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Monday, 19 August 2013

Look Mum - No Hands!


Look Mum – No hands!
Remember your first attempt at trying to ride a bike without holding the handlebars, how did that end? Well why is it that most businesses have a tendency to try and replicate this in the business world? Businesses seem to consider where they have had success and believe they then understand how to do business in a new market? Should we just move into another region and do what we’ve been doing because it’s worked in one part of the world?  I get the sense that they honestly believe they can continue doing “business as usual” while expanding.  Of course, they arrive at this belief having made several assumptions and comparisons between their home market and the new market. There is only one assumption that has consistently held true.  Within any market a business plans to enter, there are always new growth opportunities.   However, whether they can translate what they do today, into a new market, will determine how they benefit from those opportunities. 
Our global economy is a small place.  We are all increasingly aware of the successes and failures of any business as they move beyond their home market.  Why is it then that business’s fail to learn from those who go before them?  Whether into new geographies or in adjacent markets? Consider for a moment you are looking to build a plane. Would you really start from zero knowing the lessons learned over the decades? Of course you wouldn’t! So why should business plans targeted at entry into new markets be any different?
Yes, there are some unique cases where businesses have managed to replicate what they have done in their home market successfully into a new market usually due to the market demand being so high for a unique product they are willing to overlook any localization requirements, but these are and remain incredibly isolated instances. There are a larger and more significant number of companies that have failed. Why?  An organizations complete failure to interpret the dynamics of the real opportunity and the behaviour of the market they are seeking to enter. As such, they have either had to sink significant spending into the opportunity, just to stay afloat, or change their operating model significantly to achieve some form of success.   Both activities result in a depreciated or even possibly a negative outcome.
I have seen countless businesses state they have identified an opportunity and are best placed to address that opportunity due to their home market success and then fail. They usually base their analysis on a few common principles: size of population, spend in relevant segment, and growth of local competitors and if they are really sophisticated, access to their supply chain requirements in that market. At best, these criteria are only to identify if there “is an opportunity”, but nothing more. Even when looking at adjacent markets what are the requirements for the right to participate and how much change is required by your business to make that change? You don’t jump off a cliff without checking what is below. Do You – sorry I don’t know many cliff divers out there!
Looking at the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) industry, which is becoming very crowded, there is a growing view that through their niche success they are best placed to expand into new markets.  This is not at all surprising given that everything these days is somehow connected to “mobile” or “in the cloud” and basically revolving “around networks”.  So, many businesses feel ICT organizations don’t just have an opportunity to compete in new or adjacent markets but, they have a right to, given their home market success. This is both lacking in logic and potentially dangerous for their business when their starting point is an operating model which is based upon their local market success.  
Leveraging partners as you enter unknown terrain provides your business with a set of “handlebars” and ultimately can result in a more stable and inherently positive outcome. They will enable you to adapt to whatever terrain you come across, or challenges placed in front of your business.  Adaption is really the key to understanding new markets – start by assuming you are going to adapt during the journey and then the only question you have to ask yourself is by how much?  Once you’ve made those determinations, you can then establish your plan for that market and then begin to understand how much of your existing capability can be leveraged. There is a growing wave of expectation for ICT firms to build their own ecosystems and to start offering services with best of breed partners that are complimentary.  This is being driven by an increasing demand for integrated solutions by customers - and as a result experiences.  Just like riding a bike through rocky terrain whilst holding the handlebars, support when entering non familiar territory is not a bad thing. If you fell of your bike riding over rough terrain without holding the handlebars would you really repeat the exercise or use a little more caution?
Doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome will never deliver you the result you are looking for – I know surprising right? Therefore, don’t seek to blindly follow the path of your competitor, but learn from their journey both the good and the bad. Don’t simply do what you’ve successfully achieved in a different market, instead capitalize on your knowledge and capabilities! Leverage these capabilities in a relevant way, a way which is aligned to the market you are seeking to enter. Ultimately defining your concept for all markets is perfectly fine but the execution of that concept must be relevant to the market you are seeking to enter. Above all be ready to adapt to the dynamic nature of the market you are seeking to enter! Last but not least consider your partner ecosystem in the market you are trying to enter, because if you don’t get ready for a ride down the mountain as you enter the new market without being able to hold the handlebars for control – because they simply won’t be there!  I am sure similar to many of you that when I was starting out on my bicycle heading down that hill without holding on that first time… the idea of shouting out to Mum saying “Look Mum no hands!” was great in concept however the outcome was simply not a pretty sight!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Don't Stop Believing


Yes, as in the song, in case you were about to ask.  It’s a Journey…
Have you ever had an idea which you thought would change your business or the business you work for or even serve your customers more effectively, yet when you brought it to your boss’s attention, they then thanked you kindly, filed it away and sent you on your way? Well, I don’t know about you, but this has been one of my key challenges and ultimate frustrations.  It just makes me want to scream and say “Hey – this WILL work and it WILL help so let’s just give it a go!” Yet, standing on top of a desk and having your “Braveheart” moment simply doesn't have the affect anymore like it did in the late 1990’s! – Before you ask, no, I didn’t stand on a desk and no, I didn’t wear a kilt, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about it though!
Seriously, I have seen and met people who have fantastic ideas, but struggle to get the buy in or to translate them into outcomes.  I have even had some mad ideas during my career, from trying to sell Satellite to ISP’s in Europe through to introducing alternate training and customer engagement into incumbent market leaders. I had a lot of obstacles thrown in my path and had to engage numerous people to ensure endorsement from and engagement with. To be honest, I have learned a lot from both those who supported my ideas and equally from those who challenged me, but when I boil it down there is one lesson I learned early on which has always stayed with me.
My Dad always used to tell me, if you aim for the dirt, you will hit it every time.  But, if you aim for the stars, you may not reach them, but reaching for them could get you a lot closer than remaining in the dirt (See Dad I do remember some things!). I have always remembered this phrase and often found myself giving myself (stay with me now) a kick up the backside and reminding myself that getting by day to day isn’t good enough. This is possibly also part of the reason I write these articles / blogs, trying to share my ideas with others to think about for themselves or consider how they could implement rather than just keeping them to myself!
So … great, aim for the stars right? That’s it? Well, clearly not, if that was all it took I would have been standing on a hill long ago just selling the ideas rolling through my head! I have learned through the years that there are a few key factors (for me at least anyway!) to ensure we are able to turn beliefs into outcomes. Simply put, unless you are articulating what it means for your stakeholders, working with a team who provides you honest feedback and positive support with realistic outcomes, you will always be trying to run through mud to get your idea delivered.  I believe we all need to follow three basic, but often missed, fundamentals. 
First of all, speak their language – have you ever found yourself getting frustrated with colleagues because they are not sharing your excitement and commitment to an idea? Well, have you ever asked yourself what your idea or recommendation for change means to them, or how will it improve the way they work, and how will it ultimately help them to succeed in their own goals or business responsibilities? Sounds obvious perhaps, but you would be amazed at how many ideas are lost in translation that I have seen as people bang their heads against a wall trying to comprehend why they can’t garner the support from key stakeholders.
 Secondly, anchor in real world - have a team that shares your ambition but brings a dose of reality to the table. This is crucial.  In a previous company, I was often referred to as the “Blue Sky Boy”, coming up with ideas which sometimes seemed out there and other times seemed to come from beyond (apparently). It was my team that helped to validate these ideas and assess whether they were doable or simply a star too far at the present time. As equally important, do not be afraid to take feedback and adapt your course.  To achieve a goal you are aiming for, people providing different points of views, as long as they are constructive, can actually help you see the path to a successful outcome! Therefore, always keep an open mind, and for those of us who are overly direct, that can be difficult (yes me included!)
Finally, deliver what you can digest – Ideas and brain storming is great, but ultimately in the end we need to be able to actually deliver something, otherwise they are just that … ideas. You may find that you need to break up the idea into deliverable phases rather than trying to do everything at once (believe me I have tried!).  If you try to do everything all at once this will ultimately achieve nothing and your team and everyone around you will become highly disillusioned about your idea leaving in bogged down in validation rather than execution.
I have found that by ensuring these three aspects are aligned (and no I don’t get it right every time!) you will put yourself in a good position for success.  Naturally, these combined with the key attribute of staying the path, and truly believing that what you are doing is the right thing for the business or for your own plans then stay with it. Of course, with the accountability to drive one’s own outcomes comes the responsibility for success or failure.  That is to say, you need to be prepared to fail and to be responsible for whatever your path brings.  I don’t advocate the failure mentality per se, but I have always worked on a principle of fail fast.  Simply put, I encourage my teams to test concepts and have the maturity to decide if they will or won’t work and inform their peers and or manager of the same early on.  There is no point in waiting until significant resources have been spent, and ultimately creating a degree of disillusionment that is difficult to recover from.
So where do we go from here? Well, all I am sharing are my own key approaches to ensuring the ideas that I have can be followed through and yes sometimes it has worked and other times not. The key is to ensure that you stay the course if it is what you truly believe, gather your advocates, anchor in reality and ensure you can deliver on what you say you will and you be able to give yourself a chance to succeed! We can change the world we live and work in, one idea at a time, take the Journey  “some will win, some will lose”, just Don’t Stop Believing and who knows, as Malcolm Wallace from Braveheart is quoted as saying:Your heart is free... have the courage to follow it.”

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The reality of privacy


Recently I had the exciting opportunity to meet Retired General Hayden, the former head of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was discussing some of the trends he is seeing, as well as, the global developments that are taking place with regards to security. There were a lot of questions from the audience regarding privacy and espionage; whether state/governments or corporations were responsible; in addition to a discussion around understanding the evolution towards cyber security. Ultimately, an interesting discussion, however I left the event asking myself one simple question – “Who is now responsible for our privacy?”
 In the good ole’ days, before the time of the Internet and social media and “cloud services”, we were confident that our governments could and were protecting our privacy, whether that was our home address, phone number, or banking details. All of this information was under strict government policies to ensure a countries citizens were protected.  Of course, in many of these instances, we had to opt in, i.e. to remove our phone number from the directory or to ensure our address didn’t appear in the phone book.  But, it was definitely a simpler time and one in which we felt secure in the geographic boundaries that our country protected.
 Fast forward back to today and oh how the world has changed. Our home phone and home address have become the least of our concerns as our online identities are increasingly coming under threat. The knowledge that is available on each of us today is like nothing we have ever seen - your credit card details, your email address, your social media contacts and even what you store in the cloud.  All of this information is now worth much more than our home phone number ever was.
 It is interesting then that the responsibility of our Privacy is moving away from our respective governments and into the hands of local and global corporations.  When we contemplate what that means for each of us we may feel a shiver of fear or doubt, I know I did. Consider for a moment your purchases online or simple sharing of your hobby’s or interests with your friends in social media gatherings… Where does that data go?  Who sees it? Do you use a tablet or smart phone - guess where you’re phone numbers and any personal data is backed up? Certainly your local government has no involvement in the storage and safe keeping of this data.   So, at what point did we start relying on corporations – or in many cases “Over The Top” providers – to ensure our privacy and protect our identities? What do you think happens to that data?  Where does it go?  Who can see it?  What can they do with it?  What will they do with it?  I could go on, but I think you get the point.
 I am not sure about you, but I don’t recall being provided a location as to where all of this information was going, or being assured it was even remaining in my country of origin…  We need to remind ourselves that these are businesses, not governments.  There has been no signing of a memorandum between our governments and these businesses to officially hand over responsibility and accountability for the maintaining of our privacy.  Therefore, there is no assurance that any of our data is not being used to create profiles or not being shared with others – ever heard of people’s photo’s being hijacked for other uses? 
 I recently shared with a group of people the fact that it is easy to find out a whole raft of information about someone’s profile.  They were a little surprised at the ease with which I could get the data and one of them said that is why he doesn’t have an online presence – well at least one that he wasn’t aware of! These online businesses we are now relying on to protect our privacy, are in fact providing some privacy services (some of these we even pay for) however, you will actually find that many of them, in their fine print, inform you they are not responsible for your data and if this information is stolen or “lost” they will attempt to retrieve it but cannot promise anything.
 There have been some interesting cases recently where regulatory bodies have attempted to reign in these businesses, either in terms of how they are using our information, or how they were trying to access more.  But ultimately, what do you do when that business operates on a global scale? Given today’s environment, I am not surprised that we are hearing more and more about governments trying to tap into the Internet to listen and read what is going on. As I am sure you all know, we are really no longer sending letters via post office or making fixed line phone calls, in fact almost everything we use in terms of communications is somehow connected to the Internet.
 Interestingly, one business has recently been talking about the “connectedness of everything”, where we expect there to be some 50 billion devices connected to the “internet” in the next 5-7 years. Consider for a moment, 50 billion devices, which would include your car, refrigerator, TV, home security, washing machine, even our children (this actually happens today where a Sim card, combined with GPS, is used to track a child’s movements).  Do we really think all of this data will simply go onto a storage device in our homes? Of course not! Many of these devices being connected to the Internet will be incredibly useful to us.  Just think about it… knowing what to buy at the supermarket when you have forgotten your list or knowing when your car needs service –without worrying that something might break before you service or repair it. So, with the convenience and help that all of these devices can bring us, the concern still remains - what else would this data be used for?  Where will it go?  Who will see it?  What will they do with it?
 This is where I come back to the original question, who is responsible for our privacy? Well ultimately we are.  We need to ensure we are always checking the policy of the online providers we are using and understand what the fine print means. We need to ensure we are lobbying regulatory bodies and governments to ensure they only issue business licenses for online services to those providing clarity on what our data is used for and more importantly, for those who are intending to share our data that they MUST have an “opt-in” clause so we know what we are getting ourselves into. I don’t know exactly when governments became no longer responsible for our privacy, but ultimately we need to be aware of what we are signing up to and using the Internet for.
 Now some of you will be thinking – ok Nathan, so what are you saying turn off the Internet and resort back to mailing letters and using the landline phone for communication? Not at all! We are already far down the path to an Internet enabled world, and there is not much we can do about that. What I am saying though, is that we need to be aware of the risks, understand what we are signing up for, read the fine print and always think about what we are posting online or sharing with our online communities.  At the end of the day, we are now responsible for how we interact with our online world more so than ever before, and we need to ensure we do not assume that someone will protect our privacy or our governments will come riding in on white horses to save the day.

Our information has moved online and we must define our own individual policies.  We choose how to interact with “the net”.  We protect ourselves.  This is the new reality of privacy.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Power of one ... It's all about me!


There is an amazing transition of who is defining the internet user experience. The significant influence that content owners, use to have, is now moving towards the average person/user. Everyone is beginning to recognize that they can now choose their own content and services, and with this development, there are implications for an industry you might not have thought of at first– Advertising.
In the past, advertisers love(d) content owners. When there were only a few of them (relatively), they had the unique opportunity to define what content would be viewed by an end user.  Think of the influence they could wield, their ability to track patterns of interest and through the grouping of similar customers be able to create user profiles.  Like any enterprising group of businesses, the content owners would then, in turn, share this incredible insight with advertisers to help the advertisers create relevant ads for specific groups.
Okay, now move to today, where we have an incredible 3- 4 billion web pages of content for people to access either through websites or other platforms … that is roughly 1 unique content source for every two people on earth (this is compared with some 3.5 million web pages that were active just 15 years ago!). Based upon this development, it is increasingly difficult for the content owner to create profiles which are accurate.  Think about it… How in the world could you create a unique profile, of every person, based on the unique combination of content they may each choose to access, let alone adapt that profile based on their mood, time of day and location in the world for each individual website?
In walks the Over the Top (OTT) player who is able to provide us with a new approach.  This new model monitors all webpage’s, applications and media, through cookies and operating system tools. The content providers and advertisers have had to adapt to the OTT’s and ensure they had the right arrangements in place to promote their online content or their relevant ads. Naturally this is a situation which neither the content owners, nor the advertisers, should be or are very satisfied with.
For this reason, it is no longer the content owners or the associated advertising providers who have the best visibility and analysis of the dynamic nature and changing profiles of each individual users given the enormous diversity of content to choose from. This ultimately means they have now become dependent on the OTT for data on customer profiles. Meanwhile, it is the OTT’s that have been increasingly dominating the ad space purely through volume of end users they have visibility of.  There haven’t been any alternatives or any noticeable limitations on what OTT’s could or couldn’t view. Until recently, OTT’s could capture all data, from all users, without any concerns on the public’s perception on where or how this data was being collected.  In essence OTT’s were the “All seeing eye”.
Despite the far reaching capabilities of OTT’s, there are now more regulations and increased savviness from internet users to block out cookies and ultimately decide what information they want to share about themselves.  This in turn, is making it harder for OTT’s to provide accurate profiling of end users, which leads to advertisers again looking for alternative means to present relevant ads to internet users. It is these changes which I refer to as the Power of One.  Me, you, all of us, now have the ability to decide how much data about ourselves we want to share (whether that is our location, our interests or even our friends).
Enter stage left, the one remaining group who should be building relationships with advertisers, and until now, have not been fully leveraged– Internet providers. What if you could sign up for ads that were relevant to you based on your interests, location and time of day, without worrying about someone gathering all of your personal data? Ok … I hear you saying I don't like ads, I understand and agree with that but, they are a fact of life, so let’s use the “Power of One” to see ads we want to see rather than ads they get the best deals for.  Signing up through your internet provider, whether at home, or in a cafĂ©, or a shopping mall, to define your areas of interest can be mutually beneficial. We trust internet providers not to store all of our data through the internet, and know that they have a customer service model that if we see any ads that we don’t think is appropriate we can ask they can act on it, something which OTT’s tend to propose they only facilitate and therefore can’t be held accountable for.
There are some interesting companies out there like Adztream, Jiwire and Urban Airship who are seeking to help advertise firms - and businesses seeking to advertise directly. They understand how to help advertisers adapt their approach to reaching out to individuals, through various solutions which are targeted at the changing profile at any time on any day. It is important for advertisers to maximize the changing landscape and rebalance their focus of engagement.  Move from the content owners to those providing access to the internet, whether in the form of operators (fixed and mobile) or private wifi owners such as malls, campuses, hotels and sporting events.
These companies are the early adopters in introducing alternative models which drive more of a symbiotic relationship between the advertisers, internet providers and most importantly the end users. It is now up to the internet providers to look at how they can best leverage these platforms and start shifting the traditional source of advertising from those pushing ads based on the “all seeing eye”, to pulling relevant ads for the end users which they have chosen to see or are relevant based on where they are at that point of time. So now what? Well, to advertisers, I would say start looking at alternative avenues and platforms to introduce relevant ads that avoid the discussion around privacy. To Internet Providers – it doesn’t matter whether you are a ISP, Mobile Operator, coffee shop or university, your private network gives you an opportunity to look at engaging partners to create a positive user experience subsidized by end user relevant advertising. For all of us, as end users, the internet experience is no longer about what we are told it is, but more about what we want it to be and most importantly about how much data on ourselves we are willing to share.
We, as the Power of One, need to remind ourselves that we define our own experience and the market will continue to evolve to the point where we will see ads more customized to our specific situations at any given time or location versus what OTT’s think we should see. The Power of One is not only alive and well, it is now clearly having an influence on the internet industry and the advertising revolution.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Nothing to Fear but Fear itself

On my way back from a Telecom conference – in Hawaii of all places! – I read an interesting article stating that CEO’s are nervous about how they will succeed in 2013. I hope they are not feeling inhibited by the technology that their businesses use, because if they are, then clearly I am not getting my blog out to enough people!
It was very interesting to read the concerns regarding “too many unknowns” that need to be managed during this year: market stability; changes in governments; regulatory changes; the risk of economies slowing down further; and managing supply chains. Now, I know I am often regarded as being “ultra positive” when looking at business challenges and I am probably too often looking for the silver lining in any challenge, but seriously…we have been managing thus far, are we really saying we haven’t yet learned to adapt?
Businesses now have access to the tools to help them adapt their businesses to the ongoing market dynamics, whether they are localized or global. Most successful companies have the necessary tools right at their finger tips. If you don’t, I am not suggesting a complete rip and replace of your existing systems and communications platforms … those assets, are, or are in the process of being depreciated. What I am suggesting is to look around and ask yourself this question – Can I make business decisions first and foremost knowing my IT & Comm’s will adapt to those needs? Will my infrastructure be able to adapt to necessary business changes and challenges? I am hopeful (yes I know Mister Positive) that there are a few of you out there who are thinking that yes, we have started to progress towards a business which can adapt to change.
This past year has been exciting! Business processes are being virtualized, meaning we only need to pay software providers, for the number of active sessions, which is ultimately dependent on the success and customer demand. Communications services are now accessible through a network, rather than taking up expensive office space and, security is increasingly being embedded in internet gateways, which has resulted in reducing the need for higher capex. All of these items are helping businesses to manage more effectively, its assets, which are directly impacting people, processes and place.
With all of that said above why then is there still this drive to spend capex? How can it be, that in a market where we are concerned about whether a business will survive, that people still want to buy assets that will sit on their books for the next 5-7 years. I understand the emotional aspect, this is what people have done for years and they are given a budget and hence think it is better to spend it upfront in case they don’t get another one. Think about it though, what if you could have a meeting between your CEO, CFO and CIO and define a new way of working, one in which the costs of IT & Comm’s would be directly associated to the growth or decline of a business?
Of course this is not just relevant to local market businesses but also international ones, in fact this approach is possibly even more important to international businesses that have to deal with both growth and decline, in parallel, yet coming from different markets. Well again, what if you were able to redeploy IT & Comm’s resources to countries where there is growth or increased demand and then shift those again if the wave of growth should start to decline? I have seen businesses do this with people, but then get caught up with increased cost as they seek to buy incremental equipment and services to temporarily support this staff. This can be expensive if after those temporary resources have gone and you haven’t reallocated them and they simply gather dust.
In Asia. we have become increasingly aware of the regulatory limitations in terms of security, voice and in some markets the quality of the internet access. These are increasingly manageable as vendors seek to create new offerings to be regulatory compliant whilst driving new service creation. Take the example of being able to redirect local calls in Indonesia, yes these calls do need to remain in-country and as such need to be connected to a local operator, but separate the regulatory needs vs. the driver for efficiency. The Actual telephony server for the Indonesia office doesn’t need to be IN Indonesia, it can easily be in Singapore, but a small device located in the Indonesia office simply helps to separate local from international and office to office calls. It is small examples like this that can rapidly help to empower a business to decide what they want to do, provide them the ability to effectively manage and/or adapt to changes around them, and then help to minimize the immediate concern of how much is it going to cost.
I challenge the CEO’s out there to pull together their leadership team and ask the question, how elastic is your IT & Comm’s environment? Can IT & Comm’s be an enabler for business change or will it be an inhibitor? If the latter, then you have some work to do, as businesses who are already on this journey will start to move past you in their goals to maximize growth, mitigate risk and manage change, without the concern of significant ICT change management overheads.
Hence don’t fear change, embrace it, and use it to enable your business to become more robust, in a market which currently requires you to adapt, in order to remain relevant, and create the opportunity to drive sustainable growth.