eComm2008, day 3: calling with plants, and other innovative business models

The third and last day of the Emerging Communications Conference in Mountain View, CA focused in on innovation.

IBM Think logos at Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA

Keynote speaker and Chief Analyst Martin Geddes from STL Partners had no trouble convincing the audience that the telco companies need to reinvent themselves as providers of data logistics services. By providing a frictionless platform in-between upstream organizational customers and downstream individual customers, the telcos can source new revenue streams, just like the logistics companies from the freight business have successfully done for decades.

eComm2008 in Mountain View, CA: telcos are sitting on massive amounts of latent data assets

In the Telco 2.0 world, two-sided business models will allow the carriers to exploit the massive amounts of valuable but latent data assets they already own. For example, the airline that brought me to Silicon Valley and back could have offered me a highly personalized 5-day data plan, if only the local telco company had made it dead easy for them to do so. All the information needed to organize the transaction already exists – it’s just waiting to be recombined and exploited.

Data portability is another precondition for a flourishing Telco 2.0 world. Mobile operators could take over from the Web 2.0 social networking sites in this area, as they know their customers better than anyone else thanks to the billing relationship. But it won’t work if management of contact lists, pictures, music files, ringtones and the like are mandatorily coupled with data access.

Nathan Eagle (MIT) turning constraints into innovation in Africa

Abundance of information may actually cloud our view on how to select and recombine the useful bits. A possible antidote and innovation strategy is to go back to basics. This is what Nathan Eagle from MIT is experiencing in his work as facilitator of developmental entrepreneurship in Nairobi, Kenia. The 5-year old phones that the local population are using basically allow them to call and to send text messages. These constraints are a bonus in that they force Nathan Eagle and his team of local students and entrepreneurs to be more innovative. As a result, new forms of communication spring up, like flashing, where consensual meaning is attached to the number of times a phone rings. The advantage: zero cost. Another application uses SMS to vastly improve the supply chain of a blood bank. What better motivation to innovate is there than the opportunity to save lives with 250 lines of code?

Hi, this is your plant calling - David Troy at eComm2008 in Mountain View, CA

Of course, not every innovation grows out of a pressing in-your-face user need. Some Silicon Valley innovators, e.g. Ebay’s Pierre Omidyar, have become entrepreneurs and even billionnaires by accident. At the outset, there needs to be a desire for experimentation and playfulness. This is mostly a matter of personal or organizational mindset and culture. Not just knowledge, but also – if not mostly- imagination.

Dave Troy is certainly a case in point. He’s the creator of the mashups twittervisionflickrvision, and spinvision. He also makes thirsty plants call up their negligent bosses, facilitates political campaigns and steers robot vacuum cleaners by phone. Not every innovation like this is monetizable, of course, but that’s OK. What enables this kind of emergent innovation is the availability of open networks, open content, open devices and open source code. And an open mind, I should add.

Brian Capouch preserving historic houses with technology - eComm2008 in Mountain View, CA

Personal drive and attitude indeed make a big difference. Brian Capouch, a computer science professor who lives in rural Indiana, applies Asterisk and other open source technology to preserve historical farmland houses from vandalism and destruction. He also runs a wireless farm network for his local community. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!

Bridging the communication gap between Web and telco worlds

Shirish Andhare from Sylantro presented a human resources methodology to help bridge the culture gap between the Web 2.0 and the incumbent telco world. As said in yesterday’s post, the two worlds are doomed to collaborate in order to grow the pie. New multiplay service models need to see the daylight, with voice being only a component in a broader high-value solution. Elaborating on this last topic, Trevor Baca from Jaduka presented 10 usage contexts in which voice plays an important role. I mostly retain the following tags: urgency, emotion, place (to a minor extent: time), people, and, last but not least: enterprise. On a related note, Benoit Schillings from Trolltech stated that the best strategy to have users accept new features or concepts is to piggyback on what they already know and can relate to. In other words: innovative application features need to be positioned in the user’s mind.

It is an impossible task to summarize the learnings from 3 overstuffed days into a few lines. But let’s try anyhow:

  • Telco/Mobile 2.0 is not equal to squeezing Web 2.0 principles into the existing telco environment
  • It rather requires a radical rethink of existing technologies, organizational structures, work culture, service & product offerings, and, above all, business models
  • Innovation is an outside-in process; organizations need to open their windows and let the fresh air flow in. The answer is blowing in the wind
  • Technology is used by humans. Humans have social and professional relationships. Technology that facilitates these relationships wins
  • End users always have the last word: they will vote with their clicks

One Response to “eComm2008, day 3: calling with plants, and other innovative business models”

  1. Curator says:

    Interessant verslag, met enkele firma’s om over te leren.
    Moutainview, lucky you. Wij beleven veel plezier aan zaken als Authors@google (geen telco zaken). End users gaan voor.. groot gemak.

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