Jun 212016
 
Microsoft-HoloLens-MixedWorld-RGB

What are the technologies that will change business over the coming years? During Gartner’s Business Transformation & Process Management Summit in Sydney on Tuesday, we had the opportunity to talk to Brian Blau, the company’s Vice President of Research, about what he sees as the five technologies that are most likely to change business.

Brian himself brings a lot of experience with emerging technologies, while he’s currently Gartner’s leading Apple analyst and specialises in consumer and mobile & Wireless technologies he spent the previous twenty years working in the virtual reality field which gives him an informed perspective on the many of the current popular tech buzzwords.

Talking to Blau in the busy analysts room at the Sydney Hilton, he kept reaching into his bad to show off his collection of the latest gizmos ranging from VR headsets through to smartwatches and fitness trackers, showing his enthusiasm for the field he covers.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

“It’s been a long time coming, I had twenty years in AR/VR and I’ve been an analyst for six and I’m glad I have that background,” says Blau.

Blau sees augmented and virtual reality tools altering the workplace dramatically as they change the experience for workers. The industries he sees being affected in the near future are sectors like field service, training and design.

Wearables

“Wearables are interesting devices,” Blau says. “You can almost think about them as transitory technologies so today there may be lightweight analytics about what employees do at work or what consumers do in public is kind of a stepping stone. If that device has a screen or some sort of interface on it, it becomes interactive.”

Blau cautions though that much of the data gathered from consumer wearable devices is far from reliable and while the quality of information improves there is still a way to go until we can depend upon these devices for life or mission critical tasks.

Virtual Personal Assistants

“These are combinations of hardware and software – Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana or Amazon Alexa,” Blau states. “These Virtual Personal Assistants are having a big transformation, today they answer simple questions based on rules but in the future they are going to be hyper-smart.”

“Facebook, Apple and the rest of them have opened up their platforms to developers, we think this has applicability to all sorts of consumers and in the business domain we’re going to see these devices used in workplaces.”

Cameras and computer vision devices

“There are two advances that are happening, there are multi lens camera devices and the algorithms behind them are starting to decode what’s behind the image,” says Blau. “I think this is exciting technology as it’s an input that’s never been digital before.”

Blau sees the increasing sophistication of cameras and the software processing the images as finding important applications within the workplace, “there’s a lot of tasks around vision that are manually processed at the moment and computer vision is going to automate those.”

Personal IoT devices

“These are more about the workforce, the sensors that are in the work environment are those that people could bring to work, it overlaps with wearables.” Blau says, “the next generation of IoT devices are going to be much more personal.”

“Almost every business I talk to is very interested in virtual reality and wearables,” states Blau. “There is a high amount of interest because there’s a firm belief these devices will change workplace and consumer behaviours.”

For these devices to be adopted on a large scale, they will have to become more reliable Blau believes with the barriers currently being that most devices and their software are still at Minimum Viable Product stage.

Tips for the future

Blau advises businesses looking at these technologies should start with a basic belief that the specific technology will benefit their business, then they have to experiment and identify what the return on investment will be. “My main advice is to experiment with the technology, run a series of pilot programs, make sure you’re diverse in what you are looking and keep an open mind,” he says.

“The goal with these devices is to change behaviour,” Blau states. “The real challenge will be to get it right over time. You’ll have to reiterate time upon time.”

With these new technologies entering the business world, companies are going to face changes both within their workforces and in their markets. Being across the potential of these technologies is going to be essential for managers.

Jun 152016
 
adrian-dimarco-technology-one-ceo

Two years ago I interviewed Technology One founder and CEO Adrian DiMarco about his company’s pivot to the cloud and the gold rush among consultants and services providers looking at making money out of cloud computing services.

DiMarco’s founded Technology One in 1987 to compete in the enterprise software space with the likes of SAS and Oracle. At the peak of the dot com boom in 1999, DiMarco listed the company on the Australian stock exchange where it is one of the few genuine tech stocks on the nation’s finance and mining dominated bourse.

Given the focus on listed companies at the moment, DiMarco’s views are worth noting. “if I were to do it again, I’d don’t think I’d go that path,” he says about listing the business. “I have a real issue with how public companies run in Australia.”

DiMarco’s view is at odds with Netsuite’s Zach Nelson who told Decoding the New Economy last month how being on the stock exchange forces management to focus. “Managing a public company is a great discipline and in some ways gives us an advantage over non-public company who don’t have to have discipline and make good investments,” Nelson said.

In DiMarco’s opinion, the regulatory and ‘box ticketing’ requirements of a listed company don’t reflect the true performance of a corporation’s management. “There are mediocre CEOs walking away with millions,” he says.

While listing made sense for Technology One in 1999 those looking at starting a business today shouldn’t necessarily follow his path warns DiMarco, “tor startups these days, don’t follow up normal route.,” he says.

“I think the world’s your oyster to do want you want. Don’t let anyone talk you out of anything,” DiMarco says. “When we started out we were told ‘don’t build enterprise software’. We did and we succeeded.”

“Don’t be scared,” he advices. “It really is a great time to startup a business. The technology is redefining business. It’s a good time.”

May 222016
 
dav

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to interview Evan Goldberg, the founder of Netsuite at the company’s Suiteworld conference in San Jose.

While one of the topics we covered was Goldberg’s support of the BRAC Foundation, I was also keen to discuss the company’s complex senior management and board dynamics.

Along with being the CTO, Goldberg is also Chairman of the Board which means CEO Zac Nelson answers to him on board matters but the roles are reversed in their executive management roles.

To make matters even more complex, Chief Operating Officer Jim McGeever is also the board’s President so he also answers to Nelson in executive matters while presiding over both of the others as a director.

“We call it the circular firing squad,” laughed Goldberg when I asked him about it. “We are all incredibly committed to the company and we get along really well. We get our egos out of the way and we just want to do the right thing.”

“Humour is a very important part of it,” Goldberg observes. “Fundamentally it has to be the right people for that to work. Three is a good number as you get to vote on the matter.”

So Goldberg’s view is Netsuite’s arrangement works because the three are friends and leave their egos out of decision making.

Goldberg’s observation is true of any successful business relationship – like a succesful personal relationship a thriving business partnership relies on respect and the individuals being able to give a little, or a lot, without bruising their egos.

Ultimately though, it’s interesting to observe how tolerant investors are towards such arrangements. As an independent, outside investor having too many Executive Directors on the board dilutes the critical management supervisory role of the board and that can’t be encouraging for shareholders.

Tech companies though get some slack from investors given their relative youth and market dynamics so it’s not surprising Netsuite gets away with this. The bond between the senior executives must also count as well.

May 192016
 
Zac_Nelson_Netsuite_CEO

Both the public cloud and a publicly listed company are good things for a business says Netsuite’s Zac Nelson.

“Managing a public company is a great discipline and in some ways gives us an advantage over non-public company who don’t have to have discipline and make good investments,” says Zac Nelson, the CEO of Netsuite.

Nelson was talking to Decoding the New Economy yesterday at the annual Suiteworld conference, Netsuite’s annual gathering in San Jose.

The CEO’s comments are in contrast to a common view that being publicly listed company distracts a company’s management from focusing on long term objectives, a sentiment Nelson rejects.

“In terms of managing a public company I think it’s an important discipline, I think a lot of people are opposed to these SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) rules but when I look at these rules I think they are just common sense. Are you managing your business right? You want to have control of your business so you aren’t blindsided.”

Probably the biggest advocate of taking companies private is Michael Dell who took his eponymous business off the markets three years ago and is now looking at doing the same thing with EMC in what will be the biggest IT merger in history.

Dell going private

Nelson doesn’t think Dell going private was a mistake though, “I saw Larry Ellison say it was one of the greatest business moves in the history of man, I’ll agree with Larry – he’s usually right on that stuff,” he laughed.

“The thing I see Dell doing that I understand is they are giving their smaller division more autonomy. Dell Boomi is going back to being just Boomi and Secureworks just went public. Certainly from a structural standpoint and business model innovation that makes sense and it’s what I understand.”

As a public company, Netsuite does come under scrutiny and one of the criticisms is that it continues to post losses, something that Nelson puts down to the treatment of stock options. In the last earnings report, the company claimed capitalising stock options added $30 million in costs and not including them would see the company reporting an eight million dollar profit last quarter.

“We’re cash flow positive, we generate over $140 million in cash,” Nelson says. “People are happy with it, we’re still investing. What we’re investing in this year is different to the past, we’re investing in services to enable our customers to invest in product.”

Integrating the stack

One of the advantages Nelson sees that cloud based companies like his have are integrated systems, “the client server world created this perspective that dis-integrated systems actually work – you have Windows, you have third-party apps – but what really works well are integrated systems.” he says. “Look at the most common system you guys use, called Apple, it’s an integrated end-to-end system. Same with Amazon, that’s what we’ve built.”

“The detour we took in the client-server world is still being taken in the software world, a lot of software people believe you can compile this stuff and it will magically work. No, it doesn’t. Integrated systems work better.”

Securing the cloud

One area he specifically sees where cloud services have an advantage in being integrated is with security, “a problem that large enterprises have that we to some degree don’t have is we have one system, we have five data centers. You look at some of these large enterprises and some of them don’t even know where some of their data centres are. How on earth do you secure that environment? It’s not a product problem, it’s a process and IT management problem.”

Nelson’s comments on security are a swipe at competitors like SAP and Oracle who are often criticised for having disparate systems.

With Suiteworld moving to Las Vegas next year, it will be interesting to see who’s taking bets against cloud services like Netsuite. Certainly with salesmen like Zac Nelson, they’re able to tell a good story. The key though is to show some profits in the longer run.

Paul travelled to Suiteworld in San Jose as a guest of Netsuite.

 

May 042016
 
not listening to your market or industry is a big management risk

One of the big technology industry stories currently is the merger of Dell and data storage giant EMC, which at seventy billion dollars will be the biggest merger in the tech industry’s history.

With fifty thousand employees managing such a change presents a challenge for EMC’s managers and something noticeable attending the company’s EMC World conference in Las Vegas this week is how upbeat almost all the staffers about the impending merger.

In an interview with David Goulden, the CEO of EMC’s Infrastructure division, which is the company’s core business, I asked him how they were keeping staff morale up in the face of changes that will almost certainly cost jobs.

“Change creates uncertainty,” says Goulden. “One thing I’ve learned from this is you cannot over-communicate and that’s true internally and it’s true with our customers. We’ve put an incredible amount of effort in communications so our teams are engaged to go and speak to their customers.”

As change is now a constant in all industries Goulden’s lesson should be noted by all managers and business leaders – clear, honest and open communications with employees and customers is essential in keeping the trust of the markets and workforce.

The old model of restricting information and hoping no-one finds out is increasingly harder to sustain and from a business point of view unprofitable in the medium term as well.

Paul travelled to Las Vegas as a guest of EMC and Netsuite.

Apr 112016
 
apple-ceo-tim-cook-celebrates-steve-jobs

Life changes when you become the chief executive says Bill Wagner, the CEO and President at remote access company LogMeIn. “I now spend thirty percent of my time with investors,” he says

Wagner, previously the company’s Chief Operating Officer, took over the leadership at LogMeIn last September after founder Michael Simon  stepped down.

The company is in the midst of a major change as Simon steered the company toward the Internet of Things in response to the shift away from desktop personal computing that had been the business’ core market.

LogMeIn’s IoT strategy is around being a trusted platform for controlling the myriad household, CEcommercial and industrial devices that want to connect to the internet, with Wagner only seeing AWS as being their main competitors that has seen a range of companies entering in the last few years.

“I don’t think IoT will be a wave, it’s more like a rising tide,” Wagner says.

Wagner is one of the IoT’s enthusiasts citing applications ranging from the insurance sector through to connected clothing as being potential markets, although industrial application may be the earliest adopters of LogMeIn’s services. “The more industrial the industry, the more mature is M2M to IoT adoption,” he observes.

That adoption though is tempered by the presence of industry groups where Wagner maintains LogMeIn’s hostility towards slower moving associations such as the Industrial Internet Alliance and proprietary platforms like Google Nest.

An advantage Wagner sees in his taking over as LogMeIn’s Chief Executive Officer is his experience with the company, “I don’t know how externally recruited CEOs manage it,” he observes.

With LogMeIn facing a continued transition into uncertain markets, the company needs a steady vision. It may be that internal recruitment is an important strategic move.

Mar 312016
 
Can overinflated job titles affect a business

One of the most derided organisational theories of recent times has been Holacracy, a system of running organisations without managers.

The idea behind Holacracy is job descriptions are outdated and unnecessarily limiting. Modern workplaces and roles are far more fluid than the traditional, almost militaristic, structure of the hierarchical organisation chart.

Creator of Holacracy, Brian Robertson, describes in a Medium post how the anti-management theory came around during the early days of running a tech startup in the early 2000s.

The impact of our deep dive into agile software development went far beyond just “how we built software”?—?it infused our culture and gave us a foundation of principles and practices for the management of the company as well. Over the next several years, we’d do our best to express this paradigm in everything we did. Agile principles became a guidepost and a measurement for all of our future experimentation, as did the highly overlapping principles of the lean movement.

Given the tech startup roots of the idea, it’s not surprising Holacracy applies many of the principles that make up the Agile and Lean movements – particularly the hostility to micro-management.

Moving on from Holacracy

It’s notable that Robertson posted his background on Holacracy on Medium as the service was one of the more prominent adopters of the organisational theory, however the publishing platform has now dumped the philosophy.

In his post about why he and his business partner have dumped Holacracy, Medium founder Ev Williams said “the system had begun to exert a small but persistent tax on both our effectiveness” however he still thought the concept has merit and traditional management structures are too slow to deal with the demands of modern business.

The management model that most companies employ was developed over a century ago. Information flows too quickly?—?and skills are too diverse?—?for it to remain effective in the future.

Williams’ point is right, the 19th Century military structure of businesses was fine at a time when product cycles could be measured in years if not decades. In today’s world where the life of companies, let alone products, has been drastically compressed a much more flexible and fast moving way of organising businesses is needed.

Dynamic times

Along with needing far more flexible and fast moving structures, organisations also have the tools to create them. Again, the days of memos moving through layers of management via manila envelopes are long gone and now we have collaborative, real time communications methods.

One of the great changes in business over the next decade is going to be the rethinking of how organisations are managed, Holacracy may turn out not to be the answer but it is an early attempt of making sense of a very changed business world.

Management are the one group that really hasn’t been disrupted over the past thirty years. As strange as it might sound, Holacracy is a taste of the radical changes the executive suite are about to experience.