Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mobiles, Mobiles Everywhere and not a drop to drink ....

A quick post again today as things at work are pretty busy - lots of time being spent working with the team on client proposals and sales activities as the market continues to show the momentum we've enjoyed over the last six months.... some sleep would be good!

One of the things I did get to do in the last couple of days was to attend the AIMIA Lunchtime Forum on Mobile TV in Sydney. This was moderated by one of my colleagues, Chris Flintoft (recent father and all round mobile & broadcast guru) and so it was a chance to get some market context around some of the things we are doing for our clients in the Mobile & Broadcast space.

I guess my first impression was of the number of people there... I'm not much good at crowd estimation but if you told me there were 200 people there, I wouldn't have trouble believing it. The spread of the crowd was interesting as well; from shiny new start-ups to the big media /searchportal / telco players and all the hangers on (I think recruiters provide a REALLY valuable service..... no, really, I do.....) - the crowd was pretty diverse.

My second impression was of the "buzz." I haven't seen this sort of energy in a market segment since about 1998 when all things internet were possible and the world was your oyster. This time around the talk was of "content plays" and "licensing deals" and "subscription models".... stuff I'd heard before but this time it is "personalised and profiled" straight to the hands of the user. I must admit that a couple of people I spoke to said that this sounded a little bit like history repeating itself, but I think that to make that association is to ignore some fundamental truisms of the time we are in right now.

Ten years on since the start of the boom we know a lot more and things are different.

We now know that not every business case is going to stack up and therefore not every business plan deserves investment. Businesses that aren't in their "natural place" in the market aren't going to survive and trying to "change the paradigm" isn't enough to ensure success. I don't want to dampen the enthusiam of the start-ups there yesterday, but I strongly suggest that they take the time to think about this in the context of their vision for their company - if what you are doing is not in its "natural place in the market" then act now and avoid the pain and cost of finding out the hard way.

We now know that anything that happens in the mobile space needs to be a part of a diverse, multi-channel strategy. The internet needs to link to the mobile to the call centre to the shop counter to the operations of the business - Mobiles are a part of the overall Digital Services Strategy for any company - they aren't the whole strategy, so to the brand owners, content owners and investors, ignore offers which don't present this comprehensive view.

We know that we've come a long way in terms of monetising and commercialising digital services, but also that business models tend to be driven by the market and no one player. The business models for mobile services, mobile TV, content and licensing have a few more rounds to go, but this time around we actually do have the systems, platforms and capability to support the business models which will survive - there IS money in mobiles provided you understand the capacity for sustainable commercialisation for your particular business and implement your programs accordingly.

Finally, I think that this time around we are all a little more seasoned and a little more commercial. Funky content and a great idea are great, as long as they earn more than they cost.... today. What IS exciting and deserves attention though is an integrated, multi-channel digital services play which leverages the very best that mobile content and services can provide... get it right and this stuff can deliver some outstanding results.... and of course you can call the team at Hyro to help!!

It was good to spend some time at this forum ... it reminds me how far we have come and how much potential there is in what we do...... It also reminds me that we have already changed the world.... and we have really only just begun.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Creating a truly global company.....

I tend not to be too much of a business "fad-ist" and tend to think that managers who latch onto the latest business buzzwords and trends in lieu of well constructed strategy are taking amateurish short-cuts and owe a little more to their teams, their customers and their shareholders.

A manager in this day and age is, of course inundated with a torrent of management writings, data and analytical tools, so the challenge is to filter through these things to find the materials that provide value and learning. The truth is that the world is changing so quickly (and has infact changed so much already) that as managers we have an obligation to keep learning, keep adapting and keep responding to opportunity in this new market.

One of the consequences of the modern business environment is that like it or not, we are ALL operating as global companies - it is just that some of us are yet to fully understand what that means and few are in a position to adapt to the realities of modern global business. I cannot profess to know all the answers here, but recent experiences have highlighted some of this new reality.

As I mentioned in my last blog, a week a go I returned from the Hyro office in Thailand, a now regular trip as we build on the capability and achievements of the business there and seek to leverage this for additional benefit for the company as a whole. One of the tasks I enjoyed while I was there was to attend a signing ceremony for the final documentation on an assignment we were awarded (and announced) late in 2005. Now that we have got down to the business of delivery, I got an insight into the global nature of this project, and how our company is adapting to respond to this need.

The project shows a great global collaboration. The client is a Japanese company, setting up a consumer finance business in Thailand. The Program Director is French, but his last assignment was in Latin America. The Systems Architect is Indian, our project manager a Kiwi, the developers are mostly Thais. The technology we are implementing is from Mexico, the client CIO is located in the US (LA), the application team includes people from Mexico, Columbia and Australia - all of these people working mostly out of their home locations and only to descend onto Bangkok when they are needed. This is a truly global project and Hyro is working as a global company to make this all work.

But HOW does it all work? Why is this possible in this day and age? How can we bring all of these resources together from around the world and remain competitive and commercial?

The answer comes from some of the BIG changes that have already happened. The biggest of them all if the arrival of low cost, high speed internet access. In addition to the obvious benefits of allowing us to shift files and things around the world, this technology enables us to leverage a whole raft of real-time collaboration tools - Many of them for free. Voice Over IP ('VOIP') allows real-time voice and video calls for free between all these locations. Messaging and chat applications allow us to keep in constant touch, share files, share workspaces and collaborate. It is not the same as being in the same room, but it is pretty close. The reality is this stuff works! We have a global team delivering a high quality solution for a global client made possible only by the flexibility that these new technologies bring.

There are other factors which make all of this possible (cheap travel, a more mobile workforce and so on) but for me the capability of the technology is the "pebble in the pond" which has kicked off a range of "ripple effects." When you sit and think these things through a little, the consequences are significant. As a company we have greater market reach than the immediate geographic market - we can work for any client anywhere, where ever our reputation reaches, or where ever our clients want to take us. We now have access to a global market for talented people - we can construct teams which allow us to access the best people in the world (luckily we already have a few of these) and bring these people together to create high-impact teams. We can leverage the very best quality, the very best availability and the very best experience and often without it costing any more than it does right now..... some times it is even cheaper......

These concepts, opportunities and challenges are occupying a fair bit of my time right now. Our business is at the stage where we have a good team of people able to commercially adapt to the opportunities ahead, but there is a lot of thinking and planning yet to be done.... and certainly a lot of reading. We can realise a lot of value by operating as a New Global Company - a company based on bringing together the best inputs for our business from anywhere in the world and looking for ways to constantly increase shareholder value by leveraging this global opportunity. The New Global Company will not be made up of many "offices" located in a variety of cities and countries. It will be a flexible, adaptable, technology enabled provider of value for customers, for partners, for our people and for our shareholders.

A good source of insight for me at the moment is The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman (referred to me by a friend - thanks Kate!). This thought provoking book provides some insights into the sorts of changes I have only begun to touch on above. You have two choices when you read this book; to see the potential and opportunity of the "flattening world" or to prefer to see a more negative view. Read it and come to your own conclusions....

Some links to find the book:

I cop a lot of ribbing for believing this, but I remain resolute in my position - I DO love what we do, because we DO get to change the world!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Brilliant Bangkok.....

One of the things which came with the merger with Hyro Limited was a business in Bangkok, Thailand and as a part of my role as COO of Hyro, I have management responsibility for this business. Over the last eight months (yes it is only eight months since we assumed full management control of Hyro) I have now had need to visit Bangkok three times and I have to say that every time I go, I come away more impressed and more excited about the Asian market and specifically about Thailand.

Bangkok didn't fare too well in the "Asian Meltdown" of the late 90s and over the last few years has slowly been rebuilding and now the signs of economic activity are everywhere. Stand in any high-rise office tower and look in any direction and there are building sites everywhere. The public infrastructure is constantly improving and now the SkyTrain and MRT systems have really eased the traffic pressure (still pretty bad, but a lot better than before). There is a new international airport on the way and there is a lot of work being done on the highway / freeway systems. Bangkok is moving ahead .... fast!

Our team in Bangkok are really kicking some goals. The business there faced a few challenges in 2005 as the former Hyro management has made some decisions which de-focused the team and created a bit of chaos (as well as cost a lot of money). It was really pleasing to see the team there winning some great projects and enthusiastically going about completing them. There is a bit of a buzz in the Bangkok office and I am keen to see where we go from here.....

On the down-side, I have made a commitment to myself that I am going to stop flying "third-world airlines." The flight on the way up we bought an economy Qantas ticket but flew a code-share flight with British Airways. My colleague's seat was broken (it was missing a cushion!) and before we took off, he had the pleasure of having about a litre of orange juice poured all over his head. The cabin crew were tired, indifferent and frankly offensive..... I firmly believe that when you get to the stage in your career that the work isn't enjoyable any more, then you should give it up, no matter how over-paid you might be........