Innovation Strategy

Virtual Reality is finally here

2015 came and went without so much as a hoverboard prototype, but something nearly as futuristic has just arrived: Virtual Reality. The concept of VR has been around for decades, from the invention of the ViewMaster in the 30’s. The last five years, however, has accelerated technology to a point where immersive virtual reality is finally possible.

ViewMaster with discs
Virtual Reality prototype? (Photo: Enokson)

Immersion is perhaps the most important concept in VR. Put simply, immersion is the point at which you forget that you are looking at a simulation and believe that what you are seeing is real. This is what’s special about the newest generation of VR – you’re no longer looking at a screen, but instead transported to a virtual environment.

The two main devices in this first generation of immersive VR are the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The offering from these two companies are very similar – both head mounted displays have a similar size, resolution, and field of view. The crucial difference between the two is that the Vive supports room-scale VR, where the Rift is limited to seated VR experiences*. Room-scale VR, the ability to physically walk around and interact with the virtual environment, is key to a number of exciting uses for virtual reality such as education and simulation.
* Oculus have claimed that their hardware will also be able to implement room-scale VR in the future, however this is only a proof-of-concept at this stage.

It’s not just for games

Both Oculus and HTC are marketing their VR devices as gaming accessories, for a couple key reasons:

    A powerful computer is required to run the device, which gamers are far more likely to own
    Currently, computer generated environments are nearly always considered games (e.g. Second Life)

Consequently, the majority of VR experiences are currently video games. But to fully understand the potential of virtual reality, it’s important to think of VR as a new digital medium.

In my opinion, the leap from the computer screen to virtual reality is just as large as that from still photography to film. Most importantly, this means that the same rules don’t apply: what might look like the most asinine and boring VR experience on video may actually be completely captivating. This also means that new considerations and techniques need to be used when creating immersive VR experiences.

New medium, new applications

By treating VR as a new medium, we can begin to explore the plethora of uses for VR experiences outside of the video game industry.


The Rose and I
Sundance is pioneering the use of VR as a storytelling medium. The 2016 Sundance Film Festival featured over 30 VR experiences as part of the New Frontier program, plus several panels discussing the challenges of translating film genres to VR.

One of the pinnacles of VR storytelling is The Rose and I from Penrose Studios. A creative reimagination of “The Little Prince”, this experience shows the power of VR as an engaging, emotional, human medium for storytelling.


Simulating real-world environments and scenarios is an extremely useful application of VR.  A good example of this is the IKEA VR application, which allows the user to browse, examine, and modify the design of an IKEA kitchen. This is far more powerful than an online or paper catalogue as it gives the customer a real sense of the dimensions and finish of the items on offer.

Simulation can also be used to create scenarios which would be prohibitive to create in the real world. An example of this could be a VR fire evacuation simulation which would allow the training of fire wardens under realistic conditions which can’t be achieved in a standard fire drill.


VR has huge potential in the education sector. The ability to create interesting and immersive experiences can be harnessed to deliver education material in way that engages students and facilitates “learning through play”.

One such experience is Universe Sandbox, a physics-accurate universe simulation. The user can browse through different scenarios such as the Earth-Moon system and the solar system, as well as create their own scenarios (for example, an Earth-Mars collision). This kind of simulation has real power to foster interest in otherwise inaccessible topics, and encourages learning through play.

The tip of the iceberg

Virtual reality is truly in it’s infancy. The rules haven’t been written, and the experiments are still being performed. We’re staring at the tip of the iceberg, wondering what’s underneath. The current VR experiences are predominantly made by independent game developers and filmmakers, and through them we are discovering the potential of this new medium.

This first generation of VR is by no means perfect – but it does enable those independent creators and entrepreneurs to begin to develop virtual reality as a force in it’s own right. By joining the conversation early, you will be positioned to shape the evolution of virtual reality and the path which it follows.

Now is the time to begin considering your applications for VR – whether it be in prototyping, training, storytelling, or something completely new. By getting in early you ensure that the impact of your efforts are multiplied by this rapidly growing technology.

Cost Saving Innovation Process Improvement

The Robots Are Coming

For many years we have heard about the impending Robot revolution. We have watched not one but four terminator movies and we are still no closer to that reality. Or are we?

You may think that advanced Robotics are relegated to the Tesla car factory or to structured tasks in ordered environments. In fact, advances in robotics are set to become part of our everyday lives. Take a look at the next generation of Atlas Robots and what they are capable of doing:

When I first saw this video a few weeks ago I immediately developed the earworm of Arnie saying “I’ll be back!”

Robots are going to play a big part in almost all aspects of our lives including construction, healthcare, agriculture, cleaning and even at home in the kitchen. This is extremely important when we think of the aging population in many Western countries. In Japan there are already 250,000 Robot workers. There is even a hotel staffed entirely by robots.

While you may not want to stay at this hotel all the time, Robots are going play an important part in making our lives easier.  

If we look back at the evolution of the PC mobile industry it was the establishment of operating systems like Windows, Android and iOS that allowed for a proliferation of applications and innovations.

There are now Robot Operating Systems such as ROS which are going to make it easier for people to develop solutions with Robots. Much like the explosion of applications created after Windows was first released and outsiders were given development access, I expect the same with Robotics. We are in the very early stages of this so it is very exciting.  

I envision Robotics creeping into every aspect of our lives on a regular basis which makes me think we are nearing a tipping point in the not-too-distant future. On a recent trip to Berlin I found my kids aged six, ten and thirteen playing with a friend’s mBot. Imagine what they are going to be able to do by the time they are 18!

While I was writing this blog, a talented musician friend posted a picture of himself on Facebook singing, playing the keyboard and drumming. He commented that he needed an extra arm. For fun I thought I would see how easy this would be and I found this example of combining robotics with a person playing music.  

We will soon be able to find Robots to help with all aspects of our lives, even in the most intimate realms as seen in Robotica. (As far as I’ve been told, the porn industry seems to be a leader in the application of Robotic technology.)

The future uses of Robotics are going to be astounding. If you couple this with the other areas of colossal technology changes such as AI and 3D printing, you can imagine we are in for some interesting times. My colleague Catherine Steele outlines the massive benefits of Robot automation in a recent post.  

Whether you embrace technological advances with open arms or are secretly hoping to stay out of sight out of mind, the Robots are in fact coming. It is no longer inconceivable for a robot to fix you dinner. This arm is programmed to catch objects hurtling through the air and just might be able to help your daughter or son train for their future in sport. Fancy a light sporting match? You might not be able to compete with the finesse of a snooker-playing robot, but you might sneak a few points past your Kuka opponent in table tennis. All sport aside, these innovations highlight where we can go in terms of Robotic solutions to our human needs when we put our creative juices to the test.

This blog is part of a book I am currently writing with my fellow spaarkie Catherine about how to avoid being a sitting duck amidst the swarm of technological advances and how you can make changes in your life or business to make the most of this fundamental shift.

Watch this spot for future snippets from our upcoming book. Which of these technologies do you think will have the biggest impact on your life or business? I would love to hear from you.

Tune in next week for Who Is the Smartest Person in the Room?

Photo credit Scott Lynch.

Cost Saving Innovation Process Improvement Strategy

How to get 20 times more productive – ask a robot

Human beings push the boundaries. They can achieve the most astonishing feats. Take Lucas Etter, a fourteen year old from Kentucky USA who, in November 2015, created a new world record by solving a Rubik’s Cube in 4.9 seconds. An amazing achievement which you or I would have no hope of repeating. Even Lucas would struggle to reproduce his achievement regularly though he was able to explain how he had broken the record – by memorising an algorithm that defined what he had to do and by training his spatial skills and muscle memory. Lucas had turned himself into a ‘well-oiled machine’ for solving the Rubik’s Cube problem.

Just three months later, Jay Flatland and Paul Rose revealed their approach to the same problem. Their solution reduced the record to 0.9 seconds – over five times faster than Lucas.

It wasn’t really a fair contest. Jay and Paul had built and programmed a robot that replicated Lucas’s approach. Built from fairly standard components, the home-built robot used 3-D printed parts, stepper motors, and an Arduino chip, which was connected to a Linux system. The algorithm recognised the starting state of the cube and implemented a series of stepper motor movements to reach the solution as quickly as possible. And, of course, the robot could repeat the task again and again, without any degradation in performance, in contrast to Lucas, whose brain and attention would quickly wander and whose hands would inevitably get sore.

20 Times Increase in Productivity

Even if Lucas could consistently repeat his world-record performance, he would still only be limited to around 29,000 Rubik’s cubes in a 40-hour working week. On the other hand, the robot who is not limited to ‘working hours’ can solve one every single second. This would result in over 600,000 completed Rubik’s cubes completed by the robot – 20 times better than Lucas. If solving Rubik’s cubes was your business and your generated £1 for every one solved, this would increase your revenue from £29k to £600k per week. Now, wouldn’t that be transformational?


This is just one example of a situation in which a real machine is able to beat the most expert human. Many people are realising that such situations are found frequently in businesses and companies throughout the world. They are questioning the balance between human workers and specially programmed robots. Even the most expert employee may not be as productive as a robot. Their performance may vary, they may tire and quit. In contrast, a robot continues to work indefinitely and with minimal cost. Every business owner knows the complications of replacing a worker, especially if that worker is the best in the trade! If your robot breaks, a new one can be installed quite simply.

Predictable and Repeatable

In the Rubik’s Cube example, with a few low cost components and less than 40 lines of Kociemba algorithmic code, Flatland and Rose managed to create a robot that worked 5 times faster and produced 20 times more output than the global expert. Is the same approach relevant more widely? Is it possible to apply technology to a range of jobs or services to increase productivity tremendously? How widely can algorithms be deployed?

An algorithm involves a set of rules that ensure a predictable and repeatable outcome each time it is called on. Not too long ago, algorithms and robots were felt to be limited to very repetitive situations. However, in today’s world, it is not just predictable and repeatable tasks that can be automated. Autonomous vehicles are one such example, and we are well on the way to ‘robodoc’ (robots that assist with surgical procedures) and exam marking by robots.

The principles of automation are not restricted to hardware and robots – they are equally relevant to software. Perhaps the most common example is the email sent from an online shop each time you make a purchase on the internet. Obviously, the confirmation email is not written by a person, but is generated by a computer using a program that gathers a few key pieces of information (such as product details, credit card details, delivery preferences, and etc.), and constructs an appropriate email using a defined algorithm. The cost is tiny. Just imagine how many humans it would take a large retailer to do the same job. And imagine the costs of the office staff involved!

As globalisation continues, the need to stay ahead of international competitors becomes ever more important. It is essential to increase productivity whilst maintaining quality and, given high labour costs, this can only be done through automation. Take a moment to reflect on all the tasks carried out in your business each day. Which could be done better and cheaper using automation? You might be able to reduce costs, while reducing response times, and increasing productivity and service. If it works for cars, for delivery and invoices, and for Rubik’s Cube, it might work for you.

Photo credit Patrizio Cuscito.

Cost Saving Innovation Process Improvement Strategy Uncategorized

Are you a sitting duck?

I am excited and scared for my children at the same time. There is something big happening with technology and I am not sure everyone is prepared for it. In fact, I honestly feel like many people are going to be sitting ducks.

A sitting duck can be defined as “easy target” . This term alludes to the ease with which a hunter can shoot a duck that remains in one spot, in contrast to one in flight.

This is the situation that many people and organisations are finding themselves in, and how they are approaching the use of technology in their lives and in their businesses. I fear we are going to have a world where we have many sitting ducks and the hunters will have it easy.

You too could become a sitting duck by ignoring the fact that every day there are more and more ways for technology to be used to replace many areas where a person was required to play a role.

It is becoming clear to me if you do not consider how best to use technology you will be left behind. I want to ensure that my children understand this and they think about what the future holds for them. When I was growing up we lived in a world that was predictable, relatively slow to change and the path was relatively clear, but this is no longer the case.  In a report by PwC titled ‘A Smart move: Future-proofing Australia’s Workforce’ predicts that in the next 20 years, 44% of the jobs we have today will no longer exist in their current form.  However, this is no longer the case.

If you don’t like change then you’re in for a rough ride’. There are so many technologies that are starting to mature that will have a profound impact on our lives. This is going to spell the end for many professions and industries. For those that look to embrace the changes, there will be an abundance of opportunities. It is important to think ahead now and look at where technology is going, as it impacts everyone.

So where is the opportunity for us in this time of technological revolution?

Do More with less

That is the bad news, however if you are a small business this means you can compete with the big boys (or girls). If you are a big business you can no longer be complacent about smaller startups being able to compete with you because they can and they will (look at Kodak and Instagram or Blockbuster and Netflix).

The long term trend in some of the most successful companies in recent years is more is being done by less people. Look at the figures below :

Revenue per employee

It is technology that is allowing this to happen and the scale and speed this is happening is only going to increase. More is being done with less and this does mean fewer jobs in what were previously traditional jobs. So what are the jobs our children will do?

No job or industry will remain unaffected by the technologies. Previously it was the manual repeatable jobs or blue collar jobs that were being replaced by computers or robots. We are now moving to the next level of this where many of the white collar jobs will be massively impacted.

Human knowledge is doubling every year and according to IBM the internet of things is set to increase to every 12 hours.  These technologies are going to just increase the rate of change in our lives.  I will be discussing this in coming posts so stay tuned.

Everything points to these changes being exponential as more and more people have access to the internet. According to the Mobile Marketing Association of Asia, more people have access to mobile phones than to a toothbrush.

The Ownership of Assets has shifted

Companies are creating more with less but they also using business models which are about shifting ownership of what was previously a core asset.

Lets look at a few examples:

The Four Seasons Hotel Group do not own most of their hotels. They manage and operate them on behalf of the owners.
ALI BABA does not hold the inventory that it sells it connects buyers and sellers.
UBER does not own the majority of the vehicles the 160,000 drivers do
AIR-BNB – Airbnb does not own any of the 1,500,000 properties that people can rent through them.

These companies do not actually own any of what I thought was their core products (or at least do not hold inventories). These companies focus on Brand, Software, Customer Service and all of the important elements of the relationship with the customer. The big enabler for this has been technology. Software has allowed these businesses to thrive.

The great thing with all of these changes in technology is we have more and more of a chance to solve some of the most difficult problems we face as a civilisation whether that be to cure cancer, deal with global warming or eradicate poverty. This is what excites me for my childrens future they will have the tools to make that change.

Technologies areas you need to consider

While some of you may say well this only applies to Tech companies or people who work in Tech industries. In reality all businesses and professions are technology businesses in one way or another, and if they are not they soon will be.

There are some exciting technologies that are really going to allow the whole world to progress and solve some of the greatest problems we currently face.

I will be exploring some of these technologies in more details and looking at how businesses can start to assess what they can do to gain the benefits of these wonderful technologies and what the implications may be.

This blog is part of a book I am currently writing with my fellow spaarkie Catherine about how to avoid being sitting duck and how you can make changes in your life or business to make the most of this fundamental shift that is going on.

If you would like to get future snippets from our upcoming book you can do so from here. Which of these technologies do you think will have the biggest impact to your life or business?

I would love to hear from you.

Next week stay tuned for the Robot Revolution.

Photo credit Hiromitsu Morimoto.


Information Sharing

Tap Into Your Digital Goldmine

Every digital interaction we make generates data. According to the 2012 Digital Universe study, the global data store – currently around 3,000+ exabytes¹ – is set to double every year. By 2020 it’s estimated there will be a massive 40,000 exabytes of data globally.

No surprises then that transforming data into meaningful analytics is big business. From Google and Microsoft to smaller data and advertising companies, there’s huge demand for this kind of intelligence: it gives you a greater understanding of your business today and the ability to identify trends and make projections for the future that will influence your policies and actions. Use it well and you could gain a massive advantage over your competitors.

So why not turn your attention to your own organisation’s digital gold mine? It’s free and tailored around your business.

1 Measure for change

There’s an old saying “you get what you measure, not what you ask for” which I believe is true. The first thing you need to do is determine the measurements you need to track to meet your business goals (company, department or team). Then decide what information you need from your data to provide these measurements. Let me give you one of our own examples at spaarks:

Our aim was to improve the build quality of our applications. We agreed the best measurement to help us achieve this would be the percentage of bugs found per iteration in a system test. In our data set we included things like the developer’s name and project details so we’d have all the knowledge we needed to drive change. The result? We’re now able to report on the quality of our builds in an instant.

2 Use ranking

As a rule of thumb, you’ll get the biggest gains by focusing on the areas that require most improvement. For example, if you’ve identified you want to reduce the annual travel spend in your organization, measure spend by person or department (depending upon the size of your organisation) and rank the results. Use the classic 80/20 rule whereby you get 80% of your gains by concentrating on the top 20%, i.e. by focusing on the top of the list first you’ll reap the greatest results.

3 Make it quick and flexible

The quicker you get your hands on powerful information, the faster you gain the knowledge you need to drive change. I spoke with an organization that had stored an enormous amount of data over the years and recently transformed it into powerful information which was underpinning various new initiatives. Off to a great start! But here’s the problem.

Each new request for information had to be made via their IT department which had a lead time of between 2-4 weeks which meant, by the time the report arrived, the original question was often irrelevant.

The report itself was delivered in a fixed format so once the company had analysed it and identified areas of concern or interest where they wanted to delve a little deeper – you’ve guessed it – they had to request another report and wait another 2-4 weeks.

The pace of change is faster than ever. So choose a tool that will deliver information from your data in the shortest possible time and most flexible format (e.g. end user customisation, drilldown and pivot capabilities).

Digital Goldmine wordcloud


4 Inclusive

Assuming you have a positive culture (in itself the subject of a whole new blog post), your employees will share in your desire to drive improvement through change. Make your goals and objectives clear to everyone and give them access to the toolset. I’m a firm believer that the more useful and relevant information you give to your staff at all levels, the more likely it is they’ll act upon it. There are of course confidentiality and security restraints to consider so I’m not suggesting you expose the details of the CEO expense account to everyone! But do strive to give your teams information they can act on within their own sphere of influence – your chosen tool should support multi-level access throughout your organisation.

1. 1 exabyte = 1 billion gigabytes
Information Sharing Strategy

Are your customers delighted?

At spaarks we strive to delight our customers. And right now we know that we are succeeding, our customers are indeed delighted with us. But how do we know that? In order to meet a goal it needs to be measurable. How do we quantify our customers’ delight?  We use the Net Promoter Score.  

Four reasons you should know your Net Promoter Score:

  1. Business growth
  2. Customer loyalty
  3. Actionable feedback
  4. It’s easy!

There is a growing field of evidence on the correlation between customer loyalty and business growth. Net Promoter Score (NPS®) is a simple and effective way of gauging customer happiness, and happy customers are loyal customers.

What’s the link between growth and Net Promoter Score?

  • Net Promoter leaders grow at more than twice the rate of competitors
  • Customer loyalty and happiness directly correlate with sales
  • Net Promoter Score is a good indicator of potential future growth
  • You are more likely to recommend a company to a friend or colleague if you are a loyal and delighted customer

It follows that the best way for a business to thrive is to wow its customers and they will become loyal promoters of the brand to others.


Loyal Customers

Using the NPS allows a business to be proactive as opposed to reactive. It’s great to get positive feedback and customer referrals are priceless. It’s even more important to get and act on any negative feedback from customers. Delighted customers might tell others and champion you, but upset customers will definitely tell people, and in this age of technology at our fingertips,  potentially millions of them.

How do you get your NPS?

It’s one simple question “On a scale of 0-10, what is the likelihood that you would recommend (Company) to a friend or colleague?”. Answers are then used to calculate the Net Promoter Score.

  1. Promoterswho give 9 or 10 are loyal advocates of the brand, they are “Delighted”.
  2. Passiveswho give 7 or 8 are tepid, not complaining but indifferent and easily won over by the competition.
  3. Detractorswho give 0-6 are not happy and might feel trapped. They will not be singing your praises.

NPS calculation

The theory states that the best measure of a company’s growth potential is to subtract the percentage of customers who are “detractors” from the percentage who are “promoters”. This will give you the Net Promoter Score.

If at the same time you also ask the follow up question, “Thanks, can you tell us why you chose that score?”,  it provides the opportunity for customers to sing your praises or to point out what you need to change to make them happy.

Our  Net Promoter Score is currently 62.5!

There are lots of benchmarks out there for NPS by industry, so you can get a rough idea as to how you compare. Reichheld claims the average American company scores less than +10, and the highest score between +50 and +80. We’re very pleased with the result of our latest NPS survey sent to a cross section of our clients. Our NPS is +62.5! That’s a whole lot of delighted customers.

What are you waiting for?

If you want to grow your business then measuring NPS should be on your radar. High scoring NPS companies will grow faster. It opens up communication channels between you and your customers.  Find out what you’re doing wrong so you can rectify it and what you’re doing right so you can replicate it. In turn this will drive business growth through improving employee and customer happiness and loyalty.



Death to the Wallet

During the past few months I have been spending quite a lot of time travelling between clients and our offices located around the world. I am always looking for ways to streamline various aspects of my life with technology, travel in particular. However a recent trip to the UK made it clear to me there are changes happening and smart watches can no longer be dismissed as a novelty or just a geeky toy. They are on their way to replacing your whole wallet and more.

Now let me start by saying that I have had an Apple watch since they were first released in the UK, and during that time I have endured my fair share of questions and ridicule, not least from those at my office… Even my co-founder at spaarks, Catherine, questioned my jumping on the smart watch bandwagon. During this time I have stayed tight lipped, but thought what better way to talk about it than to share my recent experience.

My Travel Buddy

Let me take you through my day:

5:30am  My alarm on my watch wakes me up. Thanks Apple watch, but I do ask myself why I booked such an early flight.

5:45am  My Tripit app on my watch advises me that my flight is on time and tells me what the weather is this morning at my destination, raining in London, surprise surprise!

6:00am Arrive at the airport and my boarding pass is ready for me on my watch and I can use this to go open the fast track security gates with no need to pull anything out of my pockets or bags; nice.

6:15am Listen to Spotify on my phone. Wait, how did Justin Bieber get there? Must have been my wife who added him to my playlist… I look to my watch and quickly swipe to change songs and Bieber is banished. Phew!

7:35am Land in London, flick my watch out of flight mode and my watch informs me my bags will be on carousel 4. Thank you very much Apple Watch and Easyjet.  

8:20am I head to the tube to get to my first meeting, which my watch had sent me a reminder about. I rummaged through my bag for my oyster card but couldn’t find it. Guess what I used instead. You got it! I used my watch instead of a paper ticket or oyster card.

11:00am  Coffee time, paid using my watch.

1:00pm  Lunch, paid using my watch.

7:00pm Dinner, again paid using my watch.

9:00pm  Check in to the hotel with my booking on my trusty Apple watch.


The thing I realised at the end of the day was that my wallet never left my bag. It got me thinking, do we need a wallet anymore?

All this is just the first generation of smart watch too. With inevitable improvements in hardware to come in future releases, as well as many more apps being specifically designed for this growing market, smart watches are definitely becoming more mainstream, and it looks like they’re here to stay. And for me proof of this is that some of the very people who were making fun of me a few short months ago have now purchased their very own smart watches (you know who you are).

Where to from here

I believe the exciting part of innovation is not the technology in itself but the ideas on how to use technology, applying it to our everyday life or business. The watch or other wearable devices will be increasing utilised for all of the following uses and many more:

  • Security pass
  • Hotel room key
  • Bar tab
  • House key
  • Bike lock
  • Car key
  • Personal alarms
  • Health alerts

It is interesting to see the merging of technology and fashion, especially combining functional technology with designer brands.  Recently Apple collaborated with Hermes for the Apple Watch Hermes edition. They look set to continue to focus on the high end market with the recent hire of Paul Deneve, the former chief executive of Yves Saint Laurent. I think we will see a huge number of new collaborations in this space and traditional watch makers and fashion brands need to be moving towards having a smart watch range.

This is just one area of technology which is changing rapidly and it is an exciting time for people and businesses who know how to look for opportunities to use new technologies to enhance their business offer, stay ahead of their competition or create new industries.

I love keeping on top of the changes in technology and I will continue to explore interesting gadgets, innovative applications and highlight new trends. As we say at spaarks; businesses must be ambitious, be excellent, or be gone.