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I recently had the chance to sit down with two tech pioneers and pick their brain about what they’re calling “digital transformation.” Aled Miles is the CEO of W2O client TeleSign, and Anand Subramanian is a serial entrepreneur and the recipient of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards.

We covered everything from the seamlessness of ordering your Uber with an Amazon Echo by just asking Alexa, to how authentication relates to privacy, to creating a robust technology community among nations.

These technology leaders were genuine and thoughtful (Anand is a rocket scientist by education), and provide a unique understanding of how technology permeates our life in ways that aren’t necessarily straightforward.

I learned a lot from these two, and I hope you will too. Hope you enjoy!

Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to our podcast.

I recently had the chance to sit down with two tech pioneers and pick their brain about what they’re calling “digital transformation.” Aled Miles is the CEO of W2O client TeleSign, and Anand Subramanian is a serial entrepreneur and the recipient of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards.

We covered everything from the seamlessness of ordering your Uber with an Amazon Echo by just asking Alexa, to how authentication relates to privacy, to creating a robust technology community among nations.

These technology leaders were genuine and thoughtful (Anand is a rocket scientist by education), and provide a unique understanding of how technology permeates our life in ways that aren’t necessarily straightforward.

I learned a lot from these two, and I hope you will too. Hope you enjoy!

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Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are hot topics everywhere right now, in every industry, including marketing. Everyone is looking for that edge to help get ahead of their competition – what we at W2O call an unfair advantage – and looking at AI as the ‘silver bullet’ to help provide that something extra. But does it really work that way? Will AI really give us all the answers to keep us one step ahead?

W2O has one of the oldest data science groups in the industry.  With over 25% of our staff in Analytics, Data Sciences and Development, W2O have been applying these techniques to how we generate better insights for years. I thought I’d sit down with two of our top experts to find out just how modern techniques improve efficiency and effectiveness for marketing and communications insights. Dr. Helene Brashear and Dr. Yash Gad are two Senior Data Scientists with W2O and have been developing solutions for applying AI and ML in our agency environment. Here is what they had to say about where we are now, and what the future holds for agencies:

Madelyn –  In an agency setting, what is AI,

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are hot topics everywhere right now, in every industry, including marketing. Everyone is looking for that edge to help get ahead of their competition – what we at W2O call an unfair advantage – and looking at AI as the ‘silver bullet’ to help provide that something extra. But does it really work that way? Will AI really give us all the answers to keep us one step ahead?

W2O has one of the oldest data science groups in the industry.  With over 25% of our staff in Analytics, Data Sciences and Development, W2O have been applying these techniques to how we generate better insights for years. I thought I’d sit down with two of our top experts to find out just how modern techniques improve efficiency and effectiveness for marketing and communications insights. Dr. Helene Brashear and Dr. Yash Gad are two Senior Data Scientists with W2O and have been developing solutions for applying AI and ML in our agency environment. Here is what they had to say about where we are now, and what the future holds for agencies:

Madelyn –  In an agency setting, what is AI, and what do we use it to do?

Yash Gad (YG) – For me, anything we can do to speed up work, make us do things more consistently and more efficiently, that’s the job of any good software design. We use it to tag certain data in certain ways and cluster data for a start.

Helene Brashear (HB) – We look for opportunities to decrease time for work or do something we haven’t been able to do before, like handle extremely large volumes of data.

YG – We could throw hundreds and hundreds of people hours at the same problems, but it wouldn’t make sense – we can’t spend the Analyst hours doing that; we need them to spend those hours doing smarter things.

HB – We can now explore data in new ways – looking for the computational models underlying the unstructured data and matching that to our mental models. It’s like the analogy of mapping a neighborhood – if you map of the streets, you can predict the paths that go from point A to B most logically.

Madelyn – OK, this is interesting theory, and great background, but how does applying these models at W2O offer us and our clients an advantage? What is different about these techniques we can’t get to in another way?

YG – Larger and larger scale data sets that would take years if we tried to process them using manual or old techniques. But the real difference is that we can get to an answer we couldn’t get to otherwise; through other manual means. Using these models can reveal unique perspectives we wouldn’t see through brute force of scaling machines.

HB – It’s also a team effort between Data Science, Analytics, and the Strategy teams to come up with the right inputs to get to the question and input design. We need to know what we are looking for to design the models and inputs the right way. When you are teaching a model to look for patterns or recognize paths, you must know what to teach it. This approach requires a blend of domain expertise across the whole creative and agency set, plus analytical work, and machine learning.

Madelyn – Broadly speaking, how do we apply AI/ML to our processes and data sets? Do we see unique benefit for healthcare clients here? How about technology clients?

HB – There are unique challenges to Structured v unstructured data – Healthcare has lots of structured data (like Provider ID numbers, taxonomies, prescription fill data), which require a different approach, and connecting it all are still a challenge.  The highly structured data is nice for data structures, but requires more domain expertise to model relevant medical context.  Nearly everyone but healthcare has unstructured data, and that presents its own challenges of modeling and interpretation; but we share and learn from all approaches.

Madelyn – What do you think is next or most exciting for our industry or team in this space?

YG – New industries and areas are becoming fans of AI and ML and are becoming familiar with the space, so reading out what the models are giving us in human terms is an increasing challenge – giving out new translations in business-speak.

HB – Distilling knowledge from machine learning models is a big challenge – training a model isn’t good enough.  We spend lots of time validated and stress testing models for real world performance. Sometimes you may need to prove that your model isn’t doing something illegal, like in finance or other regulated industries. We must understand what biases our models have so that we understand the outcomes it produces and how we may be impacted by them. Seeing Data Sciences and AI as a collaborative tool and not as a magic box. It’s something that helps people amplify their own talents – the inputs make the outputs, just like a good creative brief makes creative better, working with your DS team makes your data analysis tools better.

 One of the challenges of machine learning is that results can be mathematically correct, but not interpretable or meaningful.  Because of this you spend a lot of your time strategically crafting your research questions and curating your data.

W2O will continue to stay on top of all things data and insights, especially as they impact delivering marketing and communications value for our clients. Stay tuned for more on the future of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning as it applies to your world, and reach out with any comments or questions you may

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Today’s marketing executives are in a challenging position. There are new channels popping up every day. There are new types of media formats that they are introduced to seemingly on a daily basis. There are new ways to distribute content that they get exposed to as they are planning new campaigns. The job of the modern-day marketer is hard. In order to combat those challenges many marketers turn to marketing technology in order to help them scale. One problem with that, though: There are over 5,000 tools available on the market today. Even worse, the majority of those same tools don’t provide a comprehensive view of the customer. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the situation is made even more complicated by an often-tense relationship with the IT department. Note: IT is your friend.

At W2O, we see this situation all the time. Someone within the organization has engaged a vendor with very few business requirements, limited organizational buy-in and almost no process in order to grow adoption of said vendor. Worse yet, there may have been a solution to the problem that the organization has already built.

The number of tools that

Today’s marketing executives are in a challenging position. There are new channels popping up every day. There are new types of media formats that they are introduced to seemingly on a daily basis. There are new ways to distribute content that they get exposed to as they are planning new campaigns. The job of the modern-day marketer is hard. In order to combat those challenges many marketers turn to marketing technology in order to help them scale. One problem with that, though: There are over 5,000 tools available on the market today. Even worse, the majority of those same tools don’t provide a comprehensive view of the customer. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the situation is made even more complicated by an often-tense relationship with the IT department. Note: IT is your friend.

At W2O, we see this situation all the time. Someone within the organization has engaged a vendor with very few business requirements, limited organizational buy-in and almost no process in order to grow adoption of said vendor. Worse yet, there may have been a solution to the problem that the organization has already built.

The number of tools that hit the market is not going to slow down any time soon so the conundrum of whether or not the organization buys a tool or builds a solution in-house isn’t going away.  Because of that, we have come up with a framework to help guide your decision-making. This simple framework is designed to objectively evaluate opportunities regardless of internal dynamics, preconceived notions or ego. The framework isn’t bulletproof (no framework is), but it is a push in the right direction to get the entire org on the same page.

In this simplified framework, there are two scales to consider:

Customization – How much custom functionality do we require? How much of the vendor’s out-of-the-box product would need to be changed?

Specialization – How specific is the functionality to a marketing channel or type of technology? How much do we need the vendor’s expertise?

With this in mind, we can plot where build and buy make sense:

Buy: If your functionality requires a high amount of specialization (that you likely do not have internally) and a low amount of customization, go ahead and purchase something as close to out-of-the-box as you can

Build: If the functionality that you need is fairly standard technology but requires a lot of customization for your specific org, you should consider building internally

Consult: This one is interesting – if you do not feel a vendor can meet your customization needs, but you also do not feel you have the internal knowledge to build the functionality, see if you can pay for consulting hours. It won’t be ideal for the vendor. However, I’ve rarely seen vendor’s turn away a paycheck.

Ignore/Hack: If you need functionality that is neither specific nor custom, evaluate if you really need that functionality at all. If you do, see if you can cheaply hack it together for a while in order to focus on more impactful initiatives.

Of course, this framework ignores other important factors like the temporal need for the functionality (how long are we going to use this?) and the internal resources (do we have anyone to work on this?) but it should help set you down the right path as you try to build better marketing campaigns, distribute content more effectively and ultimately improve return on investment.

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The influence and reach of technology across every industry cannot be denied. Whether you’re in finance, medicine, transportation or marketing, technology has completely invaded the way you operate. Perhaps no one understands this better than David Kirkpatrick, CEO & Founder of Techonomy, Author & Journalist.

From the customer-centric nature of Amazon to The Facebook Effect, David has a unique and brilliant take on the breadth of technology’s impact. We chat about recognizing the influence of technology, understanding the social responsibility of major tech organizations, and our  firm’s new strategic partnership with Techonomy. Take a listen below.

 

Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to our podcast!

The influence and reach of technology across every industry cannot be denied. Whether you’re in finance, medicine, transportation or marketing, technology has completely invaded the way you operate. Perhaps no one understands this better than David Kirkpatrick, CEO & Founder of Techonomy, Author & Journalist.

From the customer-centric nature of Amazon to The Facebook Effect, David has a unique and brilliant take on the breadth of technology’s impact. We chat about recognizing the influence of technology, understanding the social responsibility of major tech organizations, and our  firm’s new strategic partnership with Techonomy. Take a listen below.

 

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I have heard countless young companies talk about hockey stick growth patterns but over time you learn how rare they actually are. So when mentions of blockchain technology formed a clear hockey stick in our social media trend data, we started paying attention. It is clearly time to take a closer look at some places where this technology may be grabbing a foothold.

Management of Patient Medical Records

What if all patient records from all health providers were available in a unified and unmodifiable form? What if access to these records was controlled by each patient or their legal guardian? What if this system drastically reduced data management costs while improving overall security? This system is possible for a medical records system controlled by a blockchain. Based on this vision, numerous companies have raised a lot of money to try and make this happen.

Unfortunately I see a blockchain based system of this type as being at least a few years away. In the mean time new regulations are forcing hospitals and other medical facilities to move to digital records in the next five to ten months. This is a big problem for those pursuing

I have heard countless young companies talk about hockey stick growth patterns but over time you learn how rare they actually are. So when mentions of blockchain technology formed a clear hockey stick in our social media trend data, we started paying attention. It is clearly time to take a closer look at some places where this technology may be grabbing a foothold.

Management of Patient Medical Records

What if all patient records from all health providers were available in a unified and unmodifiable form? What if access to these records was controlled by each patient or their legal guardian? What if this system drastically reduced data management costs while improving overall security? This system is possible for a medical records system controlled by a blockchain. Based on this vision, numerous companies have raised a lot of money to try and make this happen.

Unfortunately I see a blockchain based system of this type as being at least a few years away. In the mean time new regulations are forcing hospitals and other medical facilities to move to digital records in the next five to ten months. This is a big problem for those pursuing blockchain solutions for health records and is one of the reasons why I do not see blockchain playing a major role in this aspect of healthcare in the short or even the medium term.

To understand why it can take years to create a blockchain solution consider this list of huge challenges:

  • Identity Management
    • To strictly manage control of medical records so that only authorized people can see them we have to be sure that people are who they say they are.
  • Permissions Management
    • We have to have a flexible system for allowing access to records that can handle a huge number of standard and emergency scenarios.
  • Data Management
    • While we want to protect individual’s records, aggregate data across a population can have a huge positive benefits for the industry. Providing a secure solution that protects individual’s records but also accurately reports on populations is not easy but blockchain solutions are in the works such as Project Enigma at the MIT Media Lab.
  • Systems Integration
    • Existing software systems using a staggering variety of protocols and formats for their data. Getting agreement on standards and then creating adapters to conform to those standards is a gigantic enterprise that will require large scale industry cooperation.

So the big prize of Health Care Records on the blockchain seems out of reach for the foreseeable future. Where are the real opportunities for blockchain?

Identity Management

Plugging in a blockchain-based plug-in module to reliably handle the identities of patients and health care professionals could be huge for the industry. Fortunately, this is true for almost every industry and not just healthcare. Accordingly, there are hundreds of companies, large and small, working on this problem.

Last May a huge step forward was taken when Microsoft, Uport and several other companies formed the Decentralized Identity Foundation (http://identity.foundation) to create consensus standards for identity management. Since then another 25 companies have joined the effort including IBM, Accenture and Hyperledger. This unified effort seems to be the best hope for a blockchain-based identity system within a year or so although there is competition from the ICON foundation among others.

Organic Material Supply Chain Management

Tracking the movement and delivery of drugs, organs, blood, tissue and the like is a huge problem area in healthcare. Billions are lost from fraud, theft, and spoilage. Here a blockchain-based solution can serve to track the movement of shipments by adding records to the blockchain at each step of the delivery process. The unmodifiability of the records provides a reliable means to discover exactly where the problem occurred when goods are lost or stolen.

A few months ago we learned that IBM is spearheading a blockchain-based supply chain solution in food delivery along with partners including Walmart, Dole, Kroger, Unilever, Hersheys and other big names in agriculture and food processing. This suggests that blockchain is ready to make a difference today by improving the efficiency and security of the world’s food supply.

It turns out that the leaders of top pharma companies were not ignoring this trend. According to an IEEE report, most are involved with or else thinking about starting pilot projects along these lines. The first public announcement of a blockchain drug supply chain pilot project came on September 21 when Genentech and Pfizer revealed that the MediLedger Project is underway using JP Morgan’s Quorum blockchain.

Of particular note is additional technology provided by a startup company named Chronicled. They provide a portable temperature logger that puts temperature data on the blockchain as well as a tamper-proof sticker that makes recording the movement of drug shipments dirt simple.

A wonderful thing about this use case is that with enough automation at the various shipment checkpoints there may be little need for the people moving the materials to change the way that they perform their work. This makes technical adoption easy.

Summary

At this point it is entirely reasonable to maintain a skeptical attitude towards blockchain-based solutions in healthcare, however the chance for disruption is very real. My assessment is that Supply Chain Management will be the initial ‘killer app’ for blockchain in healthcare, but there are other interesting projects worth knowing about as well. We will present some of these in a future blog post.

If you want to know more about this topic I suggest starting with the recent presentation by the HIMSS Blockchain Work Group entitled ‘Navigating the Blockchain Landscape’ (http://www.himss.org/news/part-1-navigating-blockchain-landscape-opportunities-digital-health).

If you have your own hot story about anything in the healthcare industry, let W2O Group help you build your very own social media hockey stick.

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Tell us about your new company, Kaleido Insights? And what was the inspiration for the name?

Jeremiah: We’re a new boutique research and advisory firm, with four analyst partners. We’re focused on the buyers within large companies, who are often in marketing, innovation, product, strategy and beyond. My partners are Rebecca Lieb, who focuses on marketing, media, and content;also Jaimy Szymanksi who focuses on customer experience and digital transformation; and Jessica Groopman whose expertise is in autonomous technologies like IoT, Blockchain, and artificial intelligence. I focus on Corporate Innovation and new business models.

We’ve all seen an increase in the rate of emerging technologies, and it’s leaving business decision makers overwhelmed and confused as how to possibly keep up. Our brand, Kaleido (like Kaleidoscope) reflects how  so many different technologies, like the shards within a kaleidoscope, create a fragmented, chaotic environment for companies. We try to provide clarity through the ever shifting lens. The tripartite logo represents our unique methodology on how we analyze any technology: impacts on Humans, impacts on Businesses, and finally the impacts on the larger Ecosystem.

This is your third research firm – the last two being Forrester and

Tell us about your new company, Kaleido Insights? And what was the inspiration for the name?

Jeremiah: We’re a new boutique research and advisory firm, with four analyst partners. We’re focused on the buyers within large companies, who are often in marketing, innovation, product, strategy and beyond. My partners are Rebecca Lieb, who focuses on marketing, media, and content;also Jaimy Szymanksi who focuses on customer experience and digital transformation; and Jessica Groopman whose expertise is in autonomous technologies like IoT, Blockchain, and artificial intelligence. I focus on Corporate Innovation and new business models.

We’ve all seen an increase in the rate of emerging technologies, and it’s leaving business decision makers overwhelmed and confused as how to possibly keep up. Our brand, Kaleido (like Kaleidoscope) reflects how  so many different technologies, like the shards within a kaleidoscope, create a fragmented, chaotic environment for companies. We try to provide clarity through the ever shifting lens. The tripartite logo represents our unique methodology on how we analyze any technology: impacts on Humans, impacts on Businesses, and finally the impacts on the larger Ecosystem.

This is your third research firm – the last two being Forrester and Altimeter – how is Kaleido Insights different?

Jeremiah: Ah yes, great companies, great experience all who taught me a tremendous amount, I’m grateful for those experiences. Currently, Kaleido Insights is the only independent analyst firm focused on the buyer side. There’s larger analyst firms, but it’s easy to differentiate from them as a smaller, more nimble organization.

What are the focus areas of Kaleido Insights (would be good to hit hard on the analytics/data piece here)?

Jeremiah: Kaleido Insights’ coverage areas don’t focus on single point technologies, but rather on the ‘horizontal’ areas that remain core to any business—the areas that are constantly impacted by emerging technologies. Collectively, these form a foundation for any digital innovation strategy. Our 4 coverage areas include:

  • Customer Experience: Including deep analysis on consumer-facing programs, technologies, empowerment, and the organizational transformations required
  • Business Models & Monetization: Including the impacts of emerging technologies on monetization models, and the role of innovation programs
  • Marketing & Media: Including emerging practices in content and marketing strategy and execution and how to align hyperlocal, local, regional, corporate, and global teams for success
  • Automation: Including the ever-evolving role of devices, algorithms, and architectural innovations in product, service, and process automation, driven by IoT, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and beyond

You mentioned in your announcement that you will continue to run Crowd Companies as well. Will there be synergies/overlap between Crowd Companies and Kaleido Insights?

That’s correct, Crowd Companies, which I started around 4 years ago, will continue forward under my leadership, with a seasoned team in place. Crowd Companies is a peer-to-peer council for corporate innovation and digital leaders –it was important to segment an advisory services firm away from the council. This separation is common at other large Industry Analyst firms, too. It’s possible we’ll have overlapping clients but the business models are significantly different.

Who is your dream customer and in one sentence, why should they be working with you?

Jeremiah: Our dream customer is a business leader at a large complex company that needs help innovating their digital strategy. They want help in charting the path, researching the market, and then collaborating with our team on an actionable road map that they can execute, while we coach the team. We’re seeking those long-term relationships so we can aid them as they shift their businesses to adapt to the many technologies that are constantly emerging.

You recently ran the Spartan Beast World Championship. You mentioned in a Facebook post that it was one of the hardest things you’ve ever done in your life. How does that compare to starting a business?

Jeremiah: We all spend most of our adult lives focusing on our career (often even more effort that we focus on our fitness) so getting back into shape was a significant challenge. It took about 3 years to get into shape so I could finish the 17 mile race in Tahoe with 38 military-style obstacles, but I got it done. With that said, it wasn’t easy, while the professionals finished in just over 4 hours, my time was just over 9 hours. What’s the insight and how it applies to business? With ample research, training and dedication and you can accomplish your goals in all areas of your life. On a personal note, I strive to balance three things: family, fitness, and being a founder.

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From ubiquitous technologies to data privacy to multi-platform convenience, Europeans are on the verge of redefining how consumers and brands interact

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming more and more accepted not only in our personal lives but for business as well. It seems like each day we are exposed to a different AI application and with it a new experience. AI is the enabler within a digital world that is changing the customer journey offering a smoother path toward purchase, an instantaneous set of data to strengthen knowledge, and a more seamless way of living life.

Here in Europe, there is a growing AI industry spread across a number of countries.  This solid infrastructure represents the next generation of business putting European companies at the forefront of this new technology and with it the challenge of navigating new pressures – both political and societal. Today, UK has the strongest AI ecosystem followed by German, France and Spain.

So where does this leave us from a communications and marketing standpoint?

First and foremost, the coming age of AI provides an early blueprint for how companies can convey their business mission, purpose, and efficacy. It begins with an analysis of the organisation’s

From ubiquitous technologies to data privacy to multi-platform convenience, Europeans are on the verge of redefining how consumers and brands interact

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming more and more accepted not only in our personal lives but for business as well. It seems like each day we are exposed to a different AI application and with it a new experience. AI is the enabler within a digital world that is changing the customer journey offering a smoother path toward purchase, an instantaneous set of data to strengthen knowledge, and a more seamless way of living life.

Here in Europe, there is a growing AI industry spread across a number of countries.  This solid infrastructure represents the next generation of business putting European companies at the forefront of this new technology and with it the challenge of navigating new pressures – both political and societal. Today, UK has the strongest AI ecosystem followed by German, France and Spain.

So where does this leave us from a communications and marketing standpoint?

First and foremost, the coming age of AI provides an early blueprint for how companies can convey their business mission, purpose, and efficacy. It begins with an analysis of the organisation’s influencer network. Meaning those constituents who are interested in your products and services, policies and beliefs, and who are shaping your story and carrying your messages. This ecosystem allows you to determine the vagaries of opinion across countries, boundaries, and regions.

Among the areas where AI is finding a home throughout Europe include: call centres, wearables, fitness, health and wellness, home security, HR recruiting, note-taking, banking, virtual assistants, payments, conferencing, search, lighting, energy management, warehousing, customer service, video games, robotics, etc. The benefits of AI revolve around a richer, more seamless customer experience tying people more closely to the brand in large and small ways such as product customisation, ordering ease, addressing issues promptly, faster turnaround, and more choice.

The promise of AI is the result of a digital world where technology places control in the hands of the marketplace.

With that in mind, savvy organizations are incorporating new elements into marketing and communications programming to move their business and mindset to the future including gaining knowledge, input, and acceptance of AI.  Among the areas being addressed:

1. Bridging the Present With the Future

Rethinking the overall corporate narrative to paint a picture of what the future can look like

2. Discovering New areas that Improve Customer Experience

Identifying customer service connections where AI provides a high-quality experience

3. Balancing any Arguments That Might Impede Progress 

Providing well thought-out points of view (POV) supporting a more digital experience for customers and employees

4. Engaging in Real-Time Discussion and Debate to Build Confidence and Trust 

Creating interactive tools and apps to generate discussions and debate that leads to stronger policies and clearer decision-making  

One of the most important issues regarding AI, as well as all digital intelligence, has to do with security and privacy.  In April 2016, the European Parliament approved the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect in May 2018. The measure is meant to protect an individual’s personal data and information and therefore privacy. As AI becomes prominent security and privacy will rise in importance providing fertile ground for organizations to declare a competitive advantage if their policies protect consumers and employees.

The future in many respects is already here as AI is changing expectations in the marketplace and the workplace. For European brands, who acknowledge this technological revolution, Top of the Document a proactive communications and marketing effort focused on education, efficacy, and dialogue will not only accelerate these changes on macro level but will position them in a much stronger place for growth.

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Technology continues to move business forward. Businesses tend to adopt new technologies when they provide tangible productivity or efficiency gains. Many times, businesses adopt new technology to stay ahead of their competitors. But that adoption can take years, or even decades for companies to implement. Blockchain is one of those early-stage technologies with massive potential to impact commerce.

I bet that’s what Crowd Companies CEO Jeremiah Owyang thought when he wrote this blog post in late 2016 seeking input for a report on blockchain technology. A few months later, he and co-author Jaimy Szymanski published a report. Their report discusses practical applications of the technology across 10 different industries. Additionally, the report also details six roadblocks to adoption that businesses must overcome.

At this point, even though the technology has been around since 2009, many don’t have a clear understanding of blockchain beyond a cursory familiarity with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Those of you looking for a deeper understanding of Bitcoin can check out Motherboard’s primer which includes many articles on the topic.

Blockchain technology is the public ledger that makes it all work.

Technology continues to move business forward. Businesses tend to adopt new technologies when they provide tangible productivity or efficiency gains. Many times, businesses adopt new technology to stay ahead of their competitors. But that adoption can take years, or even decades for companies to implement. Blockchain is one of those early-stage technologies with massive potential to impact commerce.

I bet that’s what Crowd Companies CEO Jeremiah Owyang thought when he wrote this blog post in late 2016 seeking input for a report on blockchain technology. A few months later, he and co-author Jaimy Szymanski published a report. Their report discusses practical applications of the technology across 10 different industries. Additionally, the report also details six roadblocks to adoption that businesses must overcome.

At this point, even though the technology has been around since 2009, many don’t have a clear understanding of blockchain beyond a cursory familiarity with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Those of you looking for a deeper understanding of Bitcoin can check out Motherboard’s primer which includes many articles on the topic.

Blockchain technology is the public ledger that makes it all work. It can also facilitate all kinds of transactions. Jeremiah and Jaimy define blockchain this way: “At its simplest level, the term ‘blockchain’ is used to describe an immutable ledger that exists online, usually fully transparent that stores data in ‘blocks’ once it is approved by the network to meet the standards of the chain.”

The report also calls out smart contracts as a key component in moving adoption forward. Smart contracts define the rules and penalties of an agreement, just like traditional contracts, but with one key difference—smart contracts automatically enforce these obligations.

Smart contracts open up blockchain to the legal industry and  the nine others highlighted in the report. Two industries that stood out to me: 1) Energy – As more households adopt solar energy to power their households, they sometime generate excess energy. Blockchain makes decentralized energy transfer possible via micro-transactions between the seller and purchaser and 2) Travel and Hospitality – Blockchain could enable a “single passenger ID” that could replace multiple documents needed for travel—ticket confirmations, IDs, passports, loyalty cards, etc.

In terms of the six barriers discussed in the report, slow verification speed is probably the biggest current barrier to adoption. How slow? Currently, blockchain verification can take up to 15 minutes to verify a single transaction, vs. the 39 transactions per second that a global financial services company processes, according to their EVP of Operations and CTO. Since the verification process is compute-intensive, it will get faster over time as technology improves. Jeremiah expects companies to deal with this shortcoming in the short term by “utilizing private, commissioned chains.” Longer-term progress will rely on collaboration between businesses and government. And speaking of government, regulations and policies around the technology will be slow to materialize.

In terms of business adoption, blockchain technology reminds me of where social media stood about 10 years ago. Lots of folks saw potential for corporate use, but it took a lot of trial and error before more companies adopted it. I think the technology adoption lifecycle applies here. As more businesses start to see pilot successes and efficiency gains, more companies will join in.

The report covers several good uses cases. One other that wasn’t part of the report: British artist Imogene Heap is experimenting with blockchain as an alternative to iTunes and streaming services. Money that comes from purchases of her new song through blockchain goes directly to producers, writers, musicians and engineers who produced it.

What are your thoughts? Are their industries or business use cases where you see blockchain technology being adopted more quickly over the next three to five years?

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Hard to believe, but it’s already that time of year again. The 2018 SXSW PanelPicker goes live today. You have between now and July 21st to submit ideas for consideration. This year, the SXSW folks expect to receive over 5,000 submissions. That kind of competition means brands and individuals need to stand out from the crowd. But how best to do that?

Hugh Forrest, SXSW’s Chief Programming Officer, provides several clues:

  1. Review the sessions and topics resonated in 2017: Unfortunately, there’s not an easy way to filter videos from the SXSW YouTube channel since so many of the older videos have more views overall, but Hugh posted 10 great SXSW 2017 videos volume 1, volume 2 and volume 3 to help. Same goes for SXSW on SoundCloud. Hugh posted 10 top SXSW 2017 podcasts volume 1 and volume 2 to help there as well.
  2. Go Deep: Hugh makes it clear that topic depth matters more than width or breadth. That’s way

Hard to believe, but it’s already that time of year again. The 2018 SXSW PanelPicker goes live today. You have between now and July 21st to submit ideas for consideration. This year, the SXSW folks expect to receive over 5,000 submissions. That kind of competition means brands and individuals need to stand out from the crowd. But how best to do that?

Hugh Forrest, SXSW’s Chief Programming Officer, provides several clues:

  1. Review the sessions and topics resonated in 2017: Unfortunately, there’s not an easy way to filter videos from the SXSW YouTube channel since so many of the older videos have more views overall, but Hugh posted 10 great SXSW 2017 videos volume 1, volume 2 and volume 3 to help. Same goes for SXSW on SoundCloud. Hugh posted 10 top SXSW 2017 podcasts volume 1 and volume 2 to help there as well.
  2. Go Deep: Hugh makes it clear that topic depth matters more than width or breadth. That’s way the SXSW team prefers solo spots over panel sessions.
  3. Focus on the Future: Throughout its history, SXSW focuses on what’s next. But discussing current trends isn’t enough. Hugh’s timeline? Think 3 – 5 years out.
  4. Hugh’s also been pretty blunt about what not to do part 1 and what not to do part 2.

Note in the two what not to do posts, Hugh’s pretty clear that diversity matters. Diversity issues—both in terms of gender and ethnicity—will continue to be an important topic. Furthering that discussion in a meaningful way will be a priority in 2018.

One last thing you can do to improve your chances: attend one of the remaining SXSW Meet Ups. The SXSW team runs  local events in a handful of cities (the Brooklyn Meet Up happens tonight). It’s a place to ask SXSW staffers about the process or other specific questions.

I attended the Austin Meet Up on June 14. That’s where I got to ask for more detail about the selection process overall. Here’s what they told me: they put a lot of stock into original ideas, and reiterated the focus on future-oriented topics that look 3 – 5 years out. They notice if it’s someone (or a brand) that’s spoken before. In those cases, it’s important that the idea explores a new angle or represents a big validation or major progress against earlier ideas. They also look for engagement spikes in the PanelPicker (lots of votes, comments, etc.), so that does influence what they consider as well.

It’s a good reminder that the PanelPicker process is not the only thing that counts. Public votes that come from the PanelPicker count for 30%. Feedback from the SXSW Advisory Board, a group of industry experts from around the world, counts for 40%; lastly, votes from SXSW staff members count for the remaining 30% as they look to strike a balance between new and veteran speakers. See the SXSW PanelPicker About page for more details.

Visit http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ or click on the image below. All the best to those of you who will be working on submissions over the next few weeks!

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