2016/2017 Shifting Battlegrounds and Cautious Predictions for Digital

Innovation slows down in mobile devices but ramps up in bio-engineering. Voice goes mainstream as an interface. Smart environments and under the hood network and toolkit evolution continues apace.

For most people I know, 2016 has ranged between weird and disastrous. But how was it for the evolution of the digital market?

The iPhone lifecycle has arguably defined the current hypergrowth phase of the digital market. So it’s probably a good place to start. In the post Steve Jobs world, it was always going to be a question about how innovative and forward thinking Apple would be. So far, the answer is not very. 2016 was an underwhelming world for iPhone hardware (though Apple has tried harder with MacBooks). Meanwhile, Samsung which you suspect has flourished so far by steadfastly aping Apple, ironically finds itself rudderless after the passing of Steve Jobs. It’s initial attempts at leapfrogging Apple have been nothing short of disastrous with the catastrophic performance of the new inflammable Note phones/ batteries. Google’s Pixel Phone could hardly have been timed better. By all initial accounts (I’m yet to see the phone myself) it’s comparable but not superior to an iPhone 7, Google’s wider range of services and software could help it make inroads into the Apple market. Especially given the overwhelming dominance of Android in the global OS market. The market has also opened up for One Plus, Xaomi and others to challenge for market share even in the west. Overall, I expect the innovation battleground to move away from mobile devices in 2017.

While on digital devices, things have been quite on the Internet of things front. There have been no major IOT consumer grade apps which have taken the world by storm. There have been a few smart home products, but no individual app or product stands out for me. As you’ll see from this list – plenty if ‘interesting…’ but not enough ‘wow’. I was personally impressed by the platform capabilities of enabling IOT applications, form companies such as Salesforce, which allow easy stringing together of logic and events to create IOT experiences, using a low code environment.

AR and VR have collectively been in the news a lot, without actually having breakthrough moment. Thanks to the increasing sophistication of VR apps and interfaces, with Google Cardboard and the steady maturing of the space. But the most exciting and emotive part of AR / VR has been the hololens and holoportation concepts from Microsoft – these are potentially game changing applications if they can be provided at mass scale, at an affordable cost point and if they an enable open standards for 3rd parties to build on and integrate.

Wearables have had a quiet-ish year. Google Glass has been on a hiatus. The Apple Watch is very prominent at Apple stores but not ubiquitous yet. It’s key competitor – Pebble – shut shop this year. Fitbits are now commonplace but hardly revolutionary beyond the increasing levels of fitness consciousness in the world today. There are still no amazing smart t-shirts or trainers.

The most interesting digital device of 2016 though, has been the Amazon Echo. First, it’s a whole new category. It isn’t an adaptation or a next generation of an existing product. It’s a standalone device (or a set of them) that can perform a number of tasks. Second, it’s powered almost entirely by voice commands “Alexa, can you play Winter Wonderland by Bob Dylan?”, third, and interestingly it comes from Amazon, for whom this represents a new foray beyond commerce and content. Echo has the potential to become a very powerful platform for apps that power our lives, and voice may well be the interface of the future. I can see a time the voice recognition platform of Echo (or other similar devices) may be used for identity and security, replace phone conversations, or also become a powerful tool for healthcare and providing support for the elderly.

Behind the scenes through there have been plenty of action over the year. AI has been a steady winner in 2016. IBM’s Watson added a feather to it’s cap by creating a movie trailer. But away from the spotlight, it has been working on gene research, making cars safer, and even helping fight cancer. But equally, open source software and the stuff that goes behind the websites and services we use every day have grown in leaps and bounds. Containerisation and Docker may not be everybody’s cup of tea but ask any developer about Docker and watch them go misty eyed. The evolution of micro services architecture and the maturing of APIs are also contributing to the seamless service delivery that we take for granted when we connect disparate services and providers together to order Uber cabs via the Amazon Echo, or use clever service integrators like Zapier

All of this is held together by increasing focus on design thinking which ensures that technology for the sake of tech does not lead us down blind alleys. Design thinking is definitely enjoying its moment in the sun. But I was also impressed by this video by Erika Hall that urges us to go beyond just asking users or observing them, and being additionally driven by a goal and philosophy.

2016 has also seen the fall of a few icons. Marisa Meyers has had a year to forget, at Yahoo. Others who we wanted to succeed but who turned out to have feet of clay, included Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos, and the continued signs of systemic ethical failure at Volkswagen. I further see 2016 as the year when external hard drives will become pointless. As wifi gets better, and cloud services get more reliable, our need to have a local back up will vanish. Especially as most external drives tend to underperform over a 3-5 year period. Of course, 2016 was the year of the echo-chamber – a reminder that social media left to itself insulates us from reality. It was a year when we were our worst enemies. Even through it was the Russians who ‘Hacked’ the US elections and the encryption debate raged on.

One of the most interesting talks I attended this year was as the IIM Alumnus meeting in London, where a senior scientist from GSK talked about their alternative approach to tackling long term conditions. This research initiative is eschewing the traditional ‘chemical’ based approach which works on the basis that the whole body gets exposed to the medication but only the targeted organ responds. This is a ‘blunt instrument’. Instead, the new approach takes an ‘bio-electronic’ approach. Galvani Bioelectronics, set up in partnership with Alphabet will use an electronic approach to target individual nerves and control the impulses they send to the affected organ, say the pancreas, for diabetes patients. This will be done through nanotechnology and by inserting a ‘rice grain’ sized chip via keyhole surgery. A successful administration of this medicine will ensure that the patient no longer has to worry about taking pills on time, or even monitoring the insulin levels, as the nano-device will do both and send results to an external database.

Biotech apart, it was a year when Google continued to reorganise itself around Alphabet. When Twitter found itself with it’s back to the wall. When Apple pondered about life beyond Jobs. Microsoft emerged from it’s ashes, and when Amazon grew ever stronger. As we step into 2017, I find it amazing that there are driverless cars now driving about on the roads, in at least one city, albeit still in testing. That we are on the verge of re-engineering the human body and brain. I have been to any number of awesome conferences and the question that always strikes me is, why aren’t we focusing our best brains and keenest technology on the worlds greatest problems. And I’m hopeful that 2017 will see this come to fruition in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

Here are 5 predictions for 2017. (Or around this time next year, more egg on my face!)

  • Apple needs some magic – where will they find it from? They haven’t set the world alight with the watch or the phone in 2016. The new MacBook Pro has some interesting features, but not world beaters yet. There are rumblings about cars, but it feels like Apple’s innovation now comes from software rather than hardware. I’m not expecting a path breaking new product from Apple but I’m expecting them to become stronger on platforms – including HomeKit, HealthKit and to seeing much more of Apple in the workplace.
  • Microsoft has a potential diamond in LinkedIn, if it can get the platform reorganised to drive more value for its, beyond job searches. Multi-layered network management, publishing sophistication, and tighter integration with the digital workplace is an obvious starting point. Microsoft has a spotted history of acquisitions, but there’s real value here, and I’m hoping Microsoft can get this right. Talking about Microsoft, I expect more excitement around Hololens and VR based communication.
  • I definitely expect more from Amazon and for the industry to collectively start recognising Amazon as an Innovation leader and held in the same esteem as Apple and Google. Although, like Apple, Amazon will at some point need stars beyond Bezos and a succession plan.
  • Healthcare, biotechnology, genetics – I expect this broad area of human-technology to get a lot of focus in 2017 and I’m hoping to see a lot more news and breakthroughs in how we engineer ourselves.
  • As a recent convert, I’m probably guilty of a lot of bias when I pump for voice. Recency effect, self referencing, emotional response over rational – yes all of the above. Voice is definitely going to be a big part of the interface mix going forward. In 2017, I see voice becoming much more central to the interface and apps planning. How long before we can bank via Amazon Echo?

Happy 2017!

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3 Easy Ways to Boost Your Mobile Strategy

mobile-app

 

It’s 2016 and almost a decade since Steve Jobs put a ding in the universe with the launch of the first iPhone. A significant part of my life in that time has been spent in delivering better business outcomes using mobile technologies. And as the iPhone 7 blinks it’s baby eyes at the world, here are some of the things I’ve learnt about mobile strategies. (If you’re wondering whether business should have a mobile strategy or just a business strategy, let me just suggest that you need to have a clear roadmap and strategy for how you’re going to exploit the mobile ecosystem. What you call it is up to you!). Assuming you are a progressive organisation, I would expect to see the following three things happening in your business:

It’s NOT a marketing problem: There has been a historical tendency to look towards the CMO when we think about mobile solutions. But people who make the investment of effort, time and attention, to download the your app are usually your existing customers, looking to make it easier to deal with you. These are the also committed customers who are self-selecting and need to be recognized and rewarded. This goes to the heart of your customer retention, cross & upsell and will directly impact your cost of servicing customers. When I was working for a major European airport we knew that the airport didn’t have a direct relationship with travellers, nor much data about the millions of people using the airport, yet there was a prevailing school of thought that the mobile website was good enough, and there was no business case for upgrading the mobile app. For any frequent user of a service, logging into a website every time is a nightmare. This is an operational and cost of servicing issue. Customer experience, after all, is a COO problem really. This is even more true as employee apps take centre stage. So if your COO and head of Channels aren’t involved and sponsoring your mobile strategy it might be time to rethink.

The New New Stack: A Whole New Architecture: In the last few years there have been a very quick turnover of the preferred ways for building mobile apps. You only have to look at the rate of change of Gartner terminology – from MCAP to MEAP to MADP as the flavour of the month. Cut to today and none of those are preferred options anymore. The axis has shifted again. Most apps are being built today on light-weight front-end tools involving some flavour of Angular with loose coupling to the back end via APIs. A word on API management is worthwhile here. As a manager, you don’t need to know about SOAP or REST but think about this as a much more modular setup, where the API layer simply pushes information out in a governed manner to whichever channel requires it – be it the mobile app, the website or a partner.

To get a sense of how valuable the API layer has become consider that Apigee have recently been bought by Google. Mashery, another API management platform was first bought by Intel and then acquired from Intel by Tibco. Other majors including IBM and CA have their own solutions in the space. APIs themselves are not new but the way they are written now and the platform through which they are managed and governed are relatively new and you’re missing a trick if your business lacks an API strategy.

There are also a number of low-code or no-code platforms. Fliplet, for example, allows you to build simple, and functional mobile apps with little or no coding. Of course, this doesn’t include scenarios where you need to connect to other systems or consume APIs. But even those can be added with relatively low effort. In the Business to Employee world which is defined by a number of micro-applications, this is a very good option.

Exploit New Behaviours: New Technologies often engender new behaviours. Probably one of the most salient in recent times is the swipe left/ swipe right behaviour that was made popular by dating apps like Tinder. Understanding these behaviour patterns and using them is key to reducing friction for your processes. Another new ‘behaviour’ is the mobile only customer behaviour – i.e. somebody who would rather transact only on the mobile device. Uber is a very good example of how massive this can be, but you will definitely see customers in future at both ends of the age spectrum, whose only device is a mobile device rather than a laptop.

What new behaviours will we become used to over the next 5 years? Will it be the invisible payment mode of Uber? The voice interface of Amazon Echo/ Alexa? Or will we find more ways of self-quantification for our personal and professional lives? The good news is that you don’t have to create new behaviours. You just need to keep abreast of them and ensure you’re able to exploit them.

What Is ‘Digital’?

Despite working in the digital space for years, now I was quite stumped a few weeks ago when i was asked to define it. Sometimes you can get away by circumlocution or to use the technically correct term, waffling. But given all the hype around digital transformation, I felt that it was a good time to try and get a working definition going. For one it helps to cut the hype. And two, clarifies what is NOT digital at a time when the label is being slapped around with abandon.

So I read descriptions of digital in the media, and on our competitors sites. I listened to analysts and and read books and white papers. I asked our clients what they were doing. And I spoke to the experts in Cognizant, and spent time just thinking about this. And I’m happy to say I’m willing to stick my neck out and try and define digital in less than 25 words.

Of course the problem with definitions is the tradeoff between pithiness, abstraction and comprehensiveness. You can be very pithy but be too abstract e.g. ‘Digital is the future of business’. Or you can take a whole page to define digital, but that’s a description and not a definition. So here’s my definition and you’re welcome to challenge it or differ with it, or adapt it as you wish.

Digital means: exploiting emerging technologies to create user / customer centric interfaces and data driven business models, leading to more agile, responsive and competitive business models.

Let’s break this up.

Emerging technologies are certainly a driving force of digital. It’s the reason why we’re having this conversation. But to be clear, there are many discrete elements that make up the emerging technology theme. Arguably the big bang for ‘digital’ is the launch of the iPhone – because it put powerful computers into people’s pockets. It democratised access and provided a platform for almost all the other innovations. Samsung’s (and others’) lower cost and Android driven imitation of the iPhone ensured a mass market for smart phones. Alongside the smart phone though, you have to consider the continuously evolving web 2.0 (are we still allowed to say that?) and the emergence and maturing of HTML5, Javascript and more frameworks to deliver slick web front ends than you can shake a smartphone at. HTML5 and the ever improving web have had a see-saw battle with native mobile platforms, frameworks and entire generations of technology have come and gone in the past 5 years. Remember MCAP and MEAP platforms, and the allure of cross platform development for mobile apps? All of this have also greatly helped social platforms – which includes Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and hundreds of messaging and collaboration platforms.

Behind the scenes: But this is not just about front end technologies. Moore’s Law continues to drive the cost of computing down, leading to significant capabilities to process data – be it the in-memory database capability of a SAP Hana or the emergence of Big Data, and our ability to analyse and make meaning of ever larger data sets in continuously decreasing cycle times. Newer and more efficient Graph (Neo4J) and clustered database models (Hadoop) are supplanting the once ubiquitous RDBMS providers. And the en masse shift to cloud infrastructure and smarter automation has created a whole universe of services – starting with the PAAS and now a generic ‘as a service’ nomenclature.

The Internet of Everything: And to top it all, the next wave of internet connected sensors and devices is just beginning. Another whole wave of connected and smart objects has the potential to change everything, again, in the way we buy and consume goods and services. The Internet of Things does not have a single killer app, yet, but it’s growth and spread nonetheless are accelerating.

Its not what you did, its how you did it: the shift in the underlying methodology has played its role. The maturing and widespread adoption of agile frameworks and the toolkits to deliver them is a key construct of digital. The rapid evolution of technologies both necessitates and enables a much more adaptive and cyclical approach to technology delivery.

Design thinking: Almost absurdly, all this fantastic technology is still not what truly drives the digital change we see in businesses us. That honour belongs to the emergence of design thinking and service design methodologies. Some of this is commonsensical and you would think should have been the norm rather than an innovation. But the mind-shift is fundamental. Industry leading businesses are now recognising the need to be customer journey driven. I use the word interface in a broad sense here and not just restricted to screens. The question to ask is how do your customers, partners and even employees interface with your business? Historically, this was driven by inside-out thinking. In other words, businesses decided how they wanted to run their processes and designed systems and interfaces to match those desired processes. So if a bank’s preference was for the customer to be in the branch while opening an account, that’s how the processes and systems were defined. In digital, those interfaces are conceptualised outside-in. This means the starting point is the user. What does she or he want to do? How does the prospective customer want to open the account? What are her constraints? What would make her choice easer and her experience better? Once you start thinking outside in – you reach a very different point in the way systems and processes are defined. And when you combine this user centric interface thinking with the technology opportunities that are emerging you begin to understand why transformation is the buzzword du jour.

Data Driven Decisions: Implicitly or explicitly, every decision we make (what to wear to work, for example) is made on the basis of data that we process (what meetings do I have, what is the dress code, what is the weather?). Complex decisions require more sophisticated data. Historically this data has not been available to us for many large and small decisions. How much to spend on the marketing campaign? Where to open the next store? Who to hire as a program leader for a new business area? How to implement a hot-desking policy? As a consequence, most businesses have relied on ‘experts’ for these decisions, whether they are from within the business or consultants brought in for the purpose. Experts use their wisdom which is often an implicit accumulation of data from deep experience in that area. What we are witnessing, thanks to the combination of lean thinking and instrumentation, is a seismic shift to more explicit data driven decision making. For example, if everybody used a smart phone to access the office for a month or two, it might provide data that suggests that wednesdays are the busiest day of the week while friday is the lightest. The latter may be visually obvious but the former may not. Or the data may show that on mondays, the average time spent in office by people is actually just 4 hours – because they are in meetings or on projects outside. Suddenly there is explicit data to influence your hot-decking policy depending on what your objectives were. This is a tiny example but very representative of how digital is reshaping our decision making. Now imagine this at scale and for the hundreds of decisions made every day and you get a sense of what I mean.

Responsive business models:  we are used to stability and to treating change as a temporary disruption between periods of stability. Not dissimilar to moving house. Increasingly though, we find ourselves in a state of continuous change. The disruption is not a passing inclemency, but it is the new normal. Think of moving from a house to a caravan, for example. What the combination of technologies, design thinking and data surfeit allow us, is to build a responsive or adaptive business model that is able to keep pace with a fast changing environment. Think evolving operating model instead of target operating model. Think of the cost of change as a part of the cost of doing business, not as a capital expenditure. Obviously, industry context is vital – Retail banks and media businesses are much further down the path of transformation than, say, infrastructure providers. But while the impact may vary, the change is universal. Digital is not therefore about B2C vs B2B, it’s not about marketing or about your social media. I believe this is fundamentally about your business model being impacted by better data, delivered at the point of decision making.

Agile Strategy: Seen in this way, it would therefore be logical to look at your strategy as an agile and evolving artefact. Many companies still look at 3 year or 5 year plans which are sequential. Instead, we should be looking at rolling 12 quarter roadmaps which reflect our strategy, but which can be modified on a quarterly basis, keeping a vision or end goal in mind. But more about that some other time.

The point of all this is to be competitive. And digital business models which use technology, design thinking and data optimally are far more competitive in the world we live in. I heard John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, say ‘Change will never be this slow again’. And 52% of companies from the Fortune 500 list of 2000 no longer exist. Collectively that sums up the challenges and dangers of being change resistant. So whether you agree with my definition of digital or not, a response to the change around us is not optional. Enjoy the ride!

Suggested reading:
Code Halos: Malcolm Frank, Ben Pring & Paul Roehrig
Being Digital: Nicholas Negroponte
Dataclysm: Christian Rudder
Mobile Mindshift: Ted Schadler, Josh Bernoff, Julie Ask
This Is Service Design Thinking: Marc Stickdorn  & Jakob Schneider
The Lean Start Up: Eric Ries

5 Challenges for Marketing In the 21st Century

Attention Deficiency
 
 
First there were letters, then came emails, then text messages and twitter. Our patience for longer communication has dwindled both as senders and receivers. Newspapers and long opeds have given way to snappy blogs and bullet point memos. Videos have replaced text, and short videos have replaced the longer formats. You get the gist – we are increasingly in an attention starved economy. 
 
Attention is fragmented, fleeting, and in generally small supply. Hyperactivity has been known medical problem for ages, but it was in the 1980’s that the condition was prefixed with “attention”.  The double whammy here is that even as attention grows more precious, the volume of noise keeps going up, so finding the signal becomes even harder. So what little attention we have, we must guard zealously. 
 
This is marketings first big problem. Marketing and advertising, as we know it today, is a hundred years old. It is no longer fit for purpose. Creativity in capturing attention still gets headlines, and this won’t change, but the goalposts are shifting constantly and the new rules are yet to be written. 
 
Google adwords seemed to provide some answers, but I think that our general mistrust of marketing messages cripples the value of adwords. We have all become experts in tuning out ads. Banners on pages, full page spreads in magazines, spots on television (usually coinciding with tea-making or a trip to the toilet), or ebook ads in Kindle magazines which you flip through with barely a thought. 
 
As a marketer therefore, your first challenge is getting through the noise, the fragmentation and ephimerality of messages, and actually register on the audiences attention span, without spending a kings ransom in the process. Especially if you’re not an already established and known brand. 
 
Every once in a while I notice a piece of marketing communication for a product that I’ve never heard of. But it’s almost always in a category I’m already interested in, and often filtered via friends feeds (FB/ Twitter etc.). I signed up for Carbonite, the online data back up service after I heard their ‘ad’ on a podcast – it wasn’t a traditional ad but the host of the talk show talking through the benefits of the product in a related category to the ongoing discussion. This morning I watched an interesting and interactive Honda ad because somebody posted it on Facebook. The last time I was actually influenced by a TV ad was …  er… I don’t remember really. 
 
Wanted: Action
 
Let’s assume you’ve actually solved the first problem. So you have my attention – perhaps for 15 seconds. Perhaps even 30. The next challenge is getting to action. What are you going to motivate me to do?
 
Historically, advertising and marketing spends have fallen into clear categories – strategic or branding type communication, intended to create a longer term desire; and short term tactical spends, intended to create an immediate sales boost. The latter typically comprising offers, coupons, and other enticement to act now. 
 
The first problem here, is that in the attention deficiency model, everything is about NOW. It’s either now, or it’s gone. (I’m stretching the point here, but this is generally the trend). If I’m not in the market for a car, you’re wonderful car advert is not likely to register beyond a point. Because I know that when I do want to buy a car, all the information in the world will be available. 
 
I’ve written before about the telescoping of the AIDA cycle. Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action – the 4 stages of classic marketing & sales. I call it the “Shazaam” effect, after the app. From never having hear a song, we can now hear it, like it, identify it, want it and actually own and download it in about two minutes. This process in the past, woud require you to hearing the song on the radio, finding out the name, going to the store, deciding if you really wanted to spend money on the whole album, listening to the other tracks, and finally taking the plunge. On average that could be weeks if not months, with a high probability of dropping out of the process altogether. It’s not just digital goods, you could pass a shop window, like an item, check it out online with your phone and order it – again, the process would take a few minutes, if the retailer made it easy to do this. 
 
Most ads today do not have a compelling call to action. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an action to buy, it could be an action to save, highlight, wishlist or read later. Most digital publications allow you to do this with your content. Why not with your ads? Why can’t I click on a car ad and save it for later, because I do want to buy it next year, but this model looks interesting. Or tag the ad? All of this is for enabling future searchability. 
 
The other implication of this is that the secret sauce for advertising and marketing messages may well be getting your attention when you’re looking to buy the product. Not dissimilar to point of sale advertising, but more like point of time advertising. This is all about context. It involves being able to pick up on cues based on opt-in analytics that allow me to tell you about a cycle when you’re looking for a cycle. Sadly, what we have today is that when you search for a cycle, you are guaranteed to see cycle ads for the next 4-6 weeks, even though you bought the cycle in week 2. It’s a blunt weapon that needs a lot more finesse, though it’s probably heading in the right direction. The problem  is that I tell Google that I’m looking for a cycle, but I tend to tell Facebook about my adventures on the bike. May be sharing my ride pictures on Google plus is a good way of telling google to stop selling me cycles. 
 
Media vs The Message 
 
The media industry is probably the hardest hit by these technologies. Audience fragmentation, disintermediation and ever lower barriers to entry have caused havoc in the business. The television industry would have us believe that people still watch as much TV but I would suggest that the quality of viewing is dramatically lower, i.e. it shares your attention with your smartphone and your other chores, and in many instances has become a truly passive experience. Which is bad news for brands and advertisers looking to grab your attention. Newspapers have also down and out and the few who have successful digital editions are enjoying a new life, but advertising models continue to be experimental and much less lucrative. Google adwords have been a moderate success in terms of click throughs and paying for results, but it’s not the answer to all marketing problems. 
 
From a marketers’ perspective, the gravy train has vanished. There was a simple equation – you spent your money, you got onto the most popular TV shows or major newspapers’ front pages and you could launch a product nationally and get decent outcomes. Today’s marketing manager has to consider direct (website/ app) vs indirect channels; digital vs traditional media; multiple options within digital media including banners, innovative banners (with video, for example), ad-words, SEO, and a host of new options such as ambient screens, and digital point of sale. You also have to worry about attribution modelling and manage your spends in near real time. Agencies are starting to make money of trading desks, using algorithms not dissimilar to share trading. 
 
Increasingly the smarter brands have tried to make their message the story, rather than an interruption. Coke, Dove,  and Red Bull are brands that have tried to do this. 
 
 
Morphing Aspirations 
 
It’s also worth asking the question – how have our aspirations changed? In the increasingly global and multi-cultural world, there is a certain level of fragmentation of aspirations too. Only 44.9% of London’s population is white British. Even in 2007 there were apparently over 50 non-indegenous communities with over 10,000 population each. 
 
The implication of this is obvious – as populations go less homogenous, so their aspirations, needs, habits and buying cues. Everybody knows the story of the 2 elderly white men both rich, born in 1948 married twice, holiday in the alps and fond of dogs. One is Prince Charles, the other is Ozzy Osbourne. How then do you attract the housewife of Indian origin who loves popular psychology, with the rock climbing single hungarian girl who wants to work for the police? Both of them may be  24, female, living on in the same post code and searching for psychology in Google. 
 
The challenge is not just analysing and deciphering these ambitions, it’s the need to deal with such a vastly diverse array of ambitions. And ambitions that will themselves morph and blend in cultural melting pots. How do you sell an aspirational product when there is no consistency of aspirations, without boiling it down to economic ambition as a lowest common denominator?
 
 
Trust Erosion
 
Who do we trust? Not the government, not large enterprises, not banks or telcos, and not Google or Facebook. Yet. we trust the feedback of strangers on recommendation websites. However, you still wouldn’t trust a random stranger to provide you with broadband services, find stuff on the internet quickly, or hold your savings for you. Trust therefore has many facets. One of them is competence, another is ethical. In earlier (and perhaps more naive) times, we tended to combine them. Now, with the free flow of information we know better. 
 
Opinion may vary about the competence of banks, but you would still trust the bank with your money because they have demonstrable competence. Also because they are regulated. So while we don’t trust governments or banks, we may find that the combination provides us a trustworthy outcome. 
 
Why is this important to marketing? Well primarily because trust is the basic currency of all communication, and consequently, for brand creation. Without it, you may as well flush your money down the toilet. So the question then is do your customers trust you? And how do you establish and build this trust? And given that we live in a low-trust environment, this may be the first and most important bridge to build. 
 
 
A Quick Checklist 
  • Make the message the story. 
  • Be contextual in the positioning of your message 
  • Create actions in your messages – not just ‘buy’ actions 
  • Understand aspirations from a cross cultural perspective
  • Own your communication and include direct to customer channels 
  • Build a strong trust bridge before sending the marketing cavalry across it

Enterprise Mobility: 10 Lessons From The Last Three Years

From August 2011 to August 2014, I spent 3 years building up Cognizant’s mobile practice from scratch in Europe. Together with my colleagues we learnt a very large number of lessons, many of them the hard way – still have the scars to show for it! During this time, globally, we worked with an ever increasing array of clients, projects, partners, and challenges. From this collective gold-mine of experience, I’m distilling 10 key learnings. The number 10 here is arbitrary and could easily be 15 or 20. But here are my top 10. 

 

Worth mentioning, these learnings are not about how to build apps or solve technical issues, but about how Enterprises go about embracing mobility. 

 

1. The App Launch Is The Start, Not The End of the Journey 

 

Too many businesses bring out the champagne when the app hits the App Store, as though the job is done. This is a bit like an F1 team heading off to the pub after getting the car to the start line of the race. The real work may just be beginning. Especially if you’re focused on the actual business outcome and not just taking a narrow ‘IT approach’.  

 

Even if you just wanted to get the app launched, you would still be advised to wait for at least version 3. Invariably, the version 1.0 of the app will have a ton of assumptions or choices which will not withstand contact with reality. Often after a couple of iterations these have been weeded out, so you’re approaching stability by Version 3. 

 

In any case though, this is just getting to the races, as I mentioned earlier. You still have to do run the race – i.e. deliver the business outcome and program. Having a clear set of milestones around business objectives will enable you to think beyond the launch of the app. 

 

One of our clients had plenty of anectodal evidence about how the app was doing but it wasn’t something they were tracking any more. Consequently, they always found it hard to fund projects. Another client revised the application through the year continuously making changes and improving the user experience. Not only did the app do very well, but it created a tremendous business impact as well. 

 

 

2. Analytics Canot Be An Afterthought 

 

I once met a CIO who had to keep pointing to app-store ratings while presenting the mobile updates to his board, but still didn’t have analytics embedded in his app.

 

Everybody agrees the value of analytics and it’s role in the lifecycle of the mobile app. But all the head-nodding that goes on at the early stages of discussions doesn’t usually translate to actual investment of time, effort and money to baking in an analytics model into the early stages of the app. All too often, its treated as something that’s really important but ‘we’ll come back and fix this in the next version’. The next version never arrives, as you well know, for a lot of apps. 

 

The huge logical fallacy here is also, of course, that we will magically know what needs to be changed in version 2.0 or that we will be working off a frozen product roadmap, with no thought to what people are actually doing. 

 

The right way to do this is to think about the key assumptions that your app depends on (e.g. ‘users will check the app outside the home’) and build in data collection and analysis models that validate or disprove these assumptions. The latter is more critical to the improvement of the app obviously. 

 

 

3. Governance May Be More Urgent Than Strategy 

 

This is a very bold statement, but bear with me here. 

 

For many businesses there is a massive opportunity and innumerable opportunities to deploy mobile solutions. Trying to corral all of these into some sort of master-plan may be both unfeasible and counter-productive. And in most businesses, nobody is waiting for the strategy. As the saying goes, anybody in middle management with a budget is building a mobile app. 

 

There is a debate to be had about what exactly a mobile strategy implies. But given this situation, a more urgent need, usually, is to create a governance model around the dozens of apps being built right now, in your business, by big and small providers, and in very disparate environments. The governance process needs to define methodolgies, processes, gates and frameworks – around those aspects, such as security or middleware which will form the basis of your enteprise mobility strategy. 

 

The likely scenario is that all these apps will need to be integrated, maintained and enhanced. And the only way to do this with any control of costs and complexity is to ensure they follow published guidelines, no matter who builds them. 

 

I’ve met companies who have built over a hundred apps. They no longer have any control or even track of all the apps built, the amounts of money spent or what it is costing them to manage these apps, annually. There doesn’t seem to be any point taking about strategy in this situation. 

 

 

4. Structure Around MCOE To Get The Best of Biz & Tech  

 

The oldest truism in IT is that business and IT have to work hand in glove to ensure success. Yet, when it comes to Mobility, this is probably even more true, and very rarely followed.

 

The reason it’s more critical, is that mobility is a highly consumerised technology, in a nascent stage of maturity and lacks the standardized business case references of more mature technologies, with huge opportunities for specific innovations. A major airline we spoke with explained that converting a bunch of paper based manuals (which had to be mandatory carried on all flights) into iPads meant that the fuel savings across flights could more than pay for devices for the whole company. 

 

And the reason it’s rarely followed, is that there is also no clear standard for how mobility should be structured. In some businesses it’s a part of an omnichannel strategy. For others it’s driven by IT. For still others, it’s part of the innovations group. And others follow a bit of each. Often, Enterprise Mobility is owned by whoever has been brave enough to volunteer for the job. This is much more a marketing challenge than an tech problem. 

 

In the absence of a clear hierarchy, the MCOE is often a very good way to get the key people into the core thinking group. End user computing, IT and applications, security and compliance, marketing, line of business managers and HR and internal comms – all of these teams could potentially have a seat in the MCOE, in addition to architects and vendor managers. 

 

Analyst firms such as Gartner have argued that establishing the MCOE is the most important piece of your strategy. I would definitely agree that it’s a critical structure to put in place for the next 3 years, at least two of our global clients are well down the way towards establishing a Mobile COE. 

 

 

5. User Centred Engagement Redesign – It’s Harder Than It Sounds

 

There are two premises which put mobility projects completely outside the comfort zone of IT. They involve Engagement Redesign and User Centred Development. 

 

Traditional IT has usually put the application complexity front and centre. Large amounts of information being stored, retrieved and used by users who are themselves multi-tasking. The PC era has lasted for some twenty years and even on the web, much of the engagement has been PC led. Suddenly we are forced into a rethink. People aren’t coming to the website. They are engaging with you on social platforms, apps, or other new ways. The digital world is blending with the physical world. The problem is no longer about how to put all the information in front of the user, it’s actually how to get the user to stay engaged. Not just how, but why? And there is a great upheaval in progress that traditional IT has never had to deal with. 

 

The sharp end of this change, is the user centric development approach. The combination of consumer-grade technology and experiences, the shift towards engagement centric applications and focus on simplicity means that the entire development approach needs to be modelled around the user. This is not the black magic of ‘creative’ work, but the scientific application of service and product design principles, and ensuring that the user experience is what drives the features and app functionality. 

 

All of this makes it incredibly hard to reconcile this with traditional IT approaches. Be prepared to rethink a lot of stuff, if you’re invested in traditional IT processes. This is why so many businesses are still trying to work with digital agencies as well as systems integrators, to bring these worlds together. 

 

 

6. Mobile Strategy – Riding The Penny Farthing?  

 

All of this is not to say that strategy doesn’t count; it does. The question though, is: what exactly is strategic in this space? 

 

The biggest challenge that we’ve seen is what I would call the penny-farthing challenge. Your organisation is like the penny farthing cycle. The little wheel in front is the digital part of your business. Agile, fast moving, new features and releases every 6 weeks. The large wheel is the traditional part of your business. Slower, harder to move, locked into your traditional systems and ERPs. Nothing happens in 6 weeks. Yet, these two wheels have to move at the same speed, given that they’re part of the same entity. 

 

The answer lies in the gearing of course. The piece of the puzzle that ensures that these two wheels turn at their own speeds but the business as a whole moves forward in a cohesive manner. In your business, this is the all important middleware that allows these two wheels to turn at their own speeds. Getting this layer in, and getting it right is probably one of the most strategic decisions for enterprise mobility. Arguably, much more important than which apps to build. 

 

An energy company for whom we built a mobile strategy started with the idea of defining business cases but ultimately moved towards establishing a middleware platform as the defining area of the strategy. 

 

 

Penny farthing

 

 












7. Skills Shortage 

 

Certainly, one area of strategic importance is the skill mix. Given the speed of evolution of the technology, coupled with the surge in adoption, the team and skills you bring to the table can make all the difference between success and failure. Thus it is, that everybody is looking for those gilt edged developers, designers and architects who can build the path into the future. Customers, vendors and disruptors are all competing int he same skills market. 

 

You don’t need an army, but certainly the core team you put together is again, an extremely strategic success or failure factor. A number of disparate skill-sets are required for mobile success – from service design, to architecture, to device optimisation. 

 

As much as technical competence, the trick is in finding people who are comfortable dealing with the unknown, and capable of setting their own standards. 

 

 

8. Product Maturity Is Low. Plan for It 

 

Undoubtably, you will evaluate some off the shelf products – MEAP/ MCAP/ MADP or some variation of the theme. Cross platform tools, api managers, MBaaS layers – take your pick. Just remember that we’ve had 3 generations of products in the the last 3 years. And M&A activity abounds even in the nascent space. Feed Henry was just acquired by RedHat. Antenna was acquired last year by Pega. SAP and IBM have build up their product suites through acquisitions. There is therefore a risk that the product you choose may be acquired or merged/ morphed over the next 12-18 months. 

 

There is also therefore the high probability that you will discover in the course of your project that the product doesn’t exactly do what it ‘says on the tin’. This is not a pot-shot at product companies. It’s a reminder that you can’t get to the levels of maturity we expect in traditional products, because they simply haven’t had enough time yet, and the landscape keeps shifting. So planning for a few bumps in the project will help you save some sleepless nights. 

 

For one of our Nordic clients we faced a huge amount of trouble in trying to integrate an off-the-shelf middleware tool with an enterprise product which formed the back end. It almost came to the point where we were ready to walk away from the project to cut our losses, but fortunately the collective decision to stick with the project meant we stuck with it and it’s now a successful product. 

 

 

9. Over-Investing in Project Management Pays Heavy Dividends 

 

Taking the earlier point into consideration, along with the complexity of networks, devices, operating systems, business expectations, testing issues, and fast evolving user needs, you can not over invest in management of the early stages of your project. 

 

Project management is definitely more complex in many ways for mobile apps, than for traditional projects for the reasons above. I can certainly point to more than one excellent project which owes it’s success to the policy of over-investment in early stages. We hired a top notch project lead with specific product knowledge and his input helped reduce a significant component estimate by about 30%, in the course of a half hour call. This one incident itself made his involvement financially worthwhile and the early brought a lot of confidence from the stakeholders involved. The application in question is being rolled out across dozens of countries globally. 

 

 

10. Are You Ready to Di-Phy? 

 

Digital + Physical = Di-Phy (this is entirely my imaginative acronym)

 

Somebody defined the smart phone a while ago, as a remote control for the world. Increasingly, it is becoming the bridge between the digital and physical worlds. Traditionally, in the digital environment, you would be on a desktop/ laptop and in an information universe which was only loosely connected to the physical world. You might comparison shop for a TV for hours, but then you would take a printout to a real world store and struggle to match specific model names and numbers to the in-store variants. 

 

As everybody knows, the smart phone changes that and allows users to scan and compare from inside a physical store. Also, the point of search or sale is everywhere. Virtual and augmented reality models are blending the real world and the digital worlds. Add to this the presence of wearbles, sensors and the IOT and you have an emerging scenario where the line between physical and digital is increasingly blurry, and this opens up a white space for new business models and solutions that create entirely new value for users and customers. 

 

You need to be thinking about the physical aspects of your business – your products, your supply chain, or your distribution and retail, and look for ways in which the mobile phone can in fact become a point of access, management and control, of the physical environment. 

 

 

In Conclusion

 

As I said earlier, there are many more lessons we’ve learnt from the volume and diversity of the mobile projects we’ve undertaken. This is just my list of 10 that seem critical to me right now. I would love to hear your views on lessons learnt! 

Adventures in Uberland

 

The Habit 

Nothing is as addictive as a service that is easy, offers instant gratification and solves an everyday problem. I just had to try it once, and I was hooked. Now, you have to realise that it’s not the same in London, where the density and availability of cabs, both private and public is very high. But out here, in New Jersey standing on the highway, and facing the prospect of great head-scratching and then significant time and effort to get practically anywhere, it’s the most obvious thing to do! And once was all it took. 

My name is Ved and I am addicted to Uber. 

Nobody walks in New Jersey. This is almost as much of a truism as “No Snakes in Ireland”. But its true. I found a Starbucks 10 mins away (on foot) from my hotel. To get to it, though, I have to walk through 3 parking lots, a driveway and a stretch of path by the road which I think has just been created for some construction work. Nobody walks in NJ and it’s not designed for walking. Nonetheless, each morning I venture my way to the Starbucks and then head out from there. 

When my coffee is three-quarters finished, book the cab on Uber. It usually takes 7-8 minutes for the car to arrive. It comes right to the Starbucks without my having to give the driver any instructions. I get a warning when the car is 2 mins away. Is it not obvious yet, why I can’t tear myself away? Of course there are moments when it falls over a little bit. But more about that later. 

What’s in It for Me? 

It’s a cashless transaction. I can track the car. You know all of this. 

But I also know the name of the driver and vice versa so I can greet him with a ‘Hello Dan’ – this is a very small thing, but I find it extremely worthwhile. It opens up the space for a conversation. 

What’s in It for Him?

So far all the Uber drivers I’ve met are men. I’m sure there are women Uber drivers as well. So forgive the generalisation. 

Uber hoovers up spare capacity and brings more granularity into the supply side. In other words, you could be an Uber driver for 2 hours a day or whatever works for you. 

I met a driver who was a tech entrepreneur, one who was also driving for a cab company and one who was a student. I learnt that Uber gives each driver a phone with the Uber app installed and everything else disabled. I learnt that thanks to the geofence implemented, if you don’t have the right license / car to drive in New York, the app shuts off as soon as you get on the bridge. 

Finding Nemo

Yesterday, I called the Uber car after my coffee but he struggled to find me. 

 

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But he did, finally. Took him 15 extra minutes. It was a Sunday and I was enjoying my coffee. I didn’t mind. 

 

Mobile Entrepreneur 

Today, my Uber driver was Rob. He told me he’d just started with Uber a month ago, when he quit his job with a software company. Why did he quit? He started his own company. What kind of software? Mobile apps. He said he drives for a couple of hours every day. We had a great discussion about the Uber app itself, the advantages and drawbacks. The geo-fencing, the battery life. 

On Friday my Uber drive was Taj and we spoke about daughters and growing up in different cultures. 

 

Uberisation

Professionally speaking, Uber could well happen to your industry. What if service providers had a platform to offer to users what you do with great investment and commitment? What AirBnB is to hotels, or Ebay is to retailers. These platforms aren’t service providers themselves, but often are really focused on marketplace efficiencies. 

Should you look for these opportunities within your own industry, before somebody else does? That might well be the right question to ask. 

Because, as I’ve already argued before, resisting technology is like resisting ageing

Resisting Technology Is Like Resisting Ageing

My wife (Karuna) and I often differing views on a number of things, as is common. And almost always, she’s right. But there are some areas where we agree to disagree. 
 
Karuna doesn’t drive a manual car. She’s very comfortable in an automatic. I love driving – either manual or automatic. Obviously, the automatic car is doing a whole lot of thinking for you. And probably doing a few things better. By matching the gear to the speed more effectively, it’s likely to be more fuel efficient especially in stop-start city driving. But like most people who drive a manual car, I hunker for the control of the stick shift and the level influence I have on the drive. It feels like I’m closer to the engine. The automatic car provides a level of abstraction and let’s anybody drive, without mastering the intricacies of gear shifts and clutch control. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, the message keeps flashing: the automatic is all right, but a manual car is a real drive. 
 
We have the opposite stances on Digital Cameras. As somebody who has formally learnt photography and spent time in dark-rooms developing prints, she loves the control, and human input into the process. I enjoy the fact that I can get great photographs by just framing the picture. Karuna gave me tips on framing but the camera does the rest – i.e. manage exposure, focus, lighting, and even the intensity and balance of colours. Of course, all of this comes bundled with a phone. No more wandering around with an SLR camera slung around your neck. I love it. For her its anathema. 
 
The pattern here is simple, when we invest time and effort in building a skill, or a technique, we are invested in the process, not just the output. And what almost every technological advancement tends to do, is that it democratises is previously closely held skill, putting the same level of competence into the hands of amateurs and novices. For the experts this is distasteful or downright annoying, but more importantly, it’s often professionally disruptive. The former, because it devalues that expert process which we are attached to, and the latter, because it challenges their expertise and renders them less valuable. 
 
“The Knowledge” is the course that all London Black Cab drivers go through. For decades, the London Cab has been famous – one of the icons of the city. Apart from the car itself, which is custom designed and manufactured for the purpose, the drivers are famed for their familiarity with the city and routes. The Knowledge comprises some 320 routes through London, and covers 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks. A black cab driver is expected to know them all. Qualifying takes 2-4 years on average. During the exam, they can be given any start point and end point in those hundreds of routes and they are expected to know the most efficient way of getting from start to finish. The number of qualified drivers is controlled. Typically, it takes an investment of 30,000 to become a cab driver, in addition to the 25 hours a week time invested over 3 years.  Typically, the London Cab is twice the price or more for journeys that take 30 minutes or more, compared to the privately run ‘mini-cabs’ that also operate in an organised manner in London. 
 
Since the dawn of sat-navs any driver can find locations, routes, and optimise journeys with an investment of under a hundred pounds. Nowadays the smartphone does just as well. Today every user who gets into a taxi is more likely than not to have a device with him or her that can provide exactly the same level of knowledge about routes, directions and traffic conditions that the black cab driver has accumulated over 3 years. Short of injecting this knowledge into the brain, a la Matrix, the first time tourist in London is now as well equipped to navigate London as the black cab driver. 
 
Of course, you still need to get a taxi, and the black cabs are ubiquitous in London so you’re likely to hail one anyway. Or you would, till the arrival of the brigade of taxi apps. And the poster child of taxi applications – Uber. Now you just send up a digital flare while you’re working your way through dessert and you can be sure that by the time you’re out on the street, the taxi is likely to be there. Not a London Cab but a less expensive car with a similar assurance of safety and comfort. 
 
Not that London Cabs are luddites. The Hailo and Gettaxi  pps do exactly this for black cabs. The whole experience of calling a taxi has changed forever. You just broadcast a request and one of the many taxis which is the closest to your location responds. It’s the same for any category of cabs. Even the cab companies which take bookings do so through apps. It’s just that the price premium charged by London cabs is no longer sustainable. 
 
There are plenty of other services run by local cab companies which come with Apps. I use a company called Swift  which has a reliable app and also one of the drivers, let’s call him Bob, asks me about it whenever he picks me up. The last time around we had a discussion about some of the features that the app should add. He is very engaged with the idea of the app making this experience better. 
 
As I write this, all over the world, incumbent taxi services are warring with new services such as Uber and Lyft. Which are by the way, just marketplaces, and not car services, themselves. And clearly much of the legislation does not cover this model. So the incumbent services are lobbying the government for protection. In Germany, a cab license costs over $ 250,000. Understandably, drivers having paid that sum are not happy to see their returns diminished via competition from new and technologically enabled entrants. Many cities including Munich, Dusseldorf, Berlin and Hamburg are considering declaring Uber illegal. Their argument is primarily that as taxi services, Uber enabled cabs should pay the same license fee. 
 
In Seoul, the government’s concerns are based around the safety of the vehicles, background checks on drivers, and the impact on the local taxi trade. The last may be the most honest reason, in most parts of the world. Even though in Seoul, Uber is more expensive than the regular taxis. 
 
Even at home, in the US, Uber has faced the law – in Virginia for example, where Uber has been asked to ‘cease and desist’ by the government, till it obtains the ‘proper authority’. 
 
Brussels has already banned Uber. Barcelona, Paris and other major European cities have discussed banning it. There have been strikes in London and Milan. All of these are typically examples of old markets and legislation trying to keep up with new business models. Even Neely Kroes has criticised the bans.
 
The pattern that repeats itself is that markets switch quickly, but legislation takes time. Most taxi apps now allow sharing, payments, and a host of other features which significantly improve the experience for the user. 
 
Defending the old model even in the face of new technology creates a precipice from which the fall can be sudden and dramatic – witness the music industry, which reaped the benefits of digital technology for many years but failed to adapt to the internet’s new models. People find ingenious methods for using the new technology to the benefit of suppliers and customers, even as regulators and enforcers fume. 
 
So where does that leave the Black Cab driver who has just spent years mastering “The Knowledge” to qualify to drive a black cab in London? Is this the end of the road for him? Is this one more example of technology rendering a valuable skill useless? 
 
Your guess is as good as mine, but for a glimpse of what could happen, let me take you back a hundred and fifty years or so. It was the time of the invention and spread of photography. I’ve written about this in more detail here but the short version is this: photography democratised portraiture. And rendered hundreds of artists jobless. Any amateur armed with a camera could take a photo more accurate and lifelike than the best of painters. So what did these artists do? Many presumably changed professions, some undoubtedly fell on hard times. But out of this some decided that their role was not to represent reality but to interpret it. It is no surprise therefore that the birth of impressionism coincided with the spread of photography. 
 
So when democratisation hits your area of expertise, as it will, sooner or later, will you find yourself with a choice of extinction or adaptation. Will you be like the impressionists and evolve? Or will you fall on your sword (or paintbrush)? Will you look for help to regulators? Or will you create new markets? After all, even decision making and ‘management’ expertise, is being democratised through analytics and knowledge systems. 
 
Either way, the challenge for regulators as always, is to move at the pace of technology and markets. The challenge for you is to evolve to find or create a market as technology democratises your specialist skill. Resisting the change, though, is not really an option. You might as well try to resist ageing.