Sep 152016
 
getready_futurenow_flying_solo

What is changing the modern business? In Flying Solo’s upcoming free webinar, The Future is now – Trends in the Modern Workplace, I’ll be exploring some of the technology trends changing the way we work.

A few of these trends are already here, like the mobile workplace but others such as artificial intelligence, the internet of thing and augmented reality are on the five year horizon and we can expect those technologies to have a major impact on the business in the medium term.

One of the industries we’ll be looking at is the automobile industry that’s facing massive changes as electric vehicles, driverless cars and smartcities change the way we use cars and get goods delivered. This sector is looking at both the immediate effects and the longer term effects of the technological change on their industry.

In preparing the presentation it’s striking how similar todays discussions about AI and and AR are with how we talked about the World Wide Web twenty years ago. At the time we didn’t see how companies like Google and Amazon were going to change they way we work and the way our customers buy from us.

Equally ten years ago we didn’t see how the mobile internet or social media was going to change the ways we did business or how our customers would buy. Today they are important factors.

Mobile has changed business

The recent announcement of the iPhone 7 underscores just how the smartphone has become part of lives. No device has been adopted quicker by the marketplace and its effects on business have been profound and continue to be felt.

In the nine years since the iPhone was released, the mobile internet has boomed. Now almost all our customers are looking for our services through mobile devices – be they smartphones or table computers.

One of the things that ‘s worrying however is how few small operators have mobile friendly websites. This year’s Sensis e-business report found sixty percent of small businesses have websites but only forty percent of those were mobile friendly meaning less than a quarter were suitable for smartphones and tablets.

But it’s not just marketing – the mobile internet, smartphones and cloud computing is changing how workplaces operate. It’s becoming easier for employees to work remotely and for companies to be genuinely distributed and we’re seeing more businesses made up of workers scattered around the world, a good example being the company that created WordPress, Automattic, who are showing how a modern workplace can operate.

Automattic’s experience shows how companies can use the mobile and web based tools to manage a modern workforce. For solo businesses, being able to harness outside skills and participate in larger projects, is one of the great opportunities presented by the mobile world.

Everything is connected is connected

Key to business automation is how things are being networked. Increasingly things are being connected to the internet, whether it’s bees, kettles or tractors. If we can put a chip in something and connect it to the net, then we will.

Also, as anyone who deals with the supermarkets knows, large customers increasingly want suppliers to be connected into their data exchange platforms. That integration into supply chains is only going to increase.

This has a number of issues for organisations, first we need the technology to allow us to connect and the systems to efficiently exchange data with our business partners. We also need to know what is being collected by our devices.

Swimming in data

‘Data is the new oil’ is one of the mantras we hear, however that overlooks that dealing with oil is a complex, often dirty and frequently dangerous business.

While having lots of data is an opportunity to get more understanding of our businesses and the markets they operate in, all of this information also has a number of hazards. Not least in securing it and making sure company’s, its employees and its clients’ data is safe.

The big challenge for businesses, big or small, is managing the data that threatens to overwhelm everyone. Being able to get value from the information flowing into the organisation while protecting the underlying data is going to be one of the big issues facing businesses of all sizes.

Automation and robotics

Much of the work in managing all this data will be done by computers – artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation are all going to be standard features in business.

For service providers, increasingly ‘bread and butter’ tasks are going to be taken over by robots that deprive them of business and cash flow. Other businesses however will see this shift as an opportunity to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Accounting service Xero is a good example where founder and CEO Rod Drury sees these technologies as changing the way we work, “Automation and machine learning are improving traditional services by streamlining compliance processes and creating new business opportunities, many of which are either no-touch or limited-touch.”

Increasingly we’re going to see these technologies built into the software programs we use, not just in accounting packages but also in areas like CRM platforms, email and even word processing,

Visualising the data

One of the most exciting technologies of the moment are Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and, a combination of the both, Mixed Reality. While games like Pokemon Go! are leading the way it’s actually in industries like logistics, resources and public safety that are leading the applications of these technologies.

For smaller businesses technologies like AR and VR promise to help us visualise the data we have to deal with along with opening up a range of applications ranging from virtual meetings to prototyping. Coupled with technologies like 3D printing, VR and AR may open up a whole range of new industries.

Cultural change

This range of new industries means we’re going to need a whole new set of attitudes and business faces a cultural change as technology changes the workplace. Coupled with major skill shortages in most areas, corporations are going to need to find a new pool of diverse, qualified labour. This is great news for solo businesses.

Like everything there is also a catch, and small businesses are also going to have to embrace that diversity in looking for commercial partners, suppliers and customers. Increasingly, thinking outside the box to find people who can effectively use new technology is going to be important.

The good news is that mobile and cloud services coupled with most of the world becoming connected makes it easier for solo operators to find the skills they need. The real barrier lies in ourselves ditching old prejudices and assumptions

A new business environment

In conclusion, we’re about to enter the next phase of the computer revolution. We’ve been through the PC period, we’re now in the middle of the smartphone era and the artificial intelligence age is about to begin.

The ultimate trend though is that business is going to get faster and solo business proprietors are going to face the same challenges as managers and executives in large corporations as a wave of data floods over us all.

One of the advantages for small businesses is we’re not saddled with legacy systems in the way large organisations and with the tools of the new era being affordable, means solo entrepreneurs can grasp opportunities far quicker than their bigger competitors.

The opportunities are there for us to take, we just have to seize them when when they appear.

May 072016
 
singapore-airlines-777

I’ve spent much of today, interviewing Australian tech company founders on why they moved to San Francisco for a project I’m doing.

One question I’m asking is what advice they would give others planning a similar move.

Every response so far has been, “do it now. Don’t wait.”

So what are you waiting to do?

Mar 172016
 
walking the shop floor is important to business management

Last week Australia’s Fairfax Media announced the company will cut another 120 editorial jobs at the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. What strategies beyond cuts can save old media companies as traditional advertising revenues dry up?

For decades, the print and broadcast media was incredibly profitable as they provided an advertising platform for businesses and individuals. While television revenues have held up, the rest of the media industry has seen their income collapse.

In the early days of the web the hope was display advertising would provide revenues for online publishers, however it turns out  readers are blind to the ads and, should the messages become too intrusive or resource heavy, people will install ad-blockers.

One revenue channel for publishers is ‘content marketing’ or ‘branded content’ where advertisers sponsor specific stories. At the Sydney Ad:Tech conference earlier this week Asia-Pacific Regional Advertising Director for the New York Times, Julia Whiting, described what the iconic masthead finds works in this medium.

Whiting says there are five key factors in making branded content work for advertisers.

  • Give something of value. Be entertaining, informative, educative or provide some utility.
  • Tell an authentic story. Make the link between the brand and story as subtle as possible.
  • Produce high quality content. Consider how a newsroom cover the story and what would hook the reader.
  • Choose the right environment. Advertisers have to align with publishers that have the right brand values and audience.
  • Targeted campaigns. Use data to define and find target audiences then use that information to deliver relevant content.

The question with the branded content is how explicit the advertiser’s message or sponsorship can be before readers start losing trust.

Becoming creepy

Another aspect is creepiness. One of the campaigns Whiting showcased was The Creekmores, the story of a young family who travelled the world as the mother was dying of breast cancer that was sponsored by Holiday Inn.

On a personal level, this writer is uncomfortable with such a personal story being associated with a multinational brand and wonders if the family would have been happy for their tale to be part of a branded content campaign for a hotel chain.

For branded content to really work, that ‘alignment’ between the publisher, audience and advertiser is essential and in turn ultimately relies upon the credibility of the outlet.

In the case of the New York Times, that credibility rests upon good writing and strong editorial values, although the paper hasn’t been immune from scandal itself.

Good, well edited writing may turn out to be the greatest asset for today’s media outlets as smaller publications such as The Economist, Punch and The Spectator see readership and revenues increase.

The Guardian, ironically an outlet that itself is cutting 250 staff, reports these publications are succeeding due to well written articles. “If you produce journalism that is not just better but significantly better than what’s free on the web, people will pay for it,” says Spectator editor Fraser Nelson.

Which brings us back to Australia’s Fairfax where a succession of clueless managements have eroded editorial standards. Three years ago former editor Eric Beecher wrote a scathing account of his time at the company where an incompetent and unqualified board flailed in the face of market changes it could barely comprehend.

One of the villains of that tale, board chairman Roger Corbett, was a successful Chief Executive of the Woolworths supermarket chain. That he was so obsessed with a failed business model and protecting margins by slashing costs indicates much about the nature of Australia’s insular corporate world.

A consequence of Fairfax’s cost cutting obsession has been foreign outlets have stepped into the market with The Guardian, Daily Mail, Buzz Feed and a range of other sites setting up in the country – something that further squeezes the incumbent’s market position.

In opening her Ad:Tech presentation, the NY Times’ Julia Whiting noted Australia was the outlet’s fifth largest global market, something undoubtedly driven by the decline in the SMH’s and Age’s output.

The travails of Fairfax and the successes of smaller outlets show what might be an encouraging trend in the media – that a quality product actually attracts an audience and advertisers.

If that’s true, the managements that mindlessly cut costs that hurt the quality of their core product may be accelerating the demise of their businesses.

Oct 212015
 
google-street-view-in-the-swiss-alps

“In all my issues at Google, I knew I had no idea what to do, but I knew that I had the best team ever assembled to figure out what to do,” says Google – and now Alphabet – chairman Eric Schmidt in an interview with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

Schmidt’s interview is a great insight into managing fast growth companies,”almost all small companies are full of energy and no process”. While he reflects on his early days at stricken companies like Sun (“tumultuous and political”) and Novell (“the books were cooked, and people were frauds”).

Moving to Google he found all of his management skills exercised at a company with a unique culture and rapidly growing headcount.

One notable anecdote is how Larry Page kept a 100k cheque from an early investor in his pocket for a month before cashing it.

Compare and contrast that attitude with the current startup mania where by the end of that day a media release would be issued proclaiming the company to be a new unicorn on that valuation.

Schmidt’s view, like many others, is that the real key to success in the company is the people. This echoes the interview with Meltwater’s CEO earlier this week where Jørn Lyseggen described how the key to starting a venture in a new country was the first five people hired.

One great takeaway Schmidt has from his time at Google is how great companies are created through the Minimal Viable Product method, “the way you build great products is small teams with strong leaders who make tradeoffs and work all night to build a product that just barely works.Look at the iPod. Look at the iPhone. No apps. But now it’s 70% of the revenue of the world’s most valuable company.”

Ultimately though Schmidt’s advice is to make decisions quickly, “do things sooner and make fewer mistakes. The question is, what causes me not to make those decisions quickly.”

“Some people are quicker than others, and it’s not clear which actually need to be answered quickly. Hindsight is always that you make the important decisions more quickly.”

Jun 192015
 
Accountants and bookkeeping ledger

Investment advisers could be the next occupation to face automation reports Bloomberg Business with the prediction two trillion dollars worth of investment funds could be managed by computers by the end of the decade.

An important aspect of the change to computerised investment advice is the reduced fees that makes professional knowledge far cheaper and more accessible.

The downside, as Bloomberg points out, is that there may be fewer investment advisers enjoying corporate hospitality and conventions in future so there may be other industries feeling the job losses too.

Jun 092015
 
Telstra_consumer_insights_centre_insight_ring

The Twentieth Century was defined by abundant and cheap energy while this century will be shaped by our access to massive amounts of data.

How do managers deal with the information age along with the changes bought about by technologies like the Internet of Things, 3D printing, automation and social media?

Management in the Data Age looks at some of the opportunities and risks that face those running businesses. It was originally prepared for a private corporate briefing in June 2015.

Some further background reading on the topic include the following links.

 

May 142015
 
HEXO+_ autonomous drone front view

An old saying is necessity is the mother of invention and nowhere is this shown better than walking the exhibition floor of the Internet of Things World conference in San Francisco today.

The Wallflower is a good example of this, thought up of after the founder had to rush home when his partner thought she’d left the stove on (she hadn’t), he thought there had to be something that could monitor this on the market and when he discovered there wasn’t, he invented it.

Snowboarding needs

Probably the sexiest device on the floor is the Hexo+, an autonomous drone designed for video shots. Use the app to tell you what shot you want and it the drone will take off and video you.

Hexo+ was founded by Xavier de Le Rue, a French professional snowboarder who wanted to get shots of his maneuvers but couldn’t afford a crew or a helicopter to do so. The preprogrammed flight patterns represent the most common camera sequences optimised for the GoPro camera.

Probably the most trivial is the MySwitchMate, a mechanical device that fits over a wall light switch. Set it up and you can use its app to flick your lights on and off.

The device was born out of the founder wanting to remotely control his college dorm lights from his bed. While the market seems to be those who don’t want to get out of bed, its main market are those who would like remotely controlled lights but can’t install a smart lighting system.

A niche from a need

What all three of these devices show is how a need by an inventor spurred a  product’s development, in that respect the Internet of Things is no different from any other wave of innovation.

So if you wonder “why doesn’t someone sell this?” it might be an opportunity to set up your own business or invent an IoT device to meet that need.