Smart Grids – Differentiated Electricity

In the mobile industry policy control and differentiating bandwidth and service is one of the key topics at the moment. Not only to correlated usage and price, but also to allow communication operators to establish new business models.

In parallel there is a lot of hype about smart (power) grids equipped with smart meters that allow to monitor and report usage and costs in real-time to the customer.

No in utilities there is the deep-rooted assumptions that power, like water and gas is a commodity, but taking the above two aspects together the next question is when and how to differentiate your electricity. The smart meter would actually know for which appliances the power is used. How to do this? Maybe just by adding a small device at the power outlet that talks to the smart meter and reports usage per applicance.

What to use it for ? Well you could start thinking about cross bundling. The retail shop of your choice would offer you a bonus on your refrigerators power usage whenever you shop their. Or you would actually get it for free.

Or advertisers would cross finance your TV power supply for you to watch more programs.  Or a car manufacturer could cross-finance the recharging costs for your electric car.

What would be the benefit? Well, it would at least increase the flexibility in business models and the power of this is visible with one of the most successful cross-financing business models today at Google.

Admittedly there are a few details to be worked out yet, but what an opportunity if not all electricity is created equal.

Nokia – Apple – Hardware – Software

Over at daringfireball John Gruber has an interesting piece on the challenges Nokia and especially their new CEO is facing. The main conclusion is that Nokia today is a Hardware company that needs to turn into a Software company in order to compete on the level of Apple and RIM rather than HTC.

Competing with Apple? The success of Apple is not so much based on either Hardware or Software, but on creating a perfect combination of both with an unbeatable user experience.

The iPod has a cool hardware and a great form factor, but only with the integration in to iTunes and the simple way to synchronize and buy music, did it become the success it is today. The iPhone and the iPad have incredible hardware, but only in combination with the AppStore and the very consistent user interface did they become so successful.

Moving from cost efficient hardware focus to perfect user experience is a big step to take.

#momoMUC: some thoughts on yesterday’s Mobile Monday Munich

We had a very hot mobile monday yesterday with a perfect line-up of speakers and presentations as it turned out afterwards. Here are my personal thoughts and takes on this.

Thomas Aidan Curran, CTO Software, Deutsche Telekom opened with a view on how exposing operator assets will create new value and opportunities for app developers and Thibault Rouffineau (wipconnector) closed with some excellent remarks on how the same story about convergence got sold/promoted and told in the last 10 years, repeatedly. Whether you wanted to sell IMS, WiFi Infrastructure or Samsung TVs.

The same is actually true for the opening the network operator assets to application developers. Proposals and standards on how to do this have been around for at least 10 years. I also have to confess guilty of promoting and telling this story at one point in my career in telecommunication.

However, all the claims did never, at least up to now, materialize substantially and are now warmed up with the WAC (Wholesale Applications Community), developer garden (a Deutsche Telekom activity), betavine (driven by Vodafone), OneAPI ( by GSMA, the global mobile operator community). And also the API content is the same for the last 10 years: calls = initiating calls from the web, messaging = sending sms and mms from the web, charging = making use of customers operator prepaid or postpaid payments for applications, location information = identifying the location of the mobile. As this has not worked for the last 10 years the question is why should it work now or more precisely what would it actually take to make it work?

And here as a side-remark comes the link to the ICQ presentation of yesterday night. Alex Erlmeier, ICQ showed the ICQ client on different devices: the iPhone, windows based, Blackberry based and also mentioned integration with facebook, twitter and other social networking sites. But at no point did he mention any integration with an operator network or operator APIs. Question is: why?

One additional point Thomas mentioned in his initial presentation was the complexity of devices and how operators might help and support here, but again ICQ – and if you look at other mobile client based application like Foursquare, Gowalla it is as well true for them – obviously didn’t need any support in creating their applications for different devices.

So just defining and publishing an API is probably not enough.

Looking at the current best-in-class examples there are 4 things it takes to create a vibrant and successful application developer community.

  1. It needs to be cool: brand and devices. iPhone and Android smartphones are just much cooler than Java featurephones
  2. It needs to be easy I: development environment. I don’t want to debate the quality of Objective-C, but give the developer a complete environment for writing and testing applications.
  3. It needs to be easy II: community and support. There needs to be a supported community where you can get help for app development.
  4. It needs to be business: app store. You need to give the developer an easy way or at least the option to publish, promote and to make some money with their application.

So Apple and Google obviously score pretty high on all points, whereas you see that Blackberry and Nokia/Ovi have some shortcomings in several points (at least the coolness factor).

But telecommunication operators – at least what is visible in the market besides the high aspirations – have not even started to embrace the full picture.

So what can they do:

  • Focus on their strength:  local / regional brand, don’t try to fight on a global scale
  • Pick a community to start with and select one where your assets are of value
  • Fully embrace them with support and marketing help
  • Provide end to end development environment and tool set
  • Show them how to make money

Yes, all this does not come for free, but as I said, it takes more than publishing an API to play in the application space.

It’s the Why that counts !

By accident I ran across this short book review of Erik Wesner’s “Success made simple” by John Moore over at Brand Autopsy.

What struck me was the first paragraph of the summary about the success of the Amish people driven by starting with the “Why”. This is exactly the message of Simon Sinek in his latest book “Start with why” (website). (Also watch his inspiring TED talk)

So it is not always Steve Jobs who can serve as the role model.

Twitter: Serving of the Day

From his blog Seth Godin lead me to Lula’s Apothecary serving vegan ice cream in New York City. It’s not about their ice cream or business model, but they also publish their daily servings on Twitter.

Every restaurant, bar, bakery etc. should have their daily specials published on Twitter !

Especially if they serve something I would make a detour for and make an impulse purchase. Ice cream being definitely one of the cases.

Monitoring customer response either on Twitter or with business results would definitely help to steer the business. And positive re-tweets would also serve as promotion.

Success in the Marshmallow Challenge

Here is another interesting talk from TED. Tom Wujec analyses the Marshmallow Challenge (www.marshmallowchallenge.com) and what it takes to succeed.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

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My three take-aways for successful innovation:

  1. prototyping and early feedback
  2. incentives do not improve the result, just the opposite (also see Dan Pink’s TED talk)
  3. innovation is a contact sport that requires interaction with all senses

Robot emotions, no ?!

Just came across this interesting talk by Dennis Mong at TEDxNASA

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

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Besides liking the overall talk, one very specific moment touched me. Roughly at 9:44 DARwIn 2a an autonomous robot scores his first goal in 2006. And while the developers burst out in cheers and GOOOOAL cries, the robot just stands there. My impression seeing it was, he just did not understand what this fuss was about.

So while scoring a goal is very well possible today, it will take some more development until robots really can play football, also emotionally.

And at 12:20 he starts sharing the labs secrets of innovation and creativity. Very interesting.

Push Notifications: Amazon, Apple and Android moving forward

Amazon just announced and released the next service on their Web Services / Cloud Service for Notifications (Amazon SNS), giving applications http- or email-notifications for free (up to a limit).

At the recent keynote announcing the new iPhone OS 4 Apple also introduced improved push notification support for the iPhone through a always-on IP connection.

Obviously also for Android such a service is available through Xtify. This even supports geo-location based notifications.

In parallel the GSMA, the global organization of telco operators is working – in the 3rd attempt – on standardization of push notification APIs within their OneAPI activity. This API will allow to directly interact with the network operators infrastructure. The first version works with SMS and MMS, i.e. once operators have implemented the APIs and opened to application developers (access conditions still to be defined).

So the question is whether there is still a need for such operator based APIs in the future?

Well, the key difference is that those APIs would work with any kind of device based on SMS and MMS (obviously with limitations in on-device application integration). Looking at the betavine community, endorsed by Vodafone, as an framework for implementing, supporting and testing the OneAPIs, a focus is on developing countries. There extending application support for simple devices will a major driver for extending their value.

Mobile Payment: Make your iPhone a Credit Card Reader

Mobile Payment has been a topic in the mobile telco industry  for the last 10 years with several attempts on standardized APIs and a few successful implementation in some countries.

Now this area of potential mobile operator unique value-add is also in the process to disappear due to smartphone applications. The last one I came across is Square (https://squareup.com/, see also cool video at youTube), which provides a cool credit card reader for the iPhone (and now the iPad). So this does not only work with virtual money, but with credit cards.

Or take Bump (available for iPhone and Android), which also allows to exchange money between mobile phones.

The space for telco operator based payment solution is shrinking.

[Update] There is more news out now that waving iPhones (or any other mobile phone in the future) will become an official payment method in stores soon.

The Beauty of Organization

Over at Design Thinking Tim Brown (Ideo’s CEO) asked the question about the beauty of organisations. I have started to think about a similar question concerning business models so I dropped a few thoughts as comments.

Still working on finding an answer on the business model question.

Post 1:

I really like the question of beauty and aesthetics of organizations. The major challenge with organizations is that you can not feel, touch or experience organizations. So you can not easily build prototypes or enact the service experience. And I guess organization is also related to the corresponding business model and in some cases has a legacy/history/tradition aspect that is hard to capture.

The underlying issue here is that we are lacking a agreed visual representation of organizations and business model that would allow us to use aesthetic rules to evaluate them. The closest I have come across up to now is the Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder (http://www.businessmodelalchemist.com/) that allows to show business model, but still lacks aesthetic criteria.

Evaluating organizations the question is also what the final success criteria is and whether “beauty” is really translated in to innovation or business success or profitability. And is a hierarchical organization more beautiful than a small team collaborative approach. Is the 150-organization size limit at Gore beautiful ?

So I would start with looking at ways to visualize organizations and translate business models that allow aesthetic evaluation.

Post 2:

Hi Tim

couldn’t stop thinking about your “organizational beauty” question on top of
my previous post and here are a few more thoughts.

You take the bee colony as an example of beautiful organization and I would agree. The focus of the bees, however, is not so much on innovation but on robustness and survival. So innovation might require a specific view on organization.

Your question tries to map the abstract concept of organization to the abstract concept of beauty (and throwing in innovative-ness as a third) and I feel you probably need to put some “facts” in the mapping process.

So I would start by identifying measurable criteria/factors assumed to be relevant for innovation and organization like: team size, different areas of knowledge/competency involved in innovation process, number of
contacts required in teams, geographical distribution of teams, speed and levels of decision making within organization, innovator archetypes involved in teams, distribution of power within team (equal votes vs. few leaders).
I would then put this in some tool that could translate this for different organizations into a visual representation, e.g. using Processing and tree diagrams (see for example http://www.generative-gestaltung.de/M_6_4_01_TOOL ).

Playing around with this I guess you could already see whether there is beauty, e.g. very colorful or evenly distributed patterns in specific organizations.

Coming to the organizational archetypes for innovation you could feed organizational structures for teams which could be considered innovative/creative and look at the results, e.g. film studios/tv productions, ad agencies, research institutes, product design/development firms, startups, etc.

I would think that this could also generate some overarching principles for innovative teams, e.g. like Gore’s “not more than 150 people in one organization” or Shaker-like principles you already mentioned.