The internet of everything – perspectives

Perspectives from a Guardian roundtable event: The internet of everything – a catalyst for the start up economy?

Great economic and societal potential, riddled with risks and data ‘ownership’ issues – that’s one way of summing up the discussion at the Guardian’s recent roundtable on the internet of everything (IOE).

The roundtable, sponsored by Cisco, comprised a range of participants from academia, investment and technology sectors. The Guardian will be publishing their full page write-up on the 4th June and their coverage will no doubt objectively balance the key themes from the morning. My write-up is not a report of the discussion but a reflection on some of the points that made me think or are closest to my heart as someone linking technology to business value and outcomes.

Throughout the roundtable, we kept coming back to two things – data and people.

Ultimately, the IOE is about creating, extracting, sharing and using data from physical objects that were not previously ‘data-enabled’ – for instance an industrial battery that tells you when it’s running low or in need of maintenance. That data may be responded to in an entirely automated way or, most often, by human beings who act on the insights gained from that data. Let’s keep in mind that the E in IOE means everything. And everything includes people.

And that’s what I kept coming back to as we talked. To truly cross the chasm, any use of IOE needs to make business life or personal life better.

For a business, that comes down to two things – creating greater cost efficiency and/or innovating to gain competitive advantage. For consumers, that means making the mundane more efficient, helping us to be more productive or increasing our enjoyment of things we like to spend time on.

Healthcare, already a sector in transition through the growing adoption of ‘telemedicine’ and ‘telehealth’, looks set for further transformation as IOE enables vulnerable and elderly people to live independently at home for longer and its further potential to help those with both physical and mental support needs is immense. Of course, it’s not about the technology per se – the technology simply triggers the right human support at the right time in a way that potentially cuts costs, enhances quality of life and saves lives.

But there are many other areas open to transformation.

Manufacturing and energy industries can create greater efficiency through remote and automated monitoring and management of plants and equipment. Support organisations, from garages to social housing, can pre-empt and repair customer equipment problems before the customer knows they have a problem. ‘Smart cities’ can better manage traffic flow and parking across the city. Of course that’s all good. But the real power of IOE is the insight that comes from the aggregation and analysis of data. That may identify patterns of healthcare need or why products fail in the field or how customers actually behave. In turn products and services can be enhanced to deliver lower cost and/or more customised and relevant services.  And, so we come back to people.

Those with in-depth sector experience are often best placed to know and understand the problems and opportunities that can be addressed by IOE but need the support of technical experts to identify what’s actually possible. Making it easy for businesses, new and existing, to understand the potential of IOE within their business is essential to adoption. The feeling around our table was that it’s often hard for businesses to understand what data they have, grasp what IOE is all about and what it can do for them.

It’s a matter of education and those of us involved in the technology sector need to help companies explore their working processes and practices to identify better how to bring the physical world into the digital and how to capture, share and analyse the potentially rich data that brings.

Of course, with any potential ‘game-changer’ there’s usually a downside too. Suppliers and technologists – and the legal sector too – need to help companies navigate through the risks, challenges and options inherent in doing anything transformational. Probably the biggest of these challenges is around data ownership. Indeed, as the round table asked, what is ‘data ownership’? How data is collected, how it is used and by whom – and how it is ‘protected’ – will be key to longer term adoption of IOE, particularly in our personal lives or in sensitive sectors like healthcare.

So, what should our collective call to action be?

Business people don’t start by thinking about technology. They start by thinking about how to make their organisations ‘better’ in pursuit of their goals. Cisco talk about the ‘art of the possible’. IOE inhabits the realms of the possible – what we know today is only the tip of the iceberg. The companies that will truly find competitive advantage will be those that engage in the dialogue today – that open discussion up to new ideas and new partners and who are prepared to transform the way they work and interact. And those that engage in those discussions need to join up technology, people, commerciality and process.

After all, technology is just techie stuff for geeks until it finds real world applications for real world businesses. And, that’s where we stop talking about ‘IOE’ and start talking about what it’s doing for us in our daily business and personal lives.

Sunny prospects for cloud at Convergence Summit North

IT trade shows represent an interesting barometer on market conditions and this week’s Convergence Summit North suggests that there are sunnier prospects for cloud ahead! Here’s a quick personal round-up of some of the facts, views and people that caught my attention. First a subject close to my heart – the changing buying-selling landscape. Ian Hunter, editor of CommsBusiness got the ball rolling in his opening seminar, quoting Lucy Green of Larato’s findings that telemarketing just isn’t working for many partners and pointing to Gartner research on the declining significance of the reseller. It became a key topic in our panel debate on ‘Cloud sales opportunities for resellers’. My fellow panellists agreed sales teams need to be more commercial and business outcomes-led in their approach. Selling features and being a nice guy or gal just won’t cut it. I tend to agree with Lucy Green’s experience that the biggest competitor in the market right now is ‘no decision’. That’s probably at least partly due to the fact both suppliers and buyers struggle to identify compelling and relevant business cases and, as Paul Bryce of Node 4 pointed out, to map the right journey. Turning attention to technology, the ‘Collaboration apps in action’ session was all about video. Tim Stone of Polycom highlighted the need for video to be simple and not prohibitive in upfront costs or effort and suggested that finally that may becoming reality. It can’t come soon enough for the SMB, according to Graham Harris of Daisy. SMBs want and need to change the way they work and communicate – particularly with external parties. Meanwhile, in the exhibition hall there was a good buzz and talking with people like John Whitty of GCI (one of my fellow panellists) and David Green of 8×8, a general optimism about the market and growth in cloud adoption. This optimism was backed up in Alex Hilton’s Cloud Industry Forum presentation. In a climate of increasing cloud adoption, there are still 61% of companies using Windows Server 2003 which reaches end of support in July and the CIF forecasts a 90% increase in cloud adoption as a result. It’s not all cloud-cloud-cloud though. The unsurprising but clear headline news is that 80% of companies are pursuing a long-term hybrid IT strategy. Finally, these events are great for catching up with familiar faces like Richard Crossland of Alfred Ashley Group and Carl Taylor of Adepteo. I worked with Carl many years ago and it’s interesting to see how the professionalism and customer values instilled in us way back then are still guiding us today in a very different world. Ian Hunter asked what earth shattering developments had happened in the sector since the last summit and most of the responses were about incremental improvements. As Carl pointed out, we might really be the lucky generation to have lived through the incredible technology innovations of the last 20+ years and be able to appreciate first-hand how technology has changed our lives – and still have the energy and excitement to grasp the next wave of opportunity and earth-shattering change. As I said at the start, the future is looking up!

The age of the ageless workforce

Frankly I’m a bit tired of all this talk about companies needing to adapt to the expectations of the millennials. I don’t disagree with the sentiment. Far from it. It’s absolutely right that companies should be actively attracting, developing and retaining the best young talent.

But I think the discussion is missing half the story. Whilst millennials will be the next generation of leaders, they will never make up the entire workforce. By 2020, around 50% of the global  workforce will be millennials but that still leaves 36% of the workers who will be 50+, including 10% of over 65s who are still working and, of course, the Gen Z post-millennials will soon be joining the workforce with their own needs and expectations.

Within the next few years we will have 5 (some say more) generations in the workplace. That’s a much bigger challenge than solely catering to the needs of the millennials and we need to figure out what that really means for the workplace of the future.

So, while I’m on my soap box, let’s not write off older workers as risk-averse, stuck in the past and resistant to change. If we do that we dismiss every manager, mentor or colleague whose experience we’ve learnt from.

And we shouldn’t make assumptions about attitudes to risk or change. Last year I was part of an interesting discussion at an IOD event in which we mused over the fact that whilst millennials appear to be quicker to switch brands, products or companies and therefore seem open to change, that’s their choice. I’ve met plenty of millennials hungry for the next challenge but I’ve also encountered those who find it hard to adapt or to step out of their comfort zones. Meanwhile, as we go through the big highs and lows of life, we learn how to gain perspective and adapt to change. Whilst some workers may become stuck in their ways for others, as they reach the end of their working life, there may be ‘less to lose’ and a big motivational drive to leave a deep and lasting legacy of success. In fact, those over 50 are experiencing the biggest growth in self-employment and are the most likely to still be going 5 years later.

Interestingly, some commentators suggest that older and younger workers actually have a lot more in common than we might first imagine. For instance, they are attracted to work they find interesting and to companies they feel an affinity with. PwC’s insightful ‘Managing tomorrow’s people’ study suggests three diverging corporate business models which will shape the business world of the future. These three trends – the ‘corporate is king’ blue-chip, the socially responsible green organisation and the ‘small is beautiful’ niche specialists – will all offer different opportunities and options for the post-generational workforce.

So, rather than focusing on an environment that suits just one generation, albeit an important one, let’s start thinking about creating an ageless environment in which all team members can excel:

  • An ‘elastic’ workforce: more diversity in terms of employment arrangements including full-time, part-time, job share, secondments, sabbaticals, freelancers, perma-temps, contractors and partnerships to name a few.
  • Adaptive office environments: enlightened companies are creating aesthetic, light, multi-purpose workspaces that balance the formal and informal and provide collaborative and video-enabled meeting spaces with quiet areas for task focused activities.
  • Diverse motivation and reward. What we value changes through our lives. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to staff development, retention, reward and career progression in order for each individual to maximise their own potential.
  • Making the most of talent. The tacit knowledge and perspective that comes with experience is highly valuable. It’s not about holding on to an obsolete past but leveraging and combining experience with fresh future-focused ideas to bring rapid innovation and fast-track execution planning. And, mixed generation teams can be highly collaborative as they tend to demonstrate less internal competitiveness than single generational groups.

So why is now the ageless age?

Transformational change tends to happen when several trends collide and intersect at a point in time when there’s a compelling reason to change. And, we might argue, that time is now.

We live longer – and are fit and healthy for longer too. Many people are enthusiastic about working later in life – though not necessarily full time or in their original career.

Savings and pensions have in many cases underperformed, the ‘final salary pension’ is rapidly on its way out, governments are increasing retirement ages and the economy is just about bumping along. In many cases, people are unable to retire to an acceptable quality of life.

Technology is now truly delivering collaborative, visual, mobile workplaces which allow people to productively ‘work from anywhere’. Older generations may not universally adopt ‘technology for the sake of technology’ but they can be surprisingly fast adopters of technology which enhances their lives, saves them time or makes them more productive. (My mother, for instance, immediately got an iRobot vacuum the moment she saw mine!)

And the nature of work is changing. Most repetitive and recurring transactional tasks have been automated or outsourced, leaving a growing demand – and skills shortage in many areas – for knowledge workers able to deliver variable, erratic and fluid projects that call for innovation, experience and effective execution.

A time for choice

We have a choice. Muddle along together, paying lip service to the needs of the millennials and hoping everyone else either falls in line or ships out or create dynamic ageless organisations that leverage the skills and energies of its entire workforce and, in return, provide a working environment that adapts through all phases of our working lives. Aspirational? Yes. Achieveable? Let’s hope so – working life will be all the richer for it.

Author: Anna Britnor Guest

Business success in the cloud

‘The cloud’ has been a hot buzzword for some time now and, whilst the definitions and financial models are starting to become better understood, there’s still plenty of confusion out there.

Rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon, understanding the business impact and proper planning or 2 obvious but key factors that are emerging as critical to successful use of the cloud. Recently I’ve written several cloud-related articles which are collated here:

How to benefit from the cloud in 2014

2014 is the year of cloud predictions. All good stuff but, while the average mid-market company might be inspired by the big picture trends – and may indeed be pioneering change in their industry – the day to day pressure is how to grow revenue, manage costs and deliver profit to the shareholders. Pragmatism rules the day! This article takes a step back and looks at practical considerations for companies wondering if cloud is right for them

Read the full article here

A cloud world without resellers?
Imagine a world with no IT salespeople. A world with no IT resellers. After all, who would they sell to in a world with no internal IT delivery or support teams and where IT is bought at the click of a button?

It’s a bit extreme but it’s not far from the cloud delivery model trend that some are predicting and it’s creating interesting conversations in many reseller boardrooms right now. This article explores how to build a sustainable reseller business in the cloud.

Read the full article here

5i launches partner cloud sales enablement training

Knowing your market, your proposition and how to bring value to your customer is key to maximising business development success.

5i’s unique partner sales training is designed to support partners to quickly get up to speed in selling cloud and hybrid propositions. Underpinned by our core, proven sales methodologies and our commitment to delivering participative and engaging sales training that focuses on selling technology for business benefit.

Read the full article here




CIOs – not CEOs – can drive business transformation, say Forrester

A recent report from Forrester “The CIO’s Role in Business Transformation.” and summarised by CIOInsights

identifies that technology is usually at the heart of most business transformations and that CIOs are therefore well-positioned to lead transformation projects. Yet, not all CIOs are well-suited to such a role. The report loosely categorises CIOs into IT soldiers, leaders of IT, change consultants and transformation leaders.

The report aligns well with many of the discussions we have in our sales and business development training and maps well with how we define different types of CIO, according to their priorities and attitudes. It links well too with IBM’s Essential CIO study which categorised what business expects of its IT function from leveraging the existing IT investment  through to pioneering business transformation.

What’s evident is that CIO and the business need to be clear about the role of IT, its potential to make a difference and what they expect of the IT leadership. It’s also evident that companies that see the potential of technology to drive new business opportunities are those most likely to move ahead of competitors playing the ‘wait and see’ game. Balancing risk versus reward is always key and Accenture have an interesting report on this: Strategic planning is dead, long live strategic planning.

The Forrester report will no doubt spark some interesting conversations within IT functions and boards. CIOs have long been tasked with stepping up to the business plate. As technology increasingly underpins competitive advantage, these skills will be essential in both IT leadership and in their suppliers. Are you ready to move up a gear?

Making business sense of the cloud

Cloud’ is a hot topic but despite the sky high (excuse the pun) promises and expectations it’s not all things to all people or a panacea for all IT. Here we try to give you the low-down on what cloud can – and can’t – do for business.

At the moment it seems we have ‘alphabet as a Service’. Prefix aaS with any letter you like and it probably means something to somebody. We talk about ‘the cloud’ as if it’s one thing but ‘cloud’ services come in many different forms and what’s right for one company or one software application isn’t right for another.

The commercial story

We all know that the key business priorities are GROWTH (in a flat economy) & PROFIT, mainly through greater efficiency. To achieve these aims companies need to create operational versatility and join up silos to get everyone working together as ‘1 company’.

For IT this means 2 things

  1. Engage more closely with business – IT as business enabler


  1. Control & manage costs through greater efficiency.

That usually means reduce complexity, reduce large capital expenditures and respond faster and more proactively to changing business needs. Sometimes these can feel like painfully conflicting demands yet a well-designed and streamlined IT environment that leverages & integrates cloud services in the right way delivers a platform that brings together and addresses these challenging demands. Critically, it brings this capability within the technical and commercial reach of the mid market in a potentially ‘game-changing’ way.

The cloud landscape

Understanding the cloud landscape is pretty complex even for cloud technologists but here are three aspects that can cause technical or commercial confusion.

1.’ Cloud’ is a very generic term for pretty much anything that is not delivered in-house! The most common forms of cloud are ‘Software as a Service’ i.e. the delivery of user applications as a subscription service and the delivery of IT services, infrastructure, resources or platforms as a service. There is no single definition and no ‘one size fits all’.

2. The level of support and resilience offered varies enormously from no guarantees at all to full Service Level Agreements and penalty clauses.

3. Cloud is not necessarily cheaper. Cloud moves much of ICT from a capex to an opex model and so it smooths costs over time and makes cost management more predictable. The real business advantage, and cost avoidance over time, comes from the flexibility and scalability to change, the freeing up of internal resources to focus on engaging with the business and from avoiding the costs and business barriers associated with running old and legacy equipment.

Business triggers

So when’s the right time to start the journey?

Common business triggers include

  • Changes in how IT and business engage
  • Changing working environments (eg mobility, flexible working)
  • Business change programmes
  • ‘One company’ initiatives and restructuring
  • New business applications
  • Improving collaboration with 3rd parties or other locations

Common technology triggers include

  • Server upgrades, refresh  or virtualisation / rationalisation
  • New or upgraded applications (or requirements to extend  access to applications to new sites / partners)
  • Technology review
  • Back-up/business continuity requirements
  • Security review
  • Supplier / service contract rationalisation

The 5i Training view

So, with our feet on the ground, what’s our view of the cloud?

You only have to look at the market statistics and predictions so see that deployment in the cloud is a growing trend that is only going to accelerate as the commercial model becomes well-established.

We also know that one size does not fit all. It never has for on-premise solutions and managed services and it won’t in the cloud. Neither is cloud ‘all or nothing’.

Each company has its own start point and its own goals so each needs a joined up ICT plan that is based on what’s right for that specific business – commercially, technically and financially.

It’s far too easy to oversell the benefits of cloud without really quantifying the value a potential customer might receive. That leads to a pipeline that quickly withers at the qualification stage.

Those offering cloud services need to be clear about their value proposition and how it addresses the needs of their customers. With that understanding, and a clear methodology for customer migration, cloud providers can start to deliver on the promise of the cloud as a platform for business flexibility, efficiency and growth.

Defining business value

What is ‘business value’ and how do you align and articulate value to a customer?

It’s a question that generates a lot of discussions and definitions during our workshops but there are two general truths which emerge – value is measured in different ways by different people and it means nothing if it’s not relevant. In business terms that means it must contribute in some definable way to the company’s vision, strategy, corporate objectives and execution plan.

To sell in this challenging but opportunity-filled market means truly understanding how your proposition delivers value to your customer and articulating that value in a meaningful way.

Any service or solution that delivers value will do so across one of more of the following levels. Correctly identifying the type of value you are offering and then building the right message for the right people will help you to avoid feature and price wars and develop a more business-led approach to engaging with your customer:

  • Cost efficiency: value at this level is about cost savings (not necessarily cost cutting!). For example, from a collaboration perspective that means reducing costs in areas such as telephone calls, travel, maintenance or call centre staffing. But here’s the key – it’s got to be a clear cost-saving. Nothing fluffy.
  • Resource effectiveness: here value is about optimising the resources you have, usually through process improvement. Improving sales win rates, getting product to market quicker and improving customer satisfaction ratings are all ways in which companies might demonstrate and measure better use of resources and optimised processes.
  • Strategic acceleration: at this level, business value is about how you support the business to better set, adjust, communicate and deliver against its strategic goals than it otherwise could. Often, from a technology perspective, it’s about how you enable your customers to be more versatile and agile – particularly in this current economic climate.

If you can’t map your value into one or more of these areas – go back to the drawing board and re-qualify whether you have a sales opportunity or fully understand your customer’s needs.

Working from the first principle of your customer’s strategic business goals and the key objectives they are driving towards will give you a clear yardstick against which to measure the value your proposition offers and how to build your sales strategy.

And one final thought – most companies are seeking better alignment between IT and the business and are looking to IT to build better business cases. This model doesn’t just help you – it helps your IT sponsors to build their case and ensure IT truly delivers on its promise of business benefit.

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