Saturday, November 22, 2008

Solving the last mile problem - Privately owned Fiber

Tim Wu from Columbia and Derek Slater from Google just published a working paper about Internet deployment in the New America Foundation, a think tank aiming at providing ideas for America’s future that has in the board people like Eric Smith, etc..

The idea is simple and straightforward. The last mile has been always the problem for Internet development. It has been said that is too costly, that not enough incentives exist for telcos to build a fiber infrastructure, etc… So --- let’s shift the ownership of this last mile to the customer (broadly speaking, the authors present a model where municipalities, condos, cities, etc… could have the ownership).

The paper revises the situation in Asia, where governments heavily invested in the infrastructure and in Europe where an increasing separation between the ownership of the fiber and Internet services is actively pursued by policy makers.

The authors state that this will finally solve the last mile problem and bring the dawn of fiber and with it really advanced applications (e.g. holography is discussed).

This model is not that different from the one being proposed by muni or free wifi communities where diversity of ownership in the last mile is also proposed. Obviously this will spur the development of fiber because there are enough communities in the world that already not only can afford it but that are eager to have it.

It also will spur innovation allowing new applications, services to be deployed and a new market segment to emerge.

However, there is an effect that is not discussed in the paper and I would like to comment. The core argument is the high cost of the deployment. Let’s for the sake of the example compare it with the history of the PC. Wasn’t this also the core argument against the deployment of the personal computer? What happened? The PC brought a new industry with new economies effectively reducing its costs because of scale and competition acting together. Now PCs are taking on supercomputers, the last niche (see the new offer from Dell).  

Exactly the same can happen in the telecommunications market if regulators agree on opening it!!  

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Monday, November 17, 2008

YouTube and the Changing face of Business Models in Internet

Many believed that the world was flat until Richard Florida proved that in reality is becoming spiky with focus of innovation and activity concentrated around certain areas. Some really nice diagrams that circulated through the Internet put the final prove to this question.

In a similar way, once the long tail was coined by Chris Anderson in Wired (October 2004), it was tough that the strategy of selling small quantities of a large number of unique items could be used to capture large revenues at an insignificant cost. This article became a book in 2006: The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.

Amazon with its recommender systems tried to build on this strategy. However, last week YouTube announced a partnership with Metro-Goldwin-Mayer to distribute their full-length movies and capture revenue by including publicity in them.

In many ways it looks like YouTube have given up with the idea that a significant amount of revenue can be obtained from user generated content.

However, this finding that revenue comes after all from the head and not from the tail is not new.

Once again we find that pattern that repeats so often. A new mostly untested idea finds its way to the market and is adopted by the vast majority of participants preventing further experimentation. After a while, the idea is finally dismissed or reviewed.

If we take a look at Amazon data, we can see that after all the strategy produces revenues and at a lower cost, compared to the blockbusters, and taking into consideration that the amount of fixed costs that we incur in order to pursue the strategy is negligible. The problem lies not in the fact that the strategy is profitable but that is not profitable enough to maintain the business.

Here we must also consider a different aspect: quality. Technology has reached the point of providing tools that allow professional quality work in writing and in photography, but probably not yet in movies (but coming with the new Red One, Nikon D90 or Canon Mark 5 III models). However quality is not only restricted to technical quality, but to the overall result where factors like the capacity to assemble a group of people capable of a professional result count a lot. This is probably why we are eager to pay more for an unknown book than for an unknown movie, but here we are probably going to see very interesting developments that will challenge all that.

Even if there is no clear way to capture a sizeable amount of value from the long tail in certain type of business, it drives users to the site and provides a space for sharing. Ad based business models are certainly the most popular ones in Internet, but maybe, we need some innovation in the business model too!!!  

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Alternative Reality Games (ARG), Collaborative Environments and p2p production

I don’t know if you know Jane MacGonigal, believe if you don’t, you should ! Just take a look at one of hers video talks for example the one in The NewYorker conference.

Jane MacGonigal is the Director of Game Research and Development of the Institute of the Future and author of the game Superdestruct. She coined the term economy of engagement, as far as I know (I may be wrong on that).

Recently, after the dark ages of TV that lasted more than 50 years, humanity is finding new ways of getting rid of our cognitive surplus (this term was coined by Clay Shirky – and I am not wrong here- pls take a look at his conference on web 2.0 about it). Cognitive surplus is a gift of the industrial revolution, when our society began to apply machines extensively something new was invented: free time.

And with free time came cognitive surplus. First gin and later sitcoms were our way to get rid of it until radio and especially TV appeared. For 50 years TV has been THE way to get rid of our cognitive surplus. Shirky calculated that the effort on Wikipedia is equivalent to 100M hours of human cognitive work. If we compare that to the time spent watching TV only in US – 200B hours – we see that 2,000 Wikipedias can be made with that time in the US alone.

User-Innovation, User-Created Contents, etc… are carving from that huge surplus and yes – finally we are moving from the couch away from the stupid box aka TV set.

The problem is that cognitive surplus is not evenly distributed neither available for long or not rewarding tasks. Yes, we want it to be fun, to be engaging and to be rewarding !!

Therefore the problem in designing Collaborative Environments or in capturing people’s imagination for innovation with software platforms or in p2p production is three sided. First how to make things modular and with a low granularity to be able to fit in the evenly distributed cognitive surplus. Second how to integrate the result through a software platform or with the limited introduction of a hierarchy (open source for example). And third, how to engage people.

Many attempts have been made on the first and second problems and we know to some extend some of the answers. However, we know very little of the third problem: how to engage people. And here is where the work of Jane MacGonigal is relevant, ARG could work in this third problem, specially for the Millennium generation and after, where games are integrated as part of daily life. With Albert Angehrn from Insead, we – mostly he – has been working in that direction too. He is a consummate master of using game dynamics in a variety of fields from education to innovation.

Games have many of the elements that can pull and trigger the best of us. They are satisfying, collaborative, allow us to work our social skills, generate a feeling of belonging while allowing us to be good and lead things. These are many of triggers that govern our life where reality and imagination many times blur. As Jane McGonigal reminds us

“An alternate reality is another way of experiencing existence.”

G.S. Elrick, 1978 

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Friday, November 14, 2008

FABLAB – Barcelona

Today I have been in FABLAB – Barcelona with Vicente Guallart.

It is really impressive what they are doing there. FABLAB use 3D printers, with many different types of technologies to produce physical things.

Technologies range from powder that can produce small solids in full color to laser that can sculpt figures of the size of a car. See an example on the side of a consumer product – a bottle of shampoo in that case.

FABLAB are integrated with software that can print directly from CAD designs and we believe it could be the beginning of the next revolution in prototyping and to some extend in fabrication. With CAD the activity of designing was transferred from a specialized job to a computer program that everybody can handle easily and that doesn’t require any special tool. CAD democratized design lowering the entry barriers and providing the opportunity for building realistic designs to everybody.

However, now a barrier still exists: from design to the physical object. It is still costly, complex and complicated to produce a prototype and even more a short run series of a physical object. FABLABs are the first step in changing that. They aim to put at the reach of everybody their 3D printers.

Yesterday we were talking of coupling our Industrial ring – a high speed Internet network that links a group of companies to the FABLAB. So it will be not only possible to send easily the design to the FABLAB for production but with HD cameras industries in the net could actually see the result and check it immediately before shipping and engage in a HD video-conferencing with the FABLAB. This service should speed prototyping for these companies. We are also aiming to do the same thing for Engineering Schools, so they could produce easily cheap models. Also we will offer the service to the whole network of Living Labs.  

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Coevolution of Technologies or How the iPhone stopped being a phone

In many ways the evolution of Smartphones presents a fantastic opportunity to witness how technologies morph and how they co-evolve with a society. Technology is not deterministic, in the sense that a certain technology could determine how it will be used in a certain society but is not also a blank slate. Certainly there are things that can be done with a technology and others that cannot, and this evolves as technological progress advances. How a certain society interprets, uses and selects the pathways is the result of a multitude of factors, among them, of course luck.

A few days ago some new games were presented for the iphone. Among them titles that all of us will recognize, such as SimCity and Need for Speed. Yes, I must recognize that many years ago I spent countless hours playing SimCity :-). If we recall the very short history of iPhone games we will find first things like "iPint", which plays with the metaphor of the iPhone as a pint of beer that you can drink that evolved to games like "CubicMan" using again motion sensors in the game, together with the inevitable PacMan, Solitaire, Pinball, etc... Because of the target group and thanks to the wii, we also have titles like "Brain Tunner", "Brain Toot", etc... Of course this is a personal selection :-) but it probably reflects the tendency to incorporate increasingly sophisticated games that require more time and in transform the iPhone in a gaming device. With the last round of games this trend is accelerating and is accelerating fast.

But, the iPhone was a phone, wasn`t it? I didn't do any study on the subject, but my use of the iPhone as a phone is minimal and the same thing happens with much of the people that I know that they have it. My most common has been email, as a personal assistant, reference and of course ... gaming.

However, in the smartphone market we have two great advantages: the first one is the fast pace at which things occur that allows to observe phenomena that before took many years. The second thing is the existence of lead markets that allows us to witness how similar technologies evolve in paths given by their affordabilities but in completely different ways. Let's take smartphones, there we can compare Korea, Japan and Western countries. In Korea we see how games evolved to Massive Multiuser Multiplayer Games, where massive amounts of people relate to a certain game. In contrast Japan seems to be dominated by the flash-little type of game, while in the western society the PC& console type of games seem to begin to take the lead. 

In all these cases we can find how the interpretation of a device by a certain society shapes an industry that in turn produces a different set of affordabilities because of the direction it takes . Also we can see the process of convergence around these interpretations. However, these interpretations are not unique neither the best ones, neither the ones that provide the greatest societal value. They are just the chosen ones. Again, markets provide a mechanism for convergence and evolution but not necessarily a direction that maximizes any societal value. Being aware of these mechanisms and the important societal implications that forms of communication have, sometimes you may wonder if this market mechanism should not be complemented by some societal consensus that at least promotes lines of action where markets are not effective (for example commons) while avoiding others. Compared to the speed of markets and the actual co-evolution of technologies, the mechanisms that societies have to maximize societal utility are very primitive to say the less. 

Anyway, this is not the only interesting aspect in co-evolution. For the sake of example, let's take one closely related to mobile devices: convergence. We have been talking of convergence for more than 10 years, why now? Will this results in a customer lock-in? How can companies detect it? ...

Anyway, forget about phones .... they are over! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Can the iPhone win?

We are used to see Apple in that kind of high end, exclusive customer segment that makes it difficult to imagine it as a mass market brand. But, did you consider if Apple could be the next Nokia? Can Apple win in the broad mass market?

These days we are witnessing the release of the third quarter sales charts, developed by the market research group NPD. For the first time, the iphone is the most purchased handset in the US displacing Motorola Razr. Apple sold 6.9M iphones in the four quarter, more than in all previous quarters combined. Moreover, an study elaborated by Canalys shows that smartphones grow at a 28% rate while traditional phones only at 3%. However, the distance among brands in the market is still big, Nokia is the leader with a 38.9% or the market, followed by Apple with a 17.3%, RIM (blackberry) 15.2%, Motorola 5.8% and HTC with a 5.8% too.

We can argue that in the smartphone market the platform (itunes) is an entry barrier and of course we will agree with that, but is the only one. All brands are also trying to compete in platforms and at a point some of them may succeed in having equivalent offers. Of course, platforms have big network and first mover effects and this is the explanation why all brands are trying to be the first to develop a platform with a sizeable number of users (only Apple is succeeding at that). However is that all?

I think it is not. There is a fundamental difference between a smartphone and a normal phone: a smartphone is a computer and a normal phone is just a phone. What are the implications? That a smartphone can easily incorporate any new function as long as it can be implemented in software. This is an enormous competitive advantage. The ability to transform all your user base of terminals by just providing a new download can effectively prevent and stop competition of many sorts. In fact my iphone (yes I have one since 1 year more or less – and I am very happy with it … please Apple put cut and paste the ability to forward sms !!) had three major changes since I have it and today is a completely different device than the one I bought 1 year ago.

That means that the only way to compete is with a tight integration of software and hardware features that could not be replicated with a software update.  Many believe that the incorporation of sensors could provide a way to create the new disruptive innovation in the mobile market. This is however, a huge step because sensors need an infrastructure ….  

However, Nokia is working on that, Apple is working on that too …. the stakes are too high. Probably you and I are the only ones that are not working on that … but … we are not phone companies, are we?

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

¿Necesita España un CTO?

Vemos estos días con admiración y una cierta envidia, los movimientos que se están produciendo en los Estados Unidos cara a la definición y configuración del puesto de CTO (Chief Technology Officier – Director de Tecnología) que Obama anunció en su campaña.

De momento hay un equipo de transición encabezado por John Podesta, que fuera chief of staff en la administración Clinton y que cuenta con una retaila de nombres procedentes de la administración y la industria con un fuerte peso de gente de la costa oeste, de la Administración Clinton y cercanos a Al Gore. Ya hay un resultado importante: una web 2.0 donde la nueva administración pretende recoger y proporcionar una canal de participación a todos los ciudadanos.

Lo que está menos claro son las funciones de este CTO, se sabe poco de si se va a configurar como una agencia más, va a ser una oficina más bien simbólica que busque la coordinación de políticas o tendrá una agenda clara de promoción de las TIC.

Parte del problema es que las tres configuraciones son necesarias y lo mismo sucede en nuestro país. Realmente hace falta dar un paso adelante en temas que todos sabemos necesarios y que debido a problemas de coordinación y de intereses departamentales han quedado relegados. Tenemos muchos, para muestra el botón de la receta electrónica, la administración sin papeles o el DNI digital …

Ahora bien, si bien estos proyectos son importantes y rehacer la administración con criterios del s. XXI en vez del XIX parece urgente, hay quizás un aspecto aún más importante. En este país se está haciendo un esfuerzo – pequeño y fragmentado en opinión de muchos, pero esfuerzo – en la promoción de la ciencia. Ahora bien, el área de la innovación sigue como perdida en el limbo de una miríada de proyectos colaborativos, ayudas y promoción a capacidades, parques tecnológicos, etc… de los que todos (incluidos sus promotores) dudamos de su efectividad. De lo que no duda nadie es de la necesidad de promover fuertemente esta área, porque ahí nos jugamos el futuro de este país.

Promover innovación es ciertamente difícil, porque la verdad es que sabemos más de lo que no funciona que de lo que funciona y quizás empezamos a saber algo de cuáles son las condiciones que permiten su desarrollo – lo que no quiere decir que las sepamos todas o seamos capaces de crearlas.

Una de esas condiciones son las TIC. Las TIC son además realmente importantes en los servicios, porque muchos servicios se basan en Información y en cualquier cosa que sea Información las TIC acaparan el aspecto productivo y permiten dar saltos cualitativos importantes en elementos como el modelo de negocio, etc… España cumple la doble condición de ser un país de servicios y ser un desastre en el tema TIC – no en adopción sino en producción (sólo Telefónica es el 50% de las investigación privada en TIC de todo el país). Es pues claro que si queremos mantener nuestra cuota en servicios, mejor creamos una industria fuerte de TIC y lo hacemos pronto.

Yo creo pues, que si, que está muy claro que nos vendría bien copiar a los americanos y tener un CTO de la misma manera que tenemos una ministra de Ciencia y Tecnología … y tenerlo pronto!!!!

The limits of the Market in Innovation …

Markets are a fantastic tool for coordination and for providing incentives to actors participating in it. However sometimes markets have their limitations.

Think about the challenge John F. Kennedy put the American nation: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man in the moon and returning him safely to the Earth”. Can this be achieved by exclusively by Market mechanisms?

Markets are driven by the diversity of resources and information and the expectation of profit. Therefore, agents in the market will attempt endeavors that could bring profit in a reasonable scale of time and with the resources and information that they already have or that they could reasonably have. Little incentive is there to pull together for new infrastructures or for large coordination.

But the big problem is the word “reasonable”. Markets are not going to attempt unreasonable things – no they don’t do that. However, many of the innovations that count are unreasonable.

The engineers that put a man in the moon were 18 at the time that Kennedy set up its goal.

About 6.500 days have passed since Tim Berners-Lee implemented the first successful communication through http (December 25, 1990).

Both things are unreasonable. The first one was state funded, the second one benefited from the network effects of the internet.

Internet has been in many ways (not all of them) market oriented. It worked because of the small granularity of the task and the capacity to provide incentives to them. A web page, ajax, web 2.0, …  are not such and effort, you can market it and is within the reach of what your company can learn. However, we cannot expect that all challenges can be solved that way, sometimes we have commons’ problems with low granularity and low incentives: science is the typical example – but now climate change or the infrastructures needed for energy, etc… are new ones.

Markets are incredible mechanisms but powerful as they are, they cannot solve everything. Political action and societal will need to commit themselves on solving some problems … because markets won’t.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Cloud Computing in the Web 2.0 Summit

In the Web 2.0 Summit, Padmasree Warrior (Cisco CTO), Paul Maritz, Kevin Lynch, Dave Giroaurd, and Marc Benioff were in a panel debating the future of cloud computing.

Two main views emerged. The ones that think that Cloud Computing will evolve following the Internet model and we will have a “federation” of clouds and the ones that see Cloud Computing evolving following the pattern of telcos, we will therefore see different and incompatible offers aiming, among other things, to lock in customers.

Which model is going to prevail?

In my view answering to answer this question we have to look at the growing mechanism and understand it. For that, the best way is to look at the incentives and possibilities of the individual agents, to look at the mechanism at the micro level.

What were the incentives that drive Internet expansion for, let’s say Microsoft? They clearly were around capturing market share and dominating the communication channel (the browser in that case). Let’s note that these incentives were perfectly aligned with the growth of Internet, as MS captured more market share (normally by fostering Internet expansion – e.g. putting its browser in every copy of Windows), Internet as a whole benefited from that.

If we compare that situation with the one in Cloud Computing, we can see important differences. Again the incentives are about dominating the channel but there is no need to share the platform with anybody because the access – through Internet – is guaranteed. The main incentive for Amazon, MS, Rackspace, Google, etc… is to have big and small applications that generate traffic and to keep them there – a.k.a. customer lock-in. Therefore the incentives are headed to a proprietary model, meaning an incompatible one because user-level interoperability is ensured by the Internet.

This is not necessarily wrong, because among other things fosters competitiveness and allows innovation. However and there is a big however, we must be attentive to monopolistic practices, because there are clear scale economies and clear network effects for the winner(s).

Friday, November 07, 2008

Lo urgente y lo importante … otra vez …

Este es un país en donde todos estamos acostumbrados a que lo urgente pase por delante de lo importante, esto no es para nosotros ninguna novedad.

Pues bien, hace unos días a la salida de la visita que Manuel Castells hizo al Citilab tuve la oportunidad de conversar un poco con uno de nuestros responsables políticos sobre … claro innovación.

Me comentó, con la extraordinaria claridad que sólo proporciona el hecho de tener que enfrentarse un día tras otro a los problemas, que esto de la crisis a pesar de los discursos y las promesas, tendría un impacto muy notable en el gasto en innovación. Al menos en Cataluña el problema parece ser sencillo, con unos ingresos ahora menguados y que apenas daban para pagar las competencias traspasadas cuando no lo estaban, no se puede hacer otra cosa que intentar atender a estas competencias y recortar en aquello que es importante. Claro hay que pagar educación, sanidad y orden público y lo que sobre, si sobrase … eso iría para otras políticas.

Es obvio que éste no es un problema nuevo y el resultado de esta política tampoco va a ser nada nuevo: los empleos que ahora se van, o somos capaces de construir un país atractivo o no volverán.

Ciertamente, la administración tiene una mentalidad de repartidora de bienes públicos que le corresponde, pero también le corresponde la de recabar la colaboración de empresas y ciudadanos y establecer consorcios con el dinero de todos como se hace en muchos otros países y aquí poco.

Me gustaría solamente hacer una reflexión, todos nos jugamos mucho en esta crisis,  para países como el nuestro, puede ser una oportunidad importante y una oportunidad de cambiar el modelo que todos sabíamos erróneo pero que como funcionaba y bien era difícil aunar voluntades y esfuerzos. Por favor,  aprovechemosla!!

The next wifi revolution began last Tuesday

On 1995 the FCC unlicensed the 2.4GHz spectrum, the one used by microwaves ovens and because it was less effective in penetrating walls and furniture was regarded as “junk”. Unlicensing this “junk” opened the door to a revolution – the wifi revolution. Wifi provided unprecedented levels of wireless connectivity and was shortly present at cafes and households all around the world.

Even with the important limitations that the spectrum offers, they were plans to blanquet cities with wifi and companies were started with this purpose – take a look at Meraki or Fon for example – and in some areas a real wifi connection worked ( to put an example of Catalonia).

This Tuesday the FCC unlicensed the unused portion of the spectrum ranging from 512MHz to 698MHz that was assigned to TV and is called the whitespaces. It has been a long battle that Google, HP, Dell, … fought to open these whitespaces and provide more options to users.

Just one day after Dell showed its commitment to provide equipment that uses this space and photos of prototypes were already circulating through Internet. Of course, nowadays radios are software and adjusting radios to a certain frequency is not that complicated.

There is one big difference between 2.4MHz and 2.4GHz, the later cannot pass effectively through walls and furniture and the former can. Also whitespaces allow for higher bandwidth, resulting in the capacity of streaming audio and video and allow for longer distances.

All that is now in the hands of companies and users, unregulated. The equipment needed to make it work is not so different than the one that we are using in wifi, therefore it seems poisoned to unleash innovation and provide effective competition to telcos.

Just think for a second what could have happened if in 1995 this whitespace was the one who was unregulated and not the 2.4GHz …

Just hoping that here in Europe we can have a similar thing…   

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Pay attention !!

En Jordi Delgado ens passa un traducció al català de pay attention, un video que resumeix moltes de les coses en les que en Jordi, en Ramon Sanguesa, l'Artur Serra, l'Isidor Fernández, en Vicens Badenes, tota la gent del CitiLab i jo també creiem.
En Jordi especialment, està fent una tasca fantàstica allà ensenyant squeak, ensenyant a programar al s. XXI a la manera del s. XXI.
Si podeu - doneu-hi un cop d'ull!!

Agusti Canals and Local Maxima or How often revolutions happen

Today I met with Agusti Canals, we didn’t meet for almost a year, among other things because he has been in Wharton working with his models. We have been talking about all the people here that work in SNA (Social Network Analysis) and also about the situation in Spain and Catalonia.

Among other things, we were discussing that in all these years our country was seated in a local maxima, we just were managing better than our neighbors. A similar situation happened with companies, universities, institutions, … Well, in many respects to be blinded by living in a local maxima is difficult to avoid. We humans are made for sensing and highlightening our close environment .. while somehow discarding things that are too far away.

But then I remembered Monday, when I was in the Telefónica Open Days and one of the speakers was trying to convince us that a revolution in the structure of the Internet is not possible because of the size of the installed base. Well, we all know that this is not true – just ask the music industry if you are not convinced (or poor Kodak …). Revolutions happen far more often than we think it happen. We all know that …

The real problem comes when these two ideas combine, and you don’t see that you are in a local maxima while simultaneously believing that revolutions don’t happen so often … Then you tend to expect that things will be more or less how they were. Again, this is not true and on top … is really dangerous !!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Behind Innovation : People

Tony Fadell was the guy who had the idea to marry a Napster like music store with an MP3 player. After leaving Philips and starting his own company: Fuse and after his company failed, he was hired by Apple.

Together with Portal Player he was in charge of the first incarnation of the iPod that later on changed the fortunes of the company and put it in the road of success. Now Fadell is leaving Apple.  

In any company is difficult to assess the contribution of everyone to a concrete innovation and probably in Apple this is more difficult than in many other companies. However Fadell brought a new idea into Apple and make it succeed.

For us now is maybe easy to accept that as normal business, but it is not. Try to put yourself 10 years ago in a company that makes computers and is proud of its computers and then imagine that you come with a small device that plays music. Where will you place it? Probably in the last page with the accessories. What was great of Apple at that time was recognizing the iPod as something that a company that makes computers should put in the front page, not only to design and produce it.

And that boils down to people, and to leadership, people wanting to take bold steps. We don’t know the real role of Fadell in this process, but we can imagine that it was significant, because behind innovation there is people and many times a single individual.

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Amazon Frustration

Amazon is taking a step forward against excessive packaging- GREAT!  and finally!!!

Finally somebody is taking a step against the type of excessive packaging that we commonly find in ink-jet cartridges or memory cards, it is not only a completely stupid waste of resources but a nightmare for users because of how bulky they get and the difficulty on opening an otherwise simple element. 

HP, SanDisk, ... and all the others -- it is your turn!!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Telefónica – Open Research Day

Today was the Open Research Day in Telefónica, a nice opportunity and a good moment to be acquainted with what is going on in the Internet and Multimedia group in Barcelona.

There were several talks together with an area with exhibitions and posters of prototypes and research applications. Possibly the talks were the most interesting part, because the group is quite new and still forming.

However, the talks revealed quite a lot. They were centered on the interaction with the user, subjects like personalization, recommendations, incorporation of context and knowledge in search and recommendations, etc… I especially liked the presentations of Nuria Oliver and Xavier Amatriain and also the one of Pablo Rodriguez and the summary of Carlos Domingo. Among the demos, let me highlight the one of Josep M. Puyol on social collaborative search.

What was possibly more interesting is the Open Day itself, the willingness to be open and collaborate.  Let’s see how much Telefónica allows this group to fly and be open, but it they do, it looks like poisoned to do some really nice work. Big kudos to them!! 

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Innovación y Crisis

Comenta Enrique Dans en su blog que la noticia de que Google empezó su andadura en un periodo de crisis no es cierta, y es verdad. Pero ello le da y nos da pie a una discusión más interesante: son buenas las crisis para la innovación?
Yo empecé a buscar trabajo durante la crisis de los 70, era una época de una España teñida de gris (y no sólo porque era el color que usaba la policía), fascista, mediocre, donde ser muy bueno o bueno en algo no importaba mucho porque se buscaba a gente "suficientemente buena" (esto ... no es que haya cambiado mucho ...). Trabajé de casi todo, de camarero también, claro y estuve metido hasta las cejas en política contra la dictadura como muchos otros. Esa era una época donde no había capital disponible, y sin capital, está claro que no, que no hay innovación. 
Sin embargo, esa fue también era la época de Dr. Dobbs, de Compuserve, del nacimiento en definitiva de los primeros PCs y en general de muchos de los momentos más estelares, en cuanto a innovación ser refiere, del mundo de los ordenadores.
Cualquier crisis nos trae un cambio de escenario donde aquellas propuestas que eran válidas antes lo son menos ahora y aquellas que antes se desdeñaban, ahora tienen una oportunidad. De por si, este hecho ya favorece la innovación. 
Pero una crisis también conduce a situaciones donde hay menos propuestas y éstas, si encajan, tienen más oportunidades de desarrollarse. Una crisis presenta, sin embargo, escenarios con más restricciones, pero aunque parezca inaudito, las restricciones son buenas para la innovación (hasta un cierto punto, claro!). 
Por último, hay un elemento que también caracteriza a las crisis, éstas generan necesidad de cambio de aquellas situaciones que ya eran insostenibles o ridículas pero la bonanza permitía mantener. 
Si, una crisis, si no estamos en la sombría España de los 70 y hay talento, algo de capital, mercado  y ambición, supone una oportunidad propicia para la innovación.
Las crisis, pueden ser buenas para la innovación, pero para ello necesitamos una sociedad diametralmente diferente a la que yo me encontré cuando empecé a trabajar, una sociedad donde suficientemente bueno no sea suficiente. 

Porter, Corea y la Estrategia de los paises

Se quejaba Porter en un podcast de Business Week reciente - del que no he podido encontrar el artículo y por eso no pongo el enlace - de la enorme diferencia en cómo se hacían las cosas en Corea o en los países nórdicos en Europa y en Estados Unidos.
Contaba que había asistido hacia poco a una seria de reuniones con el gabinete del primer ministro de Corea donde se había discutido cúal debería ser la estrategia del país en estos momentos de crisis. Se había hablado parece de sus ventajas competitivas y de qué y cómo deberían potenciar para hacer frente de la mejor manera posible a los retos que se avenicinan. Tambíen comentaba que había no hacia mucho, asistido a sesiones de trabajo similares en Dinamarca y finalmente se preguntaba por qué eso no era posible en Estados Unidos. Por qué los Estados Unidos seguían dominados por políticas atomizadas, pendientes de que surjan de la iniciativa privada elementos que tiren del país.
Cómo todos sabeis, Porter no es precisamente un amigo del intervencionismo estatal, es un republicano confeso - aunque de Boston, lo que quiere decir que es un republicano liberal, sea lo que sea eso. Porter no creo en un estado grande y fuerte y cree en la iniciativa de las empresas y la libertad de los agentes económicos para llevar a cabo iniciativas de peso. 
Sin embargo Porter también creen en la coordinación y en la necesidad de establecer prioridades y de sumar fuerzas y voluntades. Y es cierto, que el actual sistema en los Estados Unidos propicia mucho más políticas a corto plazo que solucionen los miles de problemas concretos que todos y cada uno de los lobbys presentan que una política real de país.
Mientras escuchaba el podcast no pude por menos que pensar en nuestro país. Muchas de las quejas de Porter las ves reflejadas cada vez que hablas con un responsable político de temas como innovación y te menciona y detalla la larga lista de prioridades que debe afrontar. Es cierto que hay elementos que nos acercan a la manera de funcionar de los paises nórdicos o Asiáticos, como muestra el - por muchos denostado - plan de I+D+i catalan que coordinó Alfons Cornella, un plan que sin duda tiene muchas deficiencias, pocos acuerdos y aún menos concreciones pero que se hizo con mucha gente, no con toda, pero con bastante y eso es un paso.
Estos días estoy evaluando la entrada en la European Network of Living Labs de los nuevos candidatos, más de 100 han pedido su entrada. Este es una de los ocasiones en las que tienes la oportunidad de comprobar las diferencias en la organización de la innovación en los diferentes paises y si, haberlas hailas! Probablemente las más notables estan entre Europa y los paises asiáticos. Los paises asiaticos presentan candidaturas integradoras, arropadas por el Ministerio de Innovación e Industria de turno, con todos los actores relevantes, con realidades y con presupuestos detrás. En cambio las Europeas son mayoritariamente atomizadas, sin soporte gubernamental, sin infrastructuras y sin un plan definido. 
A medio camino está la de Cataluña, donde si que estan todos los actores, si hay un soporte claro del gobierno, si se han trabajado objetivos y si que hay alguna infrastructura. Lo del presupuesto, bueno ... vamos a dejarlo. 
Visto el panorama, repasando las candidaturas, a uno le quedan de verdad pocas dudas de quién van a ser los países más innovadores en 20 años. No, no vamos a ser nosotros, no.
P.S. Me comenta Alfons Cornella que Infonomia no coordinó el Plan de I+D+i catalan, sinó que solamente organizó y sintetizó el debate de unas 20 mesas redondas de expertos a petición del PNRI, y extrajo las las ideas y propuestas más relevantes que posteriormente fueron utilizadas por los responsables del PRNI. 
Agradezco la corrección, ésta es la tarea a la que intentaba referirme en el post, que por concreción acabé denominando "coordinación", totalmente inexacto pero que espero que no haya llevado a ningún lector a un malentendido.
Alfons Cornella e Infonomia es una de las personas - organizaciones que más han hecho por la innovación en este país y que mejor conocen su realidad (en mi modesta opinión él es quien mejor la conoce, nadie como él ha estado en tantos municipios en tantas empresas y ha recolectado tantas experiencias)

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Bad times? Not for Walmart

Bad times for everybody? Not at all!!
Walmart is up 5% . A very nice article from Business Week tells us the whole story (the illustration on the left side comes from this article).
And again Walmart was fast in reacting the changing environment and modified its strategy accordingly, going from a diversification strategy trying to be more cool and appeal broader audiences to simplifying its offer and concentrating in basic products and unbeateable price, something that WalMart knows how to do better than anybody else!
And again we see one of its core strenghts, a mastering of its supply chain second to noone that enables him to shift strategy and take advantage of changing conditions.

The limits of Open Innovation

Michael J. Denton, vice-president of Engineering at Boeing declared that the company will rely less in outsourcing and more in in-house engineering for the next planes, beginning with the next iteration of the famous 787.

The Dreamliner, the 787 has been for quite some time a prime example of a massive use of partners in key areas such as design. This was also one of the most salient claims of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, the union that represents around 20.000 engineers and technical writers working in Boeing.

Does it sound familiar?

We have been witnessing a similar movement in Apple, who is integrating even more of its activities in order to gain both market and technical advantages.

And it seems that for these companies that aim for the top, relinquish control of significant components of its product strategy is costly. That contrast with the average type of firm, also situated in this area, who clearly prefers a market based approach.

Both cases of Apple and Boeing show that when companies aim to play at the edge of the complexity frontier, a network/integrated approach could bring benefits. In this frontier, the number of outstanding quality partners available is not large and the procedures that could streamline integration are not yet standardized or common practice, this is the reason why an integrated or network type schema at the end will work better.

However, remember this is only true in the complexity frontier, and complexity reduces as time passes because of standardization and modularization, both common engineering practices.

P.S. Again this is part of our on-going research with Prof. Ramon Casadesús.