The Challenges of a Digital Artisan in the 21st Century Workplace

September 11th, 2013

A recent article on top technology trends talks about “wiki-work”, which describes today’s seamless internet-facilitated creation and distribution of work, and the “porous workplace” where mobile technology enables work to be carried out in any location and at any time. Trend spotter, Howard Tullman, believes that these and other trends will contribute to a future where more people will piecemeal their workloads, working multiple freelance jobs instead of one full-time position. “By 2020”, Tullman claims, “40% of the U.S. population is going to be acting as free agents.”

This projection aligns with the concept of the “digital artisan” that we have defined in our previous blogs; an individual who is adept at leveraging digital capability to create, enhance and deliver high quality products or services in small quantities, tailored specifically for select customers and markets. In other words, it’s the antithesis of today’s world of mass-production and mass-markets.

For me, however, Tullman’s forecast arouses some concerns and prompts me to pose the following questions: if 40% of the population becomes freelance by 2020, what will the overall economy look like? Will large companies still dominate the economic landscape? Will mass-production and consumption still be the drivers of economic growth? What will be the role of Wall Street in this new world? How will labor law and human resources operate? How will people transition into these new roles? And how will society and the ecosystem evolve to support them?

I’ve also recently been reading about the new Catch 55 – a derivative of the famous Catch 22! Catch 55 refers to the requirement for employees to now work beyond the traditional retirement age, primarily due to dwindling pension funds. This is becoming complicated, however, at a time when companies are being forced to ease the 55+ year olds out of their positions as the younger generation – which is cheaper to employ – push for promotion and the top jobs.  Again, this is something that we have written about – with the loss of the older, more experienced worker goes a wealth of tacit or aggregate knowledge that corporations traditionally hold so close to their chest as proprietary capability. This loss of know-how is effectively released out into the collective where it can, potentially, become fuel for the fire of competitors or new entrants.  The question then arises – how do these 55+ year olds transition into a new world where the corporate workplace considers them too expensive to hire, even though they invariably bring valuable experience-based capabilities and a keen desire to continue working for at least another 10 to 15 years?

Having been one of those 55+ year olds who made the transition from corporate life to free agent / freelancer / consultant, I can attest to the challenges that this brings, and in particular the acquisition and application of new and practical skills. Aspects such as learning how to sell and market yourself,  building a pipeline of work, ensuring that projects are in various stages of completion and execution to maintain a continuous cash flow, dealing with large companies that often delay projects, don’t pay or delay payment – all these are taken care of by others in a corporate environment. There is clearly an opportunity for a new type of agency to emerge – one that seeks and feeds jobs and projects to this select group of freelancers, and leverages their talents to meet corporate requirements. In a report by Vistage “The Future of Work”, this concept is referred to as “Going Hollywood”,  where in movie making today a different set of actors, directors, screenwriters and producers are brought in each time to fill the necessary roles, versus the days when large movie studios controlled the whole process.

One final thought that comes to mind is that, if 40% of the working population is going to become free agents with no guaranteed employer or income, then credit bureaus, mortgage companies and banks will have to drastically rethink and readjust their perspectives on how they assess people for loans and mortgages, or otherwise the future implications for home ownership and wealth creation, as well as the building industry, appear pretty grim.

Since collaboration is now the name of the game, the social networks and communities that have rapidly emerged over the last 5-6 years should now be evolved into broader learning and support mechanisms for today’s digital artisans, to ensure that this group of individuals acquires the necessary skills, support and training to make a smooth transition into the 21st century workplace.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

BlackBerry and JC Penney: Two Giants That Have Lost Their Way?

August 26th, 2013

What do BlackBerry and JC Penney have in common? Possibly more than you might realize.

1. Both missed the shift in their industry.

2. Both changed leadership.

3. Both implemented radical change.

4. Both achieved less than impressive results after this change.

5. Both implemented change following agitation from Wall Street – even though Main Street reacted neutrally or negatively to the change.

JC Penney even went as far as to hire the retail guru from Apple, Ron Johnson, as its new CEO to turn the company around but, in so doing, the needs of the customer were ignored. The introduction of tablets at point of sale, a relaxed dress code for the sales staff and the removal of coupons and store cash registers confused the target shopper – a very different shopper to the one found at the Apple store. The application of technology in this case was not the issue. The crucial question overlooked was whether the benefits of that technology outweighed the resistance to adopting it; in the case of JC Penney they did not. Not only was there resistance from the customer but Ron Johnson failed to gain the collaboration of staff and management, which proved to be a critical mistake.

Sales of the new BlackBerry 10 operating system based products – the Z10 and the Q10, and most recently the Q5 – are down as BlackBerry has lost significant market share to Apple, with its sleek and easy to use operating system and beautifully designed product. It was BlackBerry’s misconception that its superior new operating system and good design would enable it to reclaim its former position in the market. The reality was that BlackBerry started as a technology but developed into an experience. In the early 21st century the device became widely known as a “CrackBerry”, referring to the excessive and obsessive email-checking by its owners, for both business and personal use. The technology was convenient and secure and, most importantly, BlackBerry had become a trusted household name.

BlackBerry’s demise, however, was not just related to the fact that the operating system did not evolve; it put too much focus on the consumer and lost sight of its valued customer base, the corporate IT customer, whose growing desire was to access both their corporate digital networks and their social media networks on the same device, but this was ignored by BlackBerry. The infamous “BlackBerry outage” was the final straw and violated the trust that former loyal consumers had in the BlackBerry experience. RIM, as it was, was an engineering company that had no idea how to continue to design experiences and now, as “BlackBerry”, does not have the marketing knowledge or clout to rebuild consumer trust in the brand.

Both companies tried to emulate Apple in a classic “best practices” way but failed to understand that the Apple store and its devices were designs that embodied feelings and experiences, and created by a man with exceptional vision; someone who posed questions such as “how do we reinvent the store?” and “how do we do things differently on a phone?” Steve Jobs never just produced a “me too” product.

So, what’s the walk away? Wall Street hates failure but, more than that, it’s terrified of change. Both however are essential for innovation and creativity which are cornerstones of modern day business success. Wall Street’s demands for continuity of performance can ultimately result in giants being brought to their knees. What’s more dangerous is that when Wall Street sees these giants falling they demand a change of leadership. This new leadership is then faced with the challenges of innovating and risk taking to enhance performance when, in reality, all Wall Street wants is to preserve the status quo. JC Penny and RIM, as well as Motorola and Nokia, are prime examples of this. Apple looks as if it is unassailable at this point of time but calls by Wall Street activists to withdraw cash from the company will ultimately weaken its ability to take the risks that are necessary to sustain it going forward.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

The Entrepreneur’s Paradox

July 3rd, 2013

The macro picture

Most people associated with business strategy and the challenges of cultivating innovation are familiar with a classic business book by Clayton Christensen called “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. In this seminal work, Christensen examines the impact of new technology on existing industry incumbents and the dilemma that they face in sustaining current business at the same time as embracing disruptive technology.

A recent business magazine article identified that the pace of disruption was accelerating as multiple technologies come together and as innovators constantly try to leverage these technologies for new goods and services. In most cases, the implementations fail but these failures have a significant benefit as they enhance the collective learning of both the innovators and the customers with each new product cycle. This learning aspect for customers is critical because they are becoming familiar with new experiences and technology. Consequently, when the right combination of experience and technologies is eventually created, the market is more receptive as customers are already familiar with it, meaning that the concept goes viral faster and becomes disruptive more rapidly.

In past blogs I have talked about the concept of “boundary blurring” between industries as the impact of combined ICT technologies changes the value propositions and business models of industries such as banking, health, retail and automotive. We have also described a phenomena we call “digital life” which is the osmosis-like process of digital technology absorption into people’s everyday lives. Most individuals do not recognize the degree to which they have adapted to the new technologies around them. However, the stage is set for the emergence of viral disruption in multiple industries in the next couple of years as entrepreneurs, small startups and companies within ICT see the opportunity to apply these new technologies.

The micro picture

Against this macro picture that I have been sharing through my consultancy work over the past 5 years, I have witnessed several opportunities for businesses to cross boundaries and create disruptive new products, services and business models. Together with a partner, I am now in the process of creating a new startup that applies hardware and software technology, systems thinking and creativity to an industry ripe for disruptive innovation. In developing this venture, however, I have stumbled across what I call the “entrepreneur’s paradox” which is the corollary to the innovator’s dilemma.

The paradox occurs because of the above mentioned macro aspects necessary to create ripe market opportunities: the customers are ready, the industry has old and established business models and market perspectives, and mobile and technology startup companies are winning early adopters.

To enter this industry it requires considerable time and investment to develop the product and value proposition. It also requires the exposure of the idea/product to investors, customers and potential partners in order to test the idea and to prove it can create a sustainable business model. Angel and VC investors are notorious for not signing confidentiality agreements in early stage discussions.  In other words, it requires putting the idea out into the public domain, which is the nub of the paradox, because it works against the other desirable attribute of a tech startup – namely, a patented product or idea.

In order to submit a provisional or full patent filing, and claim “first to file” status, it requires no prior public disclosure. So how do you know that what you are filing justifies the cost in terms of being able to create a viable business? And how do you know that the time you spend developing your invention isn’t going to be preempted by someone else fast-cycling a product concept with target customers? The paradox here is: should you file first or seek customer feedback first by creating a prototype product but, in the process, run the risk of the idea being stolen or preempted?

There is no simple resolution to this but as cycles of technology, learning and consumer adoption accelerate, they are bound to challenge the fine balance between the need and desirability for patents versus the finite market opportunity that may exist and needs to be proven. Not an easy decision to make!

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

Wealthy in a Virtual Nation State

May 24th, 2013

Having lived and worked outside of England, my home country, for a total of 23 years – in Germany for 8 years and most recently for 15 years in the US – I’ve come to appreciate that the concept of the nation state is a very unique and real phenomenon but that most people don’t understand exactly what it is or how the digital world is forcing it to change.

A nation state is defined as a political unit consisting of an autonomous state inhabited predominantly by people sharing a common culture, history and language, and this concept dates right back to the treaty of Munster, Germany in 1648. Today, however, television, the internet and the expansion of mobile communications are forcing increased globalization of culture and language to occur, and as a result the original concept of the nation state is being constantly challenged and, in some cases, eroded.

If, like me, you have been fortunate enough to live and work in multiple countries, you cannot help but appreciate that each one has its own national workplace culture.  In a Financial Times article earlier this year about the cultural challenges faced by foreign CEOs, Rob Goffee of the London Business School identified that a key ability is to understand how to adapt without abandoning ones original values:  “the skillful executive balances who they are with where they are”. This has become especially relevant as an increasing number of executives from my home country are relocating to head up US based companies, and a wave of UK start-ups are crossing the Atlantic in search of broader market opportunities.  But just because we speak the same language doesn’t mean that it’s all smooth sailing!

From an early age,  Americans are taught self-advocacy and a strong emphasis is placed on self-belief. We Brits, on the other hand, are known for our self-deprecation (even extending to our sense of humor) and this can be a challenge for us in the US workplace. As Alex Kelleher, founder of Cognitive Match, was recently quoted as saying in an article in the Financial Times: “the market here (in the US) definitely likes the confident, self-assured “winner” approach… and while sometimes self-deprecation can be seen as endearing, it may not be ideal in a competitive environment over here”. I couldn’t agree more! I’ve come to realize that, in an increasingly globalized world, it’s very often the small, subtle cultural nuances that still exist but tend to be overlooked when businesses think about relocating, hiring or partnering overseas.

I was also reminded of an article by Adam Haslett that appeared in the Financial Times in 2010 where he identified that, as a Brit living in the U.S., he had “always felt a pessimist among optimists in the U.S. and as an optimist among pessimists in Britain”. In the past, I myself have experienced a sense of not belonging to any one specific nation, of being almost “mid-Atlantic”. Today, however, with the rapid and widespread growth of digital technologies across geographical boundaries, I now find myself experiencing a new phenomenon of living in a “virtual nation state” where language, cultures and political philosophies merge, and openness of thinking is the currency of success. I feel wealthy; not in financial terms, but because of the breadth of knowledge and the degree of perception and understanding I’ve acquired from experiencing different cultures, both first hand and “virtually”. The enviable challenge that I face is how to share this “global mindset” and enlightened world view with people who can make a difference. Perhaps self-deprecating humor really is the way forward!

Having worked in a variety of geographical areas across the globe, we at KeySo Global have acquired the flexible mindset needed to understand and adapt to the different business cultures that we have been part of. We are eager to share our experiences with you and help you guide your business through the often turbulent waters of overseas expansion. For more information contact us at info@keysoglobal.com.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

Apple and Huawei – Zen and the Art of the Long View

April 29th, 2013

Article first published as Apple and Huawei – Zen and the Art of the Long View on Technorati.

The telecoms and technology markets have always taken the long view with regard to product and business development. This week has seen two companies look to the future in different ways. Apple, the original Zen Master of strategy, coming to grips with an apparent hiccup in their recent string of successes and Huawei struggling in the aftermath of rejection by the U.S. government.

Apple has been in the press recently due to the substantial fall in its stock price and the increasing demands from shareholders to receive part of the $145 billion cash mountain that it has amassed. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, finally acquiesced and has just announced a capital buyback program that will increase the return to shareholders from $10 billion to $60 billion, as well as increasing its quarterly dividend by15%. This may quell the unrest of Wall Street investors in the short term but it exposes the company to a significant long term threat to their enterprise viability due to their increasing risk adversity and lack of innovative product introductions, particularly when compared to those of Samsung. It’s very easy to slip from grace and require cash to sustain operations if you miss market turning points – have a look at what happened to Motorola, Nokia and Rim! Steve Jobs, with his Zen Master ability, excelled at recognizing long-term future opportunities and betting the company in order to secure that future. He was protective of the cash, understanding that to “bet big” you need to cover the downside mistakes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case with Apple today.

Contrast this with Huawei that announced within the last 48 hours that it would abandon its pursuit of penetrating the North American telecoms network market after five years of battling the U.S. government. At the same time as this apparent retreat, however, Huawei has begun focusing on building its consumer product brand in the U.S. The company’s introduction of new products at this year’s CES gave it significant presence, and this month it announced a new marquee handset along with sponsorship for the Jonas Brothers tours, starting in Chicago. Huawei appears to be adopting a long term strategy to establish itself at the heart of the U.S. psyche as a “brand of trust”, potentially making it more difficult for them to be politically blocked in the next round of network purchases. Equally, since 4G networks have effectively been sold and rolled out in the U.S., the market opportunity is now elsewhere. The reality is that the market momentum of Huawei globally over the next five years will probably cause two of the five remaining network providers to be eliminated, meaning that Huawei will be the only real alternative to Ericsson when network operators look to upgrade their systems in 5 years time. The bet is that the U.S. government will have little choice but to reluctantly accept Huawei, even if it’s not with open arms.

The Zen Master, it seems, has actually moved back to China.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

Connectivity – The Space Between

April 23rd, 2013

How WiGig, a new standard, could fill the gap

This year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (MWC 2013) provided an opportunity to foresee the future of wireless technology, not just for mobile phones but for all connected devices.

As this picture confirms, the average computer invariably needs to be connected to numerous other devices in order to perform its multiple daily tasks. Increasingly, the converged world is blurring what content and applications can be obtained from what device; films are available on tablets, Internet on the television and video conferencing on PCs. For those of you who embrace these new opportunities there is invariably that moment when you need to swap from one device to another or share content simultaneously between two devices; at this point you’re scrambling to find the right connector, adaptor or cable. In the very near future this situation may be a thing of the past. Connecting the space between devices and enabling easy and rapid sharing of data, video and connectivity became a step closer to reality over the last three months with the unification of the WiGig and Wi-Fi Alliances.

For the past five years, the Wireless Gigabyte Alliance (WiGig) has been developing a new wireless standard that operates at 60 GHz and can deliver data rates up to 7 Gigabits per second – approximately 10 times the speed of the fastest Wi-Fi technology currently available. One of the major proponents behind this technology is Intel which envisions a future of all your devices cleverly synchronizing masses of data, and without effort on your part. High definition video and images will be instantaneously sharable between PCs, televisions, tablets and other consumer electronic devices. Another proponent, Panasonic, has already demonstrated their prototype WiGig-enabled SD card, showing how it will only take one minute to wirelessly transfer a full DVD video from a wireless controller to a display mounted within a car.

The memorandum of understanding between the Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig Alliance comes shortly after the IEEE has approved the WiGig standard as 802.11ad, thereby encompassing it within the Wi-Fi family. It is hoped that this unification and standardization will help drive the mass adoption that the Alliance has been aiming to achieve by changing the “perspective of end-users that it was two different standards and two different brands” according to Dr. Ali Sadri, President of the WiGig Alliance, when I interviewed him at MWC 2013 in March.

With multiple manufacturers planning to install WiGig technology into devices across a broad spectrum of consumer electronics products, this will not only increase the speed of massive data and video file transfer but also – through improved and efficient protocol adoption layers (PALS) – facilitate enhanced applications for HDTVs and other consumer electronic devices in the future.

Another potential benefit of WiGig could be seen in large venues, such as shopping malls, sports stadiums, hotels or conference facilities, where high speed, ubiquitous coverage for high volumes of users is difficult to provide using current Wi-Fi technology. The 802.11 ad / WiGig standard will allow five access points instead of the single Wi-Fi access point currently in existence, thereby allowing approximately 50 times more capacity. In addition, the range is controlled utilizing sophisticated beam-forming antennas with a footprint of about 10 m so that overlapping footprints can be created every 10 m or so, enabling users to connect and shift seamlessly between access points while maintaining a high speed data link connection.

Needless to say, key players in the semiconductor industry such as Intel, Broadcom and Samsung will be aggressively marketing this technology. They may not have to push too hard because the huge appeal of being able to wirelessly connect devices and seamlessly share ever increasing amounts of content is bound to drive rapid consumer adoption. Finally a solution to all those trailing wires and connections!

Steve Bell, President KeySo Global

Digital Awareness – a Critical Component for Success

April 2nd, 2013

A key pillar of our work at KeySo Global is the belief that digital technology has significantly impacted and changed the digital lives of every one of us, and that systems and business models are consequently having to adapt to meet multiple stakeholders’ expectations.

Business models are dynamic and unique, and are a reflection of historic development, management personalities, economic and business environments, customer and channel requirements as well as resource, assets and technology. As much as humans like stability, no business model stays the same, no matter how perfect it seems at the time.  In their 2001 book entitled “How Digital Is Your Business” Adrian Slywotzky and David Morrison compared the brilliance of the Dell business model with competitors like HP, Compaq and, at that time, struggling Apple. Dell spent limited amounts on R&D, leveraged a choice board for consumers to design their own PC, and outsourced manufacturing to Taiwan and distribution logistics to FedEx; this was seen as a virtue at the time when compared with HP, Compaq and Apple. Technology and a successful business model don’t guarantee success if a company doesn’t keep up with consumer need changes or fails to innovate. The focus that Apple placed on user experience changed the game; in recent news we’ve seen how Dell’s business model is now struggling to compete against the growth of smartphones, tablets and cloud services – particularly those of Apple.

Being aware and responding to developments around you is a significant and important part of senior management responsibility. We strongly advocate the interaction with external resources that will bring a different perspective to a business. Utilizing “thought leaders” or tools that allow the current situation to be viewed from a different vantage point can greatly strengthen a company’s thinking and focus. As the saying goes “no single event makes a trend” but the search, listing and assembly of data from multiple sources can enable companies to recognize emerging patterns and opportunities, particularly in complementary industries where competitive shifts in business models could be applicable.

Over the last few weeks I’ve observed in the news a number of noteworthy events that will, I’m sure, impact multiple industries. I’ve listed these below, together with what I believe are the broader implications for business.

Recent news events:

  • Online clothes shopping hit 10% of U.S. sales.
  • Macy’s overall sales increased by 11.7% and their online sales increased by 48.9%.
  • H&M and Inditex – European fashion retailers – are reported tochange their in-store clothing range every two weeks.
  • 15% of shopping malls will close in the U.S. over the next five years.
  • Amazon’s fourth-quarter sales were down but their margins increased.
  • Netflix develops streamed original content (House of Cards) targeted at “cord cutters” abandoning cable and satellite TV.
  • Traditional Procter & Gamble partners with crowd sourcing venture capitalists “Circle Up” for new ideas and innovation.
  • BSkyB in the U.K. introduces advertising based on localized demographics and TV program choice.

Digital implications for your business:

  • smartphones and tablets have changed consumer behavior patterns i.e. online couch shopping and mobile price comparison
  • traditional T.V. advertising is losing its effectiveness
  • the digital consumer expects broader and more frequently refreshed product lines
  • digital business models enable diverse competitive offerings
  • traditional business models now embrace crowd sourcing and funding

If they haven’t already done so, these implications and others like them are likely to impact your business model. My message here is that you need to become aware of digital change and be prepared to do something about it. Have you checked to see if neighboring industries and competitors are already responding to the urgent need to adapt? The big question is – are you? Are you ready to take the first steps towards adopting a digital strategy, one that will strengthen your competitive position in today’s digital marketplace?

We at KeySo Global can help. To discuss how you can structure a digital strategy innovation session, contact us at info@keysoglobal.com or visit our website www.keysoglobal.com

Steve Bell, President KeySo Global

Could TomTom Provide the Roadmap to Success for Apple?

February 17th, 2013

Article first published as Could TomTom Provide the Roadmap to Success for Apple? on Technorati.

Much has been written about Apple’s $135 billion in cash and the desire of some shareholders to see part of it returned. Technology companies that thrive in their heyday often face the challenges of a post-glory period when their product ceases to appeal or the market has moved on. Nokia and Blackberry (formally RIM) are recent examples of this, and Motorola is another within the mobile space.

At times such as this, a company’s cash reserve is the only thing that allows for continued investment in R&D; it enables them to try to hit the next product cycle and provides coverage for a cash flow shortfall should the company no longer have the volume to generate profits. Having cash on the balance sheet also provides a company with the opportunity to invest, through acquisition, in new technology and intellectual property to ensure enhanced offerings.

In the case of Apple, the recent debacle over the new Apple Maps app on their iPhone 5 emphasizes the fact that when they’re looking to create a new experience, Apple is better off using in-house software. Dutch navigation company, TomTom, which provides the map software for Apple, has recently been reported to be struggling as its hardware sales begin to falter. For the last couple of years the company has focused on selling their map software but they haven’t had the financial resources necessary to successfully compete against the deep pockets of Google or Nokia (Navteq).

TomTom could, however, be an ideal acquisition candidate for Apple. Within their portfolio they could provide the inspirational innovation to blend hardware capabilities with location, content (iTunes) and contextual information to create new and engaging consumer experiences that enhance the digital life of the consumer. In reality, this mapping capability is already within the portfolio of Google and Microsoft, their main rivals in the operating system space.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

Is Higher Education Set to Cross the Digital Frontier?

February 5th, 2013

Change usually only occurs when competing forces conspire to cause it or behaviors are adopted that necessitate it. Higher education and universities are ripe for change but they also have a tendency to resist it. These institutions have a long tradition of establishing prestigious courses and faculties, the cost of which in recent years has become prohibitive for the average student. The traditional model of students receiving instruction from and interacting one-on-one with learned professors has gradually given way to large over-crowded lecture halls, compulsory reading lists and standardized testing, as economics not excellence has shaped university education..

The impact that the digital age is having on everyday life is changing consumer expectations, and consequently challenging the established educational model. The widespread availability of wireless broadband, mobile devices, video lectures and online course material is facilitating the “massive online open course” (MOOC) which is accessible to large and diverse groups of students. The high cost of full-time education and the uncertainty of employment mean that many young people today are looking to work and study in parallel – and MOOC offers the ideal solution. It also supports those who are looking to supplement their existing education and skills and are more interested in gaining knowledge than qualifications.

Tablets and e-readers, according to McGraw-Hill, have the ability to transform not only the textbook and the individual educational experience but also the whole testing process. During a presentation at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, McGraw-Hill described “LearnSmart”, their new adaptive technology program where a student reads a digital textbook on a tablet or e-reader and is asked a series of on-going questions that assess their understanding of what they have read. Subsequently their reading materials are adjusted according to their level of knowledge and understanding.  On this basis, a room full of students or an online group reading a text will all be receiving highly personalized and tailored instruction to help them attain the same required level of understanding. By tracking the results, answers given and also a student’s keyboard strokes it is possible to ascertain and validate their individual performance for the purposes of testing and certification.

The digital and online world is reshaping our cognitive capabilities and, according to some experts, using the Internet to search for information is causing us to “externalize” our memories rather than having to use them to process and store information. While enhancing our logical capabilities, the online world is also hindering our ability to develop the skills of empathy – an emotion that has apparently shown a decline in young people. Empathy is learned over time through social interaction and by reading others’ facial expressions, so if face time is replaced with Facebook time, the implications for enhanced interpersonal skills and moral decision-making could be significant.

One of the advantages of a traditional university education is that it enables young people to interact and develop social skills. In a recent article about Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City,  it was pointed out that an average C-student attending Johns Hopkins University in the early 1960s – which he was – could be transformed into a social and political star through the interactions, experiential learning and networking skills that are an integral part of a four-year residential education. With increased applications for MOOC courses, the new digital educational environment needs to be reconsidered and other options need to be examined. These could include the utilization of enhanced virtual reality conference facilities that enable virtual face-to-face experiences and networking opportunities that supplement real-world social interactions.

Whatever happens, the shape of education and learning from pre-school through to university and beyond is likely to change dramatically over the next five years as the pace of technological progress continues to accelerate and people adopt it more readily into their lives.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

www.keysoglobal.com

Are New Players Forcing the Mobile Industry to Change?

January 22nd, 2013

As much as this year’s CES was about the influence of mobile at the center of consumer electronic growth and development, there was little that was outstanding from the perspective of new mobile device introduction.

Certainly Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia and Intel talked about enhanced chip set technology that has increased performance and graphics while cutting back on power consumption, and Samsung showcased their new flexible screen technology; but apart from the above, no real breakthrough or “wow” products were announced.

Most mobile device manufacturers tend to hold off until Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February to showcase their new product portfolios for the upcoming year. Increasingly a minority of the big guys have premier events before MWC. Apple has done this is past years and in all probability RIM is planning to introduce its new Blackberry this year. The audience at MWC is made up of global operators that provide the purchasing power and the ability to make or even break manufacturers with decisions to range their products and link them to new services and subsidy provision.

The dawning of a fundamental shift in the composition of the mobile industry may, however, have been observed at this year’s CES. The two major Chinese infrastructure manufacturers that have struggled to gain market position in the U.S. – and in one case is being actively barred – are working on building their customer brand and device portfolio. ZTE and Huawei both had large stands and comprehensive product offerings at CES, and the two companies showcased their new products that clearly targeted the Samsung S3 and Galaxy Note. ZTE launched its Grand S LTE unit and seemed determined to let everyone know that they are now the number 4 smartphone manufacturer worldwide. Huawei’s main product introductions, however, lack LTE capability which is a little surprising given the North American market focus on LTE growth. I am sure that there will be an announcement at MWC, or possibly later at CTIA in May that will address this hole in the U.S. portfolio. The real point is that these two companies are striving to build brand awareness and become household names; at the same time they are targeting Samsung which, together with Apple, is taking a 90% chunk of the profit currently generated in the smartphone market.

The Chinese are known for their long term strategic plays and it is likely that they will be the root cause of a complete shake-up of the mobile space that we are about to witness. The Apple’s and Samsung’s will undoubtedly survive but will be under increased pressure to maintain their brand and technology prowess, and at the same time sustain the margins that Wall Street has become accustomed to. Those manufacturers in the middle of the mobile market will find it a struggle. HTC, which showcased a star product at Mobile World Congress last year, now has non-existent profits and has failed to maintain its technology and brand presence. At CES this year, rumor had it that a major European / U.S. carrier was considering deranging and dropping HTC because they no longer offer hero products or have the brand to support them.

Amongst this turmoil, RIM will also face the challenge of re-establishing itself in the market, despite the introduction of its new Blackberry 10. Both LG and Sony may be forced into a niche, and Nokia could become to Microsoft what Motorola has become to Google – a hardware capability but with no direction or insight into how to recreate the Apple model.

Playing in the background are the major equipment manufacturers, such as Foxcomm, which build products for major smartphone, tablet and PC manufacturers. Within the last year Foxcomm has acquired the brand, Sharp, primarily for use in China but, one would suspect, ultimately as a potential global distribution channel.

With the stage set, the next 18 months could prove to be pivotal in terms of the strategic scenarios that play out. More significantly, the role of the mobile operator as orchestrator could once again be changing to the role of king-maker or breaker as they decide to support the upstarts or partner with the incumbents. Watch this space!

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global