Big pay-offs in innovation take time and have confounding finances

A nice way of explaining Amazon’s success in charts, e.g., as compare to Wal-Mart:


Just thinking aloud without any analysis, it seems liken Amazon is an example of how difficult, long, and confounding  doing continual innovation as your business is. Many companies claim to be innovation-driven, but most can just eek out those “incremental innovations” and basic Porterian strategy: they improve costs, enter adjacent marketers, and grow their share of existing TAMs, all the while fending off competitors.

Amazon, on the other hand, has had decades of trying new business models mostly in existing businesses (retail), but also plenty of new business models (most notably public cloud, smart phones and tablets, streaming video and music, and whatever voice + machine learning is).

All that said, to avoid the Halo Effect, it’s important to admit that many companies tried and died here…not to mention many of the retailers who Amazon is troubcibg – Wal-Mart has had several goes at “digital” and is in the midst of another transformation-by-acquisitions. Amazon, no doubt, has had many lucky-breaks.

This isn’t to dismisss any lessons learned from Amazon. There’s one main conclusion, thought: any large organization that hopes to live a long time needs to first continually figure out if they’re in a innovation/disrupting market and, if they are, buckle up and get ready for a few decades of running in an innovation mode instead of a steady-state/profit reaping mode. 

Another lesson is that the finances of innovation make little sense and will always be weird: you have to just hustle away those nattering whatnots who want to apply steady-state financial analysis to your efforts. 

You can throw out the cashflow-model chaff, but really, you just have to get the financial analysis to put down their pivot tables and have faith that you’ll figure it out. You’re going to be loosing lots of money and likely fail. You’ll be doing those anti-Buffet moves that confound normals.
In this second mode you’re guided by an innovation mindset: you have to be parnoid, you have to learn everyday what your customers and competitors are doing, and do new things that bring in new cash. You have to try.

Banks are handling disruption well – Highlights

Thus far, it seems like the large banks are fending off digital disruption, perhaps embracing some of it on their own. The Economist takes a look:

  • “Peer-to-peer lending, for instance, has grown rapidly, but still amounted to just $19bn on America’s biggest platforms and £3.8bn in Britain last year”
  • “last year JPMorgan Chase spent over $9.5bn on technology, including $3bn on new initiatives”
  • From a similar piece in the NY Times: “The consulting firm McKinsey estimated in a report last month that digital disruption could put $90 billion, or 25 percent of bank profits, at risk over the next three years as services become more automated and more tellers are replaced by chatbots.”
  • But: “Much of this change, however, is now expected to come from the banks themselves as they absorb new ideas from the technology world and shrink their own operations, without necessarily losing significant numbers of customers to start-ups.”
  • Back to The Economist piece: “As well as economies of scale, they enjoy the advantage of incumbency in a heavily regulated industry. Entrants have to apply for banking licences, hire compliance staff and so forth, the costs of which weigh more heavily on smaller firms.”
  • Regulations and customer loyalty are less in China, resulting in more investment in new financial tech in Asia: 
  • As another article puts it: “China has four of the five most valuable financial technology start-ups in the world, according to CB Insights, with Ant Financial leading the way at $60 billion. And investments in financial technology rose 64 percent in China last year, while they were falling 29 percent in the United States, according to CB Insights.”
  • Why? “The obvious reason that financial start-ups have not achieved the same level of growth in the United States is that most Americans already have access to a relatively functional set of financial products, unlike in Africa and China.”
  • There’s some commentary on the speed of sharing blockchain updates can reduce multi-day bank transfers (and payments) to, I assume, minutes. Thus: ‘“Blockchain reduces the cost of trust,” says Mr Lubin of ConsenSys.’

Fixing legacy problems with new platforms, not easy

  • The idea of building banking platforms to clean up the decades of legacy integration problems.
  • Mainframes are a problem, as a Gartner report from last year puts it: “The challenge for many of today’s modernization projects is not simply a change in technology, but often a fundamental restructuring of application architectures and deployment models. Mainframe hardware and software architectures have defined the structure of applications built on this platform for the last 50 years. Tending toward large-scale, monolithic systems that are predominantly customized, they represent the ultimate in size, complexity, reliability and availability.”
  • But, unless/until there’s a crisis, changes won’t be funded: “Banks need to be able to justify the cost and risk of any modernization project. This can be difficult in the face of a well-proven, time-tested portfolio that has represented the needs of the banking system for decades.”
  • Sort of in the “but wasn’t that always the goal, but from that same article, Gartner suggests the vision for new fintech: ‘Gartner, Hype Cycle for Digital Banking Transformation, 2015, says, “To be truly digital, banks must pair an emphasis on customer-facing capabilities with investment in the technical, architectural, analytic and organizational foundations that enable participation in the financial services ecosystem.”’
  • BCG has a prescriptive piece for setting the strategy for all this, from Nov. 2015.

Case studies

  • A bit correlation-y, but still useful, from that BCG piece: “While past performance is no guarantee of future results, and even though all the company’s results cannot be entirely attributed to BBVA’s digital transformation plan, so far many signs are encouraging. The number of BBVA’s digital customers increased by 68% from 2011 to 2014, reaching 8.4 million in mid-2014, of which 3.6 million were active mobile users. Because of the increasing use of digital channels and efforts to reconfigure the bank’s branch network—creating smaller branches that emphasize customer self-service and larger branches that provide higher levels of personalized advice through a remote cross-selling support system—BBVA achieved a reduction in costs of 8% in 2014, or €340 million, in the core business in Spain. Meanwhile, the bank’s net profits increased by 26% in 2014, reaching €2.6 billion.”
  • And a more recent write-up of JPMC’s cloud-native programs, e.g.: ‘“We aren’t looking to decrease the amount of money the firm is spending on technology. We’re looking to change the mix between run-the-bank costs versus innovation investment,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to be really aggressive in reducing the run-the bank costs and do it in a very thoughtful way to maintain the existing technology base in the most efficient way possible.” …Dollars saved by using lower-cost cloud infrastructure and platforms will be reinvested in technology, he said.’ JPMC, of course, is a member of the Cloud Foundry Foundation which means, you know, they’re into that kind of thing.

Saving $20m and going agile in the process

From an interesting sounding panel on government IT:

“We do discovery on a small chunk and then development, and then while that’s going on, we’re starting discovery on the next small chunk, and so on and so forth,” Smith said. “And then when the development is done, we loop back and we do user testing on that piece that’s done. But we don’t release it. That’s … one of the differences between agile and the way we did it. At the end of the phase we release everything.”

Also, some fun notes on consolidating legacy systems and resistance to going agile.

Don’t worry, computers are just causing a class war

On the contrary, as this book will argue, the digital revolution is very much like the industrial revolution. And the experience of the industrial revolution tells us that society must go through a period of wrenching political change before it can agree on a broadly acceptable social system for sharing the fruits of this new technological world. It is unfortunate, but those groups that benefit most from the changing economy tend not to willingly share their riches; social change occurs when losing groups find ways to wield social and political power, to demand a better share. The question we ought to be worried about now is not simply what policies need to be adopted to make life better in this technological future, but how to manage the fierce social battle, only just beginning, that will determine who gets what and by what mechanism.

Underlying the problem is rich people putting all their money under the mattress. Their wealth isn’t flowing down to the rest of the people. These wealthy folks have worked hard, and feel like they’re owed all that money (rather than having taken away by high taxes and redistributed); or, at least, they feel others are not deserving.

However, as the book goes into say, this mind-set ignores how a functioning society enables that success in the first place, and now sustains it:

A makers-and-takers conception of the world is one that neglects the social foundation on which wealth is built. We aren’t merely divided into makers and takers. We are participants in societies, operating according to a broad social consensus. When that consensus breaks down, the wealth goes away. Society either agrees a way to share its riches that most members find acceptable, or the system fractures and the social wealth available to everyone shrinks.

Source: The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century by Ryan Avent.

Go to where the customers are. True story.

By making it easy for people to buy movie tickets online or through a smartphone app, Fandango has experienced breakneck growth over the last two years. A couple of taps and presto! The seats are yours.

And on the “omni-channel,” even cyberspace has lots of omni:

“Consumers, particularly young ones, find it inconvenient to hop into different silos to get something done,” she said. “They want it all in one place. That sounds obnoxious, I know — the definition of a ‘first-world problem’ — but it’s true, and Fandango is solving it for them.”

Source:
Buy Movie Tickets on Facebook? Fandango Makes It Possible

Why do you have to burn $4bn to add mobile apps to taxis?

In the first quarter of this year, Uber lost about $520 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to people familiar with the matter. In the second quarter the losses significantly exceeded $750 million, including a roughly $100 million shortfall in the U.S., those people said. That means Uber’s losses in the first half of 2016 totaled at least $1.27 billion.

Meanwhile, revenue:

Bookings grew tremendously from the first quarter of this year to the second, from above $3.8 billion to more than $5 billion. Net revenue, under generally accepted accounting principles, grew about 18 percent, from about $960 million in the first quarter to about $1.1 billion in the second.

It’s expensive to start a global, meat-space business, even if you’re “assetless”:

Uber, which is seven years old, has lost at least $4 billion in the history of the company.

I find the continuous usage of Uber as an example of “the way forward” in business unhelpful. Not because it’s not an interesting business, but because without these kinds of numbers in context, you think it’s easy. If you’re prepared to burn through $4bn before profit, sure thing!

The advantage established businesses should have is less spending to build a market: they just need to do better serving their existing customer base at first, not spend all that money to start from zero. What I find devilishly fascinating is why it’s so hard for those large organizations to take advantage of the assets they already have and why, possibly, it’s easier just to start from scratch, as Uber has been doing with that $4bn.

Source: Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016

Agile Development’s Biggest Failure Point—and How to Fix It

Companies commonly make one of two mistakes when selecting a product owner. Often they tap a junior employee with ­limited experience and therefore a limited understanding of how the project fits into the larger mission. Product owners need enough seniority to inspire and motivate peers across multiple business units. By earning the respect of teams in customer experience, enterprise architecture, and risk and compliance, for example, the ­product owner can help ensure that ­projects move smoothly without costly ­bottlenecks. Other companies err in the ­opposite direction, selecting a senior ­executive who is too harried to devote ­adequate time and may not adapt well to the highly responsive, iterative nature of agile development.
So what should companies look for when appointing product owners? In our view, the key is to find people who think and ­behave like entrepreneurs.

Much of the advice here falls under the category of “if you do good things, good things happen”:

success comes from simply managing a sound process: conducting market ­research, understanding the customer’s needs, identifying where the product will create the most value, prioritizing the most important features, testing ideas, capturing customer feedback, and continuously ­refining their vision over time.

The tasks is setting up and environment, processes, even “culture” that encloses and rewards good behavior like this. And the protecting that structure from corporate barbarians. That’s a job – and the responsibility – of management. So, perhaps it’s good to get some management consulting advice on what good looks like.

Source: Agile Development’s Biggest Failure Point—and How to Fix It

Would you buy auto insurance from Google? The Kids and auto insurance

The young people account for 20% of of the $180bn US auto insurance market. Here’s some trends in their buying behavior a la a BCG infographic:

Infographic on car insurance buying habits.

Some items:

  • That nearly 40% are willing to buy from Amazon, Google, and others should put traditional insurance vendors in full on freak out mode.
  • Once The Kids start the long (up to two weeks!) research process, they’re 70% more likely to switch than The Olds. So, it’s probably a good idea for incumbents to heavily get involved in research, pointing to native content sponsored “third parties” and providing their own research.
  • As one of our Pivotal customers, Allstate, put it: “Everybody is going to disrupt the insurance industry. It hasn’t been disrupted in eighty-plus years.”

Source: bcg.perspectives – How Digital Switchers Are Disrupting US Auto Insurers

How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail Landscape

“After two years in business, Casper is on track to book $200 million in sales over the next year, but its success isn’t ensured.”

Also, a new category phrase: “the digitally native vertical brand.”

Source: How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail Landscape