The ACG Rocky Mountain Conference held on March 17-18 attracted over 600 attendees from the Rocky Mountain region. Where 2.0, held March 30-April 1, attracted over 900 attendees. These are both particularly impressive conference numbers in the current economic climate, which is always indicative of the relevance and importance of a topic. The ACG conference is a business conference, while Where2.0 is a geospatial technology conference. So what’s the connection between these two conferences? Business executives are asking a number of LI (location intelligence) questions although they are not necessarily aware of the location dimension of their questions, issues, and challenges. Software developers are churning out geospatial/location technologies and applications, although they are not necessarily aware of all the possible business applications.
The ACG conference was first and foremost a business conference with peers at the executive and management level candidly sharing their prospects and challenges for the future in an increasingly difficult economic climate. From the M&A panel on the “Changing Landscape of Middle Market Investment” to the CEO panels on “Crossing to Safety and Prepping for Success” and the “C-Suite: Evolution to More Interdependent Teams,” the overarching themes of the conference were uncertainty and fear, the inability to forecast future earnings, lack of excess capacity to grow businesses, and little room for error in today’s lending and financial market.
Warren Henson, President & Senior Managing Director of the investment banking firm Green Manning & Bunch, said that while capital is freeing up for deals, “the biggest issue is the performance of companies and the forecasting of revenue.” The deal breakers for investment according to Henson are:
- visibility into future performance (how can you buy a company when the owners don’t have confidence in the future of the business?
- customer concentration (dependency on a single customer or vertical), and
- the management team.
Forecasting of revenue and customer concentration are location intelligence and strategic planning issues because they depend on an understanding of market dynamics and market demand, yet location was not mentioned.
CEO’s Colleen Abdullah of WOW! Internet Cable Phone, Matt Taylor of Mercury Payment Systems, and Tim Miller of Rally Software agreed that surviving 2009 involved a hyper-focus on a single goal. For WOW!, it was on free cash flow, for Mercury it was sales and marketing, and for Rally Software it was on growth and an open books policy so that anyone in the organization could make comments and suggestions on growing the business. As these three CEOs operate in three separate industries (cable, financial services, and software), their strategic horizons differed reflecting the pace of change of the industry and required capital investments. The strategic horizons were 3 years, 2 years, and 12 months with a quarterly change for WOW!, Mercury, and Rally Software, respectively.
The strategy-execution cycle is clearly compressed in an increasingly volatile and uncertain market economy. This was made abundantly clear as Charles Fred, President & CEO, The Breakaway Group; Mike Hollander, Managing Partner, WBS Connect and Michael Krza, CFO, Viawest discussed the leadership challenges associated with this uncertainty. They discussed how the management teams became paralyzed with fear as their individual savings evaporated with the market crash and the challenges of navigating the company. Mike Hollander mentioned that leadership in the current climate is “not about who you were yesterday but who you are today.” By this he meant that managers have to be in a constant state of reinventing themselves and adapting to change constantly. There are some inherent conflicts between strategy and corporate culture. The first is about forward thinking, while the other is about historic norms. How are all of these tensions reconciled? The panel rallied around tenacity. I would suggest that analytical tools that enable rapid correlation of market dynamics with company performance and resources is what’s necessary to support managers and leaders during these difficult times.
Howard Behar, Past President of Starbucks North America/Starbucks International had much to say in his keynote address on the commitment to values and the focus on people. What struck me most in his presentation was the reference to ‘Where.’ He said that what ‘where’ means is what the people on the ground in local stores see, hear, and smell. This is the art of location intelligence and the sensor web of data on the market that informs new product and service development, improves customer experience, and gives management greater confidence into the visibility of future earnings and corporate growth. This is where Where2.0 comes in, and why the C-suite needs to be aware of the location dimension of business.
The highlights of Where 2.0 were around location-based social networks as not only a consumer application but a data collection platform on individual behavior which results in consumer KPIs; augmented reality which is the overlay of a virtual world on top of the real world; and maps as a place browser and place of business that redefines how people search, understand, and communicate information. This community of geospatial/mapping application developers and companies are on a mission to make location the primary means by which we understand the planet, interact with information, understand human and market behavior, and correlate everything to anything at any time.
Location or geo-filtering is becoming the norm with thousands of location-based smartphone applications and social networking sites incorporating location. Twitter has gone geo, Facebook is still working on geo enabling its site, Gowalla and Foursquare are cornering the market on check-ins and a game-based approach to consumer behavior data collection, and then you have the local search market that is tying location to reviews and advertising. This is becoming an important data collection and customer feedback platform that is playing into marketing campaigns and rapidly turning into a new business intelligence feed for those companies embracing this Enterprise2.0/Web2.0 approach. Mobility and the shift from the PC to the mobile phone as the dominant connected device were also widely discussed and will change the way people and businesses collect and share data.
Augmented reality is the overlaying of a virtual world on top of the real world. In other words, for example, if you were to point a camera phone with GPS at the Louvre in Paris, your screen could be overlaid with relevant historical information about the museum, its masterpieces and its exhibits. Imagine a miniature helicopter—a drone equipped with multiple sensors to capture interior images. These images can then be integrated into video games or simulation applications.
Total Immersion presented the most impressive and practical applications. For video gaming fans, they can turn 2D images from a play card for example, into a 3D animated holographic image that can engage in a gaming activity. From a retail perspective, it enables consumers to virtually try on new glasses… imagine that your webcam captures your photo, and you want to see how a certain pair of glasses would suit you, just click on the glasses you are interested in, and magically the glasses appear on your face. This will revolutionize the gaming, advertising and e-tailing business. Most importantly, augmented reality as a platform is a model for next-generation visual correlation of relevant internal and external business data.
Michael T. Jones, CTO of Google discussed how maps are redefining the way we interact with information and how he sees the map as the browser and the place of business. With Google Earth, people can experience and explore the planet—underwater, the atmosphere, space, crises. While Google is focused on the map as an education tool and advertising platform, Andre Parris of Bloomberg demonstrated the most robust business mapping application we’ve seen to date. Executives, listen closely. The Bloomberg terminal now has a location platform to it. It was first developed by and for the Energy and Commodities group. It’s called BMAP and it processes and analyzes 100,000 energy assets. Before BMAP, it would take analysts months and years to compile a location-based analysis and understanding of energy and commodity assets—for example, plotting the location of the refineries, pipelines, transportation routes, vessels, assets, etc, and then determining the impact of weather on the production and distribution of energy, and the subsequent market impact. Post-BMAP, an analyst can run multiple market impact scenarios in seconds. At the ACG conference, one of the key challenges identified was visibility into future earnings. Bloomberg has developed a platform that enables improved predictive analysis and forecasting. A new level of real-time market information has been created, which means that the public in some cases has access to better information and the ability to correlate market factors faster than the companies themselves.
If mapping is the best way to understand the planet and human behavior, couldn’t it also be the best way to understand your business—its opportunities and challenges and the secret to managing corporate growth?