Can there be too much technology?

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It was a Saturday afternoon, time for our customary family weekend lunch at the local food court. It was Pranathi our nine year old daughter’s turn to select the cuisine.  She walked around and picked a local brand of fast food. I remembered that she wanted to try Japanese food a few days ago, which was right next to the stall she chose. I reminded her and asked her why the change? She said “look, there are so many people waiting in front of this – which means the food must be good. Whereas, there isn’t a single person waiting in front of the Japanese food stall”.  Sounded logical and I was intrigued.

We decided to go with her selection.  The process involved paying and then waiting in front of the stall for the order number to be called for us to pick up our order – which was not more than 3 -5 minutes. While waiting, I could not help notice the process in the Japanese stall. They had a hi-tech solution – each customer was given a buzzer which would get activated when the order was ready. Hence there was no need for the customer to wait around.

The consultant in me got the better of me.  So, I decided to speak to the manager of the Japanese stall and asked him why none of his competitors in the food court had anything like this. He said, the technology came with the franchise and they were mandated to use it.

For most of us, selecting a restaurant is based on reviews which is now mostly online or recommendations from friends. Selection of Fast-Food Restaurants which was the case in this instance, is significantly influenced by visual information. The look of the stall, the staff, packaging, food on display and most importantly the only visible recommendation, the number of people waiting in front of the stall. It made me wonder if too much technology was at use and more importantly was it helping the business?

Now that we know the reason for the lack of customers hovering around the stall, no prizes for guessing the cuisine on our next weekend family lunch.

Enterprise Transformation and the Temple Run Gorrilla

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It was a warm sunny Sunday afternoon.  Pranathi, our nine year old daughter asked for my permission to download Temple Run, a game she loved playing not so long ago till she discovered others. While playing, it occurred to me that what was unique about that game was that there really is no time when a player can rest or be distracted. Keep running, dodging, jumping, in short, keep moving in the right direction is the mantra. After losing to Pranathi, I couldn’t help but reflect on other pressing matters, such as my bruised ego and a Tweet I came across recently.

  • Uber, the world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicle
  • Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner creates no content
  • Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory
  • Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate

These businesses are threatening the very survival for many other large corporations and industries.  Some, who are facing the heat from these almost new kids on the block are multi-billion dollar global giants, aged decades and in few cases, centuries.

In a way this is nothing new.  Advancement of science and technology has been disrupting industries since the invention of the wheel.  These changes were gradual.  It took sometime for the consumers to accept and discard the old.  It was incremental.  In past the source of disruption often was from a related industry, an upgrade of sort.

This time it’s different, very different. The disruptors are not merely upgrading, such as from steam engine to diesel, but are ripping out business models. The disrupting companies are from completely unrelated industries. These are either started or led by people from entirely different backgrounds and  had nothing to do with the industry they are disrupting. Few of these leaders have audacious goals – like wanting to change the way the world does certain things. These companies are heavily funded so there is no temptation to sell out. They are able to attract and retain the best of talent across the globe. The pace of disruption is incredibly rapid, many times giving almost no time for the incumbent to react.

Its only a matter of time before Alibaba, the e-commerce giant will start to disrupt banking. Apple, having disrupted several industries, is now eying the credit card business. Uber, having transformed the transportation is eying food delivery.  When Google gets their self driven car to work, it will disrupt the automobile industry making most redundant.

At the heart of all these disruptors is the deep understanding of how to harness digital forces to develop entirely new business models to solve a large problem – a digital blue ocean of sort.  The only way to survive this unprecedented onslaught is for the incumbents to embark on a journey to find their own blue ocean/s by transforming their business using digital forces.

Transformation is to re-look at the business or parts of it dispassionately to validate its relevance to customers.  Making changes to remain or become relevant is the execution of transformation.  The customer has to be at the heart of any transformation.  If it does not impact the customers then it isn’t transformation.  The word “dispassion” is critical as one tends to cling on to “what worked in the past” or “what got us to where we are today”.  Are they relevant anymore to customers of today and possibly tomorrow?

Transformation is no longer an option, but the only way to survive. It is not a one off initiative.  To survive and grow, organisations have to keep reinventing themselves to ensure they stay relevant to customers. There are several examples where even the disruptors have been disrupted by a new entrant, and yes, from an unrelated industry – ala what Apple did to BlackBerry – a disruptor not too long ago.

Hence, Enterprise Transformation journey is much like Temple Run.  Its endless, the players have to keep running, dodging, jumping staying just ahead – else, the gorilla will get you!

Gorilla Image Credit: Tracey Saxby, IAN Image Library (ian.umces.edu/image/library/)

Does BlackBerry need a touch of Steve Jobs?

Just when it seemed it was all over for BlackBerry…BlackBerry seemed to have found a new lease of life in BlackBerry Passport… BlackBerry seemed to have a product on hand to cater to specific needs of corporate users…a need described in an earlier post of this blog at: http://rtfthebook.com/2013/12/future-blackberry/

The initial production run of 200,000 units have been fully sold and the company is promising to fulfill orders of other soon.

The biggest challenge for a product company that needs to manufacture is to know the magical number of units to make. If it’s a new product the challenge gets even bigger.

When Apple launched iPhone, it was entering a market they had never been to before. Their product was unlike any other existed at that point in time. Steve Jobs made changes to the product with unscratchable glass screen just over a month before the launch, just when Apple was planning to ramp up production. With all these he simply went ahead and bet everything they had. Three months later Apple sold 1 million phones and in a year’s time sold more phones than BlackBerry which had been dominating the market for number of years.

BlackBerry after several failed attempts finally seem to have a good product and its disappointing to see them not making enough to meet the demand. In this ultra-competitive market place for mobile phones I am not sure if customers would just wait around for a product when there are so many other newer sometimes better options. It may be time for BlackBerry John Chen to think more like Steve Jobs in few areas perhaps.

Are Microsoft days numbered?

YES.  Why?

  1.  The world continues to move rapidly to mobility. Tablet (iPad to be precise) is the disruptive innovation that has kicked PC industry to a corner.
  2. 9 Out of 10 Fortune 500 Companies are Using iPad.
  3. Windows is having no effect on arresting the decline in PC sales. It is said significant number of customers instead of spending money on upgrading their PC’s are buying Tablets and retaining their existing PC.
  4. IBM and Apple have signed an alliance to work together in which IBM will use its knowledge and relationship to take Apple products to the enterprise.
  5. In the past alliances with Apple did not work – that was when Steve Jobs was running things. Tim Cook an ex-IBMer knows and understands what it takes for these alliances to work.
  6. The enterprise, the last and possibly only bastion left of Microsoft would now come under direct attack.
  7. Microsoft continues to struggle. When last does anyone you know bought a Nokia/Microsoft mobile or tablet? Last time I checked Microsoft wrote off nearly $1B to on its tablet Surface.
  8. Satya Nadella the CEO of Microsoft comes from having delivered a large cloud offering.
  9. Cloud is at the backend of an enterprise, those who own customers are those providing front end (read as mobile devices and apps).
  10. Microsoft should know this as Bill Gates built his empire solely on this as IBM continued to build PC’s he won the war by owning the front end i.e. the operating system.

Finally: Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana

Happy to hear other views.

Could India produce a Google or Apple or Amazon? The answer is no.

This is a very popular question in India and also among India watchers. This or variant of this question gets discussed in almost every entrepreneurship especially the technology kind of event. I recently attended one organized at a popular business school. The key speaker was a highly successful entrepreneur of Indian origin based in the US. When the floor was opened for questioning this was the third one. The answer the gentleman provided was: “Yes, it is certainly possible. I would not be too surprised if the next Google will be based in India. For example there is wonderful company in Bangalore called XYZ which is giving Google a run for its money in so and so etc. It is only a matter of time”.

I disagree. I believe for a Google or Apple to be born i.e. company that is changing the world requires the following parts to work together in a mysterious proportions:

  • People –with imagination to change the world and drive to pursue. To conceive a Google the goal should be to change the world. NOT an idea that could get funded to exit at the first lucrative opportunity. I am sure Larry Page and Sergey Brin the founders of Google did not start off with the intention to change the world but got there eventually.
  • Ecosystem
    • Resources – It’s not just money, its people willing to fund and nurture these ideas. These are not the run-of-the-mill HNI’s or VC’s. These are people belonging to the group described in the previous point with money and willingness to mentor.
    • Engineering – to build the darn thing
    • Distribution channel – the secret sauce

Let’s look what India has: We do now boast of a fairly robust set of entrepreneurs building good businesses. I have not heard of anyone with audacious goals of changing the world but maybe there may be bunch somewhere evolving into thinking really big. I am not holding my breath.

Ecosystem – Resources: we now have Angels and VC’s funding businesses.  It is said the Bechtolsheim the gent who wrote the first check of US$ 100,000 to “Google Inc” wrote it prior to the company even being founded. If there was a Google type of venture at the stage that it was when it got its first round of funding I wonder if there is a VC or Angel in India who would bet on it at reasonable valuation.

Ecosystem – Engineering: Bengaluru and other cities like Pune and Chennai has capability to build technology products. Then again with outsourcing industry sucking away most of the top notch engineering talent makes me wonder what is available.

Ecosystem – Distribution channel – Even if due to some miracle a ventures in India covers all of the points above this I believe is the secret sauce which only the US can offer.

Let me elaborate: I believe the greatest export of America is not computers or fast food or movies. The greatest of all its expert is a lifestyle that is aspirational across the globe. Not that I am saying everyone on the planet wants to be like American. All I am saying is that there is no other country or lifestyle which has found as many takers as American. Reminds me or an article I read recently said people who talk about lack of culture in America do so wearing Levis jeans, Nike shoes using iPhones/iPads sipping diet Coke. If one manages to sell a lifestyle selling everything that is seen as a support to that the lifestyle sells by itself.

So when Google launched its service in the US in the university it was other students and others who shared it with people they knew which is across the world. Look at any example of a technology business that has its roots in the US, once it’s accepted in the US it’s only a matter of time.

This is something no other country can boast of having. This is a secret sauce impossible to replicate.

So the question should be: Could any other country other than the US build a Google? The answer still is no.

Could there be a future for BlackBerry?

Just when it was all over for Black Berry…

“Thank you for flying with us and we look forward to seeing you again! Have a wonderful day”

That seemed like the trigger everyone was waiting for to switch on their mobile phones. I started mine only to realize I had just enough power to last few minutes. I have not yet gotten used to the frequency of charging the phone I migrated to a year ago.

I could not help notice there were quite a few on the plane with two mobile phones. I was surprised to note one of them was mostly a BlackBerry device.

I thought BlackBerry was now almost dead and mostly restricted to developing or low economies where iPhone is affordable. Also corporates rapidly adopting BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies that allows employees chose device of their choice have broken BlackBerry’s hold on corporate users.

I noticed one of them with two phones dialed to a conference call, she used BlackBerry to refer to the number probably from a meeting invite but used iPhone to dial.

That’s when it occurred to me. None of the other smart phone manufacturers have come close to BlackBerry when it comes to battery life. I recall charging my old BlackBerry sometimes once in 2-3 days where as now I have to charge my handset 2-3 times a day.

If only BlackBerry smartly market their phone as the second device mostly for email.

Now with John Chen, the new CEO, an outsider, BlackBerry is becoming an interesting company to watch. His recent moves like outsourcing manufacturing to Foxconn and renewed focus on enterprise are well received by the market pushing the stock by 97 cents on Nasdaq.

Its still a long way to go but…may be just may be the game may not be over for BlackBerry just yet…

Why one should or shouldn’t buy the company BlackBerry?

Finally BlackBerry (BB) has found a taker.

Once the market leader has announced that it reached a tentative agreement for a $4.7 billion buyout by a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings, its biggest shareholder.

A company that was once valued at $83 billion is now being sold at 80% discount to its book value and just 0.17 times its sales, creating a record of sort. It had put itself out for sale for quite some time before Fairfax decided to make the move – that explains the bargain basement price.

BB that almost pioneered smartphones with its push mail services took off from where Palm left has been brought down all in about 6 years. I consider Apple’s launch of iPhone as the beginning of the end of BB as Apple outsold within a year.

In the flat-world the growth and downfall are on fast-forward.

So what really caused BB’s downfall?

BB blindly continued to be in the business of just mostly making smart mobile phones. Its competitors have or in the process of moving  to ‘Device + Services’ paradigm.  Google is probably moving the other way i.e. from Services to Device (‘Services+Device’).

Apple pioneered this model, for Apple most its consumer products (iPod, iPhone and IPad) are delivery channels of services (apps) developed by its now nearly hundreds of thousands of partners. Having developed really great products Apple knew the only way it could expand its market was by making their products relevant to a very broad range of users. Apple also knew that it will never have the necessary capability or bandwidth to develop those applications. So it decided to create ecosystem consisting of partners (third party developers) now running to several thousands who would develop these “apps’ that Apple would sell in its own store. These partners create apps that make Apple’s devices relevant to a very broad range of users. More the apps become relevant to more users lead to more sales of devices which in turn leads to consumption of more services.

Over the past few years Apple has carefully fine-tuned this strategy so well that for most app developers Apple is the primary target platform.

Exceedingly well crafted and executed strategy in action.

So what goes into making this strategy work? To words, Partners & Ecosystem:

  • Build a really sexy product that people would want to try or would like to be seen with.
  • Build a stable “platform” that can host partner developed applications.
  • Provide all the necessary help (tools) for the partners use the platform to design, develop and test their apps.
  • Work very closely with the partner community.
  • Initiate work with partner community as early as possible to have several apps available for consumers at the time of launch

So it’s the partners that make it all work.

The most recent one on this transformation journey is Microsoft. It has realized that its the only way to survive at least for its consumer products viz. Xbox, Surface and now recently Nokia. For Microsoft with its finger in enterprise market that makes serious amount of cash this journey would be most challenging unless MS decides to spin off its consumer based product and services.

So BB does not have a platform hence it does not have an army of partners who are willing to develop apps on it. So to analyze it from this paradigm BB has not developed anything of real value in the long run.

Makes me wonder why would anyone want to buy BB?

There are several making rounds such as breaking up BB into two one focusing on consumer and the other enterprise business. Selling it along with its patents to a Chinese company planning to enter smart phone market etc.

The question is what trick Prem Watsa, the chief at Fairfax has up his sleeve?

I believe the train has left the station for BB.

 

Are we too late?…continued…

It was that time of the year…the time when annual subscriptions of services we depend on to be renewed.

Top of the list was Cable TV subscription, the primary source of entertainment of our family.

I recalled last years’ experience of renewing our subscription; it was far from pleasant as I had spent 10-15 minutes on the phone. I was hoping this time it would be different.

I noticed this time on their advertising channel – the irritating one that comes on every time I turn on the set-top box. I simply cannot fathom why can’t I be taken to channel I was watching before. That’s another story.

Anyways on this channel they were selling annual subscription pack big time. Given the sorry state of our economy one would expect companies to ramp up efforts to signup customers for longer term contracts.

The instruction was simple – one has to just SMS a short given text to a given number and they would call to help. I was quite excited this meant I did not have to call and wait.

So I sent the SMS message and I promptly got a response that I would be contacted shortly.

I waited for 2 days since I received no phone calls I re-sent the SMS for which too I received another identical message.

A week past and I complete forgot about it. One evening while watching TV a messaged popped up informing that unless we extend our subscription in 2 days services would be disconnected.

I did not want to give up and call their call center so I logged in to the website – well nothing absolutely nothing including the year in the copyright message (showing 2005) had changed.

Finally I ended up calling their call the center just like last year– spent 15 minutes on the phone. What a waste, of time and infrastructure.

If they were to call me they could have called me when the volume of calls was low. Better still in this age of mobility with most people using smart phone a simple application on mobile phone would empower the subscriber to manage their accounts. These would cost significantly less.

In this day of age one would expect companies – at least the new ones like my cable company to be Business Technology savvy.

During tough economic conditions one would expect intelligent use of Business Technology to reduce cost. Given most cable TV companies in India are yet to turn profitable would make focus on reducing operations cost to be on top on the agenda.

At least for my cable company one of the largest in the country it does not seem to matter!

Your call is important to us – really?

I shared the manuscript of my book I am working on with a friend who has been with BT (Business Technology) for nearly 2 decades.

I received a very interesting response:

“You make a valid point; question is: are we too late in calling out to the leaders of business who wish to build organization capable of leveraging the power of technology? “

So is it possible that the world or at least all of world of business has figured out the importance of BT. Just like they have figured out the value of customer service or importance of employees etc.

It made me wonder, then couple of days later as a sheer case of coincidence came this daily dose of Seth Godin’s blog reproduced below:

Your call is very important to us

Rules for treating inbound customer calls with respect:

0. Spend a lot more money on this. Hire more agents. Train them better. Treat them with respect and they’ll do the same to those they interact with. Have a bright red light flash on the CEO’s desk whenever anyone, anywhere, is on hold for more than 5 minutes. If it gets to seven, have the call automatically route to the mobile phone of the CEO’s spouse.

1. Have a very smart and very motivated front line. “I’ll connect you directly to the person who can help you if you let me know what you need…” Don’t have these people pretend that they can help. It leads to long conversations and frustration.

2. 80% of your inbound calls are about the same ten things. First, eliminate those problems in future products, packaging and policies. The best way to handle these calls is to eliminate them. Second, put clear, fun and complete answers to these questions online where they are easy to find. And third, hire talented voice actors to record engaging answers to each, and offer them as a first resort as a result of #1, above.

3. Change your onhold music to Bill Cosby and Woody Allen records.

4. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, offer a simple way to be called back, and then make sure it works.

5. If you’re closed, tell us the hours you are open and the relevant websites. Make sure the information is accurate.

Even famous companies get all of these wrong… Only one of the five steps is truly expensive, and yet all six are regularly ignored by companies that don’t care or act like they don’t.

(NB it’s just fine to make it clear that a call is not important to you. I’ve never built a company around amazing phone support, precisely because it’s so difficult to keep the promise. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine for some industries to not do the phone well. Just be clear that this is the case by routing people off the phone or at least not lying about it).

Source: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

Looks like getting the right customer experience via inbound call center is still challenge.

Call center technology that enables organizations handle inbound calls efficiently using ACD- Automatic Call Distributor have been around since 1973 (http://www.callcentrehelper.com/the-history-of-the-call-centre-15085.htm). Call center as a concept have been around for much longer (circa 1950s) thanks to super smart team at J. Lyons and Co. who probably built world’s first shared services that handled queries via telephone.

The technology has been around for a while and its importance is also well known but the question is how many organizations are getting it right?

 

Should GM, Ford and Toyota fear Google?

“We are certainly living in interesting times indeed”

That must’ve been the nth time I said that. I could not help it.

Thanks to early monsoon rains Bengaluru my home town was back to being the most pleasant place to be in. The city had been experiencing one of the hottest summers in recent times.

My friends and I were celebrating the change in the weather over some “Menasinakai Bajji”, a Kannadiga fiery hot delicacy made of deep fried long chilies stuffed with vegetables along with pots of home brewed South-Indian style filter coffee.

The discussion starting from global warming, effects of automobile pollution finally ended with Google’s self-driving car technology. Here are the highlights of the discussion:

  • Though several auto giants like BMW and Audi have developed their own version of self-driving technology its Google a company that has almost nothing to do with transportation industry except for Maps has made significant progress.
  • According to an article in Economist:  Google’s self-driving cars have clocked up 700,000 km (435,000 miles) under autonomous control without incident. Snow-covered roads and temporary signs around roadworks still pose challenges, but the technology is improving all the time.
  • Distance of 700,000 km (435,000 miles) is probably more than distance covered by an average person in a life time. This amazing technology is evolving rapidly.
  • One of the best part of this technology is the experience of cars fitted with this technology is shared with all other cars with the same technology just like a software upgrade.
  • As always regulation is several sometimes several hundred steps behind innovation so law makers are working around this new technology break-thru.

In a not too distant future if this technology were to become mainstream we were wondering what would happen to passenger car industry and us the consumers:

  • People would stop owning cars –  a smart entrepreneur or Google with a tie up with a car manufacturer could launch a taxi service of sort with thousands of cars fitted with the technology. So one would be able to book car which would come to their door step.
  • With a centralized service carpooling in real time would be lot more effective.
  • Driver driven taxi companies would cease to exist unless they migrate to this technology.
  • Few cities to handle traffic more effectively may even consider banning conventional (human driver driven cars) altogether –  since these self-driven cars can constantly communicate with each other in real-time they would utilize roads far more effectively.
  • Parking space would almost become redundant – when one can be guaranteed of availability of a car there is no point in blocking the asset. These smart cars can estimate their expected time of arrival (ETA) far more accurately than ever before as they can “talk” to other cars on the road.
  • The bottom line is demand for passenger cars would drop very significantly.
  • Cost of personal transportation would drop significantly – when the same technology is moved to public transport things get even better.

So here is Google, a super smart technology company with tons of cash which has been able to attract and retain some of the best brains in the world would start giving sleepless nights to auto executives.

Is this applicable to all the auto manufacturers?

May be not – just like mobile phones made wrist watch almost redundant, however luxury watch manufactures are selling more watches than ever before. So the utility of a watch to tell time is no longer the reason for which people by them.

May be the human tendency to be different from others kick-in and the very rich people would migrate to luxury cars.

So may be just may be the makers of Jaguars, Ferraris need not fear Google.

I would love to hear from you on what you think would be a possible fall out of this new technology.