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Posts from the ‘Digital’ Category

How the Internet Changed the World

February 17th, 2016



By John Eggleston

The internet has been a hugely powerful enabler for many SMEs: in a survey of more than 4,800 firms in 12 countries around the world, management consultancy McKinsey found that those which use web technologies grew more than twice as quickly as those with little internet presence.

“The internet’s biggest impact on SMEs has been as a great leveller, making it possible for a small firm to be a global company from day one, with the reach and capabilities that once only large companies could possess.”

But the benefits that the internet offers aren’t confined to what we think of as ‘online’ businesses. While the web has spawned thousands of new ventures that could not exist without it, many conventional ‘bricks-and-mortar’ businesses are harnessing its power to grow far more quickly than they would ever have dreamed of if they had been launched in the pre-internet world.

That’s because the internet is now making a major contribution at every stage of the value chain, boosting productivity wherever you look. Not only has the web fundamentally changed the way products and services are sold, but it has also revolutionised development, design, production and distribution. Even the smallest companies can now tap into the sort of geographically diversified supply chains and workforces that were previously the preserve of large multinational corporations.  Here are three examples.

Building a community of customers: AFG media

AFG is the company behind Morphsuits, the all-in-one fancy dress costumes that have become a common sight at stag dos, fancy dress parties and special events all around the UK. Founded in 2009, AFG had revenues of £1.2m in 2010 but has grown quickly. This year, sales totalled just over £10m and the business is now expanding internationally.

Gregor Lawson, one of the three founding directors of the company, says AFG has social media to thank for its growth. “Without Facebook, we simply would not exist in the way we do today,” he explains.

With little to spend on advertising or marketing in its early days, AFG’s strategy was to build a community of customers through its Facebook page – not everyone would buy a costume straight away, Lawson reasoned, but the more they participated in the community, the more likely they would be to spend money when the occasion arose.

“People underestimate the commercial power of Facebook,” says Lawson. “For every one person who does something on our page, another nine will ‘like’ it and another 90 will see what’s been done.”

AFG is scrupulous about engaging with everyone who posts on its page – even complainers become advocates of the business if you engage with them, Lawson argues.

In addition to the ideas its Facebook users come up with – not least a remarkable number of photos of Morphsuit wearers in ridiculous poses – AFG offers plenty of proactive opportunities to engage. It organises competitions and even meet-ups. A ‘flash mob’ in Trafalgar Square, for example, attracted 200 Morphsuit-wearing fans.

“People think social media is flitty,” Lawson says. “I disagree – if you’re clear about your objectives and your customers, you can deliver real commercial advantages on Facebook.”

AFG’s own statistics prove the point – they have 1.3 million Facebook fans and counting. And only a small proportion of those fans need to become customers to sustain AFG’s rapid growth.

Accessing global suppliers: Primrose

The business model at online garden products retailer Primrose developed as a consequence of the way search engines operate. Type, ‘barbecue’ into Google and the site it delivers you to has to pay the search giant for referring you – even if it then discovers you were after a £5 disposable barbecue rather than the £300 gas-fired models it sells.

The solution, says Ian Charles, one half of the husband-and-wife team who founded Primrose in 2003 and still run it today, is to make sure you sell everything the customer might possibly be interested in.

“We realised we needed to expand into every possible type of garden product and to offer the deepest possible range in each case – to become the Amazon of the gardens world if you like,” says Charles.

“Fortunately for us, one thing the internet has done is made the infrastructure of sourcing free – it now requires far less of an investment to find the manufacturers.”

Primrose aims to offer greater depth in any given garden product range than anyone else and therefore needs to source huge amounts of stock in an industry where manufacturers are based all around the world . For a relatively small business, the cost of such a sourcing operation would traditionally have been prohibitive, but the internet has changed that.

Much of Primrose’s sourcing is now conducted entirely online. That has enabled it to build the sort of stock range that means customers who use imprecise, generic terms when using search engines – that’s most customers – will usually find what they’re looking for at Primrose. “This sourcing has enabled us to be real product specialists in larger and larger number of ranges,” Charles says.

Achieving global reach: Workshare

For Workshare, the internet has enabled the company to compete on a global stage ina remarkably short space of time. Founded in 2009, Workshare provides businesses with a highly secure cloud-based document management service that enables users to share files with colleagues and clients of their choosing. Those files can be accessed via PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone and worked on by any user granted the right access privileges – the system also tracks all changes made to documents.

Workshare targets markets such as legal services and financial services, where there’s a high concentration of skilled and mobile workers operating in a regulated and sensitive environment. Other examples include the pharmaceuticals industry, as well as government services.

Ordinarily, it would take years to build trusted relationships with such businesses and even longer to achieve critical mass. But not for Workshare – while it has only a handful of overseas offices, it already has hundreds of customers in 65 countries all around the world.

Anthony Foy, the company’s chief executive, says that in addition to the right product offering, it is the viral distribution model on the internet that has enabled Workshare to achieve such reach so quickly.

“Every one client that subscribes to our service typically invites five others to join them – and every one of those five then invites three more contacts of their own” he says. “We haven’t got round to tracking what those three contacts do yet, but you can see how the maths works for us.”

Clearly, the numbers begin to add up very quickly, and have already done so for Workshare. But Foy believes there is plenty more growth to come – “we’re nowhere near the point yet where we run short of potential new clients,” he says.


John Eggleston is Technology, Media & Telecoms Director at the Business Growth Fund (BGF).  BGF was established in 2011 to help Britain’s growing smaller and medium sized businesses. Backed by five of the UK’s main banking groups – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Standard Chartered – BGF is an independent company with up to £2.5bn with which to make long-term equity investments. John sits on BGF’s Investment Committee and works with a number of BGF investee company boards.

What if your coffee cup could talk?

February 17th, 2016



By Rob Lambert

Just as ‘social media’ was the big buzzword five years ago, today it’s ‘the internet of things’ (IoT) that is tipped to be the next internet revolution.  The media is awash with stories of how it is going to reshape business, change consumer behaviour and generally make the world a better place.

We are told to expect 20 billion devices will soon be connected – some say by 2020. But today, the internet of things and its supporting business models are still poorly defined. There is little evidence of mass adoption of internet of things, and certainly not at the level of demand to require billions of devices. So why aren’t our coffee cups part of the internet of things already?

A ‘Smart’ or ‘IoT-ready’ coffee cup will integrate sensors and communications technologies in order to share its data with the world. This technology will need to be at a price that is acceptable to the consumer and should require minimal input from the user.

Low cost sensors have been available for a few years now, and we are beginning to see ultra-low cost sensors produced for specific, currently niche, applications. Examples such as connected smart patches for medical applications use technology that is virtually disposable (with price points around $0.50). Within two years sensing technology should be ready to offer a route to cheap instrumentation of most “things of interest”.

Cost is still an issue when it comes to wide area networking – beyond the ranges of a few centimetres offered by today’s low cost devices. Technologists haven’t yet cracked mobile communications for anything close to one dollar, getting data from sensors in the wider environment is still likely to cost $5 per device, and more once operating costs are included.


However the evidence of Moore’s and the incentive of the potential market size mean that this is likely to be addressed in the near future. It may require a change to tariff models for existing networks or possibly even the use of new network approaches but the potential of $20 billion devices and the associated traffic is already providing an incentive.

What’s stopping mass roll-out of the internet of things?

So where’s the barrier to mass roll-out of the internet of things? Early adopters of the IoT concept have tended to be high-value scenarios – fleet or asset tracking; smart meters; remote station monitoring. In these scenarios, the business case works; deploying sensing technology can deliver a major reduction in maintenance or servicing costs. However for typical consumer products and services, the return from adopting the internet of things is less clear – the benefits may range from increased customer engagement, engaging consumers in change, encouraging customer loyalty and providing indirect services; but these things are hard to account for on the balance sheet, particularly when weighed against a major technology spend . This challenge makes the business case for the internet of things difficult to justify.

 So where’s the need for change?

Businesses are perhaps not ready for the structural changes that are needed to embrace the benefits of the internet of things – there’s no visible burning platform. So the internet of things business case tends to be conservative, and ultimately unconvincing.

However, this is an inward-looking perspective. Recent history shows that businesses face major risk from disruptive competition coming from agile new entrants flexible enough to exploit new technologies, and social trends. The high-street ecosystem supporting 35mm photography was stable for many years with equipment suppliers a feature on most high streets. The advent of digital photography, low-cost printing and internet services formed a perfect storm which few survived.

So what if coffee cups were smart?

So back to the coffee cup, imagine a cup that knew how full it was, how hot the coffee was, where it was, when it was last used. Each of these pieces of apparently simple data has the potential to be integrated with other data and exploited by agile new entrants. A smart coffee cup that integrates intelligent loyalty and preference data, with separate reward records for multiple coffee outlets, incentivises customers to carry their own mug, connects the consumer to the brands and reduces waste from cardboard cups.

Like many IoT models the benefits are widely felt: cost advantage to coffee suppliers, loyalty to outlets, and the environmental savings. The concept has potential to transform the market with a new stakeholder loyalty service provider providing services to customers and brands alike and gathering data at a market level. This scenario is plausible and the risk to the existing market is being reactive rather than proactive to the market transformation.


So do my products need to be part of the internet of things?

Connecting to products and services ultimately extends to the range of possibilities and the end customer. The internet of things offers businesses the data that can drive change within the market and within the organisation. This change may be internal, in terms of personalising marketing or customisation of products; it may be within the supply chain in terms of real-time optimisation of supply; or it may be in driving consumer behaviour for increased loyalty or changes in demand.


Whatever happens, the lessons of early generation of the internet are that emerging technology creates opportunities that entrepreneurs will exploit and existing businesses rest on their laurels at risk.


Rob Lambert is a technology expert and Managing Consultant at PA Consulting Group. PA is an employee-owned firm of over 2,500 people, operating globally from offices across North America, Europe, the Nordics, the Gulf and Asia Pacific. Their sector expertise embraces energy, financial services, life sciences and healthcare, manufacturing, government and public services, defence and security, telecommunications, transport and logistics.

Top Tips: Marketing in a World of Distraction

February 17th, 2016



By Dan Smith

I’ve recently run an experiment for the last 12 months, taking myself off Facebook, and the results are in… I didn’t miss it at all.

Running a marketing company, my aim is to help clients get in front of their customers and touch them in some meaningful way. My professional brain tells me the age of digital with social media and 24/7 content is a massive advantage. However, on a personal level my overriding sense is to turn it all off. It makes me wonder if we’ll look back in years to come and brand this form of consumption as a drug. Whether it’s standing at the train station, going out for a meal, shopping, working, even at home with my wife and watching the latest episode of ‘The Affair’ together, we’re interrupted… bling, bong, fizz, there are updates.

In today’s world we’re inundated like never before; Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, WhatsApp, BBC News, GQ, Esquire, Emails, blogs and on and on… pheeeeew.

I’m married, a father of two girls, running a relatively successful marketing business that requires a lot of hours, enjoy movies, Game of Thrones and Suits. If I can, I like to play the odd game of golf on a Saturday. I’m officially very time poor.

So, for someone to sell me something it really needs to grab me, it has to be easy to digest, short and concise, memorable and really strike a chord. In theory Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter advertising has huge potential for my clients, targeted display adverts based on collected data that we can serve to targeted people. But here’s the catch; so much of the content is bland and uninspiring that we are tuning out.

There’s an argument for brand awareness but people aren’t engaging.  It’s fair to say that digital marketing seems to go hand in hand with cynicism these days. Consumers are surrounded by so many marketing images, video and words, brands can easily blend into one another. As a result, consumers are looking for something new, something inspiring, and something that will stick in the mind.

This all means that it has never been more important to engage with people by creating an emotional response – ‘feeling’.

At Fireworx we focus on feeling and response – how do we want people to feel and how do we want them to respond. For any forward-thinking business in 2015 it has never been harder to engage with people and to cut through all the noise. Here are our tips for marketing your business in a world of distraction:

• Invest in defining your customer and their habits – profiling has never been more important.

• Have a marketing calendar which outlines your communications across the year. Align your strategy with natural peaks of interest from your customers.

• Regardless of how you market yourself, make it short, concise, visually engaging and memorable – think news and headlines.

• Test – think about the message, the offer, the creative, the channel.

• Analyse – data and conversions are so important in today’s marketing function. Analyse and optimise!

Meanwhile. I’m staying off Facebook as it’s just another distraction I can do without!


Dan Smith is the co-founder and Managing Director of digital marketing agency, Fireworx, ranked as one of the top ten elite marketing agencies in the UK. Based in Bournemouth, Fireworx helps entrepreneurial-minded clients grow faster.


Staying Ahead of the Game

February 17th, 2016



By Anna Frazzetto

This spring, the Harvey Nash CIO survey revealed how heavily digital disruption is weighing on the minds of business leaders worldwide. According to the survey of more than 3,500 IT leaders, 66 percent of CIOs report that digital disruption (the change resulting from digital technologies that disrupt established business models) is driving significant change across their businesses.With today’s constant reminders of old models (bookstores and taxis) being wiped away by upstarts (Amazon and Uber), it’s not surprising that business leaders are on the lookout for disruptive challengers. Will we be next? Are we as vulnerable as Tower Records, Polaroid or Kodak – companies that saw their physical products dissipate into bytes and mobile technologies?

Here’s my question: Is disruption anything new?

Having been in the technology industry for many years, I have seen digital disruption again and again. Prior to the new millennium, companies like Monster and CareerBuilder were disrupting the world of recruiting and staffing by changing how and where people find jobs. That disruption continues today as Monster and its cohorts now face competitors like LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions. Suddenly a former disruptor faces disruption.

In the last five to seven years, the news and media industries have seen many publications shut down or reduced drastically to compete with powerful disruption from the Internet media players. They have had to rethink and rebuild their content products for a digital age and mobile devices.

Consider this excerpt from The Economist: “After years of wreaking havoc, the Internet is helping media companies to grow. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), a professional-services firm, reckons that revenues for online media and entertainment will increase by around 13% a year for the next five years.” (“Counting the Change,” The Economist, April 2013).

Disruption in business, even digital disruption, is nothing new. Just ask IBM and Microsoft. In years past we might have simply called it “market shifts” or “innovation.” What is different – other than the name – is speed. The “digital” side of digital disruption allows change to come faster than ever as a global and tech-driven marketplace fuels greater competition and rapid information dissemination. Change is no longer approaching from a distant horizon. Today it is always knocking on the door and companies and their technology teams have to be ready to answer.

How to Keep Ahead of Disruption: Three Tips

I am very lucky to have a job in which I get to see a variety of global technology, media and financial businesses and their leaders facing the challenges and opportunities of digital disruption each day. The leaders who do it best follow these three guidelines.

1. Be an Entrepreneur, Always

Big or small, the very best businesses have the ability to think and react like entrepreneurs. They aren’t afraid to change strategies or try new paths. Consider how Hearst Magazines evolved from a publishing house to a “diversified media and information company” as the Internet and mobile technologies reshaped how people consume media. Rather than clinging to one model, Hearst expanded its content expertise into new realms and has grown in a time when publishing has shrunk.

2. Know Your Strengths and Advantages

A new approach or model does not negate your business and all it has done. There is a legacy of knowledge, service, excellence, resources, talent and history within your business. The best businesses and leaders know exactly where the company’s strengths and advantages lie, making the organization and its people better equipped to adapt when markets and models shift. IBM could have packed it in with all the disruptions that changed the computing industry, but it didn’t. IBM changed its model, leveraging its technology strengths and resources to become one of the world’s leading business services providers.

3. Be the Disruptor – Change the Rules

Disruptors do not hold the patent on disruption. For example, Amazon’s meteoric growth disrupted many retail business models along the way. Now the Chinese Internet retail giant, Alibaba, has a very different profit model (advertising and premium services) that may well disrupt Amazon’s margin-driven retail model. The lesson here is that disruption works both ways. Look for opportunities to disrupt and change accepted models, no matter how new or unstoppable they seem.


Remember, disruption is nothing new in business but the speed of digital disruption is remarkable. It’s the speed of disruption that can make a business feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, but only if you let it. So think entrepreneurially, know your strengths and embrace disruption. You’ll adjust to the speed.


Anna Frazzetto is Managing Director & SVP, International Technology Solutions at executive recruiter, Harvey Nash. The firm recruit professionals and experts in technology, CIO, IT leadership, IT interim, digital, finance & banking and HR, as well as appointing board members and senior executives.