Disruptive days call for an inside-out approach

May 21, 2018
business-as-usual_dead-endThe next big thing is here even if it is hard to see. It’s Internet again, this time with the real world added to people and organisations already in place. That process is often called Internet of Things – IoT where the “T” refers to the physical world. And this time the impact on society, organisations and people will be even bigger than what Internet had last time since the real world most often is missing from the processes we try to digitalise today. The stock exchanges went through its digital transformation years ago since documents traded was digitalised, brokers on the floor was replaced by systems and money flows freely in cyber space. The remaining connection to the real world includes the companies themselves and some individuals still trading as well as the distance between the computers with the trading systems and the robot trader agents.

We started digitalise in the fifties but it is only when a process is fully digital the benefits appear. And most processes touch the real world why IoT is required to complete most of the digital transformation. When a process is digital, end to end, we can harvest, but more importantly we can add turbo functionality like artificial intelligence, robotics and computer vision to them and make many times better gains in speed, cost, efficiency and quality. The impact of that can easily be a drastic change in an entire industry (like when selling books left the book store era) and will for sure eliminate a lot of white and blue-collar jobs.

We are just in the beginning of this fundamental change of rules and games which probably will go on for the next 20 years or so. And who the winners will be on the other side is hard to tell but I believe there are some things that will characterise the good candidates:

Entrepreneurs with open minds, good ideas and fantastic ability to execute together with the resources needed can build from a clean piece of paper and skip all legacy related challenges. Most will fail but some of the winners will absolutely come from this category either on their own but more often as part of a bigger organisation. Timing, people and resources are the key issues for them to master.
Financial muscles enables clever investments and some of the winners will be clever and lucky enough to buy themselves a winner’s position. Timing, people and resources are the key issues for them to master.
Some organisations of today will master this entire race – yes it’s like 10 marathon races back to back and even if you are in the lead after race number eight you can easily fail completely. Think Netscape… Ability to change is always a matter of people and processes. A winner in this long race will have to secure solid processes and a well unified and motivated team throughout the entire race even though the distance and where the goal is remain unclear. Constantly changing processes and people during the race, in worst case even bringing in external leaders and people, will not create the ability required. No, a well working team with solid leadership and the core competences over time can make it. Such team can react to news, changes, threats and opportunities in a much better way than others. And they will learn while going thus know things others don’t know. Systematic innovation is an organisational ability required to tackle very complex challenges. Motivation, inspiration, engagement, care, love, trust, health, experience, ethics, well-being and fighting spirit are things that will be found in the companies that made the digital transformation successfully. And they will have strong brands with attributes that todays youngsters will appreciate.

Established organisations who want to master the digital transformation well has to start their journey immediately and rapidly get beyond strategies, plans, innovation managers, Powerpoint and Excel. Among the first things I suggest needs to be in place are very strong support from executive management, activities to inspire, engage and include staff, rapid prototyping capabilities in place and establishment of new relationships with a host of new companies and people who each master something that might be of great importance onwards.

It is already difficult for companies to master their own domains these days and with challenges coming from everywhere, a much wider view is required. And even more challenging: the golden rule of “asking the customers” – the outside-in approach – becomes obsolete when technology provides completely new opportunities. Like when internet came last time we’re now entering yet another era where inside-out is the name of the game.

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Corporate Innovation – Here we go again!

January 17, 2018
Corporate InnovationThe rapid growth of Internet some twenty years ago brought massive innovation across countries and industries. Creative and ambitious people of all sorts gathered around the opportunity followed by enormous amounts of money, people leaving their established employers for startups and a gold-digger style era.

Web, Startups and VC’s was all of a sudden words used by the masses and in almost no time we had thousands of startups and hundreds of VC’s in Sweden alone. A couple of years down the road came the enterprise response: corporate innovation. Companies started their own VC’s, incubators and M&A activities, but some years and a lot of dollars later most of them realised that this wasn’t as easy as it first appeared. Finding the right companies to work with and integrating their solutions in the existing operations was just two of the challenges that often were singled out as difficult. Another common issue was the objective of the investments in startups: strategic or financial. Both are equally good reasons but require very different efforts and skills. At this time I was working as a partner in a VC with experienced people from the industry focusing on wireless technologies – receiving a lot of calls from enterprises who wanted us to take over their portfolio of startups.

Now, roughly ten years later, Corporate innovation is back! This time it’s the two new buzzwords IoT and Digitalisation that are driving the renewed interest. But let’s step back and look at what this really is, and maybe demystify the two terms a little bit.

IoT is all about connecting the real world to the Internet where we already have people and organisations. It is harder to connect physical things to the Internet than developing services in cyber space which can be rolled out across the globe in almost no time. And it’s even harder if those vehicles, ventilation systems, machines or dishwashers are already out there and have to be retrofitted with connectivity. Still the development follows the same phases as when we connected people and organisations to Internet – connectivity, operational value and strategic value – so we can learn from history.

Digitalisation started in the fifties and is nothing new. Enterprises have digitalised bits and pieces of processes with some value. It’s like building a bridge with the last few meters missing. But the real value appears when a process is fully digitalised – when the real world, IoT, is included. Smart electrical meters are fine, but of little value as long as the energy companies still print the bills to send home to their customers. But more importantly – we can apply turbo mechanisms like machine learning to a fully digital process and that suddenly changes everything.

Digital Transformation is what it’s all about and this is a journey which has to start and continue in-house with our own people and processes. It is nothing one can buy from a consultant or from M&A activities – there are no short cuts. If you don’t have the right culture and processes to support the transformation you urgently have to change, top down. It is a well-known fact that people and processes, rarely technology, cause the problems of change. Technology driven innovation has to happen in small sharp teams, but massive value creation requires large established organisations. Corporate innovation programs are needed but startup activities are only going to work if they are implemented well and seriously backed by the entire organisation, top down.

500 Startups recently released a study among more than 100 corporate executives and found these five best practices for working with startups:

1. Build credibility by solving the short-term problems of their stakeholders. As a result, their stakeholders listen when they approach them with disruptive ideas.

2. Take a portfolio approach and de-risk their innovation efforts by running many startup experiments.
3. Set specific innovation objectives that guide the kinds of startups they look for and how they work with them.
4. Remove the red tape and create a fast-track process for working with startups.
5. Understand that partnerships are a two-way street and figure out how to add value to their startup partners.

I like the five points above, but would add a more generic one: M&A, incubation, acceleration and innovation programs are all difficult to master, so partner with organisations who already have figured it out. And remember that the best way for a fantastic startup to become successful is to help them work with several customers and not only with you.

We created THINGS in Stockholm 2014 to collectively learn “how to transform innovation in small sharp companies to massive value creation in large ones” and have today some 40 enterprises in our efforts and a community of some 200 relevant startups including the more than 50 member companies we have at THINGS. Last year we created Ignite Sweden together with two leading incubators, STING and LEAD, where we tried to find a light version of what we do at THINGS. We ended up arranging 614 manually prepared meetings between 37 corporates and 138 startups in 9 match making events and by now 16 commercial collaborations have been established. Based on the immediate success we just launch Ignite Sweden 2.0 with more incubators and improved preparation and follow-up after the meetings. We had some international corporates joining us last year and are looking to expand that as well.

Let’s make a joint effort to make corporate innovation 2.0 a success! 


From Smart to Great Cities

November 22, 2017
most-beautiful-cities-barcelona-cr-gettyMost cities have jumped on the Smart City train and it is considered an important and good thing to do by virtually everyone. But it is unclear who drives that train, where it is going and when it will arrive. I prefer talking about Great Cities since that is something we all understand, can argue about and contribute to. A Great City to me is a safe, sustainable and efficient city where people are healthy and happy. A place I would like to live in, work in and visit. It takes systematic and continuous innovation to become and stay a Great City, and systematic innovation requires infrastructure and scalable platforms to be in place.

It is obvious that technology is a key tool to continuously make our cities better especially in terms of efficiency, sustainability, safety/security and convenience. These are the key deliverables of IoT so no wonder IoT is hot today. By connecting the physical world to the Internet of people and organisations already in place, IoT enables us to make processes completely digital thus more efficient and ready for “turbo effects” from things like Machine Learning. This drives digital transformation and the impact on people, businesses and cities will be as big as when internet arrived.

But this is not enough to make cities great. It is still primarily human beings living, working and visiting the cities why “core platforms” like decent infrastructure, healthcare, social care and education for all is required. So is an environment where people feel safe and can breathe fresh air, drink fresh water and enjoy their human rights. And not the least enjoy nature, art, design, good food and time with people they love and care for.

With my definition of Smart Cities as Great Cities I unfortunately can’t think of any. Many make progress on the technical side but when it comes to “core platforms” there is a lot more to wish for. The “core platform” we have in Sweden is relatively good which I believe attracts talent and explains some of the quite successful startup community we have, but we have ways to go.


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