Other Things

The Internet

What did Bill Gates Mean when he said "The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow"? In a village the town square is basically the centre hub of the village. The place where all the day-to-day things take place. What Bill meant is the Internet is rapidly turning into a town square where people interact with each other more and more online. In that sense, it's virtually becoming a virtual town square.

This technology like no other before it, has turbo-charged globalisation. Corporate networks, commerce and communication all link seamlessly as if boundaries didn’t exist. This is clearly verified by the fact that we now spend nearly half of our waking hours using communications technology - hooked up to networks in a way that many believe is actually rewiring our brains.

This juggernaut of technology has also produced a Newtonian Law reaction which is equal and opposite. This globalization has been accompanied by a desire to strengthen ties to family, neighbours and our communities and to rediscover our sense of local identity. This localising force of the digital revolution is not widely recognised but it is significant.

In other words to win local, think global and vice versa. Are the rules for entrepreneurial success different in the digital space dependant on the product, I suspect they are not.
Take an idea, perfect it, maintain quality as demand grows, persuade target customers to pay a decent price: these are essentials whether that product is virtual, physical or edible.

Localization: The revolution in consumer markets
For decades the large national brands have dominated the consumer-market landscape with their winning store formats and product mixes. Their "one size fits all" strategy has reaped rewards but the echos are suggesting that this approach no longer fits. Diverse consumer communities, differentiated by ethnicity, wealth, lifestyle and values are now demanding more customized products. Local customers increasingly rebel against cookie-cutter stores that threaten their neighborhoods' unique character. If these retail giants respond with offerings to customized requirement at each location, they risk losing the economies of scale that fuel their profits.

This reverse manifestation of the Internet driven globalization, increasingly provides small business the opportunities to take advantage before the larger retailers can react. Smaller businesses need to collect as much data as possible on key elements of their business.

Data from staff knowledge, census and other demographic research.
Data from consumer surveys and unsolicited comments.
Data from sales and intelligence on competitors.
Data on what you sell - the product mix, pricing, promotions, store layout, and service levels.
Data on where you sell - including consumer demographics, climate, competitor market share, local attractions and cultural events.
Data on when you sell - such as monthly, seasonal, and yearly cycles.

With the data you've gathered, create consumer cluster groups who share distinct preferences related to what, where, and when they buy. Use the minimum number of clusters that enable you to localize the most promising elements of your product and services.

After analyzing local demographics and demand patterns, target those clusters by tailoring your retail efforts to address those specific requirements.

If your business is selling electronic goods, then the data analyses may well have created these examples of cluster groups.

1. Busy suburban moms who are the chief buyers for their households, want help navigating the world of technology.
2. Young technological junkies want cutting-edge entertainment and gaming gear at cheaper prices.
3. Affluent, time-poor professionals seek high-end equipment and a personalized service.

Retailing to these clusters can be achieved in a number of ways, altering layouts, widening aisles and warmer lighting, technology related toys for kids, knowledgeable personal shopping assistants.
By targeting the more attractive customers and providing them with one-on-one service you will create sticky customer groups, which are not as price sensitive and they also cost less to serve.

How can a small business marshal its limited resources to build an advantage? To challenge the scale leaders, small business need to make Smart, Bold, Forceful decisions about what path to take. Then commit to their choice and invest aggressively to move as far and as fast along that strategic path as possible.

Small Business has three strategies available to enact:

1. The hitchhike - large retailers have scale advantages but they are tethered to the rules they themselves have set. The opportunity here is to hitch onto an existing market and win by using nimble capability and create more value in the local market.

2. The hijack - hitchhiking may be the easiest strategy if you can get away with it but an aggressive challenger can hijack the market by winning over the best customers or by introducing something new that creates additional need.

3. Disruption - the killer blow, is to render the leader’s scale advantage obsolete by changing the rules of the game. Changing the rules is more than just innovating new rules, it requires breaking the fundemental rules of the game.

The Extranet

An extranet is a private network that uses Internet technology and the public telecommunication system to securely share parts of a business's information or operations with suppliers, vendors, partners, customers or other businesses.

Extranets can be viewed as part of a company's intranet that is extended to users outside the company. For decades businesses have been interconnecting to other businesses (B2B), on private networks for sharing information. One of the major differences that characterizes an extranet, is that these interconnections are over a shared network rather than through dedicated physical lines. Because of this open public network share, an extranet requires additional security and privacy. These can include firewall server management and the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) that tunnel through the public network.

Uses for an extranet:
Exchange data with other Businesses using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
Share product catalogs exclusively with wholesalers or those "in the trade"
Collaborate with other companies
Develop and use training programs with other companies
Provide services and applications for access by other companies

An extranet would be invaluable for businesses who have traveling sales persons or an outsourced development teams, work-from-home executives or a key clients with special support requirements.
It makes sense to have an intranet/extranet portal where they can log in, share information and collaborate.

Cost savings can be found through reduced paper documents, the elimination of overnight shipping, fewer long-distance calls and reduced travel costs. Increased productivity can result from the automation of processes and critical information being available 24/7. Faster delivery and exchange can occur as information of all types can be posted to the extranet website for immediate access.

With website access available any time of the day, partners, clients and customers have the flexibility to operate when and where it's most convenient, eliminating some of the need to schedule meetings, phone calls and email exchanges. Customer relations are improved as interactions can be personalized and extended. Clients can provide feedback and input to your development efforts, at the same time giving them a sense of co-operation and feeling of appreciation for their business needs and viewpoints.

A “Customer Portal” is an important example of a business extranet. Built specifically for customers, customer portals provide the infrastructure for dedicated services like payments, support and training, access to internal documentation, contracts, reports etc. Customer portals in addition to enhancing efficiency of customer service, also lead to more satisfied customers and are good tools for cross selling.

A business can use its customer portal to regularly supply updated information on new and existing products to particular customers and present the information in a readily digestable format.

Small businesses need to monitor distributed sales teams and manage client expectation. What better way to facilitate these important business processes than to have a secure extranet. An extranet is the next logical next step a business should consider when day to day operations of that business, rely more and more on the use of emails as the primary method of sharing information. If your project development relies on emails and meetings to manage, then an extranet would be more efficient and more effective than using emails to progress projects to completion.

Implementing any software to facilitate business functions always requires a degree of commitment. More so with intranet/extranet software because of its organizational impact and implications.
It is important therefore to make informed and well researched choices when choosing between different solutions. Businesses looking to set up an intranet for the first time may not even have a clear idea of what tools might be necessary to facilitate operations.

Extranets are becoming essential for technology driven business environments. An extranet will transform the way you do business, develop organizational change, nuture organizational culture and create opportunities that save costs and increase the bottom line.

The Internet of Things

Smart phones are connecting people to other people via the internet. The next evolution is the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is the popular name for the technology by which a network of devices are connected and controlled over the Internet. There are presently an estimated 5.0 billion Internet of Things devices and this already large number is expected to rise to 25.0 billion by 2020.

IoT is the concept of machine to machine (M2M) communication without human intervention. It is made up of three major components, the devices themselves, the networks connecting them together and the analytics that make use of the data they exchange.

The different kinds of devices that make up the Internet of Things include cars, refrigerators, coffee makers, televisions, microwave ovens, fitness bands, thermostats, smartwatches, webcams, copy machines, medical devices and more are added each day.

The expression “at the touch of a button” infers speed and immediacy. Amazon is taking the phrase literally. As an extension to their "Wish List" browser button, Amazon has implemented a application that offers members wireless-connected buttons around their home, which can be pressed when the household is running low on certain items. Pressing the button initiates an order to replenish whatever is needed and the order is shipped to the customer’s home. Whether or not Amazon’s “Dash” buttons appeal to mainstream consumers, remains to be seen but the initiative points to an important retail trend.

If you're thinking to yourself how to apply the Internet of Things (IoT) in your business, bring your imagination and your wildest dreams because virtually everything is possible.

Vendors are trotting out all manner of products and applications to address specific needs but we are seeing little in the way of true enterprise applications. The main reason for this is, currently much of the activity is focused on consumer-oriented products and applications such as wearable devices and home monitoring systems. We need to see beyond the current clutter and try to understand how the IoT can be applied in a business context.

Six key application areas for Internet of Things development with potential for exponential growth.

Wearables - Entertainment, Fitness, Smart communication, Location and tracking, Predictive behaviour.

Home and Building automation - Access control, Light & temperature control, Energy optimization, Connected appliances, Predictive maintenance.

Smart Cities - Residential E-meters, Smart street lights, Pipeline leak dectection, Traffic control, Surveilance cameras, Integrated systems control, Predictive maintenance.

Smart Manufacturing - Flow optimization, Real time inventory, Asset tracking, Employee safety, Production control, Predictive maintenance.

Health Care - Remote monitoring, Ambulance telemetry, Drug tracking, Hospital asset tracking, Access control, Predictive maintenance.

Automotive - Infotainment, Telemetry, Car to car communication, Access control, Predictive maintenance.

All of these areas will need development in power harvesting solutions allowing devices to extract and manage nano-power from a variety of sources:
1. solar, 2. thermo-electric, 3. electro-magnetic, 4. vibration.

IoT technology will enable new applications that are simply not possible with traditional battery powered systems. From solar-powered sensors for wireless monitoring or using body heat to power sensors on medical and fitness equipment, energy harvesting will create complete ecosystems for a battery-less world.

If the World Wide Web has revolutionised the way we communicate over the last two decades, the Internet of Things will, make the web of 2020 unrecognisable from the one we use today.