Innovation, Instagram and intrusion

All bets are on  With two days to go until what most of us had assumed would be ‘B-day’, rather than having narrowed the discussion, it seems that the options have once again widened. In a pretty much unprecedented move (quite of few of those recently) Parliament has wrested control back from the Government to dictate the order of discussions today. MPs will now use that time to vote on a series of indicative solutions to Brexit, ranging from revoking Brexit to No Deal, and an array of options in between. What’s the point? None of this is binding on the Prime Minister, who remains adamant that her deal remains the way forward. Increasingly, however, Theresa May cuts a desperate figure, no longer in control of Parliament, nor even her own party; it seems that Oliver Letwin (the architect of the indicative votes) is now running things. In truth, she could not easily ignore the outcome of tonight’s votes. To do so would surely mean either her dismissal (she has in fact indicated a willingness to stand down early), or a general election. May’s best shot now is to convince other ERG members of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s position that ‘half a loaf is better than no bread’, but even then she is unlikely to obtain the numbers for her deal.  Many will be left wondering why no one thought to run indicative votes at the outset of this process two years ago. Maybe, like many deals, it isn’t until the eleventh hour that the protagonists have a true sense of the strength of their position and become minded to settle. We find out at 20.00 this evening.

 

Checkout with Instagram  The process of buying a product is fraught with fear and risk. Fear of paying too much, fear of buying the wrong product or fear of buying the wrong make. Buying from a well-known and trusted brand reduces this risk, as does peer or celebrity endorsement. The latter two have been well served by social media platforms through ratings and influencers respectively. Until now, Instagram’s commercial process has ended with paid-for advertising; however, last week it announced that it is effectively becoming a retailer, by allowing you to buy featured products within their app. Under the proposals their new commercial model is to take a sales fee from the benefitting brand. Instagram’s advantage is that it is one step downstream towards the consumer relative to most retailers, and is increasingly used as the venue for consumers to find out about brands, rather than traditional methods (e.g. shops). To put this into context, the average Instagram user spends 53 minutes on the platform each day, whereas the average woman spends 40 minutes per day shopping (men: 25 mins). Going forwards, the battleground in retail will be at the front end of the consumer funnel, and shopping centres will increasingly need to compete with social platforms to become the first point of reference for products.

 

Residential Rating  There is a reason that travel agents became popular. I remember my parents picking our holiday accommodation based on a couple of lines of text in a tourist agency pamphlet, usually followed by a broken conversation with the owner. The resulting chalets, gîtes, and holiday homes were variable at best. Travel agencies helped to take out some of this risk; however, their modern equivalent in the form of TripAdvisor is even more compelling. Peer rating of services has grown to be much wider, including: restaurants, trades, and even one’s teacher (https://uk.ratemyteachers.com). It was only a matter of time before the same tool came to real estate. HomeViews, which launched last month provides user reviews for flats within residential developments, allowing for better informed choice of rentals for consumers and encouraging the industry to lift the quality bar.  One could envisage a similar platform emerging for offices. One of the best ways to judge the performance of a product is to ask people who have already used it and don’t have an axe to grind. In the same way that benchmarks create a sense of where a product sits in its peer group, a user reviewed rating of your commercial property product could help with sales, as well as diagnosing areas for improvement. You heard it here first!

 

The LIQUID Report  In the discussions that I have with real estate investors about digital innovation, and the changes that they need to make in order to stay competitive in the future, recurrent challenges surface around the paradoxical requirements of short-term shareholder returns and longer-term innovation gain and value preservation. Through no fault of their own, most real estate investors are simply not set up to bear the risk of speculative innovation. In part, this is why the industry has been slow to innovate. However, in the long run this is not good for industry participants (due to increased disruption risk) nor for UK plc (given the contribution of the sector to the economy). So, what’s to do? A report recently commissioned by the BPF points to the role of government in catalysing activity in the sector and providing a foundation for growth. Recommendations include: the formation of a Real Estate catapult, a Minister-led digital real estate forum and a cross sector coalition approach to data standards. Whilst competition is a feature of all industries, it is sometimes better to cooperate to expand the size of the pie, or to create a defence against disrupters. This has happened in other industries where common standards have been created which increase industry efficiency (e.g. USB, 4G). I endorse the BPF’s call for greater collaboration in this space, either channelled through a benign central agency, or through an industry coalition.

 

Taylorism, technology and tracking  It is doubtless that robotic solutions will play a more significant role in the workplace of the future. However, even the humans might end up becoming a bit more robotic. In one of the early theories around human motivation, Frederick Taylor came up with the concept of ‘scientific management’, (aka Taylorism). This posited that greater productivity could be found through empiricism, workflow specialisation and performance incentive, which led to the ‘office-factories’ of the early twentieth century. Whereas Taylor’s doctrines are now less preferred, a rebirth of empiricism surrounding workplace activity has been facilitated by the use of mobile, wearable and other IoT sourced data. A paper published by the Data & Society think tank last month, considers the increased prevalence of ‘Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance’. The paper concludes that ‘monitoring is becoming increasingly intertwined with data collection as the basis for surveillance, performance evaluation and management’. It points to the potential for more opaque ‘algorithmic management’, overly competitive gamification of tasks, trimming of pay during unproductive downtime, intrusive location tracking and an over-focus on quantifiable metrics at the expense of other employee contributions. New management tools employing big data provide the prospect for a more productive workforce, or vicariously more productive real estate. We now need to ask as a society, what human trade-offs we are prepared to make in its pursuit.

 

Mind bending  In the event that tonight’s Brexit votes gravitate towards revoking Article 50, there may be more sinister forces at work than Bregret. Attempting to succeed where the likes of Chuka Umunna, Ken Clarke and 5 million signatories to the recent petition have not, spoon bending impresario Uri Geller has vowed to stop Brexit using the power of telepathy.  Formerly one of May’s constituents, Geller had apparently predicted May’s rise to PM after she touched a spoon belonging to Winston Churchill. He now believes that he can influence the process, by beaming messages into the minds of our MPs. If you feel motivated to take part, Geller is coordinating mass bursts of telepathy every morning and evening at 11.11. Whilst we may scoff, there is recent evidence for plausible ‘mind-to-mind direct technological communication’. Using an ‘electro-encephalograph’ (think: Doc Brown’s telepathy device from Back to the Future), electric pulses from the brain have been used to communicate words across continents using none of the five human senses. In one of our own innovation challenges it was suggested that our leadership team should adopt similar devices to gain competitive advantage. I think that Geller has better odds.