Innovation 2014 three months later

A couple of months ago I gazed at my e-crystal ball and published an overview of 2014 innovation.  The first quarter of every year is always a good time to find out how the land lies and whether there are now distinct signs of progress in specific directions.

Of all the subject areas mentioned in that article I am pleased to see that the three I had highlighted as ‘high interest’ remain firmly at the top, with the Internet of Things blazing away and over 140,000 news articles written on the subject, which is ten times more than what has been written so far for 3D printing or wearable technology.

The Internet of things rules

That the Internet of Things (IoT) is at the top is no surprise.  It’s a subject that excites journalists and politicians alike, a simple concept to explain, but immensely more complex to implement (see my article on this topic of April 2013) and as such it receives wide media coverage, together with substantial amounts of government funds too.  The UK alone has committed £45M on the project, announced by the Prime Minister at recent CeBIT summit and more dosh is available across Europe and elsewhere – little surprise it generates such interest as commercial gains could also be enormous.

Pack leaders

3D printing and wearables are neck and neck and I predict that we will see a lot more media interest on these, but fewer real applications aside from science labs for the former and a few early adopters for the latter, though a smartwatch by Prada or Gucci might change all that…  As for Google goggles outside exhibitions and specialist conferences I haven’t seen anyone wearing them and I suspect it will remain thus for a while longer and not until prices decline to much more acceptable levels, or until a couple of media and entertainment celebs would start wearing them, perhaps.

But what about some of the other innovations like super high definition TV, e-government and so on?  Well, I can comfortably predict that super high TV will definitely be widely available and at more accessible prices too from some time this year.  Samsung is already launching a 28” 4K monitor in the US this summer for under $700 so there is no reason to doubt that this technology will not be more established by the end of 2014.

As for the poor memristors we may have to wait until 2018 or beyond….  and some of the other stuff will probably continue to remain in the realms of journalistic imagination. That’s all until the next technology overview, probably in mid summer.

With the wrong infrastructure we are all back to the dark ages.

We can talk about the latest social media innovations, or the fastest smartphones available as much as we like, but behind all this glitz and veneer of modernity there is, at least in Britain, an ancient communications infrastructure which may be failing to meet demands.

You just need to subscribe to even a handful of tech review sites to see the latest in new apps and hardware.  For the most part every innovation comes with a tag of ‘better performance’, ‘higher definition’, ‘improved sound quality’ and so on.  If you owned a smartphone you would have noticed that apps that had started their lives with a few MB of data have in a matter of months become monstrous resources hogs (why is Google+ app so huge?), demanding more RAM, ROM, whatever, for their basic use, as well as asking for privileged access to all of your phone’s inner recesses.  Movie streaming, especially HD, requires greater bandwidth despite the latest in compression, and so on.  But while software developers and hardware manufacturers are happy to push ahead with higher specs, feeding on our atavistic desire for more and greater, the infrastructure that really drives the whole experience is developing at a much slower pace.

We are all going to be on 4G – maybe not.

Take mobile data communications in the UK.  Yes, 4G is (slowly) being implemented.  But I fear once the hype’s over we’ll be back to where we are now with 3G (do you remember the 3G assurances that in a matter of months we would all be virtually on 3G?  How many of you can reliably get 3G well outside key urban areas?).  The problem is that the basic mobile communication infrastructure is ancient, set in place in the ‘80s, rather than the 21st century.  It has since been patched up, but despite all claims no real major investment has been undertaken, and certainly without a long term coordinated strategy.  I often wonder whether it would have been more efficient to have had a separate network infrastructure provider (like the National Grid), with private operators piggybacking on it, rather than lots of different masts strewn around the country but almost totally inconsistent with the fast changing demographics, like travel and population patterns. Could we really ask such a network to cope with the demands and innovations of the 21st century?

Fast broadband – but only when it works.

The situation is similar for providers of broadband through landlines.  While BT, sorry Openreach, plods along towards a  fast fibre optics infrastructure at what appears to be the speed of an elephant through a jungle, other alternative providers like for example Virgin have little incentive to offer reliable services. I happen to live in a village where the option is stark – either take BT  at speeds of between 1.5 to 3.5Mbp, or jump on the flashy, and expensive, Virgin bandwagon and get up to 60Mbp, theoretically.   I can hear people commenting that I should just be thankful and keep my mouth firmly shut,  but the truth is that this isn’t real competition and you do feel it when things go horribly wrong.  And I am afraid to say with Virgin this happens all too often, with days with no service at all, with no explanation and never, ever, an apology (let alone a refund).  It’s just tough luck if you are working and the whole things go down – consider yourself fortunate that you have had a service up to that instant and despite your regular monthly payments of course. I do wonder sometime what would happen if I simply decided to take a payment break, alleging something like ‘I am aware of the situation and an accountant is on its way to fix this’. Think again then if you seriously believe that this kind of competition adds value to customers and if this is the sort of network infrastructure that can really foster innovation.

So we plod along, we buy smarter smartphones, faster computers, download biggers apps, while not giving much consideration to the communications backbone that’s needed to drive all this stuff.  And I haven’t even touched upon what’s behind all of this – electricity. Given the parlous state of our power generation infrastructure and the current climatic conditions we could shortly revert to candles and paper (my handwriting is now appalling, how’s yours? Time to get some practice!).  Shouldn’t we give these issues more thought before we rushed to upgrade our data hogging devices?

The definitive guide to 2014 innovation

As customary at this time of year most technology commentators publish their own forecasts of the top innovation solutions for the coming months.  I decided to take a good look around some of these key sources to identify general trends, scoring them according to the number of mentions.  Let’s see whether this stuff really happens in 2014!

Internet of things to the web of things  (high mention)

Reported in some sources as ‘connected homes’ and ‘connected cars’  - this is a theme that has been cropping up almost every year.  A full implementation of the Internet of Things is still a way off and is based on large part not just on the gadgets themselves (in reality the easy part of the technology) but on more basic stuff like universally accessible high speed internet connectivity.  No doubt we shall see more solutions becoming available in 2014, but universal implementation perhaps not quite.

Wearable technology (high mention)

We have already seen Google Glasses, smartwatches and so on.  Your gurus now predict we’ll be buying and wearing more and more of this stuff.  My guess is that this will depend on prices coming down, as well as trend setters using this technology.

Gamification of business life (low mention)

An interesting concept based on the development of easy and fun to use Apps that have a strict business purpose.

Super high definition TVs, curved too (high mention)

Well they are already around, though frightfully expensive, so it’s easy to predict that as prices will come down these gadgets will become more popular.  We never say no to a good TV set, especially an interactive one!

3D printing (high mention)

Need we say more on this point?

More portable devices, less PCs (medium mention)

Guess this is a trend that has been going on for a while now, so it’s more or less inevitable, hence the slightly lower number of mentions.  By 2015 large desktop units will be confined to specialist applications.

Machines (drones) in the sky (low mention)

Call me a sceptic, but I think the Amazon story was just a load of PR stuff… however, some commentators believe this technology may become popular in 2014 – let’s discuss again in a few months, shall we?

Biometrics sensors attached to devices (low mention)

We are all fed up of constant requests for passwords, but will biometrics really provide the answer to this problem, and just in twelve months?

Ads in everything (low mention)

…ehr… as in, now?

Nanotech advances (medium mention)

Well, why not?  There are already countless innovation firms working on this so it’s quite conceivable that more advances will hit the consumer market.

Cloud explosion (high mention)

More and more people will rely on cloud solutions provided by big companies such as Google, Microsoft or Amazon with less data stored in a local drive.  This will also affect standard IT architecture

The death of email in favour of social media platform (low mention)

Could this be something akin to the mythical paperless office?  Who knows, maybe in 10 years or so we’d consider email messages as we now think about faxes, but in twelve months?  Maybe not.

E government and E learning (medium mention)

facilitating access to government (including health care) and learning has been the holy grail of the last decade, but we all know how inefficient most governments are when it comes to the implementation of IT infrastructures, mostly out of dates, hugely expensive, and seldom user friendly.  Somehow, the E of efficiency and electronic doesn’t seem to fit in well with the G of big Government.

Memristors hit the market (low mention)

I must confess I didn’t know much about memristors (nanoscale devices with the ability to remember their resistance even when switched off) but clearly these devices could speed up communication exponentially.

The web will overcome TV as a form of entertainment (low mention)

…easily done given the quality of today’s TV programmes I say!

…in short

My take is that we will definitely see more wearable and faster devices and greater use of the internet as a channel for business, entertainment and communication on the go (hence more interactive TVs and of higher definition).  While on the one hand some tasks will become easier, others may get more complex and we’ll be scratching our heads with more convoluted security and ID access levels.  Catch up in 2015!

Some of the sources used for this article:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/technology/ces-2014-top-10-trends-2984341

http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2014/01/01/technology-trends-to-watch-in-2014/

http://mashable.com/2014/01/02/ces-2014-tech-trends/

http://mashable.com/2013/12/31/tech-predictions-2014/

http://www.computer.org/portal/web/membership/Top-10-Tech-Trends-in-2014

http://www.itbusinessedge.com/slideshows/top-10-technology-trends-and-predictions-for-2014.html

http://www.futuretimeline.net/21stcentury/2014.htm

Six key communication points for small businesses

Every business, large or small, needs to have a comprehensive and focussed online presence, but while this may be relatively easy to achieve for a company with access to good resources and budgets, including specific people allocated to these tasks, it becomes a more arduous operation for a small business.  In small businesses other priorities tend to crop up all the time and inevitably communication issues get pushed to one side.  In the following few lines I am hoping to provide small businesses with some of the key issues to consider in order to maximise their online presence.

Establish clear objectives and key performance indicators

This is vital for any business.  You need to know what your goals are, in which direction you want your business to grow and how you measure this.  If you are aiming to attract visitors to your venue, for example, you should have profiled the appropriate market segment and established how many of them you can cater for, what exactly you are going to offer them and how much you are planning to take from specific tasks.  Stick your

Local businesses

Local businesses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

business plan on the wall where you can see it all the time, don’t bury it in your pending tray or in your hard drive!  Your goals can change, they will as your business evolves, but provided you have clear performance indicators you won’t go far wrong.  Also, don’t forget to use the SMART format for ALL your business objectives…. Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Relevant and realistic, and Time based.  In short, be focussed and set up a realistic timetable with achievable and measurable actions – simple.

Audit your current communication channels

Take some time to look around your office and gather together all your offline communication tools (from headed paper to brochures etc), then move on to the online presence and create a short spreadsheet where you undertake a quick critical assessment of each of them.  Once you have done this create a wish list (for example, we want to have an effective social media presence and so on, we need a new brochure or a web site, etc.) and compare to the audit in order to identify shortcomings and opportunities.

Establish your communication priorities – don’t run before you can walk

Never attempt to take up more than you can chew.  Having done point 2 you will probably come up with a long list of activities.  You may feel exhilarated and because things have gone reasonably well you may wish to do everything at once.  Please don’t.  Even in the best possible business growth scenario demands on your time will increase further.  If your list of communication activities is too long you may not have sufficient time to spend on each of them.  This will result in errors or unfinished tasks at best. Don’t be tempted to pass the buck to someone else either in your organisation or outside in the hope that they can get on without any input from you.  Even if you commissioned the work outside to the best specialists around you would still need to sit down with your agency on a regular basis to set up objectives and review performance – you can never wash your hands completely.  So please establish realistic communication priorities from your own personal perspective too.

Set up a realistic budget and don’t forget ROI

When you have identified your priorities create an actions list and then allocated a realistic budget for each task.  You should really always place a monetary value next to each of these actions, even if you decided to do everything in-house – after all your time is money and you’d be surprised how expensive your own time may turn out to be.  So if you decided to tweet regularly set up a calendar action and an appropriate cost based on the time you are planning to spend, including research of course.   You need to know at the end of each period how much return this investment will bring. By the way, the ROI formula is very simple: how much you have earned from your investment, less the cost of the investment, all divided by the cost of the investment again, and multiplied by 100 so you get it as a percentage.  Don’t be disheartened, however, if your ROI is little to begin with – with all kind of communication you need to persevere and what matters is the trend, if positive stick with it and continue to refine until you reach your goal – or ditch!

Be consistent in the delivery of  your communications

By now you have established  clear priorities, have identified specific actions and have set everything in place – you have a battle plan.  The temptation now is to slacken the delivery pace. Messages gets sent out less frequently than at the outset, you get distracted and soon your twitter feed gets used once every few weeks or so, and you never retweet or follow anyone else, for example.  With online media you need to keep up your efforts.  If you neglect your online channels you will struggle twice as hard to reinstate them as your reputation would be dented.

By the way, consistency also applies to how good each message is (is it engaging, targeted and informative?) – you’ve got to strive for excellence to stand out from the crowd.

Regularly assess and review

You have followed these points to the letter, well done.  Now you need to review the way the way the entire communication plan works, regularly.  Failing to do it until things go wrong,  or when your stats show that your online presence is plummeting and it’ll be much harder to put right as you would have moved from a simpler tactical adjustment to a crisis situation.  But don’t expect instant success either, as we said before, you just need to keep an eye and apply the necessary adjustments if and when required, unless of course your business models changed drastically.

Finally, if you don’t have the time to do all of the above on your own, but you have come to conclusion that something must be done don’t be scared to look around for companies or people that could help you.  Not every organisation out there would suit you and selecting the appropriate expert will be the topic of a next blog.  But outsourcing needn’t cost the earth either, especially if you have done your homework correctly and put a value next to each of the necessary actions.   A clear vision and good will is all it takes in the end.

Top Google SEO tips

Have your site at the top of page 1 of Google search – or every marketer’s holy grail.  I get calls almost on a daily basis from companies who are looking for SEO expertise and who want to beat their competition by being the number 1, right there at the very top.  The trouble is that when it comes to SEO you have to follow a number of rules, but not just those that suit you, all of them!

Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail

Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These rules are essentially, yet rather simplistically for the purpose of this blog, split into a three pronged strategy: a technical approach (the way your page is built); a responsive tactic based on how each search engines work (e.g. Google and its latest algorithm and therefore links and so on) this of course feeds into the technical arena and finally a sound content strategy.  Each of these three areas is complex and require careful attention to details. You can find lots of resources online mainly as by the time books are published their content is likely to be obsolete.

I have just come across this video by Sparka and though a year old most of the recommendations are still applicable to these days, it’s like your personal map to the fabled holy grail, so don’t miss it and there’s loads more on his playlist page too!  Have a Merry Christmas too!

Google+ and Facebook – the battle goes on.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Français : Logo de Facebook Tiếng Việt: Logo Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago I wrote a very positive blog on Google+ and on how this channel was going to be much more significant to businesses than Facebook.  Generally, I remain of the same opinion that in relation especially to content management and SEO there is no doubt that a Google+ presence is infinitely superior to a Facebook one, from a business perspective, but perhaps not in terms of general audience engagement as I am trying to explain.

On this particular count Google+ has consistently failed to create sufficient ‘buzz’ and to attract a lively level of engagement in any way similar to the one of Facebook.  At least away from specialist B2B sectors, such as IT or similar, or in the few instances where brand new communities, that previously may not have existed on other social media channels were set up first on Google+.

The reasons for this lack of traction from Google+ are really quite simple and as ever are based on sociology and psychology, rather than just technology.  Let’s look at how  most of us interact across our personal social media channels.  I bet you that most of you have a personal Facebook account in which you have gathered the usual motley crowd of ‘friends’.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a passive reader of status updates or an active contributor, you are highly likely to be on Facebook as this was one of the first social media channels of this kind.  When you looked for old friends, or old flames, you instinctively searched on Facebook (way before you would have gone on Friends Reunited, do you remember that?).  I bet that even if you did so now I very much doubt you’d first check them out on Google+.  So, from a purely social perspective at least Facebook wins, by far, but as of late the battle has become even more fierce from a business angle.

Creating a good Facebook company page takes a matter of minutes, including very high levels of customisation. More importantly, finding appropriate audiences to advertise an update or to acquire ‘likes’ is a doddle.  With Facebook in just a few clicks you can search exactly for the geographical area, interest, gender and more, targeting your advert as accurately as possible.  This is not just because over the years Facebook has polished and enhanced its database exponentially, but also because they were clever enough to create a highly intuitive and user friendly interface.  Try comparing this with Google AdWord for example and not even Adword Express (apparently designed for small businesses) comes anywhere near to the ease of use of Facebook.  Beside, creating an advert on Google will simply expose you to the might of the competition and unless you’ve very deep pockets you are likely to see little benefits from it, when you could just as easily achieve similar results with some high quality content management for example.  On the other hand, Facebook can expose your brand to a well segmented audience, but it’s fair to say that this kind of audience may not be appropriate for specialist B2B sectors being much more potentially rewarding to consumer brands or campaign organisations instead.

So who wins?  Well in the end it’s the usual story of finding the right channel for you, one relevant to your audience.  However,  in terms of usability and B2C engagement, despite the growing number of Google+ users, Facebook wins.

I conclude with some anecdotal evidence. A year or so ago, when Google+ came out,  I asked all my Facebook friends if they would consider joining me on that channel.  Only one out of 200 replied in the affirmative.  Maybe I don’t have very good friends, but I suspect that most people are simply used to Facebook.  They have it on their smartphone, is bookmarked on their PC or laptop and they too have all their friends there who are equally unwilling to move.  How could they possibly consider switching over then?

It’s blindingly obvious that social media is inextricably linked to day to day social interactions.  Therefore, if you have been going to your local hostelry for several years and you suddenly decide to defect somewhere else, you’d probably end up drinking on your own at first, until you created another group in that specific location.   It’s just the same for social media channels.

This situation might change only in the light of some huge privacy cock up from Facebook, or if there were more freely available and easy to use tools that allowed you to share the same content initially across several platform, without losing the user experience of Facebook. Maybe one day we will be faced with two very serious contenders, but for now Facebook remains in the lead.

Samsung Customer Posts Defective Phone Video, Company Demands Removal – a PR disaster.

See on Scoop.itPR, Social Media and Marketing

A consumer attempting to get a replacement for a damaged Galaxy S4 smartphone details what he claims is a disturbing response from Samsung.

Maurizio Fantato‘s insight:

One never ceases to be amazed by the crass approach of some organisations to basic customer service matters like these and their uncanny ability to turn minor issues into full blast PR crisis.

In this specific instance a call from a competent and senior manager, plus if warranted a brand new phone in the shortest possible time, might have averted this flood of negative publicity.  The opposite might even have happened, with a media savvy customer like the one in question broadcasting his pleasure at Samsung’s service and therefore generating a heap of positivity which would no doubt have resulted in higher customer satisfaction and sales – all at a cost of a few hundred dollars.  As it happens it’s now become  instead the proverbial David and Goliath’s battle, and we all know that as customers we are instinctively drawn to support all Davids.

We shall never know how much this debacle will end up costing Samsung, but for sure it will cost them a hell of a lot more than if they had thought long and harder about PR in the first instance.

See on mashable.com