Chinese Device Providers Take On Security, Quality and Obscurity

During recent conversations with Chinese device providers, we noted three common issues facing the companies, as well as the strategies they are employing to overcome them. I wrote a series of articles for Brand Culture on what we’re seeing in China.

Security, Perceived Quality and Awareness

1. Security

2. Perceived device quality issues

  • Despite familiar, global brands like Microsoft and Apple producing most of their devices in identical Chinese factories with identical quality standards, many rightly or wrongly perceive Chinese device brands as inferior products. Much of this assumption stems from the conflation of hardware and software. A consumer familiar with the user-friendly, known-quantities of Apple or Google may be unfamiliar with apps and software from unknown providers and attribute learning curve issues to substandard hardware.

3. Brand awareness

  • Chinese companies have perpetually struggled with global brand awareness, though BrandCulture believes this will be one of the transformations we see in 2019. Beyond Huawei, companies such as Xiaomi and Oppo are not yet household names in most of Europe and the United States. Despite quickly gaining domestic market share, these organizations are still mostly known only among a handful of aficionados outside of China.

  • Similarly, escaping from the long shadow of Huawei is no easy task. As the clear front runner, Huawei’s sophisticated marketing strategy and brand dominance do not yet allow for much competition (see below).

Branding, Product Ecosystems and Seeing Beyond Connectivity

1. Mass branding campaigns

  • The central squares of many major European cities furnish a vast canvas on which to build brand awareness. Huawei has been taking full advantage. While absent in the United States, the Huawei Mate advertising campaign is impossible to miss in Europe—imagine a 12-story high, city-block-long facade covered with just one vinyl advertisement. The Huawei brand messaging often features a beautiful woman or couple floating gracefully in a lofty, European-looking art gallery, underscoring brand pillars of elegance, ease, poise and sophistication.

2. Building out product ecosystems

  • Following Apple and Samsung’s lead, Chinese device providers have been developing and deploying broad, interrelated product ecosystems. Xiaomi for example is on the third iteration of its miBand, a semi-competitor to the iWatch. The miBand does not compete directly with Apple or Samsung on functionality, lacking features like full texting capability or voice response. But the smaller, sleeker and more streamlined device still offers the appearance of a broad product ecosystem without overdoing R&D and production spend. Chinese device providers have also invested heavily in building out their app ecosystems.

3. Capabilities beyond connectivity

  • With an aim to diversify beyond connectivity, many Chinese device providers are also using their deep knowledge bench to develop broader technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, smart city solutions, etc. As a strategic pivot, many organizations stated that they’ll go wherever the market ultimately guides them, so we’ll be keeping tabs on this trend. That said, more than one device provider admitted, in confidence, that while they had advanced research on artificial intelligence and the aim to make it a central brand strategy, they still struggled with how to package those competencies into a commercially viable product. Stay tuned as what’s next in these emerging areas comes into sharper focus, but rest assured that Chinese companies are poised to claim their fair share… and then some.

Read more about our special China series below:


What's the digital culture of your organization?

I wrote an article about technology as part of workplace culture for Brand Culture.

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The digital transformation revolution has left few organizations untouched. The vague term is interpreted differently depending on to whom you’re talking, but a general consensus leads us to a definition of the integration of digital technologies into the everyday mechanics of how organizations operate, supplanting previously manual processes. A basic example is transitioning financial transactions from a handwritten ledger to accounting software accessed via the cloud.

Every organization’s digital transformation is unique; our focus is what BrandCulture refers to as the digital culture of your organization. In the past few years, we’ve focused frequently on this concept with our clients, seeing patterns emerge and revealing shortcuts that we think can be of great value. These techniques apply to all facets of the organization, from the onboarding period of new hires, to obtaining employee buy-in for strategic pivots, to simpler tasks like file storage.

Digital Transformation Versus Digital Culture

While some see digital transformation as a one-off experience, our concept of digital transformation is a mindset, a philosophy guiding the evolution of your organization and its client relationships over the long-term.

By “digital culture,” we refer to how your organization interacts conceptually with technology and the organization’s overall relationship to new tools, systems, ethical challenges, regulatory frameworks, etc. This is not simply the IT department’s decision to store data with an external cloud provider, but rather how the process of making that decision took place, the message that the particular choice of cloud provider sends to the market, the mental transition long-term employees need to move on from legacy software, etc.

Digital Openness

Our most important takeaway from our client experiences is the importance of inculcating a culture of digital openness.  This doesn’t mean you need to go buy a new CRM system immediately, but rather that you should be actively conscious of and receptive to evolutions in digital opportunity that could bring value to your business.

Although most perceptual shifts at an organization begin at the top, a culture of digital openness is inherently democratic, in that it doesn’t necessarily rely on depth or breadth of experience in an organization or sector; any one employee may provide a catalytic idea for improving your digital culture.

Digital openness is imperative, but the adoption of any new system will still require the prudence of a cost-benefit analysis in terms of both time and dollars.

What to do with Your Millennials (Or: “Can I Snapchat a Client?”)

Many of your youngsters will be at the vanguard of these digital evolutions, spilling over with suggestions, apps and platforms. While you should encourage this as it may foment an enhanced digital culture, laying down some ground rules that also apply to other employees, regardless of age, will serve to keep your friskiest in check.

There should be no pictures of clients on social media or openly maligning the organization online, for example. For many employees, platforms like Instagram and Twitter (apparently Facebook at this point is only for the aged and infirm) are so seamlessly integrated into their daily lives that the differentiation between professional/private can become hazy, especially if you’re in a visual business that benefits from that type of platform. In parallel, a platform like LinkedIn can be a powerful networking and promotional tool, despite any perceived fustiness. Talk with your team and be clear about what is and what’s not acceptable.

Concurrently, be careful not to alienate your older workers. Take into account that modern digital tools may take time for older employees to learn and may actually hamper productivity in the short-term. Aim to avoid losing out on their experience and accumulated knowledge just because there’s a new digital collaboration tool in the office.

Digital Culture as External Brand

The outside world will take note of your digital culture. Even subtle cues such as which mobile phones your employees  use (snazzy iPhone or basic Samsung J5?), or which platforms you use for collaboration (Amazon’s Chime is simply adorable, Cisco’s WebEx connotes functionality and seriousness but often frustrating, and Google Hangouts is, well, hanging), will be interpreted by the market. Maybe you’re Skype-based with Gmail accounts (hello, bootstrapped start-ups)? All these signals send digital culture messages to the greater world about who you are as an organization, so take time to think about how they impact your greater brand.

Digital Ethics

There’s been constant hubbub recently about data privacy, with multiple brand-reputation-affecting breaches such as those of Facebook and Marriott.  Have you thoroughly scoured your various digital platforms for weaknesses and understand your organization’s treatment of data? Do you have an emergency response plan in case of a data leak? If not, don’t leave it for an emergency. Some organizations are required by strict legislation such as GDPR in Europe to protect data in a certain way, while the rules are more lax in other jurisdictions.

Regardless of requirements, think about what you *should* do. Quick Litmus test:  How would you want other companies to treat your personal data?

Apart from data privacy, there are increasing trends in digital ethics related to freedom “from” technology. France, for example, banned work emails after 6pm, considering that employees have the right to disconnect digitally. Your digital culture may include the right for your employees to separate from their technological tools and reserve time for the things that really matter, like family, friends…and Netflix.

In Sum:

  • Digital culture should be at the forefront of your organization’s strategy, not an afterthought, and – different from a more short-term digital transformation

  • Involve all employees in digital culture development, not just the C-Suite

  • Appreciate the digital insights from your millennials and other tech-savvy employees, but set behavioral ground rules, and also don’t forget to be inclusive of your older workers

  • Be careful how you present your digital culture to the outside world

  • Digital culture comes with digital ethics- be aware of how your organization works with data privacy and also know when it’s time to press pause on your devices

Remote working as a cultural phenomenon

My article for Brand Culture Company, LLC about remote working focuses less on the mechanics and best practices and more on its benefits as a cultural phenomenon. Remote working creates opportunity for those unable to reach an office due to child- or elder-care requirements, disability, lack of transport, etc. and also helps alleviate infrastructure stress on increasingly-strained urban centers #remoteworking #flexibility

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Remote working is now an established cultural phenomenon. From a societal and organizational point of view, a successful remote working policy must be a cultural imperative at an organization, with an intentionality behind it that strives to mitigate factors that weaken remote-worker success, such as poor communication, a sense of detachment from the organization, inadequate or even stifling supervision or possibly even noncompliance with local work regulations.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of organizational remote worker policy, let’s take a look at the broader societal constructs that lead to and benefit from remote working.

The first point to consider is urban development and the increasing population concentration in urban centers, in the context of “smart cities.” Despite ever-increasing demand for and strain on existing urban infrastructure, infrastructure improvements and technological innovation are slow and expensive, ergo their delay hampers the accessibility of jobs in proximate geographies. Development projects in concentrated urban centers such as Atlanta and Los Angeles, e.g. widening central transport arteries at great expense, have resulted in increases in commuting time. In other words, the necessity of remote workplace strategies is vital to overcoming the challenges facing an increasingly expanding population.

The second point is the democracy of access. Large segments of the population not concentrated in urban centers with large, diverse, sophisticated job pools are challenged to find an appropriate match with their skill set. Simultaneously, due to personal circumstances such as disability, child- or elder-care responsibility or lack of access to adequate transport, another significant subset of the population is disenfranchised from an employment opportunity. Remote working affords this subset fairer access to appropriate employment.

The societal benefits of creating a remote workplace strategy include:

  • Access to qualified and affordable labor

  • Reduced personal stress on the workforce confronting the challenges of ineffective infrastructure

  • Reduced required real estate capacity leading to reduced capital investment and lower operating costs

  • Increased net employee family income due to lower  transportation costs

  • Enhanced life-work balance and wellness afforded by flexibility

  • Lower environmental impact

Consequent organizational risks are, however:

  • Lack of control

  • Lack of accountability

  • Lack of collaboration

  • Lack of interpersonal contact and connection

  • Lack of shared purpose relative to the broader organization

In sum: how do you create an appropriate model that benefits society and simultaneously allows you to manage an enterprise-size global, distributed workforce?

Remote Working: State of the Phenomenon

Most organizations- more than 60%, by some counts – have already incorporated remote working options into their HR policies, while nearly all have reviewed their structure to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of doing so. The blossoming of ever more co-working spacesattests to the increase in workers needing somewhere to park themselves in the absence of a fixed office. But some organizations haven’t taken up the model at all and a few have walked back existing remote policies and returned to a standard everyone-in-an-office plan. Is the latter due to poorly-executed roll-outs or perhaps because remote working as a concept is inherently flawed in some way?

It’s important to examine remote working policies through the correct lens. BrandCulture’s Culture Framework, which breaks down the components of how an organization can become a great brand, is a useful tool for dissecting how culture can impact remote worker policy.

 

Remote Working Culture Comes From Company Leadership

Remote working standards start at the top of the organization. We don’t refer here simply to the semantics of the policy, but rather to the overall organizational values that can support a remote worker policy. Leaders must assign priorities and develop a supervisory structure that inspires employees to hit their productivity potential while allowing workers the flexibility to live the benefits of not having to commute to an office for a set number of hours each day.

This C-suite decision process may, in fact, result in not having remote workers at all. In 2013, for example, Marissa Meyer infamously called back all Yahoo remote workers to offices, sending a clear message from the executive suite. Companies like IBM and HPE did as well.

The goal is an optimal mix of onsite employees and remote workers that works for your particular organization. There are whole lists of organizations which are completely remote, eliminating certain company overhead and forcing all employees to optimize remote working strategies. Some companies follow a hybrid model allowing swaps for remote workers during different periods. Some companies insist on everyone coming together for the first week of the month, for example.

One of our favorite quotes on the subject embodies the flexibility we hope organizations build into their remote working policies: “…help fight the stigma that flexibility means working fewer hours, as it often just means having the opportunity to work different hours.”

Communicating Is (and Stays) Key

Communication is key in any organization, but even more so when companies have remote workers who won’t have easy access to in-person meetings or even informal hallway conversations to exchange ideas or information.

We see two core best practices here: ease access to important shared information, and implement tools for employees to collaborate and engage. Technology has certainly evolved since Meyer brought back her team in 2013, and there are some great ways to stay in touch. Establishing a shared drive or another file manager so all employees have access to necessary information is important. There’s no lack of great communication tools these days, from classics like Skype to relative newcomers like Slack. Our main takeaway is to invest the time to research the most appropriate platforms and make sure the whole team is comfortable effectively using a unified set of tools so that information isn’t scattered across multiple platforms.

Certain times of year are symbolically important for communication. If you have a distributed workforce periods like the end of a fiscal quarter or the winter holiday season are important times to bring together your remote workers. We love the LessAccounting example where during the winter holidays employees connect as a group by Skype, favorite beverages in hand, and buy each other Christmas presents while the recipient is on mute. This symbolism-based activity has the ancillary benefit of helping employees get to know one another a bit better.

Rewards and Recognition

Regardless of remote or in-office, catalyzing employee engagement and performance through incentives and public acknowledgment is extremely important. Make sure to celebrate successes together and recognize employees who are doing a great job by designing systems and KPIs that reward employees for great work done remotely.

AT&T, for example, has a broad array of recognition systems, not simply just cash incentives for good work. The company provides education credits, paid time off for volunteer work and other benefits that serve to reward employees while simultaneously bringing employees closer to the company culture.

Environment and Symbolism

Companies go to great lengths to create particular physical environments for their workers (think all those fancy tech campuses). The intention is to harmonize functional, emotional, self-expressive and social needs but how to replicate that same feeling for remote workers?

We suggest providing remote workers, when practical, with some cultural hallmark that serves as a touchstone of the organization. This may be smaller swag like mousepads, company-branded office materials and coffee mugs or up to the same type of desk or chair they would use if they were in the office. Whatever the physical item is, it should serve to bring the remote worker closer to the organization.

It’s also important for workers to respect general rules of office decorum regardless of their physical location, especially if connecting via Skype or another platform. No calling in from noisy cafes, be prepared, on-time, with a good internet connection, free from extraneous noise.

Case study: GitLab

GitLab is an example of a successful, fully-remote organization, even while it’s prepping for a potential IPO in 2020. The company, which creates products for software developers, has more than 600 employees working remotely, including its CEO, and relies on a variety of capabilities for communication, including an internal YouTube channel with more than 250 how-to videos for team members, tools that allow for asynchronous collaboration, and a 2,000-page employee handbook.

Two thousand pages may seem excessive, but is evidence of how much the company strives to keep its employees connected to corporate values, operational systems and the like. It’s also clear that remote-working policies originate from the top at GitLab, given that the two founders met online and never even had a physical office to begin with. GitLab has faced some challenges regarding its policy, including convincing venture investors that an office-less company can scale quickly, but continues to prove that with a strong cultural drive and solid collaboration tools, a fully remote-working organization can be highly successful.

So, Is there a Consensus on Remote Working?

In short, not really. While technology has advanced to the point that information management and collaboration tools are sophisticated enough to allow for highly successful remote working policies, some companies have decided that it’s still better to have the whole team on-site, somewhere.

The key takeaway is to take the time to evaluate your organization, its needs and those of your workforce along with the principles we’ve outlined above, and see where you fit: all remote workers? A hybrid model? Or perhaps, none at all!

Big life changes! Goodbye to one job and work family, hello to another

My basic explanation of the Internet of Things

My basic explanation of the Internet of Things

After an incredible four years at the IOT Solutions World Congress, it’s time to say “goodbye” to the Fira Barcelona and prepare for a new professional challenge (more on that soon!). Having been with the hashtag#IoTSWC since its first days as a humble start-up, it’s an honor to have contributed to a project that’s revolutionized how we think about the Internet of Things and its impact on business and society. An outsize thank you to my director, Roger Bou Garriga, for his vision and encouragement, and to my phenomenally talented team and the support departments at the Fira, as well as our partners at the Industrial Internet Consortium Richard Soley, Bill Hoffman, Terry McElrath, and Kathy McCarthy Walsh, among many others. Special thanks to my wonderful clients, many of whom will remain good friends. I look forward to watching the project continue to flourish, and to celebrating many more successes for my team! #iiot #ai #blockchain

Technology and the LGBT Community - A Survey

LGBT money

The “pink dollar” was a phrase coined in the ‘90s to refer to the buying power of principally affluent, gay white males in the United States, the first supergroup of the LGBT community to be taken seriously by marketers. Typically with no children and substantial disposable income, this unexploited demographic was soon recognized for its attractive buying power.

With some first-mover trepidation and negative blowback, brands in the ‘90s began actively advertising at the LGBT community, initially in sectors like travel and leisure, later branching out to everything from graham crackers to beer to that most mundane of products, the mortgage. Nowadays most sectors recognize the heft of this pink dollar community, targeting it specifically. When marketers finally hone in on you for such banalities as home-owners insurance, you've finally made it.

What’s tech got to do with it?

In parallel, we’re in an era where technological innovation reaches the most remote corners of the world. Doubtless technology has brought untold benefit to billions, improving access to information, resources, community, and justice. Social media aids uprisings and election interference alike, and your phone can find a date for you with just a swipe of your finger.  

So what’s the intersection between the LGBT community and technology? Here we’ll see some examples of harnessing technology to bring real value to the LGBT community, not simply to have the Google assistant make their hair appointment.  

Social media for good (not just good selfies)

The most obvious, and millennial-friendly, example is social media harnessed as a platform for social change.

Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook all serve as important platforms for LGBT entrepreneurs and brands. The micro-segmentation of their advertising algorithms does tend to keep niche, well, niche, but never before have we been in an era when so many LGBT-owned businesses can enjoy equal access to broad markets.

One of my favorite Instagram accounts, for example, is called LGBT History, a pictorial review of significant events and individuals in the long fight for LGBT rights. Much of this narrative is ignored in traditional historical and educational forums like high schools and universities. The mere existence of such an account (at this point, almost 230k followers, with an active comments audience) underscores the relevancy of modern, accessible sources of information about the LGBT community’s history.

Another example is the recent Australian marriage-equality referendum. Social media was widely employed to galvanize pro-marriage voters, for example with a hashtag showing people mailing their voter cards.

Recognition and resources for underserved LGBT communities

Despite increased geographic, economic, and social inclusion, there continue to exist large swathes of marginalized LGBT communities.

The TGI Justice Project, for example, is a San Francisco-based social justice organization providing support and services primarily to incarcerated transgender individuals- a demographic which normally doesn’t have masses of funding and assistance directed at it. A classic grass-roots organization, TGI Justice functions on a small budget and offers legal, medical, psychological, etc. services to a population typically marginalized outside of the criminal justice system, but often even more so within it.

Imagine then, how Kickstarter, a digital camera, and hard work and persistence brought to life “MAJOR!” a documentary celebrating the work and life of Miss Major, an anchor organizer for the non-profit. Subsequently being able to share the documentary across multiple digital platforms and receive the much-needed licensing proceeds helped get an underserved and vulnerable population additional visibility and compassion.

Gay dating apps- community beyond mating

Tinder, Grindr, Scruff, and their peer hook-up apps get a lot of flak for boiling down the courtship ritual to a glorified call-and-response transaction. A closer look however finds a more nuanced effect.

Imagine you live in a remote rural region. Isolation from like-minded peers can create a particular loneliness that’s difficult to fathom, not to enter into the statistics on gay teen suicide. Imagine now the delight if just a few miles away someone else has signed into the app; you know you’re not alone.

A more extreme example is where the LGBT community not only lacks acceptance, but is actually restricted or illegal. It’s easy to forget much of the world still doesn’t enjoy the freedom to walk hand-in-hand with their partner.

Many friends from religious or socially-conservative countries in the Middle East, Asia, or Africa for example consider an app like Grindr an invaluable asset to help them identify others in their community. With this access comes associated risk, however, as in many of those same countries authorities create fake profiles designed to ensnare and prosecute members of the community.

Pink building blocks

My favorite example of advanced tech for LGBT good is the application of that newest and most baffling of technologies, blockchain. The LGBT Foundation aims to launch their own “pink” cryptocurrency with the intention to “generate funds for the support of members of the LGBT community passing through persecution, discrimination, and hatred around the world.”

Sounds great, but what does that mean? Imagine for example being able to make a bitcoin transfer to an individual trying to escape from an oppressive region like Chechnya, who wouldn’t otherwise have access to traditional funding, or choosing to support LGBT charities by donating via your “pink,” bitcoin tokens. Lots of possible applications, and still a lot to be sorted out, but a fascinating model with lots of potential.

Activists, capitalists, or both?

The argument can be made that yet another app or platform capturing LGBT data and dollars doesn’t help anyone except marketers- a prudent sprinkle of skepticism is always welcome. Are these folks activists, capitalists, or both?

Even if it’s the more cynical case- everyone’s out to make a buck from whatever community they can- my stance is that if even one LGBT individual’s life is improved or risk-factor mediated as a result of a new application of technology, it’s been used for good, and I hope to continue to see many more creative technology developments for the LGBT community.

Mobile World Congress 2018- Banana Phones and So Much More!

Nokia's banana phone relaunch was a huge hit

Nokia's banana phone relaunch was a huge hit

The kinetic bustle of the 2018 edition of the Mobile World Congress began to taper mid-afternoon last Thursday, after a non-stop week of product launches, keynotes, rabid networking, and general spectacle. There’s always a certain amount of FOMO anxiety at the beginning of the week, given the near-infinite number of people to meet and things to see, but I’d doubt any attendee leaves disappointed given the smorgasbord of activity to choose from.

That said, adrenaline regularly spars with exhaustion during MWC, as the sheer size of the event and its myriad offerings can quickly take their toll, this despite the superheroic logistical and organizational skills of the GSMA and the Fira Barcelona, the week’s hosts.

Indeed, you can easily spot the seasoned MWC veterans from their near-orthopedic footwear choices.

Ericsson alone constructs what’s essentially a complete city of 6,000m2 in one of the eight halls at the conference. I mean, you can see the thing from space.

My two fitness trackers dutifully reported that I scampered about at a decent clip, clocking over 50 kilometers in total- not bad for a work week. Also, it snowed! In Barcelona!

Amidst the swirl and twirl of 107,000 attendees and more than 2,300 exhibiting companies, a few trends stuck out:

5G Networks

Everybody talked about it non-stop. Disappointingly though, in an echo of 2017, there seemed to be more breathless exaltation of future promise than concrete use cases, at least so far. Regardless, large operators are trundling along with plans for launch, with many vowing to be the first/biggest/most robust 5G provider. Devices still don’t seem like they’ll be readily available until 2019- there were a handful at the show- so all this full steam ahead does seem a bit premature. That said, T-Mobile wants to build out 30 5G networks this year in major US cities, Huawei said it signed MOUs with 45 operators to offer 5G services, etc. Key takeaway: hurry up and wait. Let’s see what comes to the table at MWC19.

Tech For Good

MWC can often seem an abandon of tech worship heedless of consequence, focused on the next big thing and how best to commercialize it.

Increasingly though, it seems like real substantial tech is being applied to global inequalities, with progressive result.

For example, Kathy Calvin of the United Nations Foundation highlighted the issue of “the unconnected,” alluding to the world’s population still without internet access, and the challenge of bringing the internet to them. Referring to great swathes of humanity as “the unconnected” somehow elicits visions of a zombie-apocalypse army rattling the gates of the world’s internet providers, but I get her point.

There still remain significant barriers to internet access for huge numbers of people- not only affordability and the concomitant knowledge set required to really harness its benefits, but also, the relevancy of the content.

This latter point requires more attention- is there content, in my language, that’s really useful to me? For healthcare, finance, community building? If not, finally getting internet access won’t make much difference.

Also falling under the heading of connecting the unconnected, I spent some time with the team from MasterCard discussing IoT and Artificial Intelligence for payments. They’ve developed an M-Pesa system in Kenya for mobile payments that allows people in rural or underserved communities without access to traditional financial services to build credit. IoT takes an even more prominent role when eventually the ecosystem becomes sophisticated enough to be used to purchase transport services, pay to use washing machines, etc.

The World Bank and GSMA also announced they’ll work together to harness IoT data for everything from economic growth to tracking epidemics. Excellent.

Very happy too to see a robust Women4Tech program at MWC this year, with many female founders, CEOs, CTOs, CMOs, etc. sharing the limelight. Also excellent.

Emerging Industrial IoT Verticals

For industrial IoT, my one true love, I looked a lot for applications in non-traditional verticals. We typically think of hardware and platforms geared more towards manufacturing, transport and logistics, energy systems, etc. but lots of other verticals are beginning to flourish in an increasingly rich and diverse IoT ecosystem.

Turkcell for example had a new service in their Lifecell OTT system which they’re beginning to market to other operators. I spent a great hour with their guys learning about their IoT solutions for agriculture. Field towers with sensors for temperature, humidity, air conditions, soil quality etc. that can cover up to a football field of range increase efficiency and reduce cost and waste for farmers. Well done.

Turkcell had a great industrial IoT sensor solution for agriculture

Turkcell had a great industrial IoT sensor solution for agriculture

Wearables Exhaustion?

Wearables are generally more the purview of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas each January, but the theme still pops up at MWC. I had a great chat with a Finnish start-up, Haltian, which has been developing a beautifully designed silver-finish ring with embedded sensors that can monitor everything from heart rate to activity tracking to sleep patterns.

Haltian's sensor-embedded design ring

Haltian's sensor-embedded design ring

There did seem to be some sense of wearables-exhaustion though. With dozens of devices on the market metering everything from daily steps to sneeze frequency, I’ve heard backlash that people are ready to fling off their FitBits and climb their staircases in peace. I do think though that as the market shakes out and consolidates great solutions will continue to develop for at-risk populations like the elderly, individuals with chronic illnesses such as diabetes that need frequent monitoring, etc.

Also, Nokia Launched a Banana Phone- Cute!

In the absence of any really transcendent device launch from Samsung, Huawei and the like, Nokia continued to be a beacon of quirky, retro delight. MWC’s 2017 nostalgia winner was the relaunch of the Nokia 3310, while this year’s 8110 model was even more charming. I mean really, what’s more refreshing than a sturdy banana phone after you’ve cracked your iPhone screen for the hundredth time?

Uppity Sailfish Keep The Operating System Battle Interesting

Also, what? A competitor operating system? Bless the improbable longshot taking a go at iOS and Android.  The team from Jolla is gathered from a group of ex-Nokia staff, and developed the Sailfish operating system and a smattering of phones and an ill-fated tablet to go with it, but it seems that a few years later Finnish ingenuity just keeps on trucking, against all odds. It may seem bonkers to compete with Android and iOS but it’s important to keep the ecosystem diverse and healthy by having underdogs nipping about, especially when Android seemed to completely dominate MWC this year. Time will tell how much traction Sailfish gets- the Russian government implemented it, so there’s that- but you have to admit it takes guts to go up against such heavyweight competitors. The team said Sailfish 3 will be publicly available in Q3 this year. 

#mwc #5G #IIoT #Nokia8100 #Sailfish #Women4Tech

Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2018 – What I’m Looking Out For

Another Mobile World Congress is upon us! Last year’s edition broke yet another attendance record, rounding out at 108,000 visitors and occupying every last corner of the substantial conference space that the Fira de Barcelona boasts. The congress extends its reach far into the city over the course of the week, with restaurants, hotels, and hot nightspots teeming over with visitors and booked out far in advance.

For the last several years I’ve been lucky to visit firsthand as an attendee, first during business school at ESADE and now representing the IoT Solutions World Congress. My team and I will be there with our partner, the Industrial Internet Consortium, and will meet with industrial IoT companies, tech clusters, governmental organizations, etc. developing projects in the sector.

No matter what your goals are for MWC, the week inevitably results in an exhausting but very fulfilling experience. As part of the noisiest mobile gathering globally, every organization that participates is vying for a snippet of your attention; indeed many organizations reserve their most important and creative launches for Mobile World Congress, so it’s worth keeping an eye open for upcoming trends and new players in lots of different verticals.

That said, one can’t be everywhere at once, so each year I narrow down a list of a few curated highlights that I’d really like to focus on.

Last year’s MWC theme was a slightly ambiguous “The Next Element,” while this year’s is “Creating a Better Future,” which seems marginally more concrete. There does appear to portend a focus for 2018 on the transformational capabilities of certain technologies, for example 5G and AI.

Some major themes I’ll be sniffing around:

5G Networks

Last year there was a lot of buzz around 5G proofs-of-concept, with much effort devoted to simply explaining what the new standard might do for networks and hypothesizing the verticals that could consequently see the most benefit.

From what I’ve seen, some early 5G-connected devices will be on show, and companies will bring use cases for everything from first network rollout plans to consumer IoT to more mature enterprise solutions. I’m curious to see how genuinely commercial the products and services on offer are, as opposed to still in concept mode.

Artificial Intelligence

This is by far my favorite theme for MWC18. Artificial Intelligence will be omnipresent across all verticals, platforms, devices; you name it. There seems to be equal push for both consumer and enterprise AI, while in the case of IoT by comparison, the wow-factor will be weighted on the enterprise side.

As usual with AI, performance boasts need to be taken with a measure of skepticism, since reciting out a weather forecast isn’t nearly as complicated as, say, getting a device’s AI assistant to determine which type of flowers to send to a friend, or more complex behavioral algorithms or machine learning, for example.

Regardless, many companies will be peddling their AI wares at MWC so I’ll stop by a few places like LG for example, meant to be doing AI in its mobile devices. Curious to see how it compares with the Siri-Alexa-Cortana sisterhood. I’ll also look to see who’s working on the nexus of blockchain, industrial IoT, and AI.

Net Neutrality

More political than almost any other topic at MWC18, net neutrality will definitely elicit some strong opinions this year. The subject continues to tumble around regulatory circles with combative legal pushes from both tech heavy-hitters and consumer groups.

Ajit Pai from the FCC (now under investigation for corruption charges) is still scheduled to attend MWC after skipping CES in Las Vegas last month due to death threats over net neutrality. I’m not expecting that anything truly tectonic will be negotiated during MWC, but there should still be some interesting conversations regardless.

Smartphones Galore

Both Samsung and Huawei were reported to be presenting new top-of-the-line models at this year’s MWC. I’ll definitely try to get some time with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+, if I can wiggle in among the crowds. Huawei seems to have backed off a launch of its new P-series but perhaps we’ll have a last-minute surprise. Other groups presenting new devices are said to be Asus, Sony and Lenovo, for example, so I’ll keep an eye out for that.  

I expect some hallway chatter too about whether all the fuss around 5G might actually hinder device sales, as consumers and enterprise purchasers potentially forego investment decisions until they see which devices will be 5G-capable.

What’s Coming From China?

Both myself and the IoT Solutions World Congress are looking east lately. After a fascinating visit to Shanghai and the World Internet Conference in WuZhen last December, I’m interested in seeing what China brings to the MWC table this year. I’m looking forward to closer inspection of Huawei, AliBaba, Baidu, China Mobile, and a gaggle of smaller players to see what’s coming down the pipeline. Huawei and Baidu for example recently signed a deal to co-create a new artificial intelligence platform, which may have some interesting pre-promotion.

How to Protect Teddy Bears Using IoT, Blockchain, and Artificial Intelligence

Teddy bear photo.JPG

Love Your Teddy Bear

Imagine I buy my young nephew a giant teddy bear, as big as a house (I’m an overzealous uncle). My nephew adores this teddy bear- its eyes light up, it makes sounds, the limbs move- its nose is even a little wet. But we’ve noticed that this teddy bear, like any loveable object, sometimes needs a little TLC. Clearly we want to maintain our expensive, intricate teddy bear in optimal condition- but how? Obviously- the nexus of blockchain, the Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence!

Blockchain, IoT, and AI - The Basics

Let’s unpack this for a minute:

The peripatetic zig-zags in the value of bitcoin, the principal financial application of blockchain, are big news lately. However many of us, myself included, are only just beginning to fathom the tremendous potential this technology has to disrupt numerous other industries.

Currently, financial services such as new cryptocurrencies secure the majority of headlines, but dozens of additional applications of blockchain are in development.

IoT is another hot-topic sector undergoing rapid expansion. Sensors provide us with all sorts of important information- temperature, humidity, geolocation, pressure, etc. –subsequently allowing us to monitor and maintain all sorts of objects.

Finally, who doesn’t love the idea of artificial intelligence? Probably the most accessible of the three technologies, the stuff of Hollywood sounds a lot more fun- conversant robots, giant interactive brains, computers that can sort your socks, etc.

How Can Blockchain Help IoT?

Let’s start with IoT- industrial IoT places huge numbers of sensors on all kinds of objects, from oil pipelines to airports to bus fleets to healthcare equipment. The astounding number of verticals was initially associated with sectors such as manufacturing or transport and logistics, but is now reaching areas such as agriculture and retail, for example.

These sensors produce a huge amount of information, hence everyone’s “big data”- fantastic, but with its own complications: as IoT networks grow, they become increasingly decentralized. As well, security becomes a real issue, in particular for sensitive systems like public electric grids or private healthcare data. The amount of space required to store the data increases exponentially, and then once it’s stored, how to access it quickly? Who has permission to use the data, when, and from where?

Here’s where blockchain can help.

Since blockchain provides a secure, distributed, permanent, time-stamped system for storing data, the convergence with IoT is logical.

Blockchain makes it easy to safeguard IoT data, difficult to tamper with, and efficiently accessible, through its system of data “blocks,” built one on top of another, much like a digital transaction ledger.

Great, so we have all our IoT data, now being managed nicely by blockchain. But how can we harness that data, to help us make predictions, even decisions?

A Complete Teddy Maintenance System

Back to our giant teddy bear for a minute. Before IoT, teddy-repair engineers had to check manually for cracks, breakdowns, defects, and other problems and were necessarily reactive versus proactive. Often an issue wasn’t noticed until it was too late, e.g. a weak seam followed by a large tear led to lots of bear-stuffing falling out. Imagine the environmental damage.

With the mass deployment of sensors in IoT ecosystems, it has become infinitely easier to detect problems and address them quickly. Now, a sensor notices pressure strain on the seam, sends out a maintenance ping, and a technician can make a repair before there’s a leak.

Artificial Intelligence and other analytics take it one step further by exposing patterns and shapes in the data, allowing us to make suppositions about why something happened.

For teddy, imagine we can correlate that every time the temperature drops below a certain threshold in winter, microcracks appear in the mechanism that makes the teddy’s eyes light up when it registers my nephew’s voice, exacerbating until finally the mechanism breaks and the eyes cease to illuminate.

Combining IoT and Artificial Intelligence, we can now be predictive, aggregate with other data sets, and make hypotheses, e.g. “each time the temperature drops below 2 degrees Celsius, and a winter storm accretes ice on teddy’s face, and winds reach 60km/hour, there’s an 80% probability that a microcrack will form on the illumination mechanism.”

Taking it one step further, we can apply additional analysis with an area known as Cognitive Systems.

Not to complicate things too much, as there’s a lot of overlap between Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Systems and still-fluctuating definitions, but the basic premise is that Cognitive Systems are tools that go beyond Artificial Intelligence, to allow us to make even more “human,” rational, reasoned decisions using data, and enable us not only to be descriptive and predictive, but prescriptive, as well.

Back to our teddy, this could mean combining multiple data sets accessed from blockchain-stored weather information, teddy sensor data, mechanical stress-test results, engineering updates, repair time logs, and cost estimates, etc. to output the best decision for next steps, with a result similar to what very sophisticated human reasoning might eventually arrive at.

For example, engineers may initially postulate that the best teddy-lighting solution is to apply a protective coating to the illumination mechanism, however Cognitive Systems could reveal that it’s actually more cost-efficient, with better long-term effectiveness, and lower illumination-downtime simply to build some type of protective structure around the mechanism’s most sensitive components.

In Sum

Who produces all this data? IoT. Who protects it and stores it well? Blockchain. Who can help us figure out what might happen next? Artificial Intelligence. And who can help us decide the best course of action? Cognitive Systems. All resulting in one happy nephew which, at the end of the day, is the only thing that counts. 

What did I see at the World Internet Conference in China?

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China is definitely booming, nowhere more so than last week at the World Internet Conference and Internet of Light Expo in WuZhen, China.

WuZhen is often referenced as a weekend escape for megalopolis-fatigued Shanghai residents, a restful palatte of sky-reflecting canals and traditional Chinese buildings, with a history dating hundreds of years.

Not so this week, when the city transforms into a full-throttle international summit on the state of the internet.

I was invited to represent the IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, and to meet with Chinese government officials and companies to discuss the development of the industrial Internet of Things sector. I’d done some research into the conference before arriving, but initial information was limited, coy almost. The Cyberspace Administration of China promised high-level government officials and tech icons, but the agenda was only loosely descriptive.

My Shanghai-born seatmate on the flight to China, who seemed impressed that I was going to the summit, highlighted that this was, in fact, a big deal, at least domestically. Her casual shrug and comment when I asked her if China was proud to have developed the conference: “Where best to do something this big than in a country that can build a city in a day?”

She wasn’t kidding. On the ride into WuZhen from Shanghai, multiple security stops underscored what one fellow attendee later referred to as “Fortress WuZhen.” Security began kilometers outside of town; at one point the car was stopped on the highway and I was told to get out, walk to an outbuilding brimming with police and military, and submit myself and my luggage to a full examination.

That’s when I noticed that the entire structure, from the buildings to the road-block barriers to the landscaping, was all newly-constructed. As in, even the soil surrounding the trees and plants was still fresh.

The first order of business at the hotel was checking connectivity- Gmail ok on my phone but not my laptop; Outlook and WhatsApp functional; Google Maps fine but Google search, no; Twitter not flying; Instagram and Facebook asocial; VPN not VPNing. Not to mention that WiFi for the entire city was accessed through one landing page set up specifically for the conference. Later, my invariably gracious hosts helped me arrange transportation to the conference the next day and even introduced me to a pair of attendees from Hong Kong, with whom I ended up becoming friends.

The next morning, at the exhibition hall, Winter Is Coming was no joke- the heating was off and all doors flung open to the cold, the latter presumably to facilitate traffic flow for the thousands of visitors. I shivered in my suit, while better-prepared attendees puffed around in thick coats, toting thermoses of hot drinks.

A quick tour of the exhibitors showed the Chinese internet industry at its most potent. New-but-heavy hitters like AliBaba, TenCent, Xiaomi, and Baidu mingled with more august peers such as SAP and GM, though even the latter was showcasing OnStar navigation products developed specifically for the Chinese market. China Mobile, China Telecom and their peers boast user numbers enviable for any telco, and showcased an incredibly sophisticated array of both consumer and B2B products and solutions.

Immediately obvious was that China is lightyears ahead in terms of mobile payments and mobile services integration. A common refrain in conversation went something like “I haven’t taken money out of an ATM, or even carried a wallet, in a year.” The Star Trek-era coffee machine in the hotel lobby rejected all payment options apart from scanning a QR code produced by one of a variety of apps such as AliPay.

Even business cards were completely passé; new contacts frowned when I asked for one. All personal information was exchanged by scanning the QR code in your WeChat app, a hybrid texting/Facebook/Instagram platform that also allowed me to put in notes about the conversation, and for which I scrambled to set up a profile within minutes of arriving at the venue.

Other highlights were a battery of artificial intelligence startups, many showcasing Siri-Alexa-Echo-esque devices attentive to various home or business voice-commands. One robot blinked shyly when it didn’t know the answer to a question.

Almost all participants were from China, and with some dismay I recognized that I was missing out on a lot of good stuff due to my total lack of comprehension of the world’s foremost language. Before I wised up and brought warmer clothes, it was so cold that I was eventually driven from the exhibition hall, slinking into a presentation room where people huddled on benches watching what appeared to be an auction to buy a wedding dress. I wiggled down between a pair of suitably warm-looking attendees before a neighbor explained the auction was actually to purchase discounted shares in a FinTech start-up. The wedding dress was the auctioneer’s assistant. I quickly downloaded a pocket translator.

The true high wattage came on the second day, when the promised “high-level officials and tech icons” were presented to the attendees at the opening ceremony. In addition to a battery of local and national political figures, a few previously-unannounced jaw-droppers gave remarks:

·        Tim Cook of Apple- “It’s up to us to ensure that technology is infused with humanity… I don’t worry about machines thinking like humans, I worry about people thinking like machines”

·        Jack Ma of Alibaba- “In the next 30 years we’ll turn machines into human beings, but we should have confidence we can control them…if machines replace human jobs, we will be subsequently involved in more creative work, which is an area robots will never be able to replicate”

·        Terry Gou, Chairman of Foxconn

·        Nathan Blecharczyk, Co-Founder of AirBnB

·        Greg Geng, VP of TenCent in charge of WeChat Pay

·        Jim Hackett, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company

·        John Hoffman, CEO GSMA

·        Robin Li, Co-Founder Chairman and CEO of Baidu

·        Dominique de Villepin, former Prime Minister of France

As each presenter spoke, on the floor-to-ceiling screen behind him (all men, by the way) flashed the conference tagline: “Developing Digital Economy For Oppenness and Shared Benefits,” arguable positioning depending on your audience. If indeed China’s “one belt and one road” initiative will “also be beneficial to the cyber community, contributing to the digital economy, creating unprecedented value for the human race,” as explained one government official, there may be some recalibration with simultaneously “respecting cyber sovereignty to build cooperation and consensus on the Internet.” In fact several news outlets, e.g. the New York Times, were excluded from the conference due to their prior probing of the issue.

On my third and final day, I had been asked to give a presentation on trends and developments in the industrial IoT sector. I discussed how industrial IoT was no longer merely conceptual for organizations playing with proof-of-concepts models, but rather had evolved into large-scale deployments, pushing companies to really evaluate their ROI. I also touched on the increasing symbiosis with other sectors such as artificial intelligence and Blockchain, to take IoT beyond simply the collection of data from sensors, and enrich it to help make prescriptive, human-like decisions for organizations.

Finally, back in Shanghai for a day, the woman who had been my seatmate on the flight over invited me to lunch. When we had met, she was returning from a trade mission to Morocco where, she said, China has an open strategy of entering African markets through infrastructure development in a way that gives them a substantial toe-hold economically as well as culturally, in a way that decades of American-style aid models have failed to gain much traction. By the end of the week, I was not at all surprised by that strategy. The mighty dragon is alive and growing, and I felt honored to be a part of it. 

Welcome!

My intention for this space is to describe some of the ideas I have about business, entrepreneurship, and technology. I thought I'd start with some of the work I've been doing for a Barcelona-based startup, Compettia, that has a product called Atrivity. Atrivity helps companies develop ways to involve gamification in their products, services, and training programs.

 

I wrote a series of articles for them geared towards sales strategists and managers in retail, describing ways to help improve the onboarding process for new hires, employ technology to optimize store design and traffic flow, take advantage of trends in fast fashion, and also a broader piece related to the current state of the retail industry, for example. 

Please take a look at the articles below. I'd love to hear what you think.