Lighter Shades of Green…

Had an interesting conversation with a reporter earlier this week on the topic of “green tech.”  Green tech has always been one of those loosely defined segments of consumer tech.  Many want to box it concretely – but increasingly green is a story of relativism instead of absoluteness. Many (dare I say most) consumer electronics products today have lighter shades of green.  Their singular or primary purpose might not be to lower one’s carbon footprint, but by providing a unique service or offering they might indirectly also provide environmentally beneficial results.…

Organizing Information

The most successful companies – especially in the digital world – will be built around organizing dispersed information (something I said I would expound upon).  Name a successful company in the digital space, and you will see data organization at its core.  AOL for example – while best known for its ISP business in the 1980s…

Decision Curbs: How the Miracle on the Hudson will Impact You

Over the weekend I read William Langewiesche’s recent book Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudsonwhich chronicles the role electronic control systems play in avionic safety generally and US AIR flight 1549’s miraculous landing on the Hudson river specifically. A fly-by-wire approach is something we will begin to see with more frequency.

In avionic application, the fly-by-wire approach establishes certain parameters that guide the actions of pilots – for example making it impossible to stall the airplane, or obtain more than 2.5Gs which could impact the integrity of the aircraft. Creating bounded ranges and cementing curbs allows for quick, decisive decision-making in times of distress.  Bernand Ziegler – the former head of Airbus, and champion of the fly-by-wire approach explains, “we give you guarantees so you can react as fast as you want without having to worry about breaking the plane.”…

The Future of Data (and the Death of Surveys)

The demand for “metrics” is increasing. At the same time, data availability is accelerating. More, the availability of survey software like SurveyMonkey has driven down both the cost and accessibility to survey tools. In economic parlance, we’ve seen both supply and demand shift out. As the chart shows, the end result is a lower price and a much higher quantity.  

This is in everywhere evident. Political and social issue polling has increased with a 24 hour news cycle, cable news channels, more independent research institutions, and think tanks. Surveys have become commonplace. I receive a survey invite each time I stay in a hotel, attend an event, close an account or any number of a host of activities. These invites enter my inbox with subject lines like “your opinion counts,” “please share your feedback with us,” “your recent stay at Renaissance,” or “would you recommend Hertz?”…

The Future of Postal Service 2020

Last week I had an extended conversation on the future of postal service and wanted to share some of my thoughts on potential scenarios 10 years from today. These are clearly quick sketches. The future – as is often the case – will likely be an amalgamation of these scenarios.  

Scenario 1: Traditional Mail Ceases to Exist, Small Parcel the Only Thing Delivered

Small parcel post is escalating.  I seem to recall a statistic recently from Fred Smith of FedEx, suggesting small parcels represent some 15% of their total shipment volume. This category of mail is driven by online retail sales and consumer-to-consumer transactions – both of which continue to increase.  Consumer-to-consumer transactions are on the rise as sites like eBay continue to gain in popular and are used more frequently for a wider assortment of goods. Online sales represent only about 5% of retail sales today, but this is clearly growing as well. It won’t be surprising to find online sales representing a quarter of all retail sales within five or six years. As these transactions increase, small parcel post naturally follows.

There are a few trends playing out in the technology sector which will also impact the rate at which small parcel post increases. First, as the retail sector has become more challenging, manufacturers are increasingly looking at selling directly to consumers.  This isn’t unique to technology companies, but is playing out across a host of categories. A second element I see evident in technology is the rapid acceleration of product launches, the speed at which companies are attempting to bring these products to market, and the swiftness at which information about new products is disseminated to potential consumers.  Manufacturers are building less inventory over a shorter period time before bringing a given product to market. Seeking to fill a broad supply chain in a shorter window will force manufacturers to increasingly rely on expedited, small parcel post – regardless if they are going directly to consumers or through more traditional retail channels.

Scenario 2: The Death of Direct Mail

Today, direct mail represents roughly half of all mail sent. According to a report from advertising and marketing consulting firm Winterberry …