Where ever you are in your business chances are you want to make it a grow a bit or a least make it a bit easier on yourself in the trenches. This is where Porters fives competitive forces can come in really handy. Just by asking yourself these 5 simple questions you can get a better idea of your competitive landscape no matter what kind of business you are running.
New Entrants: How likely are new people likely to enter your business? Are their barriers that stop them entering
Substitutes: Is their a substitute that can replace your product or service? Sometimes this is a completely new product or technology?
Customers: What is the bargaining power of your customers? Are they price sensative
Suppliers: Are you dependant on any suppliers, How much power do they have?
Your Rivals: How competitive is the industry you are in? How many other options are there
Usually at least one of these forces is dominant. Just by identifying this force and doing something about it is a key to improving your competitiveness and overall success! For example with hind sight we can see that the digital camera was a substitute that eventually did in Kodak, who ironically were the inventor of the digital camera.
Whats your most powerful force and what can you do about it? Once you know it, it’s important to let your customers and potential customer know about it!
I still do quite a bit of work in the university sector. (I guess you get that when you come from a research background). Universities are full of amazing and very capable people with great ideas. These ideas are often well tested in the laboratory too!
The real challenge is getting them out to the ‘Real World’,. To help get ideas out along this path Universities often get in consultants. Its here that it can come a bit unstuck, as the consultant is looking to cherry pick a ready to go product and take it out to industry to get some backing. I think there are a couple of challenges with this approach. Firstly it assumes that a great idea in the lab is equivalent to a product and secondly it really limits the scope of the opportunity that exists within the capabilities in the university.
Instead its important to work together on the whole process. Rather than start with a a laboratory outcome, start with the capabilities that exist therein. And at the other end of the process rather than looking at a particular market, start at the industry level and look at their needs and pain points. Use then the Capabilities and Industry needs to drive the process of developing a product and a market opportunity together. Where they intersect is the product-market fit and it is at this spot that the real opportunity exists.
Knocking on an academics door and asking for a “value proposition” is unlikely to achieve a result, start with the relationship and the whole picture, build a great value proposition together!
There is a great strategy book about a fat smoke (Strategy and the Fat Smoker” by D. Maister). You can read the whole book if you like but the Itty Bitty take on it is this: The fat smoker knows he has to give up the cigars, the booze and start exercising to lose some weight…but nothing actually happens until the heart attack. Then and only then does he take action and do something about it. Then once the crisis is over its probably not long till he’s back on the booze and the fags.
Its a lot like this for businesses too don’t you think?
Real change is hard, (thats what the book is about) but the rewards that can come with it can be unqualified success! What do you need to change before the crisis hits?
It takes a long time for a prospect to actually make the decision to buy a product or service. There are several processes they go through, and at each step there is a funnelling, or more correctly a loss, of prospects. This is called the consumer decision making process. If you understand your customer you can help them through each of these stages by embedding information and values that will aid a successful conversion.
Depending on who you ask there are a different number of stages, but most agree on these three main ones: Awareness, Evaluation and finally Decision. One of the goals of marketing is to make sure the input (Awareness) attracts as many as possible. Also at each step as you progress through Evaluation (does this product or service suit my needs?) and Decision (I’m going to pickup the phone right now) you want to retain as many as possible.
Pretty simple in theory. Understanding these elements and incorporating them into your website and and brand are really critical!
Mark Zuckerberg has recently fronted a senate comitee in the US to explain the use of personalised data by a third party organisation. While probably this is more of a direct concern to personal users than businesses, it certainly highlights the important of data security and who your sharing it with. Users of dropbox, google drive and iCloud should be aware their data is subject to an EULA licence agreements. There are often differences between the free and paid plans too.
Dial forward to a week or two and state sponsored cyber terrosism of Australian sites is reported. If your business depends on the cloud (and probably it does) then this is realy big news.
Some simple steps are to :
1. Backups everywhere. Ensure your have local off line backups and make sure its a bit more sophisticated than to thumb drives when you remember
2. The weakest link.You data security is only as strong as your weakest password. Get all your staff to review their passwords.
3. Contain the breach. Ensure that you are not using the same password across multiple sites.
Queen St. Brisbane circa 1928, Image courtesy State Library of Queensland
Time was that if your business wasn’t on the ‘High St.’ you didn’t get a lot of customers. I suppose this was because back in the day, passing trade in a busy shopping location was the way to attract customers with an impressive shopfront. These days with everyone looking online for where to shop, finding a business doesn’t entail a stroll down the high street.
Google, google maps, Apple Maps, Siri and Alexa are now the High St of choice so its vital that today you have a presence on the shop front. This means you need both a website (a shop front) and then you need to get it on the High St. In the trade we call this search engine optimisation. Businesses on the first page of google, and ideally listed on the map inset get the lions share of the trade. Ask me about SEO (Search engine optimisation) as well as ad campaigns on google.
Two Synology NAS systems, size and cost effective backup solution
When was your last backup? If you answer is anything longer than an hour ago you probably don’t have an effective backup strategy! If you can’t remember when you ast did a backup hope to it and do something about it right now.
For many a USB thumb drive or external hard drive is the strategy of choice. Unfortunately the former is all to easily lost and the latter you need to remember to do it. Fortunately there are lots of great products around that can do backups on a schedule for you, with many now offering incremental backups. Incremental backups take a snapshot of your hard drive and record changes made every hour or so. Incremental backups are a great tool if you are doing some document intensive work and need to recover an earlier version – it can easily save you a days work.
For many home and small business Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a very affordable solution that can backup multiple computers. A good NAS system has multiple drives mirroring each other , so that in the event of drive failure you don’t use any data.
Cloud systems are recently becoming popular, because all you need to is sign up to a service (google drive, dropbox etc..), you do need a reliable data connection though, there are storage limits and data security is also an important consideration (get out your tin foil hat). How you manage data amongst a team is also important. The big plus for cloud storage is usually for a modest annual fee everything is taken care of, with no hardware to invest in. Cloud storage gets around the systemic risk of damage to the premises of your place of business.
A good NAS coupled with an external hard drive that you take home once a week is a preferred solution of many business and relatively easy to setup too.
If your in business then there is a good chance you have competitors. Having a basic understanding of how you are competing with them can improve the bottom line immensely.
The bright minds at Harvard University c/- Michael Porter have turned their attention to this back in the 1980’s. Essentially in comes to to how do you want to compete (i.e. what business you are in? ) and where your competitive advantage lies (what do you do that is special?)
If your business is broad in nature vs something very specific it entails a different approach think . What approach you take depends on if you want to focus on being a cost leader or being different?
It turns out that thinking about these basic competitive strategies is pretty handy in the way you present yourself on a website too.
One of the great joys of being a researcher is taking on doctoral candidates. These are our brightest minds of the future who go on a 3yr (or more) journey into the unknown. Armed with years of technical training it’s their opportunity to apply it creatively to further advance knowledge and society. One of the great things is seeing that success carry forward, where ever their careers take them ..
A while back David Rowlands and I were contacted by former PhD student Adrian Diery to borrow some props for a film he was helping out on. It turns out that Adrien is the composer of the soundtrack for the film too. Its called ‘SPACE/TIME’. Well done Adrian!
Here is a link to the preview trailer and a ‘making of’ short doco …
At the most recent wearable technology conference in Melbourne we had speakers from industry and industry all weighing in on the latest developments of wearables. I had as conference chair the at times challenging task of facilitating an emerging debate on wether ‘product’ should be rushed to market, or first scientifically validated and then released to market. Not surprisingly in a rising growth market being first to market is critical for gaining market share so hanging back and validating might not be desirable…unless of course it doesn’t work, which has brought undone a few companies playing in this space in recent times.
After the conference I spent some time with colleague James Lee musing this over and considering the adoption of wearables in the sports science community we published this invited article for the Journal of Fitness research (get the full issue here , its open access). Have a read…what do you think?
THE INCREASING ADOPTION OF CONSUMER GRADE WEARABLES: COMPARING THE APPLES AND ORANGES OF SPORT SCIENCE
Volume 5, Issue 1, April 2015 | JOURNAL OF FITNESS RESEARCH
Daniel James1 and James B. Lee2
The increasing adoption of off the shelf wearable technologies by sports scientists is a real sign of the times. It was not so long ago that the thought of using lab based body mounted sensors was new and even treated with suspicion. Today, specialist products for sports science exist and the use of the underlying sensors has been well validated1 and since that time, have been applied to all manner of sporting applications2,3. Body mounted instruments offer comparable (though sometimes different) method of the quanti cation of human activity. It has opened the way for consideration of the use of body mounted sensors for a variety of purposes and offered an opportunity to study human movement in relatively unconstrained environments4 where considerations such as ecological validity could be removed. Not only outside the lab, but for the rst time the performance environment could itself be assessed. In competitive sport the issue of feedback and unfair advantage had to be considered and today GPS sensors are accepted in many forms of team sports during competitive practice.
This change has been driven in no small part to worldwide trends in electronic industries that make this possible. The well-established trend of
miniaturisation of electronic components, rst proposed by Moore in the 1960’s shows the doubling of complexity every 18 months5. The net effect of this is that devices become proportionally smaller and cheaper. This has led to market place convergence of a range of technologies (of which smart phones are a mash up of many components including computer platform, sensors, video camera and web aware telemetry platform). In turn the market responds with a greater demand for these products as they become increasingly useful and inexpensive in the growing consumer sports technology market6.
It is here that sports science’s traditional approaches to measurement and instrument is itself subject to digital disruption and the Fitbit is a good example of that7. Here we have a consumer product, itself a trickle down by product of the work that has been undertaken in sports science and allied health, that not only have their origins as tools of science creating a market, but also opening up opportunities not possible by these more mature and dedicated products.
Whilst products like the Fitbit and what are used professionally on the surface are measuring the same thing and do so using the same basic sensors, i.e. accelerometers, each product is driven by its different market segment and achieves its goals through different design decisions. Understanding these, leads to making better decisions when choosing what is the best tool for a particular application.
Lab based technologies (ambulatory or xed) have a signi cantly higher cost, both the capital required to purchase and the more hidden cost, that of having a user suitably experienced to use it. Thus they are suited to high accuracy studies of not too many participants. Commercial wearables on the other hand are at least an order of magnitude cheaper to purchase and can be used widely. They represent an opportunity to do larger scale studies of more participants and don’t require a sophisticated operator. These products, driven by the desire for social engagement (consumers like this interaction and are more likely to continue to use and purchase in the future) over data aggregation opportunities across whole communities. Therefore commercially popular devices can possibly be an option for researchers to consider using.
Research quality monitoring platforms, typically use high rate sensors, today in the order of 1000 Hz. In addition they may also have other sensors, modularity and to accommodate for long periods of operation large capacity batteries. All data is collected and stored in raw form with the minimum of ltering, to allow for the most robust of analysis later on8. Fitbits and other commercial wearables need to make substantial compromises to achieve their small form factor and lower cost, so available computational power, sensor sets and batteries all must be substantially smaller. These compromises necessitate much lower sample rates, typically around 10Hz, or interrupt driven footfall events. Raw data is stored in aggregate form, usually in epochs that provide enough accuracy for a user and reduce the required amount to be stored, for example a 1 minute epoch of 10 Hz data is a 600 times reduction in data, but the trade off is resolution and accuracy.
As these consumer products continue to create a market appetite for such technologies, so too the market eventually becomes more sophisticated and the appetite for greater accuracy grows. Coupled with
technology trends we will increasingly see products like the Fitbit grow ever closer to their research quality cousins. Consider this, rather than doing studies of n=20 for statistical signi cant that n=2M is well within the realms of possibility…how exciting.
For now though they each have a role and a place. Understanding both of these in conjunction with either accepting an accuracy compromise, or that accuracy is paramount, for a sports scientist. Therefore, the sports scientist has to not only understand his or her objective, but needs to have considerable knowledge in the technology to be able to make an informed choice. In comparing apples with oranges it is perhaps helpful to see them as a fruit salad for the consumption of the discerning fitness professional.