Technology Innovation and Public Schools

My kids have been home schooled. Not for religious reasons. Personally, I have been conflicted about it, but my wife and kids have enjoyed the flexibility and the bonding it brings.

My daughter has decided she wanted to go to high school at a proper school. We signed her up for a private school, but she decided she wants to go to a public school.

As a parent, you go "gulp" - there is so much negative you hear about schools these days. Florida does not have a great reputation for public schools - since we do not have a state income tax (We do better at colleges since we have long allocated funds from the lottery to that education and were early to offer parents a prepaid college program). The reputation continues in spite of fact that Newsweek ranks 5 Florida schools in its top 10 nationwide schools

So I was delighted to hear Christian Schuh (who works in technology for a large global company) tell me how happy he is with the school system his kids are in.

“We are lucky in Palm Beach, FL county to have a school district that offers a slick solution to allow parents to manage their children's educational progress pro-actively: Edline, a secure web-portal where teachers post assignments and grades, accessible by both students and parents, with their respective secure logins. My kid no longer has the option of not telling me about a bad grade on a quiz or homework or test. I already know it before I get home (heck, before he gets home), as my inbox alerts me to a new grade having been posted. Bad performance can be addressed before it becomes a trend, and since the students know this, the system helps drive behavior. Parents can make good decisions as to if and when to engage teachers or counselors. I think it's a great system worth propagating.”

This article describes more about Edline - and other areas his school district is leveraging technology to improve education - and frankly, make it more interesting for students. IBM was a major employer in that county till recently and helped the tech focus at the school district.

But it is good to see technology spread in schools across the country. The school my daughter plans to go to has 1 computer for every 4 students, all web enabled. It is good to see students getting fit through use of technology. Students and parents - ebay style - rating their teachers. Students using iBooks instead of paper text books. And many more ideas at bottom of this article.

Nice to see our younglings take advantage of the technology bounty we have around us. And, unpleasant as the conversation is, how we are using technology to improve security and safety at schools.

Christian's other advice is also great - "Parents have to be engaged - rather than treating education as a government deliverable with guaranteed results".  As we get ready to "outsource" our daughter's education, we have to remember you have to work hard with the vendor to deliver to the SLA.

More technology innovations

More at New Florence on Technology Innovation and:

Work Interruptions
Assisted Living
Chinese Engineering

Technology Innovation and ...

Read on my New Florence. New Renaissance blog posts on how technology is impacting:

Travel Conveniences

Patient Monitoring


Soccer Balls

Dry Cleaners

Book Publishing

That was in last few weeks - plenty more posts on innovative CIOs, products, processes...

Social Network at 35,000 feet

Ross Mayfield on a Lufthansa flight and Jeff Nolan on the ground share their banter. Thomas Otter adds in the comments that once he got on the WI-FI network on the plane he used Sykpe to call someone. We may soon be able to use our cell phones - though many are ambivalent about that.

I have an idea for Bose - develop a mouthpiece that routes voice to a USB port on a  laptop or to a cell phone, but cancels out the voice to rest of world...or plane in this case.

Then if we could also put on white paint, like Marcel Marceau we could also provide the flight entertainment....

Technology Innovation and Dry Cleaners

I was talking to Nurdin, my dry cleaner about how many clothes he loses in a year. He cleans tens of thousands of garments across his 3 stores. He hesitated and then said, may be in the teens. Not sure it is Six Sigma standard, but still pretty impressive when you consider clothes are often delivered to wrong owners, and that error is not discovered for days or weeks by customers - so technically they are not "lost".

According to the IFI - the International Fabricare Institute, there are 30,000 dry cleaners across the country - mostly mom and pop shops. The industry has been challenged by rising petroleum prices (affects solvents and other chemicals) and reduced demand from the move to casual work dressing.

Nonetheless, or perhaps because of the need to become more efficient, the industry has been investing in technology. This 15 minute video (view using IE - Mozilla does not work) from Dajisoft shows Integrated POS, tagging of clothes, assembly, final verification and reporting of errors - impressive level of process automation.

The store I go to has 2 drive through lanes. But nothing like the services the Zoots chain offers in the Northeast - like 24 hour delivery using personal lockers, web access to order status etc.  Similarly, PurpleTie in the Bay Area offers an Internet based service with home or office pick up and delivery.

Every 2 years, the Clean conference convenes. At the one in Las Vegas next year, expect as much discussion on software, RFID and other IT as there will be on filters and solvents.

Technology Innovation and ATMs

The ubiquitous ATM does not appear to have evolved much in the last decade. It is estimated that 80% of customers still use them to withdraw cash and another 10% to view balances statements - pretty basic transactions. Of course, some allow you to dispense postage stamps. In Russia, they can convert rubles to dollars. In Japan, they allow you to play games of chance (can you imagine being stuck behind someone doing that?)

But given how hungry banks are for getting your funds, deposits have been difficult for ATMs to automate. They are somewhat cumbersome today with need to fill out envelopes and for them to be verified by the bank the next day. Banks also discourage cash deposits.

That is about to change. This WSJ article describes new ATMs which can scan images of checks and accept currency and coins.

Another step in the introduction of the Check 21 initiative. One less reason for banks to  hold on to funds for days on out of town checks. 

Technology Innovation and Indy 500

Unlike NASCAR which likes to bring out the individual driver more than the technology, Indy racing is far more showy about all the technology that goes in to all aspects of the race.

Telemetry allows teams to monitor and analyze amazing amounts of data like on tire pressure and drag. Aerodynamic analysis keeps getting more sophisticated. Technology allows for tracking of micro-changes of weather - humidity, wind, temperatures. Driver Cockpit displays keep evolving. Tire technology is optimized to get just 100 miles of super charged performance.

ABC and ESPN are leveraging Sportvision's Racef/x technology uses GPS data from IndyCar Series cars and transmits real-time data, including speed, acceleration/deceleration, time behind the leader, exact car position and RPMs to television viewers.

Microsoft's Channel 9 has a nice set of videos on some of the technology used by Target's Indy team.

Indy technology improvements show up on Main Street a few years later.  Examples include tire improvements, and automatic manual transmissions that can shift gears before you could push the clutch.

Gentlemen, start your GPSes. A refreshing bottle of milk awaits.

Offshoring Exam cheating?

The NY Times writes about how technology is allowing for cheating to become more sophisticated

The Times of India reports even more high tech cheating using DocuPen scanners, Bluetooth and SMS technology.

Hey, we can offshore cheating!

Technology Innovation and Grids

GridWise  composed of various utility and tech companies , is a vision for transforming the nation's electric power grid using advanced communications, automated controls and other forms of information technology. The electric power system has not fully harnessed the power of digital technology. For the most part, it is still making do with equipment designed in the 1950's and 1960's – before the era of the microprocessor. As a result, today's electric system is full of massive, expensive capital assets that are underutilized. Similar to the nervous system in a living organism, GridWise will enable devices at all levels within the grid – from utility to consumer – to independently sense, anticipate and respond to real-time conditions by accessing, sharing and acting on real-time information.

On the other hand, the power grid may finally allow for supporting broadband Internet traffic.

Innovation in both power and network grids.

Technology Innovation and Job Interviews

What if you could use TiVo for a job interview? The candidate does the interview at the place and time of his/her choosing. The interviewer reviews responses from multiple candidates when and where convenient. 

HireVue is facilitating just that. They work with the recruiting company to develop a list of questions. Consistent questions for each candidate. Each candidate has 30 seconds to read the question, 2 minutes to answer; no opportunity to rewind or re-answer - simulating a real interview. The interview can be done wherever (HireVue sends them a high quality webcam - which the candidate is allowed to keep). Or at the employment office or increasingly at a campus recruiting office.

Once the interviews are on the HireVue server, the employer can post comments on each candidate. Fast forward or rewind. It's ideal for first round interviews. HireVue estimates it saves between 50 and 75% of costs to have people fly or drive in.

They have allowed candidates from Chile and China to be reviewed by employers in France and New Zealand. Mark Newman, VP of Operations, tells me they expect to be running 4,000 interviews a month by the end of the year. With little brick and mortar!

The Tofflers are back

Alvin and Heidi of Future Shock fame are back with Revolutionary Wealth, a much more positive book than the future they foretold in the 70s. Lots of implications for blogging, open source etc.

"In their earlier work, the Tofflers coined the word “prosumer” for people who consume what they themselves produce. In Revolutionary Wealth they expand the concept to reveal how many of our activities—whether parenting or volunteering, blogging, painting our house, improving our diet, organizing a neighborhood council or even “mashing” music—pump “free lunch” from the “hidden” non-money economy into the money economy that economists track. Prosuming, they forecast, is about to explode and compel radical changes in the way we measure, make and manipulate wealth."

A NY Times review is here.

Technology Innovation and T&E Processing

BusinessWeek has a nice article on how travel and expense management is evolving. Airfares being flagged BEFORE a trip is taken. Trendspotting. Flagging of unauthorized upgrades. BPO of T&E processing.

From an employee perspective, smaller portable scanners, electronic airline tickets, electronic statements, procurement cards have all made expense submission much more digitized. Vendors like Concur even allow old fashioned faxing of the shrinking number of cash receipts to a server. For a while I used to fax my receipts to my efax number and they would email it back in an attachment  much more compressed than scanners could. And with the way digital cameras are going,  every receipt should be digitized, except maybe tips and mileage.

Well, let's not give the IRS ideas. It is nice they do not need receipts below a certain threshold. That way we can all play a few games.

American Airlines and Fuel Efficiency

American is not my favorite airline. I think in past they invested way too many technology dollars (then copied by other airlines) in their yield management system. To me, those systems have made airlines so transactional and opportunistic in their approach to customers. Robert Crandall, CEO in 80s and 90s (the "lead dog" as NY Times called him) also set a confrontational tone towards his employees and his competition which turned off many passengers and brought them close to bankruptcy.

But it is good to see this BusinessWeek article about some of the things American is doing to  improve fuel efficiency. From software to optimize routes  to  hedging of fuel contracts to winglets on planes to improve fuel yield - very smart ways to squeeze more out of fuel. Better than past attempts to squeeze customers and labor.   

Supernova Conference

Readers of this and my New Florence. New Renaissance. blogs know I love to cite examples of applied technology innovation. So I jumped when Kevin Werbach invited me to the Supernova conference in San Francisco June 21-23. Supernova every year brings out the edgy, futuristic side of IT. Kevin was editor of Release 1.0 and now teaches at the Wharton School of Business.

This year's tracks include

- business implications of virtual worlds

- web 2.0 meets the enterprise

- cutting the cords: the future of telecom

- rise of the videonet

- the next five billion users

See you there!

Technology Innovation and Toys

My kids think I joke when I say I had 2 toys growing up - one toy which broke in two.

Forbes had a nice gallery of popular toys in last century.

This week kicks off E3 - Electronic Entertainment Expo in LA. NY Times provides a preview. Toys for the next generation of kids. And parents who feel they were deprived as kids.

Brother, can you spare me a Hotspot?

This from MIT Technology Review

"Spanish startup Fon....a rapidly growing Wi-Fi network owned by its users, rather than a big telecommunications company, and based on shared access. In order to create a large network of hotspots, the company is encouraging network members -- mostly, average consumers -- to give away Wi-Fi access in exchange for getting free access at other Fon hotspots.

Fon's service provides Wi-Fi access for any application, including Web surfing, downloading music, or playing games. But the company's ambitious plans for coverage make it especially attractive for telephoning services -- that's one reason eBay's Skype division has invested in the company."

"Open Source" comes to Hotspots!

Technology Innovation and Airport Runways

The most dangerous portion of a flight these days is on the ground! The worst aviation disaster in history took place when a KLM and a Pan Am jet collided with each other on the ground in the Canary Islands.

So it is good to read about this USAToday story on runway status light system being piloted.

Technology Innovation and Netflix mailers

The humble envelope as competitive advantage? Impressive in this Business 2.0 article to see how Netflix has tweaked its DVD mailer over the last 7 years. Go to bottom of article and click through a gallery of the 13 iterations.

A Random MRI down Wall Street

Andrew W. Lo, professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management and director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering.

Lo, also a partner in the AlphaSimplex hedge fund, combines mathematics, neurology, and psychology to study how markets work.

One of his research projects actually involves putting traders in an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and measuring their brain activity. Once a disciple of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis -- the premise that markets operate rationally and efficiently -- Lo wants to replace that model with the biologically driven Adaptive Markets Hypothesis.

Read his interview here.

Technology Innovation and Earth Day

See how technology is helping spread the green message around the world


AMD announces a green grid with IBM, HP, Sun

President Bush is appropriately in California this weekend - a state which leads the world in "tree huggers", technology and the convergent opportunities in clean technologies.

Kudos to Vinod Khosla (ex Sun, Kleiner Perkins) for raising the awareness around clean energy. Also good to see Google customize its home page around alternative energy sources.

Not just environmentally, but increasingly economically sound. 

2020 Science

"A scientific revolution is just beginning. It has the potential to create an era of science-based innovation that could completely eclipse the last haf-century of technology-based innovation..."

Compelling 80+ page document which explores everything from molecular machines to future medicine and energy. Sponsored by Microsoft Research, it reflects views of 30 scientists, many from Europe.

The New Icecream Van

Brian Phipps talks about underserved markets   - the "last mile" opportunity in serving consumers.

Brian's post made me think of a big opportunity around consumer technology on every street in the US (and around the world). It's called featuritis - consumers with little idea how to work technology. VCRs with blinking clocks. WI-FI networks that need to be set up (or secured). TiVo issues. Spyware and Virus removal. As cars and homes get more technology, even more so. BestBuy is aiming at the market with its Geek Squad concept, but there are opportunities for so many small entrepreneurs.

Ring that bell, watch those grown-up kids run after you and whistle along with Van Halen.

Update: NY Times on the Geek Squad

Innovation Season

BusinessWeek has a series of articles on the most innovative companies and its list (along with Boston Consulting Group) of the top 25 most innovative here.

Business 2.0 on the other hand has a list of 25 great ideas at a number of innovative companies.

Nice reads both. Interestingly, Southwest Airlines shows up in both lists. Home Depot and Wal-Mart show up in one of the lists. Proof that you can be operationally efficient and innovative at the same time. Indeed, as I wrote in The Discipline of Market Leaders, it is no longer an either-or.

Technology Innovation and Easter/Passover

That time of the year again. Flights to/from Florida are impossible as I found out earlier this week.  But minor irritation given the importance.

Nice NY Times article on egg dyeing. List of Easter and Passover web sites here. And then, there are Easter eggs in software - from this archive which defines them as :

"In the context of software (get that Cadbury Bunny out of your head!), an Easter Egg is a hidden feature or novelty that the programmers have put in their software. In general, it is any hidden, entertaining thing that a creator hides in their creation only for their own personal reasons. This can be anything from a hidden list of the developers, to hidden commands, to jokes, to funny animations." And not malicious!

Happy Cadbury's!

Technology Innovation and Drive Through Fast Food

NY Times on McDonalds taking drive through order via a remote call center.

In fairness, the credit  for the innovation should go to this McDonald's franchisee I wrote about last year.

Technology Innovation and Good Samaritans

One of the nice things about MR's conferences is he honors several charities. At  the dinner at Software 2006, he honored 7  organizations (1 commercial but involved in a worthwhile cause).

I cannot begin to transcribe what we saw in videos on the impact of each of their activities, and the heartfelt thanks each of their founders/sponsors expressed as they accepted the honor. These are bigger people than most of us.  They deserve all our support - kind words and more.

Here are some cameos:

Sahana Project, which came together during the Asian tsunami in 2004, involved putting together open source components and building a rapid Disaster Management System, which has since been utilized in other global disasters.

BUILD,  founded by Stanford Law Graduate Suzanne McKenhnie Klahr when she could have got a lucrative job, is in the heart of Silicon Valley and teaches youth from low-income communities  the ropes of entrepreneurship, how to write business plans, run small businesses - while ensuring they go to college.

Project-Impact, founded by David Green, a tech enterpreneur, makes medical technology and health care available at hugely subsidized prices to people in poor countries.

Room to Read, founded by an ex Microsoft executive John Wood, builds libraries, computer labs and donates scholarships across the world. I had the honor to sit  at John's table at dinner.

Santa Clara University's Global Social Benefit Incubator, teaches "social entrepreneurs" running charities and non-profits around the world how to become better managers in an intensive 2 week course.

SKS Microfinance, founded by an ex McKinsey consultant  Vikram Akula has helped over 200,000 women clients in Southern India by providing them small loans to allow them to buy sewing machines and other tools to improve their lifestyles.

LiveOps, which operates virtual call centers, put together a stunningly quick response (which a number of other tele-services firms declined to support because it was "technically unfeasible") and a toll free number and process to reunite over 10,000 displaced people during Hurricane Katrina.

No offense to the luminaries presenting at this conference, but to me this has been the highlight of the conference. Big kudos to MR for allowing the industry to honor these social enterpreneurs.

IBM = Innovative Business Model?

You think IBM is on a concerted campaign to paint itself innovative? Two recent interviews with IBM executives here and here about innovation. IBM’s campaign about CIO as Chief Innovation Officer. Its Global Innovation Outlook survey. Now Steve Hamm of BusinessWeek interviews Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM – on innovation, the view from the top.

Steve is clearly deferential to Sam, but I found myself shaking my head at a number of statements:

“…the opportunity is there to take advantage of the fact that we have low-cost transistors, RFID tags and supercomputing that is inexpensive and pervasive” Sam, that is less than 10% of IBM’s revenues. The rest is made up of overpriced software and services which is actually holding back IT budgets from investing in innovation. 

“But with product innovation, it’s a certainty that your competition is shortly going to copy what you have done” Explains IBM's strategy of letting start ups take the risk and invest in R&D and innovation, then acquire then. But is that innovation?

“…the next step to drive productivity is we’re going to globalize IBM”. One of the best known brands in the world. The one a prideful Indian government kicked out to make a global statement back in 1977. Just now talking about globalization? Or is it customers have caught on that IBM is global but not passing along global economics? 

“If the CEO doesn’t give people permission to go change behavior and to collaborate, then it’s not going to happen. Everyone is looking for a signal”. Sam, you want to send the right signals - change your 10-K. You spend $ 4 in SG&A for every dollar in R&D. You spend only 7% of your revenues in R&D, one of the lowest in the technology industry.

You really want innovation? Encourage the engineers and the open source coders who work in blue jeans. Put the PwC partners you acquired and your sales people in their blue suits in the back seat.

Easier to Copy than Innovate

So says Rob Carter, CIO at Fedex in this Fortune interview. But Fedex would rather innovate and has an enviable track record of technology innovations that have made its supply chain efficient, tracking packages easier for customers and its drivers much more productive.

He also talks about how UPS has caught up in a number of technology areas. See my profile of UPS technology here.

Speed Demons

BusinessWeek talks about the speed of new product introduction. In industries like publishing. And with neat little tech companies like 37signals.

In tech in general though, we like to think we are agile and innovative. Not by some of the new benchmarks that are emerging.  Let's look at enterprise SOA as currently being defined against this lens. And what we are getting for the $ 90+ billion we spend with IBM. And Oracle, and EDS and...

Technology Innovation and Smart Highways

Technology Review talks about wireless highways and related communication technologies on cars.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research describes its research around weather impact on roads.

What I want to know is why we cannot improve speeds of road construction and maintenance. Why not three construction shifts? More efficiencies? From that perspective, this caution about Smart Highways from the Whole Earth Review is also worth reading.

IBM's Global Innovation Outlook

I have been hard on IBM recently but need to credit it for its Global Innovation Outlook (GIO) Report which I saw courtesy of Sadagopan.

"In 2005 and 2006, the GIO 2.0 gathered 248 thought leaders from nearly three dozen countries and regions, representing 178 organizations across four continents for 15 “deep dive” sessions to discuss three focus areas and the emerging trends, challenges and opportunities that affect business and society:

  • The future of the enterprise
  • Energy and the environment
  • Transportation and mobility"

Lots of neat insights in each of those areas.

In 2004, IBM had released GIO 1.0 which had covered

  • The future of healthcare
  • The relationship between government and its citizens
  • The intersection of work and life."

The GIO 2.0 is a nice summary of the opportunities for innovation in technology, process, networks, everything. IBM's Irving Wladawsky-Berger blogs about it here.

My question for IBM - how are enterprises going to fund innovation? Today my advice is it has to come out of utility spend enterprises make with IBM, EDS, Oracle etc. Does IBM have alternative funding advice or is it going to slash its utility pricing?

The Power to Predict

The CEO of Tibco, Vivek Ranadive has put together a book of case studies on how innovative companies are leveraging technologies to advantage. Readers of this blog know I love to write about "applied" technology - what CIOs do with technology building blocks. They are the unsung heroes even as we like to celebrate high-tech entrepreneurs and vendors.

Dennis Howlett and Tom Foremski provide their endorsements.

Technology Innovation and the Oscars

The Academy Awards were given out 2 weeks ago, and Jon Stewart was nowhere in sight.  No, you were not that busy...they are still on the 5th...but you did miss Rachel McAdams (recently in "Wedding Crashers") handing out some early awards.

She used words like "3-D volumetric suspended cable camera technologies" and "modulation transfer function" as she hosted the Sci-Tech awards -  the event where a number of technical Academy Awards are handed out.

Hollywood has leveraged technology advances from its humble silent-movie beginnings. This Wikipedia entry catalogs the history of film and the role of technology along the way.

While it may sound like Oscar night is just reserved for awards for the glittering stars and the media moguls, four technical awards are planned that evening - for  animation, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effect. The nominees are listed here.

The awards presentations themselves are pretty high tech. Here is a report from the 2005 awards : "A 40-foot screen located in (yes, “in”) the stage floor and 26 screen panels floating over the audience projected moving images from current and past films. 320 LED screens buried in the floor covered by a 1 ½ inch thick sheet of Plexiglas allowed celebs, even those in high heels, to prance safely across."

One area where technology is frowned upon is the secret balloting process which PriceWaterhouseCoopers has facilitated for 72 years. (way, way before and a lot cheaper than compliance mandated by Sarbanes Oxley!)

By the way, here is a PDF version of  the Awards ballot for your consolation vote at home. It is a sad commentary that last year I could only find time to see two of the movies anywhere on the ballot - Syriana and War of the Worlds. And the latter scared the daylights out of me. Unlike the PwC partners, my bladder was not that disciplined. But then few can compete against Hollywood's technology.

Update: some other links about technology at this year's awards. CNET, ABC News and some awards for government CIOs

Further update: For the first time, the Daytime Emmy Awards have a special category for programs on "non-traditional viewing platforms" -- cell phones, iPods, computers. Oscars next year?


Innovation Free v. Care Free

Marc Benioff of calls SAP "innovation free"

Jeff Nolan of SAP asks Google to be more like Microsoft - not just create new products but also mature them.

There has to be a happy medium.

You have larger software firms stuck in neutral with too heavy, control oriented mindsets and billions in R&D. Yes they are using social networks internally and in many ways showing signs of re-engineering, but their output in products is awfully slow and still do not focus enough on their customer constraints - their budgets. What I call Utility spend.

And then you may have free wheeling Google and web 2.0, SaaS ecosystems and open source communities. They have their creativity, speed and economics but also look at their scalability, business model and other issues. Innovation vendors.

As I wrote last year in The Giant Crunching Sound

"Utility vendors - work with CIOs or prepare to get crunched. Innovation vendors - build your economics around dynamic products and controlled risk, not "lock-in" relationships. And yes, IBM, SAP, Oracle, can be both types of vendors if you just try..."

Shambala and SLAs - need both.

Technology Innovation and Skyscrapers

New Scientist writes about how skyscrapers of the future will be designed - after what we have learned from the Twin Towers 9/11 disaster.

In addition to better fire proofing, more robust sprinklers and variety of other improved construction materials and techniques, it was neat to see how much technology - old and new - is being discussed. This includes a bunch of heat, smoke and other sensors. It also recommends widespread use of CCTV to monitor where people may be stuck, wired and wireless loudspeakers throughout the building.

What I found interesting is a proposal to develop a "magnetic shaft". It would be dotted with electromagnets and every person in the building would be issued a  magnetic  life jacket and  that would control their descent through the shaft.  Why not parachutes? Because they require too much training and are cumbersome and unpredictable in windy conditions.

Talking of tall buildings, here is a neat application of technology at the New York Marriott Marquis. Instead of physically reconfiguring the elevators, technology has provided a much cheaper solution. And if you have stayed or visited there, the wait time for the elevators used to be much worse  nuisance than the noise from Times Square below - so even the patrons are much happier.

Ten Types of Innovation

Doblin is an "Innovation Strategy" firm headquartered in Chicago. I like their classification of 10 innovation areas and landscapes . They provide areas where companies can innovate and examples in each area (click on each). I like the fact that they talk about innovation not just in product design, or just in premium priced products.

Argue about Google not being on any of the lists or snicker about Martha Stewart considered a channel innovator, but it is, well, an innovative way to look at innovation.

Business Model e.g
Networks and Alliances  - Sara Lee
Enabling Process - Starbucks
Core Processes - Wal-Mart
Product Performance - VW Beetle
Product System - Steelcase
Service - Lenscrafters
Channel - Niketown
Brand - Ben and Jerry's
Customer Experience - Disney Cruises

Technology Innovation and Organization Charts

W. Edwards Deming, the famous management philosopher used to say that the organization chart was a flow chart.  It depicted a flow of blame. He helped the Japenese think about customer driven flows which mattered a lot more.

The reality is there are social networks within companies and they represent how most important work gets done - and innovation happens. BusinessWeek (subscription required) has a neat article on how companies are - quietly - mapping such networks within organizations. I say quietly because we persist in having formal organization charts even 50 years after Deming made his famous observation. If anything with Microsoft Visio and other tools we have glamorized the traditional organization chart even more - when we should be using them to map social network charts - "corporate X-Rays" as the article describes.

Also, see  here how SAP is innovating with its own internal social networks.

Technology Innovation and Mardi Gras

New Orleans - great gumbo, etouffe - but not much high-tech. Except that the last few times I have been there have been for tech conferences - last time for Sapphire in 2004,  So, it is good to see New Orleans back - even at half pace - celebrating Mardi Gras

While Mardi Gras and New Orleans are steeped in traditions, technology keeps making them more contemporary - Hot beads, the jazz the city is famous for, the webcams of Bourbon Street, the technology and animation which goes in to various Krewe in the parades, the wikis set up to help in the post-Katrina chaos. In this year's Mardi Gras, a multi-media production Olf's Immolation highlights the city's anger and frustration post-Katrina.

As the Marlon Brando character says in the Tennessee Williams classic set in the city, A Streetcar Named Desire  "Luck is believing you're lucky, that's all".

New Orleans - keep believing!

Technology Innovation and Knowledge Networks

I have written before about IBM's innovative Electronic Workplace.  SAP has been investing heavily in its own knowledge and collaboration networks as Jeff Nolan writes using more contemporary blogs and wikis. It is good to see these tech vendors innovate internally - as we know quite often the shoemaker's children get the torn shoes.

Mashup creativity

Dan Farber reports from MashupCamp. How can you not be impressed?

Still want to budget $ 10+ million for your Fusion or SAP SOA upgrade? Hire some of these kids before Accenture or Infosys does - at a fraction of the likely cost.

Technology Innovation and Law Firms

They come up with the maddening language that is influencing open source licensing, privacy and compliance debates, intellectual property protection. But lawyers themselves can be pretty conservative when it comes to using technology.

Or are they? I spent some time this weekend with Walter Aye, who runs a small law firm in Tampa. His son plays chess with my kids. And he was complaining about laptop batteries running out during court. Hard drives not being fast enough. His customizing his PCs with specific hard drive brands. Heat generated by chips. Failure rate of motherboards. I had to double check he had not taken up a part time job as a service technician. 

This survey shows law firms have been investing heavily in technology - the dramatic shift from WordPerfect to MS Word to the leverage of electronic document management.

The survey does not even cover law firm blogging (as this San Francisco firm is), podcasting for lawyers, web based depositions.

Of course, this ABA web site on technology for law firms appears to mostly have articles pre-2002. Yellow pads will continue to still be very popular.

Competing on Analytics

Tom Davenport has a neat article in Optimize on creating an analytical culture and has a number of examples of (mostly) customer and profitability centric analyics. A few weeks ago, Businessweek had an even more fascinating article Math will rock your world which explored how "quants" are revolutionizing many aspects of CRM, search, other areas of pattern recognition.

When we look at how many cycles the average company spends in developing, revising, re-revising, politickng its annual budget, we know the state of analytics in most companies is frozen in the 80s. The new analytics, and those coming out of the supply chain (see LARTE - Location Aware Real Time Enterprise), are pretty revolutionary and I liked the portion where Tom talks about building an analytical culture. 

With one caveat. An earlier generation of analytics has destroyed many an airline. Using  yield management airlines still try and optimize inventory pricing. Many got too smart for their own good, and lost price leadership to the Southwests who delivered fairer and more predictable (and not always cheaper) pricing.

For all the left brain stuff these analytics deliver, organizations still need their right brain functions.

Technology Innovation and Daytona 500

The Daytona 500. 3,400 pound monsters. 200 miles-per-hour around a track that is 2.5 miles long - a lap every 45 seconds.  Incredible G forces.  Cars within inches of each other.  Lots of decisions and adjustments  real-time.  Non-stop for 4 hours. No commercial breaks for the drivers.

NASCAR stock car racing has always been about the driver, not as much the car. NASCAR bans  high-tech wizardry during the race.  But as the 48th Daytona 500 kicks off, it is impressive to see the way technology has changed the way drivers and crews prepare  for the race. And how the race is tracked. And broadcast. Of course, the best in automobile technology gets rolled out each year.

Gentlemen - start your laptops, GPS, HDTV....


Is Innovation Dying?

may be of too fast a heart beat if you see these stats from the US Patent Office

It took 75 years to get from patent No.1 to patent 1 million. It has taken less than one tenth of that time to go from 6 million to 7 million patents.

In a related story, when it comes to patents, plan to take to trip to  Luckenbach Marshall, TX  as this article lays out. Willie and Waylon and the boys will be waiting.

Future City

Courtesy of Charlie Bess of EDS I saw that the Finals of the National Engineers Week Future City Competition are on this weekend.

Future City asks middle school students to create cities of the future, first on computers and then in large tabletop models. Nice way to encourage budding engineers and scientists...

Technology Innovation and Bird Flu

Read this in New Scientist (subscription required)

"As H5N1 bird flu moves across Asia and into Europe, dozens of families, from China to Turkey, are spending days waiting for a verdict from government laboratories to confirm whether or not their loved one has the virus. And even then the diagnosis has sometimes proved to be wrong.      We can do better. There are several technologies in the pipeline that could vastly speed up the diagnosis of respiratory ailments, and detect the precise strain causing a flu infection in minutes....if a pandemic were to strike, health authorities would be faced with large numbers of people clamouring for stockpiled antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu. Those limited supplies will have to be given only to people who might benefit from them, and not to those with the bacterial pneumonia that often follows flu, or the "worried well", says Graeme Laver of the Australian National University in Canberra, who helped discover the antiviral class that includes Tamiflu. And to be effective, the drugs must be taken very early in the course of the illness."

And these new diagnostic technologies will most likely facilitate earlier and cheaper detection of other ailments. But short term, let's tackle this scary spread.

Technology Innovation and Valentine's Day

NASA just released this picture of a heart shaped mesa on Mars.

Electronic matchmaking,
greeting cards,
instant messaging,
ordering of flowers and chocolates ...

Not your mom and dad's Valentine...Cupid now has Treo, blogs.

Mobile Data, TV, Coffeemaker...

...well scratch last one. Unless you have Jack Bauer's phone. But the Wireless show, 3GSM on at Barcelona shows how voice is almost an afterthought in the coming mobile world.

50,000 visitors are expected to come see every conceivable exhibitor in the mobility space.  While video and other content will dominate the news coming out of the event, last year only 5.8% of attendees came from the content/media/entertainment world. The rest were wireless operators, component manufacturers, systems integrators.  John Sun's blog is a good way to keep up with the happenings.

A world of its own. 15 years after Disney chose France over Spain for its Euro location, a different kind of magical world for slightly older kids.

Chief Process Innovation Officer

Courtesy of James Governor, I saw this post by Joe McKendrick at ZDNet.

I like the theme.. but the post is a little too technology/SOA focused. Process innovation - or angioplasty - as I call it - involves revisting technology, people, compliance and security. From a customer perspective inwards. From that lens, SOA (and other technologies)  may actually be more "plaque" than relief in some scenarios. .

Innovation = Vision + Constraints

Necessity is the mother of invention - the saying was born way before Google. But Google's VP for search products and user experience ,Marissa Ann Mayer says here Google believes that constraints create more creativity in its teams. Constraints like its toolbar cannot exceed download size of 625K. Team size of 3 or less.  A week of prototyping before an idea is taken forward or discarded. Not earth shattering but a very good read for anyone looking for clues to Google's innovation culture.

Not everyone thinks every thing Google introduces is innovative. James Governor here picks on their Blogger product. And over the weekend Robert Scoble of Microsoft asked " I wonder how many other ideas we have that Google will get credit for?"

Nonetheless, her ideas around constraints are something others have validated. John Hagel has an interesting post followed by comments around studies McKinsey, Booz Allen have done around why large R&D does not always equate to Innovation. So does this article -Money Isn't Everything.

The Big 4 software vendors spend over $ 10 b in R&D. Google and a number of CIOs I have written about in this category innovate much more with far fewer zeroes. With lean, mean teams.

Technology Innovation and Winter Olympics

The Torino Winter Olympics web site humbly describes its technology goals:

"When you watch an Olympic event in television it all looks so simple; you see the thrust times, intermediate measurements, partial rankings and final results. This all requires an articulate system. TOROC provides the services, structure and infrastructure for the Olympic and Paralimpic Winter Games. It also manages the timings to then develop and distribute results arriving from competition venues."

This Ziff Davis article describes the challenge in some more detail:

The IT team started training four years ago to build a complex system that mixes proprietary Unix, Windows, and Open Source software. Lenovo is providing much of the equipment, including 5,000 desktops, 1,000 notebooks, and 350 servers. Other partners include systems integrator Atos Origin, Telecom Italia, and Omega.

This InformationWeek article describes the reliability and security challenge. Over 100,000 hours of testing and 500 what-if scenarios. At the  2004 Summer Olympics, over 5 million security alerts were recorded. Spammers have become much more "competitive" since. 

But what an opportunity to show case high definition TV, new fangled sports health technology and so much more.

I wish I was there. But I would likely be checking out all the technology, not the events. Seriously. is Luge not a new web 2.0 start-up?

Top 10 Innovation Myths

Geoffrey Moore writes on about myths in the software industry about how to innovate more.

Can I add a 11th? We are more innovative than our customers. The thinking is we do R&D for a living and our core competence is the new product introduction and innovation process Yes, but do not underestimate your customer's creativity.  I have written a number of blogs in the innovation category about how CIOs at Hertz, the NFL, Steelcase, Starbucks, UPS and others take base technology building blocks and create magic.

Pricing your product more reasonably is in itself an "innovation". Instead of taking a dollar from a CIO and investing may be 5-10% in new product (since much of R&D goes to tweaking and fixing existing product) - why not give them the "full oxygen" and let them keep the dollar and let them utilize it for their own innovation?

Technology Innovation and the Super Bowl

I remember watching the 1988 Super Bowl in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I was on a project there and we were invited to a compound which had access to the AFRTS.

Doug Williams and the Washington Redskins scored 4 touchdowns in the second quarter which meant we could go to sleep early - oh, 4 am local time. But the broadcast did not have commercials - the reason 22% said in recent ESPN poll said why they watched the Bowl.

The Super Bowl since has expanded its live feed around the world. Everyone can watch how technologically savvy the game is, as I wrote in Technology Innovation and the NFL  But if you wanted to see the original US commercials too, you had to leave VCR or TiVo on at home. We have had "time shifting" for a while when it comes to TV. Record it on schedule, watch it any time.

Now along comes "place shifting". Satellite TV allows for watching the show on a Jetblue flight or an automobile. On the ground, there is the exciting new Slingbox technology (the company recently picked up another $ 45 m in funding) which allows you to watch programs from your home TV on your laptop anywhere you can find a WI-FI hotspot. At the CES in Las Vegas last month Sony introduced its response to Slingbox - its LocationFree Player Pak.

Of course, almost 20 million folks watch the game at home and invite 50 million of their friends. Reason to do some "furniture shifting" and bring in those giant TV sets - per this USA Today article aptly titled Rooms to fit any television? To enjoy in sharp high definition "every bead of sweat on Bud Light bottles as clearly as those on the players."

Finally, there are always those that enjoy the empty streets on Super Bowl Sunday. Here's an article on some of your alternatives for the evening. But at least be savvy enough to discuss the commercials at the water cooler Monday morning. These guys based around the corner in Hong Kong will allow you to download the MPEG4 files on your iPod. Especially if you plan to collect on the Bowl square sheet, likely a lot more automated than a few years ago so there is a little less "square shifting".

My pick: Seahawks by 3. I went to school in Dallas and still have not forgiven the Steelers for the 70s. Also, got to go with a technology savvy owner, much as I do enjoy watching Big Ben throw the long ball and Big Jerome rumble.

Technology Innovation and Restaurants

While this article is more of a prediction on 2006 trends in the restaurant business, I was impressed how technology is revolutionizing the restaurant business. See the opportunities for web ordering, PDAs, kiosks, on-line training, configurators (for more custom orders). This article offers more thoughts on technology to remember customer preferences and match foods with wines.

I have previously written about innovative technology at Starbucks and those on drive throughs here.

Of course, go to Silicon Valley and you still find a number of people go to the low-tech, but always reliable, Hobee's

Technology Innovation and Car Navigation

This is an update to my post Technology Innovation and Driving

Volkswagen announces it has been working a three dimensional navigation display using Google Earth.

The CES show in Las Vegas last month was chock full of new auto electronics as this CNET gallery shows.

With all those gadgets, I think kids are going to lobby to reduce driving age to 10. Come to think of it, they may be the only competent drivers for next generation cars.

Technology Innovation and President Bush

I was pleased to hear the President use the word "innovation" several times during his State of the Union speech last night (see transcript here).

Things I liked in the speech which affect us all as technologists:

a) Investment in Math and Science education

As I wrote on Monday, I was pleased to hear him say

"Tonight I announce the American Competitiveness Initiative, to encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science."

b) Energy initiative

"We will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy."

"We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen."

"Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

c) Technology in health care

"We will make wider use of electronic records and other health information technology, to help control costs and reduce dangerous medical errors."

d) The reality of globalization and the need to lead, not hide from it

"In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors like China and India.  This creates uncertainty, which makes it easier to feed people's fears."

"Keeping America competitive requires us to open more markets for all that Americans make and grow.  One out of every five factory jobs in America is related to global trade, and we want people everywhere to buy American." 

"Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it."

In line with what I wrote in China/India: Shouldn't we be worried?

e) Balanced immigration policy

"We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy -- even though this economy could not function without them."

"And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border."

In line with my views on immigration and also what Scott McNealy of Sun talked about recently.

I know folks will focus on the political aspects of the speech and people around the world still do not like him for Iraq and many other reasons, but for technologists around the world this was an extremely positive, upbeat speech. See also this article by John Chambers of Cisco on how to  implement and enhance many of the ideas the President talked about.

The State of the Union Speech

President Bush makes his big speech tomorrow evening. While he will recognize a number of people, big and small and cover a lot of ground in topics, I hear he will prominently talk about the challenge the US has around our science and technology talent. He will highlight the National Academy findings I wrote about here. Whatever your political leanings, that is something every American should agree on.

Technology Innovation and the Salvage Business

Salvage to me always brings images from the Jim Croce hit "Leroy Brown ...meaner than a junkyard dog". So, when I sat next to Jim Reilly on a flight recently and he said he was in the salvage business the conversation almost ended. Then he told me he ran a B2B site. And I figured it was near death like most marketplaces. But when he told me they held the record for the largest single biggest auctioned on-line item (over $ 25 m for 4 turbines) - bigger then anything ebay has ever sold, I started to show some more interest.

Jim is COO of a Houston based company called SalvageSale. They work with insurance companies, risk and asset managers. He has been spending considerable time in Florida recently with hurricane affected asset business owners.

2 stories he told were fascinating. One was about frozen shrimp which was rejected by a large retail chain because the batch had gone over its stringent temperature specifications. But only marginally so. In the past, the supplier would have sold it to a local salvage shop for may be 5% of sale price. But with the reach of an electronic marketplace - both in thousands of potential buyers around the world and "re-furbish" service providers - the merchandise was checked and certified free of e coli and other flaws, re-packaged and sold for almost 40c on the dollar.

The other was around an expensive server damaged in transit. Instead of going through the reverse logistics of sending it back to manufacturer, local "re-furbishers" re-certified the box and re-packaged it. While the original warranty was void, the asset sold for a lot more than it would have  - not to mention the reverse shipping and insurance costs were avoided. Again recovery was many times what it would have been a few years ago.

His site is filled with other case studies similar to this. What he was describing was the emergence of a "good enough" marketplace - where bargain hunters, but not real bottom fishers, can now get access to less than perfect assets. His site has stringent rules on deposits in to escrow accounts and dispute resolution - controls to satisfy wiring $ 25 million to someone you only know from the Internet.

The quality of the assets and the trust factor are bringing more professional buyers and sellers in to the salvage market. Leroy Brown would not begin to understand the word "dis-intermediation" - but he has to behave and pay a fairer price to win in this marketplace.

"The New Boom"

Chris Anderson writes in Wired Magazine a more eloquent version of my Florence during the Renaissance and Economics in New Florence

The one thing I disagree on - he ends with "most New York cab drivers are happily ignorant of what's hot in the Valley, just as they should be". That immigrant group is probably more aware than the average American of what is going on in Bangalore, Dalian and elsewhere in the world. The neat thing about the new boom is it's happening in so many places around the world - as I wrote in Florence above.

Gartner annual survey of CIO priorities

Gartner's annual survey of CIOs (1,400 surveyed with average IT budget of $ 71 million and staff of 300 IT employees) shows Business Process Improvement as the highest priority for 2006. Not surprising based on comments I got back from a few of them as they read my "process angioplasty" post.

Many of the innovative CIOs I have written about in the last year - Steelcase, Starbucks, others have focused on mobility, telemetry, predictive analytics, biometrics and collaboration applications. They have found huge paybacks from relatively small investments in those areas. Not surprisingly, those technologies get high priority. While the software industry keeps hyping up SOA as the silver bullet, CIOs rated that 6th in importance on technology priority. Another buzzword "virtualization" shows up 9th.

Technology Innovation, Human and Animal bodies

New Scientist has two articles in its Christmas issue worth reading (yes, last year - I  wish I had some of the superpowers below)

One is about things we would change in the human body - readers submitted entries on what they would "innovate" - all-day bladders, joints with lubrication points, pouches for newborns

and another on animal superpowers us humans would love to emulate - follow scents, decode ultrasound, resist radiation, re-generate  body parts,  slow down reproduction, dive to extreme depths, not sleep for months, see in the dark.

Hey, come to think of it Jack Bauer can do most of these...that hot dog!

Technology Innovation and Airport Security

Over the last year, Orlando airport (MCO) has run a Registered Traveler Program using technology from Verified Identity Pass, Inc. (along with Lockheed Martin). Using biometric cards, the participants in the pilot program average 4 seconds (up to reaching the X-ray machine) compared to over 4 minutes for the average passenger in the TSA line. In San Francisco (SFO) they recently tested the "Checkpoint of the future" using GE scanner technology - where you can leave keys in your pocket, laptops in their cases on etc.

TSA plans to roll it out the Registered Traveler program to many more airports starting this summer. Unisys and EDS are running pilots at other airports.

Enrollment is expected to cost around $ 100 a passenger - but if it catches on could drive new forms of biometric security around credit cards, laptops and other applications. Of course, it is also raising a number of privacy questions.

As the Airport Technology site shows in addition to the aging x-ray machines, there are a new generation of detection and scanning, surveillance and monitoring, intrusion detection and other technology increasingly in use at airports.

In the near future, we should be able to  print boarding passes at home, park, check any baggage at a self-service kiosk and walk to the plane without being asked to show our id's multiple times, remove our shoes, get to the airport hours in advance. Darn, just when I finally had that routine down pat!

Technological Innovation and Jack Bauer

Courtesy of "24" fan Chris Selland I saw the feature list for Jack Bauer's Treo - click to enlarge. I particularly liked the coffee feature. For the rest of us humans, going to a Starbucks with a standard issue Treo 650 will have to do for now.


Monster Mashup

Courtesy of Dave Berlind I saw this definition of "mashup artists" using ubiquitous APIs to build new applications on what Dave calls the "uncomputer".  I then saw this "Mashup Camp" (already sold out).  The creative prospects are unbelievable -and I was marveling at how far we have come from the initial APIs in the enterprise world and the ambitious Open Applications Group attempted in 1995.

But why just stop at APIs? It would be great to see other building blocks - RFIP, GPS, open source, predictive analytics - being similarly being mashed up to create enterprise applications.

Any one care to join me to think about a Monster Mashup camp on the lines above? Say, around Halloween?

IT Performance and Company Branding

Bruce Rogow, ex Gartner, writes an interesting article in Optimize on how IT can positively or negatively affect a company's overall branding effort.

CIOs who are a) innovative and b) articulate are a significant asset to their organizations. I have written about several innovations as at SteelcaseHertz, Jetblue.

Too many vendors market attention to their products and innovations. There is so much better pay back in helping your customer's applied technology innovation build their own image - then vendors can bask in their positive glow - and make future selling so much easier.

Technology Innovation and King Tut

I saw young Tutankhamun's trappings in the Egyptian museum in Cairo in the late 80s. A planned trip to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings (and his tomb numbered KV62) was cancelled, and the Cairo museum was the next best option. I remember there was so much stuff there (from other tombs, not just Tut's) that it almost seemed disorganized - probably like Howard Carter found Tut's tomb in 1922. 

This weekend I took some kids to the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art where Tut has a visiting exhibition (through April, then it moves to Chicago, Philly and London. The tour only takes place every couple of decades so unless you have plans to go to Egypt, this is a good option. One major missing item - his golden coffin, but there are plenty of other artifacts).

Carter had to telegraph his benefactor Lord Carnarvon when he initially discovered the steps to the tomb and wait for his arrival 3 weeks later before he could proceed to open the crypt. In 1922 that was lightning fast.

What would a modern day Carter have done? Other than sharing digital photos over the web with Lord Carnarvon he would likely have used a whole series of infra-red photography, sonar, 3D scanning, carbon dating and other technologies. This site has a nice collection of references on different technologies available to the Indiana Jones or Lara Croft of today. Hopefully they can avoid what Heinrich Schliemann, credited for finding Troy, today gets criticized for. Of course, if they want to explore Atlantis, a whole generation of other technologies is facilitating marine archaeology as this National Geographic article describes.

A big debate amongst the kids I took to the museum was how Tut died so young - around age 19. One of the kids, Sean, was convinced he had died from a blow to the head. A computer game he had played featuring Tut could not be wrong, Sean insisted! The exhibit in Fort Lauderdale pointed out that CAT Scans conducted last year suggest that infection from a leg fracture may have been the cause of death, not a head blow.

Of course, while we apply modern technology to ancient artifacts, it sure would be nice to understand how ancient technologies worked - like how the Egyptians moved colossal pieces of stone in their pyramids - and use them for modern applications. Hopefully, puzzles like that will keep Sean busy as he grows.

Leonardo da Intel

Intel which has fueled so much of our personal productivity over the last 3 decades is poised to expand in to several "business platforms" - health care, the digital home and others. As these BusinessWeek and NY Times articles show, the transformation is well under way.

Leonardo da Vinci was the original Renaissance Man because he so effortlessly moved from art to science to urban planning. Intel is poised to be something similar in the new Renaissance.

Location, Location....

This has got to be the most expensive real estate in the it and just admire the simplicity of the idea ...and if you want a piece of "Internet history" as he calls it, when I checked almost 30,000 square feet, oops, pixels were still available...

LARTE. Double Espresso.

After reading one of my posts, a gentleman who works on emerging technologies at a large MNC points out " The sensors/GPS/RFID devices will move us ever closer to the much discussed and desired 'real-time' enterprise - both in commercial businesses and in military applications. A great amount of data will be generated from these devices as IT literally moves to the shop floor, warehouse, sales floor, battlefield, vehicles, etc. Enterprises and military units that can take this data and apply traditional and break-through analytics to make sense and understand it all will be able to make process and inventory changes on the fly which should provide a first mover competitive and tactical advantage to those that get it right". Great point.

Einstein would salivate. The 4 physical dimensions - 3 related to space, and 1 related to time - embedded in streams of electronic data. Location Aware Real Time Enterprise (LARTE)!

Related note - interesting LARTE application New Scientist points out:

"Some parties die with a whimper, while some are swamped in the blink of an eye, all thanks to social networks and the cellphone revolution"

Probably related to something stronger than latte and about metaphysical dimensions ....

Web, Schweb - Enterprise Predictions for 2006

Over the last couple of weeks it has been good to see so many bloggers make their forecasts about 2006.  But - most  are about Web 2.0 - Google this, Flickr that. Of course, with Apple and enjoying a bumper holiday season, the focus on consumer technologies is only accented.

Much as I love Google, it cannot process BOMs for the average manufacturing company. Much as my daughter loves her iPod, it will not process insurance claims. Whoever does whatever with AOL will not improve supply chain logistics at UPS.

As we did in the last Internet Bubble, we risk making the Web and consumer technologies the center of the technology world. It’s the Gates/Plattner scenario again I wrote about earlier. As I wrote in Florence during the Renaissance, innovation is happening in a number of other areas which CIOs are actually much more excited about - especially at amazing new price points. Also as I have said over and over again this year, many elements of enterprise technology spend are grossly overpriced.

So, here’s my forecast for next year - good and bad - with more of an enterprise focus:

1) SAP, Oracle and Microsoft (around enterprise software) will have poor years as pricing pressure intensifies on core products and particularly on maintenance revenue streams. SAP will de-emphasize its web services talk and go back to focusing on applications and business payback. Oracle will go the other way and talk more about architectures as it masks the enormity of rationalizing its various application acquisitions. CIOs will increasingly question if all they are doing is subsidizing Microsoft's focus on Google.

2) We will see version 2.0 definitions of  CRM,  SCM,  HRM etc emerge which will a) redefine process coverage (e.g. CRM is more than SFA and call centers) that the market leaders have chosen to define the categories as and b) utilize appropriate, newer technology building blocks  - GPS,  RFID, RSS in the category re-definition process.

3) CIOs in many non-manufacturing verticals will tire of waiting for robust software solutions for their major engines (claims processing, trading systems) and more aggressively look at BPO options to support these processes. These CIOs, especially in financial services verticals, will pioneer attempts to leverage web 2.0 driven discovery and social networking tools with their enterprise applications.

4) An infrastructure vendor - likely Dell or Sun (as it tries to redefine itself) - will introduce infrastructure outsourcing at aggressive, "utility" price points to cover a wide range of network, database, desktop and other services. In its hype cycle for outsourcing Gartner defines infrastructure outsourcing as one of the most mature. As systems management automation and offsite, shared labor models mature, an efficient services "supply chain" becomes much more viable.

5) A generation of “appligators” will emerge - small systems integrators which specialize in innovation areas like web services or telemetry and willing to work with clients in small, intense teams. We will not be able to tell till 2007 if they are of a more modest breed than their predecessors, the Scients, Viants around the ebiz boom in late 90s.

6) Large US and European outsourcers (EDS, Accenture and by extension IBM, HP etc) will find themselves squeezed between a) private equity firms who want to take their valuations from 1 or 2X revenues to close to 10X many of the Indian vendors enjoy and b) CIOs who want price points much closer to what Indian vendors can quote. This will force these outsourcers to finally get serious about becoming much more efficient with automation, global delivery models etc. They will find Indian vendors expanding into horizontal process consulting and BPO (finance, HR) beyond their traditional IT competencies.

7) China will look beyond hardware and start to flex its muscle around software and services.  Chinese firms in these categories will start to raise significant capital and make small acquisitions in the US and Europe to acquire customer channels.

8) SaaS models will come under increased scrutiny from buyers about stringent SLAs and business continuity plans. In 2001, after the India/Pakistan nuclear war threat, Indian vendors  went through a similar spike in scrutiny. After last week's well publicized outage at, this will become a required due diligence step in evaluating SaaS options. The scrutiny helped Indian vendors mature - it will similarly increase corporate confidence in SaaS.

9) CIOs will do serious "spend management" around storage (due to proliferation of volume demand) and telecommunications (due to proliferation of mobile, broadband and other products) investments.

10) CEOs will start lobbying Congress to back off on the compliance burden and pressure their CFOs to significantly streamline and justify compliance spend. The SOX gravy train for software vendors and auditors will slow down.

This plus 6 quarters may buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks! A version customized by Zodiac signs is planned soon...

Author Note: carries a slightly modified and expanded version of my 2006 Enterprise IT projections here.

Technology Innovation and Santa

Over the holidays I got from a couple of different sources a cartoon which showed kids in line to make a phone call to a Santa "outsourced" to Bangalore. Cute, but Santa knows better. All he has done is outsourced his sleigh to UPS and his elves to

Amazing the logistics and technologies going in to the gift order taking and delivery business.

The core technology infrastructure at UPS is massive  - 14 mainframes representing over 30,000 MIPS, over 125,000 PCs, and over 80,000 DIADs (Delivery Information Acquisition Device the drivers carry). The site gets over 145 million hits a day.  The infrastructure processes 20 million packages a day between Thanksgiving and Christmas - most of them gifts. As this interview with CIO David Barnes shows, UPS is big on package flow process improvement and relevant technology like finger scanners to make their drivers ever so efficient. As this interview shows the payback is impressive - reduction of 100 million miles just in the US (they could use hybrids!), or 14 million gallons of fuel, not to mention labor and overtime. has moved ways past books (it sold a $ 94,000 set of diamond earrings this year!) This BusinessWeek story and photo gallery shows the order tracking and fulfillment process.  Scanners, sorting machines - pretty efficient. Interesting that gift wrapping and shipping is still fairly manual.   But the company's Delight-O-Meter - a metric tracking holiday sales shows pretty lofty numbers- 108 million orders this year.

Of course, it is not just UPS - Santa also uses Fedex, DHL, USPS. And it's not just amazon - it's L.L. Bean and so many other e-tailers. And Santa is even becoming good about taking "lumps of coal" back. Returns and reverse logistics are starting to get quite a bit of attention.

UPS has been running commercials where this guy enters a room titled "Oracle" and tells the goddess she is no longer needed for logistics and has been re-assigned to accounting. Not sure if it is a swipe at our friends in Redwood Shores, but UPS can afford to feel pretty good about its technological prowess. Santa agrees.

Forget Web 2.0...let's jump to 3.0

Phil Wainewright at ZD Net has been talking quite a bit about Web 3.0  - his term for the convergence between enterprise apps and Web 2.0 concepts - here, here, here and here.

He is to be complimented about taking to a more formalized level what I had mentioned about corporate CIOs adopting "business casual" user experiences and generally getting more hip about emerging social networking and collaboration technologies.

John Hagel has a nice commentary on Phil's columns here

I have three nits:

a) Most CIOs have to look at innovation beyond what is being classified under Web 2.0. As I wrote in Florence during the Renaissance they can evaluate sensor telemetry, more sophisticated analytics, open source etc. His term Web 3.0 may be too narrow a focus.

b)  He quotes the CIO of  Dresdner, JP Rangaswami in one of his posts. Technology is considered lifeblood so many banks spend 10% of revenues when the average manufacturing  CIO is lucky to justify 2%.  Also, Banking is pretty heavily custom built applications, so you do not have to wait for SAP or Oracle - backbone applications in many other verticals - for years before they release new innovation. Phil's suggestions may be years ahead of reality for them.

c) Finally, "enterprise 1.0"  - today's incumbent, utility spend eats up too much of IT spend. We need to crunch that spend before we can find funds for many 2.0 or 3.0 initiatives. Every time the large vendors deliver "innovation" they price it at a layer above the base, previous layer.

Nice framework, Phil...we need to get CIOs the money to do what you suggest and other innovations around RFID, GPS, and so much more...

Technology Innovation and Mona Lisa

New Scientist reports that "emotion-recognition" software used on Mona Lisa's famous enigmatic smile showed she is 83 per cent happy, 9 per cent disgusted, 6 per cent fearful and 2 per cent angry.                                                     

Not sure the Louvre will lose many admiring fans who line up to see Da Vinci's most famous piece of art - and continue to speculate for ourselves what her smile means. (I myself prefer the museum's huge Egyptian section).                                        

What is interesting is likely future applications of the technology -  looking at photographs or videos could lead to PCs that adjust their response depending on the user's mood, as well as smarter surveillance systems.

Let's not forget Japan

In all the noise about China and India, it is so easy to forget about Japan. Here is BusinessWeek with a subtle reminder - Japan's supaa ginoshas or super technicians. In fact, it may be their answer to cheap labor all around them.

Of course, Japan has also the most sophisticated, gadget savvy (crazy?) consumers in the world. They get pampared with gizmos us gaikokujin can only dream of...

Internet over Power Lines

WSJ reports Current and TXU plan to offer 2 million consumers in Texas Internet access over power lines. Could solve many "last mile" issues...

"Customers who subscribe will be able to plug a device about the size of a cellphone into an electrical outlet and connect a cable from their computer for Internet access that is capable of speeds that are faster than some popular Internet plans from cable and phone companies."

Brings more focus to what I have been calling Utility v/s Innovation IT spend...

Technology Innovation and Christmas Lights

Carson Williams, a Mason, Ohio electrical engineer who works for GE sequenced Light-O-Rama channels that control the 16,000 Christmas lights in this spectacular video (it gets better and better - keep watching. If you have problems with that site try here or here). So his neighbors are not driven batty, his music is transmitted on an FM channel for  drive-by viewers .

The music is from "Wizards in Winter" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra whose website says “Go into the street, throw a rock at someone, you will make them angry. The emotions of love, empathy and laughter are much harder to trigger, but since they operate on a deeper level, they bring a much greater reward.”

Quite a holiday gift!

PS - Dec 24 - Miller Lite is showcasing the video in their holiday commercials so if it looks familiar, you may have seen it here first!

Technology Innovation and Steelcase

This continues a category of posts focused on Innovative Uses of Technology for Business Benefit.  As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations.

While it modestly describes itself as "..a company dedicated to helping people work more effectively while helping organizations use space more efficiently", as you walk through Steelcase's campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan or any of its "work-life" centers around the world, you see innovation and creativity everywhere.  Steelcase is a global leader around ergonomic and great looking office furniture (its LEAP chair won a number of design awards when introduced in 1999). It also owns a stake in IDEO, an innovation "machine" I have written about here. Even its trucks are considered innovative and show up in photo collections like this one

So, it is fitting that Steelcase's CIO, John Dean is passionate about innovative IT projects. I recently asked him about projects over the last couple of years he is most proud of. He identified four:

a) WI-FI everywhere.  All of Steelcase's major buildings and plants have coverage.  Has had a huge impact on knowledge worker productivity - employees can carry network based and local content and tools to every place, including the cafe, through their laptop or tablet (John has been using a tablet for several years now).  Discussions are enriched with the content, decisions are accelerated.

b) Generating marketing graphics and manufacturing instructions from PRO/E. Steelcase wrote the modules using the integration APIs provided by PTC.  Impact?  Removal of manual replication of graphics and Numerical Control (NC) programs dramatically improving speed and quality

c) An early implementation of SAP's Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) functionality. The payback due to standardized processes, self-service and negotiated deals enabled by the technology has been impressive.

d) Putting GPS technology on the company's  fleet of trucks  (yes the ones  popular with kids and photographers) to speed customs clearance, improve traffic planning and tracking of delivery metrics

John's team has to support a business which offers its customers a huge amount of choice - Steelcase processes 40,000 order lines per week across its 60,000 product codes each of which has unique BOMs.   

That much complexity could easily result in bloated processes and technology. A big believer in "lean" techniques, John manages to find money for innovations by "crunching" his utility IT spend. Other than the SRM project, the other three projects above were small investments with huge payback. And SRM leveraged a previous investment in an SAP backbone implementation.

Crunching utility IT spend? It is fitting that Steelcase offers its customers a product called a "Crushed Can"....


Technology Innovation and Driving

In his debut book "Digital Fortress", Dan Brown (of Da Vinci Code fame) has a character named Greg Hale who has GPS, voice activated doors, and a bunch of other gadgets in his car. Granted he was a "crypto-geek" in the NSA but the book was written in 1998. In 2005, most of us still rely on printed maps and listen to FM radio in our cars. But technology is coming to make cars - and highways - much smarter.

Give GM credit for having pioneered "telematics" with its  OnStar service since 1997- a combination of GPS and cell phone technology. Remote vehicle diagnostics, auto-notification of air bag deployment, stolen vehicle location, route directions, even remote door unlock, and built in, hands free cell service. GM has been offering  packages of OnStar services free for the first year with many of its models. GM even informs its customers about the diagnostics and suggested maintenance by email

GM has also been experimenting with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology using wireless technology. It detects the presence of the others and avoids collisions by either alerting the driver of danger or by automatically stopping the vehicle in an emergency.

Of course, not everyone is a GM customer.  Mercedes offers TeleAid and Volvo on Call offers OnStar like features,  this BusinessWeek article talks about 4 technologies you can buy independently: Parrot hands-free calling kit to work with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones; Davis Instruments diagnostic  tool (if I had that I would definitely have challenged my last ticket!); Directed Electronics two-way security system; and finally the increasingly ubiquitous Garmin GPS navigation systems.

This Business 2.0 article describes the coming "media hub" for the car. Live traffic feeds, satellite radio and TV feeds, broadband web access from vendors like Alpine, Sirius, RaySat. With all these distractions the radar feature above may become even more useful!

Of course, established tech vendors do not want to miss our on this potentially huge market. Windows Mobile for Automotive is a scaled down version of Microsoft's attempts to be a player in the auto market.

The technology in cars will soon be matched with technologies in "smart" highways and roads. Most states now offer electronic toll booths like the E-ZPass system. In Florida, where I live 450 miles are covered by the comparable SunPass program. Not only are toll rates cheaper than if you pay cash, the fact that they automatically replenish by charging my credit card makes it really convenient. Many airports are starting to accept it for parking charges.

Highways are emerging which will use sensor based traffic management technology. Of course, with any public works projects, funding is tricky - but the promise of smart cars and smart highways is pretty exciting. Now we just need to make sure we can afford to keep fuel prices reasonable - more about those technologies in a future post.

BusinessWeek has a nice article in its Jan 16, 2006 issue on technologies becoming more of a competitive differentiator in car sales.

Wiki Watching

Near where I live we have a magical place called Weeki Wachee - the city of live mermaids. To most corporate users wikis, blogs and podcasts are as real as mermaids, leprechauns and elves. So it is good to see podcasting at Whirlpool, blogging at GM, wikis at Dresdner. Pretty quick adoption for 3 words that my MS Office 2003 spell check does not recognize.

I always wanted corporate gatherings to sing the Unicorn song more than Kumbaya...

Technology Innovation and Aging Workforces

Much recent press has been going to the next generation of technologists and technology consumers - social networking, mobile commerce, new media focus on the elusive eyeballs of the young consumer, India's young workforce (median age of 25).

Just as big an opportunity lies in either transitioning aging populations or continuing to make them productive as their mental and physical faculties evolve.

How big is the aging problem?

An article in Government Technology says "Sixty-four percent of Washington's workforce is eligible to retire between now and 2015. The figure for Maine is 59 percent, for Tennessee 58 percent, for Michigan 56 percent and for Pennsylvania 54 percent".  It is happening across the developed world. This in England. And this in Australia

Opens up at least 3 opportunity areas

a) Accessible technology

To allow aging workers to continue to be productive. As this National Academies Press publication shows as we age visual, cognitive, auditory abilities deteriorate that many technologies take for granted.  Steve Wildstrom at  BusinessWeek has an article on "Boomer-friendly" gadgets here - from magnifying text to speech recognition to tremor monitoring. See also  Microsoft's white paper here on the challenge and about emerging technology solutions.

b) Knowledge transition

Documenting and transitioning knowledge - capturing nuggets of best practices and industry knowledge, training the next generation staff - is another huge opportunity. Knowledge capture/playback, documentation and training software come to mind.  IBM Global Services has even established a practice focused on this. Offshore vendors have shown an uncanny ability to capture knowledge and transition it to their teams thousands of miles away, may with some re-positioning be able to help with similar transitions around aging workforces.

c) Keeping retirees connected

While there is obviously a whole body of technology going in to health care  (topics for separate posts) it is also nice to see the technology world focus on allowing retirees to stay at home rather than at care facilities - as in the Intel research and this Washington Post article about keeping seniors connected. For many companies they will continue to represent a useful. part time work force.

As we age, it is good to see technology allow us to offset our growing deficiencies and to allow us to continue to stay connected - and to transition what we know to the next generation of workers.

Technology Innovation and Flight Tracking

I still remember a flight in 1989 - Swissair from Zurich to Nairobi, Kenya. I remember it because the plane was being refurbished and the supposed business class cabin still had old, uncomfortable seats. As I tossed and turned on that redeye, I was glad for the live flight map on the big screen. It was an early version of the GPS-enabled tracking maps most international flights now offer on personal entertainment screens at each seat. I am surprised, though, the software and content has not evolved much in the decade and half since. Be nice to see it integrated with the likes of Google Earth. When flying over Isfahan, Iran, on my trip last week, it would have been nice to see a short film on the town's tradition of fine rug making (most folks are nervous flying over that part of the world - some positive images would clearly help) or of Vienna's coffee houses.  Or a super imposition of local weather Dopplers on the flight maps. 

On domestic flights, Jetblue and Song offer live TV and flight tracking. On other airlines, you can always carry your own mobile GPS unit. (Not every airline or every pilot allows its use - check this list). I sat next to a guy on a Southwest flight and his GPS unit fed his cursor as we watched the plane on his mapping software - it was neat to see the major streets of cities and towns we were flying over - not to mention our speed, altitude etc.

Of course, there is the good old fashioned voice information shared by the pilots (ever wonder why sound systems on planes do not seem to improve even as other technology does?)  I quite like talkative pilots, but in recent years seems like they talk less on planes and more via blogs! Also, they know their passengers are starting to have much better resolution maps and flight and weather information on their laptops in the back than they do up front! In a surreal experience, passengers on the Jetblue flight which recently had a landing gear problem watched live TV coverage of their emergency landing.

Flight information sharing has become far more sophisticated for people on the ground awaiting passengers (or departing passengers checking to see how the in-bound flight is tracking) - or aviation enthusiasts who just love to monitor airspace.  Most airlines now offer to page, email, SMS you about specific flights and show (limited) flight specific information on their web sites. Third party sites like FlightAware, FlyteComm, FlightView show an unbelievable range of data on flights in transit, airlines, airports, equipment etc. They report IFR data shared with the FAA. It is a bit spooky to see trans-Atlantic flights all terminate in the ocean short of Greenland but as the FlightAware site explains "For flights departing the US for an international destination, FlightAware will be able to track the flight until it leaves the US and then it will be lost with no arrival ever recorded." But overall, a nice service - FlightAware tracks over 30,000 arrivals every day. I was once waiting for a delayed flight and could tell the ground agent was just saying nice things to keep the crowd pacified. I could monitor the progress of the in-bound flight on my WIFI enabled laptop and tell the poor guy was lying through his teeth!

In a future post I hope to write about what the FAA, NTSB and other agencies are using technology to manage the complex air traffic grid. And keep up with UFOs which do not use IFR!

Most passengers love to watch movies or read books or nap on flights. I know Leonardo Da Vinci would be sitting agape watching the flight track in total awe of the magic of modern aviation - and do not feel too bad for doing so myself, especially when my laptop batteries have run out.

See this neat post from Rick Segal on how access to a flight tracking site enabled him to get a better meal before a delayed flight and an upgrade!


In-N-Out is a proud, family owned restaurant chain in 3 western states - CA, AZ and NV. Everything is delivered fresh to their stores and the owners have been in no hurry to grow via franchising, Their customers are loyal fans, including me. On my trips West, like one to the Bay area this week, I try to sneak in a sinful meal.

But the drive-through order took 19 minutes to complete. No, I do not carry a stop watch, but I had just finished a call on my cell phone just before I ordered and I checked the time again when I finally got the food. Here is another opinion about the chain - flattering, but again complaining about the slow drive through.

If conservative credit unions can re-engineer their drive-through processes, and a small restaurant franchisee can use techology to speed up the drive-through process, so can In-N-Out. Fresh need not be can help.

More economics in New Florence

More proof of the much cheaper cost of launching new companies (or technology projects) as I wrote last week here.

The WSJ (subscription required) runs an article on how newer entrepreneurs feel they do not need VCs. The article cites the Flickr example:

"Consider Flickr, the innovative online-photo service launched by a small Canadian company early last year. Like many Web start-ups today, it was built on a dime: Husband-and-wife founders Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake used cheap software to construct the Flickr site, eschewing pricey computers. Some gear, such as computer storage, was "about 100 times cheaper" than it would have been even five years ago, says Mr. Butterfield. It cost only about $200,000 to pay salaries and get the site up and running, he says"

Personally, I think this gets tech funding  back to a rational basis. Get initial funding from angels and early customers. But I would still go for  expansion capital and advice from VCs.  I should have followed that path in 1999.

But 2 takeaways from this. More CIOs should be funding their own "tiger teams". The larger vendors are definitely killing the golden goose given these new economics.

Software Innovation - Optimize Magazine Square-off

Optimize Magazine asked me to provide commentary on whether innovation is lagging in the technology industry, especially software. Here is my column. The opposing viewpoint in the Square Off comes from David Thomas of the Software and Information Industry Association.

My points:

a) we are actually seeing a lot of innovation - Florence during the Renaissance
b) CIOs are, however, in a dark mood as most of their spend is on utility v/s innovation
c) the big software vendors,  however, are only spending 15% of revenues on R&D
d) most of their R&D is going in to "tinkering" - as even Steve Ballmer of Microsoft acknowledged recently. Most of the innovation has come from smaller software vendors.
e) CIOs should negotiate hard to get an "innovation dividend" from the vendors and assign that instead to their own innovation "tiger teams" as I have profiled in my category Innovative Business Uses of Technology

Enjoy the cheap seats!

Technology Innovations and Prince Charles

Prince Charles in an interview with ABC News  said this about technology, "If you make everything overefficient, you suck out, it seems to me, every last drop of what, up to now, has been known as culture,"

"We are not the technology. It should be our ... slave, the technology. But it's rapidly becoming our master in many areas, I think," he said.

May be he does not realize how many classical composers are now downloaded in MP3 format. How many period pieces are available in DVD format. How museums and libraries are benefiting from technology. How WI-FI and WI-MAX will allow rural living to continue and get richer.  How even his beloved polo is being helped along.

The tech world needs to win him over. As part of the first generation of royalty to have grown with television and computers we need him as a fan...


Innovation by Re-organization?

3M has long been known as an innovator

But as this Business 2.0 article mentions "A little over five years ago, several top executives at 3M called together their senior managers in R&D to show them the not-so-rosy writing on the wall. The company’s annual revenues were stalled, and the new-product pipeline was inefficient and unpredictable. Groups of researchers had become too fragmented to develop ideas that led to breakthroughs or blockbusters. In short, innovation at the century-old American icon needed a reorg. Soon thereafter, newly hired CEO James McNerney -- a Jack Welch protégé who had been a finalist for the top job at GE -- tapped Larry Wendling, the vice president in charge of 3M’s central R&D lab, to rev up the company’s invention machine."

Reorg as the solution? Too many corporations reorg every few months. What is interesting about this story is how the re-org  re-energized innovation - the relevant kind that yields new revenues and profits.  Read on...

Tom "Passion" Peters

If you have ever seen "Mr. Excellence", Tom Peters present on stage you understand the meaning of the word passion. The man who made "Management by Walking Around" mandatory corporate behavior walks so much around the stage, you worry about his exhaustion.  So it was great to see this inspirational post from him. Even when you are dog tired (and God who would not be after a 76,000 mile trip)  what you are working on may be the most important thing for your client or customer...find that extra ounce of energy.

I posted this blog under the Innovative Uses of Business Technology category because Tom continues to exhort excellence, creativity, breakout performance. As I have written before CIOs should be pushing to get an Innovation Dividend and then doing their own applied innovation as Hertz, Starbucks. Jetblue and others have done. As they do so, Tom's zany, think out of the box concepts are just as important as building blocks of emerging technology.

Tom  is also a very generous blogger. Many of his prolific presentations and publications are free for download on his blog under resources.

I find it ironic that the Forbes tirade against blogs recommended publishers sue bloggers for copyright violations. Pretty soon - it may be the other way round. Tom (and many other bloggers) offer the world so much for free.

Keeping on walking, Tom!

Economics in New Florence

Wow can you have great taste and less filling? Innovation at utility pricing? Can you get to the New Florence and not spend your life savings?

See this story on Joe Kraus, co-founder of Excite in Business 2.0. Look the economics today compared to just 7-8 years ago.  Intel based hardware, open source, global labor, search based marketing, (and likely some software as a service). He says from idea to launch cost him $ 3 m at Excite, and only $ 100K on his new venture Jotspot.  Wow, even if the ratio was 3 to 1 rather than 30 to 1, it would be impressive.

I am even more convinced the bigger software and services vendors are Killing the Golden Goose.

Emerging Technologies: ExtremeTech

In keeping with the theme of Florence during the Renaissance, this is part of a series of posts around what various industry influencers consider promising - or in some cases over hyped - technologies. It goes way beyond the current buzz around Web 2.0. Some technologies/tools are available today - others are still a work in progress, and applications will take a while to be commericially viable. Not all may directly influence information technology, but as we know advances in most branches of science eventually impact others.

I liked the taxonomy ExtremeTech, a Ziff Davis site uses to organize its materials on emerging technologies

3G Networks- The evolution of wireless networks into voice, video and data. 

Bio Chips- Technology inside the body.

Digital Paper- Foldable, persistent electronic displays and e-ink. 

Digital Rights Management- The war over content, and the rights to use it.

eBooks- Publishing in the electronic age. 

Fiber- Last-mile, high-speed broadband.

Fuel Cells- Techniques and implementations of alternative fuels. 

GPS- Finding your way in the digital age.

Grid Computing- Distributed computing, thousands of servers, one Web site.

Identity Management - The pros and cons of warehousing personal information.

Internet2- How the next-generation Internet is being used. 

IPv6 -Tracking the shift toward the complex, next-generation IP addressing scheme.

LCOS- Liquid Crystal on Silicon technology, displays and enhancements.

Mesh Networks - How WiFi networks are being tied together into municipal broadband.

Nanotechnology - Enhancements in science, medicine and technology at the molecular level. 

Organic LEDs - The problems and potentials of low-cost, self-luminous displays.

Photonic Computing -Computing with light—instead of electricity. 

RFID -Dog tags for the digital age—the devices and the deployments.

Robots - The evolving robot, in automation, medicine, and the home. 

RSS -The evolution of content distribution on the Web.

Satellite Radios - Coast-to-coast radio, in your pocket and your car. 

Sensors -Without sensors, there is no detection. And with no detection, there is no control.

Smart Home - How technologies like voice recognition, Bluetooth, and Z-Wave will automate the home of the future. 

Solar Power- How researchers and corporations are using the sun as an alternative fuel source.

Ultrawideband - From Wireless USB to wireless surround sound, UWB is leading the way. 

VOIP -The handsets, services, and technologies allowing you to make phone calls over the Internet.

WiMax - Intel has high hopes that this will replace DSL and cable broadband. We’ll tell you if it will. 

Zigbee -Making sense of this cool-sounding technology for unwiring home automation.

Emerging Technologies - Gartner Hype cycle

In keeping with the theme of Florence during the Renaissance, this is part of a series of posts around what various industry influencers consider promising - or in some cases over hyped - technologies. It goes way beyond the current buzz around Web 2.0. Some technologies/tools are available today - others are still a work in progress, and applications will take a while to be commericially viable. Not all may directly influence information technology, but as we know advances in most branches of science eventually impact others.

Gartner tracks a number of emerging technologies - and uses the filter and feedback of its large enterprise user base - to position them on its "hype cycle"

While each CIO has different needs and comfort zones based on their vertical, geography, risk profile and creates his/her  own version of the "hype cycle", Gartner's list is a useful, periodic guide to the innovation in the tech world.

Below is the latest one they released in August 2005 and presented at last week's ITExpo. Gartner's terminology often ends up defining various market categories - esoteric as they sometimes sound.

Click on graphic to enlarge


Emerging Technologies - MIT Technology Review

In keeping with the theme of Florence during the Renaissance, this is part of a series of posts around what various industry influencers consider promising - or in some cases ove rhyped - technologies. It goes way beyond the current buzz around Web 2.0. Some technologies/tools are available today - others are still a work in progress, and applications will take a while to be commericially viable   Not all may directly influence information technology, but as we know advances in most branches of science eventually impact others.

Technology Review, asssociated with MIT, had this list in May 2005

Airborne Networks - An Internet in the sky could let planes fly safely without ground controllers
Quantum Wires - Wires spun from carbon nanotubes could carry electricity farther and more efficiently
Silicon Photonics - Making the material of computer chips emit light could speed data flow
Metabolomics -A new diagnostic tool could mean spotting diseases earlier and more easily
Magnetic-Resonance Force Microsocpy:  The promise is a 3-D view of the molecular world
Universal memory: Nanotubes make possible ultradense data storage
Bacterial Factories: Overhauling a microbe’s metabolism could yield a cheap malaria drug
Enviromatics: Computer forecasts enhance farm production and species diversity.
Cell phone viruses: Wireless devices catch bad code through the air and then infect supposedly secure computer systems
Biomechatronics: Mating robotics with the nervous system creates a new generation of artificial limbs that work like the real thing.

Keeping the US competitive

A wide ranging set of observations and recommendations about keeping US competitive especially with growing concerns about competition from Chindia came out last week from the US National Academies of Sciences. See the entire pre-publication copy of "Rising above the Gathering Storm" here.

Four high level initiatives recommended by the powerful committee (CEOs of Intel, Exxon Mobil; Presidents of Yale and MIT, 3 Nobel prize winners among them):

a) Ten thousand teachers, 10 million minds - increasing investment in K-12 science and math
b) Sowing the seeds - investments in basic research
c) Best and Brightest - incentives for Americans and immigrants and doctoral and other foreign students
d) Incentives for innovation - IP protection, tax incentives, broadband ubiquity

Now for some action...

Gartner on yet another convergence

In this post I challenged the Apples and Googles to win at enterprise computing. In this post I challenged the enterprise apps players to take advantage of the "new" Web.

At its Symposium this week,  Gartner had a whole presentation on the coming convergence of enterprise and consumer markets. Here are some of their recommendations (aimed more at their enterprise base)

• Get out of denial. Recognize the reality of consumer IT's effect.

• Don't try to stop it, you will fail. You can control it (and benefit from it) with education,and a realistic and pragmatic approach.

• Make it secure:

  Define risks and policies to address them

  Policies coupled with justification will work

• Learn from:

  Users — don't play cop

  Line-of-business people who work closest to consumers

  Children — if necessary

• Accommodate experimentation — create play zones for IT and users.

• Minimize controls for agility.

• The market rules — take advantage of it.

Look to the consumer market
You will get cost savings, but you will get far greater benefits in more unexpected areas, such as employee productivity, creativity and satisfaction.

• This trend is still in its infancy.

and here is their view on the major market vendors in terms of this convergence. Fascinating that they do not have any telecomm vendors on the list - since Verizon and others certainly service both consumer and corporate markets.  Of course by 2012, ebay will with Skype provide most long-distance over VoIP and Google will do the same with Wi-FI?:

Most vendors fall neatly into the enterprise or consumer camps. Those that have experience and understanding of both will have greater opportunities as the IT industry shifts toward consumers during the next 10 years.Companies such as HP and Microsoft have experience in both camps, although with extremely different areasof focus and core competences. Longtime enterprise stalwarts such as IBM, Oracle and SAP have the expected focus and bent toward traditional enterprise. IBM, with its services organization and ability to change, has an opportunity, but would have to make some substantial strategy changes to realize that opportunity.There is no shortage of consumer technology providers. Most of the successful ones have limited influence in enterprise markets. However, by 2012, at least one of the following will win new standing in the enterprisemarket: Sony, Apple, Motorola, Nokia, Thomson, LG or Samsung (0.6 probability). Increasingly, products will be designed more for consumer markets. Enterprises must be able to integrate and adapt these products to solve their specific business needs. Vendors that can provide professional technical integration services will have an opportunity. Those that have experience — not just with traditional enterprise technology, but also with consumer-oriented products — will have an advantage over those that don't.

Fortune Innovation Summit

In keeping with the spirt of Florence during the Renaissance I have recently written about, I just received an invitation to the Fortune Innovation Summit

As I read the agenda, I felt pretty good that I have already written about many of the companies/individuals being discussed (see links I have embedded in the  text below) and more - like  Hertz, Jetblue, NFL, US-Mexico Border and others.

So, dear reader just read about them here and send me the check instead! No, seriously this should be a neat conference:

"A practical look at the strategies, tactics, models, and mindsets top brands in a variety of companies—Adobe, FedEx, Genentech, HBO, IBM, Target, and more—are using to innovate their way to profitability, growth, and value.

Innovation case studies focused on categories of excellence: Products-Scott Cook, Intuit; Partnerships-Ken Lombard, Starbucks Entertainment; Branding-Horst Schulze, Ritz-Carlton, West Paces; Talent-Billy Beane, Oakland A's.

Remarkable insights into how visionaries from outside the business world—including LAPD chief William Bratton, philanthropist Mike Milken and SpaceShipOne's Burt Rutan—have found new ways to solve old problems.

Strategies from business transformation experts such as Blue Ocean Strategy co-author Chan Kim, MIT's Eric von Hippel, and Stone Yamashita's Keith Yamashita"

The New Medicis

Courtesy of Om Malik, see these posts on WIFI in San Francisco and rural Oregon. What is fascinating is the wide range of players competing and the creativity of the funding proposals. If politicians and conservative public sector executives can try this, corporate CIOs can too. They can complain about how much of budget gets eaten up by incumbent providers and worry about industry M&A -  but if they just start evaluating open source, offshore, rural, third party maintenance, SaaS, wireless, telemetry, BPO and other providers and challenge them to come up with creative funding, migration alternatives, they often will. CIOs can become the new Medicis, patrons of Michelangelo and Galileo - benefactors of the New Florence.

Ray Lane: "New Florence" tour guide

I have written before comparing the innovation and creativity happening in the tech world to Florence  during the Renaissance.

Ray Lane, Kleiner partner and ex Oracle President (and before that EDS, Booz Allen) is one of the few people I know equally comfortable with CIOs and venture capitalists. In the attached podcast he talks about a wide range of topics from Web 2.0 and social networking to open source and how CIOs react to some of this innovation.

He is a pretty credible tour guide to the " New Florence"...

Technology Innovation and Biology

Ray Kurzweil, the futurist, has a new book titled Singularity where he talks about how technology will soon allow mankind to "transcend biology". Lots of moral, legal and other issues aside, he brings together in fair detail advances in information technology, bio tech and other sciences.

If you do not have time for the book, you may enjoy his article Human 2.0 in the September 24 New Scientist magazine (subscription required - but only $ 4.95 for first 4 months). Extract below:

"We are making exponential progress in every type of information technology. Moreover, virtually all technologies are becoming information technologies. If we combine all of these trends, we can reliably predict that, in the not too distant future, we will reach what is known as The Singularity. This is a time when the pace of technological change will be so rapid and its impact so deep that human life will be irreversibly transformed. We will be able to reprogram our biology, and ultimately transcend it. The result will be an intimate merger between ourselves and the technology we are creating."

Technology Innovation and IDEO

IDEO is synonymous with creativity and innovation. Tom Kelley, General Manager, has published a new book The Art of Innovation which buyers and vendors of technology would enjoy reading.

CIOs have outsourced much of their R&D to vendors. An Oracle or a Microsoft spends just 15 c of each dollar on R&D. If the Red Cross spent just 1 out of 5 dollars on needy causes, we would howl but we have let tech vendors get away with little R&D spend because of the supposed leverage of their "common" technology.  But most of that spend goes in to tweaking and bug fixes, not real innovation. If CIOs could, on the other hand shave some of the spend and empower their own small "tiger" teams to apply basic building blocks of technology from RFID to WIFI - you would get the kind of innovations I have cataloged at Hertz, Starbucks, Jetblue. Huge payback from small investments. Tom's book is an inspiration and guide to such idea and team building.

Technology vendors generally assume they are in the innovation business. But there are few breakthrough ideas or products. As we have seen, if you get a flow of such innovations going like Apple or Google has, the market impact and overall positive branding is amazing,

Florence during the Renaissance

I spend much of my time helping CIOs reduce their "utility" spend, that sometimes I forget all the innovation that is happening around us. Then there is noise around "consolidation and the death of innovation" and "IT does'nt matter".  If you cut through the fog and the noise, we are really in the midst of a revolutionary time. This is what Florence must have felt like during the Renaissance with so much happening in so many technology areas:

"Mobile Internet" - see this fascinating presentation by Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley as she generates renewed excitement this time around the "new Web"

Open Source - when Kleiner Perkins shows excitement, it is usually a pretty solid endorsement for a sector as this BusinessWeek article describes

BPO - a growing recognition in corporations business processes need to be "commoditized" and the wide array of call center, transaction processing and knowledge work that is being done in India and elsewhere

Sensor Telemetry - somewhat high-faluting term used by Accenture to describe all the neat payback companies are seeing from combining RFID, GPS and wireless technologies

Software as a service - the excitement being generated by AppExchange from and the growing understanding of operational and financial success factors for the model

Digital content and new media - the realities of the on-demand, blogging and podcasting world and how Madison Avenue is changing - and changing us along the way

Analytics - a growing focus on the challenge of master data management and the promise of next generation predictive analytics

Security and Surveillance: All the stuff from biometrics to other sensors to basic security for fraud detection and intrusion management

I did not even mention web services, mesh networks, collaboration, storage and server technologies and a whole bunch more.

Here's what's really exciting. This time "Florence" is virtual. Open source excitement from Scandinavia, mobile commerce excitement from Japan, BPO from India. New media in the US. Telemetry payback in utilities and healthcare. Security payback in financial services and government.  BPO in insurance claims and mortgage processing.

And for a change, many of the technology initiatives do not require 8 or 9 digit budgets. You see this is why CIOs send me emails like this one  " ..more power to your elbow in driving out waste and excessive premia in our industry". They all want the "innovation dividend" so they can book that trip to the new Florence. Exciting times! 

Technology Innovation and Hotel Rooms

My former colleague at Gartner, Jeff Comport could get connected from any hotel room in the world. He had kits and couplers for various countries and if they did not work, the screwdriver went to work and a few wires later he was on-line.  I swear he wrote this post here. Needless to say he also racked up large telephone bills, at the rates hotels show in really small type.

Boy, have things evolved in last few years when it comes to technology and connectivity in hotel rooms as this USA Today story on Marriott's planned high-tech room describes. WI-FI, MP3 players, VoIP calls, wireless keyboards, satellite radio and electronics for kids.

Other chains are not slouching - look at Hilton's planned "Technology Room" with its Sleep system and advanced hair dryers. Starwood  innovated with its W chain a few years ago, and as its site says " W...for warm, wonderful, witty, wired" . Of course, I like the gyms and spas and the pillow mints that most hotels offer, but the wired part is especially important on a business trip.

Hotels have also used technology to make web reservations easier - and match rates with those from independent sites like Travelocity (though as a small businessman, I resent the fact that big corporations still get much better rates than groups like AAA which overall bring them more business) . Hyatt has check-in/check-out kiosks to streamline those often tedious processes. From electronic room keys to point of sale terminals in restaurants to computerized energy management systems to enhanced security, technology is making  hotels much more efficient and enjoyable.

In the USA Today article, Marriott's CTO Barry Shuler points to a future where road warriors won't even have to bring their laptops.  But knowing Jeff Comport, he will still unravel the connectivity board. And hotels will find creative new ways to "recoup" their investment in the technology.

The Innovation Dividend

Craig Mundie, CTO of Microsoft on a recent trip to India talks about the continuing US innovation lead in a global race.  BusinessWeek profiles SAP's Hasso Plattner as he talks about partnering with IDEO in rethinking design.

While it is good to see both companies think about innovation, they collectively invested $ 7+ billion in R&D last year. Not sure we seeing enough innovation payback for that much investment.

I have a radical suggestion for them. Like Microsoft gave out a large cash dividend to its investors last year, how about a "innovation dividend" this time to customers in the form of lowered maintenance or license pricing? I am seeing CIOs at Hertz, Starbucks, Jetblue and elsewhere deliver so much practical innovation with much smaller $ 1, 5 and 10 m WI-FI, RFID and other technology projects. If they were not spending as much just "keeping the lights" on - on the utility spend, they could do so much more on the innovation side and the US would continue to lead the world on innovative business uses of technology. May be time to "decentralize" at least some of that $ 7 billion R&D budget?

Technology Innovation and Hurricanes

Living in Florida is usually wonderful - but the price is the occasional hurricane. In recent years make that frequent hurricanes.  One of the most commonly visited web page in our household shows National Hurricane Center's 3 day "cone" - projected path updated 4 times a day of every major tropical storm brewing . The technology that goes in to this simple looking diagram is amazingly complex, as I describe below.

While Florida may seem a magnet for hurricanes, they are a global phenomenon (called typhoons and cyclones elsewhere). The wind, rain and tornadoes they bring are deadly and they are costlyCat-5, a term most technology geeks relate to, is disaster to a meteorologist. While we cannot begin to offset these natural monsters (National Geographic's August issue has a feature story on hurricanes), technology is helping track them, telling us when to board up or evacuate and then recover from their damage.

Weather Satellites, Doppler Radar, recon planes (the "Hurricane Hunters") and dropsondes all feed raw data on hurricanes.  I hate flying through normal turbulence - I cannot begin to imagine what the recon aircraft go through especially as they approach the "eyewall".  It has been described as "riding in a big semi going 90 miles an hour down a windy, bumpy dirt road in the desert at night, with the headlights turned off".  God bless these brave souls.  Credit also to the humble dropsonde whose only purpose in its short life is to parachute its way through these storms and transmit temperature, pressure, moisture and other data.  This raw data about the hurricane feeds supercomputers which work the tracking models. That is a plural. There are statistical, baroclinic and other models, sometimes contradictory on where the hurricane will likely make landfall. The National Weather Service computers can process 1.3 trillion calculations per second - and still struggle to make accurate forecasts. But they keep getting better each year.

Closer to where a hurricane makes landfall, local authorities use visualization and GIS technology to decide on evacuations and other responses. Local TV and radio stations are increasingly equipped with their own Doppler, PDAs, weather vans and other technology to allow their reporters and weather staff to provide localized alerts and information. The national traffic grid - affected by weather even in normal times - gears in to major action ( if you fly often see this fascinating report on weather impact on air travel space management). Airlines use their own technologies to re-route equipment, re-book passengers, communicate to passengers via their web sites, email, automated voice messages, alerts to cell phones and PDAs.

Once a hurricane strikes, FEMA kicks in to action using NEMIS to track claims and disbursements and other emergency information. Power outages are a common problem with hurricanes. Utilities are using technologies to detect where problems in their grid lie, and also to better communicate with uncomfortable customers without electricity. Insurance companies trying to expedite disaster claims have equipped their catastrophe field adjuster with a laptop computer with wireless modem cards, digital camera to take and transmit pictures to the electronic files; and cell phones to make appointments and transmit claims data. Remember, many of them are working in places with no power.

Which brings us to disaster recovery and business continuity plans the average CIO puts in place. But it is better to plan for the extraordinary as Jim Desjarlais, IT Manager at Lee County found out last year with Hurricane Charley.

Then there is technology to cope with household emergencies. We lost power for a couple of days during each hurricane last year. The kids borrowed my laptop and used it as a DVD player and used my APC DC to AC inverter to power the battery in the air-conditioned theater and hotel room our van got converted into . Technology to the rescue!

Talking about kids, they always want to know why hurricanes are named Ivan or Katrina. If you are curious about whether there is an order to male, female, Latin, Polynesian or other names check this out. You will notice that the 12th hurricane in 2009 in the Atlantic zone will be named Larry. If it comes anywhere near land SAP, IBM and Microsoft customers better have elaborate disaster recovery plans in place!

Author's Note: I started writing the blog on Thursday when Katrina was a Category 1 Hurricane targeting Florida. This evening it has grown to a Category 5 threatening New Orleans. The tracking technologies have worked and millions have been evacuated. However, this is only our 4th Cat-5 hurricane this century and New Orleans is already under sea level and has some very old structures. Also a number of oil rigs and refineries in that area may be threatened. Hopefully the Saints are watching over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast tonight. Tomorrow on technology will again help in the recovery. Link here to CNN's Miles O'Brien's blog as he battens the hatches in Louisiana.

Another Note: BusinessWeek has a nice article in its Jan 16, 2006 issue about technologies used to forecast hurricanes - especially longer term forecasts.

Humble Pie - served hot

I love to profile innovative uses of technology...but every once in a while for a humbling experience I go back and read the story of Mumbai's "dabbawallahs" - lunch box carriers...a Six Sigma operation with no IT support.

Read about their fascinating operation - at less than $ 3 a month.  Mailing a letter back and forth in a city by US Postal Service 20 days would be $ 15 a month.

May be because they did not need Y2K fixes, did not invest zillions in ERP and eBiz systems!

Technology Innovation and Vending Machines

Diet Pepsi is running radio commercials which spoof GM's OnStar emergency response system. In one spot, a person claiming to be a chronic "nail biter" calls for assistance to open his Diet Pepsi. He chewed all his nails during a job interview earlier that day. When asked if he has a coin to open the can, he says he only has dollar bills. The dispatcher tells him they are aware of his location and help is on the dare a low tech, beverage company make fun of GPS technology? Well, may be because the vending machines they are sold from are pretty high-tech.

In the mid-80s, a client told me a story about how his security firm was driven nuts as they tried to investigate outgoing calls from their building in the middle of the night. Their logs did not show any human being in the building - so who could be calling or faxing at those hours? Turns out it was a vending machine automatically dialing the distributor for replenishments. Since then I have been very respectful of vending machines. If they want to keep my money, fine. You may have heard the expression - "change is inevitable, except from a vending machine". I know they are smarter than they look. 

Vending machines have come a long way since their humble beginning selling post cards and books. Now you can buy h0t, cold, prepared, customized products of all sorts form them.  Japan, a country that loves gadgets has one vending machine for every 20 people. You can buy shorts, custom made business cards and insurance.

The Finns who love their cell phones (and the local success Nokia) figured out a way to use those phones to pay for vending machines - 8 years ago! In France, they have machines to charge cell phones. Coke has tested dynamic pricing - price of a can or bottle varies with the temperature (I think someone told them to research how yield management has ruined the US airline industry). A sure sign you have matured in the technology world is when hackers focus on you.

As this article describes, a whole bunch of wireless, GPS, PDA, electronic payment, data exchange and other technologies  are making the vending machine smarter each day - and enabling "V-Commerce".

Going back to the 80s. Remember when Steve Jobs of Apple recruited John Sculley from Pespi with these famous words ""Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?"

Turns out Pepsi vending machines have been far more high-tech than Steve gave them credit for. They have been doing "self-service" decades before software vendors like SAP introduced that innovation in the mid-90s. If they want to make fun of GM's OnStar, I think they have earned their technology stripes.

Technology Innovation and Xcel Energy

I am fascinated by how different companies are using technology to solve their "last mile" issues - laying cables, delivering boxes, scheduling field engineers etc. so I enjoyed this article about how Xcel Energy is using technology for its dispatch function ...but there is more.

What is interesting here is how the company pushed 5 of its vendors - IBM, Indus, SPL, Mercury and Itron - to more than deliver their packaged solutions but instead to work with each other and innovate.

This is encouraging because as I have been writing my innovation series and talking to a number of CIOs,  the feedback has mostly been the innovation teams have been internal and those teams have taken off the shelf (though early) technology like WI-FI or RFID and run with it.  When I asked one executive what role a certain systems integrator played on his innovation project, his answer was very direct - "We are the brains, they are the hands".

If vendors expect innovation v/s utility pricing, they will have to step up like these vendors did for Xcel.

Technology Innovation and Baseball

I ran in to one of my young neighbors, Kristin Martin at the sandwich shop today. She was all bubbly and excited. Would you not be if you had just won the Senior League Softball World Series? She plays second base for the Citrus Park (Tampa) team which beat the Puerto Rican team in Delaware yesterday.

Women have had a long, interesting path in baseball. Technology, in contrast, has not had much of a track record in baseball - especially when compared to technology in American football I recently wrote about.

You see, baseball - America's pastime since the 1850s - is nothing if not traditional. The only technology allowed in the baseball dugout is the telephone used to call relief pitchers in the bullpen. I think the Amish use more modern technology. While the NFL has tried variations of instant replay for two decades now, baseball resists (though see this speculation that a buzzer was used to alert the umpire to review a  play during the highly charged Yankees-Red Sox series last year).  Diehard Baseball fans still draw their heliographs on paper baseball scorecards.

Baseball is also full of superstitions.  The famous Curse of the Bambino supposedly kept the Red Sox from winning a World Series since 1918.  Wade Boggs, recently enshrined in Baseball's Hall of Fame, epitomized quirky routines. 7 out of this list of 10 most superstitious athletes come from baseball.

Traditional and superstitious - sounds hopeless for a technology salesperson. Well, not completely.  Unlike the NFL, which has salary caps and tries for parity, baseball encourages competition for players.  The payroll at the richest team is 7 times as much as at the lowest one. The poorer teams are willing to experiment to get an edge - and technology can help.

Baseball gathers more statistics than the census bureau. This has allowed for an analytical discipline called "sabermetrics" to influence many baseball team strategies. It was written about in the bestseller Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game by Michael Lewis, which celebrates the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane. Beane has managed to scout and recruit a series of inexpensive players and put several seasons of impressive team performance. Of course, other teams have noticed and have adopted similar disciplines and recruited Beane's staff. Many use scouting and player tracking software like ScoutAdvisor. The Red Sox even broke the "curse" with its help. 

Attracting fans through websites offers significant CRM opportunities. Major League Baseball uses SAS technology to analyze the billion visitors it gets to its site and to those of the 30 teams in the league. This allows them to share an amazing array of player performance statistics on their web site with avid fans. It also allows fans to participate  in electronic balloting of All-Star players

One growing revenue source is live, streaming video to fans.  This article is a fascinating description of how MLB is avoiding "channel conflict" with its TV network partners  and tracking each IP address  using Quova's GeoPoint technology  before they accept them as customers for the on-line service.

One area where baseball has used technology extensively is in player training. Technology to help understand the physics of baseball, to measure ball speed and other areas.  Of course, more basic DVDs and videos allow for sharing experiences with aspiring Little Leaguers as well.

Baseball stadiums are a hive of technology gadgets and innovations. They allow for extensive and interactive fan involvement, wireless deployment and a number of other areas. And of course, "sportstainment" - the elaborate use of sound effects and video technology that baseball stadiums have become famous for.

A few years ago, a promising technology was an Umpire Information System developed by QuesTec. At the end of each game the umpire was given a CD which analyzed every ball thrown and whether the technology decided it was in the strike zone as against what the umpires called. Questions about product accuracy and financial problems at the vendor have stalled this innovation. Not to mention it challenges baseball's tradition of respecting umpire judgment calls.

Some day, young girls like Kristin may again have a League of their Own.  Till then, MLB will hopefully offer them growing technology opportunities.  As Yogi Berra would say many will gladly take that fork in that road.

Technology Innovations and the NFL

This continues a category of posts focused on Innovative Uses of Technology for Business Benefit.  As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations.

""There are times when I peek into that dark office, and I swear he's not even awake...You see this figure, staring at his screen, looking pretty much like a zombie -- ". This is not a parent lamenting a teenage kid or someone describing their accountant at work. This is a NFL football player commenting (positively) about his head coach, Jon Gruden. Jon is a coach who religiously gets up at 3 am and watches a lot of replays. In his 20 years of college and professional coaching, he has moved from watching those replays on videotape to those on Avid products ubiquitous in Hollywood editing rooms.

Jon is constantly looking for every slight advantage in a league which has worked  hard to bring  parity between teams. The NFL is big business with each 30 second television spot in the Super Bowl costing almost $ 2.5 m to air. The average tenure of an NFL coach is just over 4 years, and the pressure to perform is intense

For the uninitiated (and just about everyone outside US and Canada) American football looks like a bunch of big men piling on each other, talking strange language like "hut-hut" and taking a lot of commercial breaks.  In reality, it is much more like chess - but each move has to be planned and executed in seconds, not minutes or hours. Also a NFL coach has many more "pieces" - 53 specialists to pick from for each play but cannot have more than 11 at any given time on the field.

Football is therefore dependent on statistics and rapid fire analysis - individual player stats, team stats, injury stats, opposing team tendencies, weather stats. While every major sports has a similar set of statistics, the NFL  (and by extension the college and high school football programs that are the "farm" system for it) embraces technology enthusiastically in every aspect of its operations. Here are some:

Talent development:  Scouts have access to detailed databases on potential players. The NFL facilitates an elaborate annual talent drafting and trading process.

Sports medicine and equipment:  See this use of RF "pills" and PDAs to monitor player temperatures given the risk of over-heating. Or how space technology has benefited NFL players. And the latest in sports equipment.

Game Planning:  Options for each play - offensive, defensive, special teams - are likely developed using Pinnacle digital video solutions and watched by coaches and players on DVDs and laptops. Powerboards allow for interactive simulation of game situations.

Game scheduling: At the macro level there is the complex task of scheduling games and ensuring logistics and interests of TV networks (with a $ 18 billion, 8 year contract with the NFL) are coordinated. To make it even more complex, the NFL is experimenting with "flexible scheduling" to allow for the hottest teams at mid-season to be profiled on prime spots on Sunday and Monday nights.

Game execution:  Extensive use of wireless and wired communications between the coaches and the players. Plays are communicated, others challenged, even more analyzed in real time on what went well, went wrong.  Referees use technology to do instant analysis of questionable plays. Referees also  get considerable digital playback on their decisions within hours of the game ending.

Stadium technology: Newer stadiums are being built with the latest in high definition screens and sound equipment and the latest in communications

Game Broadcasts and Films: This is of course where fans see the latest in innovation in broadcast technology. From satellite broadcasts to use of telestrators and innovative visual aids like the "first and ten" yellow line . NFL Films has state-of -the-art studio and packaging technology to bring games live and keep game  memories alive. It has pioneered availability of streaming content, and high-definition and video-on-demand content for fans.

Player community: Intranets keep players and alumni connected. Distance learning allows athletes to try and learn things other than football as they travel and relocate frequently. Their agents utilize their own tools to stay in touch with them and negotiate with owners.

Fan CRM and eBusiness: To stay close to its 75m+ fans the NFL is constantly looking for CRM innovations. Each team has its own website to keep fans excited and spending money on merchandise.

The ecosystem:  Of course, around the game there is the galaxy of blogs, chat rooms and betting and fantasy sites. And the "small" business of electronic games

While other sports like soccer continue to argue about technology, the NFL and the ecosystem around it loves it - even though the game is all about dirt, sweat, muscle and the elements.  As a technologist I would like to suggest this as one small reason the NFL is the most valuable and profitable team sport in the world.

Now, you VCs out there - may be time to back a tech company called "Hut-Hut"...

Author's note : August 13 -For you starving football fans, know pre-season is  back, but you may also enjoy Paul Greenberg's post about  CRM and the Green Bay Packers

Technology Innovation for Modern Columbuses

ok, so this is technically not about business use of technology...but what a marvelous story of the Hunters and their 7 year sail around the world 

The Hunters have benefited from a stream of technology improvements from the likes of John Harrison, an English clockmaker in the early 1700s  to more recent technologists like  Dr. Jim Clark, of SGI and Netscape fame. Not to mention all the innovations that help with "massive amounts of navigational, structural, and meteorological data" to compete in  events like America's Cup.

The chances the Mirchandani family will do something similar are pretty slim. My kids went to a sailing camp last month and hated it. May be as they grow up the Little River Band's words "The albatross and the whales they are my brothers..." will inspire them. And I will have won the Lotto.


Technology Innovations - US/Mexico Border Security

Naysayers see the US/Mexico border as nothing but trouble, but the reality is the truck and rail traffic both ways represents over $ 200 b in a year in merchandise. BusinsessWeek has a story - A Border Transformed on how the border is using technology to keep the bad guys out, yet not stifle the vibrant trade.  It must be the most high-tech border crossing in the world, far more sophisticated than the US-Canada one.

The article talks about usage of a number of new and established technologies:

a) Use of transponders to allow use of high speed lanes for those who qualify for the INS's   SENTRI program
b) Electronic Pre-notification an hour before crossing - using supply chain concepts behind Advance Ship Notice (ASN) EDI transaction
c) The Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program to pre-certify manufacturers, importers, carriers
d) X-Ray, Gamma Ray detectors to scan trucks and rail cars and portable radiation detectors

What the article  does not describe is the technology investments going into the trucks and the railways - the RFID, GPS Tracking, Route Planning and a whole bunch more.  Not to mention all the INS, customs and other databases and analytical technologies.

As the Taco Bell commercial says - some one is Thinking outside the Bun here.

BusinessWeek on Innovation

BW this week has a whole issue of articles on creativity and innovation.  You HAVE to beg, borrow, steal or buy this issue. Some powerful themes:

- " "What was once central to corporations - price, quality fast being shipped off to lower-paid, highly trained Chinese and Indians..."

"Increasingly the new core-competence is creativity..."

"The Knowledge Economy as we know it is being eclipsed by something new - call it the Creativity Economy"

and a bunch of innovation examples in the issue.

More ammunition for CIOs to crunch "utility" IT spend n their budgets and move more to innovation budgets. Kudos to companies like Hertz, Starbucks and others I have cataloged below which have already been using IT innovations for years to improve customer, partner or employee experiences.  CFOs, VP of HR and others can similarly crunch their own utility spend by effectively using BPO.

Two big gating factors in all this:

1)  the emotional reaction to global competition in the West as I have written in a series of posts on China/India.
2) vendor behavior. As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, incumbent utility vendors  are sucking up way too many dollars and continue to expect innovation pricing. If anything, the stampede to outsource may inflate those costs even more as I wrote in The Economics of cheap.

Keep on crunching...and keep on innovating.

Hertz: Customer Service Innovations

This continues a  category of posts focused on Innovative Uses of Technology for Business Benefit.  As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations.

Ask most travelers what the least hassling aspect of a business trip is, and the likely answer is that related to their rental car.  That may seem like a left handed compliment but given the joys of travel these days, it is a compliment. Hertz Rent-a-Car, now part of Ford, but soon to go IPO, is one major reason for driving customer service that the rest of the industry has to emulate. And a lot of that service comes from leveraging one technology innovation after another.

While most Hertz employees are pleasant, I love the fact that on most rentals, I can get away with a total of 4 interactions each averaging a minute or two with them.  I get on their courtesy bus and tell them my name. I show my driver's license when I exit the garage. I tell the attendant the mileage and fuel level when I return the car. I tell the shuttle driver the airline I am flying. Every thing else is automated or uses self-service technology.

Start with the web-site for reservations.  First introduced in 1996,  the site has evolved to support multi-lingual customers in over 7.000 locations around the world.  Given one way drop-offs, weekend rates, corporate discounts and an amazing range of cars and options, the site is pretty easy to navigate. You can print driving directions from the site (uses Microsoft Mappoint) or from a kiosk when you land. The kiosk computerized directions were introduced way back in 1984. Most competitors still only hand out paper maps, so I must admit I have cheated and availed of the Hertz kiosk if I happen to be renting from a competitor.   Of course, with the on-board option on many of their cars called NeverLost you can get GPS navigation, first introduced in 1995.

When you get on their courtesy bus, the driver has an Intermec handheld computer which allows him to relay on an AT&T wireless network to the garage which customers are en-route. That way, you could be coming in at an unplanned time and they still make sure the car is assigned and ready to go.  At the garage canopy, there are electronic boards pointing the customer to the assigned parking space - handy given the bigger locations have hundreds of such parking slots. They have the contract printed out and in the car. The garage attendant at the exit verifies your license, asks if you want to prepay for gas and lets you on your way. Many of the competitors still make even their frequent fliers sign contracts at 5 places in triplicates. Of course, they also try to sell you more insurance and upgrades you do not want.  From entering their bus to out of their garage averages 15 minutes, compared to twice or three times with many competitors. Of course, with WI-FI at Hertz garages, you can choose to stay and work on your laptop as long as you want - but it's your choice.

The cars themselves are loaded with technology (if you choose the options). In addition to the GPS mentioned above, Hertz has Sirius satellite radio (and likely soon satellite TV - Avis already has an arrangement with DirecTV), and DVD players handy for family trips.  (Caveat:  see growing privacy and law-enforcement concerns with tracking devices).

It is the streamlined return process which has always impressed me, and allowed me to catch a few flights I should have missed.  Attendants with their wireless devices and printers can process returns in the parking lot in seconds and allow you to jump on the courtesy bus. While most of the competition now offers something similar, Hertz pioneered this in 1987. The bus in turn is wired to tell you what gate your flight is scheduled for take-off.

Back to the web site.  Each rental receipt is available on-line for 6 months. Frequent flier mile requests can be processed on-line. Try getting retroactive credits with other travel companies  without calls and paperwork!

This is all the technology a customer interacts with. Behind the scenes is a sophisticated reservation and inventory management system, scheduling technology to optimize the pick up routes across various terminals at airports, maintenance record keeping for over 500,000 cars and so on - a pretty complex network.

Post 9/11, a number of airports have moved car rental garages away from terminals and also mandated shared shuttle service. Some of Hertz's innovations have been negated with this supposedly "equitable" treatment of all rental companies.  But given its track record of "firsts" in the industry, Hertz still is a shining example of how technology can dramatically improve customer service - in this case. by dramatically reducing the "face time" your employees need to have with your customer.

IBM's Innovative Electronic Workplace

This continues a  category of posts focused on Innovative Uses of Technology for Business Benefit.  As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations.

First a caveat. This is a post about a technology vendor. The webcast I link to below has sales slides for IBM Global Services. I am not endorsing their capabilities - more how IBM internally has leveraged technology to create an innovative workplace environment.

I first saw an IBM presentation in 1996 on how they had re-engineered their employee travel expense processing.  They had taken a very manual, paper based process around approvals, receipts, audits, reimbursements and automated it using fax, workflow, digital imaging and archiving and neural networks (for exception analysis). While those technologies seem ancient today and there are many packaged solutions today,  10 years ago, the  innovative use of technology had helped reduce their travel accounting staff 80% from 1993 to 1995.  "Innovation" used to squeeze their "utility" spend.

Recently, IBM presented its "On-Demand Workplace" at an Information Week conference I attended.  It is interesting to see to see how IBM has evolved over the decade several similar employee focused applications covering collaboration to training to provisioning. IBM says it has realized over $ 680 m in annual savings. The slide below shows some of their "savings" areas.

What is innovative is the mesh of self-service, portal and other software and hardware which has been leveraged in creating this electronic workplace. In a lot of ways it brings together its global work force of 300,000 + employees, almost half of which are almost constantly mobile - their sales and consulting staff. The payback from that common cultural and communication tool is, of course, much harder to quantify.



Jet - Cool Innovation - Blue

This continues a  new category of posts focused on Innovative Uses of Technology for Business Benefit.  As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations.

Innovation is what JetBlue oozes - since its birth just over 4 years ago  People make the point that if you are a start up, you have little legacy, utility spend to worry about - most of your budget can go towards innovation. But the US airline industry around it was not innovating much. If you go on a flight on a wide body plane,  most airlines these days show navigational maps on movie screens. I first saw this US  technology on a Swissair flight in 1989. I did not see one on a US airline till 4 years later. The airline industry in the US has been in a funk and just trying to survive, not innovate. Even Southwest, an airline I admire, was till recently a technology Luddite. They reluctantly gave up their returnable, plastic boarding passes after post- 9/11 security requirements forced them to. So, with this backdrop it is remarkable the technology innovation JetBlue has taken advantage of.

To start with, over 70% of their reservations are on the web.  It built its pricing, customer feedback, electronic ticketing concepts around a clean, simple Web experience. For phone reservations, work-at-home operators in a "virtual" contact center use voice over IP (VoIP) lines. They drove a paperless cockpit.  Pilots  use laptops to get FAA updates on-line and make pre-flight load and balance calculations. This 2002 CIO article catalogs a whole bunch of other small, but high payback, innovations. The company has evolved to try much more sophisticated technology - see this use of free space optics to help relocate corporate headquarters without too much disruption.

Passengers of course are delighted with some of the technology innovations Jetblue has delivered to them. The most popular is the DirectTV channels on each seat. No, they did not wait for Singapore Air to first roll that out.  JetBlue was the first airline in the world to offer live TV and, to maintain this advantage as long as possible, actually bought the company that supplied it with the technology. Then, there is the free WI-FI at their New York JFK terminal.

If you think all this technology innovation is expensive, think again. JetBlue says it spends relative to its revenues less than half the average in the airline industry. Now, that's cool.

Innovation - in Silicon and Ohio Valley

Innovation is alive and well in technology.  Kevin Werbach, formerly editor of Esther Dyson's Release 1.0,  recently finished his annual conference, Supernova. Tony Perkins, founder of Red Herring magazine, is hosting his AlwaysOn Innovation Summit next week. MR's SandHill Group Enterprise 2005 comes up in a couple of weeks and always attracts a number of VCs, technology CEOs and a number of fresh ideas. As you scan the agendas, compared to a year or two ago the discussions have evolved to facilitate "social networking" and leverage China efficiencies, but overall the mood is  fairly upbeat about new ideas, even in the face of talk of "industry consolidation".

As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations. And I have started a series of posts on Innovative Business uses of Technology, as at Starbucks or at the McDonald's franchisee. But the definition of innovation is quite different on Main Street than it is in Silicon Valley.

The technology industry is often not focused on practical applications of their stuff, and minimizing execution risk.  Two professors, W. Chan Kim and Reneé Mauborgne,  at the B-School at Insead in this NY Times interview summarize it pretty well "We should never see innovation as a random process. That's not the way to do it. Silicon Valley has a huge failure ratio. There should be a systematic, repeatable pattern that maximizes opportunities while minimizing the risks. "

The message is clear. Keep bringing out cool stuff. But cool, workable, usable stuff is much better. Listen, then innovate. Which means Kevin's and Tony's and MR's conferences will hopefully, in future, have as many corporate CIOs and CTOs as they do VCs and tech CEOs.

Innovation - Distance Order Taking

This continues a  new category of posts focused on Innovative Uses of Technology for Business Benefit.  As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations.

Look at this innovation  about leveraging technology  to streamline order processing in a drive through food chain.  What is particularly interesting it the innovation did not come from the parent McDonald's, but from one of its franchisees, and came from using well established technologies - in this case call center and digital photography related.  Innovative Business use of ITneed not cost millions - it is often about creatively using existing established or beta technology.

Star "Innovation" Bucks

This continues a  new category of posts focused on Innovative Uses of Technology for Business Benefit.  As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations.

Starbuck's HQ in Seattle and proximity to Microsoft and must help, but I am impressed at the number of technology innovations they have taken advantage of over the years to keep up with all the product innovation their stores showcase.

The most visible, of course, is  the availability of WI-FI in most of their stores. What is impressive is how far back it made its decision to do an aggressive roll out. Has it helped revenues? Numbers are hard to come by - though this post would suggest mom-and-pop coffee shops are also under pressure to offer similar services and the number of providers have grown significantly. Using my personal sample size of one - I looked up my T-Mobile Hotspot usage and in the last 9 months I accessed their network over 30 times at Starbucks in different cities.  I am a one-coffee-cup-a-day person and probably would  not have stopped at Starbucks without the WI-FI.

It fits in with Howard Schultz, the Chairman's vision of Starbucks as the Third Place  (the home and work being the other two) where you spend much of your time. And if you do spend time there, you invite friends, colleagues, you try teas, pastries, maybe linger for your second or third cup  - traffic and business increases.  McDonald's has the same vision - but its "store of the future" is still in concept mode.  Starbucks has a few years lead over every other chain.  Another payback from the WI-FI network -  the employee base in the retail chain is "connected". 

Not just coffee or snacks  - it allows Starbucks to diversify in to other product areas. Starbucks  is now offering music downloads at its locations and  by extension its music collection through an XM channel. Some day you may be able to order your favorite Grisham book custom printed while you enjoy the java.

Then there was the decision to roll out its prepaid/debit card in 2003 to migrate an already loyal, frequent customer base.  Also, the  use of RFID not just to track shipments but to validate supplier employees making deliveries at its stores.

None of this is "break the company" stuff -  the technology is relatively well tested and Starbucks has partnered well for most deployments with the likes of HP and Bank One.  It is, however, so well aligned with the company's overall innovation culture...

Technology Innovations for Business Payoff

I am introducing a new category of posts focused on Innovative Uses of Technology for Business Benefit.  As I wrote in The Giant Crunching Sound, CIOs are crunching incumbent, utility technology spend and freeing up dollars for innovations.

Here is an innovation at the New York Marriott Marquis. If you have stayed there, the biggest nuisance is not the noise from Times Square right below or from the massive conference rooms and lobby which stretch up to the 8th floor, but the slow elevators.

See how technology is changing that.

I hope to showcase more technology driven innovations each week. If you see some other delightful, practical, corporate uses of technology, please feel free to pass them on to me.

The Giant Crunching Sound

Recycled_cans_8 No, this is not a post about recycling cans. Nor is it about Ross Perot's view on NAFTA.

It is about how CIOs are crunching their "Utility" IT spend and freeing up more and more for their "Innovation" spend. And also reducing their overall IT budgets to keep their CFOs off their backs.

What is "Utility"? Broadly, any Infrastructure product introduced over 18 months ago, and any Software or Services offerings introduced over 3 years ago.  Most vendor  investments in these products should have been recouped. 


What is "Innovation"? See this gallery of innovations. Varies by industry and company, but it is often beta quality implementations of emerging technology, content rationalization or process delivery - somewhat risky, but nothing like the $ 100m write-offs of the past. And those with huge business payback for the buck. Yesterday, it was rolling out RFID tags and PDAs to mobile sales forces and WI-FI campuses. Today, it varies from more sophisticated tools to capture knowledge from aging workforces to predictive data mining to BPO in a number of areas. Tomorrow, biometrics and grid computing. Note - this tactical, but high payback Innovation, not that over-hyped concept - Strategic Advantage through technology.

Most incumbent vendors provide Utility support. They need to find ways to reduce their portion of the budget by 50 to 70% over the next few years

So if you are Oracle, think about annual maintenance at single digit rates, not 22%. CIOs, from their own offshoring experiences, know what Oracle has saved from growing its staff by thousands of employees in low cost markets like India.

If you are SAP as you seek large mySAP upgrade fees, be prepared to price your core FI/CO, MM, SD functionality at $ 300 a production user. You recouped that investment a long time ago.  If not,  you are encouraging CIOs to look closer at  BPO offerings which offer less maintenance/upgrades hassle and a lot lower TCO. 

If you are EDS or Accenture, learn to make money at $ 75 an hour, not $ 200 as you try to sell "transformational" outsourcing.

If you are IBM and serious about  On-Demand make it reflect Utility economics and service levels

If you are Sun, explain why you deserve a premium over Linux pricing

If you are Gartner, discount your research pricing on Utility spend by 75% and move to pay for results if you can help crunch the Utility spend

Internal IT staff - if you expect premiums and bonuses work on Innovation projects.

Yes, even low-cost offshore vendors like Infosys - quit dreaming of 10% annual rate increases if you are primarily delivering Utility support.

On the other hand, it should be great for the industry as a whole as money frees up for Innovation. More money for start-ups and for intrepid incumbents. Remember, though that the CIO is learning how to crunch value so 3 years from now, he/she will have Utility expectations of what is today's Innovation.

Even in the Utility areas, efficient vendors should benefit. As Southwest has shown in the airline industry, at fair, predictable prices traffic increases and you can fill 130 passenger 737s on routes where your competitors were flying 40 person commuter planes.  Well run Offshore vendors have 15 to 20 % better gross margins than US peers even at their much lower rates.

Also, may not technically count as Innovation,  if as a vendor you can crunch Utility spend even quicker - through use of open source, offshoring, blade servers, VoIP, shared services, BPO efficiencies, tier consolidation, magic, whatever - the CIO's door is open.   

Most CIOs are tired of jokes that their title stands for "career is over".  They are pushing to be repositioned as Chief Innovation Officers. Utility vendors - work with CIOs or prepared to get crunched. Innovation vendors - build your economics around dynamic products and controlled risk, not "lock-in" relationships. And yes, IBM, SAP, Oracle, can be both types of vendors if you just try...

"Cool vendors will drive IT Innovation"

so reads the masterfully understated title of a series of Gartner reports on promising new vendors in various tech categories..

Gartner has historically been better at covering vendors and markets as they mature so this is doubt Gartner is looking for research, symposium and other revenue from a new generation of vendors. It is refreshing, however, to see this in the light of all the talk around market consolidation (such talk even in the relatively young offshore market). Gartner's signature Magic Quadrants often help propagate consolidation talk - because they come out only once or twice a year they give a snapshot, static view of any market segment. There was some talk about putting directional arrows on each vendor on the quadrant - moving up, down, sideways. Consolidation talk typically helps larger vendors and discourages innovation.

I have an immigrant's optimistic view on this ...every wave of immigration (at least in the US) has made previous generations more productive...newer vendors do the same to a technology portfolio.

GE and offshoring

Till the Wall Street Journal wrote on March 23 about GE’s role in India’s IT and BPO success, few in the US appeared to know the extent of offshoring at GE.

4 years ago I took a client from a major non-US GE competitor on a due diligence trip to India. As we visited various vendors I started to add up likely GE project staffing at each of the vendors and did some  rough calculations. By my estimation GE had a $ 1 billion dollar a year advantage over this company through its sophisticated use of offshoring.

GE has been masterful in its offshore program and vendor management – going through waves of preferred vendors to keep rates in check, astutely picking up equity stakes in these  vendors to lower long term investment, tying its business unit CIO bonuses to specific offshore (v/s onsite) team metrics,  pushing its Six Sigma philosophies through its offshore vendor ecosystem, building parallel captive units in addition to outsourcing and so on. 

It is a remarkable story. GE’s offshoring rigor is a best practice other companies should emulate. Of course, there are people who take a narrow view of such offshoring. They need to see the other side of the coin - GE recently announced that 60% of its growth will come from developing countries in the next decade versus about 20% for the past ten years.