The Peculiar State of An Industry

peculiar state

AI / Robot Child Care in ’50s Japan

It sort of feels like the 1980/90s to me, or for my parent’s generation the 1950/60s. With all the marketing jabber on artificial intelligence, robots / drones, home / city automation, self-driving or flying cars, virtual reality, ‘modern’ homes, the difference today is its mashed-up up with prepositions such as cyber, digital, smart, and personal. Its an industry in a peculiar state.

I’ve pointed out the silliness of the term digital for years. Same with the pejorative term ‘over the top’ (OTT). So now onto ‘Cyber’, it means nothing – and that’s from its creator. Cyberspace comes from the science fiction writing of William Gibson, particularly his 1984 novel Neuromancer. Gibson’s account of how he coined the term cyberspace was he needed a “really hot name” for the arena in which his stories would be set, and cyberspace “sounded like it meant something or it might mean something, but as I stared at it, my whole delight was that I knew it meant absolutely nothing”.

Similarly ‘disruption’ is reaching the same level of nonsense in it means nothing, change happens. Just because the rate of change and its reporting is a little more frenetic doesn’t make it unique. Some things change, the world generally remains the same. Some businesses can not adapt to specific changes. Generally they see the change coming, like Kodak, just are unable to help themselves, as business as usual kills innovation.

On AI, changing a value in a database because of a difference in average measured state is not artificial intelligence as portrayed in the current crazy visions. Google knows where my home and work are through a simple algorithm (e.g. middle of night and location same as most other nights, then location=home). Same as telling you at 5:30 PM on a Tuesday how long it will take to get home as that is when you usually head home on a Tuesday. We are creatures of habit. This is not some awe-inspiring herald of AI. In the past 20/30 years we’ve come a long way from neural network research, and from the 50/60s with fuzzy logic. But we have a long way to go.

At this point ‘corporate astrologers’, so-called ‘futurists’ will go, “You know nothing, Alan Quayle!” Peddling fear through unforeseen dramatic change is their business. Telcos clearly see their demise into ISPs, its just whether they can help themselves. Corporate astrologers are not going to help them with that.

AI will continue its rise, but in small incremental ways, for example in BOTs (mainly text based ones) across many vertical applications. We’ve talked about such bots like KISST before and many hacks using them at TADHack.

On the connected home, finally reality is starting to set in. Nest and Dropcam are allegedly struggling. I’ve used many WiFi cameras over the years, I reviewed Home Camera back in 2008, its fun, but the use case becomes less compelling as situations change, e.g. helpless babies become toddlers etc. I have 5 thermostats around the home, and all are set after way too many hot/cold battles to a program that is acceptable to all. I can not afford for the sake of family harmony a device making decisions to lower temperatures because everyone left the house on a cold day for someone to come back to a cold home. But that’s just a personal example which is irrelevant. In hot countries like Singapore, within a few minutes of turning the AC on the place is cool, a networked thermostat has little benefit to most people. On the connected fridge, here’s a simple solution, put a bloody whiteboard on the fridge and list stuff out when its getting low, then whoever is going shopping take a photo if their memory is poor.

All uni-tasker WiFi or bluetooth devices around the home only need to work securely (and privately) between the app on one of my computers (of any form factor) and those uni-tasker devices. No third party spying (data gathers), thank you. The same is true in most industrial applications where security is paramount. Now in smart cities, its a little different – openness in the data is important, BUT security to the devices remains critical. Its the Internet of Silos!

Virtually Reality still hurts your eyes after 5-20 minutes depending on age, the same was true in 80/90s VR headsets. Same is true with 3D TV today. When will we ever learn?

The end result of all these moon-shot visions is when small, simple, incremental services are shown, they are treated with comments like, “that’s just too small for us to bother with”, “where’s the business case”, “we’ve never made money selling VAS to telcos”, “telcos can’t sell VAS.” Yet all those small services are easy to understand, and solve compelling problems for which people are prepared to pay. Slack is just a very simple enterprise messaging platform, that forces you to follow it regularly else loose track of the conversation. But look at its crazy valuation and the massive ecosystem its building.

The industry is in a peculiar state, stop acting like sheep for fear of loosing your job, express your well-founded incredulity at the relevance of the MWC VR demo, and at so much of the tripe being pedaled today in corporate slideware and websites. Its happened many times before, history is repeating itself. Get focused on the small incremental stuff that moves us forward. Chasing butterflies will just repeat the errors of waiting for the big IMS/RCS future while other IP-based communication services have filled the many small gaps in voice, messaging, video, security, and many specific use cases and integrations.  Small stuff rocks!

2 thoughts on “The Peculiar State of An Industry

  1. Mike Stefaniuk

    The end result of all these moon-shot visions is when small, simple, incremental services are shown, they are treated with comments like, “that’s just too small for us to bother with”, “where’s the business case”,……
    …….. Chasing butterflies will just repeat the errors of waiting for the big IMS/RCS future while other IP-based communication services have filled the many small gaps in voice, messaging, video, security, and many specific use cases and integrations. Small stuff rocks!

    Fully agree with the sentiment here, as the “business as usual kills innovation” and “chasing butterflies” provide the foundation for an excellent diagnosis (and in the case of “chasing butterflies” part of the prescription).

    I conceptually agree with the key point of having small cross-functional teams building a portfolio of many good ideas, and then taking the few that are the most successful and integrating them into SOP. However, how can this be accomplished in reality? There was an excellent HBR article about architectural disruption, and how incumbent business/operating models are in trouble when the true disruptors (Christensen’s definition, not the fluff you see everywhere else) have a fundamentally different business/operating model architecture (https://hbr.org/2016/03/the-other-disruption).

    It seems to me that there is a fundamentally different business/operating model architecture required for the small stuff, and trying to incorporate it into telco SOP, will likely result in failure (telcos are good at selling expensive services that serve one big use case, not many smaller things that address niche use cases). I’m curious if you’ve given any thought as to how telcos, if they adopt your recommendations in “chasing butterflies”, can successfully achieve scale with a successful small idea, given the issues with the traditional business/operating model architecture?

    1. Alan Quayle Post author

      :) Yep, telcos and especially the overpaid consultancies telco CXO’s listen to (you know the big names) are painting their clients into a corner. The services are small, many will fail, but Apple and Google have show as a whole they created immense value, change industries and people’s lives. Telcos’ revenue is now built on people access lots and lots of websites – whether it be fixed or mobile, the data plan defines the plan. They have ridden the wave of ISPs. Now its time to do something more, else downsize into a utility that is berated by everyone in the country.

      Telcos are an amazing channel to market in their countries of operations. They remain communication service providers, not just ISPs. Some Telco earn 50% of their revenue and 75% of margin delivering business services.

      There is no need for an architecture for the small stuff. There is no need for digital transformation for the small stuff. The technologies required are all available off the shelf. Its the people and processes that have to be different. Its being done before, both in telco and outside of telco. As I described in the articles.

      We’re facing the challenge in the $70B A2P opportunity all the messaging platforms are chasing. Telcos will have to adopt the principles I describe, else in 2020 years time go, “Damn, there’s another opportunity we missed!” Seriously, implementing an IP Communications platform (of whatever flavor you prefer, WebRTC, RCS, off the shelf IP) just to deliver P2P (which people in western markets think is free) should be considered gross incompetence. The money is in all the small A2P stuff, help make that happen in your market. Work with the SMBs, governments, enterprises, health services, universities, communities, etc. You will need some elements that scale as success breeds success, but technology is the easy bit these days. Building the business is the hard bit.

      Its not as easy a life as planning some proprietary virtualized platform for 2020. My contention is the industry’s focus is wrong.

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