3 important takeaways from LeWeb 2013

LeWeb is a fantastic conference.

All year I get invites to attend conference after conference, but LeWeb is the only one that really interests me. Why? Simply because it has a broader outlook, better speakers, and a more philosophical approach than other events (it even had a session on meditation!)

Where some events focus on the ‘doing’, LeWeb looks at the ‘why’. As a result the content is fresh and invigorating; it actually makes you think.

In London this June, the focus was on Sharing Economies (which I wrote about for Forbes). This time around, in Paris, it was looking at the Next Ten Years. The interesting thing about a conference like this is not in what the individual speakers say, although they are very interesting, but in the feeling that you get from the conference. There’s a sense of it being one giant ‘meta-presentation’, with trends leaking out and pervading the atmosphere around you, and speaker after speaker adding to the big picture. So, in light of this, here are three trends that have emerged from LeWeb 2013 that I want to share with you.

Trend 1: Human experiences, not technology, will rule the next ten years

Just to be clear, technology is still underpinning everything – in fact I can’t think of a more exciting industry to be working in at the moment – but the face of this technology will be human. Technology will be applied to create human experiences and meet human needs, it will not be a goal in itself.

Forrester CEO, George Colony, described the next ten years as ‘The Age of the Customer’ – an age in which enterprises will need to reinvent themselves in order to be successful. This age will require completely frictionless customer experiences to be created, based around the maturing technologies of mobile, sensors, location, social, and data. Products will be highly personalised and anticipatory in nature – knowing what you need based on where you are and what you are doing. Robert Scoble’s ‘Age of Context‘.

Colony, quite fittingly, gave the example of a taking a trip to a conference. In this example the products and services were completely transparent: when entering the airport you would be directed to your gate automatically, your seat would indicate itself when you came near, and when you got to your hotel the lift would take you to the right floor by communicating with your phone, with your door unlocking  itself when you arrived at your room.

The companies that can create these experiences will be the ones that thrive.

Trend 2: You are your product

It’s easy to think of a product as something separate from you, but actually it’s more than this. The best innovations come from the heart, and are linked tightly to things you care about solving. In this respect, you are your product. If the product is central to your purpose, if it isn’t your passion, then the chances of succeeding are much lower. Being able to stay on the path, to believe on your idea, and to have the courage to see it through are the outstanding characteristics that will build the successful products of the future. Ask yourself, why do you do what you do? What is your purpose? What drives you to act? It was no coincidence that the majority of successful entrepreneurs speaking at LeWeb had started their businesses based on a very personal experience. This was exemplified by Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. Uber was founded at LeWeb in 2008, when Travis was unable to get a taxi to the conference. That frustration, and his sweaty appearance onstage, gave birth to the idea that would disrupt the taxi and ride-sharing industry. It’s a personal crusade for Uber, one that has led to bigger ideas in its wake. Expect big things from the $3.5 billion-valued ‘Urban Logistics’ company over the next few years

Trend 3: In future, all companies will be software companies

This is a trend that is very close to my heart, and very close to my purpose. Products are evolving, customers are evolving. In the next ten years, it will be the company that adds value to its products, be it smoke detectors or tyres, that has the competitive advantage. As a result, all companies will be come software companies, as this will be the primary medium through which companies add value to their products. For example, Nest are disrupting the home safety market through building smoke detectors that communicate with you proactively, that give you warnings that are useful to you. What if a tyre company could produce tyres that told you when they ended to be changed, or informed you – or your car – how to drive more appropriately for the current conditions. the possibilities are endless, and it touches every industry, every product.

What next?

I’m really excited about the possibilities for technology in creating a better user experience for us all, actually, a better life experience for us all. It’s going to be great to watch develop, even better to be a part of. The ability to create new businesses and disrupt existing industries has never been more accessible. Even if some of the predictions don’t turn out to be right, there’s no doubt that things will be a lot different in ten years time.

See you at LeWeb 2014!

Central Desktop: “Growing pains” – why business expansion leads to inefficiency

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Hot on the heels of a bloody BYOD comes more discomfort, this time in the form of growing pains. This guest article looks at the reason why businesses become inefficient as they grow and how these issues can be avoided, drawing on an paper from 1972 for inspiration – if you’re running a small business or on the verge of creating a start-up this is a definite read!

We live in a start-up culture, where it seems as if everyone is able to have an idea and start a company. Many of these will fail, some will be a success. For those that are a success, they may find that the real challenges are not with that first product launch, but the inevitable growth that success bestows upon them.

The issues that face these companies are nothing new. In July 1972, Larry E. Greiner published Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow in the Harvard Business Review (on paper, of all things!). He describes a pattern that would be familiar to entrepreneurs and business owners everywhere – that of evolution, in which the business grows smoothly, followed by revolution, where the business goes through a crisis brought about by its own growth. Solving each crisis brings about another period of evolution. Despite its age, Greiner’s piece remains amazingly relevant, even if the companies of today are working in very different industries and producing very different products.

So what does cause a company to become inefficient as it grows? The first inefficiency falls squarely at the feet of the company founders.

Read the full article and find out more about Greiner and the five reasons why companies become inefficient as they grow over at Central Desktop.

Central Desktop: CMO vs. CIO? The future of marketing + IT

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It’s been a couple of months since my last guest post and the withdrawal symptoms have started to kick in. So here it is, my latest article at Central Desktop: CMO vs. CIO? The Future of Marketing and IT

A short extract for your perusal:

Just a few years ago, asking the question whether the CIO and CMO roles were merging would have been madness. They couldn’t have been further apart. The CMO was a key part of a company’s leadership team, driving performance and changing the course of the organization, while in most cases the CIO didn’t even have a seat at the table.

That’s no longer the case – or, at least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. If you believe Gartner’s January 2012 report entitled “By 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO” and IBM’s annual CIO surveys, it would seem these two roles are on a collision course. Is it true?

Read the full article at Central Desktop.

And the winner is…

Trophy

There have been hundreds of articles covering ‘predictions’ for 2011, most of them listing 10 or 20 ‘big’ topics. That’s a lot, so I’m going to try and make it a little easier on you and just talk about one thing.

“And the winner of the award for Breakthrough Service of 2011 is…” *hushed silence*

“…the company that can simplify the mass of stuff that is my online life!” *applause and tearful acceptance speech*

As I’ve covered before, the way that people use the internet evolves over time. This includes the type of information we transfer over the internet, the type of activities we do on the internet, and the way we access the internet. And the upshot of these changes?

Chaos.

I’ll stand up as an example. I’ve got Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Skype, Live Messenger, Google Talk, Mozilla Weave, Online banking (sorry, no specifics on that one) and other services. I’ve also got RSS feeds, work email, and the whole plethora of other sites that I use on a less regular basis. It takes a lot of tracking. Of course, for different people, the amount of their life spent online will vary, but, over time, I think we can be fairly certain that it will grow as the internet becomes more engrained in all walks of life.

There is a massive opportunity awaiting the company that can create order from this chaos.

The process of pulling these individual services together into a more meaningful and useful form is convergence. Convergence happens naturally in all industries as products or services mature towards a de facto standard, but the rate of innovation on the internet is so rapid that we are seeing very little of this.

How does this get resolved?

The key to addressing the issue lies in two areas: filtering and semantics.

  1. Filters provide the means to sort the important information from the unimportant, reducing the amount of information we are receiving. This will include social links (am I connected the sender in some way), past interactions (is this source of information one that I regularly communicate with), previous behaviour (do I tend to consume information from this source), amongst others.
  2. Semantics will allow automated systems to understand the relationship between items of data – messages, tweets, articles and others – so that they can be effectively categorised. Bundling information in this way will allow us to navigate the complex set of information more easily, and prioritise individual information sets. (There’s also a big opportunity to use this to understand the more serendipitous relationships between the information we acquire, but that’s another subject in itself)

A consumer-focused system that can successfully do this, that can sort the signals from the noise, make order out of chaos, will find themselves a real niche in the technology market and acquired before they can click their fingers.

Who is doing it now?

Not many. And where they are it’s only first steps, combining data types are very closely related already; in a previous post – Making sense of it all – I looked at a few examples of where this is being attempted in the messaging space, including Facebook Messages. Outside of this, there are only the content aggregators. Sites that collect information, but don’t apply any intelligence to the content they process.

FriendFeed was one of the more successful content aggregators, but the issue is that it simply collects into information a single place.  Although this saves me time – I don’t have to visit as many sites – it just creates a bigger pile of information to deal with.

It is the next generation of this type of service that will really change the way that we deal with information.

Where does the next generation service come from?

The usual suspects are lining up; both Facebook and Google have the required building blocks:

  1. Huge audiences for their products
  2. Massive reach – through OpenID and OpenGraph – into 3rd party information streams

Personally, I think Google has the slight advantage at the moment, due to their IP around search and there algorithmic culture, but the ongoing brain drain to Facebook will hinder this. Facebook also has the advantage of thinking more socially; it’s their core business and everything they do has that at its centre. Google doesn’t do this instinctively, and is still catching up.

But you never know, maybe a start-up will come along and be the next big thing? I hope so, and soon.

Right, back to sorting out my emails.

The future of the internet isn’t mobile…

But surely it must be? With 230,000 iOS devices and 200,000 Android devices activated every day how can it be anything else? Even Facebook is building a phone.

The near-future of the internet is mobile, but as B2B marketers we must be aware of how internet usage is changing in the long-term, and what this means for our campaigns and communications. Thinking in terms of individual channels and devices will only limit our ability to fully deliver for our clients in the future.

So how is the internet changing?

1. Our ability to access the internet is becoming ubiquitous
The most amazing thing about the internet is arguably not the content, but the creation of the infrastructure that carries it. Millions of interconnected computers, millions of miles of cable to carry data between them, and all the protocols and hardware that direct traffic from one place to another. This process hasn’t stopped yet, and being ‘online’ is becoming a more and more ubiquitous experience. The data on the internet is available through many channels and in many locations.

2. We are increasingly using web-based services, not web-based content
More and more we are basing our internet usage around key services and applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and Spotify. Users are blending these services together to create their own online experience: Facebook for social life, LinkedIn for professional life, Delicious for bookmarks, Remember the Milk for tasks, Spotify for music. These services feed information to us, rather than us having to seek it out, which makes our online life more integrated with our offline life.

Some of these services are tied to a single device, but the majority are available wherever you are, and it is this portability that makes them so useful. For example, Netflix allows you to watch movies online, but not just through your PC, you can access them on your Xbox, PS3, Wii, iPad and internet-enabled TV or Blu-ray player as well.

3. The content available on the web is changing
In 1990, most traffic on the web was based around FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which took up 57% of the available bandwidth, but twenty years later video owns 51% of this bandwidth. Standard web-based traffic such as web pages and other downloads is now only 23%, down from approximately 55% in 2000. Video is the big growth area and the available content is growing rapidly. The ability to access this video-based content is also growing, with users no longer restricted to their PC. Cisco’s latest forecasts see 66% of mobile data usage being video-based by 2014 (see Figure 2 here)

What do these changes mean for those of us in the business of creating content?
It’s important that we aren’t overly rigid in our approach to creating content; we mustn’t think in terms of devices. Today we are producing mobile apps and web-based sites to deliver our services, but in a few years’ time we may be looking at a completely different landscape where it is impossible to know exactly where and how our content is being viewed. Some of these changes – Internet TV for example – may be game-changing as the distinction between online and broadcast blurs even further.

In some cases, we may well be faced with the decision to concentrate on particular devices and channels at the expense of audience numbers, or to take a more general and less tailored approach that can be viewed across the widest spectrum.

Regardless of which route we take, the ability to deliver a consistent experience across all channels is paramount, and our ability as an industry to understand the options and deliver this consistency will be crucial.