Decyphering Bitcoin and the Blockchain

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No doubt you’ll have heard about Bitcoin by now. It’s that disruptive technology that is keeping Financial Services CEOs awake at night. JP Morgan CEO, Jamie Dimon, in his annual letter to shareholders warned investors and the banking industry that “Silicon Valley is coming” – suggesting that there are hundreds of startups focusing on the financial services technology space (“fintech”) and that traditional banking will need to double down on its innovation efforts.

[Startups] … are very good at reducing the ‘pain points’ in that they can make loans in minutes, which might take banks weeks. We are going to work hard to make our services as seamless and competitive as theirs. And we also are completely comfortable with partnering where it makes sense.

But his particular focus on next generation payments systems like PayPal and Bitcoin were called out for special attention.

Here in Australia, these new systems have been the subject of a Senate Hearing Committee investigating digital currencies.

But how does Bitcoin work? Sean Carmody, Head of Credit Risk at Westpac put together this presentation that explains the technical underpinnings of Bitcoin – the blockchain. It explains:

  • Why virtual currencies are a happening thing – the perfect match for a virtual world
  • The problem with virtual currencies – how to prevent people simply “copying” a digital currency
  • The innovation in the “blockchain”

And while the presentation does get technical, it is also eye-opening. Technology may be transforming the way that currencies can operate (now and into the future) – but TRUST remains a vital ingredient in currency transactions. And as Sean suggests, Bitcoin may not be the winner in the digital currency race – but it has fired the starter’s gun.

Disrupting the Disruptors – Follow Me on Meerkat

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I feel it. I’m sure you feel it too. Launch fatigue. It is what happens when you can’t bring yourself to click a link or open yet another email announcement about the app or website that is going to change your life. After all, our lives are pretty much the same as they were last year, right? AND the year before. And the year before that.

Actually, I can’t recall being truly, authentically excited about a new technology for sometime.

Until Meerkat arrived.

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I frequently attend events of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes as a guest. Sometimes as a speaker. But always as a curious participant. If there is something interesting taking place, I will live tweet the speeches. I will take photos from the stage. It’s as much for my own benefit as it is for those who follow. I find this kind of live coverage a great way to capture value – to tell the story, to bring people closer. To explore. But with Twitter and even with Instagram pictures only take you so far. And for most events 15 seconds is just not long enough.

Enter the Meerkat

While Twitter recently announced its purchase of Periscope for live streaming – Meerkat has been able to build a substantial user base in a matter of weeks. And while new apps come and go, it feels like this cat may have some interesting and stripy surprises.

In my view, most social networks handle new product launches appallingly. It seems that once they achieve some level of scale, they lose their way, hire in “enterprise” types and follow the beaten path towards monetisation through advertising. Facebook are getting better at this. But Twitter is clearly lagging. Not only have they invested in an app with little or no public traction, their track record with new releases does not inspire confidence. And this leaves the door open for disruption.

Meerkat takes what has been happening in a much more clunky way and removes the friction. They’ve taken a leaf out of Apple’s playbook – observe an innovation and make it better. Pioneers of portable web streaming like JustinTV led the way, struggling with battery packs, bulky technology and low network connectivity. But for the individual it was all too much. Trouble. Bother.

And that’s where Meerkat’s elegance wins out. With your smartphone and a good 4G signal (or 3G while standing on one leg), you can now livestream anything. Everyday events. Activities just t. Special occasions.

With Meerkat, social media is not about telling people what you are having for breakfast. It’s not even about how good your breakfast looks in photos. Now people can watch you eat. Live. With sound.

We’re all breakfast TV hosts now

Effectively, our conversations can actually be turned into conversations. We become both interviewer and subject.

But already this new medium is challenging the old form. Twitter excels for those who find social settings too in-your-face. On Twitter you can know all the answers, but Meerkat’s critical eye demands high energy. Conversation. Viewpoints. Meerkat is the medium of the incessantly curious the verbally dextrous.

Is it all too much?

It’s very early days – but Meerkat is setting a new direction that we didn’t know we needed. But one thing is for certain. Those who win on networks like Meerkat will be very different from those who win on text based channels like Twitter. And when the disruptors are disrupted, things get interesting.

Mean Tweets–The Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young Tweets Back

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Public figures attract a lot of bile on social media. But there is a special kind of hatred that seems to be reserved for politicians – especially female politicians. The very public campaigning against Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will certainly be remembered for the dog whistling and sexism that passed for public debate. It marked a low point in political discourse – one from which we have scarcely recovered.

It certainly seems that many in the Australian population still struggle with successful women on the public stage.

So what is a politician to to? Resort to the broadcast media? Or create their own?

South Australian Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young has taken a leaf out of US Talk Show Host, Jimmy Kimmel’s book, and has started sharing some of the more colourful – and downright rude – messages that she receives via her YouTube channel. Introducing “Pleasantries with Sarah Hanson-Young”, the senator explains:

As a federal senator, I receive a lot of correspondence. Today, I am going to share with you some of the more heartwarming messages.

What I like about this forthright approach is that, where possible, Twitter identities are shared. It’s great to see some of this kind of “feedback” get the ridicule it deserves.

But even better than that, it’s great to see some of our politicians giving some creative thought to the way that they engage with the public. If only more of them actually engaged with technology they might not pass such ill-informed legislation as the Data Retention laws – and we’d all be better off for it.

How IBM and AusOpen Tennis are rethinking the “sportacular”

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The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.
— Guy DeBord, Society of the Spectacle

One of the most transformative trends of the last decade has been the shift from inside-out to outside-in thinking. It can be applied to almost any industry or area of expertise. Think, for example, about technology innovation. Up until recently, new ideas and inventions were the province of internal business and technology teams. Research and development funds and resources would be sunk into various teams and programs – some official and others operating in the shadows. Eventually these ideas would emerge as new products. As innovation made flesh (or wires or software). But over the last decade this has shifted. With more open platforms like Salesforce1, the growth of developer communities for software platforms from SAP to Marketo, Jive to Atlassian, innovation has breached the firewall and has taken on a life of its own.

The combination of open-ish platforms and abundant data is creating new opportunities for businesses and their customers alike. But the benefits are not limited to an in-your-face direct-to-your-phone coupon or BOGOF offer. By combining technology and matching it to human behaviour, we are beginning to explore a whole new world of experiences. And the testing ground for this innovation is not a lab in the middle of the Nevada Desert, but right here, at one of Australia’s largest sporting events – the Australian Open Tennis.

IBM and the Australian Open Tennis have been partners for decades. Many years ago, my extended team worked on IBM’s large scale sports events like the Olympics, NBA, Super Bowl and the Australian Open – so I had the opportunity to see – from the inside – how the technology and services were brought together. There has been a lot of water under the bridge in that time, so when I was invited to go “behind the scenes” and learn how things had changed, I jumped at the chance.

As has always been the case, the technology and services that IBM provides are deeply embedded in the running of the event.  But it’s not just the outward facing systems and technology. These days, the technology and business process integration taps into the way that the grand slam tournament is run and reported – it’s “hard wired” or should I say “wirelessly” into the fabric of the business, event management and fan experience. This partnership stretches from the electronic impulses of the web to the real time provisioning of servers, to the deployment of onsite security personnel, management of player timetables and grand slam rules and the amplification of fan experiences via social media.

Big Data on the Centre Court

Ian Wong from IBM’s interactive experiences team stepped the technology through its paces, revealing court data for each of the games. There were enough high level statistics to excite the armchair observer – from fastest serve to win ratios and more. All of this data was being captured by a combination of on-court technology and human observation. The umpire’s scoring PDA  fed directly into the system, managing scoring, counting strokes and helping to keep the games moving to time. High up in the stands were also other observers who were cross-checking and monitoring the on-court action.

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The data capture sounds impressive – to a point – but the big data activity underlying is where it becomes fascinating. Each game, each point, each stroke is captured and stored. This information is then processed and analysed – and builds upon the same data going back over eight years. This massive data store allows the IBM team and Australian Open to profile players and particular matches and to use a matching algorithm to unlock the “keys to the match”.

For example, say Martina Hingis was playing Serena Williams. The system could pull all previous match data and reveal aspects of match play that each had to achieve in order to win. The “keys to the match” could be “successful first serve 76% of the time” or “serving to the opponent’s backhand 65% of the time for second serves” and so on. Interestingly, this information and analytics power is made available to coaches and players through interactive panels – though not to the general public.

From off-court big data to real world big data

While the spectacle of on-court action is the drawcard, in true “Society of the Spectacle” form, a just as important aspect of the Australian Open Tennis is the fan experience. Tennis Australia CIO, Samir Mahir, has put together a massive sense and respond network that not only connects fans – it responds to their needs – matching expectation and demand with services and resources just-in-time. As Samir explained, “it’s about getting more people to come to the Tennis”.

Ingeniously, providing free wifi for all attendees means that fans are always connected – with a fat pipe of data ready and available at all times. AusOpen have established “Selfie Zones” around the stadium where people are encouraged to take photos and share via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And when tagged, can be displayed on the big screens on the centre court for all to see.

But this is just the start of the big data story. As people move around the stadium, routers count the number of connections to wifi points of presence. This data is then fed in real time to the logistics engines which can determine whether there are sufficient security personnel, adequate ticketing booths open and available or enough food and drink vendors in the right location. If necessary, food and drink or security personnel are notified and redeployed to ensure levels of service and safety are maintained across the massive complex.

Similarly, social media is monitored for volume and velocity. This information is then crunched by IBM’s Watson natural language processor. Realising that an increase in social media activity creates increased demand on the AusOpen website, IBM is then able to use social media velocity to predict and trigger on-demand webserver provisioning.

From sport to sportacular

By placing the fan – the consumer of sport – at the centre of the tennis experience, IBM and the Australian Open are transforming what was once a spectator event to a “sportacular”. They are combining and showcasing the gladiatorial contest on court, the preparations on the practise courts and an experience for fans that connects the location and their own experience in an event that is part of a global grand slam series.

In an instant these messages, are captured, multiplied, beamed around the world and brought back to the individual one selfie at a time.

The basically tautological character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.
— De Bord, Society of the Spectacle.

Note: travel and accommodation were courtesy of IBM.

 

#Digitalks: Digital Disruption – how to thrive through change

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Each quarter, Firebrand host a lunch time seminar for the Sydney marketing community. This quarter, hosted by Adobe, I presented on the topic of digital disruption – and how marketers and innovators can apply the principles of the lean startup to transform their businesses.

We covered the three things you’ll need to pay attention to in order to build your business:

  • Marketing innovation: How to think and act like a marketing-led startup to innovate your way to profitability
  • Metrics: The key metrics that give you insight, focus, and control
  • Momentum: How focused action yields data and drives outcomes

You can:

 

The Amazing Case of the Disappearing Technology

BranFerren

BranFerren

Technology is stuff that doesn’t work yet.

— Bran Ferren

Bran Ferren’s words echo across the wifi to us like a premonition. The former President of R&D at Walt Disney Imagineering’s deep understanding of the way people use and engage with technology is only starting to play out in the devices that we so readily take for granted. The fact that we can call a piece of technology, a “device” at all shows how far we have come; after all, a device is something personal, knowable, intimate. And it was only twenty-odd years ago that carrying a “mobile phone” could put your back out. Personal technology is shrinking at a considerable rate.

Big Machines, Small Data

For decades, technology has driven business innovation, resulting in the rise of professional services firms, technology companies and most recently, software platforms. Until the early 90s, we designed systems around single business functions – like purchasing or order management. While this was a huge improvement on previous systems, it entrenched departmental silos and required duplication of work – put simply, the same information had to be entered into completely separate systems. Occasionally, the IT teams were able to integrate systems – connecting some pieces of data together, but this also required governance, standards and compliance – which added cost and complexity to already complex systems.

At the centre of this data frontier were the CIOs – vital drivers of innovation and productivity in almost every business. And held tightly in their grasp was information.

We realised that the faster we could crunch business information, the faster we could make decisions. Accordingly we built electronic supply chains, implemented ERP systems and automated what we could. We brought disparate systems together with a single package providing a reliable flow of data from one department to another. We had massive computers pumping relatively small amounts of data through relatively small, connected pipes. In some cases, remote controllers would be hooked up to servers via dial-up connections – and these ran multinational businesses!

The focus for all this innovation was the “back office” – far away from the prying eyes of the customer.

The Rise of the Front of House

While ERP innovation was driving efficiencies within the hardened arteries of businesses, the sales and marketing folks were still working from the same trusty rolodex and dog-eared business cards they had used since the Great Depression. But Tom Siebel had other ideas. His company was to do to customer relationships what SAP had done to finance and enterprise resource planning. The vision was – as it remains today – a single view of the customer. Like many grand visions, the reality remains tantalisingly out of reach.

But this focus on customer facing business functions, brought sales and marketing into the connected enterprise. Customer billing systems, processing, pipeline and opportunity management and a range of other functions were all digitised – and the field of business re-engineering flourished. Consultants had learned through the ERP years that return on investment lies in business users actually using these systems – and that meant customisation, training and change management. In large enterprises, this task was enormous – but was largely contained by the limits of the business. The focus was on engineering the business not extending beyond the safety of the firewall.

After all, even the top of the range, slimline laptops were clunky, heavy and slow in performance. And the business systems were ugly, hard to use and the data networks were notoriously unreliable. It appeared that innovation was always going to stop at the dizzy limit of a thin blue ethernet chord. And everything from the design of the software and hardware through to the challenges of remote access served to remind us that we were always operating out of our comfort zones – that we were dealing with technology that could both help and hinder us.

Outside-In Innovation and the Crowd

While most businesses were licking their wounds after the dotcom bomb, a new generation of tech entrepreneurs flew below the radar to create a whole new way of connecting the dots around businesses. These emerging social networks skipped the B2B market and launched direct to consumers, corralling vast swathes of the population into tightly bunched, loosely connected groups.

Similar to the way that dolphins collaborate to feast on an abundance of school fish, fast moving digital platforms like Google, Facebook and Yahoo skirted around our flanks and drove us together. Overwhelmed by the speed but excited by the possibilities, we willingly handed over our privacy, location and even identity in order to join with others who were “just like me”.

These platforms, working at warp speed, innovated at the speed of customer experience. They were unencumbered by years of process, archaic business systems and entrenched ways of working. They pushed out new features to the delight or disgust of their members, changed as necessary and moved on.

Sensing a fickleness in the consumer landscape, these fast growing startup enterprises blitzed past the “sense-and-respond” mantra proffered by management consultants the world over and created “lean” businesses that responded to changing conditions through automation, strategic outsourcing and peer-oriented customer service. The suggestions of the crowd – the paying customer – drove changes in business models, product features and even business strategy.

And all this outside-in innovation was happening from the comfort of our homes, with the convenience of technology we could hold in our hands.

The Internet of Things Gives Way to the Internet of Me

The real revolution in all this is three-fold:

  1. Consumers have built their own ecosystems around the experience that they want to create and curate for themselves
  2. “Technology” is disappearing from our lives, shrinking to a size that can be incorporated into our daily fashions
  3. Data is proliferating and permeating devices, systems and everywhere in-between

At the moment we are seeing the Internet of Things gaining traction in our homes, workplaces and public spaces. Connected by low bandwidth protocols like bluetooth, devices like Withings weight scales function like an analogue machine, displaying your weight – but add an additional dimension powered by the web and big data. Not only is your weight captured, your profile is queried in real time, and your height details are returned. Then your BMI is displayed while your latest reading is transmitted back to the cloud.

In some retail stores, sensors like iBeacons track your movement and signal your identity based on the apps running on your phone. Store assistants are proactively updated on your current status, interests and so on, and are ready to more readily assist you. Sound creepy? It’s already happening.

This is no longer the internet of things, but the internet of me. We are creating personal versions of the same kind of ERP networks that were developed in the 90s – linking our payment systems (banks) to our supply chains (shops) through sensors, apps, profiles and devices that we carry or wear at all times. And all of this is happening largely out of our view. It’s invisible. And once it becomes invisible it becomes “the way of life”.

Fresh Ideas-Woolworths launches innovation program for startups

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One of the greatest challenges any startup faces is distribution. How do you get your new product or service into the hot little hands of your customers? How do you do it quickly and with a high conversion rate? Gone are the days when you could drop your new app into the Apple App Store and start seeing download traction.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in July 2014, it was revealed that there are now over 1.2 million apps on the iOS App Store (Google Play, by comparison, is estimated to hold around 1.2 million apps on their store). This literally means that the chance of someone stumbling upon your prized and well-loved app is way less than one in a million – and when you add in algorithms, rankings, reputation and efforts to game the process, the average app developer is at a distinct disadvantage.

Rather than placing all your bets as a startup founder on “going viral” and creating the “next Facebook”, many are turning to some form of collaboration with corporates. And just as the startups turn to corporates, so too do the corporates turn to the startups.

Over the last few months there has been increasing interest in curating engagement with the startup community – not just sponsorship of events which is a light touch, but more substantial programs. While these may start out as “hackathons” where teams of developers come together over a weekend to collaborate on often random projects, when successful, the programs evolve into more substantial efforts. Firms like PwC host Open Innovation events that bring together entrepreneurs, small business owners, clients and researchers to solve challenging problems; NRMA and Slingshot recently launched their JumpStart program; and Telstra has progressed even further, establishing their Muru-D accelerator which has just accepted its second intake.

In an unexpected – but welcome move – Woolworths too are stepping into this space. It is still unclear what the benefits would be for a participating startup – the Wstart program website explains:

This is an opportunity to be heard by key Woolworths executives and discuss your business idea that could drive new thinking within Woolworths. We provide a collaborative environment to learn, share and network with others.

The format of the first event is Speed Dating where you can showcase your idea, collaborate with like-minded individuals, network, and receive mentoring from industry experts.

But the Wstart website is sparse – and to be honest – collaborative environments are popping up faster than I can blink. Or write. And while mentoring is great, access to potential customers, users and communities are far more important for startups.

After the speed dating event there is the opportunity to continue discussions with Woolworths.

If you are interested in participating, you need to submit your startup idea for consideration by 17 November 2014. You can do this on the Wstart website.

 

Stop Talking at Me, No one is Listening-Slides from the DiG Festival

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I have just returned (and recovered) from Newcastle’s DiG Festival. I had expected it to be an Australian SXSW and I was not disappointed.

Newcastle in NSW’s Hunter Region, turned on the weather and the charm, playing host to hundreds of festival participants, local businesses and a swarm of innovators keen to connect. The festival itself was a tightly run, but eclectic mix of topics, speakers, academic research and workshops. Sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank and with backing from the University of Newcastle, PwC and local startup accelerator, Slingshot, the festival brought together the research, business, startup and innovation communities in a unique format over two days.

There were various streams all happening at the same time – with talks in the main hall, workshops close by, networking out by the bar, and an open innovation team challenge upstairs. People were constantly weaving between the spaces – dropping into workshop sessions, popping out to network and share information, heading out for in-depth discussions over coffee or settling in for the meaty topics in the main hall. There was a real buzz and energy that was backed by some serious, high-powered speakers.

The Commonwealth Bank’s Nick Aronson got everyone fired up around the “future of payments” on day 1, and Jeff Julian rounded out the day with a jaw-dropping demonstration of his creative prowess. The day 2 keynote from Pandora’s Jane Huxley had everyone tapping their feet to the music and IBM’s Catherine Caruana-McManus dazzled at day’s end with a vision for a smarter, more sustainable cities. Topping and tailing the festival this way provided a strong focus to an inaugural event and demonstrated the way that businesses and communities are collaborating in innovative new ways.

But it wasn’t just the keynotes that showed the quality of the festival. Many of the attendees could also have presented on-stage – there were thought leaders, business and community leaders and startup entrepreneurs with dozens of ideas and projects well underway.

I presented “Stop Talking at Me. No one is Listening: The New Physics of the Consumerverse” – and had a great time in front of a great audience. I was followed by the powerhouse insight of retail guru, Nancy Georges. I believe all of the presentations were recorded and will be made available online in the near future. Be sure to check out the DiG Festival website for updates.

And in the meantime, pencil DiG Festival into your 2014 schedule. This was just the beginning, and it’s only going to get better from here.

Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

What is creativity? How do we link it to business – and how do we make a business OUT of that creative impulse? These are all questions that link the five must-read posts from last week. And interestingly, at least for me, the answer is not what you’d expect.

  1. When Google decided to shut down its Reader product, it sent shockwaves through its community of influencers. So when it came time to launch Evernote competitor, Keep, Om Malik decided it may not be worth the investment. Great article reminding us all that a “Free” product always comes with a cost.
  2. Do you feel that you have the tools, skills and capability to be innovative at work? Do you have permission? If you answered “no”, Glenn Llopis says you are not alone.
  3. There is no doubt that both internal and external forces are bringing CIOs and CMOs together. But how do we recalibrate our businesses? Dion Hinchcliffe looks at the new reality.
  4. Jonathan Crossfield takes a deep dive into marketing statistics and infographics. What does he find? Confusion.
  5. When Bill Bernbach resigned from Grey Advertising to start DDB, he not only left behind a legacy (and created a new one). He left a letter exhorting his colleagues to creative greatness. Read his blistering resignation/challenge at Neil Perkin’s blog.

Advertising in 2020 – Let’s Hope There’s Fire

MarkEarlsJohnWillshire

John Willshire and Mark Earls make you think. They chisel and shape ideas until they are sharp enough to be carved into your mind.

As part of the Wharton Future of Advertising program, they put together this presentation that provokes a conversation around advertising and what it might look like in the year ahead. Take a look through, it’s quick and it will challenge you. Then read on below …

One of the things that caught my attention was a simple statement. “Make things people want [is greater than] Make people want things”.

This seems to be self-evident, but in practice it requires an alternative way of thinking. Almost all of our marketing theory and practice centres on the stimulation of desire. We deliberately create items, objects and experiences that are limited in their availability and then we amplify not only the fact of existence, but the fact of their scarcity.

And yet, we live in an age of abundance. We all know it. Yet we still play out this game of scarcity. I find it interesting. I find it fascinating that we are complicit in this form of cultural production that we call advertising. But I also predict a seachange ahead.

We are going to have to work a whole lot harder to generate the kind of engagement and interest that advertising once commanded. Our connected consumers have outflanked, outranked and even out-performed us. Mark and John are right. We will need marketing and advertising that is bolder than we have been in decades. And decidedly more primal. We’ll need to relinquish the calculator and the paperclip and step out from behind the mirrored glass and meet our customers face to face.

Big data may hold the answers – but we’re far from understanding the most basic of questions. Mark and John have lit a signal fire but it’s not off in the distance. Look down, it’s right under our arses.