Monday, March 6, 2017

The Next Big Thing

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The Next Big Thing
Multiple Responses
1.
The Next Big Thing? These Are 5 Technologies My Clients Are Begging For
Note:  this post mentions companies that are clients and partners of my company.  I was not compensated to write this post.
Wearable tech.  3D printing.  Space travel.  Low energy transmissions.   Mobile payments.

Nope.  No one I know is begging for this stuff.  Not that they’re not important or potentially lucrative.  These are all the cool things we read about every day that are promised to soon change our lives.  Startups across the country are receiving millions to finance these and other similar innovations.  But it’s still a big gamble.  Who knows what will be the next big thing? I wish I had millions to invest.  Because I wouldn’t need to take those kinds of risks.  I think the “next big thing” is very obvious.  Actually there are five big things.  I know this by listening to my clients.  And they are begging for help.

Last week I got together for a morning with fifteen other small business owners and managers to discuss technology issues that faced our businesses.  The people in the room were my clients, partners or professional friends of mine from around the Philadelphia area.  They represented companies that range in size from 30 to 250 employees.  The event was organized and videoed by Xerox Corporation, another client of mine, who hired me to lead the conversation.  They called it a “dreaming” discussion.  Personally, I didn’t hear a lot of dreaming.  I heard a lot of begging.  Begging for help with existing technologies and searching for a better way to do things.  That’s because these business owners and managers, like most of my clients, are struggling with technology.  A recent study by online marketing firm Yodle confirmed this.  I saw it and heard it loud and clear.  Hey Silicon Valley, want a few sure-fire, less riskier investment ideas?  Here are five problems suffered by millions of enterprises that are begging for help.

1.  Easy Integration
Every client I know is struggling with duplicate data entry.  They have multiple systems using different databases for accounting, inventory, customer relationship management (CRM), their website, etc. etc.  They have been pieced together over the years.  Some are cloud based.  Most are on-premise.  None of them talk to each other. The same data is input into multiple systems and is not consistently updated.  “Links” provided by a few third party developers are weak and often go unsupported.  Time is wasted.  Everyone at the “dreaming” session had this problem.  Everyone has failed to find that one-stop application that does it all.  That solution doesn’t exist.  No one had an alternative solution, short of hiring a developer to create bridges for an unknown cost and uncertain long term results.  Sure, there are plenty of database tools available.  But go ahead…you try using one.  I dare you.  Within an hour you’ll throw up your hands and ask for a consultant’s help.  Does it have to be this complicated?  Can someone come up with an inexpensive, easy to use tool that will bridge multiple databases and can be configured and maintained by a non-technical person?

2.  Fast and secure mobile
No one in the room was succeeding at mobile.  Some have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, others haven’t even considered it.  About half supply company-owned devices to their employees.  All are confused by the different choices dangled in front of them by Apple, Google and Microsoft.  And the worst part?  Speed.  Slow connection speeds make even the coolest mobile app (and there are still a significant lack of those for enterprise use) difficult to work with.  Mobile workers are hamstrung by slow connections from their mobile providers, overloaded routers at Starbucks and spotty access points at the airport.  We need a faster and secure way for our mobile people to easily connect to our companies and I’m convinced that there’s a software solution for overcoming this problem.  And the company that comes up with that platform-independent answer will make a lot of money for its investors.

3.  Cheap Cloud.
By now most small companies understand what the cloud is.  But judging from the participants in the session I conducted, few are fully going there.  Some had fully cloud based applications, but most were still using their reliable on-premise solutions.  Almost everyone had explored having these systems hosted by someone else in the cloud but were all held back because of the cost.  It’s still around $100 per user per month, on average, to hire a cloud based service provider and this cost remains way too high for a typical business to make a change.  Everyone agreed that it was cheaper just to buy another server.  Small businesses want to move to the cloud.  But it’s still too expensive.  The company that figures out how to provide a cheap, secure, fast way to host existing applications in the cloud will hit a home run some day.  Who will that be?

4.  Social CRM
Among the fifteen companies represented that morning were manufacturers, distributors, IT firms, and software developers.  They all used some type of CRM system.  But less than a third of them actively used social media for their business.  Nobody was tweeting, by the way.  There still remains a significant disconnect between social media and CRM.  Business owners and managers know that there are potential opportunities for them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  But they don’t understand how to exploit those opportunities.  They need something that will identify prospective and current customers with a need for their products on social media and then bring that opportunity’s contact and historical activities into their CRM system for follow-up and messaging.  “Give me an application that will search and identify leads for me on Facebook and then automatically import that contact data into my CRM system so my sales guy can follow-up,” one participant begged.

5.  Real Batteries
Admittedly I didn’t have the time to bring this topic up at the session, but I wish I did.  So much time and money is being spent on little games and apps and tools to improve our lives.  But I wonder if any of these entrepreneurs and their investors have been to an airport lately.  Because there you’ll see people getting into fistfights over an available outlet to charge their mobile phone.  Or at a Starbucks where outlets are at a premium.  The best laptop batteries give 4-6 hours of time, barely enough for a cross-country flight.  And the best electric cars won’t make it from Philly to New York without dying for a gasoline injection.  It’s the batteries, stupid!  Small businesses, big businesses, consumers…we all suffer from limited energy sources. Millions are being invested in companies that are creating hotels for pets and Dick Tracey watches when what most of us need to really be productive is an iPhone that can last all day without a charge.

In my opinion the real answers must come from the giants, like Microsoft, Apple or Google.  Only they have the ability to distribute to the mass market of millions of businesses.  But they’ll need the technology from someone.  And that someone may already be out there.  So maybe it’s not a technical problem.  Maybe it’s just a marketing problem.  In any case, I hope some smart investor is reading this.  Because my clients are begging for help.

2.
The next big thing in phones may not be a phone
Nearly a decade after the iPhone broke the mould for mobile phones the question being asked is whether the evolution of the smartphone has finally come to an end, as even Apple now treats older, smaller 4-inch screens as something new.

Industry experts believe innovation in smartphones is giving way to phone functions popping up as software or services in all manner of new devices from cars to fridges to watches and jewellery rather than remaining with handheld devices.

And analysts and product designers said fresh breakthroughs are running up against the practical limits of what's possible in current smartphone hardware in terms of screen size, battery life and network capacity.
"Everything in the phone industry now is incremental: slightly faster, slightly bigger, slightly more storage or better resolution," said Christian Lindholm, inventor of the easy text-messaging keyboards in old Nokia phones that made them the best-selling mobile devices of all time.

The financial stakes are high as the futures of Apple, Google, and Microsoft, the world's three biggest listed companies at the end of last year, may now turn on who gets the jump on making handsets redundant.

Many firms are experimenting with new ways to help consumers interact with the wider world through touch, sight and sound.

These include voice-activated personal assistant devices dangling from "smart jewellery" necklaces with tiny embedded microphones or tiny earpieces that get things done for us based on our verbal commands.

The world's biggest tech companies have made real progress in this arena with Google Now, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon.com's Alexa now able to read texts or emails for users, answer practical questions, control phone features, handle basic communications or read a map.

"The way the whole thing is evolving, the device itself is becoming just another way to provide access to a user's digital life," said independent financial analyst Richard Windsor.

Lindholm now runs KoruLab, developers of compact, ultra-efficient software for running wearable devices. He sees smartphone functions splitting into two camps - big-screen devices for rich entertainment and compact wearables for more transactional activities like keeping up with one’s calendar, health or fitness monitoring or paying for goods or services.

NAGGING QUESTIONS
Financial analysts at UBS estimate smartphone makers will generate more than $323 billion in revenue this year, a 1.4 percent decline from last year. Apple alone took in half of that revenue and more than three quarters of all profits, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

Seeking to reverse declining iPhone sales, Apple announced a range of new products on Monday including including a cheaper 4-inch (10 cm) screen iPhone SE.

Google generates virtually all of its revenue from advertising sold alongside its wide variety of Web services, rather than from its Android software, which drives roughly 80 percent of the world’s phones.

It is cagey about how much revenue comes from mobile advertising, but analysts estimate this contributed roughly a quarter to a third of its $75 billion revenue reported in 2015.

Last year Microsoft pulled back from the handset business, writing off $7.6 billion for its fruitless acquisition of Nokia’s handset business. Increasingly, its strategy has become to make money off the back-end of mobile software, through selling cloud-based services, now its fastest growing business.

For while phones are now the Swiss Army knives of the electronic age, their essential appeal to consumers has shifted from their eye-catching shiny screens and sleek bevelled edges to the apps and services running on the phones, often as Internet-based services hosted in the cloud.
"Mobile networks are moving to connect to all these other devices," said Bob O'Donnell, a consumer electronics analyst and president of Technalysis Research in Foster City, Calif.

Whatever platform might displace the handheld phone also will need to resolve nagging questions about battery life, which have become more pressing as consumers watch more and more video.

The next big device also needs more flexible screens capable of working in different lighting conditions. That’s a decades-old dream of gadget enthusiasts that has eluded recognized market leaders Samsung and LG of Korea, which have struggled for years to mass-produce flexible screens at anything close to mass-market prices.

Richard Windsor said flexible displays that could be unfolded or unrolled to up to 10 or 14 inches would set phones free from being defined by screen size. "What is a tablet computer?" Windsor asks. "Why would you bother having a tablet? That market would just evaporate overnight," he said.

(The story was refiled to modify syntax in paragraphs 1 and 3, punctuation in paragraph 9, adds dropped word 'now' in paragraph 5)

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

3.
5 Top VCs Predict the Biggest Tech Change Coming in the Next 5 Years
The industry's top names offer bite-size predictions of the biggest changes coming to technology.

If you want to know the future, you can pay a few bucks to get your friendly local psychic to gaze into her crystal ball, but you'd probably do a lot better to ask aventure capitalist.

After all, it's the job of the country's top investors to be one step ahead of the rest of us in seeing where technology and business are headed. Their payouts depend on it. Plus, they're usually some pretty smart folks.

Which is what makes a little teaser video put together by Upfront Ventures for last week's Upfront Summit--an invite-only gathering of the country's top investors--so fascinating. Just a few minutes long, it packs in a lot of insight as some of the country's most respected VCs offer their predictions for the biggest change coming to the tech industry in the next five years. Here's a preview:

1. Global talent explodes
"The explosion of global talent. The number of people around the world who are able to start companies and contribute to startup is just exploding. And I think that's going to have a dramatic impact on technology," said Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz.

2. Sensors, sensors everywhere
"The proliferation of sensors that are throwing off huge amounts of data that we'll now build applications and services off of," is the next big thing, according to Ted Schlein of Kleiner Perkins.

3. Here come the bots
Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital predicts that "messaging apps and bots represent a really powerful opportunity for communication and potentially a new platform for consumer interaction."

4. Virtual reality ... finally
"I know that it's becoming cliché," concedes Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures (which organizes the Summit), "but I actually think virtual reality is going to have an even more profound impact on society, how we organize ourselves, how we communicate, even modes of transportation. I think virtual reality is going to impact things more than any of us can predict."

5. A.I. that actually works
What was the answer of Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures? Artificial intelligence. "Because we've finally reached the point where it's working and working really well. It's going to really touch every aspect of technology in the way that mobile did over the past five, ten years," Wilson said.

Of course, not everyone was willing to play along. "I have no idea, and I think people who think they do are wrong," responded Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures.

Intrigued?

4.
What is going to be the next "big thing" in the next 5-10 years?

“The MIT Technology Review recently listed ten innovations they think will have the greatest impact on our future[1] in the near-term. I think it's a pretty solid list and starting point for ID'ing what's next:


Some of them are a bit trendy, but in general represent some interesting areas of development.”

“There's nothing I love more than thinking, talking & writing about the future. Here's a list of some things I'm excited to see develop in the near future & over the longer-term, along with my predictions for when each will start to happen.

Next 2-5 years:
  • Augmented Reality I'll start here because it's the obvious choice. Google Glass, mobile apps, etc. A ton of chatter, but certainly also a ton of opportunity.
  • Internet of Things This is an old idea but it's gained a lot of traction recently, because it's a good one. Connecting & linking not just computers, phones and tablets, but all of our devices through the cloud. Fridges, remote-locking mechanisms, coffee-makers, etc. Most consumer products can be Internet-enabled for less than $20. The only thing holding it back is the fact that the management infrastructure is not in place yet. We'll need ways to manage and utilize these networks of smart devices and objects that are in our homes and lives. This is an area that is very fragmented - yet any widely utilized application or platform will need to work across many different devices, platforms and suppliers. Many companies in the cloud storage/data management space are in a good position here.
  • Wireless Power We still have way too many cords, cables, and electronic devices that need to be physically plugged in or connected. This doesn't need to be the case, and is a big enough pain in the ass that the market should step in soon. The technology already exists. I don't know all the ins & outs, but this seems like a big opportunity not many people are talking about.
  • Online Media Publication Aggregation As we all know many traditional & new media companies are struggling to turn online eyeballs into substantial revenue. People aren't willing to pay for enough content in large enough numbers, and the paywall model has a ton of cons. So it wouldn't be surprising to see a company come in and do a distribution deal with lets say 100 top newspapers/magazines, buy the rights to distribute their content for pennies on the dollar, and turn around and give customers the opportunity to access all 100 of those publications' online content for a small annual fee, which would be a fraction of the true cost. So maybe $99 for an Access Pass & iTunes-style dashboard, which gets you access to all online content from all of these publishers. Or possibly a rev share model that splits cash between the aggregator and the publishers. This is more of a business idea than a prediction, but it's been done before in media (remember BMG Music Club?) and could solve the online publication revenue woes.


~5-7 years:
  • Graphene No nano-material is thinner or stronger than this stuff. We just need to figure out how to affix it to other materials and an entire new world opens right up.
  • Audio Mining & Speech Recognition/Analytics Siri sucks. But she's getting smarter.
  • Mobile Payments I still can't believe this hasn't taken off in the US. With rapid evolution of mobile phones, there is such a big opportunity for replacing money transactions with either an existing, or a new form of electronic currency on a very wide basis. Of course there are lots of examples of both alternative currencies and mobile payment systems today - but they are all still based around credit cards, bank accounts, etc. What we need is a whole new protocol. No one seems to have hit upon a business model that is universal and popular enough to displace physical money. And whatever emerges could replace a lot of conventional advertising as well.
  • Accreditation of MOOCs & other Collaborative Online Education Institutions Waiting to pop. The education sector and the systems that support and enhance public learning are so ripe for disruption it's like an autumn farmer's market.The wheels have already been set in motion here, it's just a matter of time until this kicks into high gear. And I for one cannot wait. Not only will a more efficient and more cost-effective system save people an insane amount of time and money, but it is also a huge catalyst for improving national security. Let's just hope we can couple this natural evolution  into online learning with a national effort to get everyone in the country, including our poorest regions, onto a high-speed broadband network.

~7-10 years:
  • Commercial Shipping to Space Right now, when you want to send something into space, you have to book 6 years in advance, and the cost is extremely prohibitive. As the amount of stuff going into space rises with commercial space flight, increased satellites, etc. the next 5-10 years should see a reduction in processing time & cost, and the rise of "Space Shipping" companies.
  • Outer-Space Asset Management & Regulation The airspace above our heads is regulated up to about 20 miles or so. Above that, it's the wild west right now. Who keeps track of all the stuff in space? It's up to each country to manage their own assets. Only the JSpOC, headquartered at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. provides 24-hour command and control of all US space assets, and monitors all international assets. But they have limited jurisdiction and power in international matters. So basically, let's say two satellites are a few weeks away from hitting each other. That pops up on JSpOC's radar, at which point someone there literally calls both countries involved to inform them & help coordinate new direction. That's fine when this happens once every few months or so. But what happens when this starts happening 3, 4 times per week? Space is huge, sure. But given the amount of junk we're starting to send up there, we need to have an international regulatory body to help avoid collisions & manage it all.
  • Driverless Cars Plenty has been said about this already. The technology is already here, but it will take time to let the legislation/infrastructure/free market catch up.
  • Pre-emptive Diagnosing, and a Massive Reduction in Genome Mapping Costs People in the future are going to be shocked at how humans went to the doctor only once we started seeing symptoms. In the future we'll be able to diagnose our bodies like we diagnose our machines, and fix problems before they become problems. Which would be absolutely fantastic. But the in-between period won't be pretty, because we'll no doubt have to rifle through millions of different false-positives until we learn what is truly a problem, vs what is something that only seems like it could be a problem. For example, we all may have hundreds or even thousands of "cancers" in our body right now; most of which will turn out to be nothing at all. But investigating and treating all of the false positives which turn out to be nothing during this "over-diagnosing period" could be frustrating and almost certainly very expensive for everyone involved.


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