Should large companies even try to be like startups?

This post is still very much a work in progress. Since the industrial revolution, if you were interested in a career in technology, large companies were really the place to be. Apart from the perks that come with working for a blue-chip company, the scale, breadth and depth of resources available to you meant that they had a virtual monopoly on innovation. However, over the past ten years, this changed. In many industries, scale stopped being an advantage. It slowly, imperceptibly at first, … Read more…

From the front line to the development team

We have already seen in a previous post how military history can provide valuable lessons for today’s business leaders. The Economist magazine provides a more contemporary application of how lessons learnt on the front line have applicability in the business world. Stanley McChrystal used to lead the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq which captured Saddam Hussein and killed al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq. He now runs a consultancy company advising companies on decision-making. His mantra is to devolve decision making to teams of … Read more…

Self-Driving Cars – Coming sooner than we think?

The future of the car, taking on latest developments in electric vehicles and self-driving technology was the topic of the rather immodestly titled “Great Debate” at the University of Reading held last month. As the host candidly admitted, the organising committee was undecided as to whether to discuss electric vehicles or self-driving cars, and so fudged it. In the end, much of the discussion focused on the impact of autonomous cars. Are electric cars really ready for mass-market? The first couple of … Read more…

Speed at Scale – the fast supertanker?

In a previous post, I explored the importance of adaptability in large organisations, a concept I referred to quite unoriginally as Strategic Agility. I hope I was quite persuasive about the importance of being able to change direction quickly to even large and very successful organisations. The task of operating large organisations at speed is a topic that John P Kotter is making his own, in his book and Harvard Business review article – Accelerate! Kotter argues, quite convincingly, that the hierarchical structures and organisational setups that … Read more…

Artificial Intelligence – Some highlights from 2016

2016 has been a big year for Artificial Intelligence. Taking over from the Internet of Things as “Most Talked About Tech of The Year”, this represents a set of technologies that will clearly have significant  long-term implications for how we work, buy products and consume services. This explosion is made possible by the convergence of three trends: The massive growth in data availability in every field of human endeavour, a renewed interest in the algorithms underpinning artificial intelligence, and the plummeting cost … Read more…

Why history matters. Even to tech leaders

When looking at the challenges that the fast-moving tech landscape throws up, it is often tempting to think that these problems are new to the 21st century and consequently need completely novel approaches. While the mechanics, business process and technologies may well be new, the underlying problem is very likely to be one that has been around for centuries. Just as the Roman Republic can provide a casebook of the entire gamut of political mechanations and intrigue, similarly, history books can provide invaluable advice on … Read more…

The importance of Strategic Agility

With agile software methodologies now firmly in the mainstream, it is difficult to find a software development organisation that does not claim to follow agile principles to at least some extent. For this reason, much of the discussion in agile and lean development conferences is now shifting to its applicability in the wider business world. In this post, I have a look at some of the business challenges that can be addressed through adopting strategic agility, and make some suggestions that may help … Read more…

Happenings in the World of Artificial Intelligence

While much of the tech media have been focusing on the goings on at the Mobile World Congress, some of the more interesting stories of the week are to be found elsewhere. While the differences between this year’s smartphones and last year’s models are becoming increasingly difficult to discern, the same is not true for the goings on in the world of Artificial Intelligence. Already a topic of a blog post of mine a short time ago, there have been some particularly … Read more…

Amazon Dash – this genuinely deserves the ‘Internet of Things’ tag

The Internet of Things hype continues unabated, with companies allegedly hiring Chief IoT officers, though a quick search on the Indeed website failed to throw up any ads. However, today I came across a news item that genuinely deserves a bit of hype. While all sorts of technologies and products get pitched as an IoT play, Amazon’s Dash service is a genuine internet of things application. In a nutshell this service allows companies to use Amazon as a fulfilment service … Read more…

Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo – read, despite the dodgy title

The Christmas break often provides me with some time to catch up with my reading list, and lost amongst my ever-growing pile was Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0. Now, I very nearly did not buy this book, as am often put off by titles that smack of pompous management jargon, and “Management 3.0” flies very close to the wind on that front. However am glad that I rescued it from the pile of the great unread, as it is quite a … Read more…

What’s behind Musk’s OpenAI Initiative?

For my first blog post of 2016, I thought it time to take a cursory look at OpenAI, the non-for-profit organisation being set up by serial entrepreneur Elon Musk. This aims to provide a non-commercial basis for furthering research into Artificial Intelligence, publishing and widely disseminating the output of research carried. To this end, $1 billion worth of funding has been pledged (or ‘donated’) by a number of Silicon Valley luminaries, including PayPal’s Peter Thiel and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman. Silicon Valley … Read more…

Blockchains – from Digital Currency to Physical Things

A sure sign that a once-emerging technology is becoming mainstream is it being given the full front-page treatment by The Economist. This is what happened to “blockchain” technology, the set of cryptographic techniques that underpin Botcoin, the digital currency, when The Economist referred to it as The Next Big Thing. While I am pretty certain that most that esteemed magazine’s readers would never have come across the term blockchain before, the article was not short of hyperbole, equating its invention in the … Read more…

Talk to me – The role of Voice Control in the Smart Home

A recent Smart Home report on what features are most desired by users showed that in addition to self-adjusting thermostats, remote locking of burglar alarms and other such staples, one of the features that users really want is a master remote for all services. This is an expression of the frustration with the morass of incompatibility between smart devices.  Very few systems talk to each other in a meaningful way and it is clear that the fragmentation of standards and systems continues to cause … Read more…

Lean Enterprise – Lean Startup for Grown ups

We have already seen how Eric Ries’ Lean Startup established the language and a culture of predominantly mobile-app start-ups over the past five years. The reality however, is that most of us do not work in start-ups where business models are unknown, and regular pivots are required to find out what works. Instead, most people in the tech field are employed for companies with established and (normally) profitable business models, and business processes tuned to support those business models. These companies are often large, … Read more…

Qualcomm and Samsung in new IoT chip product announcements

This has been a busy couple of weeks in terms of Internet of Things technology announcements. In particular, two titans from the mobile space, Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm are attempting to catch up with Intel with processors aimed at all manufacturers of ‘things’. Qualcomm announces two new products for its $1 billion IoT segment Qualcomm are making a very strong push in its “Internet of Everything” as its smartphone technology portfolio which is no longer benefiting from growth rates it was previously accustomed … Read more…

Comparing the Cloud giants – Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure

Last month saw a number of number of the tech giants provide their most recent quarterly earnings. For both Amazon and Microsoft, their cloud activities gained a lot of headlines and column-inches in both the technical and business press. Although adopting different growth and technology strategy, their cloud computing offerings represent a significant engine of growth going forward, and is becoming an area of ever-more intense competition. Here we take a brief look at how they compare and what the … Read more…

Tesla’s Powerwall – A residential energy game changer?

With hindsight, this week’s announcement by Tesla that it would move into the home energy storage market was so obvious, that that the only question should have been why was there any surprise at all. For a while, Elon Musk, PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX tech entrepreneur had been saying that Tesla would unveil a new major product, and that it would not be a car. And so it turned out that Tesla will be launching a residential battery called PowerWall, in two variants with different storage … Read more…

Will the promise of the Smart Home finally be realised as standards converge?

We have already seen how the connected home market is overwhelmed by a morass of incompatible and competing standards, and products made by different manufacturers are unlikely to work together unless they use high-level APIs such as Google’s “Works with Nest”. In the dumb home, interoperability was taken for granted. An incandescent bulb would work with any switch and thermostats were readily interchangeable. The addition of complex app & web based interfaces, the foundation of ‘smart’ systems has created a multitude … Read more…

Frugal Innovation – Doing more with less

Frugal Innovation – “the ability to do more with less” is the title of a recent book by academics Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu. This started off as a book called Jugaad Innovation (from a Hindi word meaning an innovative fix), examining innovation facilities in developing countries, but then found interest in developed economies as companies tried to adapt to consumers’ more spendthrift ways as well as an increased importance being placed on sustainable solutions. Frugal innovation as proposed by the … Read more…

Facebook extends its platform through messaging and ‘things’

I am playing catch-up with the news from Facebook F8 developer conference, but looking at some of the (excellent) press reports, a couple of things stand out as being of interest as providing pointers as to where Facebook is heading. 1. Messaging as a Platform One of the announcements that got most coverage was the release of an API to allow third-parties to integrate their apps and experiences into Facebook. To the cynical (a grouping I sometimes find myself associated with), this … Read more…

The battle for the mobile wallet heats up

It was easy to be distracted by the wondrous devices on display at the Mobile World Congress a couple of weeks ago, with smartphone vendors scrambling over each other with new device launches. However, some of the more significant announcements were not about phones or networks, but about the rapidly-shifting mobile payments landscape. Google shifts gear Google have made two major payments-announcements over the past month or so. First they bought Softcard (formerly called Isis) from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon and … Read more…

Bringing Artificial Intelligence to the Internet of Things – with the help of the Cloud

We have already touched on the role that machine learning and artificial intelligence plays in building smart systems that provide value to customers and companies. From predicting when elevators will require maintenance and service to the advanced voice control functions used in iPhones, artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly ubiquitous. This blog however has not yet done justice to the extent to which the entry bar has been lowered for advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to be incorporated into … Read more…

Samsung buys LoopPay. A tactical acquisition?

Yesterday, Samsung announced that it acquired LoopPay, a mobile payments technology company, in a move that was widely reported as allowing Samsung to “build a viable Apple Pay competitor”. Samsung takes aim at Apple Pay with LoopPay acquisition The key differentiating feature of LoopPay is that unlike Apple Pay it does not use Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to speak to the point of sale terminal, but instead relies on its own proprietary technology that emits a magnetic field to simulate … Read more…

British Gas acquires AlertMe – A smart home leader

AlertMe, the Cambridge-based company behind the technology that powers the Hive Active Heating system sold by British Gas has just been acquired by British Gas itself. Originally holding an investment of around 20%, British Gas has now bought the entire outfit for around $100m. As AlertMe only has two large customers, British Gas itself and Lowe, in the US, it is unclear whether British Gas aims to use the platform and technology for its own energy customer base. However in a press release, Mary … Read more…

Digital Health Platforms – A look at Apple HealthKit’s early lead

A Reuters report last week claimed that Apple’s HealthKit is being trialled by more hospitals in the US than Google Fit. Fourteen out of twenty-three ‘top’ (no info on how they were selected) hospitals contacted had already rolled out a pilot programme with Apple, way ahead of where they are with other significant personal health platforms. This clearly indicates that the convergence between personal devices and real medical healthcare, is beginning to move beyond the somewhat narcissistic counting of steps, fitness goals etc, … Read more…

Open Data – The UK leads, but what are the benefits?

Europe is often regarded as playing somewhat second fiddle to the US when it comes to technology and innovation – with little to show for compared to the dominance of Silicon Valley’s big Internet companies (though China is beginning to catch up) . However there is one area where Europe, and particularly the UK, is leading the way – namely the use and dissemination of Open Data. In this post, I explore what Big Data is, and what are the main … Read more…

The Internet of Things – A conceptual model

Earlier this week, we saw how TechCrunch attempted to model the Internet of Things ecosystem. In this post I propose an alternative model, albeit one quite similar in structure . I will not attempt to reproduce in comparable detail the vast number of companies and organisations involved, but will simply provide a representation on how the overall model can be represented. In common with many other models, I too split the connected things ecosystem into industry verticals and horizontal enablers. … Read more…

Big data predictions in the online and physical world

One piece of news that hit the headlines this week was the revelation from researchers from the University of Cambridge and Stanford University that Facebook may be a better judge of personalities than spouses or friends. Apart from the obvious hype value this is particularly significant as it shows the power of machine learning in scenarios which we intuitively feel should be difficult for algorithms to handle. Instead it turns out the the inherent lack of subjective bias and prejudice … Read more…

CES 2015 – Internet of Things goes Mainstream

Reviewing the various round-ups on what was big at CES, most agree that the Internet of Things was pretty high up the agenda of the companies attending, and was the underlying theme for the event. Not that this is a reliable predictor – don’t forget that 2012 was the year that supposed saw 3D TV come of age. The Absentees It is perhaps worth starting with a reminder of the notable absentees, Apple, Google and Microsoft, the three industry’s largest platform and … Read more…

CES 2015 – Gogoro’s SmartScooter – A triumph of hype or a vision of the future?

In the second piece on this year’s CES, we look at Gogoro, a company we featured last year as it gained  $150m worth of funding. There was much speculation as to what they were producing, fuelled by vague statements such as to “utilize the power of mobile connectivity and data analytics to transform energy distribution and management in the world’s cities”. Finally this week we found out. On the face of it, Gogoro launched an electric scooter, promising to revolutionise personal … Read more…

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