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Please Vote for my SxSW Session Proposal “Predicting the Future of the Semantic Web”

If you have a moment, please head over to the South by Southwest Panel Picker and cast a vote for my session proposal “Predicting the Future of the Semantic Web” at this link:

We will be developing a scenario analysis capturing the specific drivers and inhibitors of semantic technologies that will shape the future of this platform. We’ll also describe the disruption that semantic technologies will bring to the media, telecommunications and other industries.

Even if you’re not planning on coming to SxSW but would like to see this session please cast a vote. I promise that, if selected for SxSW 2012 I will hold this session as a webinar sometime after the conference.

Scenario Analysis of The Telecommunications Industry

Recently I had the opportunity to do a series of presentations on scenario analysis at the China Institute of Competitive Intelligence 5th annual conference in Shanghai.  I used 3G/4G wireless as a use case for scenario analysis.  The high-level scenario analysis the scenarios I’ve developed illustrate four very different possible futures for the telecommunications industry.

The true benefit of scenario analysis is that it helps decision-makers create strategies with a view of the multiple ways the future may unfold.  The best and most important outcome of a full scenario analyzes is that it enables executives to learn about the trends in their industry, recognize the need to adapt to fundamental change, prepare for the unexpected and continue a strategic conversation (to steal some lines from Craig Fleisher and Babette Bensoussan).

With scenario analysis strategists get a view of multiple possible futures.  They can make several decisions without knowing with certainty which scenario (if any) truly describes the future.  Strategists will be able to identify strategies and tactics that are common to all of the possible futures described by the analysis.  They can determine whether or not there are any steps the company can take to make it more likely that an ideal end state will come to pass, such as lobbying regulators or lawmakers to enact specific policies.  CI professionals can use the scenario analysis to identify milestones as the basis of early warning systems so that the firm can be forewarned of which scenario is likely to be as time passes.

As I undertook this effort I  came to see the true importance of having a diverse team with a variety of perspectives and skills in conducting a full scenario analysis.  For example, it would have been great to hear from at least one network engineer about the challenges of transitioning from 3G to 4G and interoperability among the various wireless standards that are deployed in the market.   CI professionals interested in conducting their own scenario analysis should take the need for diversity very seriously.

A true scenario analysis will be more bound than what you see here.  Good scenario analysis bounds the timeframe, which I have left very vague but estimate as the next 3 – 5 years for these scenarios.  Some scenario analysis can look as far as 10 years into the future.  Also, because the telecommunications industry is a mix of global and local markets as well as regulations a true scenario analysis would likely limit itself to a specific market (telecom equipment or services) or geography (the US, Europe or China).  This analysis is not bound on these dimensions and as a consequence is more “squishy” than a true scenario analysis.

The Four Futures of the Telecommunications Industry

As I conducted the analysis I concluded that these are the  two most important uncertainties regarding the future of the telecommunications industry:
  1. Whether or not telecommunications systems will be largely open (as they are today) or closed (the extreme case being the Bell system in the US prior to divestiture).
  2. The cost of commodities is going to have substantial impact on global economies.  The slower growth curve in the US and Europe versus the growth of China and India is a given.  However, all economies will face the potential for major shocks if commodity prices vary wildly.

With these two uncertainties as my axis that enabled me to create a 2 x 2 matrix of four possible futures:
  1. Telcos Set the Pace: A world of stable commodity prices with closed and controlled telecommunications and IT infrastructure.  Telecom service providers will seek to maximize the Return on Capital (ROC) by sweating existing assets.  Telcos will be slow to roll out 4G infrastructure and prefer to limit new applications to limit the pressure on existing networks.
  2. Google World: A world of stable commodity prices with open telecommunications ecosystems.  New devices and applications excite end users and create new value, driving adoption and requiring telecommunications service providers to upgrade their networks quickly to keep up with demand.  Revenues for telecoms is high here, though ROC is much lower for telcos.  Equipment manufacturers perform very well in this scenario.
  3. Innovation Stagnation: A world of economic volatility and with closed telecommunications systems.  For Americans who remember the telecom industry of the 1970s this is a modern equivalent of that.  There will be no move to 4G during this scenario.  We’ll see a greater consolidation among equipment manufacturers, and could even see telecom carriers purchase equipment makers in a reverse vertical integration play.
  4. Reverse Innovation World: A world of economic volatility but open ecosystems.  Every customer and provider in the IT and telecoms industry is trying to do what they are doing today with lower cost.  Equipment manufacturers from China such as Huawei and ZTE are the big winners in this scenario.  Chinese and Indian business models that function with lower revenue and less overhead are enthusiastically adopted in the US and Europe.

I’ll no doubt be doing more with this analysis and writing more about it in the future.  If you have any thoughts reactions or questions as you read this I would love to hear them.  I will be presenting an updated version that focuses more on the process and value of scenario analysis at the December meeting of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) DC chapter.  You can see more details about that event and register here.

Webinar: Using the Internet to Research Private Companies

On February 25 at 12h00 Noon Eastern I will be reprieving an updated version of the very successful webinar I delivered for the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals on using the Internet to research private companies.  Interested parties can register for the event at the SCIP web site.  I’m particularly excited about some of the updates that I’m going to be able to detail new methods and tools to research private companies using social networks.

I really enjoy delivering training such as this and sharing some of the secrets that I use for researching private companies of all sizes.  Conducting research on small, private companies is much more challenging than researching large, public companies.  The obvious distinction is the availability of SEC and other securities filings for public companies that contain a wealth of information about operations and performance.  Using secondary sources to research private companies requires a lot of creativity.

The principal message that I try to convey in each of my webinars or presentations about Internet research is to have a plan.  Being smart about how you are going to spend your time, what sources you are going to use and what you can realistically expect to find on the Internet is critical to success.  Sometimes stakeholders need to be reminded that not everything is available on The Google.  My first rule of thumb for Internet research is that if there is no reason for a person to put a piece of information on-line it won’t be on-line.  People and companies make information available for self-serving reasons such as promotion, recruiting or because they need to comply with legal requirements.

Finally, secondary research and OSINT do not stand alone.  Primary collection and HUMINT are critical for gaining real insight about private companies, and that really cannot be avoided.  Secondary sources can provide some great guidance on the best primary resources you should be interviewing, what questions you should be asking them and how you should evaluate the information they provide to you.  No amount of primary or secondary collection should stand alone without analysis: what does the information mean to us, what might come of all this and what should we do about it?

I hope readers of this blog will be able to join us for this webinar.  I’m going to try to find an opportunity to present the webinar live to a group of local attendees to offer some face-to-face interaction.  Watch this space for updates.

Real-World Application for Social Networking: Carpooling

Commuting to and from work in the Washington, DC metro area where I live is a full-contact sport.  Regularly Washington is near the top of the list of America’s cities with the worst traffic, and deservedly so.  For Washingtonians traffic has disproportional influence on our lives, and the locals have developed some very innovative mechanisms to cope with traffic.

I was excited to see the Carticipate application on the iTunes Application Store.  Carticipate is a social networking tool to find carpool buddies.  I was very impressed by this real-world application of social networking.  There’s also a Carticpate application coming to Facebook.  The value of Carticipate obviosly increases as mor eusers come on board.  One complaint about carpooling is that it does not offer carpoolers flexibility for things like errands, after work happy hours and trips to the gym before and after work.  With a large enough social network a Carticipate user would be more likely to have a friend going from most points A to most points B at various times of day.  One might even be able to coordinate “transfers” among multiple carpooling buddies so that Bob rides with Carol from Washington to Tysons Corner and then catches a ride with Ted and Alice from Tysons Corner to Ashburn.

That, and I think the concept is just really neat.


Give it Away Now

For one of the side projects I’m working on, I’m trying to sell the notion of giving away what could be considered “premium” content as a mechanism to raise interest and broaden an established brand among interested non-consumers.  Specifically I am trying to make the case that giving away some audio recordings of presentations from an annual professional conference will stimulate interest in the following year’s conference.

In reality my concept is more nuanced than simply giving away content.  The conference will be held next April, and I am advocating that we make audio recordings of the sessions that will be presented (pending presenter’s agreement, of course).  Paying attendees will be given access to the recorded content for no cost following the conference.  Those who did not register for the conference will be able to purchase the content as a price well under the cost of conference registration (I’m playing with price points between 1/10 and 1/5 of the cnference registration cost).  Three to four months before the next year’s conference (set for April 2010) we would make some (probably not all) of the recorded content available for free.

Today a great example of using free content to broaden the appeal of a brand was brought to my attention: Tom Friedman is giving away audio recordings of the third edition of The World is Flat for free.  The audio book is being made available with an audio preview of Friedman’s next book, and is likely part of a strategy to build anticipation and promote sales of the new book.

We’ve seen in the past years that diverse customer segments will pay varying prices for what is ostensibly the same product.  Almost every one of us have paid for a bottle of water often enough when tap water is generally conveniently available for free.  When the 9/11 Commission Report was published it became one of the best-selling tomes of 2004 despite the fact that the contents were freely available on-line.  Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have both demonstrated the benefits of giving away content or letting customers name their own price for music downloads.

With these and other examples in mind I’m not as concerned that freely-available content will cannibalize paying attendees.  I’ve been watching presentations from the TED conference for several years, and would still be thrilled to attend the event in person if I got the chance.  The real value of most conferences is in the face-to-face exchange of ideas, and you really do need to pony up the bucks to get the full benefit of a conference.  Hearing the quality of the material from last year’s conference would, I am convinced, raise the interest of those who might not otherwise attend.

I’m very interested to hear what others think about this.  Help me make the case to a skeptical audience.  If you’re skeptical, lay it on me so I can refine or revise this concept.  If you’re sufficiently convincing you might get me to change my mind.  If you agree with the general concept of giving away content to spur interest among non-consumers then give me your take on this to help me make the case.

Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero

Earlier today I posted a comment to my friend Kevin Dewalt’s blog about his finally getting on board with the Getting Things Done personal productivity framework.  I wanted to double-dip with that entry and post some additional comments here because I am overdue for a blog entry.

Kevin was specifically wondering aloud about the value of “inbox zero” and the concept that a person would empty his or her e-mail in-box every day.  I do confess to be someone who at least endeavors if not always succeeds at having an empty work and personal e-mail inbox at the end of each day.  To expand upon my reasoning I am going to do a very lazy thing and copy, verbatim, my comments on Kevin’s post:

A good place to get some practical advice on using GTD is the 43 Folders blog started by Merlin Mann (hotdogsladies from YLNT).

For the e-mail in box I have to admit I find real peace of mind from
emptying it out every day. I try to only check e-mail at certain times
of the day (top of the hour, bottom of the hour, whenever) as opposed
to responding to alerts that new messages have arrived. My infrequent
time spent in my in box is like a triage to determine what needs to be
handled immediately, what can be deferred, what can become an item on
my to-do list and what irrelevant messages can just be deleted.

My archive in my work Outlook client consists of one folder into
which all e-mails I am going to keep are filed. I don’t bother with any
sub-folders. I was inspired by G-mail’s excellent archive and search
functions. Outlook has a long way to go in this regard, and I still
find it easier to look for individual messages in the archive folder
instead of trying to remember which folder I might have stashed it.

I like having an empty in-box because it helps me avoid that nagging
feeling that there’s something I need to get done but haven’t
addressed. One of the ironies for me is that while I only check my
e-mail at most once an hour, coworkers have commented about how
refreshing they find my responsiveness. Many colleagues inside and
outside my company jump like Pavlov’s dog at the “You’ve got mail”
ding, have thousands of old messages in their in-box and still manage
to respond only very slowly if at all. I feel like the cognitive model
modern corporate e-mail imposes on users is that of a treadmill that
they can never get off. The GTD framework has given me the ability to
get off that treadmill.

When I was getting ready to start my MBA, I knew that I was really going to have to step up my time management skills if I was going to balance full-time work, full-time school, engage in some level of professional development and still have a small sliver of life to retain a degree of sanity.  So I picked up David Allen’s book and chose a number of aspects of the GTD framework that I thought would give me some mastery of my productivity: inbox zero, a revised approach to information filing, the physical invox and the “tickler file.”

One of the best things that GTD gives me is a mechanism to be productive in my procrastination.  One of the leadership assessments in the MBA program provided a set of “executive derailers.”  I was not surprised to find one of them was “leisurely.”  If I am not genuinely personally engaged and interested in a task, it is very easy for my mind to wander. 

With GTD I have a ready list of action items (bite-sized tasks that can generally be performed in a few simple steps).  Each action item is attached to a project (the larger goal that needs to be completed) and a context (a place I need to be or set of resources I need to perform the task).  Projects are broken down into these small chunks, which makes them much less daunting.  “All I need to do is get done this next action item and I can take a break” keeps an unappealing project from becoming overwhelming.  I also have a handy list of actions that I can do that progress some other project towards completion if I should find myself just desperately wanting to do something else for a few minutes.

When it comes right down to it one of the productivity tricks for me has not been to stop procrastinating but rather to learn how to procrastinate right.  Now I just need to find away to turn those other executive derailers on their side…

Pretty Word Clouds from Wordle

Wordle is a web site that creates very pretty word clouds from blocks of text or web site URLs.  I could see this being a very, very fun way to waste a lot of time and produce some very attractive zeitgeist.

A Wordle cloud of this blog

A Wordle cloud of my feed.