How to Leverage the Next Enterprise Software Revolution
When Timothy Chou left his role as President of Oracle On Demand he began speculating on what’s next for enterprise software.
“We had delivered ERP, CRM, HR, and purchasing applications as on-premises and rapidly all of this software was also delivered as a cloud service, but fundamentally the function was no different,” said Chou.
Was that it for enterprise software?
Was there nothing left to do? Luckily, because he launched the first class on cloud computing at Stanford University (cs309a.stanford.edu), he was introduced to the CEO of GE Digital. After the first meeting he realized most of the attention in enterprise software had been in three big markets: financial services, retail and media, not aviation, transportation, oil, gas, or healthcare. A few months later the World Economic Forum issued a report, which added even greater clarity: “During the past 15 years, the Internet revolution has redefined business-to-consumer (B2C) industries such as media, retail and financial services. In the next 10 years, the Internet of Things revolution will dramatically alter manufacturing, energy, agriculture, transportation and other industrial sectors of the economy which, together, account for nearly two-thirds of the global GDP.”
“You can’t just be sitting around and hoping everything is okay. At the end of the day, the more curious you are, the more you will talk with people, the more you will put things together and the more you will come to your own conclusions. It’s hard to build a company without being enormously curious.”
– Timothy Chou, Ph.D.
Deep understanding through writing
So, it might seem odd, but Chou decided he needed to understand this market by writing a book. Three years ago, the book, Precision: Principles, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things, was launched on the river Thames. It’s since been published in India. It’s on the third printing in China and in Vietnam the prime minister has called it a road map to the future of the Vietnamese economy. He’s gone on to become the Chairman of the Alchemist Accelerator focused on enterprise IoT as well as founding a company, Lecida, with one of his former Stanford students, which has built collaborative intelligence (CI) applications, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to make machines smart enough to engage with expert human intelligence (HI).
We had a chance to catch up with Timothy a few weeks ago and came away with a couple of lessons both small and large companies might think about.
Lesson 1: Stand up and ask the stupid questions
You can’t know it all. When working with people that live and breathe a particular industry or market, they will use terms you aren’t familiar with. Tim shares a funny story to demonstrate how important it is be willing to ask what seem like stupid questions.
“Four years ago, Helge Jacobsen, VP at United Rentals, the world’s largest construction machine rental company, invited me to be a part of an all-day strategy session. I was the only non-United Rentals person there. In the first hour, I kept hearing people say, 19-foot scissor this and 19-foot scissor that. But as I couldn’t imagine a 19-foot pair of scissors, I finally raised my hand and asked, ‘Why would anyone want to rent a 19-inch scissor?’ They all laughed and told me they were talking about a 19-foot scissor lift.”
Lesson 2: Look for the neglected area
Often times it’s the traditional industries like power, construction, agriculture, textiles, healthcare, water, oil and gas and transportation that are under-served. These often-neglected industries are full of opportunities.
“The origin story of the book was to explore what was next for enterprise software. What I learned was that the opportunity lies at the intersection of these backbone industries for the planet and IoT,” explains Chou. “Ultimately I ended up building 12 case stories based on what enterprises were actually doing. I didn’t want to talk about toasters talking to coffee makers. I saw a huge opportunity for software for connected Things to reshape the planet.” describes Chou. “While we all might be moving to Mars one day, and I know people are working on this, we will have to operate more precisely as our population grows.”
Lesson 3: Analytic applications
While everyone has heard that “data is the new oil”, most of the attention has been on infrastructure technology (e.g. data lakes, Kubernetes, TensorFlow or Databricks). But all of this technology is for programmers. Chou points out that we need to move to enterprise analytic applications. Just as twenty years ago we created enterprise work flow applications (ERP, CRM, HR, purchasing, etc.), we need to do the same thing in analytics. A good example of an analytic application in the consumer world is Google Search. It’s built for the worker, not the programmer. Of course, if you looked underneath the covers there would be a lot of technology.
“We need to get to the same place with analytics for enterprise workers, whether in HR or a process engineer,” suggests Chou. “Getting to domain-specific or industry-specific analytic applications is the next step for analytic software,” says Chou.
Lesson 4: Be curious
According to Chou curiosity is the number one skill successful leaders and entrepreneurs have. He says he would like to figure out how to teach it. Right now, he theorizes that some people are naturally curious and others are not.
“You need to constantly ask questions like, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’, ‘Is there someone that has done this better?’, ‘Could we do this better?’,” says Chou. “You can’t just be sitting around and hoping everything is okay. At the end of the day, the more curious you are, the more you will talk with people, the more you will put things together and the more you will come to your own conclusions. It’s hard to build a company without being enormously curious,” explains Chou.
Lesson 5: Know more than a lot of people
As you share insights with the world, you can get to wondering if you are the right person to share the information. Considering if you are the right person to share a concept is pretty simple according to Chou.
“By the time I got done writing the book, I probably didn’t know more than everyone, but I knew more than a lot of people,” laughs Chou “If what you are sharing is insightful, backed up by facts and interesting, people will listen,” says Chou.
Lesson 6: Create a framework
Being able to explain complex ideas is important when talking about concepts like IoT, AI, ML and cloud. Chou suggests using a framework to make it easier for people to follow. He also stays away from jargon.
“There’s has to be a way to explain any idea in 3-7 components. I like to stay below six if at all possible,” shares Chou. “If you cannot get there, you need to rethink the concept you are sharing. You need to have something to hang the conversation upon,” says Chou.
Lesson 7: Explain it in one picture
We all can relate to the idea of death by PowerPoint. It can be a crutch, and no one really likes it. Telling a story in a picture is very compelling and requires that you clarify and simplify your idea.
“The more you can describe things in a single picture, the better off you are. Keep it simple. I have to get you to see the concept I’m sharing visually, especially when I’m talking about something that isn’t tangible. When I say industrial IoT it doesn’t mean much, but when I can explain it in pictures it’s very meaningful and easy to understand,” says Chou.
Creating a model
Things refer to the machines themselves, e.g. gene sequencer, fork lift or wind turbine. Things are connected in a variety of ways depending on the power, bandwidth and distance requirements. Once connected there are a variety of ways to collect the data. Once there is data you can learn from the data and finally do something differently. There are technology and business model innovations at each layer of the enterprise industrial application.
Coming from someone that has been involved in many startups over the years, this is a valuable insight. Whether you are painting your picture with words or actual pictures, bringing ideas to life takes clarity and inspired storytelling. Undoubtedly, Chou has this down to a science.
Let’s Review the Lessons
- Stand Up and Ask the Stupid Question
- Look for the Neglected Area
- Analytic Applications
- Be Curious
- Know More than a Lot of People
- Create a Framework
- Explain it in One Picture