Author Archives: admin

Hive active heating architecture

I often get asked why Hive Active Heating requires three pieces of hardware:

  • Hub – connects into your broadband router via ethernet
  • Boiler module – wired into your boiler and replaces your programmer/scheduler
  • Wireless thermostat – a battery operated thermostat

The Hive Active Heating thermostat is a wireless battery operated one, which means that standard wifi isn’t an appropriate radio technology because it consumes too much power and battery life would be reduced to hours or days unless we made compromises on how long the device goes into sleep mode. We therefore chose Zigbee a low power radio protocol that enables a very long battery life, typically many months and years. Zigbee is also designed to provide mesh network support where multiple devices can talk to each other and use each other as relays to extend range and reduce battery consumption (smaller hops means less power consumption). Unfortunately standard broadband routers from your ISP only support wifi and not Zigbee. The hub provided with Hive Active Heating talks Zigbee to the thermostat and/or the boiler module and then “translates” this into traffic (IP) that can be sent via the broadband router to the cloud servers. If there were no hub to do the zigbee to IP translation we’d be forced to use wifi and that means you’d have to provide mains power to the thermostat that need to talk to the internet.

People often prefer wireless thermostats because it avoids the need for rewiring the house and ruining the decor. It also allows you to place the thermostat where it would be difficult to run wires.

The hub also has the ability to provide “intelligence” to control multiple devices in the home which means each of the end point devices don’t need as much intelligence and can be operated in synch. For example, you could set rules to turn the heating on when you come home and turn the lights on and all that control logic could live in the hub. It leaves options for the future ;-).

Smart TVs ain’t that smart….

I’ve personally felt for a while that the TV apps were unlikely to get mass adoption for a number of reasons:

1. The UX/UI is appalling – There are not many experiences I can say are worse than Samsung’s attempt at apps

2. The remote control is too restrictive and clumsy to navigate a complex app that needs a keyboard

3. Tablets, PCs and mobile devices allow you to do many of things you need and more than a 1/3 of viewers have one of these devices beside them when watching TV.

4. Failure to develop compelling apps – because of the reasons above. Also unclear what you’d want to do on the TV rather than your pc

5. Shared experience – when you have 2 or more people family members sitting in front of the TV they hardly want you playing with an app.

6. Strong props and platforms from the likes of Sky – Do I use the BBC iPlayer on my TV or my sky box? Well my sky box lets me record the iplayer programmes and I don’t need to leave the Sky ecosystem…… over.


The art of focus

One of the biggest challenges I see in corporate life is learning to say “no” to things and not spreading yourself too thinly across multiple projects. There are lots of ambitious people in corporate life and we all love a challenge so we continually add more and more to the work stack until we find we’ve spread ourselves across so many projects that you have to wonder how much time and effort is spent on any single project. This is what leads to mediocre results at best or complete failure  at worst.

The one thing we all need to learn to do is focus; learning the art of focus is easier said that done. I often say to people who work to me that we need less width (quantity of projects) and more depth on the projects we choose to work on and then go on to do the exact opposite myself!

A large company works through a process of consensus and agreement. That’s what makes the wheels go around in these large systems of effort. When you’re producing a product or new service in a competitive environment you need that product to be good enough for the job in hand, but even good enough can require a huge amount of time and effort. This means that often consensus and agreement leads to compromise and that leads to be a product or service that is often not good enough for the market. This is where senior managers and execs have to have their hands firmly in the day to day tasks to ensure that only appropriate compromises are made and inappropriate compromises are challenged and avoided. Junior members of the team are often not empowered or able to make the necessary challenges to avoid inappropriate compromise in a large company and this is why it falls to senior managers to ensure this doesn’t happen. Many senior managers however don’t have the necessary information or in-depth understanding  of projects to challenge poor decisions at the working level because they’re busy working on a zillion other projects.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately there is no easy answer. Individual leaders have to master the discipline of focusing on a few things and being bold enough to say no to the others. They have to continually assess whether they’re spending enough time on the projects with their team and if those projects are delivering the necessary quality. Keep asking yourself whether the output will succeed in the competitive environment.

The different approaches to innovation

I’ve been studying a lot of different approaches to innovation adopted by some of the leading brands for some time but something that strikes me as odd is that there appear to be two very distinct approaches to innovation that do things very differently but still churn out some amazing results.

There is what I’ll call for the purposes of this article the “standard” or well known approach to innovation where you have an innovation funnel of ideas, rely on internal and external crowd sourcing for ideation, use customer driven design techniques and perhaps engage with open innovation. This is the approach that is adopted by the likes of Adobe, IBM, 3M and Proctor and Gamble. This form of innovation has shown to yield some fantastic results for the participants.

However, I then look at companies like Apple and they don’t use the innovation methods used by the companies I’ve described above, but they still come up with some wow stuff! Apple is extremely secretive internally and employees often don’t often know what colleagues are up to. Apple doesn’t crowd source internally, it doesn’t go out to its customers to ask what they want and yet it consistently comes up with disruptive game changing innovation. How’s that work? Apple is not alone though, there are other companies, for example in Italy, who also adopt a similar approach to innovation as Apple. They offer things to the market that simply don’t seem to make sense at first and if you were to ask customers what they think about them you’d probably get very negative results. So how do these companies do innovation so effectively?

I was then recommended to read a book by Roberto Verganti called Design Driven Innovation and suddenly this alternative approach to innovation seemed to make sense. I’m not going to describe everything Verganti’s says but in essence some of the salient points he makes are:

  • Design driven innovation is the key to success and is very different from customer driven innovation techniques.
  • Asking customers what they want or watching what they do with your existing products is not going to necessarily lead to ground breaking innovation. Asking customers what they want will tend to lead to small incremental improvements.
  • Disruptive innovation comes from bringing new meaning to things. An example he cites is the Nintendo Wii which changed the meaning of game consoles by making the interaction more immersive involving your whole body where as to date Xbox360 and PS3 only required your thumbs to play. In addition to that the Wii opened up game consoles to many more people and it was much more social activity. The other interesting thing to note is that Wii was far cheaper to make than the Xbox360 and PS3 but outsold both of those consoles.
  • In order to give new meanings to things requires extensive research looking at the alternatives for how things might be used.
  • Real breakthroughs come when you can leverage a new innovative technology and provide new meanings to things at the same time.

Going back to Apple, they were the first laptop supplier to remove the optical drives from their MacBook Air. Steve Job’s said that “we do not think most users will miss the optical drive” and he was right, at least for many people, whereas up to that point everyone thought you just couldn’t make a laptop without an optical drive. He fundamentally changed the meaning of laptops. Apples then went further and did the same with the iPad. iPods is another good example of disruptive innovation. Apple didn’t invent MP3 players, nor were they first to market with this technology. But with a super slick design for the iPod combined with iTunes Apple created a new eco-system and changed the way music was consumed. He gave new new meaning to listening to music.

Another really convincing example that Verganti gives in his book is the Swatch Watch. Swatch and indeed most Swiss watch manufacturers were rapidly losing market share and revenue. Swatch came along and turned the watch into a fashion accessory at a very affordable price, which meant that people could own multiple Swatch watches and wear them to match an outfit. This gave a new meaning to wearing watches. No-one to date has been able to emulate Swatches success and indeed even though Swatches have been on the market for a while and easily copyable, it retains its market share and allure.

I have to be honest that even though Verganti thoroughly convinced me about merits of design driven innovation, his steps on how to achieve it left me feeling unconvinced or rather I felt something was missing. Over simplifying again what Verganti suggests is that companies need to build a network of people to collaborate with. This network could include designers, technology suppliers, the media, sociologists, anthropologists and so forth. These collaborates may come from many other industries. I think there is something in that, but the mechanics of how you go about doing it will probably require you to figure it for yourself. These networks of people could take many years to build and establish.

The challenge with what Verganti advocates is that it doesn’t follow a set process and its not easily reproducible. Well if was easy to do or copy then I guess everyone would be doing it! What distinguishes a very innovative company from others is mastering this process of innovation.

I’m not going to spoil the book for you other than recommend you read it, but what are the implications of what Verganti is saying? My take is that companies need to learn to master different approaches to innovation and don’t just rely on the methods that you commonly hear about. There are many ways to skin the cat.

So what do you think? Is there something in all of this or is Verganti barking up the wrong tree?

What’s this innovation stuff about?

So what is all that stuff you hear about innovation? It’s a word that seems to get thrown about all over the place and no universal agreement on what it means. To make matters worse companies often talk about innovation in all sorts of contexts because it happens to be the latest and greatest thing. In my personal experience few companies have actually understood the innovation process let alone actually implemented it. I’ve seen companies use the word innovation to describe:

  • Cost cutting
  • Standard roadmap projects
  • New products and services

Now none of these things are wrong and it is possible to be innovative in each of these things, but in my view this is just the tip of iceberg with respect to what real innovation is about. Borrowing from Wikipedia innovation is defined as:

Innovation is a change in the thought process for doing something, or the useful application of new inventions or discoveries.[1] It may refer to an incremental emergent or radical and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations.

Innovation is not just about coming up with new ideas, it’s how those ideas are applied that makes innovation really different. Its important to point out that innovation can affect every aspect of a company. The innovation headlines are usually grabbed by new products and services, but actually some of the largest benefits of innovation come from anything but products and services. Innovation can be about how you finance projects, it can be about how you manufacture goods or it can be the business model you use to sell. In fact it can be about anything your company does.

Innovation is important to a company because it helps you stay ahead of your competitors. In today’s day and age standing still is not an option because someone will come along and eat your lunch. Here are some interesting stats:

  • The average life expectancy of a multinational corporation-Fortune 500 is between 40 and 50 years. This figure is based on most surveys of corporate births and deaths. A full one-third of the companies listed in the 1970 Fortune 500, for instance, had vanished by 1983-acquired, merged, or broken to pieces.
  • Of the 500 companies that appeared on the first list, in 1955, only 71 hold a place on the list today. (The 1955 list included industrial companies only, whereas today’s list also includes service companies.)
  • Nearly 2,000 companies have appeared on the list since its inception, and most are long gone from it.
  • Some of the most powerful companies on today’s list—businesses like Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Dell, and Google—grew from zero to great upon entirely new technologies, bumping venerable old companies off the list.
  • Some of the most celebrated companies in history no longer even appear on the 500, having fallen from great to good to gone from the list—companies like Scott Paper, Zenith, Rubbermaid, Chrysler, Teledyne, Warner Lambert, and Bethlehem Steel

But there are companies that continually buck the trend and they put innovation at the core of their organisations to stay ahead. Take for example Proctor and Gamble. It uses an innovation process called Connect and Develop to stay at the top of its game. Then there is Toyota which created Toyota University for innovation and has continued to grow while the rest of the car industry appears to be in severe decline like GM and Ford.

Putting in place a proper innovation process is something that makes innovation repeatable and systematic rather than relying on individuals or good luck to provide you with innovation. But that’s easier said that done right? How do you put in place a process that will yield regular and frequent innovation?

Both BCG and McKinsey’s have looked at innovation in large companies and their findings show that overwhelmingly senior executives are disappointed with the outcomes of the innovation efforts in their companies even though a majority place innovation high up the agenda. The reason is because execs don’t put in place the right process and tools for innovation to succeed. Innovation is about focusing on the details of your innovation process. The good news is that as a company you can indeed put in place a process for innovating but it requires many components to be in place for it to be successful, many of which will seem like common sense. Some key elements for making innovation successful include:

  • Dedicated resources to run the innovation process. Many companies make the mistake of thinking that people run an innovation process alongside their day jobs. While many contributors and participants in the innovation process can do this as part of their days jobs, the actual core innovation process must be run by people who eat, sleep and drink innovation.
  • Resources to implement the ideas. Collecting ideas from your people and then doing nothing with them is a sure fire way to disengage people. Make sure that the ideas go somewhere.
  • Senior level sponsorship is a definite key ingredient for success. Unless senior people get behind the innovation process and activities, it will always come a poor second to other priorities.
  • A robust process for innovation with key measures for success. The innovation pipeline from start to finish needs to be measured to ensure that every stage of the process is working. KPIs can be input and output KPIs, for examples the number ideas are entering into the ideation stage or the proportion of revenue coming from products and services launched in the past 3 years.
  • Communication, communication and communication! Telling people in the company about what is going on with the innovation effort is vital. This keeps the innovation profile high and will help to engage people. The communications should cover every aspect of your innovation effort.
  • Reward and recognition. If you get great ideas and they get implemented then make sure the people responsible for it are recognised and rewarded. Rewards don’t need to be large financial incentives, they can be the CEO or CxO recognising the achievements or small gifts. Lots of people are simply motivated by simply being seen to be innovators amongst their peers.

We’ll talk some more about innovation in later blogs, but I thought I’d at least get the subject on the table to start with!