4 Key Takeaways From The US Big Tech ‘Monopoly’ Hearings

The House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman, Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, concluded today’s daylong hearing by hinting at what might lie ahead as lawmakers ponder federal regulations to hold the four companies — worth nearly a combined $5 trillion — to account.

In summary, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., says Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple operate like monopolies and need to be broken up or regulated.

“These companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up. All need to be properly regulated and held accountable,” said Cicilline, adding that antitrust laws written a century ago need to be updated for the digital age.

“When these laws were written, the monopolists were men named Rockefeller and Carnegie,” he said. “Today the men are named Zuckerberg, Cook, Pichai and Bezos. Once again, their control of the marketplace allows them to do whatever it takes to crush independent business and expand their own power. This must end.”

This power has been obvious for many years (and accelerated in 2020 due to COVID) however the political will has never been there until now, and agreeing the exact nature of the ‘stick’ or remedies to sort out the issues is never an easy task.

According to NPR, 4 key takeaways from today include the following:

  1. Bezos “can’t guarantee” Amazon never used seller data to make its own products
  2. Hurting the competition emerges as Democrats’ primary charge against Big Tech
  3. Republicans sidetrack hearing to air complaints over anti-conservative bias
  4. Missing from view? Zuckerberg’s reaction (when Bezos described social media as a “nuance destruction machine”)

NPR do a great job filling out the details and you can read the full article here

The REIGNITE! 2020 Report

“Many have compared the COVID crisis to armed conflict … Once this war against an invisible enemy is over, our ambitions should be bolder – nothing less than to make a fit planet for our grandchildren to live on”Mark Carney, Former Governor, Bank of England

After a few months of research, analysis and writing during lockdown, I am pleased to be able to finally share insights from one of the largest single studies of strategic responses of Guernsey firms to the COVID-19 pandemic (“crisis”) conducted to date.

You can access the full report here, or below I have pasted in the key sections.

Background

Between April and June, I surveyed 439 senior leaders across Guernsey, UK, EU, US, APAC using a 15 question open-ended online survey (see below):

Strategic-Response-Roadmap-(SRRM)

Why?

Given the nature and scale of the pandemic, this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for organisational behaviouralists to understand what is going on in terms of how firms, leaders, employees and other stakeholders are responding over time.

Specifically, for leaders and firm the findings hopefully help with the following:

New Insight: Leaders and teams can better understand the strategic responses of large and small firms across many different sectors to the crisis, and the complex consequences, behaviour, and implications it has had on firms, people and customers

Priorities: Leaders and teams can learn about the priority focus areas and big opportunities for leaders to better structure and get to work to rebuild and reignite performance

Behaviours: Leaders and teams can learn the new leadership styles, cultural behaviours, mindsets, and ways of working needed to turn crisis into opportunity

Key Findings:

We identified 6 areas of insight for leaders and firms:

  1. Evolution AND Revolution

  • 5-10 years of change in 5 weeks for many sectors
  • Rapid acceleration of many pre-existing structural trends (e.g. cloud, flexible work, e-commerce, up-skilling) and new behaviours likely to endure
  • For many change will likely be evolutionary but for others it will be revolutionary with increasing pace of change e.g. retail.
  • Leaders must continuously identify, evaluate and scenario plan for the right market signals, trends and new consumer behaviours
  • Firms who don’t do this, get it wrong or go too slow risk disruption, market share loss or other business risks

OPPORTUNITY: The top 5 key trends impacting your firm today will provide the investment roadmap for your next 24 months

2. Trust As A Differentiator 

  • There are complex dynamics at play and business and moral imperatives for leaders to assess the impact of the crisis on the human psyche which has affected people in many different ways
  • The “psychological contract” between employer/employee has also shifted for many, and firms must now not assume ‘old’ practices were the right ones.
  • Traditional work assumptions have been challenged, as as well complex issues around safety, mental health, inclusivity, belonging, empathy, EQ, culture, power dynamics, and expectations on leadership styles 

OPPORTUNITY: The firms who get these complex dynamics right will become the new employers/brands of choice 2021+

3. Digital Acceleration 

  • The crisis has shown that rapid change at speed and scale is possible using digital and cloud in the short-term.
  • Rapidly advancing and converging technologies combined with increasing human capabilities, new business models and ways to organise and lead are needed.
  • Digital laggards and firms with limited customer-centricity will get left behind due to external forces and competitive intensity

OPPORTUNITY: Put digital at the centre of your corporate strategy, align leaders on digital acumen so every CXO is a Chief Digital Officer for their function, upskill workers, and prioritise the top3 digitising opportunities beyond back-office operations into more advanced worker productivity tools (e.g. automation, AI, analytics), superior customer experiences, new products/services and ecosystem collaborations/ventures

4. New Skills, Mindsets and Ways of Working

  • As a shift to ‘smarter working’ means different thing to different firms, it is important to define what it is, what it means for the firms and employees, and what are the expected behaviours, required, skills, mindsets, and ways of working.
  • Continued experimentation is required to engage with workforce, test models, gain feedback, learn best practices, and repeat, but the risk is many firms will likely revert to old habits and practices which will jeopardise trust with their talent
  • This process is critical as learnings will likely have firm-wide impacts to entire workforce and processes, practices, culture and strategies e.g. training, performance management, corporate values, recruitment, rewards, policies, agile methods

OPPORTUNITY: Whilst firms who prioritise and commit to this will adjust more quickly to the landscape, those who use intentional cultural design as the agent of change will build a stronger platform than peers for longer-term success

5. Resilience And Adaptability 

  • Whilst many firms are making cuts to ride out the storm or shutting down permanently, our research identified many entrepreneurial firms who adapted quickly with new business models AND in parallel also focused on financial restructuring (e.g. loans, capital raising) and enhancing productivity (e.g. software, up-skilling), better utilisation (e.g. re-deploying staff), or improving customer experiences (e.g. online ordering via Facebook Commerce).

OPPORTUNITY: The firms who get the right but very difficult balance of resilient best practices, innovation for growth with longer-term exploration, and agile/new ways of working will be well-positioned to outperform peers and last for the longer-term

6. Increasing Leadership Complexity 

  • Given the nature of the crisis, for many leaders it represented a call to action to adopt both crisis management AND people-focused behaviours such as empathy, self-awareness, openness, vulnerability, and EQ
  • The best leaders will also now spend more time on longer-term growth and innovation planning and exploration

OPPORTUNITY: Self-awareness is critical for leaders to start addressing skills gaps. Those who do and forge more trusting, purposeful, inclusive, authentic, and empathetic workplaces will retain (and be able to hire) the best talent and rebound faster then competitors

Survey Results

The survey results showed that the crisis has impacted organisations in many different ways over time. Some have had headwinds and tailwinds, but many have been caught in the middle.

The challenge now will be for leaders to be ‘open’ to understanding ‘what is going on’ inside and outside the firm, evaluating the degree to which each is relevant and to what extent, and then planning and executing an appropriate response.

Confidence

Whereas 92% of international respondents were confident of being able to get through the crisis, only 64% of Guernsey respondents felt confident

Speed                                 

96% of respondents indicated that their firms were able to respond to the crisis fast (52%) or extremely fast (44%);

Impact          

22% of firms were unable to operate due to the crisis

Change

Smarter working (34%), new technologies (33%) and new offerings (22%) were pre- planned changes that were accelerated due to the crisis

Work     

47% of respondents saw no changes to their work (i.e. work remotely) with the remaining undergoing disruption including job losses (15%). Adapting to virtual meetings (26%) and new ways of working (27%) were the major changes to jobs/skills

People

Employee safety and well-being (31%) were the major areas of people focus

Leadership                       

Empathetic leadership (25%) with strong communications (23%) were the major leadership behaviours demonstrated

Technology  

Desktop and mobile video-conferencing (VC) tools (46%) and cloud-based document and collaboration software (28%) were the most valuable technologies

Culture

Supportiveness (30%) and team spirit (20%) were the most valuable cultural attributes

Processes

New ways of working (18%) and new technologies (18%) have been the most important processes to improve

Innovation + Growth

 Interestingly, only a small number of firms  innovated with new channels or offerings (7%), with 12% engaging more with clients/partners (12%), and 14% indicating ‘no innovation’

What survey respondents said about the impact of the crisis on:

 IMPACT:

“Categorisation of business critical role and function for immediate, should and medium term. Anything out of above scope, amended, reduced or halted. Focus is on surviving the immediate challenge and preparation for reopening” – Hotel Owner

 SMARTER WORKING:

“The crisis has enabled more working from home flexibility, more focus on work life balance in times like this where stress and anxiety are a big part of many employees’ lives”Director, Training Firm

CHANGES:

“More areas of focus needed include managing mental health and wellness during and after the crisis; planning for the ‘new normal’, whatever that may be, and likely to be different in many ways to how we worked before COVID; and reintegration – thinking carefully about how we transition back to face to face after a sustained period of disruption, easily underestimated and ignored as a potential challenge”Management consultant

LEADERSHIP:

“Empathy, transparency, and authenticity. For example, our MD did a WebEx from his daughter’s bedroom for all to see”Sales Director

CULTURE:

“Agility, flexibility, ability to make quick decisions” – CTO

TECHNOLOGY:

“The crisis has sped up the utilisation of tools such as Microsoft Teams for meetings, e-signature software and other tech which will assist both with internal and external customers moving forward” – Investment Banker

GROWTH + INNOVATION:

We have built industry specific thought leadership and points of view that have historically fallen down the list behind client work; digitising our many face to face interventions, essentially helping us build out a whole new suite of assets that are now deployable in a virtual environment now and beyond COVID; more time for training and personal development – Learning and Development Manager 

Conclusion

In summary, the crisis presents a significant opportunity for all leaders and firms to reset and lean-in to fully understanding what is going on in terms of how the crisis is impacting organisations in the short-term, what this might tell us about longer-term impacts, and where and how to focus efforts and investments across the operating model.

Facebook Commerce

Facebook have finally followed in the footsteps on their Asian competitors (e.g. WeChat) and just announced their big play to grab a slice of the accelerating global e-commerce market yesterday. And critically, provide some level of competition to the Gorilla out there (i.e. Amazon). 

Shops started rolling out on Facebook yesterday in the United States and they are set to come to Instagram this summer. With this launch coming during COVID-19, it means commerce and community can finally play nicely together and enable SMEs to better respond to any e-commerce opportunities presented by the pandemic. For many, the online and mobile channel is the only hope for survival.

According to a survey conducted by Facebook and the Small Business Roundtable, a third of SMEs have stopped operating and an additional 11 percent say they could fail within the next three months if the current situation continues.

Here are the highlights (according to Facebook directly):

  • In a live stream, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said expanded e-commerce would be important to begin rebuilding the economy while the pandemic continues. “If you can’t physically open your store or restaurant, you can still take orders online and ship them to people,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of small businesses that never had online businesses get online for the first time.”
  • Businesses can now turn Facebook and Instagram pages into online shops. They also joined forces with Shopify, who recently released their Shop app, to allow merchants to leverage their shipping, inventory and fulfillment features. The aim is to help new shop owners and small businesses to leverage their existing audiences to compete with Amazon.
  • Shops can be found on businesses’ Facebook pages and Instagram profiles, and they can also appear in stories or be promoted in ads. Items that businesses have made available for purchase will appear within the shop, and users can either save items or place an order. (Some businesses enable users to make purchases directly on Facebook, while others will take you to the business’s website to complete the transaction.)
  • According to Facebook, Shops will improve on the standard web commerce experience by storing users’ payment credentials in a single place that they can then use on any Facebook or Instagram storefront.
  • Businesses can handle customer support issues through Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Eventually, the company plans to let you browse store catalogs and make purchases directly from the chat window. It also plans to enable shopping from live streams, allowing brands and creators to tag items from their Facebook catalogs so that they appear on the bottom of live videos.
  • The e-commerce ecosystem around this will hot up to help store owners. For example:
    • Elliot creates simple product landing pages with one-tap checkout 
    • Storr is for mobile commerce, so you can set up a store from your phone 

A few initial thoughts include the following:

  • While Shops are free to create, they could create significant new business opportunities for Facebook in advertising, payments, and other services. Businesses will be able to buy ads for their Shops, and when people use Facebook’s checkout option, it charges them a fee.
  • This shopping rollout will no doubt have big algorithm implications on Instagram and Facebook. Early reports are showing how a “shopping” tab might interact with the “activity” tab on Instagram to increase the focus on commerce for businesses and their followers. Soon I suspect you’ll see Shops appear in stories and promoted ads.
  • Facebook Shops will eventually be integrated with WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram DMs, so you can browse store catalogs and make purchases through chats. The influencer marketing industry is set to benefit too as live streaming and shopping will be pairing up. 

Facebook has been dabbling in commerce for years. In 2016, it introduced Marketplace, a destination within the app for peer-to-peer buying and selling. Two years later, Instagram began working on a standalone shopping app, though it was later abandoned. Instead, last year, Instagram added in-app checkout.

Given the devastation caused to many traditional physical retailers by COVID-19, hopefully this announcement makes it easier for SMEs to reach existing or new markets (or better serve existing customers).

With billion+ global userbase of the Facebook ecosystem and ongoing pandemic, you would think it will be a slam dunk. That said, I don’t think Jeff Bezos will be having any sleepless nights. But it will be interesting to see how it goes in these E-Commerce Wars. 

Rethinking Education and Learning

“Direct to learner” (DTL) business models and start-ups that leverage online, mobile, AI and other technologies have been an area of much focus within the ‘Edtech’ sector for over a decade.

The late Professor Clayton Christensen had made the topic one of his core areas of focus in the last decade of his life with books including Disrupting Class and The Innovator’s University

Companies like Coursera, Udemy, DuolingoQuizletSkillshareCodecademy, Outschool and Lambda are just a few examples. 

Just this sample reaches hundreds of millions of learners all around the world each month. Many learners use these products for free. A small percentage of learners pay. And yet this portfolio will generate close to a half a billion dollars of revenue in 2020.

Another interesting thing about this portfolio is that none of these companies have spent a lot of capital building their businesses. They have all been very capital efficient and most are cash flow positive at this point.

So, what?

  • Direct to learner businesses are obviously very attractive for consumers and investors
  • They can serve a very large number of learners very efficiently
  • They can lightly monetize and yet produce massive revenues because of their scale
  • They don’t require a huge amount of capital to build

As they are competing with a sector which broadly, looks exactly the same as it did 100 years ago (schools, universities, training), the current pandemic will massively accelerate significant structural changes in the way people and companies learn, train and educate. 

The University segment in particular is in for a massive shock. I can’t see as much change happening in junior schooling (e.g. ages 3-7) mainly as the main job that these bodies do is child-care. I’m currently parenting a 3 and 4 year old and this is the main reason why I’m sweating on schools (safely) re-opening soon. 

I’ll share further thoughts on these topics in later posts.  

 

What Digital Really Means

“Everyone wants to go digital. The first step is truly understanding what that means” – McKinsey

I was talking to a COO of an off-shore investment bank yesterday and he mentioned something which gave me the impression that his bank did not understand what ‘digital’ really meant. According to McKinsey:

For some executives, it’s about technology. For others, digital is a new way of engaging with customers. And for others still, it represents an entirely new way of doing business. None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect. But such diverse perspectives often trip up leadership teams because they reflect a lack of alignment and common vision about where the business needs to go. This often results in piecemeal initiatives or misguided efforts that lead to missed opportunities, sluggish performance, or false starts.

As COVID-19 continues to rapidly accelerates the shift to building more digital capabilities within organisations, it is a critical time to take a step back and reevaluate existing efforts in light of the new challenges ahead. This means properly understanding what digital means, assessment of existing efforts, aligning to future strategy, and identifying what capabilities are needed across leadership, culture, and execution.

Whilst extremely hard, now is the best time to refocus efforts toward accelerating digitisation as the case for such change is for some a matter of survival. Think about how many food and other retailers are rapidly shifting to e-commerce models requiring new skills, software, tools and mindsets.

You can read more on this from McKinsey here

 

Reimagine The Future Online Conference

This Reimagine The Future virtual conference starts today and I have signed up for it.

It is being run by Thinkers50 and Outthinker and features 24 top management experts doing 24 sessions in 24 hours including Renee Mauborgne (INSEAD and Blue Ocean Strategy), Scott Anthony (Innosight), Daniel Pink, and Hal Gregerson. Recordings of every session will be available on-demand so there’s no need to be live.

All profits are going to a range of charities involved in COVID-19 relief. You can access tickets here.

Turbocharging Legal Industry Transformation

“COVID-19 will produce a thinning of the herd and a reimagined legal industry” – Mark Cohen

Last Thursday I watched a great online webinar run by LegalGeek entitled ‘An Uncertain Decade’. Legal sector experts Mark Cohen and Richard Susskind ran the sessions. Whilst I have read various thought leadership from each expert, it was the first time I had seen either speak. Not surprisingly, they both were very impressive in both domain expertise and thoughtfulness around their points of view.

Here are some key takeaways (along with my thoughts):

  • Disruption: COVID-19 will dramatically turbocharge legal industry transformation which has been slowly accelerating since the 2008 Financial Crisis. This may not be that surprising to many outsiders, however many lawyers – including those in Generation X – still tend to be conservative when thinking about competition, new technologies, business models, and structural market changes. Transformation and disruptive models and services will continue to come from outside traditional law firms. Whilst Disruptive Innovation theories of Professor Clayton Christensen were not referenced, his work on how established firms often are disrupted by low-end entrants who move up-market over time, will provide insight as to why and how this is happening within the legal sector (click here for his articles from Harvard Business Review).
  • Innovation: Enterprise clients and consumers will continue to drive the shift away from bundled services toward a more productised, customer-centric mode of consumption at scale which leverage new technologies, business models, and regulatory changes. This has already been happening to some extent ‘around the edges’, and facilitated by ABS models in the UK (whereby retailers (e.g. Co-Op), real estate agents, insurers and other firms can compete head-on with traditional legal practices with their own legal services ventures). DoNotPay in the US was cited as a recent example of a start-up which has over 100 use cases of dispute resolution services (e.g. fight a parking ticket). A new and current use case in the US for them has been to make it easy, cheap and convenient to file unemployment and other worker claims.
  • Unbundling: The impending depression driven by COVID-19 and resultant cost pressures for clients will accelerate the shifting of lower value, high-volume work to more flexible, alternative providers (e.g. LPOs, ABS Licensed Firms, Big4, Axiom, UnitedLex etc) and digital platforms (e.g. DoNotPay). This will continue to enable these players to move further up-scale into higher-value, more complex work and jobs. This is how the Indian IT outsourcing firms managed to make significant in-roads against Accenture, IBM and others in the 2000s, and how Toyota managed to become a US car manufacturing leader with its low-cost model US market strategy. Over the coming years, the legal industry will continue to rapidly fragment beyond traditional structural boundaries to incorporate a much bigger share for alternative providers (which will grow rapidly at the expense of incumbents), but significant new markets will be created especially for those consumers (i.e. non-consumers) who historically have never able to access low-cost, convenient legal services;
  • Business Models: A next generation of technology-enabled service providers (e.g. FisherBroyles) will gain rapid scale over the next decade in the same way as FinTechs have within Retail Banking. Continued experimentation by established law firms (e.g. non-legal services diversification, in-sourcing IT, new product development etc) and further consolidation within and amongst traditional law firms and alternative services providers, vendors and legaltechs unable to re-capitalise or scale. Large traditional law firms with the foresight and capital to invest over the coming years will likely continue to struggle to properly allocate resources and organise these innovative models efficiently and effectively within the established firm.
  • Online Dispute Resolution: COVID-19 has provided an MVP to as legal systems and courts globally have had to re-think how to deliver this. According to Mark Cohen:

The inaccessibility, cost, formality, abstruse rules, and protracted processes of courts in their present guise is misaligned with life in the digital age. The urgency of modernization is unprecedented. Courts around the world have ground to a halt when demand for accessible, efficient, and widespread administration of justice is desperately needed.

  • Education: Law Schools have not really changed their content, formats or approach to skills in over 40 years. Combined with EdTech disruption, providers will be under significant pressure to change in line with industry and client demands. Traditional JD/LLB’s offered by mid-market schools in the short-term will see massive disruption and closures, whilst the degree as it stand may become a more commoditised requirement, augmented by other specialty courses run by others or industry. Clearly, now is the time for online law ‘degree’ or course models, assuming the solicitor/lawyer regulatory boards provide approval (if they haven’t already)
  • Training: Traditional insistence of a junior being trained up or supervised by a senior lawyer/partner will be turned on its head. Assuming a longer-term shift to more remote working for a large number of the workforce and demand for more multi-skilled lawyers (e.g. project management), training for juniors (and all staff) will need to be redesigned.

In a recent Forbes article here, Mark Cohen concludes the following:

The old guard will cling to the hope these are temporary changes. They will point to the recession precipitated by the 2008 global economic crisis and suggest the current one will take a similar course. This time  is different. Technology and new delivery models are far more advanced than they were in 2008. Consumers have a different mindset and a greater urgency to solve a growing list of complex challenges. The potential of technology and its ability to support new models, processes, and paradigms is already on display. The genie is out of law’s bottle, and it will not return.

Opportunities for Law (and other) Firms

Interestingly, there wasn’t too much discussion on this during the webinar. For me, Disruptive Innovation theory might provide some guidance for any progressive law firms who wish to take on the inevitable structural and business model disruptions described above. I’ll save this analysis for another post soon.

 

Assessing Your Firm’s Innovation Readiness

Before COVID-19, it would be fair to say that most CEOs to some degree were focused on innovation as a top or near-top priority. Whilst the current crisis has caused many of these CEOs to adjust priorities and resources to short-term survival mode, there are others who are accelerating, pivoting or experimenting with new businesses in the face of disruption from the pandemic fall-out.

There are many tools out there to help leaders to re-start, or get started, on a future-focused innovation and ‘exploration’ path. Below are a few tools which might prove to be useful. They are from StrategyTools in Norway, and were valuable for me with a client recently. You can read more information on these tools here.

If you have any feedback on these or other related tools, be sure to let me know.

Transformation_Test

 

Transformation_Architecture

 

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