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  • SMART DRONES that deliver life-saving medical supplies

    On-demand delivery of medical services is crucial during emergency situations and disaster relief scenarios. Zipline is one such company that supports this service with the help of a combination of industry-leading technology. Their mission is to “provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies”. Since their founding year 2014, they have built the world's fastest and most reliable delivery drone. The company has focused on the delivery of blood and lifesaving medical supplies to areas that are hard to reach in Rwanda, Africa but soon will expand to other countries. Zipline uses fully autonomous drones to deliver 1.8 kilograms (3.9 pounds) of cargo up to 80 kilometers radius away from the launching location, dropping the cargo via parachute and then returning to base. The mini plane has GPS circuitry connected to the battery which keeps the GPS always ON and connected reducing the launch preparation time which is critical during emergencies. The plane has separated components for easy tracking of issues. Using a mobile app, the preflight services connected to the launching system of the plane can be checked and validated. The launch technicians through their mobile camera can scan the QR code on each part sending a signal to the plane to actuate the control service. The phone then uses a computer vision algorithm to make a pass or fail judgment for each control service before the launch. A simple pulley & motor combination is used for the launch of the plane that helps to quickly & safely get the plane up to the required speed. The plane is communicating its location in 3D space with radio receivers. This could eventually grow into the supply chain allowing drones to hop between base stations and get their batteries swapped out in minutes and be on their way. This technology is helpful in case of disaster relief scenarios where roads are flooded due to water. Zipline can help in the centralization of emergency supplies and help reduce human exposure to contagious diseases and stop the spread of disease. For more information please check their website: References:

  • Brewing Data With Coffee - Starbucks

    Starbucks investments in customer-centric innovations have helped them identify their sweet spot and achieve a competitive advantage. Starbucks willingness to adapt and invest in its digital technology has placed them at the forefront of applying data and analytics to create and capture enormous value for both customers and the company. Starbucks uses on DeepBrew (AI based tools) to keep operations efficient, free up time for partners, engage customers, and improve sales. There are three main entities where the value is created and captured: 1. Operations: Massive data is analyzed to carefully identify the new coffee store locations. With the help of AI tools company can design store planning models considering various parameters like population, income levels, traffic, competitor presence, etc. It also helps them to predict economic factors like revenue, profits, etc. The AI tools further help to optimize store labor allocations and help manage inventory within the stores. 2. Customers: Starbucks Digital Flywheel program creates tremendous value for customers and helps the firm in capturing the value. There were almost 19 million loyalty program users in early 2020. Understanding customers buying patterns and knowing in advance individual customer order preferences allows Starbucks to provide a “radically personalized” and warm experience to customers. With the help of AI, Starbucks customers are presented thoughtful, personalized choices based on their preferences, weather, and times of the day on the Starbucks app or the drive-thru menu. This helps customers to make quick choices and eases the customer buying experience. 3. Partners: Maintaining good customer throughput is critical for a store’s success. If a machine breaks down, it can significantly disrupt a store’s operations. The conventional approach of data and machine parameters collection, repairs required, etc. is very time-consuming. Starbucks AI tools help in predictive maintenance and forecasting failures of expresso machines. The new range of expresso machines is equipped with sensors. Every shot of espresso is logged and analyzed centrally to assess potential areas for tuning and maintenance. This Internet of Things (IoT) technology is combined with Deep Brew to give a prediction of which machines need maintenance when. Starbucks Deep Brew is a fine example of leveraging AI and Analytics to improve efficiency and provide personalized services to create great customer experiences. #artificalintelligence #digitalstrategy Sources:

  • How John Deere is leveraging AI, IoT and data analytics?

    John Deere is a global leader in agricultural machinery manufacturing and for many of us, this name recalls bright green and yellow tractors. Over the past two decades, Deere has made significant investments in building its internal capabilities around data science and analytics. The company’s acquisition of Blue River Technology in 2017 is now empowering its entrance into AI and computer vision to see and measure data on individual crops with the goal of autonomous decision-making. This has helped them transform from a pure equipment manufacturer into a data-driven technological manufacturing company. Their vision is to improve customer productivity and help to deliver more value to farmers, helping them to collect data and harness it for improved farm management. The John Deere Operations Center delivers value to farmers with tools and features that enable them to easily access farm information to better manage their daily operations. Through dashboards farmers can see what is happening real time, analyze performance, and collaborate with partners to gain insights, increase profits, and direct their plans with more precision in the field. All types of data e.g. fuel level, location, machine hours, is collected primarily from sensors embedded both in the machines and in the field (soil), and also pulled from external sources e.g., weather prediction data, commodity pricing. Data is then automatically uploaded onto the cloud via the cellular network, Wi-fi, or Bluetooth. Farmers can access and manage the data through the portal. Through an app, farmers can monitor activity in real-time, analyze performance, determine how best to utilize equipment, and collaborate with partners for insights that help the farmer decide what to plant, where and when with the optimized condition. The value created for farmers is improved productivity, increased efficiency, improved operations, decreased downtime, and reduced costs to ultimately maximize profitability. (Dashboards on tractors displaying information. Source: Blue River Technology has developed a solution using advanced machine learning algorithms to enable robots to make decisions, based on visual data about whether or not a plant is a pest, and then deliver an accurate, measured blast of chemical pesticides to tackle the unwanted pests. The aggregate machine data is also used for predictive maintenance by Deere to find patterns that indicate a machine or sensor problems and notify failures in advance. Remote diagnostics save time and money from technician visits and reduced downtime. Deere also used the data internally to improve product quality, enhancements, as well as to advise the next generation of new product and service development. Check out the video how the future of farming looks like: References: 1. 2. 3.

  • 2004 financial crisis: The transition of LEGO from survival to growth

    The Lego Group began manufacturing the interlocking toy bricks in 1949. It is a renowned Danish brand in construction toys known for its interlocking plastic bricks that can be assembled and connected in many ways to construct objects. At the beginning of the 2000s, LEGO was facing the most serious financial crisis to date. By 2004, things had gone awfully wrong at the LEGO group. Their products were competing for retail space on shelves already overstocked with unsold merchandise They had too much capacity, too much stock. It was sitting in the wrong countries. The retailers were very unhappy. The company had over diversified its product lines into areas such as apparel & retail stores, theme parks. The cash sources were being invested in low revenue-generating themed parks which were becoming an expensive distraction to management. The company was struggling with two fundamental challenges that grew out of this period - over stretching and over expansion. To survive through this sinking phase, the company needed to halt a sales decline, reduce debt, and focus on cash flow. In 2004, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp was appointed as the CEO of the LEGO group and was handed over the responsibility to lead through this survival phase. In one of the interviews, Jørgen said “You can really only build an adjacency to your core business every 3-5 years because it’s such a major undertaking in terms of culture and capabilities. Rather than doing one adjacency every 3-5 years, we did three to five adjacencies every year. So I think that’s what nearly killed us”. So how did LEGO come out of this successfully? In search of the basics, Jørgen asked- Why does Lego Group exist? What do we do better than anyone else? What makes us unique? Ultimately, the answer was: “to offer our core products, whose unique design helps children learn systematic, creative problem solving—a crucial twenty-first-century skill. We also decided that we wanted to compete not by being the biggest but by being the best.” Lego sold its theme parks business to Merlin Entertainments for about £250 million in July 2005 while in crisis. Selling off Legoland solved the company’s short-term debt crisis and enabled it to focus on the longer-term problem of falling sales. Lego avoided bankruptcy by doubling down on its core products: the bricks. They spent a couple of years stabilizing the business and restore profitability. To rebuild profitability, the company had to refashion every aspect of its supply chain. They approached it holistically, analyzing every aspect of the company’s product development, sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution. The focus of the years from 2004 to 2007 was not on the growth but rather manifold increased productivity. The main focus was on managing the business for cash rather than sales growth. In 2013, the company achieved $4.5 billion of revenues and profits of $1.5 billion. LEGO became the largest toy company in the world. Return on sales had increased to 33% and sales per employee had doubled. Lego savior, Jørgen in one of the interviews has shared the golden rule in business during a challenging period: “Most companies don’t die from starvation but they die from indigestion. People lose focus on their core business as they pursue new adjacencies. The core business is the most exciting and hence continue to reinvent it every year”. References: #LEGOSuccessStory,

  • Scenario planning – tool for uncertain future

    During uncertain economic situations when long term business planning fails, companies need to be resilient and adapt to survive in the competitive market. The recent lockdown imposed by many countries across the world due to COVID - 2019 is one such example of an uncertain situation. Many companies struggle to survive during such uncertain times and seek tools or advice that can help them take better critical decisions. Scenario planning is a planning tool used to make flexible business plans to deal with major, uncertain shifts in the organization’s environment. It helps to determine what is required for the organization to succeed if potential changes occur and update the strategy accordingly. What is Scenario planning? Scenario planning can be used to identify uncertainties by scanning the current situation (internal & external factors) and predict the plausible potential futures to help understand how different situations will affect the business. It allows a company to create a resilient strategy & review the flexibility of the existing strategy against the various possible future alternative. It helps to identify & address business challenges beforehand that otherwise could be neglected. Steps in the scenario planning process are explained below: Identify the big shifts in society, technology, economics & politics, etc. in the future and how it will affect the company. Brainstorm on the uncertainties caused due to these changes and identify the top 2 critical uncertainties. Then develop a two-by-two matrix with the top two uncertainties as to the axis. Depending on which direction each of the uncertainties will take, draw four possible scenarios for the future as shown below: Analyze each of the 4 scenarios by focusing on the major company’s issues at stake. The whole motive is to challenge the assumptions in a hypothetical environment before managers decide on a certain course of action by raising and testing various “what-if” scenarios and their implications. Discuss the various implications and impacts of each scenario and shape the ongoing company’s strategy taking into account every scenario. Iterate the process as often required. References: #ScenarioPlanning, #Uncertainty, #BusinessStrategy

  • What should have been Segway's business strategy?

    In December 2001, an American inventor Dean Kamen launched Segway PT- Personal Transporter, world’s first self-balancing battery operated electric human transporter. Segway was expected to revolutionize transportation. Its speed was 6–10 mi on a fully charged nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery with a recharge time of 4–6 hours & was priced at $4950. Despite this hefty price tag, there were bold predictions that Segway would be the fastest-growing company into a billion dollars ever. Segway’s journey from US to China: Immediately after buying Segway in April 2015, Ninebot began to sell a series of Segway branded scooters and other products priced at $1,000 or less taking advantage of economies of scale. They managed to sell far faster than the Segway PT ever did. Fifteen years after Kamen introduced the world to an electric vehicle, the world was finally ready for them with the ever-growing number of bike lanes in urban centers. Now let’s try to deep dive why Segway’s vision to change the transportation failed. The company had a brilliant idea, patented invention & a great introductory publicity but still, the product failed? Few questions that I asked in the quest of finding the answer to the above question. 1. Did the company have a complete product market awareness? The product was targeted for which geographic regions & customer segments and what was the purpose? 2. Why were the models recalled in 2003 & 2006? Due to the fear of competition was enough product testing conducted for different scenarios before the launch of any new versions? A survey in Florida highlighted that Segway developed and tested the PT under greatest secrecy. The company worried a competitor might beat it to the market. 3. Did the target market have the required infrastructure to support the product? Why was Segway banned from sidewalks and roads in a few countries? Was it considered to be unsafe? 4. If the product was a mass product to revolutionize transportation was the product rightly priced? Wasn’t it expensive for most of the population in 2001? 5. How did Segway improve the product after many accidental reports? How did they collect & incorporate customer feedback for enhancing the product and customer experience? 6. Were there enough training & customer support centers in the market since the unit required some training after the purchase? What measures for taken for customers' safety? Now let’s see what are the business level strategies which could have helped Segway to change the above story into success: External Analysis External Analysis is part of the SWOT analysis that is critical in strategy formulation. Thorough market research & external analysis of industry could have made Segway aware of the threats in this industry like advantages & disadvantages over substitutes like bicycles, safety regulations in different countries, infrastructure availability to support Segway like allotted parking areas, separate pathways for riders, charging points, etc. PESTAL Analysis is one of the useful frameworks for external analysis of the industry. Market Segmentation & Targeting Knowing customer needs & understanding exactly what the customer wants is very critical for a product to be successful. When defining your product market, there are four important aspects: What – Product type To Meet – Customer Needs Who – Customer Segments Where – Geographic region Segway missed the focus on the last two aspects ( Who & Where ). In November 2002, it was available for purchase on the internet for the public. Considering the sales and recall of machines in 2003, Segway should have focused on the Single Target Market approach whereby the firm selects one particular market segment and makes every effort to lead that market. Initially they could have targeted only B2B market like hotels, departmental stores, amusement parks, huge corporate campuses where employees could use Segway for internal transport. After wider user acceptance of the product they could have considered expanding & making it available for more customer segments. Intense Product Testing It is critical for improving product acceptance. After few accidental reports in 2002 & 2003, Segway should have invested more in the testing of different scenarios with a different set of target audiences, analyzing important & safety features, ease of use, appeal, function, as well as test whether each customer would likely buy what it is offering. Pricing strategy A company should select a pricing strategy that’s appropriate for its target market such that it maximizes profits while considering consumer and market demand. Product should be affordable for the target market & customers should be convinced by the product value in exchange of the price that they pay for the product. Segway was made available to the general public over the internet and it was perceived by the majority as expensive. Manufacturing cost & nickel-metal hydride battery made the price of Segway too high and company couldn’t afford to lower the price initially. To overcome this challenge, company should have targeted the right market segment i.e. B2B market initially. Segway could have managed to sell more units than they managed to sell initially. Pricing Strategy should match the target group. Invest in innovation Records history shows that most successful innovations involve some degree of iteration, experimentation, openness and collaboration. An invention needs to gain market acceptance which is possible by incorporating user feedback in product enhancements. Learning from mistakes & soliciting customer feedback is critical in product innovation and enhancements. Kamen, the inventor of Segway had received feedback from multiple business leaders for the product design. Segway was considered to be too heavy and having traditional looks. The feedback were neglected and not considered by Kamen. Customer Training & Support centers: Segway required some training after the purchase, & thus it needed to have reliable customer interaction points where customers could test drive, learn and take lessons. Instead it was available for purchase on the internet for the public which made the buying process tedious for the buyer to go regional training center for lessons. If a retailer similar to Home Depot could have been the customer contact points, the product could have been successfully sold to a wide market place. Resources: #SegwayStory #Segway #Segwayfailure #StartupStory #Businesslessons #Strategy #Startup

  • Business Lessons From Instagram

    In 2009 Kevin Systrom, a 27 year old Stanford Graduate coded an app called “burbn” as a side hobby. His only intention was to build a community where people having an interest in whiskeys can share their check-in locations & photos. Its only competitor at that time was foursquare which provided a personalized recommendation of places to go near a user's current location. In May 2010, Mike Krieger partnered with Kevin to join Instagram. After careful analysis of “burbn” it was found that photo sharing was the most popular feature in the app. So they decided to focus only on one thing which was photo-sharing capabilities and scrapped almost everything else. After months of experimentation and prototyping—in October 2010—Systrom and Krieger renamed the app to Instagram – instant camera + telegram. The brand name itself allowed customers to understand the purpose of the app. Over the period, Instagram had multiple releases of the app adding simple features and removing unpopular ones. Like in 2013, Instagram made it easier to share posts by adding links to embed photos and videos. In 2019, Instagram got rid of the ‘Like’ feature in the app. They also kept the app very simple. Often too many features bog down and kill products. Key lessons for entrepreneurs from the Instagram story: Lesson 1: The company had a false start but it evolved into something else. Sometimes you need to fail to find the right solution. In 2009, little did Kevin knew that his side hobby would turn into a multi-billion dollar business. If you are building something and you are not sure which direction to go, you have to focus on core competency & strengths and try not to get attached to ideas that you love. Lesson 2: Keep the brand name in sync with your core capability and purpose for better customer understanding of the product. Lesson 3: You should not be afraid to have simple solutions to simple problems. Make something that customers want and keep the customer-facing design and content simple. Lesson 4: Optimize for customers, don’t optimize for valuation. Analyze your business and find out what is working and what isn’t based on customer feedback. Try to always cut what doesn’t work and isn’t popular. Enhance customer experience by focusing on and improving on what customer wants rather than providing more features. What makes products popular and in-demand is when they’re useful and they’re usable. Resources: #Instagram #Startuplessons #Businesslessons #Strategy #Startup

  • Why do companies have difficulty with strategy?

    “Our strategy is to internationalize”. “My strategy is to consolidate my industry”. “Our strategy for this year is to ramp up R&D budget”. “My strategy is to outsource more of my production”. Have you ever come across these lines before? Do you think any of these is really a strategy? Definitely not. These are steps towards strategy and not the strategy itself. Why do companies have difficulty with strategy: In today’s competitive & fast-changing business environment, we find many companies fail to grow due to a lack of good strategy. Most organizations believe they have a strategy when in fact they have none. Many people at different levels of organizational hierarchy freely use the word strategy. What is not clear is whether they are all referring to the same thing. There are a lot of management fads that confuse us about strategy. A major source of confusion among managers is to understand competition and market. Managers think competition as being the best in the market. “If I become the best, I will succeed”, is the strong belief. However, this is a dangerous way to think about competition. Let me ask you this question: Is BMW the best car? Some people might agree while some won't. It serves a certain set of needs of a certain set of customers whereas other car brands serve a different set of needs & target certain customer segments. There is no best company. There is no one way to compete. Competition is all about creating unique value for the set of customers you choose to serve. It all depends on what needs are you trying to serve. What is strategy? A Strategy isn’t a goal. A Strategy isn’t operational effectiveness. It is neither a business process re-engineering nor bench-marking. A strategy is a set of choices to achieve the organization’s goals & objectives by offering a unique value proposition to customers & achieve sustained competitive advantage. It deals with long-term performance rather than routine operations. It defines how you are going to compete differently. It is utilizing, allocating & managing resources to meet the goals and objectives. A strategy is “emergent”. It is a process and a pattern of actions rather than one, which is fully formulated in the beginning. The first fundamental choice in strategy is whom am I trying to serve. You can’t serve everyone. You can’t meet the needs of all. You need to be clear which needs of which customers are you going to serve. Simple questions to ask during strategic planning are: - What is your unique offering? - Whom are you trying to serve? – On what principles should it be based on? – Is the strategy sustainable? Making the right choices with the help of internal & external analysis, allocating the resources to achieve the defined objectives & offering a unique proposition to set of customers is critical to sustaining in today’s fast-changing business environment. References: Michael Porter (1998) - Competitive Strategy #Competition #Strategy

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