Art of Seeing The Invisible

SixthSense_CameraEver since Marshall Mcluhan, philosopher of media theory, prophesied the “Medium is the Message” many mediums have come and gone like tumbleweed in a grave yard, hustling the bereaved.

There was Miss Cleo on late-night infomercials, claiming heritage from the Caribbean to pay-phone listeners like inmates making their last call from prison, dropping their last dime of hope.  “caal me now mon 4 yah free tarot readin”

There was  the first long Island medium, John Edwards, “Crossing Over” with Dr. Oz in 2011. Then the second long island medium, Theresa Caputo with loud hair, snapping chewing gum, contacting the dead of loved ones in pre-taped TV audiences who desperately needed closure of old wounds, unfinished business.

But by 2020, analysts predict there will be 25 billion connected devices talking to each other, more than 50% of which will be TVs, cars and wearable computers.  And at the center of this machine 2 machine bickering will be mobile phones.

According to Qualcomm, humans will be able displace the so-called 6th sense of these medium personalities claiming to  “see dead people”  with LTE Direct technology, a discovery engine made by Qualcomm.   Harnessing the internet of things into a ‘digital sixth sense’, it combines Bluetooth and beacon technology into an SDK framework, to empower next-generation mobile apps to push relevant notifications and actions.

For example, I walk into my house. My smartphone sniffs out all my connected appliances and a domino effect of events would occur – from optimal temperature to favorite TV programming to hot water pouring in the tub.   With always-on awareness of friends, promos based on one’s location, one’s natural senses will extend  beyond the primary five: sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell.  I can see the invisible. Coincidence will not be left to luck.  The rigid lines between digital and physical will materially liquefy, dissipate into big data in real time. The right information to the right place to the right people.

In this era of the long tail wagging the dog of distribution, content is king. However,  McLuhan’s hypothesis was that the impact of  the medium itself takes priority over the content it supports. Each medium, from chairs to cars to phones, conveys a message to its users. The internet, for example, isn’t remarkable because of its endless score of content, but because it heightened our expectations for content to be infinite and instantly accessible.  It is an extension of human consciousness.

Therefore, the humanization of technology will be a crucial component in the age of connected things.  The mediums will expand beyond TV and mobile devices into appliances, clothing, sneakers, walls, and street lights, changing the way we interact with objects and the meaning/message they import.   More than enhance or displace something,  true innovation returns us to something we have lost.  David Rose, MIT designer, argues that the age of connected things will free us from the confines of the glass slab.  In a Time article he writes, “The Apple watch is a glass slab trying to do too much.”

What if there was a web we could wear, so that we become the medium and the message, our humanity?

Pranav Mistry, Global VP of Research at Samsung, started a company called SixthSense, 6 years ago answering that very question.  With colored finger caps, a pocket projector, a mirror and a camera,  SixthSense liberates pixels from the glass slab model.  No phone, no mouse.  Yet one can bring part of the physical world to the digital and vice versa.  For example, if there is a beautiful rustic landscape before one’s eyes, rather than summon a camera from a purse, one can form their hands in the gesture of a film director framing a shot and take a photo.    Then, browse a media library and project that photo on the wall with finger gestures or even use their palm as the surface.

T.E. Lawrence once said “All men dream but not equally.”

Mobile screens have reached their unit limit. They cannot get smaller.

The message is clear, no matter the medium.

We must dream human again by making computing more human.

D.R.E.A.M. – Digital Rules…

1_skim_cream_P5250743The day cash dies will be a sad day in conspicuous consumption.

There will be no tip jars on pavements.  Cardboard signs will read “Will work for bitcoins.”

Thirsty night clubbers will not be able to flash greenbacks for drinks, rain “benjamins” on exotic dancers or flick nickels into an arcade game to appear “on fleek.”

Most illustrative, the 1993 underground boom box anthem “C.R.E.A.M.(Cash Rules Everything Around Me)” by Wu Tang Clan, which propounded the grim economic reality of Shaolin Island, outlining the scrapes of street life and narrow escapes from the clutch of law enforcement, will play like the world’s smallest violin on a 4-track.  Not for lack of an important message, but very few will know what ‘cash money’ is.

By the end of 2017, Forrest Research “predicts US mobile users will spend $90 billion via mobile payments, a 48 percent increase over the $12.8 billion spent in 2012.” With NFC and smartphone based spending dominating the wheel of commerce,  cash used to be king; cashless is the future.

In lieu of paying with dollars, check, or plastic, a consumer can use a mobile phone to pay for a good or service. For example, recently I had my first Uber car-ride experience.  And the most magical part was the transaction.  Somehow, Uber extracted that most uncomfortable feeling of taxi service, when the driver rolls up to one’s destination and halts and payment is required.  How should I pay? Cash or credit? How much do I tip? With Uber, all these questions are covered and charged to the receipt. However, payment is made prior to the ride, on a location-aware mobile app by dragging/dropping a pick-up pin to request a ride.  One click.  No haggling over what the meter reads. I unbuckle my seatbelt, open the car door and exit.  Frictionless commerce at its finest.

The promise of a cashless society is the ability to make it as easy as possible for customer to buy whatever, whenever, wherever with one click.  The less a consumer has to think about stopping at an ATM to get change, or digging in their purse for a credit card or getting robbed on the street for cash, the more share of wallet increases.

A few frictionless transactions companies, racing to the one-click check out model, include:

  • Connected device waved over a reader at point of sale in retail e.g. Square
  • Personal transfers to another person by using mobile without sharing account info e.g. Apple Pay, Facebook, Paypal
  • Digital wallets that allow you to store multiple credit cards with typing in card details for every transaction e.g. Google Wallet, Paypal, Amazon

Yet, according to GP Bullhound Research, mobile proximity transactions are predicted to increase by a whopping CAGR of 175% between 2013 and 2017.  If this trend continues the shift toward alternative payment services may become permanent, and the credit card network will be disintermediated from commercial transactions altogether.

While mobile payment alternatives may unleash unprecedented retail transactions with ease, speed and convenience, a new mobile identity may be the cost of admission to a cashless world based on fingerprint scanning and vein recognition biometrics.  This raises questions of how will the unbanked and underserved participate, if they have no credit or physical address.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation argues that integrating digital payments into the economies of emerging and developing nations are necessary for economic growth and financial inclusion as they significantly reduce the cost of sending and receiving money in secure ways for poor folk.

If Bill & Melinda are accurate, let’s hope it won’t be long before Wu Tang will have to update their underground classic “C.R.E.A.M.” to “D.R.E.A.M”, where Digital Rules Everything Around Me….


wadatahThe first time someone said “Atawad” to me, I retorted:

“Don’t wa-da-tah to the shama cow… ’cause thats a cama cama leepa-chaiii, sa-da-tay, dig?”

I thought this person was trying to one-up my knowledge on Pootie Tang slang.  Turns out he was talking digital code for on-demand, the future of business models.

Atawad stands for anytime, anywhere, any device.  It describes how people consume video in a multitude of impatient contexts.

For example, VCR is Atawad. DVR is Atawad.  IPTV is Atawad.  All these platforms allow viewers to time-shift and watch content when they want rather than on a mechanized, broadcast schedule.

But to extend the concept beyond video-on-demand, atawad suggests a new mantra to sound out loudly for daily meditation or magically unlock the cave of venture capital treasure; mobile driven business models that provide keys to instant gratification and real-time fulfillment.

In the old world of analog, businesses could get away with maximizing profit from passive customers with standardized offerings.  In the new digi-universe, businesses must be purposeful brands offering personalized, on demand and shared services.

Uber is a great example of a disruptive, on-demand model that solved a real problem: hailing a taxi in a maddening city like New York.  One’s voice drowned out amongst millions of people.  Variable cold weather.  Implicit bias based on one’s physical look.  Poor service because of poor dispatch infrastructure, poorly trained cab drivers.

Uber saw the car-sharing opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid, where the crowd is the company.  The crowd is a living organism that already connects instantly  through social networks.  Therefore, the value proposition is moving idle goods quickly through the crowd in cost-effective ways  vs. the slow, sloppy execution of monopoly cab services.  All Uber had to do was algorithmically layer a digital mesh on that existing infrastructure, integrating online and offline, making the business model simple.  Empower the crowd to bypass inefficient institutions and get what they need from each other.  Aggregate and organize surplus labor that has time but no money to help those that have money. but no time.

Zipcar, Airbnb, Rent the Runway are more examples of platforms creating multi-sided markets that allow services and customers to interact more smartly. No need to reinvent the wheel. Re-use and recycle downtime assets while lowering the cost of ownership.   Soon everyone will get a ride, get groceries, try on clothing even get their new mobile devices through a concierge service, without having to be stuck in a contract.  Even Sprint, a big 4 mobile carrier, recently announced Direct 2 You, a premium service for in- home delivery and set up of phone for customers.

Whether a start-up or legacy enterprise, if your business does not incorporate big data, personalization, or co-creation , you will not “Penna tine on da damie kays.”


Data Dysfunction Junction

stock-illustration-13693256-crossed-samurai-katana-swordsIn a land not too far away, two samurais  clash on a hillside, with swords interlocked, neither wanting to cede power to the other.

In “Analogg” enterprises, these two samurai are Marketing and IT.

Both organizations need the other to perform well, but have egos of armor and swelling budgets that get in the way, creating dysfunction junction.

Marketing sees IT as propeller heads, yet enlists IT to develop SQL code for customer relationship management and data-warehouses.

IT sees marketing as airheads who go outside IT process and governance and employ external developers to build apps.  But IT cannot keep up with the atomization of market needs, where content has to be delivered on a more personalized, 1-to-1 basis to the customer across different experiences and touch points: physical point of sales systems, e-storefronts, call centers, and mobile devices.

With the digital acceleration of bandwidth, storage and processing power, information is traveling at metabolic rates in terabyte chunks.   Case in point, according to TechTarget, 1 TB hard drive of data “could hold enough words that it would take every adult in America speaking at the same time five minutes to say them all.”

Customers, as a result, are not homogeneous cells.  Each has a unique identifier, a Digital DNA, composed of multiple entry points and paths which shape their decision profile.

If Marketing and IT could work together to unlock the Digital DNA of customers they would know and understand their customers better than their customers know and understand themselves; an easy way for legacy brands to create a distinct competitive advantage.

Recently, I walked into a mobile operator store and upgraded my smartphone from a Galaxy S3 to a Galaxy Note 4, which did not have the exact gold color I wanted.

That meant I had to get on the phone with another store to determine if they had the phone in inventory that I wanted.  They did, but then I had to  talk on the phone with the store rep in the other store to provide all my details.  I was embarrassed because it was taking a long time and a line of customers grew impatient behind me.

So the question is how does a legacy brand understand my Digital DNA so I don’t have to play store clerk?

First, marketers need to be masters of technology and IT needs to understand the customer.

Second,  IT and marketing leaders have to step up to conquer the Big Data challenge.  They have to consolidate different data sources, transactional and non-structured, into a standard, consistent environment for the data to have meaning and be useful.

Just as Dr. Frankenstein had lackey volunteers dig up bodies that he could stitch together to build a Second Adam, i.e. the perfect human, data has to be stitched by companies to  build a the perfect Digital DNA.  Marketing has to coordinate with IT because IT knows where the dead bodies of software applications have been buried in data-warehouses. Then through the ETL process  – — (a) Extract from flat file, xml or relational (b) transform/clean data (c) Load the data with some strategic design or purpose — they can bring all that data together, harness its energy  and assign each customer a universal ID, its Digital DNA.

Today’s business software does not capture the  richness and complexity of customers.  In the future, Marketing and IT may have  to train machines to perform autonomously – find the rules and automate the rules – find patterns humans cannot see and make predictions humans cannot to resolve the clash of the swords.

Failing to identify or recognize the changing digital needs of the customer will likely result in lost business, lost connections.  But Marketers and IT first have to connect the data dots between themselves.  Then they can analyze the customers in front of them.