2003-04: Feedback Invited

I will be doing a Tech Talk series at the end of the year on some of the important technology developments of 2003 and looking ahead to 2004. Your feedback is invited on what you think are the most important technologies that are shaping up. I want to take up two contexts: one is of course the global view, and the second is from the vantage point of emerging markets, especially what we are seeing in India.

HP’s Thin Clients

San Jose Mercury News writes about “a new device that can replicate a Windows desktop personal computer but is simpler for companies to deploy.”

The HP Consolidated Client is a computer in that it comes with a keyboard, display and mouse. But the machine is a so-called “thin client” because it has no disk drive storage. Rather, it connects over a network to a central computer called a server to access all software.

As such, the machine resembles others being promoted by competitors. Sun Microsystems’ Sun Ray, for instance, works in a similar fashion. But the HP machine differs in that it can run Windows and any Windows software applications, said Nick van der Zweep, director of utility computing at Palo Alto-based HP.

Sitting at an HP Client, workers can log in with a password and immediately gain access to all their personal e-mail and files stored on a specific server “blade,” a small data center computer that is dedicated to individual employees. When someone is not logged in, the server blade is available to do other computing jobs.

Van der Zweep said this kind of computer is more convenient for computer administrators because they no longer need to worry about moving a computer if an employee relocates to another part of a building. Nor do they have to worry about users damaging their machines by loading unauthorized software on them.

It will be interesting to see if HP pushes this aggressively. Like Sun, I think the mistake it is making is that it is tryingto target the developed makrets with these solutions when the real opportunity is to use the thin clients as the base for an affordable computing platform in emerging markets.

Enterprise Collaboration Solutions

InfoWorld writes that the future of enterprise collaboration is based on expanded reach with less reliance on all-in-one solutions:

Whatever the future of enterprise collaboration may hold, it will never be as dramatic a sea change as in the past. When Lotus Notes debuted in 1989, it was a radical departure from the prevailing norms of electronic collaboration. By combining rich development tools with the well-established concept of e-mail, it unleashed a flurry of competing attempts at developing the ICE (integrated collaboration environment).

Almost 15 years later, both user interfaces and back-end services have morphed to meet the needs of users. Integration seems to have given way to modularity. Its fair to suggest that the most drastic change in the way people work together has been the expansion of IM, which has evolved from a rogue application that small workgroups might adopt on an ad hoc basis, into one of two important load-bearing walls of the collaborative ecosystem.

One thing is clear about the future of collaboration: It will be a richer experience than people are used to having today. By extending the reach of collaborative capabilities and incorporating presence awareness into apps, documents, and the network fabric, enterprise IT architects will make users more productive, while providing a more effective way to retain the elusive organizational memory.

eTailing comes of Age

WSJ writes about how the holiday season is shaping up for the lucky ones who survived:

Some small Web-only retailers refused to die. A handful in unlikely categories such as jewelry, shoes and luggage are profitable and growing far more quickly than their offline counterparts. These specialty online retailers are prospering at a time when overall online sales are booming.

Consumers are expected to spend $12.2 billion online this year in the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period, up 42% from last year, according to Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass. The growth reflects a steady shift of retail spending to the online world, as consumers grow more comfortable with the Internet and the spread of high-speed home connections makes browsing and ordering simpler. Online shopping also tends to be more weather-proof; many snowbound Northeasterners ventured out into cyberspace instead of the elements to continue their holiday shopping this past weekend.

Still, a mere 4.5% of total retail spending is expected online this year, compared with 3.6% in 2002. But even the small shift in retail sales represents a combined billions of dollars for Internet retailers.

Nokia 6600

Powerpage has an extensive review of Nokia’s new “all-in-one organizer, information manager, and mobile communicator.”

It is high time that I dispensed with my nearly-three-year-old Motorola L-series cellphone and got something better. The choice seems to be between the Handspring Treo 600 and this new Nokia phone. Or, maybe I should look at one of the Reliance colour CDMA phones, given that they can also work as modems in most Indian cities. Any ideas?

European Business Innovation Awards

From WSJ:

Gold Winner: Network365 Ltd., Ireland
Silver Winner: Tribeka Ltd., U.K.
Bronze Winner: Civil Registration Modernization Program, Ireland
Honorable Mention: Concept Bois Technologie SA, Switzerland


Business Applications of IT Services Winners (tie): Civil Registration Modernization Program, Ireland, SAP AG, Germany

Consumer Marketing Winner: Lavandoo SA, Switzerland

Energy Winner: Concept Bois Technologie SA, Switzerland

Finance Winner: Network365 Ltd., Ireland
Runner-Up: Celpay Holdings, Netherlands

Transport-Logistics Winner: Tribeka Ltd., U.K.

From the introduction: “Emboldened by rising sales of games, ringtones and other digital content, cellphone operators across the world are rolling out services that allow consumers to electronically purchase physical goods, such as chocolates, concert tickets and books, using their handsets…This year, two innovators in mobile commerce captured top spots in The Wall Street Journal Europe’s European Innovation Awards, which are presented in association with Accenture. Network365 Ltd. of Dublin is the overall Gold Winner in Business and Winner of the Finance category. And Celpay Holdings of the Netherlands is Runner-Up in Finance.”

TECH TALK: My Mental Model: Creating Disruptive Innovations(Part 2)

How does one extract growth from nonconsumption? Christensen and Raynor write in their book about the four elements of new-market disruption:

1. The target customers are trying to get a job done, but because they lack the money or skill, a simple, inexpensive solution has been beyond reach.

2. These customers will compare the disruptive product to having nothing at all. As a result, they are delighted to buy it even though it may not be as good as other products available at high prices to current users with deeper expertise in the original value network. The performance hurdle required to delight such new-market customers is quite modest.

3. The technology that enables the disruption might be quite sophisticated, but disruptors deploy it to make the purchase and use of the product simple, convenient and foolproof. Is the foolproofedness that creates new growth by enabling people with less money and training to begin consuming.

4. The disruptive innovation creates a whole new value network. The new consumers typically purchase the product through new channels and use the product in new venues.

Disruptive Innovations are a fundamentally different way of thinking. It is not just about making a better mousetrap, but rethinking the job-to-be-done, and coming with completely different options. For example, if our objective is to provide computing to the non-users in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), then instead of thinking about thick desktops, one could look at thin clients and server-centric computing, along with open-source software to present a price point which would be 70% or more lower. This is a solution which will not appeal to the power users who are accustomed to having all the processing power and storage on the computer they use. But the solution would be attractive to people who otherwise face the prospect of not using computing at all.

When I started IndiaWorld (Indias first Internet portal) in March 1995, I did not understand the theory of disruptive innovations. But as I look back on the success of our venture, it was in no small measure due to the fact that we targeted a nonconsumption market Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) with our product (news and information about India) via a convenient, alternate distribution medium (the Internet and web browser, rather than print or television). Being able to get India news a couple times a day with a few clicks was a huge change from reading India Today delivered a week late or watching the news roundup on TV on the weekend. Most of the NRIs (especially in the US) had reasonably fast connections to the Internet from work or their university. So,even though our product was not good enough as compared to reading the daily newspaper, it delighted the NRIs because now for the first time they could know almost-immediately what has happening in India.

Creating disruptive innovations are what I think offers entrepreneurs the greatest potential for success. Answering Christensens questions makes entrepreneurs focus on what of their ideas and solutions are actually disruptive innovations.

Tomorrow: for the Bottom of the Pyramid

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