Digital Transformation – A Cultural Footprint

Yesterday, I came across this fascinating story in the Mashable website. Dom Deltorto, a London based Animator loses his laptop but has installed a piece of software which tracks the stolen laptop’s location and secretly takes pictures of whoever is trying to use it. The laptop duly surfaces… in Iran! The camera starts sending pictures of a family in Iran. Not much the original owner can do, so he decides to create a Tumblr called Dom’s Laptop is in Iran. And uploads the pictures coming out of his Macbook onto the Tumblr, which goes viral. You can guess what’s coming! The family in Iran was mortified. They had no idea the Laptop was stolen and worse, pictures of their home and family were all over the internet, the contacted Dom, to return the laptop. Dom, to his credit, was duly embarrassed. He apologised, took down the tumblr and asked the family to keep the laptop.

The comments under the story are as telling as the story itself. There are those who take the stance that Dom was in the wrong all along, by violating somebody’s privacy before establishing the facts. That he should have known that these were not the original culprits who stole the laptop. There are others who take a much more black and white stance that buying goods you know are stolen is a crime and the family should have known. Then there are the mitigators who point out that you can’t get original MacBooks in Iran.

The story also highlights the challenges we face as suddenly a whole new wave of information is made available and the rules around using that information are not yet clearly established. To be clear, this method has been used before for successfully tracking laptop thieves. Only this time, the consequences were far worse for all concerned. As we hurtle into the world of digital transformation, this is an important signpost reminding us to proceed with caution.

Personally speaking I love the impact of technology on our lives. Last week, while walking through Paddington, I saw a KFC sign that reminded me of a Stephen Fry anecdote about Kentucky, which got me thinking about the Kentucky Derby and the Rolling Stones reference in the Dead Flowers song. I found myself humming the song. Got into the train, opened Spotify on my phone and was listening to the song in the next 45 seconds as the train pulled out of the station. This world was unimaginable half a decade ago, and yet now, it’s the new normal.

In fact travelling is probably the most significantly improved experience, thanks to mobile technologies. The application is obvious, the benefits easy to actualise and the number of apps are ever increasing. Google Maps is the worlds most popular mobile API, and that’s for this reason. It’s also the most popular app. I was amazed when I looked for directions to the aquarium in Lisbon and the “bus” icon in google maps told me (quite accurately) that the bus stop was about 200 meters away and that the next bus was in 17 minutes and the journey would take about 30 minutes. I have also used Google Maps to check if I’m on the right bus or train, when I don’t speak the local language. That’s how i discovered I had taken the wrong train trying to get from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, when my blue dot started to move away from the clearly drawn train line connecting the cities!

In the past week I have used Bus TImes, the London bus application to good effect a couple of times, I use the Trainline app often, and Hailo needs no introduction. But also, the Hex (Heathrow Express) app is wonderful for letting me book tickets while I’m walking to the train. And even my local cab company, whom I have been calling regularly on the phone for a few years now, are constantly reminding me to use their app. (I have, it works like a dream). They get it, it’s better for their business as well. I just wish i could combine all of the data I spread across these app experiences and create my own digital trail, to show where I’ve been and what modes of travel i’ve used, say, over the past month.

But it’s not only travel, is it? Look closely at your corner shop. It’s almost a given that they already provide mobile phone top ups, sim cards for operators, and other digital services. There are as many computer and phone repair stores in my locality as there are shoe-repair and key-cutting stores. Digital is now a woven into our daily lives in ways we don’t even notice any more.

The implications of this digital influx are many. They include a trend towards instant gratification, the creation of a very powerful digital trail of data, a re-writing of privacy frameworks and a drastically improved level of personal efficiency. And a marked shift towards the cloud, in ways that we don’t necessarily plan or recognise. I use paid versions of Evernote, Dropbox and Linked In, apart from Spotify. And unpaid versions of Flickr, Youtube, Picasa and others. Effectively a significant part of my life is in the cloud. The most significant implication of this is a reduced dependence on device choices (I get them across all my devices). I do all of this consciously, but there is a generation growing up for whom this is normal and not particularly comment worthy.

Smart businesses are already tapping into this digital lifestyle phenomenon by launching services, many of which are adjacent to their core business, but related to the services they already provide to a consumer. Whether you’re a bank, a utility company or an airline, this is something worth thinking about, because it creates a new layer of engagement, new routes to customer value and in the best case, new revenues. British Gas’s investment into AlertMe, which among other things delivers smart data, is a very good example of this, or at least a step in the right direction. The New York Times’ innovation lab generates a spectrum of digital innovation ideas, not all of which are to do with traditional journalism. The disconcerting thing is actually, the number of businesses who are ignoring this.

Yesterday, I caught up with Anu, who is in her 20s. Earlier in the day she was having a meal with a couple of friends who she has previously only met digitally, but has collaborated on a paper with one of them. This was the first face to face meeting, as one of them hails from a scandinavian country, and Anu now lives in Mumbai. Their meeting was in central London. Later this month, Anu is travelling to Germany, to spend a week with a lady who is her mother’s pen-friend for over 30 years. Think about this inter-generational bookending of relationships. Have we really changed all that much? Or is it just that our tools of engagement have morphed?

Irrespective of whether we have changed as people, it’s abundantly clear that our behaviours and tools are changing. If you’re a business serving consumers today, you have a digital transformation challenge on your hands. A key to this is to get your digital transformation initiative out of the boardroom, into the streets and lives of the people you’re serving. And to watch out for those cultural signposts, the points of inflexion and the white spaces that open up along the way.


One More Thing – What Next for Apple, and For Your Mobile Strategy?

It takes greatness for a man to change the course of a river.

If that river is actually the flow of human endeavour that is the web and the inexorable drive towards the principles and technologies it symbolises and engenders, then greatness is too small a word for that achievement.

Steve Jobs did it. He took by the scruff of it’s neck all that technologists, philosophers, designers and businesses across the world were seeking to do, and he yanked it like a magical cloak to unveil his own version of the future. Along the way he reinvented mobile phones, the music industry, the applications universe and our very relationship as people, with technology. Steve Jobs was Prometheus.

But in doing so, he convinced us that the way forward was away from open standards, lowest common denominator tools, democratic access to content, and a low cost model of internet services. He gift-wrapped proprietary standards, expensive gadgets, walled garden access and a hard bargain to boot, into a lickable form that very few could resist. (He even changed the lexicon – he made lickability a real word.) And he took 30% of the top. And it was willingly paid. In fact, if Steve Jobs had created the web, rather than Tim Berners Lee, the Internet would be sold in a little white box that you could only get from Apple. It would be near perfect. And you would be in the lucky/ rich 40% to have it, because you would pay through your nose.

The iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, the App Store – every one of these was a “new to the world” product in it’s own way. There are too many reasons to list here all the ways in which they departed from anything before. But the word revolutionary can be applied to most of Apple’s products, without much exaggeration.

Steve Jobs is no more. And the impact of his achievement is starting to become apparent as the world slides back towards the web, eschewing increasingly, the expensive and proprietary model of Apple. Like the tide reclaiming land where the fortress has crumbled.

No longer does Apple seem to produce a product which is scarcely believable in it’s distance from the present and the understood. What was your first reaction to the iPad when you heard of it? Surely you thought “I’ve got a phone, I’ve got a laptop, this seems like an indulgence!”. And soon you succumbed. As somebody said, every year, you expected apple to create a product that you’d never heard about before but suddenly couldn’t live without any more.

The iPad Mini, which is Apple’s first offering post Steve Jobs, isn’t any of that. It’s actually a me-too, a shinier, sexier, apple-ized version of the Kindle. I bought one, but only as a replacement for an iPad). The iPhone 5 launch was dogged by the problems with the map. The refrain on the street was unanimous. Would have never happened under Jobs.

The competition, which earlier found itself nearly out of the race, is suddenly roaring back. Samsung have not only taken over the smart phone market in terms of value and volumes, they are also neck and neck with Apple on innovation. The very fact this should be a debate is a sign of the erosion of Apple’s position. The HTC One, though not as loudly touted, is also a device on par with or ahead of the iPhone in many ways.

Two years ago, Apple sued Samsung for copyright infringement. At the time it was an open and shut case – Apple created, Samsung copied. Now, every week there’s a settlement and a counter settlement. Courts all over the world are coming to their own conclusions about the intellectual copyright sparring and the decisions are rarely unanimous. It’s hard to stay enthused any more about who won which lawsuit and what was paid in which currency.

The most damning pointer of all, is possibly Apple’s stock price. It looks like the market no longer believes that Apple can walk on water. Consider the performance of Apple’s stock versus Google’s up to 2012
Apple stock vs google stock 07 12
…. with that since 2012. There is clearly an element of value migration from Apple.
Every other day, people are taking pot shots at apple. Are apple too defensive now? Are they having to fend off the constant jabbing by Samsung? Have they lost their marketing mojo? No uber announcements just when everybody else was out trying to make news?

None of this is to take away from Apple’s current management. Tim Cook is said to be the guru of Apple’s supply chain which combines over hundreds of suppliers into the flawless whole that is an apple product and still manages to retain absurdly high profits for contributing very little to the physical product. The iPad Mini by any definition is an excellent product. The immediate future of the iPhone and iPad family may well be safe thanks to the lead Apple already have in design, vision, operational sophistication and technology. All of this makes Apple a pretty good company. One of the best, in fact.

But not years ahead of everybody, where Steve Jobs had them.

No disrespect to Cook and co. It’s like taking over from Alex Ferguson, Jack Welch or Steve Waugh.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the iWatch will herald a whole new generation of technology. I believe firmly that personal and home tech is the next frontier. Google Glass and Apple’s iWatch may be the headline acts of this next wave. But while we would all love to see another world changing device from Apple, my gut says it could be underwhelming.

There are still organisations buying iPads by the thousands. Armies of sales people and relationship managers are now going to battle with a shiny apple device rather than an “old fangled laptop”. In fact I asked a room full of executives why they would choose a device for an enterprise when it didn’t connect to the network, didn’t run any standard enterprise software, couldn’t print very easily and was unnecessarily expensive. The answers were unfailingly emotional. “Because it’s so simple my 5 year old daughter can use it”, or “it passes the mum test” or “it’s the only device you can caress”. Will companies continue to invest deeply into Apple devices? Or will they start to look around for alternatives soon? The jury is out on that one.

Meanwhile, it wouldn’t hurt to revisit your enterprise strategy. If, like a lot of companies, your mobile strategy basically reads “get apps out on apple devices, and we’ll worry about the rest later”, this is a good time to rethink the approach. Here are 5 things you should be doing.

1. This is the most important. Get prepared for a swing back to HTML5 and web standards over native iOS/ Android development. Make sure all your vendors have a clear HTML5 roadmap.
2. Ensure you have an HTML5 reference architecture for what you are trying to do in your business, even if you don’t use it right now.

3. The same is true of Android. Create a reference architecture, build a route to market on the android ecosystem. But remember that Android is almost like a counter point to apple. If the iOS native development declines, so might Android, in favour of HTML standards.

4. Start exploring the non-apple device landscape. The phone space is turning already, but the tablet space may be interesting in the next 12-18 months.

5. Watch the HTML app stores such as AppsFuel, for reusable apps and components.