Paul Wallbank

Paul Wallbank is a speaker and writer charting how technology is changing society and business. Paul has four regular technology advice radio programs on ABC, a weekly column on the website and has published seven books.

Oct 062015

“Privacy is a fundamental human right”. A short, but sweet and fascinating, NPR interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Cook goes onto to avoid discussing the likelihood of Apple Cars and expounds the advantages of repatriating corporate profits back to the US, something we can expect cash rich companies like Apple to start agitating for after the next Presidential election.

The interview, which is only eight minutes long, is well worth a listen as Apple positions itself against competing internet giants Google and Facebook over the topic of privacy.


Oct 052015
Equipe 42

In France they do things differently and a good example is Ecole 42, a privately run school set up by Xavier Niel, one of the country’s early internet pioneers.

The French startup site Bonjour La French Tech describes Ecole 42s gruelling recruitment process where “out of 70 thousand original applicants, less than 1000 are chosen after a four-hour online test and month long trial period consisting of more than 100 work hours per week.”

It may be the 100 work hours per week is a typo, or something was lost in translation, but Ecole 42s process marks a very different philosophy towards technology training to that in the Anglo countries where the opportunities in teenage years are more accessible.

With the push to get coding courses into primary schools gathering speed, it’s interesting to see how an initiative like Ecole 42 will evolve. It’s hard though to think having a tiny technological elite would be helpful to a country’s industry or startup community.

However it maybe that elite turn out to be critical in developing a wider French ecosystem over the long term.

Certainly Niel’s efforts should be applauded, hopefully though those opportunities can be spread across the wider community..

Oct 042015
using an iPad and the cloud for a point of sale cash register

“You wouldn’t say, let me go buy an enterprise car,” Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told Box CEO Aaron Levie at the BoxWorks conference in San Francisco this week . “You don’t get an enterprise pen to write with.”

Cook was talking about Apple’s position in the enterprise computing world, something conventional IT industry wisdom says isn’t the company’s strong point.

While this was true in the days of desktop computers and network servers, the arrival of the iPhone and iPad changed that. Suddenly Apple were driving business computing as staff from the Chairman of the Board down to the office junior started bringing in iOS devices.

Up until the iPad, the Bring Your Own Device discussion was a debate, once the tablet appeared any argument was over as all levels of businesses started bring their devices into the office.

One of the key arguments for using an iPad were the applications available and one of the most important applications in the early days was Evernote.

Sadly for Evernote, those early successes haven’t continued and now the company is being flagged as potentially the first billion dollar ‘tech unicorn’ to fail.

If Evernote does fail, it will show that even having a compelling product at the right time isn’t a guarantee for success.

Apple however is basking in its success and, as Cook points out, the shift to mobile is now defining business and his company is probably the best positioned to exploit that.

Oct 032015

As announced two months ago, Google quietly morphed into Alphabet after stock trading closed on Friday. The Wall Street Journal describes the new structure and the rationale behind it.

It’s hoped putting the smaller, more speculative operations into a separate business units from the company’s core search and advertising businesses will allow managers to be more focused on the business while giving more flexibility to the newer divisions.

One of the major reasons for Google’s reorganisation is the company had become too unwieldy with the WSJ story quoting one former employee who illustrates the problem.

Many entrepreneurs believe “it’s easier to do their business outside Google rather than inside,” said Max Ventilla, who left Google in 2013 to found an education startup. “There’s a lot of red tape for head count and money to get through at Google.”

At the moment it’s not clear that headcount is going to fall under the new structure and certainly some more revisions to the core business are going to be needed to get focus back for products like Google Docs and the local business search operations which have been drifting for some time.

Over the next two years we’ll see how successful the new structure is. If it works, then Alphabet could be showing the new model for corporate conglomerations.

Oct 022015
suspicious man watching for an interent scam

Another day, another corporate security breach (or six). This time telco T-Mobile has revealed up to 15 million customers’ data has been compromised.

Notable in this story is that T-Mobile are firmly putting the blame on credit monitoring company Experian.

For both companies this is extremely embarrassing with T-Mobile stating, “our vendors are contractually obligated to abide by stringent privacy and security practices, and we are extremely disappointed that hackers could access the Experian network.”

T-Mobile, like most telcos, sees a major opportunity in being a trusted provider of security services and this setback hurts them in a key market.

Experian on the other hand have shown their slack attitude to user data previously, having been caught selling consumer details to identity thieves.

That a company in such a privileged position as Experian can be constantly caught this way will almost certainly increase the push to see penalties for corporate data breaches start to get real teeth and the United States’ cavalier attitude to public privacy and online security will take another dent.

For T-Mobile and most other companies, the lesson is start and clear. Trust starts with your own contractors and business partners, it cannot be outsourced.

Oct 012015

“It’s a kid in a candy store opportunity,” says Telstra CTO Vish Nandlall on being asked what excites him about the telecommunications industry.

Nandlall was talking to Decoding the New Economy about the challenges facing telcos in an industry facing massive change as the once immensely profitable voice and text services are being displaced by less lucrative data products.

Previously we’ve spoken to Nandlall about the future of Australia’s incumbent telco in a competitive market and this interview was an opportunity to explore some of the broader opportunities in a radically changing market.

A data business

“While our business sounds complicated, we actually only do three things.” Nandlall observes about telecommunications companies, “we move data, we store data and we compete on data.”

“In the course of my lifetime in telecoms any two of those coming together meant a major shift. Today all three are converging.”

That convergence creates a range of challenges and opportunities, Nandlall believes. “When I look at what we see on the consumer side, I see the Internet of Things which really does promise a golden age of convenience.”

“Underpinning it all is going to be a massive transformation around data, the data insights suddenly become the thing that we’re going to need to differentiate our businesses from competitors in the industry.”

Differentiation through data

The differentiation of telecoms companies is going to lie in the software and data services being offered, Nandlall believes. “I don’t think telcos need to replicate Over The Top services,” he says in reference to services like Facebook or WhatsApp or Skype.

Nandlall sees the value for telcos in providing the next level of services in areas such as API management, content delivery and security. “We need to have new digital delivery systems,” he says, flagging software defined systems as being key to delivering to the new generation of telco services, “we can’t be restricted to fixed lines.”

Facing the skills shortage

The challenge facing telcos and all businesses is finding skilled workers, Nandlall observes. “Because change has been so rapid there has been a pipeline of students or workers being readily available.”

Nandlall sees initiatives like Cloud Foundry and Hadoop offering a means to address the skills shortage by standardising processes, reducing complexity and automating many of the tasks occupying today’s developers and technology workers.

This change also promises to speed up business as well and, combined with cloud services, changing the operating models of entire industries.

A new competitive advantage

For businesses without the scale of Telstra Nandlall has an important message, “I think we’ve hit a point in industry is where the competitive advantage is not just through some sustained differentiation,” he observes. “Today it’s about your ability to rapidly adopt new things.”

That rapid adoption is only going to accelerate, Nandlall believes, as the Internet of Things and wearable devices bring a whole new range of ways to collect and display information. For a kid fascinated with data, that’s a big candy store.

Sep 302015

Businesses would be wise to stop telling people what they should want and let customers tell them what want says Shel Israel in his book Lethal Generosity.

In his latest book, Israel’s previous works include Naked Conversations and Age of Context which were both written in collaboration with Robert Scoble, he looks at the technological and social changes affecting business and how they can adapt to a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Key to that evolving marketplace is the explosion of data offering businesses deep insight into their customers. as Scoble describes in Lethal Generosity’s introduction in talking about social analytics service Vintank;

VinTank was acquired by a big PR agency that wants VinTank to do for all sorts of industries what it has done for the wine industry. Are you a restaurant or a winery ignoring that data? Go ahead and keep doing that for a decade. Your competition won’t.

Israel illustrates the need to watch the marketplace in citing a campaign where Canadian brewer Molsons completely wrong footed an oblivious competitor, something similar to how one bank discovered a rival’s successful marketing campaign through real time bank deposits data described  at the recent Splunk conference.

Focusing on the customers

A customer centric outlook, not looking at competitors but focusing on what consumers want is key to success in the new economy, Israel believes. This is enhanced by technologies that allow both products and marketing to be personalised as shown in the chapter detailing how retailers and airports are using beacons and data analytics in their operations.

One good example is AirBnB, while Israel trots out the ‘biggest hotel chain’ in the world fallacy that’s pervasive among commentators, its effects on the established industry has been profound and have forced hospitality operators around the world to re-evaluate their business models.

Israel suggests the best response for businesses affected by the ‘Uberization’ of their industries is to adopt the social and analytic tools and strategies being used the upstart businesses and he provides a wealth of examples.

Seamless sales

Tapingo, the food ordering service for US college students, illustrates the seamless experience that consumers are increasingly demanding in their shopping, business and leisure activities. Israel cites how Tapingo’s merchant partners are seeing an in-store traffic boost of 7 percent and a gross profit rise of 11 percent as a result of using the service.

Shel also illustrates some of the failures in deploying new technologies, specifically London’s Regent Street Alliance that failed due to poor execution and a failure to engage the marketplace.

One of the weakness in the book – which Israel acknowledges – is its focus on US, and specifically Bay Area, case studies. While there are some non-North American examples such as Australia’s Telstra and China’s Alipay, most of the examples cited are of companies based in or around San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Focus on Millennials

Another weakness of the book is the over-focus on Millennials or Digital Natives. While this group is important that obsession risks Israel’s message being pigeonholed amongst the noise of poorly thought out pop demographics and poor analysis that marks much of the discussion around changing tastes and habits between generations.

Israel’s point that the post 1982 generation will soon outnumber older cohorts in both the workforce and the marketplace in the near future though is an important aspect for businesses to keep in mind with the safe certainties and predictable customer behaviour of the baby boom era being long gone.

However the shift in consumer and workplace behaviour is just as pronounced among all the post World War II generations as technology and the economy evolves in the early 21st Century. Focusing on the younger groups risks missing similar shifts among older members of the community.

The value of customer service

Ultimately though, Israel’s message is about customer service. Shel himself flags this is not new, in describing the competition between hiking goods suppliers The North Face and Sierra Designs in 1970s Berkeley.

What is different between today’s businesses and those of forty years ago is technology now allows companies to deeply understand their customers and provide customised marketing, products and experiences to the connected consumer.

For the business owner, manager or entrepreneur, Lethal Generosity is a good starting point to understand the forces changing today’s marketplace. The case studies alone are worth considering for how an organisation can adapt to a rapidly evolving world with radically shifting customer behaviour.