‘Roam’ is the new Capital of Flexible Working

roamThat’s how I described the big shift which is going on around us in remote and flexible working at the ‘Anywhere Working‘ conference in Manchester recently.  An excellent initiative, its purpose is to evangelise about the benefits of remote working and how it “can increase your productivity and wellbeing, save the environment, and most importantly, affect your bottom line in terms of your time and your money.”

My job was to describe my own remote working story aswell as for me to talk about some of the background drivers behind this revolution in working practice.  Over one million people have supported the initiative via the website, so there’s the evidence, it’s no evolution.

Remote working started for me in 1994, with a massive laptop, a 28.8k bps modem and an inkjet printer – when set-up you’d think I was running a large enterprise compared to today’s technology.  Sales performance reports came in an envelope once per week, mobile phone’s were still a bit of a luxury and download speeds were woeful.  More business was done by phone and face to face, human relationships really mattered, the internet was just taking off.

Contrast that to now.  People are running now one, but multiple devices.  A smartphone, an iPad and a laptop computer, all synced up via the cloud offering instant access to the world commercially and socially – disruptive times.    Themes I covered which are contributing to this include: -

  1. Collaboration
  2. Digitisation
  3. Clobalisation
  4. Generation XYZ
  5. Speed + Agility

All these things are going on at once, in parallel, meaning the ‘mash-up’ effect is huge and creating instant opportunity to review how you do things.  New starts are entering the marketplace with an ‘edge of chaos’ mentality, seeing nothing but tools, marketplaces and opportunity.  They have no technology baggage, downloading the latest ‘app’ in seconds and ‘plural working’ numerous projects to pay the bills.  Large enterprises can ‘do more with less’ by equipping ‘roam’ workers with new technology which allows them to work smartly, releasing more ‘face to face’ time with the people that matter and adding value.  According to a survey by CIO Net – 79% of enterprises see the primary driver behind mobility as “increasing employee efficiency.”

Talent is looking at employers both current and future and asking the question – “what’s your remote working policy.”  In all of this, there is the opportunity for you to create something new.  A new business model, a new process, a new way of interacting with customers old and new.  It does come with some baggage, mainly I.T. related with frustrations around wi-fi signals,  access to power, battery life and security concerns, but nothing that can’t be fixed or worked through.

The new world order is here, right now.  Cappuccino commerce, start-ups getting going from coffee shops.  American coffee houses already describing the “tablet trash” of customers sitting on free wi-fi all day for the price of a single cup of coffee – oh dear, perhaps a new business model coming, pay as you drink!  I must confess to having a web conference from a coffee shop early this morning, headphones in, webcam on, flat white + a toasted teacake – yum.

All that aside, it’s exciting times.  If UK Plc is genuinely going to increase its productivity, then this is the way to go. I’ve already had feedback that one of our customers who has invested in our cloud based web conferencing service – Omnijoin - holding over 700 web conferences since January, proving that even with remote workers, you can stay connected.

The trend is here, it’s not a fad, so fortune favours the brave.  Get mobile, become a citizen of “Roam.”

CIO to CEO

Last week I attended an event in Manchester, hosted by Harvey Nash, a specialist recruiter in the IT sector.  The event, to unveil a deck of research into the CIO community (Chief Information Officer, a generic term to describe the people at the head of IT strategy within an organisation), their challenges and the ‘mood music’ of the sector. 

What always interests me is when there is a ‘live voting system’ at the event, so you can measure sentiment there and then, outside of the confines and thinking space of someones familiar environment.  It threw up some really interesting data about how the CIO community views itself.  One of the most interesting insights from the live voting was this: - “30% of CIO’s in the room responded they have a ‘weak’ relationship with their board, 60% cite a ’weak’ relationship with marketing too.”

One of the insights from the survey was that, one in four, CIO’s have not come from an I.T. background, they’ve been more commercially focused indicating a step-change, a movement towards more soft management skill based leadership, than technology specific leadership.  The days of business critical specialism it seems are eroding in many large enterprises in favour or more ‘aligned to the commercial plan’ type CIO’s, able to motivate, inspire and provide leadership in human ‘software’ (emotional skills) than ‘hardware (technical skills).’

Technology has been a driver behind that.  Transactional costs are coming down as large scale computing commoditises, shadow I.T. means more people are self-helping from cloud based providers using their own devices (device indpendence) and third parties are  propositioning fully out-sourced service packages, end to end for your infrastructure.  So, the question is: – Is “efficient infrastructure management” the right skills to serve a CIO of the future or does it need to be more than that?

Time to Update?

For me, the statement about ‘weak relationships’ is down to where I.T. is seen in the delivery of strategic objectives within a business.  If you look into the research* it shows that the to priorities of CIO’s in the UK are: -

  1. Delivering stable I.T. performance
  2. Increasing Operational Efficiency
  3. Saving Costs
  4. Enabling Business Change
  5. Improving Business Processes

Interestingly, nowhere in the Top 5 does it say, “Improving revenue growth or increasing customer acquisition/retention,” which may be one of the reasons why only 34% of CIO’s report directly to the CEO in an organisation.  I bet the Amazon CIO reports to the CEO, I.T. is a key driver in delivering sales growth.  So, there is a strategic issue in where I.T. sits (keeping the lights on, rather than driving transformation – a perception gap?). 

My sponsoring thought when I saw the statistic about board engagement was that it’s time for the CIO’s to get pro-active and really show their value.  It’s important that I say right here, right now that I think CIO’s are a vital component of any organisation.  We can so easily take for granted the invisible things that happen which keep our infrastructure alive and invoices going out the door.  The CIO’s that seem to be getting it right are on the front foot, engaged with sales and marketing to understand where priority and resources are best put.  Sales and Marketing have a huge influence on organisational direction, they are influential and feel the pressure of time and the need to make the numbers, they want speed and everything now.  Nothing will influence a CEO more than if his numbers aren’t happening, if excellence can be replicated by scaling up a smart solution or market advantage.

Interestingly, one third of CIO’s are looking to move roles in the next year.  Now that is either massive reason for concern or circumstance of the big picture commoditisation of I.T.  If they are feeling undervalued, disconnected and disengaged, then CEO’s have to move to put them front and centre of strategy.  In the new world a CIO needs to be an organisational mover and shaker, moving across, up and down an organisation to identify the best places for impact and offering clear insight into best practice and new ways of working or competitive advantage. 

For many, that transition may be hard, in my view it is essential for more CIO’s to transition to the board.  Interestingly when posed the question “How many CIO’s do you know who made it to a CEO” – I don’t think a single hand went up, I know for a fact that many more people from the “commercial’ side of the house will have made it there, so there’s the clue.  The ‘Commercialisation of I.T.’ is where it’s at, making I.T. as exciting and value adding to an individual as the application they’ve just put on their iPhone, that takes a shift of personal style, priority and resource deployment.  It’s all about how to hit ‘home runs’ which increase the numbers too.

I’ve met people already in the CIO community who are already there, perhaps they are that third already reporting to the board, for the remaining two-thirds, there is a whole stack of opportunity.

*Source Harvey Nash CIO Survey 2013

20 Years of Texting….

Yesterday saw the milestone anniversary of 20 years since the first text message was sent.  On the 3rd of December 1992 a vodafone engineer sent the words “Merry Xmas” to a mobile phone and the rest is history.  2011 saw around 8 trillion text messages sent, 150bn of which were in the UK. 

It’s almost unimaginable to think about lift without text messages in the current day.  For many, text is still the number one platform for those on your “inner circle” of contacts, a text notification trumping updates/messages from other platforms.  Yes, users are spreading out their messages to different platforms like BBM or Whatsapp, both born from the concept of short messaging.  Chatting to a generation Y today, across all the various platforms, they sent around 100 messages per day on their mobile device across three differing services including SMS, but excluding social media updates on Twitter or Facebook – that’s a huge amount of messaging.

In business, you are always looking for things that may disrupt your business model.  SMS was one of those things that had disruption designed into it, as it impacted on the amount of calls people made and the letters and faxes they may have previously sent suddenly went onto a mobile device.  I can remember tapping out my first text on a Nokia phone, three presses for a ‘C’, two for an “F”, those old enough will remember.  It’s a far cry from now.

Other examples of disruptive technology are cloud computing (demise of hosted software), tablet computers (demise of laptops), MP3 players (death of record shops), broadband (where do I start).  It happens in services too, think of moneysupermarket (reducing need for financial advisors), Direct Line (going direct and cutting out the middle man), Crowdfunding (start-up funding from strangers reducing the need for banks), the list goes on and on.

The trick is to spot the difference between a fad and a trend.  Texting was a trend, it’s lasted for 20 odd years.  Fads simply come and go, they don’t last or provide long term disruption to an industry or behaviour.  Personally I devote time to evaluating what the big trends are in the consumer space and business space, inside and outside of our industry as it helps to give you the general sense of direction and potential for future disruption.  Will texting last another 20 years?  Probably not.  Like the fax machine and typewriter, it will have played a hugely important part in the development of communications, however new instant messaging platforms are likely to be the winners in the long term.

Whether these messaging platforms with their shortened catchphrases will add anything to our abilty to communicate as human beings in the long term is up for debate.  Data suggests that the average Gen X has a daily vocabulary range of around 2,000 words, a Generation Y is around 800, so when we get to Generation Z, life is going to be truly interesting – LOL! :-)

Cappuccino Commerce

According to some research we’ve just conducted, 22% of new start businesses base themselves in a coffee shop and are driving a new trend we describe as “cappuccino commerce.”

Speaking on Radio 5 live this morning, I cited some of the drivers behind this trend, as always airtime is very limited, so I’m expanding some of the notes I’d prepared here for quick and easy comsumption.

  1. The new postcode of SME’s is “no fixed abode.”
  2. Technology is the key driver of this change, in particular the availability of free wi-fi and cloud computing.  71% of respondents cited smartphones, mobile printing devices and tablet computers as the key things that felt enabled them to work in this way.
  3. 67% of these businesses intend to stay “office free.”
  4. AAA* is the new standard for business success “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere.”
  5. It took Apple 24 years to sell 67M i-macs, it took them 3 years to sell as many i-phones and only 2 years to sell as many i-pads.
  6. Apple derives 60% of it’s revenues now from products that didn’t exist 3 years ago.
  7. Access is the oxygen to mobile businesses (access to wi-fi or a high speed mobile network).
  8. New start businesses have high agility, this ability to work anywhere gives them competitive advantage, not disadvantage.
  9. SoLoMo – Social, Local and Mobile businesses are the key trends fuelling further new starts and customer buying behaviour.
  10. Fi-Wi is the new Wi-Fi.  Users are demanding higher speed on the move.
  11. Generation X, Y + Z are all participating in the shift.
  12. Businesses like Brother are adapting their product offers to this new breed of “roam-workers” by introducing new products like mobile printers, mobile scanners, i-pad print and scan applications plus cloud printing applications.
  13. Globalisation of business means people need to be on the move.
  14. Access to power is also one of the key considerations as to where people work.  No power = juice jitters and technology meltdown.  Coffee shops, listen up!
  15. Digital Ubiquity is the new watchword – you heard it here first.

Retail Alchemy in the Digital Age

If you want to know what’s going in a sector, go and hear one of the top management consultancies deliver a talk.  I did this morning, when I attended a seminar by Deloitte on the future of retailing. 

One of the guest speakers was New Channels programme manager at Marks and Spencer – Alice Rackley.  Leading a forty strong team inside the business (which was only six strong six months ago), her job  is to integrate the on-line with the off-line.  I have to say I didn’t realise M&S were doing quite so much.  They aim to be the number one multi-channel retailer in the world, that’s aiming high.

Typical examples of things they are doing include equipping assistants with i-pads selling extended ranges, installing screens in store which allows customers to see user generated content reviews of the products they sell, augmented reality mirrors in their new make-up concession.  The really smart thing I thought they were doing was probably the simplest, putting wi-fi networks in all their stores so that people can browse their mobile shopping sites at good speeds on their own devices.

Deloitte had a couple of speakers up who threw some good stats and trends up.  Here’s a few in no particular order: -

  • Amazon are expected to overtake John Lewis and M&S to become the largest variety retailer by 2014.
  • Apple are expected to have sold 80M i-Pads by the end of 2012.
  • 48% of shoppers own a smartphone, 58% of those people use them for store related shopping (this works out to 27% of all smartphone owners if you do the math).
  • Marks and Spencer transacted 6% of all on-line sales on i-Pads in Jan 2012, by June it was 8%.
  • 1 in 5 retail purchases will be via Smartphone by 2014.
  • Big theme is “digital ubiquity” – that is digital everywhere.
  • New innovation coming to market is “audio watermarking” whereby an embedded watermark is put into a TV ad which then triggers an experience on your i-Pad if your multi-screening.
  • It took Apple this long per device to sell 67M units – Macs -24 years, i-Pods – 5 years, i-Phones – 3 years, i-Pads – 2 years.
  • Speed of Response is becoming key.  An example was given on retailer “New Look” who reacted to a new Kate Middleton outfit with an entire digital response within 24 hours of “get the look.”
  • Prediction of “death of the till” as store assistants use hand-held devices to optimise conversion.
  • Example given on a retailer who has equipped their staff with i-Pads to take photo’s of people outside dressing rooms, then recommend other clothes/complementary purchases.
  • Future for retailers will also be about analytics and making “fact-based” decisions amongst the big data that exists.

What struck me was just how much disruption there continues to be in the sector and it wrestles with it’s multi-channel strategy.  Some are doing it well, others not.   What’s clear is that the traditional landscape is changing at a supersonic speeed, expect more casualties from those that fail to react.

The Crowd in the Cloud

Cloud computing, arguably the big buzz word of the enterprise and small business.  We’re all rushing to move applications, data and software into data centres to be hosted by companies who will keep our servers secure and up to date.

There’s a huge amount of upside to cloud, particularly given the explosive rise of tablet computing, data storage exponentially rising and mobile network speeds accelerating.   Having someone look after your network, your applications and other items could dramatically reduce your IT overhead, moving it from capex to opex and giving you the capability to flex your requirements.

However, there is an issue in the background, which is worth considering as part of your long term strategy, particularly at enterprise level.  That is, who currently – who owns this cloud now and who might own it in the future?  There is a lot of consolidation talk in the background as players look to grab ground through acquisition.  This may impact on your future costs, think what’s happened in the energy industry, prices are only going one way….up.

Now, competition will always keep a market on it’s feet, until you start to get to major players taking dominant position. When that happens, the market follows them – think Sky TV.  Took years to get the infrastructure sorted but now has a dominant share of the market.  In the Energy market, three of four players rule the roost.  Will cloud go the same way?

Plan for It

All it exposes is that there may be a culmination point in the future.  If costs begin to rise because someone has built a dominant position, your IT costs may start to rise beyond inflation to a point in the future when it’s cheaper to bring it in house again.

I’m a big fan of cloud computing, it’s awesome – you can throw everything in the cloud and have someone else look after your system, upgrades and services.  For an enterprise, there may be longer term considerations about what you put with who to mitigate against someone pushing prices up in the future or giving yourself the option to back out of a contract if your cloud provider gets hoovered up by someone else.

It shouldn’t be a barrier to entry, not by any means but it should form part of your due diligence when choosing a an enterprise provider.

Cloud Sourcing

Last week I sat on a panel in Manchester, aimed at SME’s discussing technology.  Representing the views not only of a hardware manufacturer, but also as a Director of a large business who uses technology to gain competitive advantage.  Any conference examining tech needs to cover the advantages of cloud computing.

The main triggers for IT upgrades in SME’s tend to be the following: -

  1. They are moving.
  2. They are a new business.
  3. They are growing.
  4. They have an urgent need to repair something that is broken (what we call a “distressed purchase”).

In my view, businesses that are new or moving (1 or 2) are much more likely to adopt a higher level of cloud services into their business than those that are growing or repairing (3 or 4).  Once a business is established, in a premises and focussed on growing, it becomes all about adding or growing to the existing IT set-up – evolution, rather than revolution.

One of the primary reasons that large enterprises, who have the resources to look at such things, are considering cloud computing is business agility and competitive advantage.  It means less people plumbing technology, less software development, server maintenance and support – in fact there’s a lot to be said for it.

The number one consideration continues to be security, closely followed by available network speed for access.  It’s a big job to move away from a network infrastructure, however many large enterprises are developing plans towards virtual private clouds.

A new start can doesn’t need a server, applications,  e-mail server, CRM system or finance system, they can rent all these services in the cloud.  They can benefit from the latest software developments, don’t have to worry about capital expenditure for hardware and can focus on what matters most for their new business – sales, marketing and growing like crazy.

They, potentially may benefit from competitive advantage over more established SME’s who may stick with what they’ve got, preferring to not change for reasons of business continuity.  Those that continually refine what they use, how they use it and how they can review their working practices will continually benefit from these new services.

They may well come down to earth with a bump as the future is predicted to be smartphone/tablet based and the concept of “BYOD” (bring your own device) is already being investigated by major CIO’s as part of their future technology policies.

The lesson is this.  It’s worth reviewing what you do and how you do it regularly.  Some major advancements are right here and right now, you could be benefitting from them.  Read up a bit, see what others are doing, go to a conference, invite a supplier, check out a few blogs – the possibilities are endless.

Marry me Microsoft?

So after Wednesday’s leaked memo to staff, Nokia CEO – Stephen Elop – today announced a new “broad strategic partnership” with Microsoft (no surprises given he’s an ex Microsoft man himself).

Elop is clearly a man on a mission and is determined to drive through the radical changes Nokia needs to stop it leaking market share like a bucket with a hole in it (facing the brutal facts).  The memo set the scene for this announcement which has clearly been nutured in the background.  It seems there will be big job losses as Nokia opt to use the Microsoft operating system, rather than their own – inevitable when you bring two teams of developers together.  I think this is the right decision and Elop has called it right in terms of dumping their own native operating system and going with something developed by someone else to address the “ecosystem” issue. 

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones called it right when he said “two turkeys don’t make an eagle,” there is an inter-dependency in this new relationship and re-labelling old wine as new, won’t work.  Both businesses are being battered by the progress both Apple and Google have been making in the operating system marketplace and some genuine innovation is needed if they are to catch up.  Whether the horse has already bolted, we’ll see.

Mobilise your Digital Assets

Mobile marketing.  Mobile search.  Mobile me.

The next decade will be the decade we remember for it’s advance in mobile technology.  Signalling the shift to location based shopping, services and convenience.  Apps are coming out by their droves and one that caught my eye recently was this one from Red Laser which I think gives an indication of where it’s all heading.  Using an i-Phone, you simply scan a products barcode, the app then identifies it and presents the current web pricing for that product from it’s database.  Instant price checking and hugely convenient.  Just one thing to do, scan the app.

From the user feedback so far, it seems the pricing isn’t perfect in their back end database, that can soon be corrected.  It’s the process that interests me more. Another shift in the way people shop, instant comparison pricing and perhaps a decision to not “buy it now” but buy it when you get home, if the price is significantly different.  Retailers watch out.

Mobile search is where it’s going to be at, presenting your website in a mobile friendly way.  Manchester Search specialists theEword have already cottoned onto this and have a tool in development which will effectively convert your site into a mobile friendly version, which I consider to be an essential step for all businesses moving forward.  Pay per click and search engine marketing also takes on a new persona, with specific activity needing to be done in parallel to your conventional SEM.

What’s evident is that the future is about mobile, the customer journey, convenience, location based marketing and immediacy.  If you’re not working on “mobilising” your digital resources, you should be, it’s where it’s all heading.

20 bits of Tech we didn’t have in 1990

Recognise this? It’s a laptop from 1990 – 20 years ago.  How life has changed since.

Chatting to a 19 year old student at a recent social gathering about life through his lens as a Generation Y, it hit me how much change I had seen in my lifetime in the way our lives work.  Things that today’s generation just take for granted.

Jumping on the tube back into central London, I let my wander for a bit and mentally tagged a few of the things that I’ve seen become commonplace since my working life started around 1988.  So, in no particular order, here are 20 of them which have become commonplace in the last 20 years.

  1. e-Mail (Corporate and Personal) – we talked more or wrote letters to people.
  2. Internet/Google – we used encyclopedias or went to the library.
  3. Mobile phones – we used phone boxes or land lines.
  4. Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin – we met people in person.
  5. e-Bay/Amazon/Marketplaces – we went to jumble sales, had garage sales or held on to it!
  6. MP3 music/i-Pods – we bought vinyl or tape cassettes.
  7. i-Pads/e-readers -we read paper books.
  8. Youtube – we watched wrestling on World of Sport.
  9. Wireless networks – we accessed computer networks at the office, not at home or out and about.
  10. LCD displays/Plasma  Televisions - we used huge clunky CRT’s and TV’s needed a full corner of a room.
  11. DVD’s – we used video.
  12. CD’s, CD players in cars – we listened to vinyl LP’s or the radio/cassette in cars.  I didn’t get a CD player in my car until around 1996 from memory.
  13. Sky TV - we only had BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and later Channel 5.
  14. Dab Radio – we listened to conventional radio, often on Longwave.
  15. PVR (Personal Video Recorders like Sky+) – we set times on video recorders.
  16. SatNav – we used maps in atlases.
  17. Skype – we used a normal phone.
  18. Blogs – we kept secret diaries.
  19. Digital Cameras - we used film and didn’t see the pictures until they were developed after a week or so.
  20. Texting – seriously, we didn’t have text then.  We talked.

There is great cause for celebration. The world has taken an almighty shift and here we are, Generation X, right in the middle of it.  Witnessing the old and the new.  What the future might still bring is really exciting, augmented reality, facetime calling over high speed wireless broadband, 3D laptops and retinal scanning lasers.   Wow.

With technology change also comes societal change.  And when I’d moved on from thinking about the tech, I went on to think about things that I did growing up,  compared with now.  Things like: -

  1. Going to Corner Shops more than supermarkets.  It fuelled the idea of us being a nation of shopkeepers, now the multiples rule.
  2. Listening to the radio on a Sunday night to hear who was number 1 in the pop charts.  Monday morning conversation (yes, you had to wait till you saw your mates at school) was all about who was number one.
  3. Visiting record shops to buy music meant you had to go out to town, it meant the high streets were much busier places.
  4. Major household items like washing machines or televisions were purchased weekly from people like Provident or Radio Rentals.  Now they are seen as disposable items.
  5. Having more adventure as kids.  I had a local adventure playground where you could just ask for wood, nails and a hammer and off you would go.  Today’s health and safety driven culture, just wouldn’t allow it.
  6. Writing letters to people.  This was a skill in itself which is regretably dying.
  7. Faxing important business information.  Retaining the formality of a written letter with more instananeousness and a proper signature!
  8. Breaking bad news face to face or by phone call, rather than by written electronic means such as text or e-mail.  It’s so easy to hide behind technology nowadays, whereas folk tend to just want it straight, face to face.
  9. Taking more in.  What I mean by that is that time wasn’t filled with constant interruption from mobile calls, texts, e-mails, status updates, there seemed to be more head time.
  10. Computers didn’t rule our lives.  We did!

And on that bombshell, I’ll wish all of my readers a fantastic 2011.  It promises to be full of opportunity – if you look for it.