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Recently I wrote a blog post on “Donate your Desktop” a New Zealand organization that had thought outside the box and found an untapped advertising/social entrepreneurial opportunity. In this post I am going to write about Taxiback.com a British company whose similar innovative thinking has enabled them to find a new untapped market to offer consumers cheaper transportation.

So what is Taxiback.com?

Every day across the world taxis take passengers to the airport and other destinations, charge their fee, drop the passengers off and then often return to their base empty. Essentially the empty ride back to base is a missed opportunity, to gain additional revenue from potential passengers heading in the same direction. Taxiback.com has capitalized on this previous missed opportunity, by providing the technology to create a return load service which links taxi drivers to potential passengers.

How it works:

Potential passengers enter where they are traveling to and from and the site functions as an auction where taxi drivers can place bids. Within 24 hours the 3 lowest bids are sent to the passenger, who can then arrange their transportation direct with the taxi company they select.

The benefits:

The cab companies and their drivers’ benefit from extra revenue and tips they wouldn’t have otherwise received, while passengers benefit from lower fares. This concept is also sustainable saving fuel and time.

I think this start-up has a lot of potential and could work well in other countries. I particularly could picture it in the larger US cities. However, my take home message from this concept is for readers to consider what other missed opportunities may exist in their industry, to rethink a task in order to create new sources of revenue as taxiback.com have done.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

In this blog I have often written about companies that are struggling to adjust to their changing industry environments.  In this post I wanted to share a couple of ideas on how to tackle a changing industry environment, from a company I recently read about in Fortune magazine: Levenger.

Levenger has traditionally sold products geared towards reading and writing such as desk lamps, pens and notebooks, in addition to being a micro book publisher.  In recent years the rise of tablet computers and other technologies have begun to transform the reading industry beyond recognition.  Cofounder Lori Leveen describes the company’s approach to tackling change head on:

“You can either take things as a challenge or crawl away… We put on our boxing gloves.”

Levenger are addressing their changing market environment by pursuing the following ideas:

Figure out how your products can become like candles:

A long time ago electric light bulbs made candles obsolete.  However, people continue to purchase candles because they like the product.  Levenger consider their changing industry as an opportunity to reinvent the future for pens and notebooks.

Find ways to stay relevant as people transition:

As people are increasingly switching from books to electronic devices, Levenger are continually looking for ways to adapt current products and introduce new ones to meet changing consumer needs.  For example, Levenger recognized that people want to prop up their iPads and in response to this they began stocking a range of products that served this purpose.  The picture on the left is an example of one of their products which is a miniaturized pillow designed to prop up an iPad.  This Thai created product evokes social entrepreneurism as part of its sales are donated to support literacy efforts in Thai villages.  Levenger is also open to listening to consumer ideas of how their products can be improved, as this tweet demonstrates:

Recognize the challenge faced:

Levenger cofounders Lori and Steve Leveen recognize that today’s children are growing up with technology:

“If we don’t get it right in the next 10 years, we may miss the opportunity.”

The company certainly faces an uphill climb, but in recognizing and tackling the challenge there is hope that Levenger can adapt and thrive in years to come.

What do you think of Levenger’s ideas for tackling their changing industry environment?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A screen shot of the True Office application

In recent months I have read several articles in he business press of forward-thinking companies who are incorporating the gamification trend in to their training programs.  Gamification in this context can transform a training program in to a story telling video game experience with progress-based scoring and rewards.  This approach if optimized correctly can greater captivate the employee’s attention and enhance the learning experience, to achieve greater knowledge retention.

Fortune Magazine recently featured an example of True Office’s compliance game training applications.  The applications take the form of an interactive story, told in a fast paced manner over the course of about 20 minutes.  Following the game’s completion, trainees complete a 10-minute quiz to confirm their understanding of the material. Here is the True Office demo:

True Office applications are delivered by the cloud and are compatible with almost any device.  The video below explains a little more about the True Office application software:

As you can see in the video above True Office consider their software to be a way to greater engage my generation the Millennials, when doing compliance training.  Since my generation has grown up with technology and are accustomed to interaction, True Office believe their applications which use tablets and mobile technologies are far more suited to engaging what they refer to as the ‘New Media Workforce’ than binders and videos from the 80’s.  I couldn’t agree more, this approach is very current and relevant to the 21st century business environment.

In addition to the obvious advantage of making compliance training less tedious for employees, the program also offers advanced analytics.  Companies using the True Office game are able to obtain exact figures of how long employees spend reading policies.  Such information is greatly helpful for compliance protection in the case of liability suits.  In addition the analytics can help companies to identify areas where additional training is needed.  For example, if employees consistently make the same mistakes on the quiz, areas of confusion can be addressed in additional training or can be sued to revamp the current training process.

The analytics and fun aspect of gamified training programs demonstrate great potential, but what do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Donate Your Desktop is an innovative application created in New Zealand, which enables Mac or PC users to donate their desktop background to raise money for charity.

The Opportunity:

When you think about it, your computer desktop is a wasted space that may at best display photos and at worst be a bland computer selected design.  Since people look at their desktops frequently this idle space represents a potential advertising opportunity.

How it Works:

Companies pay Donate Your Desktop to advertise on people’s desktops.  75% of advertising revenues are then donated to charity.  People can choose to download and install the Donate your Desktop application.  The download process is simple, no credit card details are required and all a user has to do is select a charity.  Current New Zealand charities include Oxfam, WWF, Breast Cancer Foundation and the Starship Foundation (which raises money for child healthcare).

The application does not disturb normal computer usage and it is risk-free and no access is permitted to any files on your computer.  The application merely sits on the system tray and allows the current desktop background to be replaced everyday with a new advertising image.

Each day on computers using the Donate Your Desktop application, a different wallpaper will be displayed advertising that day’s sponsoring company.  Advertised images have been designed to be attractive and visually appealing (see example advertising image to the left), to avoid user irritation.

The Vision:

Donate Your Desktop offers great potential to make a difference in the world as the company describes in their vision statement:

‘There are over a billion computer users across the world that could be helping those in need.  Our vision is to turn your collective efforts into large ongoing donations to our partner charities.’

While Donate Your Desktop is currently only available in New Zealand, there are plans to launch in other countries across the world soon.  If you would like to be notified once the application is available in your country please register your interest at this link.

When I first began studying business in high school, organization structure options typically included versions of bureaucratic, matrix, functional or divisional structures.  However, in recent years an increasingly unpredictable, constantly changing business environment has resulted in the need for more flexible organizations.  Originally created in the late 1960’s by W.L. Gore Associates, the lattice (hierarchy free) organization structure is becoming more prevalent today.

The lattice organization structure is characterized by self-management as this structure has no hierarchy and no defined leadership.  Gore describes the lattice organization structure as one that involves:

‘Direct transactions, self-commitment, natural leadership, and lacks assigned or assumed authority.’

The lattice organization structure has been successful at Deloitte and could be considered to be suited to organizations similar to the ones I featured in my past posts on self-management and results-only work environments such as Morning Star and Best Buy’s corporate headquarters.

Here are the pros and cons of the lattice organization structure:

The Pros

  • A lattice organization structure can facilitate the creation of an ideocracy where anyone in the organization can contribute ideas regardless of position and how long they’ve been with the company.  The benefit of this is that the best ideas can prevail and organizations can benefit from ideas they may not have heard in more hierarchical organizations where lower level employees often have a more limited voice.
  • Employees have greater freedom to cross train and learn different aspects of the business and expand their knowledge, skills and expertise by not being restricted to one specific functional area.
  • A lattice organization structure can also enhance employee retention as employees are empowered by having an almost unlimited amount of learning and development opportunities.
  • Organizations utilizing this flat organizational structure can achieve competitive advantage from increased flexibility to adapt faster to the changing environment.

The Cons

  • Not all employees have the ability and self-discipline to thrive without management, creating the potential for a chaotic work environment. The flexibility of the lattice organization structure enables employees to shape their careers by working in different teams making roles hard to define.  As a result the creation of policies, compensation and performance standards is challenging.
  • Lattice organization structures have been most successful in new organizations.  To transform from a hierarchical to a lattice organization structure is plagued by implementation challenges.  As a result, organizations looking to become more flexible should look to incrementally change their structure, taking on some aspects such as self-managed teams; avoiding radical change.

Would a lattice organization structure work in your organization?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

In recent years many people have expressed concern regarding Facebook’s ever-changing privacy policy and use of user data to generate advertising revenue. A few years ago a small group of New York University students came up with an idea to try to create a new kind of social network where users rather than companies, own their personal data. The students called their idea of social freedom Diaspora and posted a thrown together amateur video on crowdfunding website Kickstarter to try to raise $10,000 to create this social network. The video far exceeded expectations raising $200,641 before coding had even begun.

The Original Diaspora Concept

The student founders of Diaspora envisaged an owner-centric social network, where users didn’t have to be concerned about their data being exploited. On Diaspora, users could store data on a server of their choosing (either their own or sign up on for someone else’s) and use, share or delete the data whenever they chose.

Using open source software the founders hope that Diaspora can challenge Facebook and destroy the notion that only one social network can dominate the market.

The Challenge

Currently Diaspora is a private site with a small dedicated following. Without any marketing more than 600,000 people have requested invites to the site. However, this is obviously a miniscule number of people in relation to Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users. When Diaspora opens to the public later this year, they will need to be able to offer other reasons beyond data ownership to entice people to join.

Potential Differentiation Opportunities for Diaspora

One idea the company is exploring relates to the possibilities that could open up for people who own their own social network data to greater analyze, learn and profit from it. Along these lines a data locker model is being explored where users can choose to share their data selectively with businesses they trust.

Diaspora is also working to add greater artistic ownership to the site, to allow users to control how each post appears visually, in order to greater display their personalities on their profiles. Once this prototype becomes a reality users will be able have creative control over their page and status update layout, font, and how photos and videos are displayed. The idea is to allow users to create innovative page imagery that they could be proud to share. Users can also share their Diaspora profile on other social network sites, which will help Diaspora to recruit new users.

Diaspora’s Potential

A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek on Diaspora suggests that:

‘The data economy’s “disregard for individuals” is a ticking time bomb, that increasingly large security breaches and that feeling of being tracked will slowly shift consumers to demand more control. And that could mean a larger audience for Diaspora.’

In June Diaspora will join the startup accelerator program Y-Combinator. Y-Combinator has helped launch cloud storage site Dropbox and house/vacation sharing website Airbnb which I wrote about last week among other companies. It is hoped that Diaspora will evolve during its time at Y-Combinator with a possible public launch later in the year.

The recent success of Instagram illustrates that users like creative control, which suggests that Diaspora could be successful by giving users design freedom. However, so many social networks have failed to compete with Facebook. MySpace for example, offers users more creative freedom than Facebook, (albeit not as much as Diaspora is proposing) and is no longer popular. Time will tell how Diaspora performs, but what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Meanwhile if you would like to learn more about Diaspora check out the project website and to request an invite to join click here. 

CrowdSourcing is a collaborative open call approach to problem solving and idea creation.  One such example is Google’s Project Glass, which involved the company sharing an idea for future technology and requesting feedback from the public to create consumer driven products.  Recently I read a research paper from McKinsey Quarterly by Arne Gast and Michele Zanini on the idea of crowdsourcing corporate strategy, which I will discuss in this blog post.

Why consider this approach?

So often an organization’s strategy suffers from a lack of diverse perspectives and lack of leader understanding of the operational challenges their employees face.  As a result strategies are often created that sound great in the boardroom but have the opposite impact in practice.  Leaders that fail to consider the implications of their strategic decisions on front line employees, may experience implementation challenges from employees who do not support the organization’s strategic vision.

Benefits of this approach

By incorporating perspectives from front line employees, strategies are less likely to be flawed relative to those created in isolation.  Crowdsourced strategies have the potential to be more insightful and actionable.  Employees are likely to become more engaged as they learn that their opinions are encouraged and can make a difference.  As a result of greater employee involvement, implementation is easier and employees are more likely to support the company’s strategic direction.

CrowdSourcing strategy in practice

Companies that have adopted this approach range from the obvious: Wikimedia to companies that were not founded on collaborative content creation such as 3M, HCL Technologies and Rite-Solutions.  HCL Technologies rethought their business-planning process to create greater transparency and to generate more diverse feedback and insights on their business plans.  In 2009 the company launched an online platform called My Blueprint and invited more than 8,000 employees to view 300 posted business plans.  Interested individuals gave detailed, actionable feedback on the plans and quality insights were obtained. By including others in the process, opportunities for cross-unit collaboration were more easily identified.  Overall crowdsourcing enabled the company to gain fresh perspectives to greater analyze their business plans and focus on specific actions to take to achieve desired results.

While the concept of crowdsourcing strategy is a very new idea, this concept has great potential to improve decision-making, avoid group think, eliminate ideas that would not work well in practice and to create visions that are more meaningful to lower level employees.  What do you think? Would your organization be open to crowdsourcing their strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Airbnb PinterestE-commerce company Airbnb, began in 2008 in San Francisco as a house-sharing website, helping people to find a place to sleep for the night when local hotels were sold out.  Today Airbnb has over 100,000 listings in 192 countries and has expanded to incorporate other rentals such as parking, storage, bikes, cars etc.

The video below sums up Airbnb’s basic concept:

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, intends Airbnb to become an online marketplace enabling small businesses and entrepreneurs to participate in what he refers to as the “sharing economy.”  Current users are typically independent and have an average age of 35 years old.  It is hoped that Airbnb can eventually enable its users to locate or offer almost anything they want to rent, while managing the transactions through Airbnb’s online transaction management system.  Chesky, recognizes that Airbnb’s scope is potentially endless, though caution is needed:

“There are so many things we can do; the most challenging part of this is to figure out what not to do.”

Airbnb PinterestThe current issue of Fortune magazine suggests that Airbnb may even have the potential to become the next eBay.  Indeed, this e-commerce company has made money from day one, by charging a commission fee of 6 – 12% on each transaction.  The company has certainly been successful in winning the support of high-profile investors including actor Ashton Kutcher and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

Whether or not Airbnb can realize their vision will like any other company be based on their ability to outpace their competition.  Imitation websites for bikes, ride shares, office space and other things have emerged and as the company diversifies it will also face competition from other websites that allow small businesses to have online storefronts such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy.  Airbnb hopes to differentiate themselves by paying close attention to detail to all aspects of their service, by being user-driven, and by focusing on ease of use with their 3-step buyer and seller transaction process.

Interested in learning how to use Airbnb? Check out the video below:

Ever since I began this blog 3 months ago, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to do an entire post on a new innovative idea from one of my favorite organizations: Disney. Fortunately for me given Disney’s innovation and creativity it didn’t take long. This week Disney began testing their high-tech FastPass (part of their NextGen project) at their Magic Kingdom park.

The current system: Since 1999 Disney theme parks have offered a virtual queuing system through use of a FastPass. Guests insert their park ticket into a machine at one of the busiest attractions and receive a ticket to return later in the day and skip the line. Typically guests can only get one FastPass every two hours and only a certain predetermined number are issued each day. FastPass holders cannot use their FastPass prior to its listed time, but in spite of its one-hour time slot it is unofficially (based on my experience as a cast member and guest) valid at any time throughout the rest of the day. The FastPass is essential for some attractions such as Soarin’ over California which in my experience typically has long lines.

The proposed system: Disney’s NextGen project is a “next generation experience” technology project rumored to cost over $1 billion. Part of this project is expected to result in the creation of guest wristbands implanted with RFID microchips. Prior to arrival guests may be able to pre select a number of attractions for FastPass, reserve show seats, book character-greeting slots etc. This information would then be downloaded into the RFID microchips, to interact with sensors located throughout the Disney parks and resorts. Additional attraction interaction features may also occur based on the information obtained on the chip on the guest’s specific interests.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pazca/6993985474/

The “test sensor posts” and the current FastPass

The current test: This week at Disney’s Magic Kingdom park in Orlando, FL blue RFID sensor posts with a Mickey mouse symbol have been temporarily installed throughout the park. A small number of selected guests have been given bands to scan and test. As they scan their band, reservation data is sent to a cast member’s iPad. The bands are intended to provide faster access to attractions than the current FastPass system.

The full extent of what Disney’s NextGen experience could be, is still under wraps. But one thing is for sure the scope for what RFID technology could do to enhance the Disney park’s experience is potentially endless. I know I would love to test this technology, but what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Imagine arriving at a hotel, tired after traveling and being able to skip the front desk and head straight to your room. Sounds good right? Such a situation is the reality for guests staying at hotels, which use OpenWays.

So what is OpenWays?

OpenWays is a global solution provider of mobile access-management and security solutions, which is paving the way for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology by offering a solution that works with today’s cell phones. OpenWays provide a web-based mobile phone application that automatically adapts to the phone to offer hotel customers a secure way to access their hotel rooms.

This solution is currently being tested at selected Holiday Inn and Choice Hotels across the world. Guests staying at these hotels can download the application onto their smart phone prior to arrival. They then receive a text message with their room number and upon arrival can unlock their room with their cell phone. The application may also enable a customer to order room service or other hotel services from their phone. This video shows the process at Holiday Inn:

OpenWays cell phone compatibility

OpenWays is compatible with all cell phone network technologies. Current smart phone companies OpenWays support include Microsoft, Apple, Blackberry, and Google Android among others.

Why would a hotel purchase OpenWays?

Simply put OpenWays offers hotels the opportunity to provide a faster more convenient option to bypass the front desk at check in, potentially enhancing the customer experience. The solution definitely sounds like a convenient option to avoid waiting in line after a long flight or car journey. Using OpenWays also enables a hotel to save on the costs of purchasing room keys and it can be incorporated into an organization’s sustainability plan. The technology works in a way that locks could still have card slots for guests who are less technology savvy.

There is potentially no limit to how mobile technologies can continue to change and enhance the customer experience in many industries. But what do you think of OpenWays? Would you want to use your cell phone as your hotel room key? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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