Tag Archives: business models

The Changing Way we Work & Live – part 3

English: Miniature turbine 3D print from Rapid...

English: Miniature turbine 3D print from Rapid 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first in this series of posts looked at how technology advances are enabling location independence for people at work, and the second looked at some of the socio-economic impacts of this move. In fact, the changes are potentially even more widespread further into the future, as a recent MindBullets post discussed.

Essentially, what this post suggests is that in the next decade or so, a combination of 3D printing – that technology is already available, albeit in a somewhat rudimentary form still – and cheap robotics will render manufacturing as we know it obsolete.

What’s more, this combination of technologies will make the production lines of old irrelevant as we move to true user choice in every product. We all remember the early days of the mass produced car, when Henry Ford suggested that customers could have the Model T in any colour they liked, so long as it was black. Contrast that with today where the buyer has, literally thousands of combinations of colour, internal and external finish, engine and accessories available to make a vehicle unique, or at least highly individualized. In the future, there will be no limit to the choices available as each product will be built/printed to your exact specification.

The impacts of this are, of course, dramatic – imagine the impact on China if its low-cost manufacturing prowess is no longer needed as it is faster and cheaper to make items at/near the customer. What will the effect be on the economies of countries like China, Mexico and others where a largely unskilled labour force has provided economic growth through mass manufacturing? And what will the consequent ripple effects around the world be as a result?

What, too, will be the impact on the logistics and transportation industries if there is no longer the need for transporting all the freshly-made products around the world? Shipping, air, road and rail transport, and warehousing will all undergo massive changes and many companies that are household names will have to adapt radically or disappear.

The Amazon of the future, for example, instead of having huge warehouses filled with a multiplicity of product and a logistics operation predicting demand and ensuring, so far as is possible, just-in-time delivery from its vast range of suppliers, will have a series of printing/manufacturing modules and will create products to order in a matter of minutes – and the only transport needed is to the consumer. As prices of 3D printers continue to fall, imagine a world where these are in every home, negating even this ‘last mile’ transportation.

There will, of course, still be the need for some level of transportation – the raw materials for the 3D printers and robotic manufacturing operations, but this will be much less onerous than the transportation of today.

There is, of course, still one area that 3D printing and robotic manufacturing has not solved – organic material. This means that food – fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, fish and so on – will still, for the foreseeable future at least, need to be transported from the farms to consumers in some way. Here, too, we’re seeing huge change today as increasing numbers of consumers buy this online, bypassing the need for physical supermarkets and shops, and we’ll look at the effects of all this online shopping in the next part of this series.

There’s no question that the current advances in 3D printing and robotics will dramatically change the way products are made and delivered and the effects of this on companies and countries will be massive. Technology is really causing the pace of change to accelerate more and more quickly – the future just gets more and more interesting.

Note: I first posted this on the Business Connexion blog on 8 April.

The Changing Way We Work & Live – part 2

Urban Decay

Urban Decay (Photo credit: pmorgan)

The previous post showed how technology is enabling location independence for the workforce for the first time since the Industrial Revolution created the need for urbanisation.

Smart devices, such as smartphones and powerful tablets, are providing people with the ability to be fully productive at customer sites, from home or wherever else the demands of the role take them, with sales of these devices outstripping those of PCs for the first time in 2011.

Estimates vary widely, but it seems that at least 10% of the workforce today works from home rather than in an office, and estimates are that this could reach as much as 60% in a decade. What’s more, contrary to what many employers feared, it seems that working from home increases productivity noticeably – some 10-15%, in fact – due to people working longer with fewer breaks and having less interruption.

But this location independence has far wider implications, too:

  • Equipment purchases – concomitant with location independence, people want to have their own choice of devices: the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon.  Initially concerned about the security implications of people using their own devices, companies have realised that the cost savings more than compensate for the additional security/monitoring required, and the employee is happier, too. Of course, this has ripple effects on the supply chain as companies no longer need to buy large volumes of end-user equipment due to the users purchasing their own, normally from the retail channel. This is exacerbated by a move into the cloud and companies consequently no longer needing as many servers and storage systems as they simply use these “as a service” from the cloud providers – again impacting the supply chain for such equipment.
  • Pervasive communications – of course, for location independence to work, people need access to fast communications links wherever they are. This is continuing to drive the roll-out of faster, cheaper mobile and fixed-line communications throughout the country. This trend will continue – more bandwidth, cheaper, driving the need for even more as applications increasingly take advantage of whatever is available. Inexpensive, or even free, video conferencing is quite normal now – replacing meetings in offices – and the use of vide for demonstrations, sales tools and so on fuels an ongoing demand for even more.
  • Housing prices – one issue that’s seldom mentioned when talking about location independence is the impact on house prices. As people need to cluster less around major metropolitan areas to work, so this must impact prices in areas that were in very high demand for the reason of convenient access to work. Could this be the catalyst that finally bursts the London property bubble? Could it also cause prices to increase in more remote, cheaper areas as people opt for quieter spots? And then what about the impact on transport – less commuting means fewer passengers on the trains and tube. Not only might this mean people actually getting seats when commuting, but it may force the operating companies to reduce prices to try and attract people to use the services.  The socio-economic impact of this location independence could be huge.
  • Holidays / Leave – another interesting result of the increasing move to people working from home is the effect on holidays and leave. Not only is it increasingly difficult to monitor when people are “at work” or not, the lines are also blurring between work and leisure time. All of this creates headaches for companies when it comes to such things as people taking time off. A number of companies, particularly in the USA, are now moving away from formal leave allowances and the administration that goes with this, opting instead for employees being able to determine their own leave requirements, provided they get their work done. Not only does this further improve motivation and morale but improves company balance sheets as they no longer have to provide for paying out against untaken leave – and for large companies, these amount can be substantial.

Just as the Industrial Revolution led to urbanisation in the 18th and 19th centuries, could technology and location independence lead to the reduction of these large conurbations in the 21st century?

One thing’s certain – work will never be the same again.

Note: I first posted this on the Business Connexion blog on 4 Mar.

The Changing Way We Work & Live – part 1

Laptop on beach


Laptop on beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a revolution under way that is gaining momentum, and yet doing so in a way that although we scarcely notice the changes from day-to-day, when we look back a few years we can see they’re enormous.

This revolution is in the way we work and live.

Ten years ago, working from 9 to 5 in an office was overwhelmingly the norm, and when we left the office at 5 we effectively switched off from work until we arrived back at our desks the next morning.

Today, this is very different and the lines between work and leisure are increasingly blurred, impacting almost every aspect of life from where we work, to how, when and even to our holidays, and yet we’re really still in the early stages of this revolution.

It all came together with the convergence of the Internet, smartphones and notebook PCs in the mid-late 90s – the Internet becoming increasingly pervasive once a user-friendly browser, Netscape, was released in 1994, the term “Smart Phone” first being used in 1997 and, of course, the increasing power and affordability of notebook PCs throughout the 90s.

By 2000, this convergence of technologies was enabling people to become properly location-independent – accessing email at any time, from anywhere, and moving from this to being able to run an increasingly wider list of applications on these portable devices: initially the notebook PCs, but increasingly on smart phones as the performance of these devices improved. For the first half of the decade, though, such location independence was still the preserve of the ‘early adopters’ as the technologies continued to evolve and the cost and availability of bandwidth improved, with such ‘early adopters’ being equipped by the companies for which they worked.

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 brought about the next significant jump in working practice – or rather, the introduction of the Apple App Store a few months after the iPhone brought about this jump.  The iPhone and App Store enabled people to choose from a wide range of applications that enabled their smartphones to be so much more functional than had been the case to date.

Suddenly, Apple moved into the mainstream of intelligent device use, and people started demanding that they be allowed to use their own smartphone (the iPhone, in this case) rather than the company-supplied one, (most often a Blackberry at that time). People liked the new applications that were available, and wanted to use these at work as well as in their leisure time.

And then, in 2010, came the iPad…

This combined sufficient power and screen size to effectively run most business-level applications that people needed to access when on the move, with battery life than enable all-day working – a major limitation of notebook PCs that typically could only run for a few hours.

For the first time, people could work remotely from their offices all day without worrying about power source availability – true location-independence had become feasible.

Of course, things continue to evolve. PC makers, seeing massive market share being taken by these portable smart devices (phones and tablets), which outsold PCs for the first time in 2011, have countered with Ultrabooks – full-power notebooks that utilise solid state disks and great battery life to provide full PC performance with all-day power. Tablets, too, get more powerful and functional, while bandwidth continues to become more pervasive and cheaper.

The “Bring Your Own Device” movement is now taking off – users insisting on being able to work with their own choice of devices and companies recognising the cost savings, and motivational advantages of allowing this.

Today, it’s entirely commonplace for employees to have no real office address: their contact details show a mobile number alone, and they work from home, from client sites and from wherever else is most convenient. They come together over video conference calls from multiple places, and share knowledge using a multiplicity of internet-based tools.

And this trend will keep accelerating, with interesting social consequences likely to emerge as society increasingly reverses the location-dependence introduced with the Industrial Revolution.

I’ll explore some of these, together with the technology issues driving them, in future posts.

Note: I first posted this on the Business Connexion blog on 11 Feb.

“Drowning in Data”

Data Center

Data Center (Photo credit: bandarji)

I’ve just read a fascinating article in The Times of 22nd October which starts out by saying, “The world is ‘drowning in data’ and computing companies are running out of space to store it…”

Some of the interesting numbers that came out of the article:

  • By 2016, the number of devices connected to the internet will be 3x the global population (so, well over 20 billion devices) – that’s up from 9 billion today, itself an eightfold increase in seven years, with the num

    ber expected to reach a staggering 50 billion by 2020.

  • Global IP traffic in 2016 will reach about 120 exabytes / month. That’s 120 million terabytes (or, if you prefer, 120 billion gigabytes) of data every month – and almost 10% is expected to be mobile data.
  • And, if you think YouTube has too much video on nowadays, by 2016 estimates are the 20 000 hours of video will cross the internet every second!

Already this year we’ve seen the explosion of tablets and smartphones – not just in numbers, but in data traffic, too, with the average tablet expected to handle some 4 gigabytes of data every month, up 8x from last year, and the average smartphone to be handling around 2.5 gigabytes of data a month, about 16x more than last year.

This pace of growth indicates both devices overtaking laptops for data traffic in the next year or so as laptops are ‘only’ handling around 7 gigabytes a month, little more than 3x up on last year.

So, we’re creating vast amounts of information but what are we doing with it all? Seemingly, it’s going into enormous storage pools as another recent article in Microscope (19th October) pointed to a significant skills gap when it came to the ability of companies to handle this level of information – ‘Big Data’ as it’s referred to.

Although the article points to research showing that almost 2/3rds of UK business understood the competitive advantages of being able to utilise this data (nearly twice the number of firms in 2010), less than a quarter believe they have the ability to analyse all the unstructured data streaming in.

So, not only do we have a growing issue with storing all this exponentially increasing data traffic, but we’re largely unable to do anything with it.

It’s going to be fascinating to see the business models that spring up to manage this in the next couple of years.

The iPad as a Business Tool

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Some 6 months ago, I posted a discussion on LinkedIn to ask advice about how practical a tablet – specifically the iPad – would be for business use on the road and received enough advice to encourage me to take the plunge. As a now-avid user of the technology, I thought it would be useful to post my experiences and the tools I use to assist others.

Background

Like many people today, my work involves frequent travel to London as well as meetings within, normally, a two hour radius of my home-office.

My excellent notebook computer, as is normal, cannot run for a full day without recharging and this then means lugging around a heavy bag with power supply, cables, etc. – not at all comfortable – while my smartphone is simply too small to do “real work” on.

With a 10-hour battery life and a 10-inch screen, the iPad overcomes the shortcomings of both notebook and smartphone – the question was just how usable it would be in a Windows environment like mine.

My Hardware Environment

Taking advice from several people I opted for the WiFi version of the iPad, together with a 3G data package from “three” giving me 15Gb of data a month with a MiFi device and costing just £18.99 a month.

The money I saved on not buying the 3G version was spent on the extra memory – the 64GB model.

Having seen a few other people using their iPads, I went for three “must-have” accessories, too: screen protectors, a capacitive stylus (from Boxwave) and a leather case with built-in Bluetooth silicon keyboard from LuvMac.  The LuvMac case/keyboard is great – not only protecting the iPad but giving me a built-in keyboard for very little weight, so freeing up the whole of the screen space for viewing. With about 100 hours of use out of a charge, I only charge it once a week.

My Software Environment

This was the area that most concerned me. Fortunately iPad apps are fairly inexpensive in the main, so if you make a mistake and get the wrong app for your needs it’s not a huge problem.

The applications I now use all the time (after some experiments) are: Dropbox, DocsToGo Premium, iAnnotate PDF, zipThat and – to access my Home-Office PC – Wyse PocketCloud Pro. Word and Excel files work very well with DocsToGo, although PowerPoint is less successful unless your slides are very simple and have no background pictures, so there’s a great opportunity for somebody to develop a PowerPoint-compatible app. I use both the Kindle app and iBooks for e-books and have a great business modeling app called Business Model. I’m also experimenting with a few other apps for Mind Mapping, general notes/drawing, etc., but haven’t yet settled on anything in particular. Of course, I have a few newspaper and news (TV) apps, too.

Email and Contacts on the iPad are very basic – workable, but not something you would want as your primary system. An Outlook client for iPad would be first prize (especially as I link to multiple mailboxes on various devices, including my smartphone. Another great thing would be a Google Chrome or Firefox app as Safari on the iPad is pretty clunky.

Setting everything up for my home-office environment was extremely easy and the RDP (Remote Desktop) links to my Home-Office PC from within the house (and garden) are very fast. Getting past my Sky Router and my internet security system was more challenging but that’s also now working well and I can access my PC when on the road if I’ve forgotten to put something in my Dropbox folder.

Conclusion

For me, the iPad definitely paid for itself in just a couple of months. I not only use it on the road all the time for email, etc., but also find myself using to take notes in meetings and events instead of using paper – so notes are immediately searchable on my PC, too.

If you have specific comments or suggestions for apps, etc., I’d be happy to hear them and share them through this post.

Capitalism – What the Future Holds

Wall Street

Image by Mirka23 via Flickr

The world is in a state of flux.

With the economic downturn lingering far longer than most people expected, governments are under growing pressure to kick-start economies. However, a growing number of countries with looming debt crises and a consequent unwillingness or inability of governments to spend more money hampers this.  And, as the northern hemisphere weather warms up, we can expect to see growing numbers of demonstrations by people wanting jobs or, at least, a reduction in job cuts.

All of which leads to the question – is the capitalist system doomed?

I don’t believe for a moment that this is the case – history shows that capitalism is the most effective way for countries and people to grow their wealth – but I do think we’re going to see some far-reaching changes.

Back in September 2009, I suggested in my post, “The Perils of Quarteritis” that the short-term thinking so prevalent in recent years had contributed significantly to the crash, and that businesses would move to a longer-term, more strategic model.

The March 2011 edition of Harvard Business Review has a wonderful paper, “Capitalism for the Long Term,” by Dominic Barton, Global Managing Director of McKinsey & Company where documents his findings from 18 months of research and hundreds of meetings with business and government leaders. In this paper, Barton makes 3 points to support his conclusion that capitalism must survive, but that it needs to change, too:

  1. A return to longer-term thinking by companies, investors and politicians alike – he refers to this as “The Tyranny of Short-Termism” (my version was Quarteritis).
  2. That there is no difference between serving the interests of shareholders and of stakeholders – in spite of a more recent belief that serving stakeholders made shareholders poorer, managing for long-term value growth benefits not only stakeholders and society but shareholders, too.
  3. Company executives and boards need to act more like owners, not temporary care-takers – as by doing so they will naturally look to the long-term and so benefit the company, its shareholders, its stakeholders and society as a whole.

Basically, it all comes down to taking a longer-term view of business (as well as the economy, in the case of government) and a consequent change in leadership style, too – see my post of November 2009, “Leadership for the New Business World.”

This longer-term thinking and more inclusive leadership approach will ultimately be to the benefit of all – investors, executives, employees and society as a whole.

What do you think?

Update (31Mar11): Read the Leadership Interview with James Quigley of Deloittes, just out at N2growth.com – leadership is about trust and looking to long-term sustainability.

Can Mergers & Acquisitions be More Successful?

Board meeting room

Image via Wikipedia

Why is it that although many companies, and almost all large ones, grow through mergers and acquisitions, most of these result in a decline in overall value, rather than the envisaged increase?

In the lead-up to such activity – the “engagement period” if you like – shareholders are shown clearly the benefits that the merger or acquisition will bring: lower overall costs, great (combined) market share, stronger sales teams, more experienced management in the combined entity, and so on. All of which is supposed to lead to greater overall value for the shareholders – a case of the proverbial 1+1 resulting in a good deal more than 2.

The reality is, far too often, startlingly different with 1+1 adding up to a good deal less than 2. In other words, significant shareholder value is lost in the process.

Naturally, there are many reasons for this decline in value – most commonly those resulting from a attempt to merge two very different corporate cultures and the consequent fall-out. And much of this happens in the board room.

I’ve seen many cases of incompatible cultures clashing in boardrooms, although I’m fortunate to have avoided this first-hand. Too often, the newly constituted board in an M&A situation will have directors drawn from the two companies proportionate to the value of each part in the transaction and so the acquirer will seek to dominate the acquiree, even when the reason for the acquisition (as is often the case) is that the latter has qualities the former believes is missing from its own company. The result is the departure of the very expertise being acquired and the consequent drop in overall value.

It seems to me that there is one reasonably simple way to increase the likelihood of success – and that is to increase the size of the overall board with the appointment of further Independent Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) when companies are undertaking mergers and acquisitions.

The Corporate Governance Code states “Except for smaller companies, at least half the Board, excluding the Chairman, should comprise Non-Executive Directors determined by the Board to be independent. A smaller company should have at least two independent Non-Executive Directors.”  But how many companies actually carry this through?

Should this strong recommendation not be even more strictly adhered to during the M&A process? Bringing a substantial body of independent, experienced NEDs to a board can reduce the level of infighting and help to ensure that the talent/expertise being acquired stays in the transaction.

As we see the global economy slowly recovering, we can expect to see a strong increase in M&A activity as companies seek to assure their future positions while values are still relatively low. This is the time for boards of companies – large and small alike – to become more independent.

Related Articles

Can Twitter Really Drive Investment Decisions?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

A group of hedge-fund managers are launching a multi-million dollar hedge fund next month, using Twitter as its market indicator to determine sentiment and to thereby make investment decisions.

This information came from a recent article on CNBC / Yahoo Finance which quoted Derwent Capital Markets – a London-based hedge fund – as saying it had successfully marketed the new venture, officially called the Derwent Absolute Return Fund, to high net-worth clients and had attracted over £25 million in investments.

The company is confident it can achieve returns of at least 15-20% per annum by analyzing information gathered from over 100 million tweets each day, which the firm brands as “The 4th Dimension.”

On the face of it, this may sound like a risky, or even crazy, venture – but is it?

Let’s face it, the concept of rational markets has been comprehensively debunked during the last few years of economic crisis, and the global growth in wealth came to a dramatic end largely through a change in general sentiment. We’ve also seen plenty of allegations – many apparently backed by evidence – of collusion between those in research and those in investment banking to pump stock prices of certain companies at various times. In fact, based on this and my own experience, it seems that relying on the “experts” to manage your investments is no greater guarantee of success than simply using a general market-tracking fund – and often provides worse returns.

Furthermore, most people agree that we won’t see real growth return this cycle until consumer confidence picks up. Isn’t that really just about general market sentiment?

So contrary to some of the views on this fund, I would argue that this is a smart bunch of people – what they’re doing is using current technology to gauge market sentiment and make investment decisions from there.  Instead of listening to a small group of people to try to understand what “the man in the street” is saying, they’re tapping into the collective feelings of millions.

I see this as the start of a whole new way of tapping into societal collective wisdom and sentiment. What do you think?

“The Lifetime Value of Customer” Concept

AA vintage sidecar (date unknown) at the Great...
Is the AA’s approach to customers old-fashioned?
Image via Wikipedia

Well, we survived October unscathed (although it remains to be seen if Ireland will drag the whole of Europe down) and am now pretty well settled in England so will be able to write more frequently again.

An issue that has really been highlighted during my move is that so many companies here seem to have little or no understanding of “The Lifetime Value of Customer” concept. And I’m not just talking about SMEs here – in fact, many of them understand it far better than the big ones.

Let me illustrate this – apart from Newsweek, that troubled publication that continues to make it far more attractive to take out a new subscription each year than renew (see “Is There Value in a Repeat Customer”), an excellent example of this is the AA (Automobile Association) here – an organisation that is clearly confused by policies and customers.

Having been a member of its sister organisation in South Africa for some 20 years I joined the AA in England as soon as I was no longer using hire cars, and had bought my own. It’s just a piece of mind thing for me as I’ve only had a very few occasions to need their help in all the years. Well, as luck would have it, a few weeks after joining I did need them, so put in a call.

I won’t go into the details here – suffice it to say that I needed to upgrade my membership for the call to be answered (hadn’t read the small print carefully enough) so did so. Imagine my shock to find that I was not only charged for a new, higher-level membership plus a penalty for not having had the right level when making the call, but was given no credit for my previous membership fees. In other words, I was considerably worse off than somebody who was not a member at all when calling.

Assuming that somebody had pushed the wrong button, I wrote to the AA and – after having to request a response for a second time – got a rather offhand letter referring to “company policy”: that wonderful phrase used by so many people to hide behind. The fact that the policy is stupid seems to have escaped them.

The fact is that the AA, for the sake of around £40 will lose my future membership fees of probably some £3000: an extremely poor decision. They just do not understand the concept of “Lifetime Value.”

Mind you, they’re not alone – I’ve seen numerous examples of some of the world’s biggest companies throwing away, potentially, millions of dollars/pounds in future sales through mistreating their customers in the technology channel.

And yet the concept is so simple: attend to your customers, have sensible policies, take the opportunity of turning an unhappy customer into an advocate for your business and you will thrive. Take a short-sighted view at single transaction level and risk all those future earnings you might otherwise have had – not exactly a guarantee of long-term success, is it?

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Not Really a Global Economy

My Pocket Contents
Image by William Hook via Flickr

The news continues to be full of stories around the Global Economy and how companies increasingly operate independent of national boundaries – so that one could be forgiven for believing that we really do live in a global economy.

However, as my current experience of relocating to a “First World” country – England – shows, where one would expect that things do operate in this way, the reality is very different and the Global Economy seems a long way off.

Certainly, some things work well – one can move money between bank accounts across multiple geographies easily (provided, of course, your accounts are all with one bank, otherwise it’s far more complicated). Mobile telephones also operate well across boundaries, although you pay handsomely for making and receiving calls when away from the country where your phone is registered – profiteering, perhaps?

However, the rather large holes in this Global Economy story (myth?)  have really been exposed when trying to establish myself with the basics here.

  • Renting a home – this is far from simple. You have to get credit reference agencies involved and they require enormous amounts of information. Simply giving them details of your bank/s and relationship managers isn’t enough: you have to do all the leg work yourself.
  • Insurance – amazingly, motor insurance companies apparently don’t give credit for a no-claims driving record in countries like Dubai (an extremely challenging environment as anyone who has driven there will attest), although they are happy to do so for comparatively tame driving countries like New Zealand, so no more no-claims bonus on motor insurance…
  • Telephones – it took me a week to establish that I COULD get Blackberry Services on a Pay As You Go basis (I was told by some mobile operators and some phone shops that this was impossible for the first week, but kept researching until I found it could be done).

In fact, for most general things (even using your new bank account’s debit card) the over-riding requirement is for a local Post Code (you’re asked for this the whole time), so if you’re still trying to set things up and don’t yet have a fixed abode, you end up having to borrow a post code and address from a willing friend or relative for even simple transactions.

Why is it, that with a 30+ year history of banking, credit, insurance, telephone, etc., etc., usage in countries like South Africa and Dubai (countries that have “First World” standards of traceability on such things) I have to start over? One would think this information would be available to the relevant companies and authorities in other countries, but it seems to be only the case for adverse information and anyone else is “guilty until they prove themselves innocent.”

So much for the Global Economy – or is it just a case of laziness and profiteering?

———-

P.S. This relocation process is, of course, the reason for my lack of blogs recently – I hope to be back to regular blogging in September.

Regular readers will notice the banner picture change to reflect my new home…

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