Tag Archives: amazon

Co-optition, The Quest for Access, or, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

27 Feb
eI24B5XMRDS42wfrEZBWgg

Narayana Heart Centre at M S Ramaiah Memorial Hospital

We moved houses a few months ago, and I needed to go to a completely new hospital for a check up. Imagine my surprise (and relief actually), when I saw the Cardiac Care department at M S Ramaiah, a large, old and reputed Hospital and Medical College, run by – Narayana Hrudayalaya, also a large, reputed and old Cardiac Care Hospital started by the eminent Dr. Devi Shetty! Now, this was a hospital I was very familiar with. It was hugely reassuring to get my check ups done there – and even see the familiar blue saree for the customer service folks – almost like being home. 

It set me thinking about the world now collaborating in newer ways, even with erstwhile competitors, in a bid to win access to customers. (I saw later that the Oncology centre at Ramaiah was run by HCG, a cancer specialist).

Narayana itself, from being headquartered almost outside of Bangalore in a large “health city’, has of late started smaller branch centres all over at least south and south east Bangalore. And now, this shop in shop in Ramaiah!

So this is smart business, right, exemplifying a few business imperatives:

A) Core competency specialisation 

B) Outsourcing of non core work to other experts

C) Competition changing to Co-optition (or, everything being fair in love, war and business)

And right then, I saw pop up on my screen, an ad for a sale at Nykaa, an online turned clicks and mortar retailer of beauty and personal care products (a retailer that my teenage daughter had first told me about some 4-5 years ago as her friends were all buying discounted toiletries and make up from there), of products by Fable Street, another online retailer that sells very attractive work wear clothes and accessories (this one run by an IIM alumna). 

It kind of messed with my brain for a bit (I mean, I understand cross usage of channel, but direct competitors using each other as channels?), till I reasoned that this was the true value of the market place model that Amazon had pioneered. (An article I read recently put the figure of third party sales from Amazon at 58% of total revenue). This is Amazon’s stated intent of “helping independent retailers meet the needs of Amazon customers around the globe”. I think Amazon really made the transition from an e-tailer to a channel provider to a technology company very very smoothly and logically.

So what scenarios work best for this co-optition, or collaboration amongst competitors:

A) Multi party Industry nature collaborations

This is normally for Big Problems – setting standards/ fighting common causes like climate change/ defence and security/ energy/ epidemics/ education/ poverty. 

For example, at the recent NRF 2020, one of the biggest panels featured executives from Target, Chipotle, and Best Buy who discussed the power of cyber security industry collaboration. 

Similarly, Facebook, Amazon, Google and more met with WHO recently to figure out how to stop misinformation on the dreaded Coronavirus. 

Or, in 2013/14 post the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, consortiums were formed between Walmart, H&M, Zara, Nike, Adidas to ensure safety and better working conditions for their workers 

Open source was probably the earliest version of this co-optition – where varying competing organisations would come together for development. 

IOT is a great area nowadays which needs to see, and is slowly seeing, collaboration between competitors to develop platforms and utilities for seamless customer experiences. Recently, Google, Apple and Amazon, probably the most acrimonious competitors amongst tech giants, unveiled a smart home collaboration, Connected Home over IP. This is inviting device manufacturers, silicon providers and developers across the smart home industry to join and develop new connectivity standards. 

Another area is self drive cars – the trio of Ford, GM and Toyota has formed what they are calling the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium

Ofcourse, when competitors work together, data security/ patent protection become critical areas, and most companies work well on solving for those. In case of any leaks, these collaborations dissolve.

B) Collaboration between select parties to develop new technologies/ products; to address client needs, or to fight a common competitor: 

Probably the most celebrated example of co-opetition success is the 2004 Sony-Samsung JV to develop and produce LCD panels for flat-screen TVs.  “Bravia” and “Bordeaux” came out of this collaboration, more than doubling the combined market share of these two companies.

In 2012, Harvard University and MIT formed EDX, a non-profit organisation that provides free online courses, each investing $US30 million. By end 2019, there were about 20 million students that it had served. 

In 2017, a consortium of automakers including Ford, Toyota and Suzuki, planned to develop standards for in-vehicle car telematics as an alternative to Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. 

In 2016, Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft came together to create a historic partnership on AI. Apple, Google, Facebook, participated in a twitter data sharing project in 2019.  Google supported Mozilla (Firefox web-browser), a rival to Google Chrome, in order to limit the expanding influence of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Apple Safari. At Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event in Aug 2019, the company announced four partnerships – of which Microsoft was one, to bundle its Android apps on the Note 10.

Even in the B2B world of tech services that I was briefly a part of, one has seen big competitors work together to win a large contract. TCS in 2018 was in talks with Wipro and Infosys to market its automation software Ignio, though nothing really fructified as Wipro ran the AI platform Holmes and Infosys its Nia.

In tech industries, the need for co-opetition is felt more due to the pace of evolution of technology, shorter life-cycle and high R&D costs. The cost of introducing new technology can be prohibitive for one company. Another perspective could be that these partnerships are short-term co-branding and marketing opportunities.

Pharma sees a lot of these in a bid to discover and trial new cures – In 2014, Pfizer and Merck collaborated on a study evaluating a novel Anti Cancer regimen. More recently, in 2019, Pfizer and Merck KGaA, joined BioXcel Therapeutics in its clinical collaboration with Nektar Therapeutics, creating a partnership to assess a triple combination therapy in pancreatic cancer. And then in 2020, Genome & Company entered into a clinical trial collaboration and supply agreement with Merck KGaA, and Pfizer to evaluate the safety, tolerability, biological and clinical activities of some combination therapies, in multiple cancer indications.

The risks of collaborating with rivals might seem huge but a study by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute found that co-optition, when it lasted from three to five years, had more than a 50% chance of mutually reducing company costs.

But co-optition is not really new – There have been enough examples in History, as well as in ancient legends, mythology and fiction of strategic collaboration between enemies to defeat a rival enemy.

In India, the Rajputs occasionally united against foreign invaders – once under Bappa Rawal, then under Shakti Kumar of Mewar and Jaypal Tomar roughly in the 11th/ 12th century. Once the foreign invasions stopped, the Rajputs fought each other.  Then, the rajputs under Rana Sanga managed to defend their confederation against Sultanates of Malwa, Gujarat and also Ibrahim Lodi, Sultan of Delhi.

Some historians think that Rana Sanga also invited Babur to fight against Ibrahim Lodhi, plotting that he himself would move over to Delhi after both warring sides were weakened. As it happened, Babur was very strong, he defeated Rana Sanga, and started the Mughal Dynasty. 

Globally, while the US and the Soviet Union had not exactly been friends in the times before the WWII, it was their collaboration as allies that had a large part in defeating Nazi Germany. 

Hagrid Looking at the Giant Colony

Hagrid Looking at the Giant Colony

Pic Credit

Recent popular fiction e.g. Harry Potter, saw both the Dark Lord’s side and the Order of the Phoenix wanting to ally with the giants to defeat the other side (this despite a fair degree of mistreatment accorded to the giants ordinarily by both sides). Ultimately, the Giants joined the Death Eaters. In the famous Game Of Thrones, Starks, Arryns and Targaryens allied with a few key House of Lannister members like Tyrion and Jamie and fought against the White Walkers, the army of dead in the battle of Winterfell.

Why go so far – Indian Politics sees a lot of co-optition – in 2018, the Karnataka state assembly elections saw a farcical situation when the party with the majority (BJP) first claimed the right to form the government, but then had to resign as its two competitors (The Congress which actually had the least votes, and the JD(S)) formed a post poll alliance and staked claim – it is another matter that the government didn’t last very long.

Apparently, in the NASCAR world, co-optition means one racer helping another by working together to go faster until the last lap, before they start competing against each other.

In teen patti/ cards, one has side shows with a competitor in a group to ensure the larger enemy gets slain.

screen-0.jpg

Side Show in Teen Patti

 As the iconic Godfather line said, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”

C) Cost Optimization/ Capacity Sharing 

Don’t even get me started about this – the hardware guys want to make software and vice versa, the gaming guys are making voice assistants and so on and so forth. And competitors supply parts and components to direct competitors while their finished goods are fighting for share of wallet! It’s all over the place, and hugely incestuous! 

Apple and Samsung for heaven’s sake! While Samsung’s Galaxy and Apple’s iPhone are arch rivals, Samsung at the same time continues to be one of Apple’s main suppliers of screens.

Microsoft and Intel were “married” to each other for ever it seemed (their Wintel alliance) till the advent of mobile technologies created a split. 

The Star Alliance network of competing airlines, which included Air New Zealand, Thai, United, Air China, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, to name a few, was established to save on logistics, marketing and ticketing costs . But we travellers benefitted also as can share loyalty points :).

Peugeot Citroen and Toyota used to have an arrangement to share components for their city cars to the extent that critics said it was one car with three names.

And then there is branding/ white labelling in retail, and actually tech services. Essentially everybody plays happy families in order to lower the burden of capital intensive businesses.

images

Happy Families / Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

D) Arising from a partner eco system  

Then there are the companies who are building entire eco systems – Salesforce was one of the earliest. Now there is Amazon Web Services. And the participants in these eco systems are competitors but benefit from the network. I mentor an AWS / cloud computing consulting services startup called Rapyder – they do good work, have a solid client base, and are growing excitingly. Obviously helped on by AWS. Don’t yet exploit the advantage of co-optition – but could very soon. 

In the social impact sector, there are platforms like Lets Do Some Good run by my ex business partner. Her concept when she started was to weed out the inefficiencies of “random acts of kindness” (e.g., too much funding and CSR efforts going to a school close to many corporates, and none going to one a little distance away), and give small NGOs and ISR folks the ability to synergise their efforts. Cooperatives and marketplaces are other such instances – Social Alpha, as an example, has incubated a farmer cooperative called Farmveda, that has enabled better market access and profits directly to a network of farmers in the South of India. Similarly, a market place called Habba, run by RangDe, that enables artisans to sell and reap the benefits of their crafts. Many countries do this, e.g New Zealand enables its wine growers export their products  – all constituents can be viewed as competitors, but in the cooperative model, they leverage a common entity to come together for “the greater good” and enjoy the benefits. 

(As an aside, while the greater good, also known as win -win is a really praiseworthy ambition, it can have very dark results as we know – after all, Hitler convinced a vast population that homophobia of various kinds was for the greater good. In recent times, a good metaphor for Hitler has been Grindelwald of the Fantastic Beasts/ Harry Potter franchise. Anyway, this is a deviation…)

Grindelwald giving the Greater Good speech

Grindelwald giving the Greater Good Speech

E) Access to a whole new world

This is the pure commercial/ channel play, cross sell to allow mutual benefit, ensuring ubiquity of a familiar brand. The online world made this possible – when instead of customers needing to go destination shopping (including for medical services – a la me going to Narayana), they expected manufacturers and service providers to come to them. The battle for access became fiercer – with players realising the benefit of selective partnerships to ensure visibility across forums – the power of decision then lay in the customer’s hand, influenced less by “location”, and more by other factors – it really became survival of the fittest.

Vimeo, a competitor to youtube one would have thought, allowed publishing of its videos to youtube (as well as others like Facebook/ Linkedin etc) via its “publish to social” feature  – this maybe underlines Vimeo’s shift from a video content making company to one that is making tools for content makers and publishers.

Microsoft offers Xbox games via Xbox live – on Nintendo Switch – its a partnership that is mutually beneficial, though there are claims that it may be ending soon. (It started with Minecraft, and post that, despite ongoing “exclusives” for each platform, the gaming companies started collaborating for better access. Sony has less incentive for this partnership, but there is certainly cross play gaming going on).

SAP used to run Oracle database  and  Microsoft Office is available on Apple computers (Macs and iPads). Similarly, Apple and Amazon combine for Kindle – Apple has a kindle app for iPads, which one would think is counter intuitive. But this is because Apple needs content for its devices, while Amazon needs people to buy more and more (e) books. In this case, it is because the strategic imperatives are different for the competitors for the collaboration.  

Samsung and Apple have tied up for TV services, an area where both have been slow to grow.  

This cooptition also helps small scale companies scale up by pooling resources too (a bit like the cooperative model, but not wider/ multiparty). It’s a rising tide, that raises all boats. 

Overall, there is a time, place and reason for competition, and then one for collaboration – and increasingly, as we are seeing, the same two people can be competitors or collaborators. The world is becoming one large happy family – the Upanishads called it Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. 

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”, and (not to be outdone), Sigmund Freud said “an intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable to my emotional life…not infrequently…friend and enemy have coincided in the same person”

And as my daughter would say, Ma, duh! Frenemies! 

250px-Frenemies.jpg

The IoT Ecosystem – A Beginner’s Guide for Benefiting from It

17 Dec

Last month I was at a panel discussion. The Topic was – “The Internet of Things; Leveraging Technologies in Business”. As I was thinking about what I would say to a room full of entrepreneurs, I came across a startling statistic – 87% of people in this world have not heard of the IoT!!! There bursts our collective IT/ Valley type bubble, which gets so wound up in the latest tech thing that it forgets to demystify even really applicable stuff to the real beneficiary!

I decided therefore to begin my talk with a very simple eco system clarification graphic – one that would explain to each of us our place in the Internet of Everything / Internet of Nouns whatever you want to call it. Here it is:

IoT Ecosystem

CONSUMER BENEFITS IN THREE WAYS:

What it means is basically, that as Consumers, of course, our lives will be made easier due to the Internet of Things. But that happens in essentially 3 ways:

a) The environment becoming more efficient/ optimised/ user friendly and hopefully cheaper. Think smart cities; urban lighting i.e. street lights auto switch off; transport management including traffic congestion easing and smart parking; smart energy grids; city and waste management; agriculture produce optimisation…..in effect, the Gotham city of the future without Batman! 🙂

Gotham-City

b) Better Health and Welfare – All the fitness meters and wearables will enable better quality healthcare for most of us; things like remote tracking for senior citizens; and better compliance and adherence in treatment administration. Not only that, security for kids/ adults/ everyone in fact will be much better with tracking devices and sensors.

c) Customization – What the plethora of things stuck on any and every monitor-able membrane will do, is enable micro modules of data – every action, behaviour, and even possibly thoughts and emotions will be tracked for everyone. This will enable better mapping of individuals (not just segments or clusters), thus making daily lives more efficient and easier. This is where the standard use cases of the thermostat enabled warm home before you enter from office (Google’s Nest acquisition); the pre-ordering fridge when eggs stock gets depleted (Whirlpool, Electrolux); the erstwhile Google Glass, and the pre determined shopping selections at retail play. This is also where much of the glamour and hype around the IoT exists – after all, the early adopters consumers will really be looking at these ‘cool/ quirky” gadgets to show their “with-it-ness”.

ENTERPRISE ECO SYSTEM COULD BE AS IoT VENDORS; OR USERS OF IoT FOR CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT

But when it comes to businesses, the interplay changes a bit.

Most of the thought leadership coming currently on this space is from businesses participating directly in the Internet of Things – these are (largely) technology or data type firms – and they could be either manufacturing devices (the last mile therefore); or operating in the standards and protocols arena – therefore providing the platforms for all to operate; or working on applications on and around the IoT; or be working with the data arising out of the petabytes of data (erstwhile BI/ Big Data processors).

In all these avatars, the companies are providing products and services directed related to creating, harnessing and delivering the Internet of Things – whether to other businesses, or to end consumers. Also, as in most modern technological playing grounds, everyone is collaborating with everyone else (or, well, should be!). There are large interdependencies, and companies have realized that it is better to work on their chunk of the whole. Cisco, IBM, Intel, Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Amazon, Samsung and GE with their Industrial Internet are the primary large names that pop up when this category is discussed.

The balance of the businesses, will essentially participate in the Internet of Things to harness and derive the benefits it delivers. Hence, this is about exponentially bettered customer centricity – about really hyper personalized, context driven products and solutions. The insights gleaned from processing the oodles of data generated by all the sensors will enable one to one customer dialogue in a multi channel environment, and therefore real time, event based marketing and service to customers.

But also overall, the Internet of Things will create a smarter, more efficient Enterprise Eco System (that both kinds of businesses will benefit from).

Think more predictable weather conditions bettering disaster prevention; better Industrial Automation, Logistics, shop floor management and supply chains (including traffic/ fleet management); better utilities; better buying procedures; better infrastructure at lower costs!

What this really implies is that, beyond the hype, there is something in the IoT for everyone, the only thing to do is to figure out your place in that sun, and to be able to monetize it (if you are a business), or use it (as a consumer).

Viva IoT!

Whose Sale Is It Anyway; or; come onnn – Differentiate!

4 May

Sale Sale
Seen on front pages of a newspaper, and its supplement yesterday. Made me think about what competition does to one. A few thoughts:

a) Media is amazing! No conflict of interest obviously right? Front pages of 2 sections of the SAME paper with 2 direct competitors BOTH sponsoring full page ads?

Oh btw, the next day got these – AGAIN!
Sale 1

b) No noticeable difference between the 2 (or even 4) – infact, till you look really deeply, you miss the store where the discounts are being held! (unless you are my girl Friday Tulasi, or my sister in law Niharika, both of whose bigtime source of entertainment is to check deals). So HOW are these stores expecting ROI? Footfalls, I may still assume they will get – if it’s general shopping season, and since these are regular grocery/ super marts, they will have a steady clientele anyway, but ROI for these ads (as in, increase in revenues/ attention/ whatever the objective was? ) – hmm not so sure

c) While topical/ day related catalogu-ish advertising was always something our “organized” retailers did, the flavour of these has gotten a bit different (more desperate) since the mega online guys-with-their-VC-money-funded-advertising has got! (Remember the unprecedented-and-then-much-maligned flipkart’s billion sale thingie?)….
flipkart big billion

….with the tried-hard-to-be-funny “ambush” campaigns by its competitors?
snapdeal-toi Biyani-ad

Just goes to show the impact of e-comm on even traditional/ middle class India! (well, maybe not. It’s really urban India that is getting affected by this)

This thing about “differentiation” also sparks a parenting thought (as all things do with me). My teenage daughter is kind of caught between a devil and a hard place almost, at times I think. Like most kids at that age, her prime desire – when interacting specially with parents, is to blend with the crowd – not do anything that gets her attention (so, mom yelling HAPPY NEW YEAR on the streets on christmas eve is a no-no….OK, that I grant to her :); but even if we need to get something clarified from say a store salesman, goes through severe angst at this whole “calling attention to herself” thing).
On the other hand, she actively looks for things to make her different – so, dip-dyed hair, her theatre classes – which is fairly unique in her circles, a desire to play the ukelele (of all things!), she is constantly looking to do things which may then get her “cooler” attention from her peers.

I think this is fairly similar to what any of us goes through too – a desire at the same time – to “belong” and yet to “stand out” — I think it’s basically the choice of where you want to belong vs. stand out that hones your essence!

On a randomly different (though related since we are talking of differentiation) thought, I came across some nice doppleganger pictures of celebrities (with even funnier descriptions)- enjoy!

AND one of Anne-Amal
anne amal

Coming back to the whole point of differentiation as competitive strategy, I think Amazon has done a super job recently – their “Aur Dikhao” ad, while on a seemingly over used plank, is just sheer brilliance in creative execution! Here it is:

And, talking of sales, their May sale ad, with many people dancing hilariously, is truly different too (couldn’t find it to post sadly! )

So, its desirable, even possible, one just has to work harder!

The Sudden Rise of Social Conscience; OR; How incentives work

30 Mar

Incentive

– Yesterday, a neighbour came to me and asked – do you remember the name of the lady who was running a “clean up your neighborhood” drive? My daughter has to do some community service for her higher studies so we are actively looking for causes.

– Our community is involved in a lot of good causes in the surroundings – schools, pet shelters, adult vocational training, health, hygiene and life skills for the under privileged, scholarships for bright students — many many such causes. It has even given birth to a trust, which was created to manage the funds generated due to an annual run/ walkathon. A lot of middle and high school kids help out in many ways – some by tutoring the domestic helpers’ kids; some by teaching govt. school kids to dance and sing and thus prepare them for various functions like Independence day etc…The organisers, ALWAYS,at the end give away certificates of participation, and one mentioned to me that they may not have had so many kids participating if it wasn’t for the community service “credits” they notch up

band

– My daughter, who is part of a band, recently performed at a fund raiser – this was organised by a 10th std. girl – at a 5-star hotel. She did it because her “education counselling services” mentor advised her to organise a fund raiser to support some charity in the “health” arena. It was really well done – nice location, great performances by middle and high school kids, and the beneficiary kids, a DJ playing dance beats later. (But, as the founder of the beneficiary organisation observed, the “rich” kids, (including mine), didn’t really even talk to the kids of the beneficiary NGO!

– March marks the end of the financial year in India – most companies are scrambling to meet quotas – revenue/ profitability/ spend budgeted. Many companies are therefore desperately looking for projects to fund – specially with respect to the 2% of their profits on CSR that the new companies act has mandated.

In general, atleast in urban India nowadays, there is a much higher emphasis on CSR and community service, than there used to be when we were growing up. This rise of “share of voice” and mind towards Social causes, I suspect has been primarily led by powerful mandates – in the case of children seeking admissions in university, by the universities mandating comm-service credits; in the case of corporates abroad e.g. in the US, by higher weightage in deals etc to companies showing comm-service, and now in India , by the much talked about but little understood by now famous Companies Act of 2013.

Essentially, what it means, that a lot of things in life boil down to incentives – pets are trained using incentives, babies are raised using incentives, organisational goals are realised using incentives, and now, Social good is done using incentives!

In today’s world, where there is a great degree of buzz about Customer Centricity, and how the customer should really be at the centre of business (obvious no brainer, one wd say, but in actual fact it doesnt happen!), the reason why this generally agreed upon tenet is not really implemented is because there aren’t enough organisational incentives to change the whole culture around! We all know how Jeff Bezos keeps an empty seat representing the customer at his board meetings – and gives incentives for customer centricity. Just like Google and 3M made such names for themselves for innovation, basically because they have incentive structures designed accordingly!

We need incentives for every little thing – my games of tetris and farm heroes progress at the rapid pace that they do, basically because of incentives – dont need to be material, or public…just higher levels achieved is by itself an incentive! In this context, do read my previous post on goal setting and gamification which is basically incentives in a different form

Another previous post on carrot vs. stick, and the power of positive incentives vs. penalty is also an interesting thought.

Incentive design itself, however, is a complex phenomenon. In some cases, a NEGATIVE incentive works – (parents of teenagers will agree) – so, I only have to say “I dislike something”, for my daughter to LOVE it!

Having said all of this, to me, its great that incentives for social cause do exist, because without it, we wouldn’t see our born-with-silver-spoons-in-their-mouth children be as sensitive to environment around them and people who dont have the priveleges that they have.

Similarly, nearly $1.5 billion wouldn’t flow into the NGO world, if Sachin Pilot hadn’t created the clause. Interestingly, it wasn’t so much the money – as the uptick in visibility and consciousness that it promoted, that was the great impact!

Long live incentives for social cause!

Build a Toilet Project

Not Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, Page & Brin, But Nora Roberts! (Or, the state of the Internet Of Things)

21 Jan

JDRobbIoT

I lead a very “must not do” lifestyle – I am retired from active corporate life; I snack on unhealthy junk almost everyday; I drink gallons of fattening beer every weekend; I don’t sleep all that much; and, most importantly, I read almost NO elevating/ informative/ educative stuff – all I read is some news on the web on technology, and LOTS of trashy fiction – specifically, romance and who-dun-it novels.

My current favorite author is Nora Roberts, maybe because she combines the above two genres really well! In reading avidly her futuristic cop thriller series, written under the pseudonym J.D. Robbs, I begin to see a strange similarity between her world of the 2050s and 60s; and what is going on in the Internet of Things/ Connected Device world.

Quick summary: the Internet of Things is essentially nothing but a world in which all devices are connected, and many of them are wearable on the human body, to enable use of the data generated in one place in order to predict actions in another! This means a world of tiny embedded “sensors” all over – on highways, in thermostat boxes, glasses, bras, beds, wind mills….you name it….that then allow seamless living!

Look at how some parallels exist between Robb’s world and the current endeavour of most of the technology world, with leaders being Zuckerberg, Bezos, Benioff, Musk and many many many other smaller/ niche players:

Virtual RealityCredit

1. Virtual Reality:
Arguably, one of the stars at this month’s CES was the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype with Spatial Audio feature. It seems to have excited people, specially VR enthusiasts all around, with the advancements it shows over previous versions. A look at some applications – driving simulations and Gaming excites even boring ole’ non-gamer me!

But hey, in the JD Robb world, VR and Holo videos are very much par for the course! Not only can you program VR headsets in the gym to give you the real experience of whichever setting you want, HoloRooms are like Star Trek Holo Decks and owned by the wealthy, and can be programmed for interactive vacations at the beach, street scenes for training in fighting techniques, or rescue missions, or jogging along a path, or dining in a mountain chalet, etc. HoloGlasses provide 3-D life-like scenarios, similar to the HoloRooms, but worn on the head. And, to me, the extreme use was very very evil! In the book I last read, “Fantasy in Death”, a gamer whizkid actually injected reality into virtual reality – and as a by product killed a couple people!

“Roarke took another sip of coffee – “Let me understand you. You are suggesting that a holographic image, which is essentially light and shadow, attempted murder and committed it…Neuro and nano-tech have advanced, and the images produced in holo programs act and react, according to that program. They appear 3D, appear to have substance. The player’s senses are involved and engaged……found a way to enhance wave front, increase the power stream of the light….to create a kind of current that is an electronic replication of the substance….that could, cut, slash, sever….or could replicate an impact where the currents could inflict the same damage as they have been programmed to inflict”


2. Customized Talking Billboards:

Talking billboards are now old hat. Even a lot of the motion/ temperature triggered ones. But, essentially in that they use sensors to activate a series of actions that could be customised depending on you/ your location/ your preferences, they are very I0T!

Then, ofcourse, google glass is (was) the ultimate in customized billboards in a way – plus much much more. Despite its lukewarm performance in this round, Google is sure to get it back with a bigger bang …soon!

And, in a J D Robb parallel, Eve Dallas, the main protagonist, is forever catching customised billboards looking down at her on her drives/ airlifts through crowded noisy New York streets:

When she caught a familiar face burst across one of the animated screens…over the street at thirty fourth….she..whirled…jiggled, spun, in a few sassy and amusingly placed scraps of electric blue. With each revolution, her hair changed from red to gold to blinding green…her oldest friend…

3. Robotics/ Artificial Intelligence:

From Super Mario’s latest AI induced self aware tricks, to Facebook’s intense use of AI, the world of AI is definitely here. (After all, what was Siri, but an early version of AI). In fact, this is becoming a controversial area, with recently, Tesla’s Elon Musk coming out in strong opposition of the potential evil fallouts of AI!

amazon drones Credit

Then there are drones, which have been used for military purposes (e.g. in Israel and Afghanistan) for a while, and infact are now being advanced, e.g. with mind controlling technologies. Amazon also created news a couple of years ago with their pilot of deliveries using drones (Amazon Prime Air).

In J.D. Robbs’ world, there are “Droids with human characteristics that can be programmed to cook, clean, man office desks, physically fight and wrestle, watch over children and the elderly, teach, bartend, waiters and waitresses and even be programmed for sex. There are also droid animals – dogs, cats and birds.”

“The droids were well represented as well- mechanical looking household and yard droids, cheap mini droids, and a number of the human replicas lined up like suspects….”This model’s top of the line. She’s designed to exactly replicate the character physically, and she has top-flight programming capabilities””

“They were droids..you couldn’t even smell them…she swung back, slamming her knees into the droid behind her…catching him by the ankles as he deployed the weapon….he didn’t buckle as a man would, but teetered back, arms pinwheeling for balance.”

Then there are AutoVehicles that can fly and zip around, but also be driven like normal cars and buses.

“Three cars ahead of her, two rapid cabs shot into vertical lift at the same time…airlifts hovered above, shooting out their streams of light…..”

nest-labs-google Credit

4. Home Automation

With Apple’s Smart Home project, Google’s Nest and the earlier versions of the IoT which almost always had a pre programmed refrigerator ordering eggs when you ran out, Home Automation was one of the earliest applications of the IoT. And, lets face it, its also the sexiest/ most widely adoptable one; hence catching consumer eye balls far more than windmills, gas meters and smart highways! (Marc Benioff had addresses the Dreamforce 2013 attendees with a case on his Philips toothbrush!) It is also the app where a lot of work is being done without suffering reverses (like the glass). Companies like Philips, Logitech, Nokia and many more are working flat out to address and dominate their respective inches of the home automation turf. This article is a nice look at the news on home automation.

At the centre of everything – most things consumer IoT atleast, is the ubiquitous smartphone – that device that most other devices link to, that very soon 1 in every 4 earthling will possess, that works as your personal friend, philosopher guide, but also has millions of app developers working day and night on, that you use to talk/ email/ measure sleep patterns/ order cabs/ check restaurants/ listen to music and watch movies…in short, everything…And now, the smart watch

Motorola-Moto-360-Smartwatch-5

Cut to Robbs. She has the AutoChefs that can deliver home-cooked meals and coffee.

“He walked to a large Autochef “What is it then – Pizza or Burger”….Took a large bubbling Pizza out…headed to the AutoChef, programmed coffee….He’d already programmed their meal in the recesed Autochef – I thought we’d have ham and eggs today”

The Drying Tube that senses your temperature requirements and then dries you up.
“…Like the warm, clean scented swirl of air in the drying tube…”

The biometric scanning device, that tells you where anybody in the house is (Roarke has programmed all answers to Eve such that it always starts with “Darling Eve!”, a fact that really irritates the heroine!

“Where is Roarke”?.. Welcome home, darling Eve!..As usual the recorded voice using that particular endearment had slivers of embarrassment pricking up her spine”

Links that are a modernized video cell phone that can hold and transfer data besides making calls – both audio and video; Memo Cubes that are modern, electronic Post-Its, without the sticky paper, Wrist Units that combine most functions!

“Nice wrist unit…“Serviceable.” Eve turned her wrist to admire the simple band, the flat, silver-toned face….“It‟s got a couple of nice features,” she added as she fiddled with it. “It‟s nice,” Peabody said again, then drew her beeping communicator out of her pocket. “Give me a sec, I . . . hey, it‟s you.” Mouth dropping, Peabody jerked her head up. “It‟s got a micro-com in it? That‟s pretty mag. Usually they‟re all fuzzy, but this is really clean.” “Nano-com. You know how the vehicle he rigged up for me looks ordinary?” “Ordinary leaning toward ugly,” Peabody corrected. “But nobody gives it a second look or knows that it‟s loaded, so . . . same deal?” Automatically Peabody dug out her ‟link when it signaled, then paused. “Is that you? It‟s got full communication capability? In a wrist unit that size?” “Not only that, it‟s got navigation, full data capabilities. Total data and communications—he programmed it with all my stuff. If I had to, I could access my files on it. Waterproof, shatterproof, voice-command capabilities. Gives me the ambient temp. Plus it tells time.”

IoT Security
5. Security:

This is clearly the foremost concern in the IoT! The WEF has gotten a report together recently advising caution! Top executives similarly feel that the biggest risk of the IoT is security!

But, this article shows that despite security concerns, IoT is definitely growing.

J.D. Robb has her own version of the security issues – all data devices are controlled by the federal mother computer – the CompuGuard. This is very big brother-ish, and supposedly can track everything going on in any computing device. (Ofcourse, Mr. Know-it-all, ex criminal, richest man in the world Roarke can get past the Compuguard – and often does, thus, often aiding Ms. Dallas in her investigations, much to her irritation!)

“Compuguard monitored all e-transmissions and programming on planet and off….I’m obliged to caution you that this transmission is being traced through CompuGuard, and it’s being recorded.”

J.D. Robb has a few other interesting gadgets strewn about her books – Skids are high-tech sneakers that can float above ground and there are skateboards that hover a few inches above ground instead of on wheels; Glide carts are moving food carts on the street; Credits, which are tokens used instead of coins…

At the end, a lot of it is illusory and advanced stuff – both in the IoT world, and the JDRobb one. As an example, the much touted wearables have abysmal penetration and even worse usage figures for consumer devices (at an average, all wearables get discarded after 6 months). This article is interesting too.

Having said that, there is no doubt that some if all all of this, is coming, and coming sooner than later! Most pundits say the world should focus on “real” applications with substantial impact – healthcare/ infrastructure/ utilities, rather than consumer products – but, if consumers didn’t show an interest, a lot of the glitter and shine wouldn’t be there!

In my opinion, the question is no longer – “will it come” but ‘when will it come”….Maybe, some of the companies in the arena should consider hiring Ms. Roberts as strategic advisor.

In the meanwhile, interested in reading some of the JDRobb books? Here’s where you can download some free – enjoy!

The Problem With Context

15 Sep

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill


Credit

“I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts to be in their proper context”: Gordon B Hinckley

Growing Up, my marketing 101 lesson taught me “Customer is King”. The Father of India, and probably its best known global personality, Mahatma Gandhi, said – “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

However, It could be argued in today’s world that the all important C word is being replaced with another C word – Context. So, now, Context is king – mainly, because Context is what allows an organization to understand its (first C word) Customer better.

We as prospects, shoppers, switchers; movie goers, diners, Home owners, Business people, car drivers, facebook users, are today cumulatively generating Yottabytes (10^24) of data, which is going to increase very soon to Brontobytes (10^27)! Intelligent organisations are (or atleast are thinking of, and if not, then should be thinking of) investing in technology, infrastructure and analytic decision processes to use this data for higher revenue generation as well as cost optimization. Context, the accumulated historical data generated by people, places, and things, is almost a mandatory component of these analytic processes.

In simple, laymen terms – context makes up the circumstances in which an event or an idea is set, and that therefore is what makes something clearer to you —

– Does listening to a special song make you think of a special person or a special situation? That’s context! (As “The way you look tonight” was Julia Roberts’ and Dermot Mulroney’s “special song” in My Best Friend’s Wedding)

– Think of nursery rhymes – when you delve deep into them or take them out of context of being repeatable pieces of music for kids, they are fairly disturbing! (Jack broke his crown? Humpty couldn’t be put back again? Whoaaa!!!)

For the traditional marketing folks, context analytics is a bit similar to behavioural + psychographic segmentation in the good ole fashioned days, and not just demographic – so, you add parameters of date/ time/ purchase event/ mood/ place/ company/ actions/ attitudes/ usage etc., and layer them in – to create better profiles of people/ events/ data….

When you marry Context with Data, you trigger unique, new relationships between hitherto unrelated data points – this helps you derive trends and patterns – and generates new business opportunities. Context makes data become richer, more meaningful. Someone very famously once said “Context is worth 80 IQ points”

Conversely, without Context, business conclusions might be flawed. It’s the old analogy of “knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad”

So, is data and context a marriage made in heaven?

I would say, it is certainly high on the “will not make the divorce courts within the next 6 months – ok, 2 years” side of the coin, but, like all relationships, it needs work! One of the thing that contextual analytics ends up doing, counter intuitively, is still not giving the whole picture (A bit like the blind men and elephant story – where, depending on CONTEXT, each blind man ascribed a different name to the elephant – thus describing a piece part of it, but no one realized it was an elephant)

blind men elephant relativity

So, what then is the secret sauce required to turn this marriage into one made in heaven?

a) Disruptive Discovery: An inherent flaw in most predictive analytics algorithms – whether based on big data or not, is that their results are incremental – because what you know/ what has happened/ inbuilt assumptions – i.e., CONTEXT are what predict the future, they will to a certain extent pre-determine the outcome of the prediction.

As a friend said, facebook always recommends Metallica to me when because like Iron Maiden – it doesn’t realize that I also like Jazz! Similarly, Amazon always shows me more Nora Roberts – as I bought some romance once, and leaves a huge opportunity gap because it doesn’t realize that I have bought say a Khaled Hosseini elsewhere!

Not sure how many of you read this hilarious piece that was circulating recently on how “liking” everything on facebook for 2 days turned the news feed into a strange animal! Much recommended for an empathetic laugh

A good case study in how pre ordained behaviors, or context, or for that matter assumptions, to a certain extent skew actual results can be read here (a pithy commentary on Windows 8’s failure)

b) Response Timeliness: This one again is a bit counter intuitive. Experts and proponents of context analytics would say – but PART of context is the real time nature of the tracking! One is continuously refreshing data with newer and newer inputs, that turns the context richer and richer that then gives better and better outputs — and on and on and on.

The tragedy, however, is that while most organisations are (or atleast are thinking of, or if not, then should be thinking of) collecting and processing data on a real time basis, the RESPONSE to a lot of this data is NOT real time – why? Mainly because it CANNOT be! They don’t have the capabilities – this is the classical bottleneck/ the Blackwell’s limiting factor/ the critical path in the Gantt chart!

As a parent, I realized very early on that the concept of “quality time” that was created to essentially rationalize lack of adequate time spent with kids by working parents was a lot of bs. It fell into shambles the minute my tearful 1 ½ year old asked me – “when I fell down and was bleeding so much, where were you”!!

As business people, we also know the value of being at the right place at the right time. This time criticality determines a lot of what we do – how we behave as consumers – what time we eat, when we exercise, when we buy… – but also how we plan say marketing promotions, or budget calendars, or for that matter the pitch to the HR guy for a raise!

As one of my fav musicians George Harrison said:
“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

What this then means in the big data world is, that when a customer sends out data – you translate it into a signal/ information/ wisdom – and then you jolly well figure out a way to respond to it at the time that the signal is asking for a response! May be immediately, may be a few days later – but, figure it out! Use the context, to not only tell you parts of the elephant, but the whole mammoth! So, its not only to find out what you can sell to the customer and where – but when/ and how quickly to lend a sympathetic ear/ when to fix a broken washing machine or a crashed site!!

Unless you can gear up your response mechanism to be time dynamic and responsive, all that context married to your data – is going to —- to use the marriage analogy – not produce a baby!!!

c) The Human Touch – AI, the Internet of Things and all automation notwithstanding, atleast for now, we humans are just wired to need human intervention

a. This is because technology is still flawed – Watson notwithstanding, most humans actually instinctively and judgementally can scan a wide breadth of data and more or less give reasonably accurate judgements – after all, that is what experience and seniority lend to a man.

b.Man is a social animal after all – most of us want, nay need, human contact – a good case is customer service. Automated responses just don’t cut it for many – they want to talk to a real person, the more serious the issue, the higher the need for human contact (maybe shortly that “real person” will also be a drone, but that’s besides the point).

After all, how else but due to a human would you see these 2 really delightful examples of ‘customer service” interactions – one by a Netflix representative, and this one by an amazon guy.

Make no mistakes, human beings could just as easily make bad mistakes – like seen in this http://www.theverge.com/2014/7/15/5901057/comcast-call-cancel-service-ryan-block!

But, by and large, if one could only afford it, human beings would be the best response mechanism.

All in all, its great to see the progress made due to big data and the Internet of Things etc, but the organization who can take the best of the context plus data marriage, and add the disruption, the time criticality and the human interface element would be the one on which I would put my money!

All Hail The New KPI Metric: SOS (Share of Screen)

9 Sep

som sov Credit

Back in the days of yore, we all ran after this big metric – its the one that decided supremacy in the market, was an indicator of your competitive strength, was the clue to your competitor’s revenue and profit – was all important in fact. This was Market Share. Battles were won and lost, careers made and shattered, increments and bonuses decided on the basis of the measly decimal points that audit reports showed one had garnered over previous quarters/ years. Oh btw, one ALWAYS debated audited MS figures – since your own calculations ALWAYS showed yours higher than your competitors’!

On the media front, which was more output related always (as opposed to outcome – some would argue it’s still that way), the ruling metric was Share of Voice (SOV) – this was how many GRPs you had gained as opposed to your competitors (in the PR world, the equivalent was impressions/ mentions). So, was a measure of reach/ frequency and negotiation skills.

On Screen Apps

On Screen Apps

Credit

But, in today’s mobile first / m-commerce world, these are arguably outdated figures to chase – what matters is what “Share of Screen” or SOS you have received – in other words,
– Was your app downloaded or not
– If yes, how often is it being used
– For what periods of time is it being used
– In comparison, if your competitor’s app being used more?
– Or, as in the case of retailers, is an aggregator/ pure e commerce app like amazon/ Flipkart being used instead of yours?

(Look at how Target’s Cartwheel app is helping the retailer recover a fair amount of ground it has lost of late)

Fitting actually, that Amazon called its live customer service on demand app button “Mayday” – after all, its guaranteeing Amazon higher SOS!