Category: ‘Business’

Go with the flow, and flow with the go…

Friday, June 25th, 2010

I have to be honest here, when Google came out with “Google Wave” I didn’t get it.  I thought it was just another collaboration tool much like Backpack or Basecamp from 37Signals.  And, since I’ve been using 37Signals for over a year now I didn’t think much of Wave…   But now I get it and I get why Google called it “Wave”.

About 8 years ago, Howard Smith and Peter Fingar wrote a book called “Business Process Management:  The Third Wave”, regarded as a manifesto for radical business change based on business process management (BPM) technology.  Queue SOA – Service Oriented Architecture and it’s big brother the Enterprise Service Bus, which combines SOA with MOM Message Oriented Middleware.  Now ESB is pretty much an industry standard and it’s had some success, and some very expensive failures, but now though, says Fingar:

“the time is already right to prepare for a new, and potentially even more radical wave of business automation – human interaction management systems (HIMS)”.

Enter – Google Wave.  What Fingar goes on to say is:

“The real future, if you look at business process management – the key part of it that has not been fully addressed – is human to human interaction”.

Okay, so what does this mean?  And, how does Google Wave represent the Fourth Wave in collaborative information management tools?  Let’s take email a form of communication, albeit very old and archaic in technology years, and its distant cousin the forums, which provide collaboration.  Lets add the latest in Web2.0 such as Facebook, Twiki, Blogs…  and a whole host of other one to one, one to many and many to many mediums and before you know it, half your time is spent reading, organising and shifting through vast amounts of information.

Not very productive are we?

What Google has realised is that how we work and how we become productive requires a fundamental shift in the way we deal with other humans.  And, whilst ESB’s and other business process management and automation solution take care of routine tasks and reduce operational overhead they don’t directly support the way people actually accomplish their work.   Some may argue however, that you can implement human tasks in a BPM or workflow solution, but here we’re retrofitting humans to systems, treating people as cogs in an assembly line.

Reality is, we don’t work that way and our most creative endeavours need to be a little more free flowing and dynamic.  So we can’t flowchart in advance how, for example, we’ll come up with an innovation or a new product line, or how we can reduce unemployment or address climate change.  In the real world of business, people communicate, research, think, consult, negotiate, argue, cry, okay, maybe not cry, but get excited and get passionate, which are all in themselves very organic processes.

So naturally, the tools that carry out knowledge work, decision making and collaboration need to shift with the times.  To achieve this shift, a new kind of software system is required, one based on how we work as individuals and as teams.  This new shift has to be more then just Social Networking it must embrace a truly collaborative environment – in real time – enabling us to perform a number of creative tasks in a loose but structure manner.  Stuff like:

  • Special Events
  • Research
  • New Marketing Campaigns
  • Customer Self-Service
  • Case Management
  • Opening New Global Markets
  • Planning a Massive Rave
  • Refurbishing a House
  • Designing an Online Game
  • Dealing with a Crisis

So anyway, check out this pdf. Fingar calls it “Work2.0″.  He goes into a lot more in his doco then I do here and given that Google is taking a leaf out of his book, it might be worthwhile checking out, especially if your work and play involves collaborating with people, local and far away.

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Shhh… hey fatso over here!

Monday, May 24th, 2010

There’s something going on…  I know about it first hand, because today while using my iPhone I willingly accepted Digg’s suggestion to download their mobile application.  When I saw this, I actually thought cool, I’ll get a much better  user experience then the standard browser.  But then it dawned on me.  I’m actually happy to download an application – a fat client – albeit a little slimmer because it’s for the iPhone, but nevertheless a fat client!  A little over five years ago desktop applications were dead or dying.  Firstly, nobody wanted the maintenance overhead of application roll-outs, versions, etc, plus everybody was going Cloud.  Even Google started offering their OpenOffice stuff on the Internet so you didn’t need any desktop application.

But somehow, desktop and iPhone, or iPad for that matter, don’t mean the same thing.  Somehow through a slight wave of the hand Apple have convinced us that “Yes, this is the application you want to download”, and in some cases, “Yes, this is the small fee you want to pay”.  Nobody has really cottoned onto the fact that we’re happily downloading little Fatty clients and blissfully don’t care because the local apps provide a much richer and exciting user experience.  So what’s going on here?  And, why have we suddenly gone full circle?

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons has to do with software distribution.  Not so long ago, everybody, namely the I.T. operations staff would groan and moan if there was another desk-top application to roll-out, especially if it involved thousands, and often tens of thousands of desktops globally, which in turn would require installation scripts that wouldn’t always work, users complaining that something was broken, and so on and so forth.  And, the operations staff were not alone.  Developers too would try and avoid desktop applications all together.  Webapps were the rage.  Of course you had and still have browser compatibility issues, but it’s a lot easier to maintain then desktop apps.

Things are different now.  Those installation and maintenance problems are replaced by a simple button that says “Download”.  The filesystem and all those low level complexities are shielded from the user (so they can’t mess up the install).  All one has to do is go to the iTunes Store, select the application they want, pay or get it free and within a minute or two, viola.  No problemo.  If the iPhone or iPad application needs an upgrade, then a simple notification appears and again with a simple press of the button the app is upgraded.

So Apple are ushering in a new era of thick-clients, it’s a comeback of Travolta proportions, and with hundreds of thousands of online applications out there already, it’s serious business.   Now the point to all this isn’t a celebration of Apple awesomeness, it’s about recognising a shift in the I.T. industry from pure Webapps to Thick-clients.  Now some of you purists out there may argue that the iPhone and iPad apps aren’t really thick-clients but so what.  The point is that whether you like Apple or not, or believe the iTunes Store is the best thing ever, or a unfair monopoly – the point of the matter is that the future of the Web is changing.  And, it’s happening right before our eyes, and if you’re in the business of online business or Webapps, then you better start rethinking your strategy.

Think about it.  Doesn’t user experience and customer satisfaction play a big role in the success of your eBusiness strategy?  Wouldn’t you want to offer an Online UX that takes your eBusiness products and services to your customers front door-step?**

Oh, and one last thing…   given that this is the future of the Web and Apple have taken a big bite out of it, makes a lot more sense why Steve Jobs wouldn’t want Flash crowding their style

** What’s the bet your competitor will be thinking about it…

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Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Wondering who’s looking at your site?  Well you can dish out thousands for companies that specialise in demographics and collecting audience statistics for millions of websites, or you can check out Quantcast.  Best part of all, yep you guessed it, it’s free.

From Wikipedia:

Quantcast is a media measurement, web analytics service that allows users to view audience statistics for millions of websites. Quantcast Corporation’s prime focus is to analyze the Internet‘s web sites in order to obtain accurate usage statistics by surfers from the USA. Like Alexa, Quantcast rates Web pages by ranks. Quantcast statistics always refer to the usage from the United States, therefore Alexa data and Quantcast data do not always show the same results. Quantcast does not require a toolbar to be installed upon one’s web browser to obtain statistics. Instead participating websites voluntarily insert Quantcast HTML code inside Web pages they wish to have included in statistics. This code allows Quantcast to keep track of the traffic directed towards those Web sites.[4] Using this mechanism Quantcast can provide thorough details about Web pages created by participating publishers. Some of this information includes, for example, whether the Web page viewer is a male or female, whether the average viewer makes $30,000 USD annually or $100,000 USD annually, the age group of the viewer and the amount of U.S. homes the Web site reaches. This information is provided by inference: comparing and correlating the information received from one participating publisher with another. The inferences are possible because the Quantcast code causes the user’s browser to access Quantcast’s servers, at which time they can log the user’s IP address and information Quantcast places in cookies that are stored in the user’s browser. The cookies significantly aid in making inferences. Quantcast also provides affinities revealing other popular sites that the average viewer browses. This is possible by tracking “referrer” information that is normally included as part of every HTTP request made by the user’s browser. For instance a person browsing a page on Quantcast aimed towards music might also browse sites based on music downloads.[5]

And, here is the link:

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You are not your brain scans!

Monday, December 14th, 2009


Nielsen provide analysis and insight on a whole range of mediums, from government polls, tv shows, to eCommerce and when it comes to marketing [insert product here] you pay these guys the big bucks and they tell you what your customers want, where you can reach them, how to pitch the idea, how to track the before and after your multi-million dollar marketing campaign and so and so forth.  And, who’s to know their data is right or wrong or whether the insights they provide clearly reflects market conditions?   Well, up until recently nobody really knew, but changes to their @Plan service have people asking that very question.  Here’s the link.

Even with these occasional data anomalies, which in fairness can be expected, insights gleamed from companies like Nielsen are big business, and something I’ll be blogging more about later.

Here’s something new and a little different in the field of market and industry analysis.  It’s called Neuromarketing and here’s a company, Neurofocus, that specialises in it.  Plug from their site:

Neuroscience provides a deep, clear view into the real-world, real-time reactions of consumers at the most elemental level: their brainwaves.

Never heard of Neuromarketing?  This is from wikipedia:

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing that studies consumers’ sensorimotorcognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. Researchers use technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging(fMRI) to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain, electroencephalography (EEG) to measure activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and/or sensors to measure changes in one’s physiological state (heart rate, respiratory rate, galvanic skin response) to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.

Marketing analysts will use neuromarketing to better measure a consumer’s preference, as the verbal response given to the question, “Do you like this product?” may not always be the true answer due to cognitive bias. This knowledge will help marketers create products and services designed more effectively and marketing campaigns focused more on the brain’s response. This makes neuromarketing and its applied results potentially subliminal.

Neuromarketing will tell the marketer what the consumer reacts to, whether it was the color of the packaging, the sound the box makes when shaken, or the idea that they will have something their co-consumers do not.

If you’re wondering whether this could possibly be the future of consumer/market analysis, then take into consideration that Nielsen made a “strategic investment” in Neurofocus last year.

But there are always two sides to the story, and to provide a balanced view on the subject of Neuromarketing, watch this video.  It’s Natasha Mitchell from ABC’s All in the Mind.  She’s one of my fav podcast presenters and in this video she provides a very informative and entertaining view point on MRI’s titled:  You are not your brain scan!

Video:  You are not your brain scan!

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Shift Happens

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

fear1This is from John Hagel, at Deloitte, writing about a new conceptual framework – A Big Shift – for understanding what’s happened in an industry, what is happening and potentially what will happen, and how to deal with it:

…we were looking at economic indices and struck by the fact that most of the well-known indices focus on very short-term cyclical events – unemployment, inflation, purchasing activity, consumer confidence levels, etc. Of course, these are extremely valuable in helping executives to assess the current context for their operations.

On the other hand, everyone acknowledges that we are in the midst of a fundamental shift playing out on the business landscape on a global scale over many decades. We may not all agree on the exact dimensions of the big shift, but the reality is so widely recognized that it is often unstated. When we looked for indices that gave us some insight into the nature and pace of this big shift, we pretty much came up drive.  There were isolated measures and one-off analyses, but there was nothing resembling a comprehensive index of key metrics updated on a regular basis.

So we decided to develop one.  We had a team work for about six months developing the conceptual framework for describing the dimensions of the big shift and how these dimensions related to each other. We then spent the next six months working to define the specific metrics for a Shift Index and collect and analyze the data related to these metrics.

In case you miss them, the reports are here.

It’s definately an interesting read, but having read the Technology Industry report I felt it missed the need for an important shift. That is, we need to do away with unsustainable, unfair and an extremely greedy view of busness and do things better, smarter, more eco-friendly; focus less on making loads of money but more on cultivating a great company that does well.  Isn’t this the type of advice we should be passing on to executives?

From Umair Hauque of HBS:

Here are the four pillars of smart growth – for economies, communities, and corporations:

1. Outcomes, not income. Dumb growth is about incomes – are we richer today than we were yesterday? Smart growth is about people, and how much better or worse off they are – not merely how much junk an economy can churn out. Smart growth measures people’s outcomes – not just their incomes. Are people healthier, fitter, smarter, happier? Economics that measure financial numbers, we’ve learned the hard way, often fail to be meaningful, except to the quants among us. It is tangible human outcomes that are the arbiters of authentic value creation.

2. Connections, not transactions. Dumb growth looks at what’s flowing through the pipes of the global economy: the volume of trade. Smart growth looks at how pipes are formed, and why some pipes matter more than others: the quality of connections. It doesn’t just look at transactions at the global, regional, or national level — how much world trade has grown, for example — but looks at how local and global relationships power invention and innovation. Without Silicon Valley’s relationships powering the development of personal computing and the internet, for example, the volume of trade between Taiwan, Japan, and China, would be a fraction of what it is. Smart growth seeks to amplify connection and community — because the goal isn’t just to trade, but to co-create and collaborate.

3. People, not product. The next time you hear an old dude talking about “product”, let him know the 20th century ended a decade ago. Smart growth isn’t driven by pushing product, but by the skill, dedication, and creativity of people. What’s the difference? Everything. Globalization driven by McJobs deskilling the world, versus globalization driven by entrepreneurship, venture economies, and radical innovation. People not product means a renewed focus on labour mobility, human capital investment, labour market standards, and labour market efficiency. Smart growth isn’t powered by capital dully seeking the lowest-cost labour — but by giving labour the power to seek the capital with they can create, invent, and innovate the most.

4. Creativity, not productivity. Uh-oh: Creativity is an economic four-letter word. Why? Because it’s hard to measure, manage, and model. So economists focus on productivity instead — and the result is dumb growth. Smart growth focuses on economic creativity – because creativity is what let us know that competition is creating new value, instead of just shifting old value around. What is economic creativity? How many new industries, markets, categories, and segments an economy can consistently create. Think China’s gonna save the world? Think again: it’s economically productive, but it’s far from economically creative. Smart growth is creative — not merely productive.

Here’s a final point — and a question.

Smart economies are driven by smart growth. The four pillars of smart growth are design principles for next-generation economies. 20th century economies are limited to unsustainable, unfair, brittle, dumb growth. Smart growth is more sustainable, equitable, and resilient.

Can you build a business powered by smart growth? The four pillars of smart growth aren’t just design principles for next-generation economies: they’re also design principles for next-generation businesses. Already, tomorrow’s radical innovators don’t accept yesterday’s toxic, tired consensus…

Maybe as part of all this we need to think about what really makes us all happy and can it measured in a country’s GDP?

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Open Innovation

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

A recent post in Slashdot, talks about Google becoming a “Black Hole of Brilliance”.  Google VP Bradley Horowitz is quoted as saying:

I recently had a discussion with an engineer at Google and I pointed out a handful of people that I thought were fruitful in the industry and I proposed that we should hire these people.  But [the engineer] stopped me and said: “These people are actually important to have outside of Google. They’re very Google people that have the right philosophies around these things, and it’s important that we not hire these guys. It’s better for the ecosystem to have an honest industry, as opposed to aggregating all this talent at Google”.

I do wonder however whether Horowitz’s comments reflect a growing sentiment amongst companies at the forefront of innovation, which is, you can’t keep buying the best engineers in the world with the hope of delivering the best products and services in the world.  It’s simply not a sustainable model, and one that is very costly, even for Google.  But perhaps there’s more to it then this, perhaps Google’s cottoned on to the fact that to retain their competitive edge they have to start fishing for ideas outside their internal pools of talent, even if it means opening the doors of innovation to the rest of the community and potentially their competitors.

Open Innovation is a term popularised by Dr. Henry Chesbourgh who is the author of several award winning books on the subject.  It represents a shift from the traditional “closed” business model where 100% of a company’s innovation originates from within, to a more open innovation model where both internal and external ideas are combined to create an innovation, whether it be a cool shirt that can earn you some bucks or a solution to another party’s problem. Although Chesbrough coined the term “open innovation” in 2003, it’s not something new as those of us familiar with Open Source will agree with.

What is different however, is that Open Innovation has become a core management discipline.

The breadth of external knowledge and the speed at which it can be transferred cannot be ignored.   And, if Chesbourgh’s recent award is anything to go by, its that greater importance is being placed on open collaborative business models.   But before we start sharing our ideas with the rest of the world  there are of course certain challenges that need to be addressed when considering Open Innovation as a business model.  Perhaps the biggest challenge involves a paradox, why would firms spend money on R&D efforts if the results of these efforts are available to rival firms? Another challenge has to do with starting an innovation from scratch; would it be possible to launch an Open Source software project without a base or foundation to build, develop, debug upon?

Take Apple and Google for example.  Apple have designed and delivered a fully comprehensive platform and integrated framework for developers called iTunes and iPhone, which in its right is every bit a closed innovation; nobody but the Apple resources, architects, developers and business suits were responsible for designing, building and delivering the solution.  And, here’s the best part; the rest of iPhone and iTunes, namely its “App Store” is Open Innovation, which means Apple has opened the doors for smart cookies from all walks of life to come up with cool and interesting applications.

Google is no different.  Just about every Google innovation, not all, but some, are open to others wishing to collaborate and innovate with the worlds most innovative company.   The catch is, Google provides the platform and foundation, everyone else builds on top of this.  Google, like Apple, enjoy greater market penetration, a richer feature list -- thanks to everyone contributing, and the contributors get the kudos.  Some, in the case of Apple, get paid for it.  So what’s the theme here?  How are these companies avoiding rivals from benefiting from their openness whilst still fostering a collaborative environment for innovation?

Well as we’ve seen from Open Source projects, Apple and Google, there are few things in common:

  • They have a base or a foundation that is typically closed.  In the case of Open Source, closed means -- updates and bug fixes only.
  • They provide an open framework for innovation that builds on top of this foundation.
  • You get rewarded either through kudos or cash for your contributions.

So the trick is to keep the core business closed and only open up those parts that benefit the community, the clients and the industry as a whole.   Perhaps I’m stating the obvious here, but as I explore this paradigm further its real practicality will become clearer.

Apart from business and technology, Open Innovation also has the potential for far reaching societal and environmental benefits.   Here’s a list of some great ideas for Open Innovation.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, and no doubt I will be writing about Open Innovation again.  For now here’s Dr. Henry Chesbourgh on Open Innovation and how its being applied to academia.

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