Is 3D printing the key to Utopia?

14. May 2012

Date: 14-05-2012
Source: The Observer

The ‘magic’ of digital manufacturing could transform our homes and the industries that serve them. But at what cost?
 Magic trick: a 3D printer makes a plastic rabbit. Photograph: David Neff

You know the problem: the dishwasher that has cleaned your dishes faithfully for 15 years suddenly stops working. You call out a repairman who identifies the problem: the filter unit has finally given up the ghost. “Ah,” you say, much relieved, “can you fit a new one?” At which point the chap shakes his head sorrowfully. No can do, he explains. The company that made the machine was taken over years ago by another outfit and they no longer supply spares for your ancient machine.

Up until now, this story would have had a predictable ending in which you sorrowfully junked your trusty dishwasher and bought a new one. But there’s an emerging technology that could change that. It’s called three-dimensional printing. Read the rest of this entry »

Big Oil Goes Mining for Big Data

9. May 2012

Date: 09-05-2012
Source: Technology Review

As petroleum production gets trickier, digital innovation becomes more crucial.

Mission control: Engineers view data feeds from around the world at Chevron’s new real-time drilling optimization center in Texas.

The world isn’t running out of oil and natural gas. It is running out of easy oil and gas. And as energy companies drill deeper and hunt in more remote regions and difficult deposits, they’re banking on information technology to boost production.

Data, in this case, really is the new oil. “It’s pretty sweeping,” says Paul Siegele, president of the Energy Technology Company at Chevron. “Information technology is enabling us to get more barrels of each asset.”

Oil companies are using distributed sensors, high-speed communications, and data-mining techniques to monitor and fine-tune remote drilling operations. The aim is to use real-time data to make better decisions and predict glitches. Read the rest of this entry »

Clay Christensen’s Life Lessons

5. May 2012

Date: 05-05-2012
Source: Businessweek

 Christensen with four of his grandchildren in Belmont, Mass.

On a warm April evening, Clayton Christensen arrived at his home in Belmont, Mass., desperate for a peanut butter sandwich. Christensen is diabetic, and with his blood sugar low, he seemed out of sorts. As he crushed the sandwich in a few massive bites, it had the effect on him that spinach does on Popeye. No longer confused about why a reporter had been waiting on his stoop, the 60-year-old Harvard Business School professor and celebrated author of The Innovator’s Dilemma began to form his thoughts with two distractingly huge hands. He said that he’d sometimes regretted calling his most admired theory “disruptive innovation,” because the disruptive part strikes some as more alarming than advantageous. He confided that he read the entire World Book Encyclopedia by age 12. And he shared two intimate encounters he’d had with God, including one on the eve of a “widow-maker” heart attack in 2007, the first of three life-threatening health issues in as many years.

At the turn of the century, The Innovator’s Dilemma became a surprise best-seller and a holy book for entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, where Christensen’s theory arrived ready-made to explain what Internet companies were going to do to established businesses. Andy Grove swore by it. Steve Jobs admired it, although Jobs’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, points out that Christensen predicted that if Apple kept on using only its own software, the iPod would likely remain a “niche product.” Read the rest of this entry »

Is There Big Money in Big Data?

4. May 2012

Date: 04-05-2012
Source: Technology Review

Many entrepreneurs foresee vast profits in mining data from online activity and mobile devices. One Wharton business school professor strongly disagrees.

Cut the nonsense: Peter Fader says a flood of consumer data collected from mobile devices may not help marketers as much as they think.

Few ideas hold more sway among entrepreneurs and investors these days than “Big Data.” The idea is that we are now collecting so much information about people from their online behavior and, especially, through their mobile phones that we can make increasingly specific predictions about how they will behave and what they will buy.

But are those assumptions really true? One doubter is Peter Fader, codirector of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also a professor of marketing. Fader shared some of his concerns in an interview with reporter Lee Gomes.

TR: How would you describe the prevailing idea about Big Data inside the tech community?

Fader: “More is better.” If you can give me more data about a customer—if you can capture more aspects of their behavior, their connections with others, their interests, and so on—then I can pin down exactly what this person is all about. I can anticipate what they will buy, and when, and for how much, and through what channel.

So what exactly is wrong with that? Read the rest of this entry »

How Microsoft learned to love the outsiders

2. May 2012

Date: 02-05-2012
Source: Fortune

A motley crew of struggling Internet companies have found an unlikely inspirational coach: Steve Ballmer.

FORTUNE — The Bad News Bears. Hoosiers. Remember the Titans. Moneyball. Friday Night Lights… It’s happened so many times in the movies — movies that often pledged they were based on a true story: A flawed but decent coach takes a bunch of ragtag misfits, turns them into champions and rekindles the passion in his heart.

So it’s got to happen in real life sometimes, right? Even in a part of the real world as surreal as the Internet industry. There has to be some great coach who can take a motley crew of misfits and turn them into a team of unlikely heroes with a Hollywood incantation like “Clear eyes, full hearts!”

Motley crew of the Internet, meet your inspirational coach: Steve Ballmer.
No, not the Ballmer who, in low-slung and lumpy slacks, played the sweaty ape as mad villain to Steve Jobs’ clinical yet charismatic hero. This is not the Ballmer who grunted, “Give it up to me!” This is the new Ballmer, the man who speaks — discreetly but forcefully — through his wallet. The man has $60 billion worth of kindling in his executive heart, just waiting for the right spark to set it afire. Read the rest of this entry »

GE’s Billion-Dollar Bet on Big Data

1. May 2012

Date: 01-05-2012
Source: Businessweek

General Electric’s first research laboratory was housed in a barn in upstate New York; its newest is going up in Silicon Valley. In a vivid illustration of how the locus of U.S. innovation has shifted from the East to the West Coast, GE is pouring $1 billion into a facility in San Ramon, Calif., that will be staffed with as many as 400 people.

New hires for the Global Software Center, which is set to open in June, are coming from Oracle, SAP, and Symantec. Bill Ruh, the vice president running the venture, was lured away from Cisco Systems last year. The tech industry veteran says persuading developers to forgo windfalls from initial public offerings to come work at an industrial stalwart is not as difficult as one might think. “They want to be in on the Next Big Thing,” he says.

The big thing Ruh is referring to is called “big data,” the fast-growing market for information technology systems that can sift through massive amounts of data to help companies make better decisions. Just as information on millions of Facebook users is prized by advertisers, the details companies amass from their operations can be used to cut costs and boost profits. Norfolk Southern, which buys diesel locomotives from the Fairfield (Conn.) company, uses customized software to monitor rail traffic, reducing congestion and allowing trains to move at higher speeds. The fourth-largest U.S. railroad estimates that making trains run an average of 1 mile per hour faster will save more than $200 million. Read the rest of this entry »

Simplify and repeat

1. May 2012

Date: 30-04-2012
Source: The Economist: Schumpeter

The best way to deal with growing complexity may be to keep things simple

IN 1932, as the global economy collapsed, a Danish carpenter called Ole Kirk Kristiansen started to supplement his income by selling wooden toys. Eventually he hit on the idea of making toy bricks. He and his son and grandson steadily perfected these bricks. They shifted from wood to plastic. And they made their idea global: today there are 75 bits of Lego for every person on the planet.

In the mid-1990s Lego expanded too feverishly into what business theorists call “adjacencies”: theme parks, television programmes, clothes, watches and learning labs. The firm hit a wall made of bricks, not plastic. After years of dismal results, a new boss in 2004 took Lego back to its roots. The company has not lost its appetite for innovation: you can now design a house or castle online and order the bricks you need to build it. But Lego’s focus is firmly back where it was in its heyday—on little interlocking blocks that turn children of all ages into master builders (and hurt like jagged rocks when you tread on them in your socks). Read the rest of this entry »