What Lies Ahead – The Changing Face of Business and Technology

 

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The next seven years will see more change than the last 20 years combined in terms of network devices, data on the planet, and computational capabilities – we can see the change happening around us already, it’s a bit surreal watching the future unfold in front of our very eyes:

I was recently at the Kennedy Space Center with my family and we heard that colonizing Mars is the next tangible frontier for human exploration – there are challenges to pioneering Mars, but we know they are solvable. We are well on our way to getting to Mars, landing there, and living there! It is worth noting that 10 years ago private spaceflight, or even engagement of private companies was impossible. Today government agency NASA has partnered with private companies such as Boeing and SpaceX to make deep space exploration and colonizing Mars possible.

Additionally, speaking on the next wave of automation, Amazon’s chairman, Jeff Bezos, said recently, “It’s probably hard to overstate how big of an impact it’s going to have on society over the next twenty years“.

Without stating the obvious regarding trends to watch for in the coming years such as Robotics, IoT, Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Digital Transformation which can be read here, here and here; I would instead, like to take a moment to reflect on learnings from 2016, specially in the context of the changing face of business-technology:

Today we are seeing lines between business consulting and agency work blurring, we are also seeing that technology plays an integral role in shaping business strategy and decisions.

Ad agencies and business consulting companies are working tirelessly to transform themselves into what they are not – business consulting companies are buying design houses to incorporate the design / human element into their offerings; Deloitte Digital recently acquired creative agency Heat McKinsey acquired creative agency Lunar and Razorfish merged with Sapient to become SapientRazorfish. However changing the company name does not change the company culture. If the focus of the company is growing the account and the project team is compensated based on managing hours and resources on the project rather than solving a business problem, then most likely the company will not be lazer focused on helping clients and such companies have a short shelf-life. To further illustrate this point, in 2016 we saw McDonalds drop Leo Burnett after a 35 year relationship, and is partnering with DDB to setup an agency of the future called ‘We are Unlimited’ to be paid on its ability to drive Big Mac sales.

 

Thats what I think, what do you think?

 

 

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DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

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Digital transformation means different things to different people – for me as well, the meaning of Digital Transformation has evolved in the past few years.

In the early years, Digital Transformation was a buzzword used to describe any business-IT project, a website or a mobile application. In the last few years the terms used in the digital space are becoming even more confusing with people using digital strategy, digital business and digital marketing interchangeably. These categories, while similar, are different; and to understand the differences and similarities we need to understand a few key trends in the market today:

  • Today we are seeing lines between business consulting and agency work blurring, we are also seeing that technology plays an integral role in shaping business strategy and decisions. There is a gap in skills in the industry where overlapping skills are needed i.e. we need tech-savvy marketers and strategic technologists.
  • Consulting firms have spent years working with chief executive officers and chief information officers on tasks ranging from developing high-end business strategies to implementing new technology. Now, they are increasingly targeting the chief marketing officer as the marketing segment of the C-suite is becoming more responsible for the overall customer experience.

Given this backdrop, it is clear that Digital Marketing and Digital Business are two sides of the Digital Transformation coin, where one is incomplete without the other. To elaborate a little further:

Relationship Marketing is a term often used in Digital Marketing to mean ‘being able to understand customer segments’. Typical tools used to identify customer segments are journey maps, job shadowing, ‘day in the life’, market research etc. These tools are used in Digital Business as well to understand the customer, create personas etc. but the context is different; the context is influenced by complex interdependencies between people, process, policies and technologies to build a common vision and vocabulary of the customer within an organization, they are used to uncover customer interactions and pain points across all channels and are key to solving the ‘right’ problem. It is worth noting that by overlaying the customer journey maps with specific business goals such as improving productivity and efficiency or increasing customer engagement and loyalty, we can not only identify  ‘new’ problems but also define ‘new’ solutions to old problems. More details are available at Niti Vaish’s blog and at Kerry Bodine’s blog.

Understanding the customer and business priorities through the lens of customer experience require a ‘new breed’ of innovators who understand the ‘convergence’ of customer experience, business / digital strategy and technology

Metrics – most marketers think of SEO and SEM when discussing metrics, while these metrics are important, they don’t paint a holistic picture if they don’t tie back to business goals. With every mobile, social and web initiative it is critical to identify the ‘the behaviors that need to change’, metrics that map to these behaviors and the process and tools available to measure and track these metrics. It is a top priority to take a measured, cohesive approach to paid social’s place in the overall business and marketing strategy – and budget.

And most important of all, Culture and Skillset – organizations require leaders with business-technology skills, innovative mindset and new organization models that understand the need for convergence of business, technology and marketing. These high-performing, experienced individual with a knack for identifying business and technology process improvement opportunities and simplifying interfaces, make the difference between project success and failure because of their judgement and ability to understand data patterns.

In this brave new world ‘Every Brand is a Media Company and Every Brand is a Technology Company’ – its time to think big and be transformative.

Resolutions for 2016

The end of the year often is a time to look back at what we’ve accomplished and a time to evaluate what’s next in line for the New Year. While we might be happy and fulfilled in our careers and truly love what we do, we continue to constantly seek advice to further grow in our professional lives.

My resolutions for 2016:

  1. Seize the opportunity to build something bigger than ourselves, something worth contributing to, to make connections, to lend a hand, to invent and create.
  2. Do my best work followed by best work followed by more best work – this is far more useful and generous than merely doing our best work once and insisting we are understood.
  3. Play for the long haul. Take the more difficult route. Surround myself with people who insist I avoid the shortcut.
  4. Write to make a difference.
  5. Be more flexible in my thoughts  – change, actual change, is hard work. And changing our own minds is the most difficult place to start.
  6. Keep in mind that everything I do is either going to raise my average or lower it.

Deploying Last Mile Connectivity to Remote Villages in India

BACKGROUND

 Weak Internet connectivity is a significant barrier to introducing higher quality of education in remote villages in rural parts of India. Solving the connectivity issue will provide opportunities for asynchronous learning, easy accessibility to information, and higher education quality at an affordable cost. Broadband connectivity will allow students and teachers in schools such as Adharshila, located in district Sheopur in Madya Pradesh, approximately 180km from Gwalior the ability to access email and the internet. Availability of broadband connectivity will also provide the infrastructure to conduct remote teaching through video sessions as well as explore possibilities with remote healthcare.

Streaming video, required for real time interactive remote classroom instruction, requires a reliable, fast internet connection, one that supports on the order of 2Mbps (Megabits per second)– 6Mbps transmission speeds. To provide some context of what this means, a typical “3G” cell phone network offers speeds up to 2.5 Mbps and the more advanced 4G networks provide between 7 and 20 Mbps network speeds, the speeds being greatly affected by the presence of physical structures such as buildings, hills and other physical topographies that act as barriers to the “line-of-sight” required between the cell tower(s) and the user’s mobile phones.

The network speeds in a region are also greatly impacted by the absence or presence of cell towers in that region; the further apart the towers are placed, the weaker the signal between them becomes, resulting in slower network speeds available for use.

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In rural India – and this is especially true in the remote region of the country in which Adharshila is located – cell phone towers are spaced as far apart as they can be to just be able to provide low-bandwidth, voice and SMS communications. This how telecommunications companies have been able to make their costly investments in cell towers economically viable in these low income, low population density rural areas.

Current Status

Over the past year, we have engaged several of the largest cellular telecommunications service providers in India to assess the feasibility of providing us with cellular network based internet connectivity at Adharshila. These companies are household names as cellular service providers in India, including Reliance, Airtel, iDEA, and TATA. We even engaged a service provider – Sify Communications – that specializes in rural area communications. However owing to the extreme rural location of the school, none of these providers were able to provide connectivity with the bandwidth and reliability required for our needs.

Image2Figure 1: Cell Tower Coverage Map For Areas Around Adharshila

To further illustrate the point, the cell tower coverage map above shows that Adharshila, located inside the red circle, has no cell towers in the vicinity hence providing broadband connectivity to Adharshila using ground-based cell towers is not an option.

Despite these initial disappointments, we are pursuing another option to provide internet connectivity to the school. We have begun an evaluation of geo-stationary satellite based internet connectivity, the so-called VSAT network connectivity. VSAT connections are slower than ground-based cellular connections and cost more to use. On their own, they wouldn’t suffice for the streaming video needs of the school. However, we have found a service option that uses advanced video compression techniques that allows relatively high quality video to be run in real time over a relatively low speed network connection. As of this writing, we are working with the two entities that provide these two services, VSAT and video compression, to evaluate the feasibility of putting them together to service Adharshila’s needs. The assessment should be completed by the end of September 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

Resolutions for 2015

I read this sometime back and could not have said it any better ….
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a little better place than when we found it, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

My Wishlist, Must-Haves and Some Predictions for 2014

 

1. MDM is Not Just for Large Organizations – Ever felt helpless when you know your kid(s) have sneaked in the smartphone / tablet and are playing video games under the comforter in the night?  Enter Mobile Device Management (MDM) for parents! the MDM platform will allow you to block URL’s, find your child, track activity, have a family app store and control when devices are used.  While it may seem a little big-brother like, better safe than sorry. Can’t wait to get this soon enough! http://www.zdnet.com/mdm-for-parents-you-want-it-too-7000022292/.

2. Car of the Future – At a time when we are experimenting with driverless cars and connected cars http://www.citeworld.com/consumerization/22717/your-car-will-be-big-data-collector-every-time-you-drive why is it that having a holder with a built-in charger for my smartphone which seamlessly projects to the screen in the car and allows me to listen to Pandora through the car speakers is not mainstream, but part of a ‘technology package’ which requires an extra fee and has a clunky interface?  Imagine this for the car of the future – as I sit in the drivers seat, the car knows its me driving instead of my husband – the seat, mirrors, temperature,seat warmers, music channels automatically adjust, my smartphone connects seamlessly and greets me personally, I speak and tell it where I am going and turn-by-turn navigation map displays on the car screen. Its not too far-fetched and very doable … the key is having ‘connected ecosystems’. 

3. Future of Streaming Content :  Netflix – please,please improve the content in 2014. The best userinterface http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/13/netflix-redesign_n_4262877.html, multi-channel experience and search algorithm will not keep users on Netflix. If content is not improved in 2014 and you may just drive us to using Amazon Instant, Redbox Instant or whatever is the latest streaming content platform.  Also please buy rights in other countries, we feel a little lost without our daily dose of movies and shows when we travel.

 4. One Integrated System to Manage Social Content : Have one integrated system to manage posting content, replies, notifications and engagement across various social sites such as  LinkedIn, Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, Quora (does anyone still use this??), Google+, Medium with an easy-to-use interface,  and groups / security / authentication / profiles working seamlessly across these systems.  

 5. Wearable Technology and Digital Health – will it always be 5 years away? Is there a market for it?  There has been a lot of talk about smart watches and smart glasses making the frontier of wearable tech. Bloomberg is even talking about a smart wig! http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-26/sony-seeks-smartwig-patent-for-hairpieces-with-camera-sensors.html. Agreed that prototypes available today like Goggle Glass make us look a little dorky and don’t seamlessly fit in with our current lifestyle. Activity trackers are a good start but until FDA relaxes its stringent guidelines they will simply be dumb trackers of our activity and not elevated to intelligent devices which can predict (as an example) the onset of a heart-attack and inform the doctor in advance http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=r13uYs7jglg. That being said I do believe that wearable Technology and Digital Health will go mainstream PROVIDED we are able to create ‘connected ecosystems’ and integrate ‘systems of record’ with ‘systems of engagement’ which in-turn will improve the overall experience.

6. Rise of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) : Progressive companies will realize role differentiation between CMO, CIO and CDO. The CMO will drive brand management and communications, the CIO will focus on technology selection and deployment and the CDO will be responsible for identifying trends and impact of business – technology convergence, creating digital capabilities roadmap and identifying convergence and integration opportunities.

It Takes More Than Blood, Sweat and Tears to Start a Digital Practice

Over the last several years I have learned a thing or two about what it takes to start and sustain a digital practice – I have joined companies to start their Digital Practice as well as started my own Digital Practice and along the way I have made assumptions (often incorrectly), not asked the ‘right’ questions and taken missteps. Hopefully this post will help you assess the opportunity as you look to start your own Digital Practice or join one. 
 

1. What is Digital Strategy?

If you are reading this post you have probably heard your fair share of definitions for Digital Strategy, here is mine – “Digital Strategy is building holistic multi-channel strategies to drive business growth and productivity by aligning business and technology initiatives, defining governance models and best practices, establishing a digital center of excellence, identifying convergence, integration and process changes – all geared towards personalizing the experience for the ‘connected’ customer and advancing self-service opportunities”. I’ll be the first to admit that the definition is a mouthful and  it will continue to evolve overtime, however in my perspective it  captures the ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘whom’ and ‘why’ of digital strategy.
 
 

 2. Is the Sales Team On-Board?

Is the sales team committed to the idea of seeking out  digital strategy projects and are they adequately incentivized to sell projects that will typically be priced lower than  the  average implementation / vendor management / business process project. If the sales team is not engaged it is almost impossible for a digital practice to thrive because “Old Ways Will Not Open New Doors”. We cannot ‘dress-up’ software development and start selling it as ‘Digital Strategy’ to the same clients – we need to be tenacious and seek out new clients and find new ways to sell. To use a line from Godin Seth’s post “Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to find new ways to achieve a goal when the old ways didn’t work” http://bit.ly/17DpTuw 
 

3) Does the Account Team at the Client Site Understand Digital Strategy? 

It is very likely that while the client is looking for Digital Strategy skills, the position is NOT advertised as a ‘Digital Strategy’ position – the team at the client site will need to understand the ‘true needs’ and advise the client on hiring someone with business, technology, process and innovation background who is equipped to ask the ‘right’ questions and connect the dots to successfully align business and technology roadmaps and prioritize opportunities in the mobile, social, web and streaming media space.

4) Where Does Digital Strategy Fit in the Company Functional Organization?

Does the company consider Digital Strategy to be the same as business strategy, IT strategy, marketing strategy or perhaps even creative strategy? Is there a turf war within the organization on who owns digital? The company will need to recognize that digital (including mobile and social) are horizontal capabilities and while rest of the organization might be organized by function, digital capability need to span functional silos. At a more tactical level this will also determine staffing for digital projects.
 

5) Is There a Go-To Market Strategy?

Is there consensus within the organization on a go-to market strategy which clearly describes a plan for acquiring digital customers as well as converting existing clients into digital clients (if possible)? Is there consensus within the organization on the approach that will be followed, marketing collateral that will be used, percentage of the overall company revenue that come from digital initiatives and the plan to grow this percentage? To build the Go-To Market Strategy it takes someone who can clearly articulate the impact of ‘going digital’ and can advise on convergence of business and technology. Additional details on the impact of ‘going digital’ are available on my blog post http://bit.ly/17DpTuw.
 
6) Digital Strategy is not “One Size Fits All”
 
Digital strategy is not “One Size Fits All” – it needs to be carefully crafted for the client by understanding the business direction, technology constraints, best practices in the industry, competitive landscape and most importantly the company culture. The tools, mechanics, methodology to create a digital strategy can be reused from one client to another but it takes true partnership to craft a digital vision for a client which will result in an actionable roadmap rather than a document that never gets looked at.
 
 
Leave a comment, start a discussion, make a noise … after all we are in the hot seat and poised to shape the future of business and technology!