Archive for the ‘VIP’ Category

Best Practices in Collaborative Innovation

October 8, 2016

innovation

FountainBlue’s October 7 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Best Practices in Collaborative Innovation. The executives in attendance at this month’s roundtable represented a wide range of industries, roles, functions and company sizes. Therefore, their perspectives on what it means to be innovative, what it takes to collaborate, how to remain relevant and provide value differed greatly, but they agreed on the following:

  • Innovation centers around having open, honest, transparent conversations between a wide range of stakeholders within and outside an organization.
  • Everyone sees innovation with a slightly different slant, and all have valid perspectives which could be integrated into solutions.
  • Everyone has a role in facilitating a culture of innovation, so that the best, the most diverse, the brightest want to remain and can succeed on their terms.
  • The pace of innovation is rapidly increasing, and convergences across teams, product lines, companies and industries will geometrically increase that pace of innovation.
  • Being aware of the larger business and technology trends will help tech leaders keep themselves and their products and companies relevant.

The collective advice of our executives is summarized below.

  • Choose to be nimble and agile, tech-philic and client-centric in order to stay relevant, and move the needle forward.
  • Collaborate with customers and partners to deliver a collection of custom and/or reusable solutions which may serve other purposes. Adopting this reverse-hackathon mindset means that you start with a specific problem and a specific customer in mind – a problem painful enough so that funding and resources are allocated to address the problem.
  • Talk about applications and use cases, not just the technology for its own sake, brilliant as it may be.
  • Create opportunities for being entrepreneurial within a big company, so that you get the stability and funding of the big company, and the new ideas for R&D and innovation.
  • Balance the big company and small company mindset when managing teams through integrations. You want to make sure the technology and engineers are cutting edge, but it must also fit within the processes and requirements of the larger company as well.
  • Embrace open source options where possible, engaging the larger ecosystem and community. With that said, make sure that there’s an appropriate business model for the product line and the company so that the solution is sustainable.
  • Engage in side projects beyond your normal day-to-day scope of work. 
  • Have an agile structure for moving projects forward, a model for engagement, for rapid adoption, for prioritizing for repositioning. This is true whether it applies to software development or marketing and business model creation.
  • Combine and connect solutions to develop seamless, integrated infrastructure layers and solutions which would build value.
  • Collaborate with researchers, other tech companies, customers, partners, manufacturers,  even competitors etc., Sometimes you’ll have awkward fre-nemy-like relationships, but finding a way to collaborate for that win-win could benefit all parties. With that said, use your best judgment on whom you can trust in the short term and in the long term, what to share when, etc.
  • Develop international partnerships to deliver solutions to different global markets. Or build the expertise in-house so that you have a vetted and valid strategy for approaching different markets with specific products and solutions. 
  • Build communities of practice to foster internal collaborations and vendor forums so outside vendors can connect and communicate.
  • Develop automations so that you can efficiently create, communicate and collaborate, within and across companies.
  • Allow customers to self-select their level of interest so that you can focus on the customers you can best support, and who has the most interest and funding for your solution.
  • Provide ‘air cover’ for your most promising engineers so that they can have the time and resources to innovate/seek that executive who could provide you with that air coverage so that you can innovate.
  • Beware of the leader who keeps talking about leadership without doing anything, the innovator who keeps talking about innovating without doing anything, who keeps espousing the merits of diversity without doing anything.
  • Reward failures.
  • Consciously and methodically create and capture value while you innovate collaboratively.
  • Facilitate open and honest dialogue, especially with people who don’t think and act like you do.
  • Pay it forward, give back, without the expectation of getting something in return.

There was overwhelming agreement amongst our execs: collaborative innovation must begin and end with the needs of the customer, and delivering to those needs in an agile, iterative, replicative, personalized way, leveraging hardware, software, data, mobile and cloud solutions.

Please join us in thanking our execs who generously shared their time and insights for this conversation and to our hosts at Cisco.

Resources:

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Balancing Privacy, Security and Access

August 9, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 9.05.06 PM.png

FountainBlue’s August 5 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Balancing Privacy, Security and Access! Please join us in thanking our gracious hosts at Dell and our esteemed execs in attendance. Below are notes from the conversation.

This month’s execs represented a wide range of industries, roles, functions and company sizes. Thus, their perspectives on balancing privacy, security and access varied based on their current and past experience and their view of the future. But they shared many common viewpoints:

  • Data and apps are used by everyone everywhere and controlling who uses which app, and what data is used where is impossible! The proliferation of devices, IOT sensors, big data analytics, mobility and cloud solutions is making the security of our corporate and personal accounts so much more important AND so much more precarious now than ever before. 
  • Choosing security may mean investing more time and money to make sure that the right information and funds is being transferred to the right entity or account. 
  • Choosing security often means investing more into proactive planning as well as reactive management should breaches occur.
  • Security breaches are bound to happen, so planning for them, anticipating specific scenarios, mitigating risks, and responding thoroughly and quickly and transparently are a necessary and integral part of running a company, and managing your personal data.
  • It’s amazing how easy it is for the bad guys to get into a system, to access sensitive information. There are companies who employ people full time to do just these things. And also companies who spend many man-hours hacking into their own vulnerabilities to keep ahead of them!
  • Security and access are so important in the eyes of corporate leaders that many times privacy takes a back seat. 
  • Corporate and IT leaders are challenged with the need to educate their staff about security protocols and processes, while also making it easy for them to access the networks and devices and data so that they can efficiently get work done! It’s even more challenging when leaders are dealing with a wide range of staff members and cultures with many different and fervent thoughts about following protocols!
  • Compliance with protocols and standards is difficult at best as there are no standards across states, across countries. Yet, compliance is required, as it’s incumbent upon companies to be proactively secure, and transparently communicative should there be a breach!

Below are some collective thoughts on what you can do to proactively balance privacy, security and access.

  • Look closely at the scenarios when someone is identified as an owner of something (like a car for example). In some contexts, it’s necessary to know, and in other cases, it’s an invasion of privacy to know. Consider making all necessary-to-know contexts (which owner of a 2016 car must be contacted regarding a recall notice for example) mostly automated, between machine-to-machine, while making most no-need-to-know scenarios (which Starbucks locations or grocery stores are most visited for example) managed by the owner, so they define who gets access to this type of information. 
  • To respect the privacy of users while also understanding trends, consider aggregating data usage for specific locations, genders, backgrounds, etc.,
  • A Knowledge-As-A-Service or Data-As-A-Service model empower users to control who has access to their patterns of behavior and usage and even charge interested others to get that information from them.
  • Reward people for successfully hacking into a system, to help keep in front of the professional hacking companies!
  • Do understand the preferences of your customers so that you can anticipate their preferences and tendencies, but don’t keep enough data so that their privacy is compromised.
  • Limit access to sensitive data only to those who need-to-know, and know why and in which contexts they need to know.
  • Particularly sensitive areas around data include healthcare and children. Both areas have many support groups and many policies managing how data is used and exchanged. 
  • We have enough data and information to be able to mitigate risks and manage and understand risk profiles, and even anticipate security breaches. There’s a business opportunity to serve companies charged with managing the security of their data and assets.

As leaders, be the conscience of the company and fluctuate between the big picture and the execution pieces to proactively navigate that balance between security, access and privacy.

Communication Strategies at the Speed of Change

July 8, 2016

CommunicationStrategies

FountainBlue’s July 8 VIP roundtable was on the topic of ‘Communication Strategies at the Speed of Change’. Please join us in thanking our gracious hosts at Polycom and our execs in attendance, who share the insights below. 

Change has always been a part of life, but tech leaders today are feeling it more quickly and more primally. 

  • Communication today is cheap – there’s too much noise out there. But communication today is so much more important than it ever has been – because of the importance of immediacy, the importance of coordinating and collaborating with a wider range of others.
  • A leader today needs to do what has always been important: digest huge amounts of data to communicate key points which are most important for each audience. But to be effective, she or he must also sift through the volumes of information to identify and ingest only the most relevant pieces of information, so that a strategy and communication is clear and backed by data.
  • Relationships are even more important today than they were decades ago. Because there are so many more people and so much information, it’s MORE important to build deep, trust-based relationships with significant others in the network who can help to both craft the message and strategy, and also to spread that word to different networks and channels.
  • Poignant and engaging writing is still important, but today we are more careful about what we share with whom, due to constraints around NDAs for example. However, leaders who share openly and transparently with an authentic voice, using good judgment, will be best heard.
  • The immediacy of communication between individuals and groups adopted by millennials is spilling over into other generations and is here to stay. The question becomes how each leader will manage their communications to best connect with others and to stay on-message, as an individual and as an exec.

Below is advice on how to successfully communicate during times of great change.

  • Leveraging neutral and informed outside perspectives can help shape communications strategy and messaging. Building relationships with these influential and connected others is essential for building credibility and achieving results.
  • Identify your niche audiences and strategize on how the core message should be delivered to each audience, based on how they think, where they are located, what resonates for them.
  • Speak clearly and concisely in language the audience would understand, preferably with a request for action.
  • Be clear on ownership of programs and processes and document communications, players and intentions.
  • Have others take ownership for taking actions and communicating results, so that they are engaged in the process.
  • Be clear on what measurable results look like from a quantitative perspective, and update others on the progress based on data.
  • Live interviews with trusted interviewers lead to the type of authentic programs others would watch and learn from – which could lead to revenues.
  • Be clear on your own value-add in terms of skills and tangible/measured results and outcomes. Evaluate where you can best add value based on what you’re passionate about and what results you’ve driven to date.
  • Work with those who are more engineering-minded about the value of communicating more of the bigger picture, and less of the details when connecting with those-outside engineering.
  • Stakes are high when companies decide to merge. And execs are restricted on what they can say during sensitive timeframes. But working with the lines and connecting with others to meaningfully and authentically share progress during change will help keep staff loyal and engaged.

The conclusion is that communicating strategically and authentically will help effectively building credibility and relationships which are core to leading anyone, no matter where you sit at the table.

Our thanks once again to our hosts at Polycom and to our execs in attendance for this month’s VIP roundtable!

The Future of Retail

June 5, 2016

Retail.jpg

FountainBlue’s June 3 VIP roundtable was on the Future of Retail. Please join us in thanking our gracious hosts at Newmark Carey and our execs who participated in the conversation. Below are notes from the conversation.

Over the past three decades, the Silicon Valley has evolved from a privately held, institutional, relationship-based business economy to a more inter-connected, international, venture-funded, tech-driven economy, where relationships are equally important.

We have evolved from a period where large retail centers dominated, to an era where mixed use is common and restaurants are more plentiful. International investors are investigating in real estate in the valley, a more solid investment opportunity than those which present themselves at home. 

As it becomes increasingly easier for consumers to choose online ordering options, we must look closely at how much retail space we have – 45 sq ft per person in US, much more than the second highest ratios in UK and Australia who are tied at 25 sq ft per person – and how we can make best use of that space. Ideas for doing so are listed below.

  • Leverage technology to efficient deliver customized solutions for demanding customers. Ideas include entering precise measurements for shoe and clothing, using virtual reality try before you buy options (which have failed in the past, but perhaps time might be more ripe now), using the web for comparison shopping, etc.,
  • Marketplaces like Amazon and NewEgg serve their purpose with efficient purchase and distribution channels. Amazon is more for the general population, but techies might prefer the wide range of tech solutions and attractive prices at NewEgg, or they may prefer physically going into Frys for example. But organizations like Best Buy and office supply chains may be challenged to find that edge which would bring customers into the store.
  • Retail thrives when populations are dense, and the experience is good – with great selections.
  • In today’s economy, there’s the barbell effect where retailers selling to the lower income and to the higher income are doing well, but those appealing to the mid markets aren’t doing quite as well.
  • Retailers with access to mass transit like CalTran are doing better.
  • Older, free standing tilt-up R&D buildings in Silicon Valley are being converted into mixed use office and retail space, and the trend is for NetZero impact with less HVAC, more ‘big ass’ fans, and more solar and natural lighting.
  • Densifying of people is also a trend, with collaborative work spaces preferred over individual office spaces and isolated cubes. 

Below are some technology and business predictions offered by our attendees.

  • Distressed regional malls in populous areas will continue to be converted to mixed-use office/retail and housing, with a new trend of parks on ceilings.
  • Technology will continue to be efficiently leveraged to better understand and deliver to the needs of customers, even to the point of predicting what they want and need next. 
  • Manufacturing and delivery processes will become ever more efficient as big data and analytics may help retailers better plan for both.
  • There’s a love-hate relationship with channels such as Amazon – see article below on Amazon is not your friend – and retailers need to understand how Amazon will fit their overall distribution strategy.
  • Strong communities may help build niche retail markets and channels for specialty goods that are vetted and approved by fellow members. Retailers should consider supporting or starting such communities.
  • Leveraging technology to customize size and color will help drive sales and lower returns.
  • Forward-thinking CIOs of retail firms are adopting sensors and apps which can track inventory and help customers on-site real-time.
  • Retailers (in China) with individual air conditioning units are leverage IoT to manage large retail spaces. (This is more difficult to adopt in the US as most large retailers have central air.)
    • As an aside, utilities can use this data from these air conditioning units to manage brown-outs.
  • Light-enabled technology (LiFi) may replace wifi at on-site retailers and help retailers track and manage inventory and customers to identify and find what they’re looking for on-site. (Note that light has fewer security risks than wifi, as the distance between the light of a mobile phone and a sensor or a label are generally short, and the time of emission is generally small.)

Resources:

PSFK Future of Retail 2016 Summary Report

10Pillars.jpg10 Pillars Delivering the New Shopper Experience

Synchrony Financial: 10 THINGS TO KNOW: THE TOP 10 RETAIL TRENDS FOR 2016

  1. Wearables
  2. Retail Holidays
  3. Voice Technology
  4. Virtual Reality in the Shopping Experience
  5. Video Streaming
  6. Internet of Things
  7. Mobile Payments
  8. Social Network Buy Buttons
  9. Increased Spending on Pets
  10. Personalization

Amazon is not your friend, Caroline Fairchild’s May 17, 2016 

Amazon’s impact on both the retail and delivery spaces is not new. But their announcement earlier this week might all but makes the funding slowdown inevitable for retail startups. The e-commerce giant will reportedly soon sell private label groceries and household products exclusively to Amazon Prime members. The move is huge because Amazon already owns half of all e-commerce sales. With all the growth in retail happening online, anything Amazon does to increase their already massive share is bad news for retail startups looking to scale.

Retail, early adopter of new technologies. LiFi a very promising one of them ! Tom Van Den Bussche

Recruitment and Retention Best Practices

May 6, 2016

Stressful people waiting for job interviewFountainBlue’s May 6 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Recruitment and Retention Best Practices in a time of Change! Please join us in thanking our gracious hosts at Symantec. Below are notes from the conversation.

Change is an inevitable part of the business world, particularly when you’re leading a tech company in Silicon Valley! Leaders from our Recruitment and Retention VIP roundtable represent companies that are at various stages of M&A activities, divestitures, rapid-growth and fundings. They are challenged with identifying, recruiting, developing and retaining their key talent and high potentials, and have provided the following pearls of wisdom.

Change creates tension and uncertainty for everyone. Communication is key to the retention and recruitment objectives for all organizations.

  • Leaders managing through change must collaborate with key stakeholders to strategically communicate what they’re doing, why it’s being done, what the process will be, what success looks like, etc., as this will help key talent make decisions to remain engaged and help others to make the same choice.
  • Change may take months to happen, and people potentially affected by the change will be uneasy, so periodic, proactive, and candid communications, delivered by charismatic, genuine and leaders will help everyone through the process.
  • When there’s an acquisition, don’t settle on just getting the bodies from the acquired companies, but seek also to sell to the minds and hearts of those people, so that they stay engaged, committed and connected.
  • Leaders need to take the high road and message what’s right for the company in the long term, (even if they feel like they’ve been wronged). This will help them leave the kind of legacy they want, after serving for so long at a company, plus it will help those who stay remain successful and committed.
  • Be purposefully inclusive in your communications, independent of roles, levels, locations, etc., This will help build that sense of teamwork and common mission during times of change.
  • Say and model an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ model of leadership, with a common, constructive, positive and productive message.

Communicating intent and direction is not enough. Leaders must also plan-fully make it easy for key talent and high potentials to navigate changes *and* remain engaged and successful. 

  • Have a clear and planned framework for governance, operations, integration etc., so that people undergoing change can be quickly productive and engaged and connected.
  • Connect people with each other and with resources so that they can be more immediately successful.
  • Provide as much sameness and stability wherever possible, especially when much is happening. 

Clear, collaborative leadership is essential for recruiting and retaining key talent.

  • Good leaders make the right strategic decision for a company in the short term and for the long term. Great leaders communicate and engage all stakeholders throughout the change process so that vision becomes reality.
  • Great leaders know it’s about getting key people on-board and engaged, and they will ensure that those people (generally starting with the customer-facing people first), get the support, encouragement, reward and confidence they need so they can represent the company well to customers. They know how to build success from that foundation of strength.

Below are some suggestions for recruiting and retaining key talent.

  • Adopt a measurement-based standard for success that’s objective – whether it’s looking at revenues or market growth or retention numbers. From those measurement-based outcomes, figure out how to change recruitment and retention strategies so that you get the results you’re seeking.
  • Improve the success of your recruitment efforts by following up with new-hires and hiring managers and proactively facilitating their success.
  • Consider hiring those who know what’s in the playbook and how to execute what’s in the playbook, but also more closely consider those who can deviate from that playbook, and customize that playbook, based on the individual circumstances.
  • Know the culture of your company and hire those people who would fit that culture, rather than focusing on that ‘top talent’ who’s not quite a cultural fit now, but who might later get integrated into that culture.
  • Consider encouraging a healthy competition with performance metrics where possible.
  • Adopt a ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ (WIIFM) attitude of the prospective employee and speak to what’s important to them.
  • Whether you’re choosing the rapid-integration or the longer term, staged integration approach, adopt a strategy that matches your culture, and provide the communication and infrastructure support so that the plan can be well implemented.
  • Hire an exceptional talent management team, and let them use their passion and abilities to find and recruit the right people for the company. This will in turn propagate the right energy, message and culture, feeding a virtuous circle so that more people want to work at the company, better products and services are delivered, thereby further growing the customer base and staff.
  • Consider using a panel discussion as part of your interview process, asking questions such as ‘why YOU’? ‘why NOW?’ and ‘why US? It’s also helpful to have each panelist evaluate on specific criteria, including cultural fit, functional fit, experience and technology. 
  • Give candidates the opportunity to think on their feet to test their intelligence, their communication ability, their comfort level with ambiguity, etc.,
  • Encourage referrals for key positions.
  • Message the merits of joining the company to the interviewees.
  • Look for four key criteria when hiring: Intelligence, Coachability, Experience and Character. You don’t necessarily have to have direct experience, provided that you’re intelligent and coach-able enough, but if you don’t have the right character, it may never work, and it’s expensive to hire the wrong person.
  • Choose to join a fast-growing company (unicorns, pre-IPO companies) in a hot space (mobile, security, platform for example) and potential hires will show up. From there, it’s a question of setting the bar high so that only the best get hired and stay.

Below are suggestions for building a diverse team and robust leadership pipeline.

  • Consider hiring new-grads and growing them into key positions.
  • Encourage senior executives to sponsor high-potentials so that you can fill that leadership pipeline.
  • Request diversity for your candidate pool and support the HR team in delivering that diverse candidate pool for consideration.
  • Hire a qualified woman candidate where appropriate and advocate for pay equity. Retaining that female leader will increase the likelihood that more women and minorities will stay and desire leadership roles.

Below are predictions for the future of work.

  • Some entitled millennials may get that wake-up call, and learn that it will take commitment and hard work to remain successful at work. Leaders who manage them may be able to work with them from their perspective, on their terms.
  • There may be a back-firing on the work flexibility trend. Companies big and small may be expecting more in-office time to facilitate more collaboration and communication and perhaps increase productivity. 

Resources:

The bottom line is that leaders are chartered with recruiting and retaining key people despite inevitable changes. Keys to success in managing change include a standard for clear communication, an emphasis on seamless execution, a track record of measured outcomes, all delivered by a principled and collaborative leadership team. 

IT Trends and Predictions

April 1, 2016

Information Technology
FountainBlue’s April 1 VIP roundtable was on the topic of IT Trends and Predictions! Below are notes from the conversation.

With the decades of advances in technology – from consumer to enterprise solutions, from infrastructure and network set-up to databases and big data, from networks to cloud, from mobile apps to IoT solutions, we’re continuing to push the technology development and adoption angle. 

With that said, the obstacles to adoption are not necessarily the effectiveness and impact of the technology solutions themselves, but more process, people, access, and operational challenges. There may be traditionally slow-moving industries, companies or countries who are resistant to change, and afraid that new technologies will create more problems than they can solve. There may be operational, technology and cultural hurdles which make the adoption of IT solutions more problematic – from the difficulty of integrating with legacy systems to the difficulty of integrating established processes, to the change-resistant mind-set of leaders and staff who are so used to doing it the-way-it’s-always-been done and those who are fearful of the implications of technology adoption and the resultant change.

The challenge then is a communication and management issue – how do you articulate the value proposition to teams/ companies/partners/customers and other stakeholders so that we can all reap the rewards? Suggested strategies are below:

  • As IT leaders, pivot away from the internal/supply-chain perspective and more into the customer point of view. Understand what the customers are looking for and develop customized solutions based on their requirements. 
  • Thinking about IT solutions as case studies for industries and customers will help IT leaders and companies understand and deliver on their value-add. 
  • Think about the technology and the data as secondary to the needs and requests of your stakeholders. Frame IT and big data solutions as ‘real-world’ problems.
  • Consider how your IT solution fits within the overall ecosystem and create partnerships and alliances based on what would add the best end-to-end value for the customer.
  • Strategically and plan-fully approach integrations so that they complement current offerings and meet and anticipate the needs of current and expected customers. Make sure that the leadership team and staff on both sides of M&As are/would be receptive to an integration and have the skills to do so effectively and efficiently.

Thoughts on trends and opportunities are highlighted below.

  • There are huge opportunities around the Internet of Everything (not just things) which goes far beyond the data and beyond things and focuses on outcomes.
  • Adapting technologies and processes for existing solutions to solve current problems creates opportunities for leaders to serve new customers and markets. 
  • Leveraging existing technologies to save the waste will provide opportunities for many, and has the potential to transform industries.
  • There are huge opportunities as there will be an amplified proliferation of sensors, including Edge-of-the-Network low-cost sensors, leveraging existing technologies including BlueTooth, radio, power lines. 
  • All these sensors will continue to generate huge volumes of data, which needs to be managed and processed real-time, perhaps leveraging machine learning rather than traditional formulaic calculations. Opportunities here are immense.
  • 3D imaging and printing solutions open up a real opportunity in many industries – from customized tailoring to customized medical treatments, from rapid prototyping to construction.
  • Many industries, most notably financial services are open to sophisticated, real-time, security-oriented IT solutions personalized to the needs of their customers.
  • Healthcare is ripe for change. There are opportunities around infrastructure, from security to hospital management, around big data and analytics, from wearables to disease management, around diagnostics with imaging supporting everything from radiology to pathology for example.
  • Independent of industry, IT solutions generally include real-world, consumer-facing technologies from sensors to apps to ingestibles, cloud infrastructure to support the gathering and reporting of the data generated, analytics and reports which may trigger decisions and actions, aggregated reports based on volumes of users, etc., 
  • With that said, there will be standardization and specialization as we reach critical mass for solutions in each industry, for each problem, so there are opportunities for companies to support other companies in serving the customer – much like what IBM’s Watson is doing for the analytics side of cancer research or what RuntimeIO does to support the back-end collection of data. 

Resources, information and studies  

Please join us in thanking execs present at the roundtable as well as our gracious hosts at Dell.

Strategies for Serving a More Demanding, More Diversified Customer Base

March 4, 2016

The Customer Service Target Market Support Assistance ConceptFountainBlue’s March 4 VIP roundtable on the topic of Strategies for Serving a More Demanding, More Diversified Customer Base! Below are notes from the conversation.

  • Leaders from across industries, roles and sectors are impacted by a more empowered and informed customer base, and responding in many different ways. 
  • The pace of change has escalated, and the demands of the customers are elevated, which impacts the products and services offered and the processes and communications necessary to ensure smooth delivery and scale of growth and response.
  • Hardware will continue to get commoditized, and the value will be on the software and services side of the equation. 
  • Customers are becoming progressively more empowered because of their access to information, the immediacy of access to information, the wide and broad availability of mobile devices, the social online networks, etc., Hence we are evolving from an age of information to an age of the customer, and leaders and companies who acknowledge and work with this trend will be more likely to benefit from it.
  • Digitizing front end functions has gotten more standardized, but there’s still a great need to digitize the middle and back end processes, especially for non-tech industries. We need to support customers in being more agile, more flexible, and more scalable. See CBInsights March 3, 2016 report on digitization opportunities for start-ups.  DigitizationOpportunity.pngCBI Digitization Opportunities, March 3, 2016

Below is advice on how to better serve a demanding customer base.

  • Look at the data and focus on not just what the loudest customers are saying, but what the suffering majority are saying or not saying.
  • In this Age of the Customer, know what is nice-to-have, and what they need-to-have. It’s easier to sell one than the other.
  • When customers are deciding whether to engage, they are considering is it easier and cheaper to solve the problem or live with the problem, so plan your offerings and pricing accordingly.
  • The consumer is demanding quality products and services which area tailored to their needs. These customers are also in general more mindful of the earth and humanity, so organic and sustainable products and processes will be favored progressively more.
  • Technologists need to work hand-in-hand with experts in non-technical fields in collaboration to meet the personalized needs of the consumer.
  • Whereas before, business units and teams might have been isolated and siloed in working with customers, a more collaborative, coordinated communication and strategy is now necessary to better understand the current and future needs of the customer.
  • There’s a trend toward selling to business unit managers and users more, even if the product is for an extremely technical audience. In other words, the user may not be the decision-maker, and the sales person needs to talk to both the decision-maker and the user to complete a sale.
  • Data will remain important, of course. Be the type of leader who can translate what the data is saying to create a strategy and plan on how to better serve customers, better expand offerings.
  • We will continue to progress toward pay-as-you-go functionality for a wide range of functions. Communicating clearly to customers and walking them through the adoption curve will help them help themselves in maintaining, supporting and tailoring their own solutions. 

Below are some predictions for opportunities ahead.

  • There’s a push pull between the need for security, access and privacy, and there’s an opportunity for organizations to provide innovative solutions for a broad and wide audience in this space.
  • There will be a continued trend toward ‘freemium’ services as the new normal.
  • Interactive solutions which allow customers to learn by doing through simulations provides a huge opportunity to train and educate workers.
  • There will be a trend toward more collaborative, consultative selling by experienced enterprise professionals working with engaged customers to build and iterate use cases.
  • There will be a trend toward paying customers for their aggregated usage data.

Recommended Resources:

  • Pretotype Labs is a PDF ebook which helps entrepreneurs and execs really understand and focus on what the customers want http://www.pretotypelabs.com
  • AYTM (Ask Your Target Market http://www.aytm.com) allows entrepreneurs and execs to send tailored surveys to specific target audiences for small amounts of money.

Please join us in thanking our execs for their participation in our roundtable discussion and to our gracious hosts at Verifone. If you are a tech VP and interested in joining future VIP roundtables, e-mail us at info@fountainblue.biz.

Convergence of Industries and Technologies

February 5, 2016

AgePersonalizationFountainBlue’s February 5 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Convergence of Industries and Technologies! Below are notes from the conversation. Please join us in thanking our execs for sharing their insights and to our gracious hosts at Applied Materials.

  1. There are more similarities between ostensibly disparate industries within and outside tech than we think. Being open to conversations with leaders from other sectors will help build synergies, ideas and relationships.
  2. The leaders around the table represent a wide range of industries from telephony to semiconductor, from storage to software of many ilks. Their stories reflected the emergence and evolution of tech within Silicon Valley over the last 40 years, but the greatest convergence stories were from only the last five years – an indication of how quickly things are emerging and evolving, and how ripe the opportunities are right now.
  3. Tech companies from across the valley are generally involved in many industry sectors, leveraging the business process, IT, big data and others successes from tech and serving customers across the globe, across industries with services and products. 
  4. With the consolidations in the market and the commoditization of specific hardware and networks, and the sophistication of cloud-based services such as Amazon and Google, tech companies and their leaders need to look beyond the infrastructure level for the opportunities to provide consultations, services and customizations.  
  5. Social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC, see Geoffrey Moore’s article, with credit to Malcom Grant of Cognizant for the acronym) will be an integral element to creating opportunities as technologies converge. Companies need to leverage social communication patterns of today’s customers, provide solutions which work on the preferred devices of their customers, leverage big data to better understand and even predict preferences and behaviors, and provide solutions on the cloud which keep information and data secure, safe, scalable, and reliable. 
  6. Technology will affect every industry, every sector, every company. Adoption rates may be slower for some people/companies/countries, but it’s a question of when, not whether tech will be adopted.
  7. Technology solutions in one sector are interesting opportunities for those in other sectors.
  8. Leaders who are open to change, open to adopting new technologies through development and M&A will remain leaders.
  9. There are many levels of resistance around privacy. Some people are OK sharing aggregated information and some people are very private indeed. Wherever you sit on that spectrum, expect that it’s a given that many will know what you do/what you’ve done, others will want to do something you wouldn’t approve once they have that information, and still others will try to protect you from that second class of people.
  10. Leaders, companies, governments are all struggling with that privacy and security question, working hard to get what customers want – secure and broad yet private access.

Below are some predictions for opportunities ahead.

  1. There is a tremendous opportunity to bring tech into low-tech companies and industries – from updating and automating manufacturing processes to providing rapid-prototyping and design capabilities.
  2. Tech companies could help bring aging infrastructure up-to-date, working in partnership with local, state and federal governments. 
  3. IoT opportunities will continue to explode, and everyday objects in everyday industries will be ‘intelligent’, sharing usage and location data, and also touch almost everyone.
  4. Standardizations around platforms, protocols and interfaces will evolve, and once they do, IoT opportunities will further abound.
  5. Watch especially for consumer wearables, mobile apps in all areas, including telehealth and localization.
  6. Tech companies and Biopharma and medical device companies will partner with communities of patients to develop personalized diagnostics and treatments and even cures. 
  7. Hospitals will work with tech and healthcare IT and biopharma companies to better serve the needs of the patients and the community.

In the end, it’s about leaders with the vision to see what’s next in the industry, what would better serve the customer. Choose a company and a leader you can work with and for, and do your share to shape the future. Surround yourself with others with a similar mind set.

Negotiating Best Practices

January 15, 2016

star success partner vector logoFountainBlue’s January 15 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Negotiating Best Practices. Thank you to our senior execs participating in the discussion, as well as our gracious hosts at OCZ. Below is a summary of advice and pearls of wisdom.

  1. Be strategic and plan-ful about each negotiation, taking the time to understand the objectives and goals of various stakeholders, the motivations and drivers for each side, and work the relationship as you manage the process.
  2. Change is part of life in the tech sector. Understanding how people interact with each other, how success is measured, and how to work with various stakeholders through these changes is critical for the successful implementation of programs and projects.
  3. Today’s companies are international in flavor and scope, and negotiating with staff, business partners, customers, etc., to align goals, deliver results using a common standard, and make the top line and bottom line meet are critical to the recruitment, development and retention of your key talent.
  4. Build strong trust-based relationships with key stakeholders and partners and a relationship for communicating with transparency and integrity while delivering on results. 
  5. When negotiations get complicated, it may help to script out a conversation and do some role-playing to prepare for the negotiation.
  6. Ensure that your role and that of your team is one that facilitates communication and collaboration. 
  7. Have a list of musts, wants, and walk-aways, so that you can help manage the natural gives-and-takes when you have a yes-no-yes conversation. You can also think of it as a sandwich of good and bad things to communicate as part of the negotiation process.
  8. Don’t be afraid to make the ask, if it’s the clear and right thing to do, even if it’s awkward and uncomfortable to do it.
  9. Leveraging specialists and resources during tough negotiations, and always be actively listening and empathetic, especially when the egos of top execs are involved. 
  10. Speak the language of various groups to get them all engaged and aligned on the same goals – understanding and delivering what the customer wants.
  11. Be ready to say yes, but with conditions. (e.g., sure we can deliver by X date/integrate that solution, but we can’t hold to the standard of scalability and reliability we set)
  12. When reaching for the next rung on the corporate ladder, first consider do you want to swim with the sharks? Is it something you’re looking to do with the current company/management? If so, learn to confidently and clearly communicate your results with the right people and ensure that you get credit for the work you do. 

In the end, the key to negotiation is to plan-fully create that win-win, to address your immediate and long-term interests while factoring in that of the various stakeholders.

M&A Strategy and Execution Best Practices

December 12, 2015

Business People Standing On A Symbol Of RecyclingFountainBlue’s Dec 11 Pre-Launch event for the VIP roundtable series was on the M&A Strategy and Execution Best Practices! We are grateful for the leaders and companies represented around the table, for sharing their wisdom and experience so graciously and generously. Please also join us in thanking our gracious hosts at Altera, who made our pre-launch event possible, and who had the original idea for the series. Below is a list of best practices around strategy and execution when managing an M&A event.

Strategy Best Practices:

  • Find a synergistic and/or complimentary offering, one that provides an expansion opportunity into new markets that are growing, and fills a gap in your technology direction and abilities.
  • Focus on the purpose of the acquisition – is it for the IT, for the talent, for the market share, while planning and executing on the M&A event.
  • Factor in whether there will be a leadership and cultural synergy between the two entities. Sometimes companies get so excited about the tech and market acquisition up-sides that they dismiss the cultural and leadership mis-matches which could make an integration difficult at best.
  • Look not just on whether the technology is the right match, but whether the team being acquired will also have the talent to market and sell that technology and product. Don’t just assume that the acquiring company will take over that piece.
  • Consider collaboration and defensive objectives in M&As, buying the leaders in a competitive landscape market​.
  • With that said, even if it makes sense to buy the market leader in a market which is being consolidated, make sure that the major customers would back the acquisition or they might make it difficult and even impossible to complete the M&A process.
  • Look beyond the factors that drive your decision for today, and look at what’s best for the company in the 2-3-year timeframe.
  • ​Consider whether the longer term benefit worth the short term integration cost and pain and whether the revenue model be bigger and better now and 2-3 years from now.
  • When there are competitive bids for a company to be acquired, consider not just the dollar value offered, but also how much independence is likely valued by the company to be acquired.
  • Larger companies can consider the option of being bought out by smaller companies in the same space, if they have the revenues to buy them, and if the leadership has the humility, strength and character to ensure the integration. Success for both sides means that the larger brand lives on and the smaller company provides the financial and leadership strength to expand.

Execution Best Practices:

  • Decide on common definitions for terms like ‘revenues’, ‘market’, ‘opportunity’, ‘partner’, ‘results’ etc.,
  • Whether you’re the acquiring or the acquired company, make sure that you have all the information and the right information throughout the due diligence process.
  • Have realistic objectives based on the information you have and agree on how success will be measured.
  • When a decision is made to start the M&A integration process, have enthusiasm and be optimistic, but don’t wear blinders. Pay attention to any red flags you might see and be curious about why they are there and whether there are more.
  • Proactively manage the brand strategy for both the acquiring company and the acquired company. How will the brand be improved and enhanced post-acquisition? What is the consistent communication and message about the M&A? Communicating in words and actions in alignment with the M&A objectives is critical to the success of any integration.
  • Leaders must manage their own emotions and help their people to manage theirs throughout the M&A planning and integration process. Ongoing transparent and open communication and alignment of words and actions will help ensure successful integrations. Keep the communications consistent and positive and insist that people communicate with respect.
  • Insist on making decisions when they MUST be made quickly​, selecting the best of all options, based on objective criteria which focuses on the M&A objectives, rather than deferring discussions, conversations and decisions.
  • Adopt a balance of structure and agility throughout the integration process. Have a plan, but be willing to drift from it as each integration is different.
  • Adopt a ‘Shut-Up and Eat’ principle as it helps people from both companies adopt a disagree-and-commit mentality and unity that helps moves things forward and discourages politicking and second-guessing, even when a unpopular decision has been made or when factions are divided on a decision that has been made.

The collective predictions for M&As include:

  • A continued consolidation of companies, particularly in the semiconductor space. It’s a ‘eat-or-be-eaten’ mindset right now.
  • China will play a role in semiconductor industry as it has billions to spend and is prospecting. Integrations with Chinese government or companies may be difficult because of cultural differences.
  • The digitization trend will continue to disrupt companies and industries, particularly industries which are not traditionally in tech! This poses new opportunities and challenges for acquiring and acquired companies.
  • Larger companies will have more spin-outs to support their innovation efforts in specific areas. Entrepreneurial teams can be more agile with their innovation, and can be more easily integrated back into the company once the technologies have been developed and the company’s brand and channel become more important.
  • Larger companies will have more splitting between business units and technologies as market opportunities and tech evolution favors that the entities divide up again. This is frustrating to many as these entities were purposefully integrated in the first place, so leaders must manage communication and motivate all players involved in order for the split to be successful, retaining technology and talent.

In the end, the secret to successful integrations is to have a future-perfect vision of the combined company, and to ensure that the technology is robust and scalable, the processes support the people and technology, and that the people and culture are in alignment to address an opportunity in a growing market.