A New Leader for OCRI

OCRI is looking for a new leader.

This may be the most important decision its members and funders make because it will set the direction for the organization during the coming critical years where Ottawa’s tech sector will either finally revive or fatally flounder.

It’s a time for vision, inclusion, activism and leadership.

So what should they look for?

First someone who thinks regionally. Ottawa is a mid-sized city for Canada but tiny globally. The reality is that we compete with areas that measure their economic hinterlands in tens of millions of people – and we need to approach that scale to compete. It is this economic and geographic connection between producers and consumers that ensures needs definition and fulfillment easily link, creates ready markets for initial test, insures a large pools of investors and management talent, and guarantees a rich education and employee pools for specialized skills as businesses grow. If Ottawa’s tech sector is going to thrive OCRI must make Ottawa a central part of an economic partnership that extends from Windsor to Quebec City.

Next the leader must be inclusive and strategic. A smaller tech community means smaller budgets – but the amount of work actually increases if “the current weakening trend” is to be reversed. OCRI must become an instigator when necessary and a coordinator where possible. It makes little difference to the strength of the community if The Code Factory mentors start-ups or whether OCRI does directly – except if the Code Factory handles it OCRI can focus on advocating public policy changes that few can address otherwise. Same goes for the Innovation Hub. Its fine in times of plenty to replicate MaRS in Ottawa but the budgets won’t be there for a number of years so let’s focus on delivering MaRS programs at University facilities’ using the telecom expertise Ottawa is famous for. Linking tech entrepreneurs within a university setting also provides (with some program support) a framework to bridge the commercialization gap that keeps so much Canadian funded research in the lab instead of the market.

The next bit of inclusion is that OCRI must reach out and address the needs of the thousands of small tech companies that are not currently it members or risk seeing its public funding attacked as this group develops an independent voice and representation.

The new leader must also be an activist. The problem of start-up investment or talent pools is not just a function of our size. We need substantial changes in out tax structures if we are gong to compete with the rest of the world. I’m not talking about lower corporate rates but of correcting the putative options regulations that mean start-up can’t attract world class talent with promises of future gain, and the write-off rules that reward people for keeping money out of high risk/reward investments like tech. We also need to look at federal and provincial programs that are sometimes so rule bound as to be meaningless. Lets make sure that if other levels of government understand the problem that their programs address it effectively. It is in developing the expertise here, and using our proximity to the federal government – that OCRi cements its leadership role to eastern Canada’s tech community.

This is a defining moment for OCRI. I hope they will consider these issues as they evaluate candidates.


Skating to where the puck will be

It was great to see the comments from people in Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo discussing the strength of, and differences between each community. It’s a testament to the connection between the Ontario’s tech centers. What’s missing – beside Montreal – is this same discussion on core problems that affect all Canadian tech companies – like funding (tax treatment and education I’d say) and discussion of intercity methods of sharing knowledge and supporting innovation (camps and communication infastructure).

What’s happening is that the world (I’ve heard similar things from the London, Leeds, and Manchester) is beginning to recognize that if we are ever going to upset the dominance of Silicon Valley – an area that treats the world is as its innovation hinterland – we have to build on the strength and diversity of our regional communities – rather than surrendering the best to American investors
What I mean by regional is a strategy based on communities co-operating and upper levels of governments enhancing that co-operation with connectivity and funding.  Why for instance should Entrepreneurship 101 not be broadcast throughout Ontario using funding to enable web casting and a local partner to provide local instructional support and facilitate inter and intra community interaction? This builds local and regional community, entrepreneur’s knowledge while at the same time building a network of organizational relationships at the regional level. The same thing could be done with OCRI and Communitech programs – as well as DemoCamps and other industry events. The alternative is to spend $500.M of public money duplicating MaRS in Ottawa – an idea that lies at the heart of Innovation HUB proposal

We need to develop a sense of extended community that allows people and businesses to identify partners and opportunities outside their geographic area. This is important because economic benefit occurs is where problem knowledge, technology application and business insight intersect. At one time it could have been argued that this was the domain of cities – because of the density of interactions – however the emergence of community around blogs/forums/video has shown that technology can serve as an intermediary for connection instead of geography. At the same time the scale of competition has increased dramatically. Countries like China and India have massive population advantages that statistically increase the probability that it will be them, not us, who discover and exploit new opportunities. A single city is no longer big enough to form a global competitive advantage.

As I see it we these trends will guide many new business models.

– cheap and rich communication
– the adoption of networked business models  (outsourcing being but one example)
– a decrease of vertically integrated companies
– more innovation occurring at the intersection of fields of knowledge
– globalization (competition for customers & innovation) reaching into smaller and smaller market niche
– rising energy and carbon offset fees increasing the costs for physical travel and shipping  

They also provide a framework for regional economic development that can rival the world’s mega cities in terms of the diversity and connection – while being economically efficient, providing program excellence and diversity, and serving every company type – even if the threshold in a local are doesn’t warrant local provision of that service.

Of course the devils’ in the details, but the place to start is to explore how pervasive broadcast of local events through the broader region builds community and connections that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

Success Disaster – shaping the next Internet

I’m not a network person in fact I can hardly get two devices to share files – yet I found this 18 month old talk by Van Jacobson incredibly compelling and though provoking.

What Mr. Jacobson does is make an arcane subject – Network Typology both easily understood and relevant.

What becomes clear is that network architecture is shaped by initial business or conceptual issues and then shapes the business opportunities that are built upon it.

From the circuit switched phone network – with an initial problem of how to describe a wiring path between two devices we get a network that is concerned with mapping paths without concern for the conversation (data), and a fetish for reliability of every component in the circuit (because any failure could break the connection) at the expense of call set-up time. 

The IP network takes an entirely different approach. It breaks up information into small packets and lets intelligent points decide each step to the destination. The result is a network that gains its reliability through system growth not device reliability. Embedded in that protocol are a series of choices however that are contributing to many of the problems we face today – from limitations for pervasive connection, net neutrality and authentication and spam.

The solutions to these problems have implications for everything from IP to social media and broadcast industries.  As network engineers start to tackle the cracks that are showing in the IP network they will make decisions that will impact business models far removed from the networks core.

This talk gives some interesting and easy to understand insights as to the problems and solutions that network designers face and for that it’s worth the hour and half. You may, like me, come away with the conclusion that these are more that technical issues – they will shape how the Internet changes as it moves into every corner of the earth and our lives.

Innovative Business Cultures

Bob Lefsetz points to a great quote from Universal Music CEO Doug Morris on why the music industry couldn’t develop a new business model as technology started to shift to digital delivery:

There’s no one in the record industry that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “[It’s] a misconception … that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. …

… “We didn’t know who to hire,” … anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.”

Sure it’s easy to say that we’d do better but the sad truth is that lots of companies and industries struggle when presented with business models or technologies they don’t understand.

The problem you need a frame of reference to evaluate options and many companies don’t have a broad enough one because they haven’t built the connections outside their immediate company and industry as a hedge to track and understand real or potential scenarios. That’s compounded by the fact that most companies have cultures that arbores failure so if problems emerge it’s more sensible (on an individual level) to do nothing than to do something wrong. 

The antidote as John Hegal argues is institutional innovation which produces long term value because it aligns with global and macro trends and encompasses process and product innovation.  Institutional innovation is at its core a cultural process built on diverse trust relationship within and outside the company and organizational structures with enough modularity to allow process experimentation but enough cohesion to facilitate decision making.

It’s also a process that builds on the extended networks that emerge with a region and between companies, their suppliers and customers. It’s developing these into trusted relationships that allow the flow of information that lets industries identify the expertise needed to develop strategic approaches to changes in their marketplace.

One of the reasons I’m interested regional economic development is that I believe that Institutional Innovation can be encouraged and could become a competitive advantage for the regions that adopt it.

That’s also the reason I’m interested in connecting BarCamps as we did with Leads. There already is a common cultural framework, and an easy means of identifying influencers in each region. And for many of the small companies extending their network reach both conceptually (which is why they participate) and geographically would be a competitive advantage.

These are going to be exciting times – from restructuring in the media/social media and open source, to globalization new models and opportunities are emerging for companies and regions that structure themselves to take advantage of them.

Voice Mash-ups – Imagination is the biggest barrier

I’ve been watching the growth of Iotum’s Free Conference calling service because conferencing is the perfect voice service for social media. So it was that last Friday I sat in on Alec Saunders Voice Mash-up conference call (download podcast) to learn where he, and a number of voice evangelists (Thomas Howe, Jim Courtney, Andy Abramson)  think drives voice web integration.  

It was an interesting discussion that got me thinking more about voice as an interface, and mash-ups as a business model.

First voice as an interface is overlooked. The phone is ubiquitous. Everyone knows how to use them – and how to interact with automated voice applications. As well applications like speech recognition (ASR) and Text to Speech (TTS) are robust enough to make voice a reliable option for both control and data delivery for any application. Combine this with web development approaches, which have proven architectures to deliver a seamless user experience by coordinated multiple services and opportunity for new voice applications is apparent.

Still all development depends on having both users and a business case. By using data from multiple sources, delivering them through existing services and by focusing on a relatively small feature set mash-ups make it easy to solve issues that might be ignored with other paradigms.

In a business environment this means it’s possible to eliminate delays, increase efficiency and customer satisfaction by connecting people and information all without worrying about breaching the firewall. It’s meant delivery companies can confirm you’re home even before the truck rolls – saving you the inconvenience of a missed parcel and them the cost. It also means that subjects in a drug trial you can phone information in anytime making reporting both easier and cheaper.

These same approaches can be applied to social sites – linking users anonymously to explore common interests – such as on shopping, dating and fan sites. These services raise the forum (often associated with these sites) to a whole new level because voice adds emotional content that can be misconstrued otherwise.

In all these cases the number of users required to justify deployment are relatively small – because most of the cost of development is the professional services to understand and architect the services that need to be connected. And that gets to the core rub with voice mash-ups – they may provide a lot of business value but no-one is going to get rich developing them.

In large part that’s because mash-up are in my mind the component phase for a new type of voice development. Every technology moves through phases from componentization which flourishes during times of experimentation to vertical integration when costs, reliability or long term ownership issues override. Right now companies and sites need to understand the competitive advantages of using these services, and will not alter their processes much to implement them. That means a component and professional services business model. As soon as the value is proven – and the feature set across an industry understood look for vertically integrated products and services to emerge.

That said now is the ideal time to jump in and experiment because you’ll get a level of service and application exactly tailored to your needs. It’s only the ability to imagine how these services can affect your bottom line that stand between you and a new class of customer engagement tools.

If you’d like to see what people are doing with voice mash-ups drop by Ottawa’s next DemoCamp (http://www.barcamp.org/DemoCampOttawa7) as two of the demos are voice mash-ups, or drop me a line.

The CodeFactory Starts

Just in time for Christmas there is exciting news from Ian Graham – the Code Factory is a go.

If you’re not already familiar with the CodeFactory think shared facility offices meet BarCamp. It’s this mix of private office space, open work space and community events that set the CodeFatory apart.

Of course productivity is at the core of any shared office facility, and the CodeFactory provides this in spades. First the shared facility offices are all about concentrating on your business – without having to think about your office. Teams can start and grow without once having to worry about outfitting their offices or finding new facilities as they grow.

If that was all the CodeFactory did it would be useful – but it does the same thing for individuals and for groups providing an environment for permanent and occasional work and group meetings. It’s hard not to think that connections and knowledge will flow helping the entire community at the same time as it provides members  unique insights and opportunities.

It’s a new approach that recognizes that while business was always about relationships it increasingly will be from the quality of your network – because that connects you to people, ideas and opportunities outside your personal knowledge. The CodeFactory builds the network of every person involved benifiting the entire community.

If this sounds interesting to you contact Ian at ian . thecodefactory at gmail dot com. 

(Web) Video killed the TV Star

With apologies to Buggles – whose 1979 hit remembers the golden era of radio while celebrating the unrelenting force of technology to re-shape media.

It’s TV’s turn now.  Web & Social video are set to reshape both media. 

Locally stealth start-ups Overlay.tv and FaveQuest are playing in this area, as are local content producers like RaceDV. What’s happening locally is echoed elsewhere with video producers and aggregators/sharing sites opening daily it seems.  Each of them focused at different areas of the video sharing stack.

Video Application Stack

As everyone who’s looked at this area knows, viewer ship is exploding and with it ad revenue, and influnce.

Ad Revenue

In fact some commentators believe that the web will overtake TV as the major source of ad spend. For that to happen the web has to attract brand and product positioning advertising – not just transactional advertising.

Video presents some particular problems though – even for transactional ads. For ads to be effective they need to be embedded with the video – not on the same page as it. That’s why Viddler’s ad tagging technology is so promising – it puts the ads right in the video stream. Its potential impact on TV is nicely reviewed on Philadelphian Mel Taylor’s site (Philadelphia is home to Viddler and a city that is turning it’s self into an interactive media hub)

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Viddler’s original  technology – in video commenting is incredibly powerful because it allows community to develop even as the video spreads from site to site through viral embedding. The ad technology is a logical extension of that.

What also isn’t clear to me is the business model – because I believe they are focusing at the wrong point in the stack. As I see it they believe these features will drive people to their site both to publish and consume video. I’m not so sure. I believe that web video will, like blogging before it, will move from individual user generated content to pro-am and organizations dominating niches.

These sites will be in direct competition for advertisers and viewers – not just with other web based services but with TV as well.

As Viddler demonstrates for ad delivery, and RaceDV does for niche user generated content, the advantage the web services have is that they innovate on numerous levels that TV doesn’t stand chance – because, as the Buggle’s sang “we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far”.