On Tech, Business, Society.

Tag: future of technology

Reimagining the Internet's Third Decade

clear-skies-001During the 90’s, a big trend emerged in management practices: Business Process Reengineering. Michael Hammer and James Champy wrote the seminal book, Reengineering the Corporation that swept through corporations like a tsunami. I was at the center of this trend, as HP’s Business Process Reengineering Manager, aka as “Reengineering Czar”, a role title that the book recommended for any company that was embarking on reengineering efforts.

With BPR, Information Technology was the catalyst for change. But when the commercial Internet came along in 1994, I saw it becoming that new catalyst even more than reengineering, and not only within corporations, but also globally, across organizations and between people. [that is the reason why I left HP in 1995]

For background, one of the grand realizations of BPR was to break-up processes that resided inside corporates silos, and replace them by better ones that spawned across departments and functional areas. Basically, these new processes (that were aligned with the company objectives) trumped existing processes that were obliterated and replaced by the more significant ones. And a new concept emerged,- that of a “process owner” whose job was to ensure the new process was well designed, deployed, used, and bearing its promised fruit.

Keeping with its reengineering promise, the Internet has been changing a lot of our world since 1994, but as we enter the third decade of the web’s commercialization, maybe there is even more impact that we need to expect from it.

Today, I see three areas where the Internet’s impact is going to continue to increase:

1) Industries & sectors that have not been totally affected yet.

So far, the Internet has hit or missed industries and sectors with varying degrees of depth and consequences. Some of the obvious industries that have not been significantly affected yet include: education, agriculture, healthcare, telecommunications, and financial services. These are huge industries, and their unbundling has just started.

2) Messes that were created.

The Internet was not planned, but it just happened. The resulting effect was an imbroglio of services, and some messy overlaps with marginal differentiation, competing for our attention. Typically, market supply/demand dynamics take care of winners and loser. We are starting to see second attempts at Internet businesses that didn’t get a first chance in its first decade, but getting it now in the third decade, such as home grocery deliveries, pet sitting services, or locally-enabled shared services.

3) Weak incumbents.

The new incumbents are the existing Web companies who will become more vulnerable due to the shifting effects of new technologies that underlie their business models. Of course, technology alone isn’t enough, but technology will enable putting in place some compelling new services that will facilitate the switching of allegiances. On the block, companies like eBay, Amazon, UBER or even Instagram might see some challenges ahead, especially with the advent of new decentralization stacks.

In order to complete this picture, we need to look at the disruptive technologies that are the new catalyst candidates for this new wave of innovations. Some of the ones will include:

  • Continued compute power and capabilities expansion into mobile devices, coupled with the smartification of edge things.

  • Mesh networks and services that connect people and devices in P2P settings.

  • Decentralized protocols and new technology stacks that challenge or re-define existing ones.

  • Stratification of cloud computing by flattening it at the personal, ambient, and local levels, while enriching it even further at the virtual level.

With BPR, “automation” was the proverbial word, and IT was the enabler. Today, the Internet is the new IT, but is there a better word than automation? Automation is powerful, but yet it is an archaic word that brings connotations of early industrial age manufacturing practices. Now, we are getting really good at deriving information intelligence from data, as we process, analyze, parse, un-bundle, and re-bundle new sources of data in order to derive new products and services. Today, we are in the Information Age, so why not choose another relevant word that’s more closely aligned with the power of information?

Going forward, I am seeing new opportunities in reengineering existing Internet processes, but I am also seeing opportunities in reimagining new open collaborative environments between, or on top of the existing Internet networks.

We are entering the third decade of the Internet’s commercialization, so why not expect a lot more from it?


The Noise in Availability and Differentiating Yourself

different-imageThe decentralized and fragmented aspects of the Internet are becoming almost unmanageable at the content and services levels for end-user applications.

This can lead to a poverty of attention and complexities in managing information, if you don’t adhere to a disciplined usage approach.

Part of the reasons are user-habit inflicted, i.e. we are used to visiting a variety of places. Another part involves following the solutions that already exist, and not having other choices.

Every time a new service is created with marginal benefits, it adds a layer of complexity and potential distraction.

When we add something, if something else is not removed, often we are contributing to increasing the attention deficit because we are bloating the system or our habits.

For example, there are too many social channels, too many options, too many choices, and too much overlap in what we have.

My Facebook stream is becoming like a randomly eclectic newspaper (which is ok sometimes). My Twitter stream is a perfect hit and miss, and thanks to their daily email, it tells me if I missed anything potentially important. Nuzzel and Insider don’t add anything new. I don’t go to Zite anymore since Flipboard acquired it. LinkedIn and Google+ are just fixtures that are there. I do rely on Feedly to pull all the blogs I want to read.

In Search, we have Google of course, and DuckDuckGo occasionally, and that’s a good thing, compared to the 5 mediocre choices we had during the late 90’s when you literally had to try all search services to be complete.

Take email. It is centralized in your Inbox/email client, although its infrastructure is distributed. For the user, it’s a central experience, and that’s good.

Take travel. There are at least 4-5 travel services you need to try if you’re truly shopping around. Same for booking hotels. The differences between them remind me of Internet search prior to Google. You need to try several of them, and that takes time.

Choice is good, when the choices are clearly differentiated. But when the choices are not well differentiated, the end-result is confusion and distraction, and we drown in the marketing of noise, because we can hardly see clarity in a sea of marginal differentiation.

Have you ever been to a street market, farmers market or open bazaar/souk? After a while, most choices start to look very similar from one to another. Attempting to differentiate becomes difficult.

I sometimes wonder if abundant choice is good for the consumer. Choice without differentiation is a distraction of attention. Just because a new service or product is available doesn’t mean that its value is clear.

If you are bringing a product or service to the market, please make sure you differentiate well, and explain how different it is from other existing solutions.

You must be able to nail your value proposition early on, even if it evolves later. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be perfectly aligned with your offering.

Yet I still see startups at various stages of their evolution that don’t do a good job at clearly communicating their differentiated value. They keep talking about product features, instead of understanding the real meaning of their positioning.

When I worked at Hewlett-Packard during its peak years as a top admired company, differentiating our products was a religious objective. We had to know exactly how our products were different from the competition’s. We had to know how to present them to the market, with that kind of clarity. If we didn’t differentiate, we didn’t win. And differentiation happened in the selling and marketing steps, because we were given the products we had to sell.

Having too many choices that aren’t well differentiated seems to be a trend I’m seeing in Internet products and services. We must ensure that we are being really clear and knowing how we are different. That pulls users and customers into your direction as they identify with your differentiation.

When products aren’t so perfect, more expensive than others, or drowning in a sea of competition, how you market them and communicate their value becomes really important, and you must put attention into that. Sometimes, the product gets ingrained into a habit, and it connects you with other users, and the differentiation happens inherently via its usage, but that product had to start by being really good. Unfortunately, not all products start by being really good.

Let’s not practice lazy marketing. Imaginatively applying technology to develop great products is not enough. Engineers need marketers to help them bring products to the market, especially in a crowded marketplace where there is always competition for new ideas, whether it’s from another service or to displace an old habit.

Dumbing things down to explain what you are doing is important to get a VC’s attention, and perhaps to gain initial market entry, but it’s not enough to be successful in the long term. You need to follow through by differentiating yourself in the marketplace and by resonating with the emotions and needs of your users and customers. As Nancy Duarte says, “It’s easier to rattle off jargon and keep communication emotionally neutral. But easiest doesn’t always mean best.”


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén