How relevant are Gartner and other tech analysts really?

How relevant are Gartner and other tech analysts really?

I was at an event recently organized by Sage software in Johannesburg. This was an event to promote Sage’s independent software partners to other consultants and customers in it’s large community. I spent a lot of time talking with various people, many of whom operate fairly small businesses but are very knowledgeable of their area of business. It was only afterwards that I realized I was never asked how analysts rate our platform, rather we were asked what we did and how we might help. In other words, none of the attendees cared, or even knew, about Gartner. Continue reading

B2D marketing

B2D marketing

For about twenty years, my focus on marketing and selling enterprise software was on business decision makers foremost, and technical people second. The software I was involved in was large-scale, on-premise applications with a high initial license purchase. That has changed in the last two years. Continue reading

US VCs should get off their arses

US VCs should get off their arses

US-based VCs (venture capitalists) should get off their arses and realize that there is a greater world out there than what they hear about on the US East or West coast. I’m not talking about Europe or Israel either. I’m echoing what Ben Parr said in a recent Tech Caucus email that:

we in the Silicon Valley / LA / NYC bubble have no clue what’s happening in Africa.

Continue reading

Don’t forecast 10 years ahead

tarot-991041_640An article on Medium written at the end of 2015 tries to predict how we will be living in 2025. The problem with predicting so far out, and ten years is far out, is that we cannot possibly know how things we haven’t even thought about will dramatically impact our lives.  It got me thinking what someone in January 2006 would have missed when predicting how we would be living in 2016. Continue reading

Taking the steam out of STEM

Taking the steam out of STEM

stemFor the last few years, there have been many calls and articles about the importance of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. I’ve seen the acronym used most often in US-based communications, but it’s seen as an issue in other countries as well; for example, in South Africa we tend to talk about “Maths and Science”. The STEM proponents say the growing these skills is the only way we will be able to ensure employment in a world that is becoming more automated and smarter. But I am now hearing a different view, that there is more to work and life than maths and science skills. Continue reading

Device death and human-centred technology

DevicesWhy do we sometimes occasionally see articles on “the death of”, referring to tablets or PCs? If you look at the data from the KPCB Internet Trends slides about sales of devices, sales of laptops and PCs aren’t doing well, and tablet ownership is still low compared to smartphones. But why do some people think such articles should be written?

A story in TechCentral about PCs noted that modern users:

switch seamlessly between work mode on a laptop, to social mode on a smartphone, without ever slowing to adapt to a different device or operating system between tasks.
Life has more than one mode and technology should, too.

What we are now starting to do is use different devices for different purposes and in different contexts. That is what the “death of” writers seem to miss; just because a device isn’t growing significantly does not mean it is dying.

Unless all you do is read documents, no one would suggest it is easier to write and edit a document, or code a program, on a tablet compared to a PC. PCs are just better suited to some activities, especially for work.

It seems we are in a period of changing form factors and usage models. No one wants an old-fashioned PC in their home, or think that it should control and monitor their home. But people are quite prepared to have a specialized device to do that – as long as it’s connected to their smartphone, of course.

In 1999 a book forecasted that computers would move from being technology-centred to human-centred. One reason that tablets and smartphones have become popular is that they are usable by the average person – you are not expected to be tech savvy to use them. In the old PC days, it was a sign of proficiency that you could use a PC.

The book points out that tech companies tried to make the PC generic, and thus it became not specific for anything. When Microsoft wanted to to turn the PC into the home entertainment controller, the Windows Media Centre, it failed because it was trying to make the ‘reluctant masses’ adopt the attitudes of engineers and early adopters.

What Steve Jobs realized, and the engineering brains at Microsoft didn’t, was that for a technology device to be adopted by the majority of society, you have to understand two things, as a review of the book discusses:

  1. The user needs to educate or inform the design process from the beginning.
  2. The designers must ensure that the technology is not part of the difficulty.

Essentially, a technology device needs to become an appliance before general society will use it. That means the task, and learning to use it, have to be the same. As an appliance is designed for one thing, expect to see more devices as specialization increases.

Currently, Google, and recently Microsoft, are investing in different technologies for different applications, not trying to shoehorn one technology into a variety of roles.

I wonder what next device will have it’s death written about?

Change, technology adoption, and resistance

technology-adoptionWe are all aware that new technology often meets with resistance, the most recent and well-publicised case is that of the tax app Uber. The problem is some people seem to think that resisting change is unnatural. It isn’t.

As I’ve got older I realise that you get into patterns in life, and it can be hard to break those patterns. You also develop skills and technological changes may affect those skills. Consequently, the more you do something, and so the older you get, you harder it is to change.

A recent article on Kevin Benedict’s blog reckons resisting technology is like resisting aging. If like me you are over 40 (well over), that may sound a little crazy. But if also like me you have children, you know that you have to change your attitudes about many things as your children grow up.

One of the current themes on technology is how it may reduce the rate of job increase – or put another way, how technology reduces jobs. For example, this is a main concern of Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. But as the Benedict blog post points out, there can be other more positive aspects. The introduction of photography had a devastating effect on artists in the portraiture industry, making many jobless. However, this led to the development of the Impressionist movement.

An industry that has been affected by technology is the printed newspaper. It is well-known that print media has been in decline as the Internet has grown. There is an interesting story in LinkedIn of how two different media companies reacted to technology changes. The New York Times and South African media group Naspers both faced the same issues around the beginning of the 21st century. The difference is that

The management of Naspers decided to ride, rather than fight, the technology tide while the management of the New York Times chose otherwise.

The result is that the New York Times’ revenue and profits in 2013 were less than 50 percent of what they were in 2000, whereas Naspers is now the largest Internet company outside the US and China.

Going back to the Uber case, an issue that frustrates me is how (mainly) US pundits seems to believe that their attitudes and approaches apply to other countries. Why are these pundits surprised about Uber being banned in Germany? It’s because technology adoption is spikey, not flat – being significantly affected by geography and national culture.

The ‘flat world’ view was most famously stated in Thomas Friedman’s book which stated that globalisation is effectively complete. Others however contest this view, and bring convincing data to show that the world is only 10 to 25 percent globalised.

In some ordinary activities, differences in the way urban areas have developed make shopping very different in the UK as opposed to the US.

Even when it comes to mobile technology, adoption is different. The USA is far more of an ‘Apple’ culture than the rest of the world, where Android has taken over.

We need to be mindful therefore about how technology impacts people. New technologies like the steam engine, photography, the motor car, and electricity did just take over from older technology, but mainly it was not a sudden change and societies had time (several years) to adapt. Companies like Uber need to remember that technology change and culture change often have to go hand-in-hand, and changing culture takes some time.