethered, wireless, mobile and ubiquitous computing era, the struggles of Intel and IBM amongst the behemoths of the 90s and 00’s are sharply in focus. Intel shipped over 100m chips, but are still dramatically dependent on the shrinking PC market. They’ve made an entry into the wearables, tablets and sensors space (interestingly, by acquiring a Chinese firm), but the numbers are still small and analysts aren’t convinced yet. IBM have just announced a 11th straight quarter of declining revenues. The slowdown is precipitated by the hardware business, with the digital arms, including mobile, security and cloud showing strong growth but very low numbers. Overall, a 16% growth in “digital” is probably not good enough, and the combined weight of 27% is impressive, but you sense that the bits that are big aren’t growing fast enough and that the parts that are growing well, aren’t big enough, to actually create an overall positive outlook for IBM just yet. At Cognizant, we often speak about the shifts of the “S-curves” we are currently in between the Web era S-curve (dominated by fixed wireless and PCs) to a digital S-curve – dominated by ubiqutous, nano-computing and wireless connectivity. Intel and IBM’s challenges are symptomatic of the difficulty of transitioning success from one wave to the next. But to state the blindingly obvious, they will not be alone. How will your business make this jump?

I continue to believe that 2015 will be a year of digital infrastructure. Broadly speaking this should include cloud, middleware and security, for most large enterprises. Of these, security has been much in the spotlight of late, with Sony obviously being the most high-profile victim. But arguably, despite the political intrigue and the alleged involvement of North Korea, the hacking of the US Central Command should be more akward, geopolitically speaking. This list of famous hacks from The Telegraph has some fascinating nuggets. From the unintentional Morris worm (Morris is now a professor at MIT), to the Target and Sony Hacks of the last 12 months. Two trends stand out. The first is the increasingly political colour of the hacks – indicating that this is now a serious form of warfare or international espionage. The second is the simplicity of many of these hacks. DDOS, phishing, these aren’t particularly sophisticated attacks, but they indicate that as humans we often represent the threats and weak links in the security environments of our organisations.

The HBR carried this great example of the success of Nordstrom’s digital strategy. I think all success stories tend to get over-simplified to an impractical level, in our hunt to find an easy formula. Usually there are dozens, if not hundreds of things that need to go right for a major project to work well, and it only takes a few to not work well, for it to be a limited result or an outright failure. This is why we have many more failures than successes of course. So while I agree about the arguments in this piece, I would hesitate to consider this as a necessary and sufficient condition for digital success. Nordstrom’s strategy comprises of a focus on customer experience, and the extensive use of digital (SMACIT) tools across the length and breadth of the business, to effectively create a new business model. As always, both God and the devil lie in the details.

And what should we make about Google’s change of tack on Google glass? It was initially interpreted as Google pulling the plug on a venture with mixed success, which it has a history of doing. But it seems apparent now that Google are taking a leaf out of Apple’s book and going design-first. By handing this product to Tony Faddel, of Nest and iPod fame, Google seem to be acknowledging that the technology (which works) needs to be nested inside a highly usable, and ideally beautiful product. This is hardly a revelation but if this is indeed the thinking, then it’s wonderful to see Google, the spiritual home of engineers, acknowledge the role of design and user experience.

Also, at CES, there was much buzz about more wearables – watches from Sony and HTC, and other devices. Smart watches look like being the wearable de l’annee, but the hunt for the killer app is still on. Any guesses? What would you use a smart watch for? What problem could you solve? Or what wonderful new benefit could you imagine? Like many others now, I don’t wear a watch to being with, so it would have to be a compelling benefit to make me wear a watch again (one more device to manage!).

It would be remiss of to not mention this video from Ola Cabs in India which a colleague kindly sent me. It’s refreshing to see such a stark focus on user experience from an engineering point of view, rather than design alone. Anybody looking to build a product should see this.

And finally, on a lighter note, this set of maps, yet another example of the emotive power of data in our lives, my favourite is the first map, on second languages spoken in the boroughs of London. Amongst other things, it shows you the patterns of immigration and the abundance of Indian and Polish people in London. May be there needs to be a new alliance for the IPOs (people of Indian and Polish Origins) a microcosm of a geo-political shift, a trading block and a platform for cultural enrichment hitherto overlooked. I mean, all this technology, data and understanding should bring us closer, right?

Internet of Things – Hype & Hope

(I had the privilege of speaking about IOT at the Oxford Technology and Media forum yesterday. What follows is the gist of my session and some thoughts from the panel discussion)

The tech industry is often guilty of pushing technology solutions to consumer without focusing on the benefits, the emotions and simplicity. Invariably, businesses that get it, do better at selling tech to consumers. Apple are clearly the masters at it, but UK customers will know that after many years of ‘interactive television’ discussions, what customers bought were ‘sky plus’ and ‘red button services’. (The technology didn’t actually deliver on the promise, but that’s a different story).

So we come to the Internet of Things and I believe, we’ve swung to a different end of the pendulum. We’ve created a pithy, catchy phrase, something that everybody can relate to and not be daunted by the jargon. I would personally have preferred the internet of stuff (stuff is cooler than things). But the internet of things means (pardon the expression) bugger-all when it comes to actually buying, implementing or solving something.

Maybe I’m being harsh. It’s a catch-all word conveying a general wave of technologies much like “digital convergence” in the broadcast and comms space. But it’s a very loaded phrase and masks many layers of complexity that haven’t yet been resolved to the point where they can be implemented. Or even understood by the consumer.

The IOT includes communication between machines, between people and machines, and also between people and people via machines. It includes wearables, and all manners of sensors, and an ever increasing ocean of data, an implicit assumption of an economically viable, reliable and available network. And so far, very few standards.

After all, we’re all spoilt by the Internet – in the world of standards driven browsers, we only had to worry about the browser environment. The most complex questions in the early days of the web included ‘web safe’ colours. And later, pushing the limits of HTML. You never had to think about the OS, the device (are you viewing the website on a Dell or IBM laptop?) You didn’t have to think about whether the user was sitting or standing or walking around. And all you had to know was a URL, and the internet would find the website from over 50 million computers in a fraction of a second. Even transactions and ecommerce are now taken for granted. 

In the IOT world, all these are non-standard and have to be thought from scratch. What’s the user interface of a ‘thing’? If it’s a sensor on a coffee machine vs a door, how should we access the data, how can interact with the thing? The design challenge moves from an ‘interface’ design to an experience and even environment design. Who designs the experience of walking into a retail store which is armed with iBeacons or other sensors? Design challenge will range from fitting an antenna while managing heat dissipation, to figuring out how to retail product aesthetics while adding a bunch of tech.

Service design has been a term in vogue for a few months now, but is fundamental to the creation of IOT models. We must take a design centric view and build from there. That’s the only way we’ll get around to focusing on the right problems to solve, to ensure adoption.

As with all emerging technologies, we’re in the world of ‘compound change’ – where each layer builds on previous layers, and so it creates an exponential change curve, which is near impossible for us to predict, since we’re still very used to thinking in linear terms. What is intuitive to me, is that we’ll get entirely new companies dominating the IOT space, in the way that FB, LinkedIn and Twitter dominate the social sphere, and Google and Amazon dominate the web, Apple and Samsung dominate mobile devices and Microsoft and Intel dominated the Desktop world.

Because, this will take a whole new business model. It will shift value, destroy old models and create entirely new services. Most often, we think of new tech as better ways of doing what we do today. So the ‘better’ model leads us to thinking about how our fridge will tell us when it’s out of milk. Rather than ‘different’ models – perhaps our fridge telling us which of the foods we’re storing has the earliest use-by date, so we can modify our consumption appropriately. Or other more imaginative and useful behaviours.

Undoubtedly the way in which business models will evolve will involve adding layers of services to existing and new products. The value of the service will outstrip the value of the product. You may pay more for the service of tracking your weight and the feedback on your lifestyle and diet, than you do for the weighing scale itself. In fact asset ownership models may change, with companies willing to give you the asset for free in order to lock you into the service, or simply, follow an asset leasing model, which brings down your outlay but enables longer term revenue stream for the seller. Soon we should be able to view this information and services layer explicitly and this explicit-isation of the service and information layer may be one of the biggest sources of consumer value in the IOT. This would enable us to understand better the total cost of any product (say a sweater, or a vaccuum cleaner) and make different choices on that basis. It would also align value realisation with costs – imagine a washing machine which you lease and pay per use.

Although it’s tempting to consider just the things we acquire and own, there are all those things we use, which form the asset base for service delivery, from smart meters, to hotel rooms and railway stations to rented cars. These can all also follow the same principles of creating explicit service and information layers, so that maintenance, usage, and cost and value can all be tracked more easily. Then you have natural resource and public environments – weather, floods, pollution tracking, and more.

As has been noted, it is almost impossible to talk about IOT and emerging technology of any kind without talking about data, privacy and security. I used to think, like everybody else, about a data brokerage, or info-mediary. Now I think data-brokerage should be a feature built into every product. A data brokerage module will ensure that consumers data is stored, transacted and valued in a way that is fair to both sides, and in a transparent manner. Really, you can’t ask for more than that.

Undoubtedly the IOT is a big deal. We’re talking about billions of connected devices changing the way we live our everyday lives. The transformativer potential of this can barely be imagined. I just hope we use this to solve some of the bigger problems we face – the energy crisis, caring for an ageing population, getting supplies more efficiently to the needy, across the world. And not spending too much time debating whether our kettle should gossip with our washing machine.

Digital Transformation: From TOM to EOM

TOM / EOM – sounds like a soup you might order. But for the purpose of this discussion, put your appetite to one side, and think about Digital Transformation. 

 

TOM or the Target Operating Model is the staple of the consulting framework in transformation environments. The logic being, you have an initial operating model and you enter a transitional phase, driven by internal and external change, and you emerge with a new “target” operating model. It’s an excellent construct and very useful for delivering change. 

 

In the digital arena, though the idea of the Target Operating Model is challenged because of a number of reasons. 

 

Critically, it assumes that the change is a finite and one time activity. This is no longer true. Consider the landscape today. You enter a phase of virtualisation of your servers and networks, and before you finish that you’re in the middle of the mobility revolution. You combine cloud and mobility to create another transformation and everybody is talking about big data and social analytics. And then there’s the Internet of things, machine two machine and smart environments waiting to happen. So which points do you pick as the start and end of the change? And if you took this whole set as one change, would you even survive it?

 

And then, if the change is not a finite or a single event, what do you assume as your end state or ‘target’ environment? And if there is no target environment you can define, how can you create a target operating model? Would it not be outdated even as you were implementing it? 

 

There could be an argument that these individual technology waves do not affect the business model and are just technology changes. I would disagree with that. Yes, moving from one vendor to another, or upgrading from version n to n+1 is a technology change, though even those projects need to be seen as business change projects. But the waves of technology I called out earlier – from Cloud, to Mobile, to IOT are all pretty fundamental shifts – often creating deep changes in business models. 

 

To add to these problems, as this article in the Forbes highlights, many organisations undertake digital transformation without actually knowing what it is. Many don’t really understand the transformation, many others just see it as platform upgrades. 

 

So here’s the bad news, your digital transformation project is not a one time exercise, there is no target environment and so your target operating model may be in need of an update by the time it’s bedded in. 

 

The likely scenario is that there will be multiple waves of transformation. And here onwards they will all be digital (or at least until we come up with a new word). 

 

Which leads me to my proposition – that perhaps the right way to think about this is as an Evolving Operating Model, rather than a Target Operating Model. 

 

What would be the key features of an evolving operating model? Here are three key ones, though there may well be more. 

 

Building a change capability – at the core of this is the creation of a Culture of change adaptability. I’ve consulted for many organisations where the smallest change has to be handled with kid-gloves and is a source of anxiety and organisational stress. These are all big changes we’re talking about, so there’s a lot of work to be done to make people change friendly. This should ideally be reflected in contracts with employees. HR needs to take a leading role here and ep build a culture of change through awareness, education, self-empowerment and counselling. At the same time, leadership needs to invest by ensuring the right people are chosen and then given the time to grow into this change culture. Based on my experience, there are parts of the world, such as Europe, where this would be a harder process than, say, in Asia. European business cultures are much more rigid about roles and function, and these are often defended by regulation. Also, in Europe, there is often a much higher premium on matching exact experience to a role, rather than bet on adaptability. One of the ways to address this is to balance the majority of such fixed role people with a handful of adaptors – people who can foster a pro-change environment within the business. 

 

For example, I met a European company in the travel segment who could not even change business rules in their enterprise apps, or implement a mobile app store without validating the decisions with worker councils. 

 

Funding Change: Not a capital expense but the cost of doing business: Build in the cost of change into your cost of running the business. Rather than the one hit capital expense of a digital transformation project, budget for change annually, that LOBs and divisions can draw from, with the right checks and balances to ensure governance is provided. There is every likelihood that each of the next five years will require significant changes to some part of your business or the other. Rather than running it as a giant centralised project, or leaving this to individual departments and LOB’s who may not value this investment, organisations should explore creating an investment bucket which is made available to teams based on their justification, against a stated vision. But this investment is locked down for change efforts and cannot be used for other purposes. 

 

Earlier this year, the BBC announced a program of saving £48m and reinvesting at least £29m of that into Digital Transformation services across channels, mobile and digital journalism. Cooperative Bank had set aside £500m on IT alone, to enable it’s digital transformation. Your budgets may be comparable to BBC, or Cooperative Bank, but in all probability they represent significant amounts of money. 

 

The big bang approach assumes that one large and hugely diverse project is the best way of optimising the way this budget is spent. Reality may be very different. 

 

Instrument your company: Build an instrumented organisation where process change can be systemised easily, using BPM, middleware, SOA, and other architectural approaches. This is fundamental in order to plan, implement and measure change. For example, if you want to change your mobile customer service layer, with new processes without necessarily having to make big changes in your CRM or ERP systems, you need a decoupled approach that will allow you to modify or even replace your mobile front end without always having to change a legacy application. But also, it will be faster and quicker to implement a new process if the systems can change quickly, rather than become a symbol of the organisational inertia. 

 

A good analogy and one you hear often in business discussions is about turning the tanker. We talk about large businesses being like large tankers – hard to turn. But your digital transformation should not be seen as that one awkward turn. It’s more like suddenly being in an environment where you will need to turn and often. The real challenge here is actually, how do you stop behaving like a hard to turn tanker? 

Why Digital Architectures Matter – A Business Perspective

I was recently in a discussion about digital architecture. There were half a dozen people in the discussion and everybody had a point of view, but there were two things prventing the discussion moving forward. The first was that we didn’t have an agreed view of digital architecture – a ‘what’. And the second was we didn’t have a ‘why’. 

 

My knowledge of technology architecture is limited at best. You would not want me anywhere near an actual architectural design discussion. But it was the ‘why’ question that fascinated me. Why is this relevant? Why should we bother discussing this? What’s at stake here? 

 

Let’s take a look at the competitive environments we live and work in. Increasingly, we are finding ourselves in a world of hyper-competition. What do I mean by that? 

 

First, we are competing on new parameters. Most industry leading businesses have done the basics, so the battleground for competition has shifted. Often the differentiation itself comes from an information driven or ‘digital’ part of the service. Last month, in New Jersey, US, I agreed with a colleague that a primary basis for choosing a rental car would be the quality of the SATNAV system. But it is also likely that you have done enormous amounts of optimisation on your operational models. I just read about UPS’s optimising routing by minimising the number of left turns (in the US) and their innovation on how to land cargo planes. 

 

Second, we are competing with entirely new types of players. Broadly there are 2 new types which require us to think harder. The first is the entry of established providers from other industries. For example, traditional banks have to worry about retailers many of whom are launching banking services. The second is the emergence of disruptive start ups. Once again, for Banks, you have new providers like http://www.simple.com or Square – each of whom may individually survive or perish, but collectively, they will pose some serious threats to your business model. 

 

Consider two more key trends: 

 

One, technology is now a part of the product. Almost every product. You can call it ‘smart’ or you can hide the technology but the chances that the tech component of your product is increasing annually as a percentage of your product’s value are extremely high. From Nike to Nest, everybody is doing this. 

 

Two, there is an ongoing service-isation. As most companies seek that sweet spot between pure products and pure services, technology, and specifically software, is often the delivery mechanism for the service component. After all, when you buy the Nest thermostat, what you’re really buying is the service of ambient temperature at home. Or when you buy a washing machine from Samsung, for example, you’re really buying the service of cleaning clothes. So could Samsung theoretically also send you analyses based on weather to let you know when clothes will dry faster without a dryer? Or perhaps it might analyse the performance of your washing and let you know that you’re overloading the washing machine on weekends. You can easily think of ways in which almost every product can enhanced by a service layer, which is driven by data and software. 

 

What does all this mean to our discussion on digital architectures? Here are some questions to ponder: 

 

1. If your competitor provides any core service at a lower cost than yours, could you survive in the long run? If a broadcaster can run a channel at 10% lower operating costs, or lower ad-sales costs by 10%, can their competition survive? Does your architecture allow you to run core services at a competitive cost model? 

 

2. If your competition can get new services to market faster than you can, would you retain customers? 

 

3. How do you compete against companies that have no legacy? You can get away in an internal discussion by talking about how much of a challenge your legacy is, when it comes to making changes or adding a new service. But do your customers care, when they can get the same thing elsewhere? 

 

4. Is your digital architecture designed to handle the new requirements of competition, new services, and the technology component of your products? 

 

So coming back to the challenges of digital architecture, I believe there is an absolute requirement set and a competitive requirement set. The absolute set may contain things such as scalability and response time. We learnt from the early days of the web that traditional architectures and spikes on websites were not a match in heaven. Even now, major sites crash when the world flocks to see something unfold or buy something everybody covets. Architecture that can handle spikes is a critical requirement in an absolute sense. You can estimate the boundaries and plan for them. Speed/ response time is another – we did a project once where it would take a few seconds to respond, and that was unacceptable, of course. After due analysis we discovered that each request was being routed via enterprise servers across the atlantic and back, so obviously even the physical set up needs to be understood. Other absolute requirements may include security and handling specific functionality such as streaming or transactions. 

 

But to my points above, all of this will point to navel gazing unless you also consider your competitive requirements for your architecture. This leads to benchmarking the costs of key processes, the time taken for changes, new products, upgrades and of course, your customer interface.

 

So whether you’re like UPS – extracting the last bit of efficiency so you can be that half a second faster than the competition – or whether you are the competition to UPS, the focus of your digital architecture needs to be (a) ensuring it can do all the things you need to do for your customers and (b) ensuring it allows you to be compete – by making you faster, cheaper, quicker or better. 

 

That should be the starting point of the discussion for digital architecture. 

Can IOT Revive The Connected Homes Opportunity?

In 2011, I authored the Intellect (now TechUK) report on Connected Homes, for the UK. Among the key findings were (1) that while this is a massive opportunity, the inherent cross-industry environment creates a number of challenges, from standards, to service optimisation, to ownership; (2) that the infrastructure in most homes will need to be upgraded – with challenges to networks, physical infrastructure, and home equipment; and finally (3) a more pervasive level of connectivity may be required for essential services such as healthcare and education, so as not to exacerbate the digital divide. 

What did surprise me during the course of that research was the complete absence of any kind of linkage between property prices / value and home technology or connected services. Whether it was real estate brokers, property portals, or architects and developers, there were no real incentive to put in better infrastructure or technology, as there was no perceived value (i.e. reflected in a correspondingly higher price). 

As the population ages, and with a bigger challenge of care for the elderly, I fully expect this link to get established in future, and was happy to see at least one article commenting on the lack of connectivity in high value properties. Arguably, this is just anecdotal, and a one-off, but it’s a start! 

More excitingly, we are seeing a re-emergence of connected services with the rapid evolution of the sensor economy and the Internet of Things. 

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, in February, it was noteworthy that Telcos, especially the Asian ones, were deeply committed to the sensor economy. Having lost out on OTT services in the last spurt of innovation, Telcos seem to have recognised that expecting to get paid because of their structural role in the ecosystem is a bad strategy (notwithstanding the recent Netflix deal). This time around, elcos are participating more wholeheartedly in the service delivery. From smart t-shirts to track your heartbeat to birthing systems for farm animals, and from home-automation to education, a slew of services are now being provided from telcos which put the user at the core and keep the technology under the hood. NTT Docomo reported that they are now making over $10bn per year from non-traditional (Voice/ Text) services.

Cow BirthingIt’s not just telecoms, but a number of other businesses are now eyeing the home for connected services. Insurance companies, utility firms and technology majors such as Google (Nest, TV), Apple (TV) and others have their eye on your home. The Internet of Things has the potential to democratise a lot of these services, so that small, 3rd party companies can build simple and innovative solutions with access to devices and data. 

Personal and home technology will be the next battleground, therefore, and may be the connected home will finally become a reality. 

 

 

10 Talking Points From the Mobile World Congress

1. Wearables are evolving fast. 

Almost as visible as the new smartphones, was the Samsung Gear 2 smart watches.  There has been much talk about wearables, but this is a big step forward for a number of reasons. The device features are themselves noteworthy, for example the curved AMOLED 1.84 inch screen. But also the focus on healthcare and wellbeing is clearly taking on the market so far dominated by Fitbit and JawBone. The changeable straps provide a nod to fashion, and under the hood, it has a Tizen Operating system, which itself comes from a family tree of operating system innovation from Nokia, Intel, Samsung and the Linux foundation.

The programmability of the device will no doubt provide a slew of clever applications, which will take away the oh so onerous effort of taking your phone out to answer calls, check emails, or even do video calls. The Gear Neo 2 has a 2 MP camera and even a remote for your TV. 

It doesn’t stop there. We also saw t-shirts that can monitor heartbeats while you run, and smart gloves from Fujitsu with which you can point to things and using AR glasses, get more information about them. The Sony smartbands are certainly eye-catchinly stylish. 

But for me, the next wave of innovations will be the one to watch – when the open systems in wearable devices allow swarms of innovative developers to create entirely new ways to use wearables, in ways not even thought of yet. 

 

2. Ecosystem Conference 

Ginny Rometty, the IBM CEO, accurately called this an ‘ecosystem conference, more than a mobile conference’. Increasingly, it’s hard to separate the components. Cloud, Mobile, hardware and software, middle layer and front end tools, wearables, watchables, eatables, sensors, all the boundaries are getting blurry. Moreover, the value delivery is via the ecosystem, rather than any individual layer. 

This means that solutions thinking needs to span the ecosystem and not focus on any one layer alone. This in turn requires a number of related competencies to be brought together in one place. 

Seems like an obvious point but you’d be surprised how uncommon this common-sense is. 

 

3. Telcos in the services game

Telcos have been the perennial bridesmaids in the IP enabled world. All the value created by World Wide Web, VOIP, messaging, OTT TV and other innovations have stood on the shoulders of telecom networks, yet Telcos have seen little of the value. A part of the reason could well be that Telcos have wanted to get rewarded for being structural enablers, rather than end-service providers. 

The penny seems to have dropped, though as evidenced by the number of Telecom providers, especially in the APAC market, who have end user services built around innovative and mature smart systems. These are, importantly, not sold as technology but as services. NTT has a “Cow Birthing Service” built around monitoring body temperatures of pregnant animals, and alerting the right time for delivery. 

 

4. Old Media left behind?

Tucked between the presentation from Cisco and Shazaam, was a presentation from Bob Bakish, from Viacom. It was a very good presentation underpinned by a well thought-through content strategy, yet it felt like we were being dragged back into the past after being shown a vision of the future. 

I couldn’t put my finger on it for a while, and then it dawned on me. This was a good old-media presentation but it missed the transformation to services, analytics and interactive thinking which now characterises most successful and evolving digital media businesses of today, such as Netflix. 

 

5. Dealing with intelligent worlds 

It is no longer a big shout to suggest that the world is becoming more smart, programmable and intelligent. But perhaps our ability to deal with smarter environments is not yet developed to the extent required. This could impact privacy, security and many other areas. 

It could also make a difference to how well we’re able to extract the maximum value of our smart surroundings. Mark Zuckerberg spoke about the need to connect the whole planet, and called out the fact that many people don’t see the value of the Internet, so they don’t know why they should invest. Similarly, how many of us are really equipped to deal with a smart city or a smart environment in the optimal way? 

 

6. Yet another phone? 

Samsung switched strategies to launch the S5 at the MWC. There was also the wearables, and a few other interesting phones – the Yotaphone and the BlackPhone for starters. But there seems to be a level of fatigue with more marginal improvements. We’re going to need some truly disruptive innovation to get excited about smartphones again. 

The S5 has biometrics, the latest connectivity tools, and more megapixels than you can count on your fingers (16 to be precise). The most interesting feature of the S5 may be it’s power saving feature – when the phone is down to the last 10% energy, it has the option of switching to black and white and shutting down a lot of power consuming services, to extend the battery life by a few hours. 

 

7. Shazaam’s next trick. 

It could well be Shazaam that changes the TV advertising landscape going forward. Having solved the “what’s that song?” problem, and having turned it’s attentions to identifying television program, Shazaam is now offering a way of engaging with ads. When the app recognises the advertising, it offers ways in which you can engage with the ad – through a number of ways, over the phone. 

By ensuring that it is connected to the advertising on TV, there is a clear element of triggering the engagement. A number of questions will still need to be addressed, but by making it easier for consumers to engage, which is the problem Shazaam solves, this could be the way forward for interactive advertising. 

 

8. Innovation & Value 

There is much talk about innovation in the mobile environment in general, and especially at events like the MWC. But it’s harder to identify where the real value lies, versus where there is just an interesting app. Messaging may not be new and exciting, but continues to attract gravity defying valuations. What is innovative about mobile messaging in 2014? Yet, some 200 million (400 m if you go by Whatsapps December announcements) are using the service every month. 

The trick may be in simplicity. Whatsapp does not try to do anything apart from helping you message and talk to your friends and it doesn’t get in the way of the communication. Much like the early Twitter. The question of course is what happens now and how do you monitise this? 

Jan Koum, the founder suggested that Whatsapp will go after voice, with the same simplicity and customer focus. Who knows, may be video is next? Skype beware! 

Meanwhile other clever apps like CamMe (use a hand gesture to take better selfies) and Brewster (combine all your contacts), and Blippar (augmented reality using Google Glass and phone) made headlines. Their commercial value remains to be seen. 

 

9. Marginal innovation in payments 

I did go to the MWC hoping to get a glimpse of the future of payments. But I came back having witnessed only marginal innovations and the industry essentially shuffling it’s feet, waiting for a big move from somebody. 

That somebody might be Apple, who have over half a billion iTunes users with credit card information, an app to enable purchases through this environment (Apple Store App), about $150 bn in cash reserves, and some pending hardware patents for payment related areas. But of course this is not an MWC story, as Apple were only there in spirit. 

 

10. Architectures not clear yet 

John Chambers spoke about the critical need to get the architecture right, in the new world of digital services. The challenges is that as new technologies give rise to newer innovations and as sensors, wearables, mobile and web technologies collide to create new ideas, it’s quite hard to figure out what this architecture should be. Clearly something scalable, modular, service oriented, and capable of serving and receiving information from this array of end points is a must. And to bind all of this to some enterprise grade system of record. Easier said than done, methinks.