Passion and commitment to explore innovative solutions that solve problems and change lives for the better; this is the sense you get when you go to Le Web.
The established tech conference in Paris this week was an inspiring investigation of the future of digital innovation.
It is broadly accepted that companies need to adapt fast to remain competitive in the digital age. To be ahead of the game they have to re-imagine themselves as agile organisations. This can be rather difficult for corporations unable to switch off from rigid legacy rules, hierarchy and compliance. The critical challenge is developing effective approaches while considering a multitude of societal, economic and technological forces.
With many prominent speakers, visionaries and experts in the field, Le Web gave full credit to the many who are leading one of the most exciting periods in our history.
Here are a few personal take-aways from the first two days of the event.
The social impact of the Web
“It is incredibly rare to be able to meet and listen to an individual who has changed the way that billions of people live and communicate.”
Co-founder of Le Web Loic Le Meur introduced the man who invented the Web.
As we are at the 25th anniversary of the web, it was exciting to listen to Tim Berners-Lee talking about the future of what he created.
He touched upon areas such as his support for Net neutrality, “Net neutrality is critical” and the need to encourage more women to code, “women are great coders.” He had something to say about the right to be forgotten, “at the moment, it seems to be dangerous. The right to access history is important.”
He was open with his concerns about silos of data and interactions. He shared his view that “native apps are boring.” Not surprisingly, he suggested developing web apps to allow social conversations to flourish. “If you just take your magazine and put it in an app, it is boring. It is not part of the discussion. I cannot tweet about it. You lose my enthusiasm. Everybody loses if it is not on the Web. If you build it as a web app, every place in it has a URL. People can link to it. People can tweet about it. It can be part of the discourse.”
Berners Lee is a man with a mission, and sent the audience a touching message. “Fight to keep the web open. Think about the societal implications of what we you build [on the web]. Think about all the social networking sites where you are sharing… promoting culture. Think at making it better by breaking down barriers.”
“Mobile is exploding. Sensors are entering our body.”
James McQuivey, Vice President & Principal Analyst at Forrester Research and author of the book Digital Disruption led the session on wearables.
While in the early days devices like fitness trackers or Google Glass were rather functional and experimental, coming into 2015 they are poised to become popular. Today, much of our attention goes to the Apple Watch, but it is really the entire category that has found legitimisation.
Forrester’s J.P. Gownder showed that the door is now open; dozens more devices are coming out to fill the growing desire for wearable tech. “While those devices have indeed suffered from a hype bubble, demand for them is real.”
He revealed the results from Forrester’s new survey showing an unexpected demand from consumers as well as businesses. “45% of US and 32% of European online adults say they are “intrigued” by the prospect of getting a wearable device.”
Within the enterprise, he mentioned companies like Thiess turning to wearable technology to take care of their workers by tracking their activity level, heart rate, blood oxygenation, and temperature. “If people want them, then businesses want them even more – and they’ll equip workers, then create new business services and models based on wearables.”
2015, the year of the crowd
Founder of Crowd Companies Jeremiah Owyang, researches how large companies embrace the collaborative economy. At Le web he released his latest version of the Collaborative Economy Honeycomb, a graphic that showed the rise of crowd-based business models impacting almost every industry.
Owyang published the first version of his graphic in May, defining ‘honeycombs’ as “resilient structures that enable people to access, share and grow resources among a common group.” At that time it contained six sectors being impacted by the peer-to-peer economy (P2P): goods, food, services, transportation, space, and money. However, as the phenomenon quickly expanded into many other industries, Owyang updated the Collaborative Economy Honeycomb.
In fact, the illustration that we saw at Le Web contained a wider expansion into new areas, from health and wellness, to logistics, corporate, utilities, municipal and learning.
“This is a sign that 2015 is the year of the crowd,” he said, making a few predictions for next year:
“Startup will emerge and overcrowd each hex in the honeycomb. Yet, funding and execution will dictate winners.
“Mature platforms will launch APIs – beyond Uber – resulting in a flurry of growth, analytics, and Collaborative Economy software suites.
“A global debate about user safety, only privacy and sharing of data will wage.
“As the crowd demands startups to share value with people, new ‘open source’ software and coops will emerge to offer a solution.
“Disrupted governments and large corporations realise that they must adopt – mainstreaming the movement.”
The invasion of European startups
It was interesting to hear that a number of promising European startups are growing and flourishing. Often born from small technical teams, this new generation of tech starts are having a global reach, high growth, profitability, and limited VC funding.
One of those is BlaBlaCar, recently named a World Economic Forum tech pioneer. This Paris-based inter-city ride-sharing service is expanding internationally. Today they transport over two million people every month. The transport network that they have created competes with trains, buses and airlines. Co-founder & COO Nicolas Brusson said that they had to move fast to dominate the European market because carpooling.com, a similar ride-sharing service based in Germany, already existed.
So far 10 million members in 10 European countries as well as Russia, Ukraine and Turkey have joined BlaBlaCar.
In August the company raised $100 million from Index Ventures, Accel Partners, ISAI and Lead Edge Capital. They now intend to use that capital to expand to India and Latin America.
Core to their successful operating model is a deep understanding of the local markets. Brusson said that they have created an environment where entrepreneurs have plenty of autonomy and can run their own business within BlaBlaCar.
The company is hiring in all of its offices around the world. To other startups with the same big ambitions to expand internationally, Brusson suggested making sure their service is multilingual from the start. “Hire people with different language skills from day one and have people working in three, four or five locations early on.”
Making people smarter in their work lives
“PowerPoint is a lot of what is wrong with the world today. There is a much more elegant way to work.”
Phil Libin gave a passionate talk about Evernote’s vision of making people smarter in their entire workday. “Work should be improved by the tools workers use to do it.”
However, it is not just about the work, it is also the achievement of results with teammates. “The connections between working and communicating are loose. A workspace tool should foster collaboration.”
That is why they recently launched Work Chat, adding a social component to the app. “Why should you stop writing or doing whatever you are doing on Evernote to go to another app to communicate with colleagues? It doesn’t need to be this way.”
The new feature lets colleagues discuss their work right in Evernote, share notes and notebooks, exchange ideas and receive feedback from as many or as few people as they like.
They are also placing great attention on design and augmented intelligence “to make people feel that they are working in the now.
“The best decisions come from a combination of communication and awareness—an ambient knowledge of what your team is working on.”
The application brings additional contextual information as people work. For example, it alerts users when a colleague is working on something even if they are not looking at it. That way they can decide to start a conversation or review their co-worker’s addition.
“This is a new step in Evernote’s development. This workspace is about building conversations. We’ve spent years building a great product that will improve the quality of work.”
Drones and 3D
Iconem is a young an innovative company founded in Paris by architect Yves Ubelmann and a helicopter pilot Philippe Barthelemy. They use drones for creating large-scale 3D digitalisation of archeological sites.
Iconem partners with research centers like INRIA (national institute for computing science), ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure) and Microsoft, developing innovative tools for interpreting and reconstructing sites through photogrammetry. In the domain of cultural heritage, they work with organisations like UNESCO or World Bank.
I met Ubelmann at their exhibition stage. “We want to digitally save the memory of a country where its heritage is disappearing.”
The makers’ ecosystem
This year for the first time LeWeb hosted a Pop-Up Lab letting the audience experience the DIY culture. They could learn more about how the makers’ ecosystem is experimenting with design creating innovative solutions impacting traditional business. For example, the ‘Water Light Graffitti. When Water becomes Light’ produced by Art2m, a start-up that specialises in digital art and design.
Water Light Graffitti is a surface made of thousands of LEDS that illuminate when they come in contact with water. It allows people to create graffiti with a water pistol, a point brush, a water brush, a water spray, fingers or anything damp. Its aim is to propose a new smart material to draw or write ephemeral light messages. It represents a novel form of interaction with architecture in the 21st century.
Le Web was a source of inspiration. The future of digital innovation looks bright: there are plenty of opportunities for those who make a conscious use of new technology.
With all its challenges and unanswered questions, this movement is led by the desire, optimism and resilience to change the world for the better, seeding new ideas, and shape new business propositions that solve problems and have a positive impact on society, people and relationships. That’s great news for internal communicators and employee engagement specialists. This is the time to bring, involve and empower our people to make real things happen and achieve concrete results.
As Global Director of Social Media and Search at LEGO Lars Silberbauer’s put it, “you need to get out in the ocean and ensure to have a talented team to run the boat.”
Photos courtesy of Le Web Flickr gallery