January 15, 2014

New home: Sneak Preview

In just over a month's time I'll be moving into my new home in Winterthur, Switzerland. I'm getting more excited about it every day. Here's a little sneak preview.

The flat sits in the Altstadt of Winterthur. In other words, in the heart of the city, in a property that's very roughly about 200 years old. It occupies the entire top of the building, inside the roof, which is high enough to house a small second floor.

Main floor:

Gallery floor:

If you're wondering what the strange square thing at the top is on the main floor... that's the private lift coming straight into the living-room.

More will follow once I've got the keys!

December 28, 2013

A walk to Schloss Kyburg

So my lovely wife is spending the entire year in China. I quit being self employed and started a new job. And I moved to Switzerland.

Having sat plenty of time on my sorry lonely ass for the past nearly 3 months now, including Christmas while it was poring with rain outside, I decided it was time for a nice long walk. Get this body moving. Breathe some of that fabled fresh Swiss mountain air. See the world. This part of the world where I'm living now, that is.

When I was searching for a new home, I visited a potential flat occupied by this lovely girl called Anna, who told me that there's a castle in the area. Me and castles go well together, so that was my obvious direction. Having inspected the maps for a bit, it turns out that it's actually pretty much quite a direct straight line right from home all the way there. Approximately 7 kilometers one way, with a few ups and downs along the way of course.

So off I went. Coat. Shawl. Gloves. Camera. Backpack with lenses. Mountain boots. Leonard Cohen playing from the EarPods plugged into my iPhone. First I had to get out of Winterthur, which is not so difficult. It's quite a small town actually, despite it being the #6 city of Switzerland. And it's impossible to walk through Winterthur without encountering a fountain with crystal clear water. I wonder if it's coming straight from springs, or if it's simply tap water. Either way: is it drinkable? I haven't tried yet :-)

And then I was already at the edge of town. Interestingly enough there's no snow in Winterthur, but as soon as you hit the edge of town it's everywhere. Next stage: find my way up the Eschenberg. It's not too bad really. The real mountains are not here yet. But you can see them in the distance from some vantage points. They start about 50 to 60 kilometers from here. One look back, and it's good bye Winterthur for the next 4 hours.

Soon I was completely surrounded by the beauty of the land. The winter wonderland.

And you can call it natural beauty, because the hills are created by Mother Earth, and the trees grow on their own, and the water just flows. But that doesn't mean man doesn't have a big hand in it. For nearly 200 years already these forests are maintained by the foresters of Winterthur, and they're primarily active in winter time. Not in the weekends, but you can clearly see the fruits of their weekly hustle and bustle. I mean, there's so much wood being chopped here, it's hard to be missed. Although you wouldn't notice it in the actual landscape. No big empty fields where once a forest was. They're really good at plucking out what needs plucking out and leaving it all look beautiful indeed.

I eventually stumbled upon their base. Yep... they sure do work with a lot of wood here...

And onwards. I now realised how absolutely quiet it is out here. Nothing but the sound of nature. What a shame to not listen to that but to my music, however amazing Leonard Cohen might be. So EarPods back in my pocket, and on with the walk, and taking it all in properly.

There are plenty of benches to be found scattered through the beautiful nature here. I like how Switzerland takes care of its infrastructure and public conveniences.

And then I walked past this quite well built log cabin. I'm not sure, but it looks like in summer days it can be used for drinks and such. I might find out one day.

After a little while, now 3 kilometers from home, a clearing appeared. In the distance I could see the majestic snow capped mountains. I must be pretty much on the top of Eschenberg by now.

And indeed. In the middle of the clearing is a bar. I might also check this one out some day!

From the clearing I suddenly spotted something sticking out above the forests in the distance. Swapping my wide angle lens for my 300mm zoom I confirmed that this must be what is to be the goal of this journey: Schloss Kyburg!

Walking swiftly down the hill now, I could get some better shots.

But then I had to dive back into the forests again, and a magical world of fairytales opened up in front of me again. I had arrived at a point where streams from at least 4 direction were coming together, heading off further down. The sound of water is so beautiful.

But enough lingering. On I went, up the steps. But... ohhh... ok. One more photo of one of the streams then...

The track took me further along some steps up and down again. I walked through part of the the ground water protection area, and stumbled upon a small river. The river Töss. And its waters are so amazingly clear. And in my world clear water outside means ice cold water. It was flowing pretty fast, so there was no way I was going to try and reach it to touch it. First of all I didn't fancy to tumble in. And secondly I love water but not when it's icy cold. It's beautiful to see though. Given that it's so clear it just has to be coming straight from the mountains.
But! Now to cross it. Luckily I came right upon a bridge. And not just an ordinary one. But a wooden covered bridge. Like the ones of Madison County.

From there, the path turned into steps. Many many steps, up the hill. I couldn't see where they would end.

But that was okay, because the nature is beautiful. So beautiful that they put little plaques all along the path explaining about the huge variety of trees and bushes that grow out here.

In the end the steps turned out to be going along for about 700 meters, taking me up 180 meters. And eventually I realised where they were leading me. Straight to the castle! The benches were all too cold to sit on though.

After nearly 2.5 hours of walking I had reached my goal. And a beautiful one it is.

The views are quite tremendous. This was once one of the most powerful seats in this part of the world.

Now it's a museum. Quite a good one apparently, since it was awarded the European Museum of the Year award in 2002. I'll visit it next time I come here. Now I just wanted to keep on walking.

The castle sits in the lovely little village of Kyburg, which has 1 whole bus stop.

But I didn't take the bus, and went back to the steps, took them all the way down again, and wandered the entire trek back to home, which I reached 2 hours later. After 4.5 hours of walking, I was fulfilled, and in need of a drink.

December 26, 2013

Just testing a new blogging engine

If this looks like total crap, that's because the change to a new blogging engine went all crap. If it looks like any other post, it might actually have gone pretty ok.

A man's got to do SOMETHING on the second day of Christmas, right? Especially when his amazing wife is on the other side of the planet, and the nerd genes are starting to get excited.

And here's for the obligatory blockquote. No blog can exist without it!

October 14, 2013

Alleine zu Zweit

Everything that happens in life is important. The big things just as much as the small ones. There's no telling how gravely the innocent flutter of a butterfly will affect, or effect, you 30 years from now.

This is the song called 'Alleine zu Zweit', or 'Loneliness for Two', by the Gothic duo called Lacrimosa. I was introduced to them, and this song to begin with, by mister Gert-Willem van Mourik, or GW as we called him, back in 2004. A fantastic guy. I was struck by this song. It hit home, unconsciously setting in motion personal(ity) changes that define my being and my life. The song is a lament on how a relationship between a man and a woman has died out and doesn't really exist anymore. The man begs to dance again. To dance again in the name of love. It then turns into a duet, where the woman and man both continue the lament, expressing their wish for the dance of life once more, ending in the climactic exclamation that they both want that.

What remains unclear is if they actually told each other this, or if these were their separate never understood miseries that they failed to utter to each other? Did it remain a lonely together, or did it become a together alone? The latter the further evolving of the song in my mind, into my favourite explanation of what is so important in life: the ability to be together alone. In other words, to be happy together but not have to compulsively interact all the time. To be able to just do your own things in the same room as the other, while feeling your bond regardless of all.

It grew in me. It festered. It blossomed. It established. Never would I give up on love, no matter how little and how seemingly futile, or whatever anybody would tell me. Never. This is the one time I would utter the word one should never use: Never. I shall love until it kills me.

For those not too versed in German, I've translated it to English here:

At the end of truth
At the end of light
at the end of love
at the end - There are you
(The heart empties - A part now goes from me)
Nothing has survived
We have silently parted long ago already
And with each passing day "we"
grew the lie of our love
And the longer we travelled the way together
the further we have distanced ourselves from each other

Lonely - Together
We have forgotten how to look for us again
The habit obscured
The inertia suffocated
Arrogance makes you drunk
And the proximity drives to flight

Dance - my life - dance
Dance with me
Dance with me once again
In the pure ecstasy of naked love

And when I see him/her so
When I experience him/her
When I look at us
Something has survived
And if I could find strength and hope
If I even still had faith in us
If I could reach him/her
Have him/her once more for me
If the base - our foundation
If we would discover us once again
If he/she would only want to
I want!

Interestingly enough the duo (Lacrimosa) is made up of a Finnish lady and a German guy, but they're based in Switzerland, where I just happen to have moved to. And one of the other 2 songs on that little EP that GW let me listen to, was remixed by Samael, one of the biggest musical influences in my life so far. Samael is also actually a Swiss band, and I got introduced to it by my long-time childhood neighbour Martijn van Rooij while I was still in my early years of gymnasium (secondary school), for which I'm still grateful.

I know people told me back then, during the blackest metal days of both me and Samael as a band, that "it's just a phase" and stuff like that. But that's such a hollow statement.

What we do in life, echoes in eternity. Even the smallest event, defines the course of all life.

October 12, 2013

Time to say goodbye

As Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli sang so beautifully many times before, it's time to say goodbye:

Goodbye to my lovely home, Allingtons, in Reigate.

I've just returned from my first two weeks of working in Switzerland. The last 1.5 month have been a bit surreal. At the end of August I was contemplating getting a new job somewhere and then buying myself a bigger flat here, in the same building. Establishing me more firmly here. Now, 1.5 month later, my flat is up for sale, and I'm living in Winterthur, Switzerland. Also a fantastically gorgeous place, that whole country.

For many many years I've dreamt "One day. One day I'll have a home in Switzerland (Zürich area). And now without looking for it, it suddenly happened. If things keep going like this, maybe one day I'll even have my own Scottish castle as my dream used to continue... Who knows! Since, as the amazing Austrian Lonely Drifter Karen says, this world is crazy:

But anyway. Time to say goodbye. And to make it just a bit harder and tear jerkingly nostalgic there were two fantastic guitarist/singers poring their hearts out in the Reigate tunnel today, amidst the beautiful autumn sceneries. This place has been exceedingly good to me over the past 8 years. It's been my one and only real heartfelt home. But I'm determined to build me a new one, somewhere in fantastically gorgeous Switzerland. Winterthur is a beautiful place to be.

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This photo is hanging in one of the offices of my new employer, AXA Winterthur, and it's taken from the tower of the central office, which is right around the corner of my new temporary home. It's a tiny little studio, but it's home for now, and you can actually see the building in this photo of the Altstadt. (Old City. Town Centre.) Enter the street cutting through the middle, from the bottom, with all the colourful houses. After 4 houses (white-ish, red-ish, pink-ish, blue-ish) turn left into a small street. It's the third building on the right in that street. The white-ish one visible just beyond the tall roofd of the pink-ish and red-ish houses from the first main street.

It's amazing to for once live right in the middle of a city and right next to my work. It saves me 3 hours per day, and I have no idea what to do with my time! Which is because I know nobody and nothing there yet and I have no clue how to make new friends with people whose language I barely speak, as well as me having nothing of my own there yet. My STUFF! Which is why I'm in England at the moment of writing this. To get more of my stuff and make it feel more like my home there. It's important! I'm getting quite good at spreading my stuff all around the world now, though. Not just The Netherlands and England, where I have my own homes, but even Chicago where my Little Tall Brother[tm] Ilja got me a new phone, and China where my Most Amazing Wife[tm] Veronika built a little home with more stuff, and now Switzerland... Stuff... Stuff everywhere!!! As George Carlin explains...

Fact of the matter is, though, that it's all being spread out a bit too much now. Switzerland is a good place to earn a nice living, but life is extremely tight at the moment, and will remain so, if I don't sell off my lovely Reigate home. Sadly. I do really hope to be returning here in the future. If only to visit lovely places like Cullenders to treat myself to the most lovely delicatessen.

If anybody is willing to help me out in being able to untighten my belt and buy my flat... It's a fantastic place in the most desirable part of Reigate. Beautiful green quiet Surrey Hills. Only executive large million-pound-plus homes with massive gardens around. 15 minutes from Gatwick airport. 30 to 45 from Heathrow, depending on your driving style. 10 minutes walk from the station for 45 minutes on the train to London Victoria and London Bridge. The train starts here, so you'll always have a seat! M25 junction 8 is a few hundred yards around the corner, yet it's ultimately quiet here since the lovely Reigate Hill is blocking all sound. And if that's not enough... the lovely high quality local half pub half restaurant The Yew Tree is your neighbour on the corner, just a hop, skip and jump away. (Close enough for a literal crawl back after a good night out.) Executive Living in a luxurious 1 bedroom apartment, who can say no to that!?? Check it out here!

Allingtons.jpg

Goodbye to all that :')


August 24, 2013

Happy Anniversary To Me

It's exactly 1 year since I got married. Time for a little celebration!

However, I'm home alone. My lovely Veronika is far away in China. Has been for 2 months, and will be for 10 more to come. But luckily the darling sweetheart has sent me a lovely little anniversary parcel with lots of beautiful teas in them. So I walked down to my favourite local delicatessen shop, Cullenders, (as well as the regular supermarket,) and treated myself to a perfect little macchiato. Then got me some real nice foodies to accompany it, and prepared myself a little celebratory lunch-of-Love. (Tracklements Dijon mustard. Wealden goat's cheese. Linda McCartney mozarella veggy burger. Heinz tomato ketchup. Nice sturdy brown bun. Omnomnoommmmmmmmm...)

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Listening to Leonard Cohen's amazing songs. May the world crumble and fall apart. I don't care. I'm happy now.

<3

July 22, 2013

Iona, where being alone makes one less lonely.

Ever want to experience what it's like to be really lonely?
No, not alone, but lonely.
Try marrying and then waving goodbye to each other for the upcoming entire year just a couple months before celebrating your first anniversary.

2012-08-19 Iona Cloisters.jpg

What keeps me going is the knowledge that she'll be back again. But life is so empty when having to experiencing everything on your own, when the whole purpose of marrying is to do all of that together from then on.

Wish I was back on Iona, where being alone makes one less lonely.

May 9, 2013

What Mobile Apps Can Teach Our Children About Money

As with every new generation, our children will have the chance to be the one that makes a difference: the generation that turns the world around for the better of all. With all the financial crisis news in the past five years, what better time to teach children about the value of money? How money can be hard earned, but easily spent - and spent only once. How money can be saved, generate interest, etcetera. Making our kids understand money, its value and its properties, creates a hopeful image in my mind. 'Credit Crunch' a vague memory of the past. Cities without slums. Streets without beggars. A radiantly beautiful Miss World stepping up on the stage, tears in her eyes, announcing that World Peace is finally here.
Maybe not yet... but the exciting world of Mobile sure inspires wishful thinking!

Education is lacking

In 2004, the Financial Services Authority launched its Financial Capability strategy including a strong focus on financial education in the classroom, and charities like the Personal Finance Education Group have for a longer time still been championing money education to children in the classroom already. And that's not without reason. The PFEG was issuing worrying statements back in early 2007 about how our children grow up in a society where "debt is a way of life." The authors noted how children obviously copy the ways of their parents but failed to learn important facts like that credit will need to be repaid again.

Only a few months later this living on debt became harshly visible when the credit crunch suddenly struck and - though that storm has mostly settled - the debt problems have not disappeared. Only last September, The National Children's Bureau published research stating that 12% of all British 7-16 year olds have "owed someone else money that they could not afford to repay."

Progress is pending

I think we can call it a massive victory for all campaigning charities, and our society in general, that, for the first time in UK history, financial education is set to become compulsory in the classroom. Draft documentation published this February by the Department for Education shows how financial education is not only to be part of mathematics classes, but also part of 'Citizenship' education in order to "prepare pupils to take their place in society as responsible citizens by providing them with the skills and knowledge to manage their money well and make sound financial decisions."

This is a great step forward, and one that adds a lot to the financial education programmes sponsored by banks out there, like MoneySense developed by the RBS Group, and all kinds of computer programs that help kids understand in a playful manner what it means to save and budget. And now in our digital mobile world there is a range of apps available in the app stores that can help kids and make learning about money ever more fun and interesting. Just search for 'kids' and 'money' or something related and you'll see some fancy apps popping up. The only problem with all this education and apps though is that it's not the real world, yet. You can go crazy with the money in it, but in the end it makes no difference.

The Best of both worlds

So, what would it be like if we can combine the two? Let the banks teach our children about responsible money management, through the fun of mobile apps. When the app used is not just some random "money simulator" but something that's actually from our own bank, it becomes something serious. It gives that sense of 'this is the real deal.' But search the app stores and it is very difficult to find something like this. I can find one example just across the border in my native Netherlands where Rabobank has last month published a "kids money wise" iPad app. Children can create their own profile in the app, including a photo and self-picked pin code, and keep easy track of the (pocket?) money they earned, what they save it for, and what they spent it on.

It's a nice app that children can use to learn in a fun way, a helpful tool for parents to speak with their children about all kinds of money, and a brilliant space to be in for a bank: right there where the children make their first steps into the world of real money. The bank's world.

This is a hugely interesting world for children. Some of the strongest memories I have from my earliest years are how I went to my local bank with my fancy looking see-through piggybank once every fortnight to make a deposit into the big automatic coin-counting machine.  I watched as all of the coins get into their separate bag, magically telling me how much I had saved.  This was followed by a stamp in my booklet where it would show how much money I possessed now and how many stamps more until my next free gift. Oh, how happy I was when I finally made enough stamps for that first awesome Casio watch!

Now, imagine this in a much more advanced way with a mobile tablet interface. Allowing the child's engagement and self-education at any given time. This can be a very sharp sword that cuts both ways: responsible money education at the stage where it is most needed, and a positive imprint of your bank where it is most impactful. It is only a small step to actually make the app a very simplified kind of online/mobile banking app where it safely links in with a (Parent supervised? Read only?) bank account making the education even more fun and real, and the bank a new long term responsible customer.

There's plenty of opportunity to extend this to not just our littlest ones, but have higher-grade apps for the teens as well. Back in secondary school I was very fond of the 'investment game' one of our teachers had come up with. The basic gist of it was that everybody in the class had become an investor in virtual companies, linked to some real companies from the stock exchange, using virtual money, and each week we'd keep track of each other's progress and who was outperforming who.

Mobile devices give financial services institutions the possibility to develop and send out educational games like this to a very wide audience, including teachers who'd love to have an engaging tool like this. Add in features that allow interaction with competing classmates, other classes out there online, the virtual regulator (teacher) or actual support from the banks itself and you're not just giving the much needed and desired support to our society, but are letting your financial institution's name go positively viral amongst the generation of the future.

This blog entry appeared first on the Bluefin Solutions website on the 9th of May 2013.

Mobile at the pharmacy - The new health pill?

I just found myself pondering once again if I should go and make an appointment with my local GP or not. As I would imagine everybody else, sometimes I have a small problem like a chesty cough that just doesn't seem to want to go away. It lingers on and once in a while it gets irritating enough to make you think 'maybe I should ask my GP...' but it's just too annoying to go there. It takes up so much time that is needed for other things. You have to go to work, the children need to get to school, etcetera. And it doesn't end with the time needed to visit the GP, which is primarily the time spent on going there and waiting in the waiting room, but also then likely having to get to the pharmacy and getting some prescribed medication.

It made me wonder if this process can be streamlined or at least be made more convenient.  In fact, I think there are plenty of opportunities here. To begin with, there are plenty of questions that can be answered by a GP without you needing to visit them. A mobile app on your phone that would streamline the question and answers between the clients and GPs would be great, especially if it included the ability to directly schedule an appointment if it turns out that that's required.

But what about after you've seen the GP? He or she will likely fill out some prescription form that you then take with you and later hand to a pharmacist in order to get some medication. The medication might not be in stock, so you'll have to come back some other time and the pharmacist needs to order stock from their pharmaceutics supplier. This already sounds cumbersome with an unnecessary paper trail, slow progress and a lot of time wasting.

Ideally I'd want to see no paper usage, me only showing up at the pharmacy when the medication is available, and the pharmacy having real-time insight in what actual stock is required for near-future sales, giving the ability to act on it pro-actively.

Wouldn't it be great if I can get my prescription directly on my phone in Passbook format? I can ping it to my desired pharmacy, or it goes straight there from my GP's system. The pharmacy makes sure stock is available and pings me when it's available, which might be instantly. When I arrive at my chosen pharmacy the passbook prescription pops up automatically, and the pharmacist scans my phone's screen at the counter. The computer system sees this is an authorised prescription and we perform the transaction. When it's a recurring prescription I don't have to keep track of paperwork but my passbook prescription will be updated automatically with how many lots of medication I still have authorisation for.

I would love to see a shift in retail pharmaceutics in this direction. Mobile health solutions will make the lives of many people a lot easier, and dramatically push our emotional state to the positive side when having to deal with the generally non-fun facts of requiring physical recovery.

This blog entry appeared first on the Bluefin Solutions website on the 9th of May 2013.

Free Mobile Working

As I write this, I am sitting in a local Costa coffee shop. I'm an avid mobile worker. I can work anywhere where the atmosphere is positive for me, and internet connectivity is available. Mobile working is a key enabler, and symptom, of an agile organization capable of responding quickly to ever changing customer demands.
Not only that. It gives you a sense of freedom. It creates the feeling of being in charge of your life, of being able to find the environments that work best for you as a person to deliver what needs delivering. And that in itself is a key driver for feeling good about yourself which, as the most successful organisations realise, is 50% of running a successful business. (The other 50% being truly caring about your customer. More on that another time.)

What surprises me is that so many excellent work spots out there - in this case one of my local coffee shops - don't realise the benefits of mobile enablement. Or, they might actually realise it, but don't properly create a fully working end-to-end solution. As I mentioned in one of my previous postings, companies must be thinking Integrated Solution First, not Mobile First.
Where I sit now is a classic example of trying to put mobile first, without actually thinking the whole solution through. This place has a lot of potential. It's spacious. There are many seats, and they're almost never all occupied. The music is not too loud. There's enough privacy. So the chain owners realised that offering free WIFI would be a good idea. Which it is. That's the reason why I picked this specific place to do some work. However, my dreams were soon to be shattered.

The problem here is that just putting in a WIFI router with an internet uplink is not enough. Why do customers come in to your coffee shop when WIFI is part of their reasoning? Because they need connectivity. It is very possible that this is because they cannot get connectivity elsewhere, which is particularly true in this area, the North Downs in the English countryside. Mobile connectivity is a big problem here due to the hills. It's stunningly beautiful, but hills and mobile reception don't go hand-in-hand. The same issue happens in city centres where massive office blocks take away all reception, especially on the ground or even underground levels where most bars are located.

Therefore, even getting normal GSM connectivity is already an issue out on the streets here. Let alone, when entering any property. Walking outside my phone showed a network, but didn't manage to actually use it. As soon as I entered here my phone switched to 'no signal', and stepping outside won't guarantee that I'll get my '1 bar' back. So, great is my surprise when I connect to the advertised 'free wifi' that in order to activate it, you need to enter your mobile phone number. The server will then send out a text message to your mobile with a validation code, which needs entering in the login screen. But how am I going to get a text message if I have no connectivity? Getting connectivity was the reason why I came in here and wanted to use the WIFI. I bought a nice big coffee, installed myself, and am now not able to do anything. The only exception in my case right now is that it is a great opportunity to write this blog post, but that's a onetime only event. I have learned from this, and know that in order to find a good place to work, I'll have to go someplace else. As I'm sure many others before me have already discovered. Is this the reason why the seats are never all taken?

One can see many companies rolling out free WIFI for their customers and guests, not just bars & cafes, but it must be thought through from start to finish. Every branch and office is different.

Another example I just encountered, while on my search for a good place to work - which eventually lead me here - was with that other big coffee chain: Starbucks. They have a great iPhone app. I was walking down the streets and realised that the branch I remembered was there is now gone. I needed to find a place to get a data connection, so I opened up the app to have a look where it moved to. Maybe they opened another one somewhere around a corner? To my dismay, though, when I tried the store locator option in the app it gave me an error message that I need to be connected to the internet in order to use that feature. Again a Catch-22 situation which forced me to find some place else. A competitor. Maybe the main reason why people use the store locator is not because of the main product on sale, in this case coffee, but because of the services offered: WIFI and a good place to sit. The secondary reason for the company, which is the primary for the customer, will result in the primary company reason to be fulfilled: the customer will sit down satisfied and have a coffee. Or many!

The mobile work force out there is growing bigger and bigger very rapidly due to the great benefits it offers companies that apply this paradigm. The Costas and Starbuckses of this world, large and small, and also organisations in many other industries out there, can greatly benefit by embracing this key target audience. But they will have to think their solutions through from start to finish and create great end to end solutions that will feel seamless to the user. If they do that right, you'll see that it all starts paying for itself and customers are even willing to pay a little extra premium for the services provided.

This blog entry appeared first on the Bluefin Solutions website on the 9th of May 2013.

May 3, 2013

Five Small Steps to Get Big in Mobile: A Business Leader's Guide

One of the problems I hear often from business leaders is around the issue of developing a mobile strategy and solutions. They are fully aware they must embrace mobility. They know it's too hot NOT to handle. They even are fully aware how business critical it is to organisations wanting to survive the next five years. What they struggle with however, is how to get started, what they should focus on, and how do they go about it.

Stop wanting and start doing - don't wait until it's too late

As with everything in life, the main thing here is to stop wanting, and start doing. You want to become an accountant? Go take a course and start studying! It sounds easy, except when there is no course and as such no guidance: you've got no idea what you're supposed to be doing.

Here are must-follow steps which will help you adapt and exploit the full potential of mobile in your organisation and beyond. 

1 - Focus on the people

The first step is difficult in its simplicity. You'll have to stop thinking about your products and services for a bit, and start thinking about the people. People come first, and your offerings second.  Serial-entrepreneur Seth Godin states it perfectly in this year's March issue of British Arways' Business Life:

When the media landscape changes, the first thing existing companies say is, "How can I do what I'm doing now but get paid for it in the new format?" Which is the wrong question. People look at the iPad and say, "Wow, this magazine looks cool on the iPad, I'm in the magazine business, how do I get my magazine on the iPad?" That's the wrong question. The question is, "What do people want to use the iPad for? And how do I make something that makes them delighted?" Whether the thing that I make uses my journalists and my assets is irrelevant. Because no one cares about those things. People care about themselves. And if you give them something that's right for them, they will embrace it.

2 - Determining 'who' to focus on

So now you know what to focus on, the next question is who to focus on. This is personal to your organisation and the direction you want it to take. Every organisation wishing to embrace mobile has this wish for a reason. Perhaps they want to do develop something for customers.  Or perhaps they want to empower their employees, or management. Now the choice you make here is not "who will I make an app for?" but rather "whose life can I add value to?" You might very well want to do something for your customers but end up creating a solution that provides tools for your call centre or branch employees that helps them become more efficient. This is not a trivial thing, and it determines what you will have to do next: mingle.

3 - Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience

You cannot simply start creating something new without really knowing who it's for and understanding the audience thoroughly. What challenges or problems do these people encounter in their daily activities? If they are the customers coming in your bank's branches, your pharmacies, your supermarkets, how do they feel? How do they perceive the tasks at hand? How do they use their mobile devices when they're (going) there? It is vitally important to get a full understanding of your audience and therefor you should leave the office and go and mingle with them. Empathise with them and live the same experiences. Your audience doesn't live in your office (unless if you want to create something for your own use of course) so get the heck out of that place and meet the people. Be the people. This is very comparable to what actors do when they have to prepare for a new role. They spend time living like the main character to almost be like them when they're getting in front of the camera or up on stage. (A little health warning here is to not take it too far of course. Actor Ashton Kutcher ended up in hospital when trying to live on the unhealthy diets of young Steve Jobs when preparing for the new biographical movie release jOBS!)

4 - Record your findings and start brainstorming

During this process so far you'll have made lots of observations and had plenty of thoughts. Ideally you've written them down, taken pictures and made rough notes or sketches. When you feel you have a thorough understanding it's time to huddle up with the team and start brainstorming, analysing, comparing each other's findings, and questioning everything. "Why are these people doing this?", "why don't they change that behaviour?", "why did that person say so?", "why do you think that observation is correct?" "Why? Why? Why?"
At some point you will get that 'Aha!' feeling. You're starting to actually understand your audience. And better still, you're seeing opportunities for change. This is the moment you'll get out a piece of paper and start sketching ideas on what could improve the current state. And I mean lots of sketches. Don't be afraid to push the boundaries and have positively disruptive ideas. They help you find the boundaries of what is doable and what is not. They give you new ideas which lead to new sketches and eventually you end up with a collection of visual material that give you the feeling "It would be awesome if we could make this happen." This material can be user interfaces, architectural diagrams, advertisement posters, or anything related to the complete solution you've started to think about.

5 - Set-up teams to focus on feasibility studies

Now you'll have arrived at the point where things are starting to become more tangible and comfortable for the more traditional business leaders. You can now define teams that will focus on feasibility studies. You'll have a set of ideas for mobile solutions that all seem cool, but will now need to be assessed to filter out those that will be able to become big, but not bigger than you can handle. I'd recommend forming three teams that each focus on a specific part of the assessment of all solution candidates.

  1. One team that will figure out if the business is ready. Maybe processes will change that have a big impact or will generate resistance. Can budget be arranged for this? Are resources available? 
  2. One team that will focus on the technical capabilities. Infrastructure needs to be in place. Can current teams handle the changes this brings to the IT landscape?
  3. And one team that will look into if what is envisaged the user will see and/or work with can actually be achieved in a visually pleasing manner. In other words: make prototypes.

When the effort of these teams comes together you'll quickly see which ideas will be able to make it into a successful product, and which won't. For any given solution idea, the outcome of each of the three teams will need to be positive. If it's not, you'll have to choose between scrapping the idea or shelving it for a later date when the world, technology, or your business is ready for it.

Try something new

I'm very conscious that for the traditional business leader the above early-stage process can seem uncomfortable since its unknown territory and you don't know where you'll end up with your business. At points it seems quite chaotic. But it's a rigorous proven methodology used by those companies that are most successful. Most notably Apple where Jony Ive is driving this way of thinking and doing in the boardroom, and we can see Microsoft picking up on this as outlined in this brilliant presentation about their total rebranding at Design Day 2013 in Oslo.

Trust the design process

Design is an important word there, because really what I've outlined above is none other than the design process. It just looks a lot less scary when you don't put the label 'design' on it. If this worries you, I strongly recommend reading this article by Jon Kolko on trusting the design process. Jon is one of the biggest names in the industry on human centric interaction design and social entrepreneurship.

How to proceed from here

When you have reached this point in your mobile discovery, it's more than worth looking into a blog recently written by my colleague Steffen Schwark on how to build desirable mobile enterprise apps. I'd say his tips work just as well for audiences outside of your own organisation!

This blog entry appeared first on the Bluefin Solutions website on the 3rd of May 2013.

March 26, 2013

Retail is going mobile. So what does that mean for your head of customer loyalty?

This blog has been co-authored by Barry Moles, Retail Industry Expert, and Steffen Boelaars, Mobile Architect, Bluefin Solutions.

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With 48,000 empty retail shops across the UK and with 50% of retail leases up for renewal between now and 2015, it is inevitable that number of empty retail units will rise.

Retailers like Carpetright, Mothercare and PC World say they are scaling back their presence on the high street.  All we hear is bad news from retailers - 'store closures', 'redundancies', 'it is cheaper on-line' and 'the death of the high street'. Mary Portas, the Government's High Street "tsar" is trying to play King Canute and turn back the tide of change.  And whilst I applaud her efforts and passion, there is no escaping that retail is going mobile (and online), so we will inevitably need fewer shops. 

Using mobile applications via smartphone's and tablets is the future of retail and savvy retailers are investing in this technology today to gain competitive advantage.  Growing market share in retail is getting easier as the shrinking number of competitors is allowing those retailers that embrace advances in technology to effectively obtain and use business intelligence to gain a decisive competitive advantage.  Apple's new iPad mini is a great example of game changing technology adoption within the retail space. The device can be packaged with a scanner and held comfortably in one hand with merchandise in the other.

Where one sheep leaps the ditch, the others will follow

A major challenge for retailers is how to create differentiation that leads to better profitability.  Retailers are trying to jump an ever-moving hurdle that is continuously charging ahead. If one grocer starts offering delivery of your self-picked basket, others will copy. Result: nobody gains any market share. 

Mobile technology offers a versatility here that, if wielded well, can be exploited as a competitive advantage. This is the year of mobile with those retailers investing in developing a mobile first strategy primed to win as customers increasingly use Smartphone's and tablets to shop online.

The power of customer data

But how to go about it and where to begin? Look at the problems we all have to deal with these days. They mainly revolve around not having enough insight. This comes down to either not having enough data, not having the right data, or not having proper access to data. This is true from both an internal and an external viewpoint.

Data provides information which gives you the insight to make decisions. As a retail manager, before you arrive at work, you already want to know which departments need special attention that day, or whether you need to head to a different store. As a customer, it's hugely frustrating if you reserve something for pick-up later the same day only to be informed it was out of stock to begin with.

These are just a couple of simple examples where it would be so great if you could see the current status instantly in real-time.  If you can just wake up, glance at your phone, and you know: "Ok, I need to head to the Bristol branch today." Or, if you're working on your bathroom and need extra tiles, simply tap in a reserve and pickup order on your phone. Your phone informs you that the local branch is out but that it's ready for you in the town eight miles down the road - and that they'll be holding the tiles for the next couple of hours.

Data is the key. But many retailers are struggling with insight into what's in stock, what's out of stock, how fast current stock sells, where new stock sits in the supply chain and matching this to future rather than historic buying patterns in real time. So they can't use this crucial information for managing their business effectively, nor can they use it to supply great services to their customers. And that's what it's all about: customer service.  The products all remain more or less the same, but the convenience around being able to purchase through any channel is where all customers are demanding improvements.

Can you live without your Smartphone?

We are all busy people now, fully aware of the power the internet and our smart devices hold. We all expect to see this power utilised everywhere to give us efficiency and entertainment. That entertainment level is not to be forgotten here.  Part of the job to get people to actually do the tasks they should be doing or that you want them to be doing, is to make it entertaining for them.  When your floor manager spots that Product X is not on the shelves anymore, the level of entertainment of being able to do some quick Smartphone taps or a scan to make sure this is not going unnoticed are much higher than having to collect a handheld terminal or go to and sit at a terminal. In the first case it's actually enjoyable to do this ad-hoc task, where as the latter is so annoying it's easy to simply 'forget' about it.

Our phones are our modern-day entertainment. Can you live without your mobile? Actually, I cannot. Well... not easily.  I carry it nearly everywhere - and this is the opportunity I'm talking about when it comes to mobile.  Look around you in the streets, in the trains, in the parks.  Mobile phones are now ubiquitous, with 81.6 million mobile subscriptions in the UK. That is 92% of the adult population! Almost half of UK internet users are going online via mobile phone data connections, with some 45% of people surveyed said they made use of the net while out and about, compared with 31% in 2010. It's not just those numbers. It's clear around us.  Everywhere you can see that people entertain themselves with their smartphones more intensely all the time. Usage is growing fast.  Effectively tapping into that, embracing it, makes your brand perceived as a form of entertainment. Get that right, and your customers are hooked, your company an even greater place to work, and you've opened a gold mine of opportunities. 

The future can be seen in South Korea where Tesco Homeplus became the #1 retailer by introducing mobile shopping. Customers can scan products displayed on posters displayed at an underground station while on their way home or to work and then have the order delivered later that same evening.  In short Tesco took their store to where the customers were, engaged them through using their mobile, and generated a considerable sales growth of 131%. Wal-Mart in the US is trialling self scanning with your mobile phone in 200 stores right now, based around 3 simple steps: (1) Download (2) Scan and (3) Pay &Go. Apple has already even gone a further step ahead and have removed all tills form their stores. Just walk in, grab an item, scan & pay on your own phone, walk out without ever seeing an employee!

So where to go from here?

This will be vastly different for each retailer, but let's start by asking yourself some basic questions, depending on your priorities and not forgetting dependencies. For instance:

Retail-is-going-mobile.jpg

 
What the right mobile solution is will vary greatly per company and their priorities.  But this will give you a sense of direction about where to start working on optimising your organisation. It all comes down to ensuring

  • You have the data you need
  • Your employees have the right tools to effectively update the data
  • You have easy access to the key parts of the data required by you.

Once this is in place, you can leverage this to bring compelling integrated mobile services to your customers.

The real power of awesome is of course when you can let the customers themselves update the data. This generally works best if they can undertake entertaining playful actions, like mobile shopping or games. They scan a bag of crisps and pay on their mobile? *Poof* stock goes down by 1. That's the easy one of course. But what if you integrate it with location-based technology? Mobile innovation giants like Apple are all investing in indoor mapping technology similar to what GPS does for you on the road.

Customers can use these innovations to find their way through your stores quickly, but also it can enable retailers to do real-time trend analysis where in your store people pick and scan products most effectively and where optimisations can be made. I'm sure plenty of innovative ideas can be thought up around this. This latest example might be still a little far-fetched with the current generation of mobile devices, but watch this space. The first retailers to leverage near-future developments like this will steal the limelight.

This blog entry appeared first on the Bluefin Solutions website on the 26th of March 2013.

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