Thursday, April 09, 2015

A 60 Second Battery Fix?

One of today’s biggest mobile problems is that of battery life. When the battery is fully charge the world is our at out fingertips, but when it is running low or flat then we are effectively cut off from the world. Having to recharge the smartphone can be a chore we would rather live without and the time it often takes to recharge can seem an eternity.

So what if you could charge your battery in a minute, it held its charge longer and the battery itself was smaller and more flexible?

Researchers in Stanford University have made a breakthrough that could lead to the fast charging and longer lasting batteries and have published their findings in Nature (April 6th). In an article, the authors note, ‘This was the first time an ultra-fast aluminium-ion battery was constructed with stability over thousands of cycles.’

Using an aluminum-ion prototype, they were able to charge a smartphone type battery in 60 seconds, or 60 times faster than the conventional lithium-ion battery. The protoype consists of a soft pouch, containing aluminium for one electrode and a graphite foam for the other - all surrounded by a special liquid salt. Also they claim that its durability is also greater and that it can stand up to about 7,500 charge-discharge cycles before losing any of its capacity compared to Lithium-ion batteries 1,000 cycles. But it doesn’t stop there and they also have found that there are safety and pliability benefits.

Ming Gong, co-lead author of the Nature study, ‘You can bend it and fold it, so it has the potential for use in flexible electronic devices. Aluminium is also a cheaper metal than lithium.’

Prof Hongjie Dai from Stanford University in California claims, ‘Our new battery won't catch fire, even if you drill through it.’ This could address concerns raised on lithium-ion batteries, which have resulted in recent bans on air transport.

Now the challenge is moving what was discovered in the labs into being a commercial reality. Some question the energy density of these batteries and whether the results in the lab can be scaled up, but irrespective the findings start to point the way to creating new opportunities to connect for longer, more efficiently and could open the doors to many new devices and applications.

We just now have to wait.  

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Communications not Product and Services is the 21st Century Opportunity: Part 2

Part 2: 
The Organisational Impact of Communications in Today’s World?

A company may have the best product or service and the smartest technology, but these alone no longer guarantee success. They may have a significant marketing budget, but billboards, page adverts, glossy catalogues and call centres now longer guarantee sustainable success. The supply chain may be well oiled and automated, but reducing waste and delivering to just in time models are by themselves now longer offer unique value and guarantee success. The sales and marketing messages may be slick and focused, but the message in a social networked world is no longer the prize and getting it across to the market no longer a simple process.

Mass market advertising still has its place, but direct marketing now is challenging it even in the mass market. Being able to now effectively engage with consumers and feed their habits, respond to them and truly engage and retain them is the real goal. Creating brand loyalty and through that product and service loyalty and a customer for life is the Holy Grail. Once that was the sole domain of the retailer, or end service provider, but in a world of virtual marketplaces the channel to market is changing and with it the communications with the end consumer. Sharing consumers in non-sharing partnerships is the same as not sharing basic trading information before Supply Chain management. 

We now crave the viral hit. That moment when the word of the internet overtakes all the market budgets we could muster and value and perception truly transfer to the mass. When it works it can create instant recognition, market and demand but is just in time world not satisfying it on demand can be as damaging as not creating it in the first place. However, like winning the Lottery it can’t be achieved by all so bets have to be spread and ‘silver bullet’ strategies avoided.

Reputation can be built and destroyed in a click. Consumers, like sheep tend now to follow and identifying the leaders and influences is a challenge to all. It is truer than ever that one bad experience can influence ten others. In fact the numbers are probably significantly higher today and the impact far faster than yesterday’s word of mouth.

So what does this mean to the organisation and its focus?

We would suggest the following thoughts;

Effective trading partnerships across the supply and value chain is more important than ever. In an channel were much is outsourced the performance of others can now often impact a business more than it can imagine. How do you organise your partners and work together for mutual benefit? Who monitors partner relationships and their effectiveness? What information is shared and how does it help the consumer engagement?

What is communicated with who, when and how?

Service extends to more than throwing goods over the wall, or tracking parcels. Knowing what the other party wants to know and responding to them when they want something is as important as the product they bought. How many of us tear our hair out trying to get in touch with a Google, Amazon, eBay, Apple etc. It’s as if the tablets only ever go one way and those that effectively crack this challenge are the winners of tomorrow.

Information is as valuable as revenue. Collecting information for the sake of collecting information may appeal but using that information to engage with all is the goal. However, the challenge is learning to share information in a manner which respects the privacy of the individual but enables partners to help deliver and for businesses to engage with them. Remember when suppliers and retailers started to share forecast and demand information and the resultant benefits that gave to some supply chains?

Should we create a CCO (Chief Communication Officer) as it clearly not a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) or a CIO (Chief Information Officer). Perhaps the role fall within the emerging Digital Director remit. Marketing is an obvious home but is often only consumer focused and lacking technology depth. Is a COO (Chief Operating Officer) the appropriate function as is it about process, touch points, messages and responses?

Different organisations will respond differently, according to size, skills and complexity of the chain, but communications now needs to be at the forefront of today’s boardroom thinking and developing the appropriate strategy and measuring its performance and effectiveness is an opportunity for all who sit around the board table to engage with.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Communications not Product and Services is the 21st Century Opportunity. Part 1

Part 1: 
How did we arrive to where we are today?

It now seems a lifetime away when we started our technology journey which we w all take for granted today. Back in ’68 there were only 32 computers in the whole of Sheffield and we can even remember the companies, the computers and what they were capable of. The explosion of computing that followed was first aimed at companies and institutions and automating the numbers and providing the information in near to real time as possible.

PCs and networks then changed the landscape and importantly companies became aware of the huge waste created across the Supply Chains and started to migrate from, ‘slipping notes under closed doors’ with trading their partners to communicating and sharing information with them. Supply Chain Management opened up communications through EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) standards and technology. Home computing was also born albeit over extremely poor network services.

Business then started to look hard at their value chains and their core functions and where they added value. Technology was still see as a generic function but it started to deliver effective ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and later CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions, which were no longer bespoke but packed and configurable. Outsourcing non-core activity became a given. IT finally started to break through the board room glass ceiling and CIOs (Chief Information Officers) and CTOs  (Chief Technology Officers) became common seats around the table. The Internet was born and networks started to move from dirt tracks to super highways and deliver and mobile communications, laptop PCs and consumer technology took off.

Then came two major and significant seismic shifts in the form of mobile communications technology and mobile applications. Social networking became something that impacted all; first the individual both young and old and then the corporate, institution and public entity. This explosion of demand was further fuelled by rapid advances in network technology and the emergence of truly mobile devices. We were all permanently switched on and desired to communicate and carried our computer around in our pocket. Where we and other ‘friends’ were, what we are doing and with whom and our thoughts was now often now just a click away.

Harnessing all this mass of information and creating ‘Big Data’ opportunities is now a business in itself.

Computing was no longer owned by the corporate, even warfare was being waged over the airwaves as much as the battlefield. Fame could be instantaneous at the individual level and commercial success was often no longer reliant on huge marketing budgets and programmes alone.

Today commercial businesses now no longer just have a web presence and ecommerce, but an array icons splattered in their sites to link them to every social network where they also have their own presence. We have Blogs, videos, and tweets to promote their products, services and values. In this multi-dimensional world text is no longer enough and communications is no longer one way. We have a new breed of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and analytic services knocking on every door and customer and market insight programmes are the buzz.

So where exactly are you today and more importantly where are you going tomorrow and how do you we achieve that journey?

How should businesses organise themselves for the Communications World of tomorrow?

Tomorrow we will give our thoughts what we believe is one of the greatest challenges today and into the near future.