Category: Innovation Stories

Ralf HallerRalf Haller December 8, 2011

New innovative green IT magazine in Switzerland

I met Marc Rohner the founder of Greenbyte.ch a few weeks ago at an event held by Akamai in Zurich.

When he mentioned the name of the magazine I had to laugh and asked him if this punch was indeed intended or happened by accident. (often such things happen by accident when English is not your native language)

But he was affirmative and so we had a longer talk. Greenbyte.ch is not only a great name but also attempts to write about IT news that are not necessarily in the mainstream. I could immediately tell that Marco takes his job as an inquisitive and well-informing journalist very serious.

Nice to have such an IT magazine in Switzerland. Soon he will also have commercials on its free news site as even Marco being a neutral journalist needs to make money of course.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller June 5, 2011

The “new” Chinese opportunity – and THREAT

This last week I came across twice when people talked about China and how it booms, how it will be soon the leading economy in the world and how great it is to invest there and do business there.

One of these China lover encounters was on Swiss TV where they showed a student group from St. Gallen Fachhochschule visiting China and doing some business research work for Swiss companies who are investing and doing good business in China. All of the managers of these Swiss companies and the professor of the St. Gallen Fachhochschule had this excitement in their eyes.

I was in China more than ten years ago for about two years and did lots of business then at a time where all of the excitement that these students now talked about was built up from scratch. Shanghai was full of bikes (they are now banned) and there was only one tube line partly finished and in use. Pudong area had the Pearl Tower already but nothing else. They started tearing down the settlements and relocating the people to some other places. People said there were more construction cranes in Shanghai alone than in all of North America. Hard to believe but I think this was indeed true.

Now more than ten years later it is a bit funny to see these managers, professors and students talk about China as if they discovered anything new. Of course excitement is good and one should not argue with it. But the point I want to make here is that what more than ten years ago was quite obvious would happen and is happening now, China becoming the world economic power, one has to deal with what that will mean as well.

I am for some of my clients facing stiff Chinese competition leading to consolidation of entire industries. The mobile infrastructure market has changed forever and two Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE (plus 2-3 others who are als coming up but hardly anyone ever heard of)  are taking over this high-tech industry by storm. Results: Siemens sold out to Nokia what is now still called Nokia Siemens, Alcatel merged with Lucent, Motorola sold to Nokia Siemens and Ericsson still enjoys protectionism in the US winning a 6 billion USD LTE deal with Verizon Networks against Huawei offering it for less than half because of US politicians being afraid of Chinese companies possibly controlling an important American infrastructure. Of course that is nonsense, but – lucky for Ericsson still – is what happened. It won’t happen again though.

Now back to the Swiss managers, professors and students: the exact same will happen to all of these companies and all of these industries will be dominated by Chinese. Difference will be though that it will happen even faster.

For clients I have to now compete with these Chinese so have quite changed my attitude as I know it is not easy. Strange I find though that all these other industries do exactly the same and do not see the short and mid-term dangers on the horizon. Or if they see it do not want to think about it as they enjoy the current ride too much. The industries that were shown on TV will be much easier to copy and dominate in fact than the mobile infrastructure. They require much less technology and are much easier therefore to copy. So what will happen to all of them? Once they transferred the know-how, stiff competition will arise and they will import the same back to Europe and the US for less than half the price.

I think it is time now to think about this and be aware of it. Most importantly do not fall into the same trap that others already fell into. The only way to compete – I am convinced – is by being creative, innovative and by including all stakeholders in the innovation process. This requires new ways of collaboration and company cultures. We should have it easier to do that than the Chinese I would think, which still has to be proven though and maybe also here they are faster than we are…

Ralf HallerRalf Haller November 15, 2010

Swiss startups present at 1st Investor Elevator Pitch Event

This evening I attended the 1st Swiss ICT startup elevator pitch event. It was organized by SwissICT the largest ICT association here and surprisingly their first such event. Well it is never too late I thought and attended after quite some time a startup event here again. Eight companies were pre-selected to give an elevator pitch to investors and guests and then the investors selected 4 (due to a tight it got 5) that could present their companies in more detail.

To my surprise the pitches were quite good. I did a little game myself and picked my 4 best ones. Again to my surprise these were exactly the chosen ones then. With the exception of one which I think was totally overrated. Surprisingly that company was picked as the number one by the crowd. I guess time will tell now who is right or wrong, me or them. :-)

I must restate that the quality of the pitches was mostly excellent and deserves a lot of respect!

Ralf HallerRalf Haller August 5, 2010

The end of a “Wave” product

[Photo by Clark Little]

Last night Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President Operations & Google Fellow, wrote in the official Google blogthat they will stop the Google Wave project and the attempt to try to create a product out of it.

Some have foreseen this happening already in October 2009 such as Robert Scoble in his highly visible blog post “Google Wave crashes on beach of overhype“. He criticized the total overload of information that Google Wave creates making it unusuable as a practical work tool. Of course Google hoped that the developer community would fix this and come up with creative ways but that has not happened either.

Product development can be supported but not totally handled by the public community. What Google should have known and for sure learned from the Wave project now is that you need to set a clear direction still and have a strong product to start out, with a clear value.

What amazes me about this end is the fact that many got caught by total surprise with this announcement. I could still hear just a few weeks ago during a client meeting that also Google Wave would possibly be a candidate for a community platform solution and some folks predicted even the end of email and collaboration tools when Wave is in full swing. Nope, not so fast.

Failed innovations often make you learn much more than successful ones. That remains here now as a positive and of course some valuable public source code also that can be used in other projects to come.

Google keeps innovating and also stopping failed innovations such as this one or the NexusOne mobile phone business model. This approach is much better than sitting and waiting for others to make a first move and then copying it. Only with such a pro-active approach can one land the next big IT wave project and failures are a common part of active innovations not to be feared at all – in contrary.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller June 8, 2010

Silicon Valley – why many Europeans don’t understand how it works

I just read an article in the German newspaper FAZ saying that Silicon Valley is back. The article talks about Apple mainly, also mentioning a few well-known others such as Oracle, Intel, EA and – at least one that is not that well-known to the public – NetApps. This article is one more proof of how little people in Europe understand the high-tech center around San Jose, now spreading further north into San Francisco as well.

Why is it so difficult for Europeans to understand the Valley?

From my own experience having lived and worked there for a few years there are many reasons why authors like the above one have a hard time understanding it.

  • Opportunities come and go — and many more go. One has to accept that and be willing to move on. No harm to try things out many times. It is simply not possible to foresee where the route will lead when you start. This is difficult for many Europeans to accept as they tend to be more long-term in thinking and planning, and accepting a lot of uncertainty as normal is hard for them.
  • Total focus. When you work for a startup that needs to create value and reach milestones quickly there is no time to do anything else really. I had to work on weekends to reach a set beta milestone and we even introduced shift work in R&D. We also needed to use the -then limited – office space effectively. Now imagine what would happen if you did that in Europe? You might easily be sued for exploiting your knowledge workers. In Silicon Valley each employee in a startup has stock options, so is part-owner in the company, and reaching an exit (trade sale or IPO) will mean lots of money for everybody. So no-one would be bothered about working even harder when necessary.
  • Stock options. This is partly a funny one. I have seen many European startups where only the management has stock options and the other employees, regardless of how important they might be for the company, did not receive any, but also did not get bothered about it at all. Unthinkable in the Valley. A startup would not be able to hire any good people without stock options, in fact probably no-one even slightly qualified would join them. Now how’s that for a difference? :-)
  • Infrastructure. This is one of the historically strong points of the Valley. You have the ideal setup for a startup industry: venture capital/angel investors, startup experienced lawyers, top universities (Stanford, Berkeley plus other very practical industry-focused educational facilities), real estate owners providing lots of office space, local airports (San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco), networking events and associations, established high-tech firms (Oracle, Intel,  HP, Apple, Cisco, EMC, EA, eBay, Google, Applied Materials, LSI Logic, Symantec), government facilities (NASA Ames, Moffett Field)
  • Talent. Due to its worldwide reputation, Silicon Valley attracts some of the smartest and most qualified engineers and marketing experts. One has to also mention here the huge amount of Indians and Chinese who build the engineering human resources backbone. Smart immigration politics have enabled Silicon Valley to build links to China and India like no other area. Europe cannot compete here at all.
  • Attitude. These immigrants show a totally different risk-taking mentality, being used to working hard and to constantly trying new things. Something that I also experienced and highly appreciated was the great weather (practically always sunshine and blue sky all year around), which has a very positive mental effect on you: I think people are simply more positive thinking and willing to take more risk due to that mental state. I bet this could be proven as well if someone would investigate it.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller April 24, 2010

Ireland calls its citizens for help with an Idea & Innovation Community

The EU is right now collecting lots of money for Greece to reestablish some confidence in the markets and with that avoid having to pay even more. There are also fears that the other PIGS countries Spain, Portugal and Ireland may call for help.

Now Ireland being a nation that has been through lots of economic hardship in its history but also enjoyed an EU-wide unmatched boom not too long ago, is currently hit hard as well. Being a proud nation that likes to take its fate into its own hands, its President Mary Mac Aleese is calling its citizen to submit ideas in eight categories on how the country can direct its policies. The event is called quite appropriately “Your country your call”.

I think what we see here is only the beginning of something that many other countries should and will do as well at some point. Calling for the combined knowledge of a whole country will certainly lead to new and better ideas. I consider it as a true democratic way and this even seems an improvement over what we have enjoyed in Switzerland for quite a long time already: letting people decide about their matters and not some professional politicians only with lots of self-interest, who are also quite limited in their judgements and overall understanding of most of the subjects that they have to decide about. Online Social Communities seem ideal for governments enabling them to run such calls effectively. Something Switzerland, which is otherwise probably the most advanced country in applying democracy, should also make use of. Not to mention practically all other so-called democratic countries. The eight categories plus “Other” where Ireland is asking its people for ideas are:

  • COMMUNICATIONS & TECHNOLOGY
  • DESIGN, ENGINEERING AND MANUFACTURING
  • EDUCATION & THE ARTS
  • ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
  • FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
  • HEALTH, SPORT, & NUTRITION
  • PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
  • TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY
  • OTHER

Ralf HallerRalf Haller April 20, 2010

1 million USD award for the best 4G ideas

I only came across this bold competition called mYprize 4G Developer Challenge today – it is run by YTL Communications, who belong to the Malaysian YTL Corporation. On their website they say about themselves:

The YTL Group’s core businesses are ownership and management of regulated utilities and other infrastructural assets, serving 10 million customers in three continents.

YTL Corporation’s strategy of providing “World Class Products and services at very competitive prices” along with its history of Innovation, has led directly to it recording a compounded annual growth rate in Pre-tax profits of 55% over the last 15 years, and an enviable track record of creating shareholder value. It has been paying dividends every year since it was listed on KLSE. YTL Corporation’s strategy has also resulted in it and its subsidiaries accumulating numerous International Awards in the process.

While YTL is not a long-time telecommunication company at all, they decided to build the country’s fastest 4G (2.3GHz WiMAX) wireless network through their 60% ownership in YTL Communications. Now such diversities are not uncommon at all in Asia and China. Many of the largest tech and telco companies originated from construction, ship building, food supply or e.g. container harbors. So not so surprising then that YTL itself is active in O&M Activities, Cement Manufacturing, Construction Contracting, Property Development, Hotels & Resorts, Technology Incubation, REIT, and Carbon Consulting.

Back to YTL Communications. They decided to run this competition collecting new ideas on how to use this new high-speed wireless network using a very nice social innovation community platform. In case you want to still participate, though, time is running out as submissions must come in by May 1.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller April 8, 2010

First solar-powered plane to take off

Only a week after CERN in Geneva could successfully create electron collisions that could lead to new understanding of how the cosmos started, another French Swiss (in the French speaking area of Switzerland) world first was achieved. The first solar-powered plane took off with a test pilot setting an important milestone for this ambitious project called SolarImpulse trying to fly around the world with a purely solar-powered plane.

I asked myself why it is that the Romands (as the French speaking Swiss are called) seem to be so much into world’s first recently.  Is it coincidence or has it to do with a certain attitude and entrepreneurial spirit that they have in their genes? I was also quite amazed to see how openly both events were celebrated which was so much different than the cool banker style that one otherwise gets to see on TV (and in movies like James Bond) when it comes to the Swiss nature. :-)

From a more general view you could also say that the good guys are in the West of Switzerland (creating great positive public news) and the bad guys (if you want to use that word) are in the East where the bankers are at home. Uuups that comparison might not go well though with the folks in Zurich I suppose.

But let’s get back to the SolarImpulse project. Congratulations to a great achievement and a great PR event. The website contains also great social community ideas and crowd financing approaches such as the possibility to buy a solar cell and name it your own for just 200 CHF. With 12,000 solar cells integrated into the wings that also adds up to a nice 2.4 million CHF. Well done too guys and good luck for the next milestones!

Ralf HallerRalf Haller March 18, 2010

Switzerland most innovative country in Europe – but lies behind US and Japan

While Switzerland is used to come out on top of this EU market report one should not forget that in high-tech product and service exports Switzerland is only average. I don’t want to spoil the soup now since otherwise it looks – statistically speaking – relatively good. Still one other remark is needed: what would really count is to compare yourself with the US and Japan. And also here Switzerland has a hard time playing in the top league and unfortunately the high-tech product and service category compared with the worldwide leaders will become in my opinion the most important aspect in the near future. Something has to be done one would think.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller December 26, 2009

Biggest corporate R&D investors

I was quite surprised when I saw this chart today as there are a few companies in this top ten list of biggest corporate R&D investors that I would not have expected. I expected Toyota there, the Swiss pharmaceutical companies Roche and Novartis but for sure not GM and Ford. Guess they kept it a secret what they all do with this huge amount of R&D money. Also surprising was Nokia being ranked second even. Also here the pure amount of the investments says nothing about its quality and success.