Story 3: Doing the Right Things Right

By first asking the right questions, leaders realize the “right things to do”. In 1961, at the apex of the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy realized the situation that could jeopardize the US leadership in the race to space. Kennedy asked the question: “what happens to the US dominance if the Russians dominate the space first?” This question has lead him to define the “right thing to do”, therefore, the US nation committed itself to embark on the Apollo mission that set outs a plan of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely before the end of that decade. On July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon marking a historical milestone for humankind.

Fast forward to 2016, I found myself asking: How to ask the right question in the technology business space? Well, that’s a big question, but as someone who is continuously seeking wisdom and looking for ways to apply it to my part of the world — which is the technology world — I hereby, present a “case study” in a recent attempt to unveil answers by asking the right questions.

Smart Kapp was a move in the right direction by Smart Technologies; i.e: doing the right thing; Smart’s CEO Neil Gaydon, I believe, has nailed it right, but the product is far from achieving the intuitiveness he has preached earlier “The Beauty and Difficulty of Designing Intuitively Simple Products”; bottom line Smart is not doing the right thing right or simply put, they’re doing the right thing wrong.

I will start first and foremost by a thorough analysis of Smart Kapp.

Product Analysis

People don’t want to change their whiteboards ! Second, collaborators write on large collaboration wall spaces that very much surpasses Smart Kapp limited size, because supporting large spaces is mandatory for collaborators today.

Perhaps Smart Technologies is stuck in the innovator’s dilemma mindset and doesn’t want or can’t let go- because of technical constraints-of the old form factor of a limited size interactive whiteboard, exactly the same way Kodak wasn’t able to go hook onto digital photography though they were the creators of it ! So they remained entrenched at the shores of analogue photography films.

Regardless of the reasons; a new form factor is needed, a device agnostic form that truly leverages the power of the mobile and not only connects to a one, see Mobile is eating the World.

Business Model

Smart is heavily relying to reach “millennials” via their B2B 25 years old sales channel machine, such as Steljes and others who are at most VARs not to mention many are mere box movers; to win, Smart has to be on top of its game; i.e direct contact with consumers is key to success, take Amazon as an example with their kindle; cutting middlemen who were the old publishing houses was instrumental to success; likewise Apple skillfully connects directly to the hearts & minds of their consumers.

iPhone makes up to 72% of the US enterprise market not through corporate accounts to much as to the BYOD movement that is taking place. The likes of Kapp should be a dynamic product category that is fulfilled via B2C — but again Kapp’s form factor is inhibiting, because it entails shipping via the B2B old “guards”, not to mention the hindering experience inherited from Kapp’s design where I will come to explain in a moment.

Value Proposition

I believe kapp’s value is not clearly articulated, I have been accustomed in the past to conduct Jobs-to-be-done analysis for some of our leading customers — ex: Mohammed Bin Rashid’s Smart Learning Program, and has applied that science to whiteboard capturing, the discovery was that capturing is not the “need” rather it's a sub-process in the “job map”, similarly collaboration is not a Job per say as much as it's a state of work.

Kapp is positioned, maybe unwillingly — at least from my point of view — as a capturing device which is cumbersome when you think of it as a complete new board you have to purchase, or at best, as what Smart tries to position : as the Defacto collaboration device in the new workplace, as a customer I don’t get it as is.

Pricing

$899 is hefty for a flip-chart sized edition, even with all the hustle and bustle of marketing it's still too much ! Smart is reported yet to spend $30 Million plus in its 2015 Fiscal Report to get kapp on its feet, likewise products such as the inconvenient marker capsule Equil from Luida that are similarly priced @ $699; I view this skyrocketing pricing as a non-mainstream strategy that doesn’t hit the ground running.

Smart will discover , or probably already realize from their numbers, that a price bar set too high will not get them too far, or even worse find themselves trapped in what statisticians call a Type I error; that is failing to negate a false relationship, in Smart’s case assuming a correlation between higher marketing spend and push with Kapp’s success. The latter hurdles will prevail while there still exists no pricing model that structures the right value into offerings, that again value must stem from the Job to be done.

Technology

Smartech had bought NextWindow for an amount of $82 M, therefore, Smart owned a Gen2 touch technology called DViT; at first it’s tempting, and in some cases clever, to utilize DViT technology for Kapp, which originally is being deployed in most of Smart’s mainstream touch products.

Nearly all optical touch technologies suffer from inherently one common drawback, they are very sensitive to surface flatness and occlusions — unlike IR, electromagnetic, or capacitive sensing which are more immune to such artifacts, in other words, optical sensors are more ideal to put into use in a controlled product setup where it ships with a special board surface.

Whiteboards are ubiquitous compared to interactive whiteboards; there is already a huge installed base at user's’ possession, which is estimated in the order of hundred of millions of units, also whiteboards come at different sizes and even many come as large brainstorming walls in the for paints or special wall paper; therefore, one has zero control on standardizing the writing space size nor flatness. In other words, the DViT technology does not realize the form factor of the “practical” product usage.

Software & Design

Many say experience is more important than devices — that’s today’s mantra; but I don’t see that embodied in neither Smart Kapp’s software or hardware, the product is not targeting a clear and specific set of things that a whiteboard user wants to get achieved. Too much emphasize is made in the marketing collateral that Kapp is designed to be truly mobile friendly since it pairs seamlessly with a smart phone in a majestic moment; that’s not optional anymore.

Tools and protocols such as WebRTC and html5 are all open platforms that one can create many things with, like streaming and conferencing, but just the ability to share real-time a board session doesn’t get you a home-run.

Experience can only be carved when the user’s intentions are mapped out end-end and prioritized to ease where a potential struggle or unmet need can be addressed. For a product like a regular whiteboard that is so easy to use and on-demand, crafting the proper solution experience becomes even more challenging.

Enterprise software and collaboration workflows is a battlefield, how slack came to threat dropbox is remarkable, but only done by transforming the workflow involved in collaboration.

Product Experience

In a product it’s always easier to want to add features but it’s more important to know what not to add ; so it’s tempting to intervene and tamper the susceptible whiteboard experience when introducing new capabilities — such as capturing on the expense of the original product experience; the fragile beauty and simplicity of whiteboards would be irrecoverably distorted if care is not taken; for example palm rejection or being prone to dust and light in Kapp is a major drawback, not to mention the need to completely buy a big board.

A prerequisite for a buyer to procure a board makes it imperative to go into direct competition directly with hundreds of vendors of regular whiteboard suppliers and whiteboard walls such as Ideapaint, because ultimately people collaborate on big walls and not on flip chart sized boards.

If a solution design comes at the cost to sacrifice a product’s natural superior attributes that’s probably not a good design or an auxiliary altogether, so far whiteboards are great because they are analog and must remain to a large extent as such, until the time comes when technology out-spills completely a greater experience, whiteboards can then be said to be totally re-imagined or reinvented.

Surface Hub Vs Smart Kapp

Smart Kapp is different than Smart Kapp IQ, they are supposed to be made for two different market categories; the orthodox conferencing/collaboration market & whiteboarding market, although blending the two has great prospects ; I believe it's better for Smartech to make up their mind on whether their focus is Kapp IQ or just Kapp in which they intend to bring the revolution to the corporate space.

Why? Because Microsoft is well entrenched in the enterprise space, and for Smartech to make a foothold in that space it would better and easier to create their own “Google” edition of Surface Hub. In my opinion, Smart’s Black Swan at this stage is really the kapp and not the kapp IQ; think ipod then iphone.

I’m not a big fan of being everything for everybody, proper execution requires focus! Just think how apple brings revolutionary products, one product at a time; the brilliance of Apple’s strategy lies not only in the products they create, but also in the execution as well; bottom line “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one”.

Microsoft has a history of crushing competitors; remember Netscape? Only those who achieve a one or two steps ahead in the market and become hard to catch may be considered for an acquisition. In standing against Microsoft in the corporate space, I think Smart’s best bet is to hit Microsoft where they ain’t and achieve progress, in reality I don't see Smart executing well in that direction either because of the lack of strategic focus.

How to do the right things right ?

As an entrepreneur who has been for the past 13 years in the same field as Smart, and have co-founded a company — ketab technologies a leader in the Middle East and underwent cannibalization, I do understand the psychological, moral and financial consequences a company may endure when markets transform, maybe it's Smart’s real chance to bet against the odds with both Kapp and its IFP business, but only if its done right.

If we name the “right things to do” as — “Jobs” and name “do things right” as — “to be done” — i.e: done right! Then the Jobs-to-be-done is doing the “right things right”. As a matter of fact the (JTBD) Jobs-to-be-done is an established scientific methodology pioneered by Professor Clayton Christensen from Harvard University and many other experts for customer analysis. 
 
 JTBD is a methodology of causality led by evidence for systematically defining and structuring the requirements needed to successfully design or procure solutions in the form of products and services, while solutions developed using traditional methods fail 80% of the time according to research; JTBD is proved to succeed 86% of the time. Same applies to purchasing decisions that pose the question of what is best for an individual or an organization through the lens of the JTBD.

Await the next post on how to actually do it right !

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