Shaun Mccran

My digital playground


Can an Innovation lab fit into the classic Corporate model?

At a recent company event one of the leaders in my division presented his thoughts on designing and implementing an Innovation lab. The presenter, Daryl Wilkinson, Head of Group Innovation at Nationwide (Link: @DarylAndHobbes) put forward the idea of creating a digital Agency style innovation lab. This would allow a select group of Thinkers, Strategist and Developers to rapidly wireframe up services and applications/widgets and quickly prototype them into working, running applications.

I think this is a very interesting opportunity, but I think the radically different approaches between operating an Innovation Lab and a large-scale UK Corporate company may pose some interesting issues.

Having worked in a few smaller companies, particularly digital and marketing agencies I can see the value in this. The benefits of this sort of approach are many, including increased flexibility, ability to change direction quickly and a more open way of communicating and moving ideas around. A key principle that allows this way of working to be productive for smaller companies is the removal of barriers. These barriers might be Company rigidity, Governance rules, formulaic team structures and employee ego. By removing all of these things, you can take away, or minimise their impact on the way people think about opportunities and problems. By removing traditional working barriers, you encourage people to open up to new ways of thinking that is not constrained by traditional learnt behaviour. (This is often referred to as disruptive thinking). The two fold acts of giving them literal authority to become unconstrained in approach, and the removal of these business rules allows for a different, more agile operational model.

This also results in the blurring of responsibilities and roles within the team. Team members are far more inclined to own their own space, and stretch out into other member's spaces, as the boundaries between them are blurred, in a far more collaborative working approach.

Let us contrast that with the traditional UK corporate model. Typically, they have a far more rigid structure, with defined lines between departments and responsibilities. Employees have a role to play and generally, because of the luxury of scale, people are kept in that role, and find it difficult to venture too far into other roles without encountering resistance.

Add into the corporate mix a defined, constrictive Governance model, security policies, hard-wired policies and processes and a corporate operating model, and the attitudes that brings with it. These elements are in direct conflict with the outline described above, that not only enables but also drives an Innovation lab. How this newfound Innovation lab will integrate into a corporate environment, working its way through the barriers described here, will either enable or contain its success. It will be a tricky journey implementing, then maturing a lab like this into a working state. It could become an interesting bubble of productivity, living inside the corporate structure, creating ripples that disrupt the usual state of thinking within traditional departments. What better way to introduce change into your organisation than by having a department like this forge new ways of thinking and approaches to solutions.

I'll certainly keep an eye on how it develops, and see if any of these conflicts arise.


Is wireless mobile charging really here?

There seemed to be a growing movement on the wireless charging front for mobile handsets at the moment. There are more and more charging plates and compatible handsets out there, so I thought I'd investigate and see how easily I could enable my Samsung Note to charge wirelessly. Wireless chargers emit an alternating current via a transmitter coil, which then induces a voltage in the receiver coil found in the device.

For clarification I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 that in theory can charge wirelessly. It uses the Qi (pronounced "chee") standard which provides an inductive charge, this is a convenient and hassle free way to charge your phone.

The first stumbling block I found was that my Samsung Note 3 handset didn't ship with the correct back plate to wirelessly charge. It appears as though this wasn't an omission or product error, it seems to be firmly be Samsung's strategy. I'm confident about this as both the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 are wireless charger compatible but neither ships with a back plate that allows them to charge out of the box.

So the first step to Qi compatibility is to switch out the standard back plate and fit a Qi wireless charging compatible case. Something like this:

Or as an alternative you could install a bridging 'card' which has a coil in it to enable Qi charging. This is effectively the coil that comes inside the Samsung Qi wireless case. Link:

Now the handset should be Qi compatible. Keep an eye on some of the coil cards that you can pick up as some of them are NFC compatible and some as S-View, but there doesn't seem to be a Qi /NFC / S-View coil card out there.

Finally find yourself a Qi charging plate. The choice here is extensive but the main difference seems to be voltage and cosmetics. Simply find a plate that is the right size and shape for you. Here's a selection:

So in summary the handset is compatible with Qi, but it doesn't work out of the box. You need further accessories to enable Qi wireless charging, and you need to buy the charging plate. The Qi standard is evolving as well, the standard has just been upgraded: so it might be worth waiting for the next wave of devices.


Micro transaction madness with Marvel Puzzle Quest

I'm a big fan of Puzzle games, and Marvel, so what could be better than a Marvel themed puzzle game?

The game itself is a classic three-in-a-row puzzle game just like the previous versions of Puzzle Quest games. It's the now 'classic' model of free-to-play but with in-game micro transactions through it. There are several resources used in the game, Iso-8 which is used to upgrade your hero's level and hero points, which are basically coins that you can use to but team slots to hold more characters, or to buy skills for characters.

You can play the game without purchasing anything at all, which is my preference or you can spend upwards of £80.00 on all the extras. Personally if it was priced at a sensible mobile price point I would have happily purchased it, it's the sheer volume of micro transactions present that is annoying. I don't know how or why the trend for Micro transactions started but the model is abhorrent.

This whole game feels like a vehicle for micro transactions. Every way you try and play it you are faced with a transaction. The only other option is such soul crushing repetition that the game is almost unplayable. You really have to purchase a wealth of content if you want to even see half of the characters and powers in this game.

Looking at this from a design perspective it is obvious that the design started with user journeys arriving at micro transactions. For me, if a games design is being driven by the purchasing functions in it then you've lost the plot. I appreciate that games have to make money, that's just the modern games industry but they shouldn't be the driving design principle in the product!

This is a real shame as the game is quite enjoyable, its just that the constant barrage of 'purchase me' advertising really starts to intrude on your enjoyment of actually playing the game. It feels like there is more 'purchasing advertisements' than puzzle matching.

So, I'd stay away from this game. Marvel should release a non 'free to play' version at £9.99 or £14.99 with all the content unlocked. I'd be happy to purchase in that model. Micro Transactions hidden in the 'free to play' games are a blight on the games industry. Its false advertising, plain and simple. There needs to be a change in policy, and a change in terminology, as this terms is just lies.


New stats show further SMS decline as customers switch to online messaging apps

Recent statistics from mobile operators are showing a further decline in SMS usage over the last year or so. It seems to growth of Smartphone messaging apps that's eating into SMS's usual territory. Personally I credit this to two main reasons.

The advance of online messaging applications

Now this might sound obvious but messaging apps have come a long way. Not just in terms of availability, but usability and adoption. There are far more people now using messaging apps, that have a greater number of features than ever before. With this advancement we've seen aggregation of several services. Take Trillain as an example (Google Play Trillian App) Out of the box it supports 'Facebook Chat, MSN, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo!, and Jabber'. This allows you to forget about potential compatibility issue, as compatibility is no longer an issue. The Apps are no longer restricted to a messaging network, they are cross platform compatible.

Also with the working model of App downloads people are more comfortable now downloading applications. As the percentage of mobile app downloads increases it follows that a certain percentage of that increase will be messaging applications.

The push for data services
One thing that Telecoms companies have really pushed since the mid 2000's is the usage of the data network. Voice and SMS networks and usage have been relatively stable for a while now. The costs to operate them have come down and the tariffs customers buy have also come down. This may sound unbelievable based on the current operator contract process but recent statistics show that contracts are 27% less profitable than they were in 2005, partly due to pricing and partly due to the allowances included in them.

The only commodity left for a telecoms company to sell is data. Data is a measurable, metered commodity that can be priced for usage. It's the perfect target to try and get customers hooked on. You pay for a limited amount, use it all, and demand more, so you pay more. This encouragement leads to more uses of data. Customers want to use the data they have, so they find uses for it. Messaging being something they are already familiar with its an easy transition to switch from SMS to a messaging app, after all SMS is pretty much a pre-installed app these days anyway.

The future of SMS?
So are we only a few years away from an SMS-less mobile network? I don't think so, the problem with this is that the capital cost has been forked out for a mobile network that can support current SMS volumes, and continues to be spent on supporting it. Vodafone advertises a daily expenditure of between 1.5 and 2 million a day to support the existing network infrastructure. This is for voice, data and SMS but those things are intrinsically linked. They cannot extract the SMS functionality from the core network and stop supporting it, it just doesn't work like that. That leaves them with an expensive on-going support cost for a declining SMS market that is unlikely to ever go away. All you'll end out with there is a small resilient core of customers using the SMS network at an incredible costs (to the Telco) per SMS. SMS will never truly vanish.

You can read the Guardians view on this here.