Russia and Sri Lanka: What I learned on the road

Gary Schwartz

Gary Schwartz is president/CEO of Impact Mobile

By Gary Schwartz

What did you learn on the road? asked Mickey Alam Khan, publisher of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily. I had just returned knobbly kneed from a trip through South Asia and Russia. I attended three conferences and was just decompressing.

Well, there you go, Mickey. The three things I learnt.

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1. Bottling innovation
It all seems to start with Innovation. The word has been peppered into panels and keynotes as in the place of the term technology. It is as if by magically by using the word innovation it will prime the techno-entrepreneurs pump.

This is not a bad thing. It certainly gets the attention of the patriarchs. The Moscow Open Innovation Forum was keynoted by Dmitry Medvedev, prime minister of Russia, accompanied by the prime ministers of France and Finland. The World Summit Awards in Colombo, Sri Lanka, was opened by the countrys president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Innovation is associated with fresh ideas and out-with-the-old. At each event, the youth innovators are marched out bushy-tailed and bright-eyed. Mr. Medvedev and Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson posed smiling with the winning youth delegates.

The challenge is that while we all want to celebrate innovation, it is a difficult to bottle it.

We find it hard to present it as a formula. Disruptive innovation is central for businesses that want to survive and stay competitive.

Incumbent players such as the wireless carrier want to appear light-footed and on the next wave, but the discussion generally gravitates to bemoaning the OTT competitors that are never in the room and proposing that the ecosystem is not sustainable.

There is unquestionably innovation, creativity and energy in the room, but we tend to present wow, and not the ingredients to cook up the same wow at home.

We chase ideas when, in fact, the sexiest thing about innovation is the resulting customers, sales and EBITDA.

2. Digital inequality
Clearly, innovation is fueled by connectivity. I met with the Nikolai Nikiforov, Russian minister of communications and mass media and the youngest person in that countrys history to take over a ministerial position at the tender age of 29.

We talked about “digital inequality” in Russia and as well as other nations and how this is one of the biggest inhibitors of innovation. How can Russia future-proof its mobile network infrastructure to allow for universal access to high-speed Internet for the data-dependent business, education, health and entertainment services that will appear over the next decade?

Electromagnetic spectrum is the crude oil of last-mile connectivity. Mr. Nikiforov wants high-speed fiber with wireless relay into every community of 500 and above. The challenge is finding the funds and partnership.

When Peter Diamandis, the charismatic cofounder of Singularity University, took the stage, connectivity became a firebrand. “We have not started.”

In ten years distance will mean nothing.

“Where you live and where you work do not need to be the same,” Mr. Diamandis said.

3. Crowd-sourcing innovation
So, for those of us that cannot cook up innovation, we know there is abundant creativity out there that we can tap into and global access and connectivity is making this possible.

Apple has shown us that by creating a marketplace for ideas, developers have risen to the challenge.

The app store is a case study in innovation: The smarts of Steve Jobs to provide an SDK and audience and the smarts of app shops globally in designing for every possible user need.

So there is much talk about how to best crowd-source innovation globally. After all the discussion of innovation and digital access, we can focus on harvesting business ideas that work.

Mr. Diamandis showed how his first X-Prize challenge of $10 million to build a reusable rocket to take humans into orbit generated more than $100 million in RD.

This ability to link innovation with connectivity allows entrepreneurs such as Sascha Haselmayer, CEO of CityMart, to build a crowd-sourcing engine for more than 80 cities globally. His engine allows for ideas to be vetted and adopted all through a remote online process.

So, Mickey, my notes from the road are:

Innovation = connectivity for all + a readily accessible global market place

Gary Schwartz is president/CEO of Impact Mobile, Toronto. Reach him at .


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